Photos and Story by Scott Smith
Yes, Pat Benatar’s voice still is the eighth wonder of the world.
The four-time Grammy Award-winning rock singer always sounded terrific and unmatched back in the days of vinyl, and she sounds super impressive on the stage today. Thirty years after releasing her genre-bending album, “Get Nervous,” — and three decades after marrying her guitarist-band leader, Neil Giraldo — Benatar still brings her A-game and rock and roll’s greatest smile to the spotlight.
Benatar and Giraldo led their muscle-flexing quartet through a 100-minute set of greatest hits, crucial LP tracks and a quick, playful run-through of Led Zeppelin riffs on Aug. 19 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The stripped-down group of bass (Mick Mahan), drums (Myron Grombacher) and one guitar gave “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Lay Down,” “Disconnected,” “Let’s Stay Together,” “So Sincere” and the anti-child abuse number “Hell is for Children” a nervy, necessary edge.
“All Fired Up,” Benatar’s wonderful, under-appreciated track from 1988, was a surprise set-starter that took off beautifully without looking back. It was obvious Benatar and Giraldo were happy to be cranking out timeless rock inside the WAC. They constantly smiled at each other, with Benatar often slowly walking up to Giraldo to hug him and kiss his check in mid-guitar solo.
Following “All Fired Up” came “Invincible,” Benatar’s musical contribution to the 1985 movie, The Legend of Billie Jean. The original studio take is a solid offering, but on-stage in Fayetteville, it became a beast of an anthem. Benatar sang the track, like all of the set-list’s songs, with unbreakable conviction.
Benatar and Giraldo performed an acoustic version of “We Belong,” and the electric-based “Love Is a Battlefield” grew more urgency and grit than its original, 1983 incarnation.
For the first, slow-burn segment of the immortal, always-moving “Promises in the Dark,” Giraldo played brilliant piano, and when it came time for the crunchy “You Better Run,” Benatar introduced the song by talking about how it was the second music video ever to be aired by MTV, way back in 1981.
“Because of that, Neil was the first guitarist to be seen on MTV,” Benatar said with a grin as the audience roared. Ten seconds later, Benatar continued her mini-speech.
“And because of that,” she said as her grin reappeared. “Well, that makes Neil old as dirt.”
Benatar’s joke caused an eruption of laughter from the shadowed audience and a slight, innocent smirk from Giraldo. The duo’s love for each other shines even during their harmless, on-stage jabs at each other.
Throughout the electricity-creating evening, Giraldo did the impossible, matching Benatar’s fantastic voice with gritty, string-bending fret work.
Without question, Giraldo is one of rock’s most underrated guitarists of all time. Instrumentally standing somewhere between Who leader Pete Townshend’s pioneering, razor-slashing technique and Brian Setzer’s wonderfully crazed, rockabilly style soloing, Giraldo never missed a note, literally.
With non-rock acts like Madonna and Donna Summer relaxing inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s an unforgivable crime that the hall ignores Benatar and Giraldo. The performance given by Benatar and Giraldo in Fayetteville alone should gain them a Hall-of-Fame induction immediately.