“Seen any good movies lately?,” Linda Ronstadt asked immediately after opening her Universal show with “What’s New.” The response was an ovation that lasted nearly a minute, which must have put Ronstadt’s mind at ease that she was in front of an audience embracing her history of political advocacy and journeys through a multitude of musical genres.
The love affair didn’t last through the entirety of her skimpy hourlong set, however, as some concertgoers chose to boo and shout through her comments about Enron and Kenneth Lay, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Moore. Her remarks about Moore got her booted from the Aladdin in Las Vegas and caused a national firestorm in the media.
Some reports suggested concertgoers were upset with the repertoire. Ronstadt makes it clear — just in case the 40-member orchestra onstage isn’t a big enough hint — that she is revisiting the celebrated work from the three albums she recorded with arranger Nelson Riddle in the early 1980s.
Her next album, “Hummin’ to Myself,” due from Universal’s Verve Records in October, is a collection of standards arranged for a small jazz ensemble; she unveiled two on Tuesday, displaying considerable vocal dexterity on Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town” from 1938’s “Leave It to Me.”
Tune took her out of the measured delivery of Riddle arrangements, forcing her to accent the clever rhymes and give it the Ronstadt touch. It made pushing into a jazz realm a little dicey: Ronstadt is not a vocal gymnast — “Get Out of Town” is best known in jazz circles as an Ella Fitzgerald vehicle — and even in the presence of Riddle, she never displayed an affinity for swing.
If anything, the producers of “American Idol” should bring her on to show their tyro singers the right way to hold a note, the viability of songs from the ’20s to the ’70s and the difference between interpretation and imitation.
On the ballads, Ronstadt still delivers a tour de force, vocally soaring on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Blue Bayou,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Desperado.”
The only problem spot remains the bland songs Jimmy Webb wrote for her in the early ’90s that no longer fit her voice — she uncharacteristically screeched her way through “Adios” and “Do What You Gotta Do,” then redeemed herself with a duet on “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail.”
Ronstadt, whose public activism dates back to the early 1970s, launched into political rhetoric while introducing the Nat Cole hit “Straighten Up and Fly Right” as a tune for Lay and the Enron folk, which generated both encouraging and derisive shouts from the crowd. Not that Lay had friends in the audience; the uproar was a reaction to her use of the stage as a political platform. For her comments on Schwarzenegger, however, the boos felt more personal, as if Ronstadt’s view is incorrect.
Flowers were brought to the singer when she returned to the stage to sing “Desperado.” She said they were from Moore, which elicited more cheers and boos; unfortunately, the vocal minority was booing louder and stronger, drowning out her comments.