Off Topic Messages

Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:58 am

When I was teenager, about 13 or 14, I was watching TV with my parents one evening and Neil Sedaka was a guest on a show called Des O'Connor Tonight (ah, those were the days). I had no idea who he was, although recognised some of his songs, but was taken by this jovial guy who could switch from I Go Ape to The Miracle Song at the drop of a hat. A few months later, the BBC aired a concert that was recorded in Birmingham, and I got to hear for the first time some of Sedaka's greatest achievements: songs such as Going Nowhere, The Hungry Years and The Other Side of Me. I'm not one for going to concerts (the last time was 2000), although this is mostly because the people I want to see are dead or no longer performing(!), but Sedaka couldn't be resisted.

Whereas five years ago, Sedaka would have almost bounced on to the stage, now at 73 he merely strolls on. But that was after the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played a fifteen minute four-movement classical piece by Sedaka, called Joy Of Life - an appropriate title for a work by a man who so obviously loves performing. Normally he performs with just him and the piano, but tonight he has the orchestra as well (although half a dozen songs don't feature the RPO). His first song is Tin Pan Alley, which presumably is a new song - it's certainly not one I know. He then says "I'm Neil Sedaka, these are my songs", which pretty much sums up the evening. After a nice rendition of The Other Side of Me, Sedaka plays a sequence of 50s and early 60s hits. He describes them as naive (which is true), but they all get care and attention (no throwaways here) but clearly what he really relishes playing and singing are his more adult repertoire from the late 60s onwards which takes up most of the concert. While the orchestra was a hindrance to the rock n roll material, it only embellishes the sweeping melodies of Sedaka's later songs. There are no huge surprises - a couple of album tracks here and there and a few new songs, but mostly his signature songs. A stunning 1-2-3 of The Hungry Years/One More Ride on the Merry Go Round (brilliant orchestration)/Going Nowhere is the highlight of the evening, but almost eclipsed by an almost rhapsodic version of Superbird from Emergence, a song Sedaka peforms less than he should.

On the Jools Holland show last week he seemed hesitant and only in average voice, but that was not the case tonight. His voice was strong and clear, and his overall tone hasn't changed in 50+ years. A couple of the melodies are slightly adapted to allow for a slightly reduced upper register, but it's done well and doesn't detract from the performance. After an hour and a quarter, Sedaka, looking visibly tired, strolls off again and a twenty minute interval is announced. Perhaps Sedaka wasn't so much tired as anxious, for the second half begins with him as the piano soloist in the first live performance of his piano "concerto" : "Manhattan Intermezzo". It's not really a concerto, but more of a tone poem dedicated to Manhattan. Sedaka plays well, showing why he got into Julliard nearly 60 years ago. The piece itself is also good with sedaka-like sweeping melodies alternating with "real" classical sections. It's Sedaka's Rhapsody In Blue, basically. Is it as good? Of course not, but it shows that at 73 Sedaka isn't afraid to go in new directions and to challenge himself.

After the classical piece (which lasts twenty minutes), he launches into another round of signature songs and well-known album tracks, such as Amarillo (well, you can't have everything!), Love Will keep Us Together, You and The Queen of 1964. Sedaka's on-stage is presence is that of a man who enjoys his job, and the kitsch element of his performance style is off-set by the sometimes ascerbic lyrics such as those in Queen of 1964 or Bad Blood (the latter not performed tonight but was performed in Glasgow a few days ago, according to reviews).

There are few surprises within the main section of the show. Sedaka was on stage for 2 hours in total and the format of the show (aside from his classical piece) isn't all that much different from his double live album in the same venue from 1977. Yes, there are a few newer songs thrown in (a couple are good, a couple are forgettable), but he still has the knack of writing a good song as his Christmas album from a couple of years back shows. The set-list might not have changed much, but Sedaka is totally committed to his performances and has a good time - as does his audience. There is only one faultering performance (The Immigrant, where the orchestra and Sedaka get out of synch somehow); the rest of the show is classy and fun, and at times moving.

Continued ill health meant I nearly didn't make it to London to see the show, but if anyone is going to make you forget your troubles, it's Neil Sedaka jiggling at the piano while singing his great compositions.

He's 73 now, and there seems little sign of him retiring. perhaps the show will have to change slightly in the coming years to accomodate old age, but Sedaka is one of the few singers left who had their place in the Brill Building in the mid to late 1950s, and so long may he continue to write and perform.

A highly enjoyable evening.

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 2:09 am

That was a most excellent post about a terribly under-rated performer. I've had the pleasure to see him live several times and have never been disappointed.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 2:24 am

Great review -- Neil has long been a favourite of mine, too. He's a marvellous performer and a gem of an artist. I've also seen him live and enjoyed it tremendously, but haven't been able to see him recently.

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:23 pm

Sadly I think he is under-rated due to his jovial, rather buoyant persona - something which doesn't sit too well in today's performing world, I don't think. I have to say I didn't find him so saccharine last night as I was expecting him to be after a couple of hours. Yes, he was gushing at times, and some of the spiel I had heard before on live albums, but he was also quite self-depracating and seemed to be remarkably genuine in his affection for both music and the audience. Whether you like Sedaka as a performer or not, it is difficult to take anything away from his wonderful catalogue of songs - surely one of the most prolific and consistent pop songwriter. And, despite the reservations about the classical pieces last night, it has to be said that I found them to be considerably more enjoyable than, for example, Paul mcCartney's forays into that area - especially "Joy Of life" - I'm not sure whether that has been recorded or not, though.

His new album finds him just at the piano, with no other accompaniment and, while pleasant, is little more (except for the concerto bonus track). Hearing the orchestral arrangements of his songs last night, it's a shame he hasn't gone for the "symphonic sedaka" route on an album. One final note is that one of the few disappointments last night was "Solitaire". It was great to hear it live, but the orchestra didn't quite work in this case - perhaps solitaire should remain Sedaka sitting at the piano on his own,

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:28 pm

He is probably under-rated probably because he's fairly unknown.

Just checked his stuff out; never heard of him before. I quite liked it, thanks for the post.

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:33 pm

ECC83 wrote:He is probably under-rated probably because he's fairly unknown.

Just checked his stuff out; never heard of him before. I quite liked it, thanks for the post.


You;ve never heard of Oh Carol, Laughter in the Rain and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do? Must be a young'un! :P

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Fri Oct 19, 2012 12:26 am

I played Calendar Girl on the journey to work this morning and haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

Re: Neil Sedaka at the Royal Albert Hall: Oct 17, 2012

Fri Oct 19, 2012 3:53 am

poormadpeter wrote:
ECC83 wrote:He is probably under-rated probably because he's fairly unknown.

Just checked his stuff out; never heard of him before. I quite liked it, thanks for the post.


You;ve never heard of Oh Carol, Laughter in the Rain and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do? Must be a young'un! :P


Never heard them -- yep relatively young. On the other hand, my parents haven't either.