Friday, April 07, 2006

Teddy Pendergrass - Teddy! Live in '79

I’ll admit it, I knew very little about Teddy Pendergrass or his music before watching this dvd. Sure, I knew the name, but I’d be hard pressed to name even one of his songs. Still, it was impossible to pass up the prospect of a live R&B performance filmed at a Lake Tahoe casino in the late 70s. Think of the possibilities: ridiculous costumes (especially on the audience members) matched with funky, soulful grooves, all wrapped up in a casino lounge environment…solid gold!

While Pendergrass built up a solid name for himself during the late 70s, his performing career was largely curtailed in the aftermath of an auto accident in 1982 that left him paralyzed. He continued to enjoy some popularity throughout the 80s and still records sporadically, but this dvd is nearly the only available record of his performance peak. And what a record it is.

As the show begins, Pendergrass takes the stage dressed in an all white ensemble including a flowing cape/robe and proceeds to work up a mighty sweat through his incendiary performance during the first couple of tracks. After slowing things down with a moving cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, he launches into a medley of his hits from his previous group, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Then it’s back into his own catalog for the rest of the show, with time out for an extended audience sing-along near the end. I suspected that his songs would be primarily slow jams, so I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a bit of funk in the mix, with Pendergrass even assisting on percussion on a few tracks. A couple of tracks drift too far into extended, unfocused jams, and Pendergrass proves to have much more of a vocal presence than a stage presence, but the unbridled joy of the audience and performers is infectious and far outweighs any minor detractions.

The video quality is fairly crisp and clear considering its origin as a tv broadcast. The sound quality is not as great due to the mono broadcast standards of the time, but a decent home theater setup will allow the discerning listener to tweak the limited spectrum to a passable sound mix with just enough bump for the subwoofer.

Aside from the hour long concert performance, there’s an insightful half hour interview with Pendergrass filmed at his home in Philadelphia in 2002. During the interview, he talks about his reasons for splitting from his original group, as well as the aftermath of his accident and his triumphant return to the stage during Live Aid in 1985. He has no regrets and seems completely content with his current life, making him an even more likeable figure.

Fans of Pendergrass should purchase this release without hesitation, while newbies can also find much to admire. The dvd serves as both a time capsule of a bygone era as well as a stunning introduction to, or reminder of, the vocal mastery of Pendergrass.


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