Roy Orbison: Black & White Night 30

Bonus-laden reissue of stellar 1987 all-star tribute to Roy Orbison

Rarely have stars aligned so figuratively and literally as for this Roy Orbison concert. More than a gathering of famous fans, the performance was a testimonial to the Big O’s lasting impact and enduring artistry. Backing Orbison was Elvis Presley’s TCB Band of Ron Tutt (drums), Jerry Scheff (bass), Glen D. Hardin (piano) and James Burton (electric guitar), augmented by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Alex Acuna, Tom Waits and T Bone Burnett, a backing chorus of k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles and Jackson Browne, and a quartet of violins and violas. Recorded at the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood’s Ambassador Hotel, the program was cablecast on Cinemax and released as a live album. It’s subsequently been reissued on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, CD, SACD and was turned into a PBS fundraising perennial.

The song list mixes Orbison’s biggest hits with a few lesser-known selections, including the B-sides “Leah” and “Go! Go! Go! (Move on Down the Line).” The latter finds Burton, Orbison and Springsteen trading guitar solos, and the look on Springsteen’s face as he plays for Orbison is priceless. Throughout the program there’s an overarching sense of admiration as the band and guests are spellbound by Orbison’s operatic flights and emotion-drenched songs. Springsteen is giddy as he sidles up behind Orbison to sing harmony on “Sweet Dream Baby,” and when Orbison nails the climax of “Crying,” the band stops to applaud along with the audience. Although the group rehearsed twice before the show, you get the feeling that these artists had been singing and playing these songs their entire musical lives, and that they weren’t just paying fealty to Orbison, they were paying back a debt.

So why another reissue? Aside from leveraging the thirtieth anniversary to introduce this one-of-kind performance to a new generation, the new DVD and Blu-ray include previously unseen performances, newly integrated camera angles and a mini-documentary, and the running order has also been restored to reflect the set as it was played. The new performances include “Blue Angel” and a shorter alternate take of “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and five songs (“(All I Can Do Is) Dream You,” “The Comedians,” “Candy Man,” “Claudette” and “Uptown”) performed after the audience left for the evening. The 37-minute documentary includes rehearsal footage, along with pre- and post-show interviews with Springsteen, Costello, lang, Raitt and Browne. All together, the new cut of the concert and the generous extras provide a terrific complement to (though not a replacement for) the original release.

At the time of its original release, the special helped launch Orbison’s commercial renewal, which included the Mystery Girl album, and his collaboration with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys. But years of neglecting his health caught up to Orbison fourteenth months after taping the concert, and he died of a heart attack in December 1988 at the age of 52. His recorded legacy is now being tended to by his sons Alex and Roy Jr., the former of whom co-edited the video, and the latter of whom wrote the liners. Roy’s Boys also supervised the recent restoration of Orbison’s MGM catalog and the release of the missing album One of the Lonely Ones. As with those earlier projects, the restoration and expansion of this performance honors their father’s legacy and shows in stark black and white, the broad, long-lasting impact of his music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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