Sun Dec 16, 2012 2:52 am
There are times when you see an aging performer on TV and you think that they should just throw in the towel and retire. And I have certainly thought this about Liza Minnelli a number of times after seeing her perform on chat shows etc. All of this is a shame, as Minnelli is one of the last of the "great entertainers", a far more talented singer and actress than many give her credit for, a gifted comedienne and a long-time fierce campaigner for gay rights. However, when I saw that Sky Arts were premiering a concert from just a year ago on TV tonight, my fear levels rose. Highly.
What I saw for the hour duration of the programme (which, oddly, ends midway through the show!) was someone who was still enjoying performing and has managed rather successfully to change her act to accommodate her two false hips, false knee and lack of voice. For the most part, the belting songs of old are long gone. Cabaret remains - but Maybe This Time and New York New York do not (in this set at least). Taking their place are a carefully chosen group of songs that allow Minnelli to perform and act. She still attempts the big notes occasionally - and sadly more often than not fails - but they are not the main element of the performance any more.
Whereas years ago she would have belted All That Jazz from Chicago, in this performance she acts out the scene leading up to and including My Own Best Friend as well as giving a (no doubt embellished) account of how she landed up in the show. Is it hammy? Hell, yeah. But she knows it, and she's never been afraid to be self-mocking, but at the heart of the elongated routine was a bravura and ultimately successful performance, warts and all. She does a lovely jazzy version of I Can't Give You Anything But Love and a couple of songs from Confessions with a vocal and piano album that would have worked as well for Dietrich as Minnelli, but gives an idea of the type of performance she aims for now - and this is where she is at her best, giving night-club styled performances of standards and art-songs.
"Art-songs" is perhaps the only way to term some of the Charles Aznavour songs that have been in Minnelli's repertoire for years. It's so easy to forget what a great songwriter he is, because his songs as so completely and utterly European, and perhaps would be most at home in the Berlin clubs where Sally Bowles herself performed. Outside of that, and outside of singers such as Minnelli or Dietrich, its almost impossible to find where songs such as Quiet Love and Sailor Boys fit . The Aznavour song in this show was "What Makes A Man A Man", a remarkable song defending the gay way of life which is even more remarkable in that it was written forty years ago. Lyrically it has dated now, but as a time capsule of the gay scene in the late 1960s it still works extremely well, and Minnelli clearly loves the chance to show off her acting chops by playing an effeminate homosexual man who lives with his Mother and talks of how he gets gay-bashed.
What was remarkably about this (strangely incomplete) concert was that Minnelli has somehow managed to turn adversity into a positive thing. Her dwindling vocal talents have forced her to look in the mirror and come up with a plan and a format which allows her to continue performing - at least for the time being. Yes, there are bum notes, and notes that aren't reached. And yes, you do sit there with everything crossed hoping against hope she gets through each song without doing anything too horrendous.
Minnelli has managed (going by this show) to do the same thing as Johnny Cash did. Yes, they are very different singers and performers, but both managed to use their diminishing vocal capabilities to their advantages. It's a shame that Elvis never lived long enough to have to cope with his own diminishing vocals in the same way. Yes, they were diminished in 1977, but not in the same way. He could still hit notes when he had to. But somehow I think it would have been better for him not to have been able to, for he really would have had to adapt, and that might have forced a change in style and repertoire. No-one would have wanted that to have happened in 1977 of course, but twenty or thirty years later, it could have resulted in Elvis going down a similar route as Cash and coming up with some really fine work just because he would have been forced to record and perform in a different way.
As for Minnelli, I can imagine that her concerts are extremely hit and miss affairs - and very few would say that "still has a voice". However, there is much to be said for someone who can go from such energetic stage shows of twenty years ago to almost stationary ones now and with a severely diminished vocal capability...and still for much of the time be really quite enthralling.
Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:13 am
poormadpeter wrote:For the most part, the belting songs of old are long gone. Cabaret remains - but Maybe This Time and New York New York do not (in this set at least).
New York, New York was performed at the Avo Session Festival, but didn't make Sky's edit:
Not the strongest performance, so I guess that's why it was left out.
You are right about "Maybe This Time" not making the set, but several YouTube videos reveal that it is still part of her show.
Sun Dec 16, 2012 5:16 pm
Thanks for that. Sky's edit was bizarrely non-existent - it just got cut off after an hour! Oddly their showing of NIna Simone in Paris had similar editing weirdness. To be fair, Simone's performance was quite weird too. Thanks for the video - it certainly demonstrates that what I was saying about her being much better when not belting. It's rather a shame that is the only pro-shot footage from the gig on youtube that i can find!