The setting was regal for one of rock’s reigning queens when Tina Turner’s European farewell tour — her second since 1987 — touched down on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles last week. Louis XIV built the structure just southwest of Paris as a lavish monument to himself three centuries ago, almost bankrupting France in the process. In June 1919, the peace treaty that ended World War I was signed there. Turner’s open-air performance on June 28 may go down as one of Versailles’ smaller milestones, but not one of its quietest. Quipped one Paris paper the morning after the show: ”The Sun King’s ghost, watching Tina in a miniskirt singing ‘Proud Mary,’ must have regretted not being of this century.”
From a stage set up on the banks of a man-made lake in the palace’s sprawling gardens, Turner offered a familiar repertoire of barnstorming blues-rock hits to an adoring audience of more than 50,000 fans — everyone from BCBG French yuppies (the initials stand for bon chic, bon genre — good style, good type) to grandparents hoisting youngsters on their shoulders. ”You want some action?” Turner beckoned with a grin. ”I’m gonna give you some action!”
For almost two hours, shimmying and sliding in a cavewoman’s miniskirt or slinky silver minidress and spiked heels, Tina delivered the goods. Never mind that the faithful found themselves, a day after torrential summer rains, standing for nearly five hours ankle deep in mud. Another 2,000 to 3,000, arriving without tickets, spread out along one tree-lined bank of the water, joining souvenir and snack vendors to catch the sound, if not the riveting sight, of Tina on the boards.
From a warm-up funkfest cooked up by New Orleans’ Neville Brothers to the last sparks of a fireworks finale topping off Turner’s encore, the crowd’s mood was reverent. They watched in awe of Tina tender (”Let’s Stay Together”), Tina tough (”What You Get Is What You See”), Tina the seductive lioness (”Private Dancer”), and Tina the survivor (”What’s Love Got to Do With It”). Packs of teenagers in T-shirts and jeans and businessmen straight from the office in suits whistled along with the well-known opening bars of numbers such as ”I Don’t Wanna Lose You” and ”Ask Me How I Feel.” Fans belted back the choruses of signature Turner love anthems, including ”Better Be Good to Me” and ”Show Some Respect.”
Among the fine cover versions were a take-charge rendition of Robert Palmer’s ”Addicted to Love” and a funky romp through ”I Can’t Stand the Rain,” the 1978 Euro-hit by Precious Wilson & Eruption. For French fans, deeply respectful of Turner’s rhythm & blues roots, the 52-year-old incarnation of legendary rock onstage before them made no false moves.
”Open your heart and let me in,” cooed Tina in ”Typical Male.” An invitation or a command? It didn’t matter. The Versailles crowd eagerly succumbed, as had earlier audiences in a handful of other French cities. Said Turner on French television last week, returning the affection: ”I love coming here. In fact, I’ve just bought a house in France.” No doubt, like Louis before her, a cozy chateau to call her own.