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Music DVD Reviews: Review of Dusty Springfield Live at the Royal Albert Hall
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Dusty Springfield: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2005)

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"I don't know anyone who didn't love (Dusty Springfield). She was an inspiration to every singer I know. And she also had the best eye make-up." – Chrissie Hynde

In addition to the above comment, Dusty Springfield has been described as the greatest diva in the history of British music, and, although Elton John might well argue the point, most anyone else who’s listened to her classic albums Dusty in Memphis and Brand New Me would probably agree with that assessment. Her glory days are generally considered to have lasted from 1964, when she released her debut, A Girl Called Dusty, until 1973’s Cameo, which contains her much-lauded take on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” After that album, however, she slipped into a five-year retirement, and, when she returned, times were decidedly different...and to say that music had changed is rather an understatement.

“Dusty Springfield: Live at the Royal Albert Hall” was recorded in 1979, and if the sticker on the front of the DVD which references the year doesn’t tip you off to that fact, the inclusion of a cover of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” – performed as a medley with Dobie Gray’s “You Can Do It” and, oddly enough, Grace Jones’s “On Your Knees” – certainly will. (Well, that plus the statement on the back of the cover that her performance was delivered with “glitz and panache.”) During the late ‘70s, everyone from Kiss to Ethel Merman was dipping into the waters of disco, and, as evidenced here, Springfield was no exception.

The biggest issue with this concert, however, is that, more often than not, it feels like a Vegas revue rather than a showcase for one of the greatest white soul singers of all time; place 10% of the blame on the spangly white jumpsuit that Dusty wears throughout most of the show (dig that fringe!), but the real offense is the hits medley that serves as the centerpiece of the show. It incorporates nine of Springfield’s songs, including some of her best known tracks (“I Only Want To Be With You,” “The Look of Love,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’, and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” are just a few of the numbers included), but, as with all medleys, it offers a tease rather than the full monty, and it’s ultimately disappointing. Additionally, during “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” she sneers, “This is a joke song,” which rather taints the effect of the cheery, bouncy pop; I mean, really, Dusty, if you disliked it that much, why did you bother to play it at all?

There are certainly moments here where Springfield’s reputation remains intact, beginning from the get-go with opener “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten.” The most sublime moment comes via her version of Karla Bonoff’s “Lose Again,” which she introduces by admitting that “I wish I’d sang it before Linda Ronstadt sang it,” adding, “I don’t know why I put it in the act, except (that) I think it’s really pretty.” (She’s right.) When she struts across the stage during “Son of a Preacher Man,” however, that’s when she unquestionably owns the joint, and following it with “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” the closer of the proper show, certainly leaves ‘em wanting more. The two-song encore, however, is a little anti-climactic, unfortunately; while “Quiet Please, There’s A Lady on the Stage” (known mostly as a Peter Allen song) is appropriate, closing with a song called “Put Your Hands Together” seems just a little too obvious.

The special features include interviews with members of Springfield’s inner circle, including her secretary of 20 years, two of her former back-up singers, and her manager. The greatest revelation the DVD offers about the concert is that, although it was apparently not captured by the microphones, Dusty mused from the stage that, although Princess Margaret was in attendance at the show, “(I’m) glad to see that royalty isn’t confined to the box.” While a pretty funny way to reference her gay and lesbian following who were decidedly in attendance – “queens,” get it? – it resulted in her having to sign a public apology, as it was considered a slight to the Royal Family. (Good grief.)

If your knowledge of Dusty Springfield is limited to her duet with the Pet Shop Boys (“What Have I Done to Deserve This?”) and her song, “Son of a Preacher Man,” from its inclusion on the soundtrack to “Pulp Fiction,” you might not want to taint it by watching this DVD. Despite the claim on the back of the DVD, this does not capture Dusty “at the height of her career.” It’s an interesting artifact, but it’s far from Dusty at her finest.

Note: The concert is also being released on CD, containing three bonus tracks: live versions of “Hollywood Movie Girls,” “Baby Blue,” and “Brand New Me.” Most interesting of the bunch is “Baby Blue,” which was written by Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, and Bruce Wooley a.k.a. the same guys who wrote “Video Killed the Radio Star”...not you’d ever guess it when listening to the song.

~Will Harris 



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