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Live review: Patsy Cline showcase at Walt Disney Concert Hall [Updated]

May 8, 2011 |  6:10 pm

Patsy cline
[This post has been corrected. See note below.]

Opting to cover a Patsy Cline song is like deciding to hit a drive like Tiger Woods, nail a scene like Meryl Streep or make a meatball like Mario Batali. It’s easy enough to declare, but all the heart in the world will get you only part of the way there.

On Saturday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a collection of singers headed by Los Angeles vocal quartet the Living Sisters and including actor-singers Zooey Deschanel and John C. Reilly, Los Angeles punk and roots luminary John Doe, Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson of the band Garbage and statuesque country singer Charlie Wadhams attempted just that, taking on one of the great American song stylists with two hours of heartbreak and beauty.

The four women who make up the Living Sisters, each an accomplished singer in her own right — Eleni Mandell, Becky Stark, Inara George and Alex Lilly — served as the brave and endearing hostesses and backing vocalists for the night, introducing the guests, dotting choruses with oohs and ahhs originally sung by the Jordanaires, providing quirky comic relief, doing solo numbers and opening the evening with a gentle version of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” If their between-song banter was a little awkward at times, the quartet’s happy-go-lucky tone, blue ’50s cocktail dresses and sincere love of Cline made them apt ambassadors.

Cline, the late queen of the Nashville sound of the late 1950s and early ’60s, sang on American classics such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Sweet Dreams.” Her best songs are about loneliness, jealousy and disappointment; about men who drift away with the breeze, about “crazy arms that wish to hold someone new.”

Reilly addressed all that on “The Wayward Wind.” Wearing more a cowpoke than a cowboy hat (littler brim), he proved his vocal turn in “Chicago” was no fluke. His calm, comfortable demeanor fit Cline’s seeming effortlessness in front of the microphone.

Manson tackled, among others, the tear-jerking country haiku “Strange,” with the simple opening line that captured the essence of the evening: “Strange, how you stopped loving me.” Deschanel, who over the last couple of years has become a marquee artist both as an actress and as part of the pop duo She & Him, has a voice that keeps getting more confident. But she needed to adjust her microphone technique; her singing overwhelmed both the system and the hall, especially during “I Fall to Pieces.”

After he finished, Reilly had sauntered over to sit in an easy chair behind pedal steel player Greg Leisz. Reilly looked like a dad after dinner, tapping his foot in the shadows as Doe, of the L.A. punk band X (and long a voice of the L.A. country scene), proved why he’s endured for so long: More than anyone, he understood that it’s nearly impossible to outsing Cline, and that coming to terms with that frees a singer to conjure that same emotive spirit without having Cline’s superhuman throat.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Alex Lilly of the Living Sisters dances with actor John C. Reilly, center, while actress-singer Zooey Deschanel watches at left during the final act of the Patsy Cline tribute at Disney Hall. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times [An earlier version of this caption said that Inara George is dancing with John C. Reilly.]