Summer looks back, sings forward, enjoys it all

Donna Summer was accompanied by a nine-piece band, three dancers, and enthusiastic ovations from the audience Friday night at the Bank of America Pavilion. Donna Summer was accompanied by a nine-piece band, three dancers, and enthusiastic ovations from the audience Friday night at the Bank of America Pavilion. (Jay Connor for The Boston Globe)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / August 30, 2010

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At one point during her ecstatic performance Friday night at the Bank of America Pavilion, Donna Summer confessed she was a big fan of the original series of iPod commercials where silhouetted dancers rocked out with wild abandon. “That’s the way music makes me feel inside,’’ she said. It seemed clear that, thanks to Summer, the near-capacity crowd knew exactly what she meant.

With the aid of a nine-piece band and three dancers, Summer took a 95-minute tour of her big-beat, hit-packed catalog and handily defended her “queen of disco’’ crown. The heavily female audience gave her an ovation-drenched welcome befitting that status.

Of course, pure disco — offered Friday night in the form of whizzering synth club classics like “I Feel Love’’ and “Love to Love You Baby’’— is only a part of what she does.

Her indomitable voice intact and her spirits high, Summer, 61, demonstrated how she ably withstood changing styles over the years.

Whether topping her pulsating mirror-ball grooves with anthemic melodies — “Dim All the Lights’’ — aggressive rock guitar hooks — “Hot Stuff’’ — or pure pop ear candy — “She Works Hard for the Money’’ — Summer shone. The psychedelic ravings of “MacArthur Park’’ and the liberating kiss-off of the duet “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),’’ whose Barbra Streisand portion was held down with powerhouse aplomb by Summer’s sister Mary Gaines Bernard, proved that Summer’s touch for high melodrama is still magic.

Diehard fans got a pleasant surprise not only in the rarely played “Love to Love You Baby,’’ somewhat hampered by early sound-mix problems, but Summer’s urgent take on Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic.’’

But Summer wasn’t content only to look back. She relished the opportunity to debut a gauzy new dancefloor number, “From Paris With Love.’’ She also dug into the colors of her solid 2008 comeback album, “Crayons,’’ for a handful of tunes.

The playful “Mr. Music’’ bobbed to a reggae-laced beat. The winkingly, self-referential “The Queen Is Back’’ was an apt opener with Summer decked out in regal purple, the first of four colorful costumes. And “Stamp Your Feet’’ rebounded from a hokey opening skit with her dancers to offer a joyfully defiant ode to marching to the beat of your own drummer. (She also took a moment to note with satisfaction that “Crayons,’’ her first album since 1991, spawned three number one dance songs.)

Eschewing bombast for her tribute to the late Michael Jackson, Summer stripped down to the basics of piano and voice for a sanctified take on Charlie Chaplin’s exquisitely wistful “Smile’’ — a Jackson favorite — wringing melancholy and optimism in equal measure with her nuanced vocal.

Humbled by the enthusiastic response, Summer remarked on how much she enjoyed coming home. Judging by the thunderous singalong and subsequent ovation for “On the Radio’’ and the full-house boogie during the finale of “Last Dance,’’ the feeling was mutual.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at

DONNA SUMMER At: the Bank of America Pavilion, Friday