Gianna Nannini’s appearance at this years June ‚Hard Rock Calling’ Festival in Hyde Park was on a side stage in mid afternoon, long before Bon Jovi closed the days music. In Italy though Nannini has been a Rock Music icon since 1979’s ‘California’ disc depicting the Statue of Liberty with a vibrator. She headlines to thousands of devoted fans. The Museumsplatz in Bonn was the final German step of that European Tour and a chance to see if the fire of rebellion still burns.
The flame of controversy is certainly still evident where Gianna Nannini is concerned. She raised eyebrows as recently as last November, appearing on the cover of Italy’s Vanity Fair with a ‘double whammy’: as a pregnant 54 year old, and wearing a vest proclaiming ‘God is a woman’. On this basis, armed with a Nikon on one arm and an Italian translator on the other, I arrived at the Museumsplatz ready to expect the unexpected.
Even so, the sheer energy of the woman caught me off guard. From her arrival backstage she seemed to rapidly gain momentum as she bounded forward to greet the audience. For a moment I thought she would leap over the collective photopit heads straight into the tenth row. While that never happened, she never actually slowed down either. By the time I’d focussed her in the frame she was no longer in the frame – racing from one stage side to the other, arms waving in typical Italian gusto. Did I mention she is now 55? To paraphrase BB King from last week: ‘Wish I could still run like that!’ The fire engine red of her jacket was fitting as she sped around – all that was missing was the flashing blue light.
The set was (literally) off and running with ‘Rock 2’ from her new CD and I settled back for an evening of lyrics for which only Google translator might help. Nannini likes to surprise though, and suddenly I was hearing ‘Me and Bobby Magee’. It sounded great too. Actually, even when I couldn’t understand the words of later songs, I still had to admire the voice.
She’s been coined ‘a female Joe Cocker’ or ‘Rod Stewart’ but that’s unfair. Fairer would perhaps be an Italian Madonna, in truth though, Gianna Nannini has a grand theatrical style of presentation that is entirely her own. The best example is on her massive Italian hit ‘America’ with it’s strident Stones riff and a finale that sees her sitting astride the bass drum hammering notes out of a violin, only to gradually slide backwards over the drum to leave two flailing legs in a ‘V Sign’ gesture. Rock theatricality at its finest. Many of the hits were sung of course – ‘Bello e Impossibile’, ‘I Maschi’ and the 1990 World Cup anthem ‘Un Estate Italiana’ but pleasant surprises were naturally a part of the Nannini set. Current fans will have expected her version of the old standard ‘Volares’ from her new CD, but for oldies like me who know the slick Dean Martin interpretation this was a magic moment. Rocked up to glorious overstatement she and her band played what I thought was a highlight, not just of the evening, but of this years Open Air Season.
There were two longish pauses before encores, but there is a saying though about quality rather than quantity, and when onstage this was a charismatic and energetic display both vocally and physically. Her lengthy introduction of the band members was entertaining too as she introduced each of her international group with an appropriate song – Rastafarian bassist Francis Hylton got a chorus of ‘No woman, No cry’ for example. All good humoured and from the heart.
If the arrival of motherhood has mellowed this ladies display then I can barely imagine her performance before the arrival of daughter Penelope. At 55 Gianna Nannini is still rocking and still causing a furore. Would her fans want her any other way?!