Vonda Shepard/ Sheena Easton September 29
By Glen Creason
You might scratch your head at the pairing of Vonda Shepard and Sheena Easton who held court at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday. Shepard is the deeply emotional and romantic singer-songwriter who made her mark with moody, expressionistic emo-songs in the 90’s. She will forever be linked with the mega-popular TV show “Ally McBeal” since she penned the theme and added musical color to many episodes. Most fans will tell you that the show was at its best when Ms. Shepard set the tone for its stars battles in the war between men and women. Sheena Easton, the vivacious and sexy songstress who harkens back to the bad hair 80’s made her mark with dance tunes and a style of R&B characterized by the likes of Janet Jackson or Madonnna. In terms of the pastry tray, one lady is as light and fluffy as meringue and the other sort of like dense chocolate cake.
Vonda Shepard at the Steinway opened the show with just two acoustic accompanists. Fortunately one of her partners was the greatly gifted James Ralston on guitar and his work spiced the set and kept the music at a very high level. Ms. Shepard took great pains also to pace the show and alternate from her probing, introspective stuff like “Wildest of Times,” the bittersweet “Another January,” and Cross to Bear” with rollicking up tempo R&B tunes like “Respect Yourself” and the wonderful Aretha Franklin jewel “Every Natural Thing.” Vonda Shepard has a marvelously powerful voice that she wields in reaching emotional highs in her pieces but it is never overused or overwrought. Particularly nice on this night was her pristine reading of “Maryland” with audience whispering participation of the “la la la la’s” and “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart.” Of course, she just had to give the crowd what they begged for and took us back to the joys of Ally McBeal with her trademark “Searchin’ for My Soul.”
The bubbly and self-effacing Sheena Easton, once a huge sex symbol and now a self-described “prisoner of youth soccer” closed the show. Sheena certainly still looks great and her big voice is totally intact. She did not hesitate in getting the pot boiling by starting off with the up-tempo 80’s joys of “Strut” and “Lover in Me” while her big, bad band blasted away just like it was back in the day of feathered hairdo. She told funny stories with her dulled Scottish burr, sang the golden oldies and strutted her pretty impressive stuff for over an hour. The ace in the hole she held on this night was the singing help of Philip Ingram who can sing every note on the planet with room to spare.The pair really put a charge into the old Sheena/Prince duet on “U Got the Look” and the emotionally charged ballad “Why Don’t You Stay” that redefined the male vocal in that duet. Some things did not work as well including a Burt Bacharach turn of “I Say a Little Prayer,” and the country and western winner “In My Daughter’s Eyes” but others struck the bull’s-eye, especially “Morning Train,” “Fallen Angels” and the utterly obligatory encore of “For Your Eyes Only.”