Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2009, Volume 16, #4
Written by John Metzger
Thu April 9, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
It is an age-old tale of sin and redemption, where Saturday nights repeatedly crash into Sunday mornings, thus forming a vicious cycle. After rattling off an impressive stream of hits in the mid-1950s, Little Richard abruptly embraced his gospel-soul upbringing by retreating from the music business in order to embark upon a spiritual quest. A mere five years later, however, the temptation of rock ínĎ roll grew too great for him to ignore. He once again returned not only to the road but also to the recording studio in what became the first of many attempts to revitalize his career. Because the world was changing so rapidly, though, he was only partially successful.
As the 1960s were drawing to a close, the music industry had begun to shift away from studio trickery in order to reinvest in the foundation of rock ínĎ roll. Chronologically situated between Augustís Woodstock Music & Arts Festival and Decemberís disastrous gathering at the Altamont Speedway, the Toronto Peace Festival became emblematic of the movement toward creating simpler music for these complicated times. Anchored by a cast that included Little Richard as well as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Doors, and the Plastic Ono Band, the single-day event seems to have become the eraís forgotten child.
Over the years, Donít Look Back, D.A. Pennebakerís cinematic glimpse at Bob Dylanís trek across England in 1965, as well as Monterey Pop, his lovely sketch of the magical weekend that John Phillips assembled in June 1967, have grown in stature. With the advancement of the home video market, numerous other concert-oriented extravaganzas from Pennebakerís stash have been issued on VHS and DVD. Nearly two decades ago, for example, portions of the Toronto Peace Festival, specifically John Lennonís performance, were aggregated in Sweet Toronto. More recently, additional footage from the event was culled together to create Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969, a DVD that features the entirety of Little Richardís brief but exhilarating set.
Visually, Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969 is fairly typical of Pennebakerís work. The camera angles and scenes dutifully establish the mood and feeling of the concert. Over the course of the program, Little Richardís performance is interspersed with shots of the audience, some of which were captured earlier in the day. In total, Pennebakerís documentary makes a strong case that the overall ambience of the show was akin to an abbreviated version of the laid-back, community-minded spirit of Woodstock. Still, viewers are left with the impression that the film, much like Little Richardís set, is but one small part of a much larger document.
Regardless, Little Richardís performance is something to behold. After all, he went into the show with something to prove, and he had every intention of making the opportunity he was granted to reestablish his faltering legacy work. Within the span of 30 minutes, Little Richard blazed through a hit-stoked set that included classic cuts such as Tutti-Frutti; Jenny, Jenny; and Long Tall Sally. He energetically pounded on his piano during the opening tune Lucille, while his backing band revealed the down-and-dirty, blues-based groove that lay at the heart of Good Golly, Miss Molly.
The songs themselves, however, only told half of the story. Shortly after the show began, Little Richard stepped away from his piano, and in hindsight, correlations between his flamboyant persona and the antics of his heirs are quickly drawn. In addition to being a songwriter and performer, Little Richard also had become a consummate entertainer. This, of course, was a lesson that wasnít lost on either Michael Jackson or Prince. Little Richard not only tossed his boots and mirrored jumpsuit into the crowd, but he also climbed on top of his piano and invited two members of the audience on stage to dance.
Little Richardís gestures werenít merely gimmicks either. They were a central part of his edgy execution. In some cases, he unleashed his hits not once, but twice in rapid succession. The forcefulness of his delivery ó which, at times, seemed to echo the crazed, almost out-of-control characteristics that The Beatles exhibited at The Cavern Club ó combined with his manic presence on stage whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Little Richard, it appears, wasnít quite ready to allow himself to slip into obscurity. While he never again truly found his groove in the recording studio, his live appearances extended his reputation as a performer who was rough, rowdy, and raucously energetic. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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