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Review: Celine Dion's Taking Chances tour at Staples Center

December 3, 2008 |  9:48 am

Celine_dion_ It's a no-brainer why Celine Dion's Taking Chances tour is shaping up as one of the highest-grossing North American concert attractions of 2008.

Think about it: As a nation we’re going to have to pony up several hundred-billion dollars and hope it might halt the ever-deepening economic meltdown.

Feel-good factor for that outlay? Zilch.

But for a measly C-note or three, hundreds of thousands of fans are filling arena after arena to hear Dion deliver emotional climax after emotional climax, goosebump-inducing vocal thrill after thrill, sweeping chorus after chorus filled with spirit-lifting affirmations and enough technical razzle-dazzle to dwarf the Super Bowl halftime show.

And that was just her opening number.

The reason she’s such a hit with the masses was plain during her two-hour show Tuesday night at Staples Center, only the second performance after resuming the tour that had been interrupted by a bout of throat problems that forced her to cancel several shows here and in Australia.

After five years of nightly honing of her act in Las Vegas, she and her tour director have created a production that’s all peaks, no valleys — at least in terms of pushing all the right buttons. Her songs celebrate romantic love at its most dramatic. Her 1993 No. 1 hit “The Power of Love” indeed lionizes the potency of the heart, but by way of the muscle in that delicate looking French Canadian throat. Melodies are structured for maximum impact, starting in the middle of her comfort range, dipping low for the “of” before taking a skyrocket leap up to “love” that’s the equivalent of a gymnast’s 10.0 dismount from the uneven parallel bars at the Olympics.

Indeed, much like a champion athlete, Dion frequently punctuated her prize-worthy phrase-and-song endings with a clenched fist pumped in the air or pulled down from the sky.

But if her vocal workouts are all about perfection — and without a hint Auto-Tuning in sight — she succeeds at letting her human side come through in the spaces between songs.

Right out of the gate Tuesday, she offered up a heartfelt — and lengthy — explanation and apology about the spate of canceled shows before digging back into the music. And when a technical glitch with some video screens suspended from the ceiling rigging forced a 30-minute delay midway through the night, she returned to the stage with another equally sincere humbling of herself before her adoring fans.

(All the same, she disappeared down her rabbit hole at center stage while stage hands scurried to dismantle the recalcitrant contraption. If only all of us could do the same every time our computers or cars break down.)

That gave some tangible ballast to the often overblown arrangements that typify her middle-of-the-road pop songs. The album from which the tour draws its name does indeed take a few chances —stylistically, placing her in harder-hitting rock settings than she, or her fans, have been used to. And she included a healthy dose of the new songs, pumped up by her razor-sharp band and three singers, who were joined by eight dancers on several of the night’s biggest numbers.

This, of course, culminated in the finale performance of “My Heart Will Go On,” which opened with film clips from "Titanic" and filled out with candle-lighted chandeliers that descended from the rafters and countless refracted beams of light crisscrossing the arena to eye-popping effect. The only thing missing was an iceberg.

Dion is an easy target for music aficionados who think it’s possible for a diva to inject as much soul as voltage into her singing — Aretha Franklin being the standard-bearer. Yet even though Dion may be rightfully blamed for spawning a million wanna-bes, all of whom seem to turn up at “American Idol” auditions — she displayed more restraint than her main competitor at the top of the pop charts during the '90s, Mariah Carey. Only a couple of times did she let fly random crystal-shattering high notes for the sake of demonstrating her range.

Excess has become a matter of degree in pop. Where Dion once represented the epitome of pop bombast, in the wake of a new generation of vocal showboaters who dominate the pop and R&B singles charts, at 40 she often as not came across as the poster girl for elegance and good taste.

Well, except maybe for her earnest but misguided stabs at James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” She can slip in a few R&B inflections, but a soul diva she’s not, and she completely missed conjuring the anguish of the former or the romantic desperation of the latter.

Even there, she at least was lending some credence to her tour’s title. That should be worth some reasonable chunk of the $2 million she likely grossed for the night.

--Randy Lewis

Photo: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times