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Robert Hilburn : New Video Offers Rare 'Live' Twist Of Lennon

February 08, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

There's a brief, but tender and revealing moment near the end of the new "John Lennon Live in New York City" video where Lennon pauses--during the singing of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog"--to say, "Elvis, I love ya."

The moment, recorded during Lennon's 1972 "One to One" benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, is touching because the Beatles were the only rock attraction to that point to even seriously challenge Presley's status as the king of rock.

Despite the rivalry, Lennon virtually idolized Presley, and the words were his way of acknowledging the debt he owed rock's most influential figure.

On another level, however, Lennon was also reaching out to one of the few people who knew the difficulty of walking on stage and being a legend in your field. No matter what Presley or Lennon did, they wouldn't match for a large percentage of the audience the excitement of the performers' early glory days.

Los Angeles Times Sunday February 16, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
And Michael (Raz) Rescigno's loose-leafed letter carried no address under his name, but he rightly pointed out that John Lennon's 1972 "One to One" concert (contained in the new "John Lennon Live in New York City" video) was shown on TV--in 1973, despite what Robert Hilburn wrote in his Feb. 8 article.
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 23, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
And actually, writes, Mark Wallgren of Van Nuys, the 1972 John Lennon concert "One to One" was show on ABC on Dec. 15, 1972, not in 1973, as was printed in this box last week.

Presley did hundreds of live shows in the '70s, but few fully erased the nostalgic '50s undercurrents surrounding him. Knowing that much of the audience would only be satisfied if he recycled Beatles tunes on stage, Lennon preferred to spend his time in the studio, creating new music.

The "One to One" benefit concert--which came six years after the final Beatles performance--was by far Lennon's most substantial concert appearance since his Beatles days--and it would remain so. Though Lennon spoke occasionally of touring, he never did.

"Live" (Sony, $29.95) is the public's first chance to see the concert because the footage was never released to theaters or shown on TV. The video has limitations, but its best moments offer a rich, heartwarming edge that makes "Live" an essential addition to a rock video library.

A sound-track album is due by the end of the month from Capitol and a videodisc is on the way from Pioneer. In addition, Showtime, the pay TV channel, will broadcast "Live" on March 14 as part of a series of videos and shorts built around the theme of "The Lennon Legacy."

In his first two solo albums, Lennon matched, if not exceeded in many ways his Beatles music.

"Plastic Ono Band," from 1970, remains one of the genuine treasures in rock: a powerful and deeply introspective reflection that was too stark for many of his old fans. "Imagine," a year later, put many of the same thoughts in a gentler, more accessible style.

The weakness of the "One to One" video has nothing to do with sound quality or editing, but the timing of the concert itself. Since this is our most complete look at the post-Beatles Lennon, it's a shame the concert was not held a few months earlier so it would feature songs and musicians from the "Ono" or "Imagine" albums.

Instead, the concert was held shortly after the release of "Some Time in New York City," a passionate, but clumsy series of protest tunes that sound even less artful now than they did at the time. Lennon and Yoko Ono, who share vocal lead on four tunes from that album, were also backed on both the album and at the show by the generally one-dimensional Elephant's Memory band.

Not surprisingly, the best moments involve two of the signature songs from the first two solo albums: "Mother," a brutally painful expression of longing, and the lovely, idealistic "Imagine."

Lennon's songwriting was so prized that it's often easy to overlook his strength as a singer. Though Lennon lacked the purity of Presley, there was an openness to his singing that enabled him to disarm us with his gentleness and startle us with his absolute fury.

Because "Mother" is a song that contains both gentleness and fury, Lennon's extraordinary live vocal on it is, for anyone who has enjoyed Lennon's music, one of the most electric rock moments ever captured on video.

In a generous gesture, Lennon acknowledges the audience's desire for the past by singing a Beatles number ("Come Together") and he makes playful asides about the Fab Four, referring to his old band as the Rolling Stones.

If "Live" doesn't come close to fully defining Lennon's pop greatness, it is a welcome reminder of the courage and artistry of someone who refused to rest on the almost unprecedented acclaim of his Beatles years. Inevitably, it also reminds us of the void he has left.

LIVE ACTION: Sheila E. will be at the Universal Amphitheatre on March 6. Tickets go on sale Tuesday. . . . Tickets go on sale Monday for the David Grisman-Tim Weisberg March 2 bill at the Beverly Theatre and for Marillion's March 15 and 16 stops at the Roxy. . . . Luther Vandross is due at the Long Beach Arena with Isley-Jasper-Isley and Starpoint on March 2. . . . The Fall will be at the Palace on March 12, while the Romantics are due there March 14. . . . Felony and T.S.O.L. are set for the Stardust Ballroom on Feb. 21, while the Cruzados and Textones will be at the Roxy on Feb. 24. . . . The Blasters and Textones headline Fenders Ballroom on Feb. 21. . . . Townes Van Zandt returns to McCabe's on Feb. 22.

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