By Ken Hegan for The Georgia Straight

107280-celine_dion_number_1_617_409The Vancouver suburb of Maillardville was a ghost town on Friday night, as 18,000 Franco-friendlies stuffed into GM Place to witness the sold-out singing spectacle that is Celine Dion. Too excited to witness Quebecois royalty by myself, I tricked a beer buddy into accompanying me by bragging that I’d scored free tickets to see Marcel Dionne give a wrist shot demo.

The concert commenced at 8 pm sharp. First out of the gate was rubber-mouthed impressionist André-Phillipe Gagnon. Hopelessly mired in the ‘80s, Gagnon is like the annoying class cutup who flips up his shirt collar and thinks Bruce Springsteen impressions are somehow topical.

One highlight was his Bill Clinton impression. This stunning feat of mimicry consisted of Gagnon wearing Risky Business sunglasses while humming the Pink Panther theme on a make-believe saxophone. Wowee. Hell, I make better sounds with a firm hand and a damp armpit.

When Canada’s reigning easy-listening diva finally appeared under a purple fog light, her fawning (and mostly female) audience went stark raving bonkers. Seconds later, the air was dank with the rich fizz of excited teenaged pee.

Dion smiled as if it was all so unexpected, then launched her 15-song set with the title song from her recent CD, Let’s Talk About Love. Circling her on this tune was a nervous children’s choir. They were hustled in, I suppose, to give the curly-permed virtuoso some sort of Earth Mother street-cred. The throbbing, heart-shaped stage subtly hammered this image home by lighting up to reveal a spinning planet Earth.

Celine_Dion_en_conciertoIndeed, throughout her performance, Dion was routinely upstaged by this truly ridiculous set. While she trotted around to her rockin’ second number, “Declaration of Love”, her stage (a horizontal video screen) projected digital images of cartoon sperm which wriggled and swam around three dancing alien cow eggs. I’m not making this up.

By the third song, a syrupy ballad entitled “Because You Loved Me”, Dion had whipped off her skirt to reveal a tight black catsuit. Combined with the alien cow eggs, this proved too much for some fans who then rushed the stage with flowers. This became a Close Encounter of the Absurd Kind when a crying mustachioed chap (whom my beer buddy described as “a teenaged girl trapped in the body of an undercover cop”), grabbed at Dion’s legs, then tried to kiss her feet.

Song after schmaltzy song, Dion pranced on her high-heels like some blowsy screeching street tart. Her songs, of course, were unilaterally about love. You know, ‘real love’. That special kind of love where you marry your dreamboat manager who discovered you when you were 12 years old.

To punctuate this lyrical frômage, Dion added her own special brand of phony emotional shorthand. This included: double-time fist pumps, triumphant hair tosses, moves that looked like she was swabbing the deck, and rat-a-tat butt wiggles which seemed to say, “Me-so-sexy. Oui-oui-oui: it’s true.”

Admittedly, Dion demonstrated some taste by bringing aboard an all-star band. The balding guys with long black hair (on drums and accordion) were spitting images of deadpan comic, Stephen Wright. Better still, her backup singer was, I swear to God, Ginger Spice. So that’s what she’s been up to.

Star-studded? Hell, yes. She crooned a medley ‘tribute’ to Roberta Flack (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”), The Beatles (“Because”), Eric Clapton (“Tears In Heaven”), and Frank Sinatra (“All The Way”). She even sang karaoke duets with video images of Barbra Streisand (who kicked her sonic rump) and those irrepressible disco relics, the Bee Gees.

After this, Dion changed costumes for the obligatory encore. As Ginger puffed on a piccolo, the stage suddenly transformed into the prow of the Titanic. A vessel which, I hasten to add, sank.

Now draped in kelp-like taffeta, Dion sashayed to the railing where a wind machine whipped her hair around. She then belted out the song that everyone had waited for: her ubiquitous Titanic theme, “My Heart Will Go On”.

Even as Dion strained to hit the high notes, I’m sure at least 17,998 people still believed she owned some of the world’s most impressive pipes. As for me, I think Dion boasts all the dulcet tones of a Muppet™ making small talk.

So just as THAT FUCKING SONG looked like it was going to groan on and on forever, my beer buddy leaned over and mercifully barked, “Jesus, man. Get me a lifeboat.”

— Ken Hegan


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Twitter: @KenHegan