by Kristin Battestella
I was going to do Here at Last Live, but for once I am going to be somewhat timely with a review and do Robin Gibb With the Neue Philharmonic Frankfurt Orchestra Live! Say that three times fast! All us Americans have been whining about Robin’s recent lack of U.S. releases and appearances, so imagine my surprise when this CD and DVD were available at my Sam Goody! Recorded at a 2004 concert in Bonn, Germany this release is indeed a unique treat. I’ll focus mainly on the music, but sprinkle in a few DVD comments as well.
At first the orchestra overpowers Robin with the opening song Night Fever. Maybe they had some technical trouble to start, but the band’s music twists signify the interesting ride we are about to embark upon. Some parts you can’t tell it’s Night Fever! I can actually understand what Robin is saying, and on the DVD, he smiles!
These Germans can rock. I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You is mind boggling here. Almost, maybe if I listen to it enough, this version could surpass my penne ultimate Message version from Here At Last. Robin is in just the right tone with the orchestra, and the back up singers stay in the back where they belong. Although it sounds like they are saying ‘one more hour and my life will be true’! The ad-libbed ending and big finish are huge! Definitely a standout.
How Deep Is Your Love here is much better than the Capital Fourth version Robin did a while back. Maybe there was a little bit of touching up in the studio for the CD release, but Robin seems to have nearly hit the mark on singing these Bee Gees songs he didn’t used to sing lead on. The instruments are on form filling in for the falsetto sounds.
Despite being accustomed to the extra shrill echoes in the original Nights on Broadway, this version’s lack of shrills is acceptable. The orchestra plays all the notes to a T, and Robin very skillfully switches tones for the slow interlude. The whole place gets down with this one, the second longest tune.
Love Hurts is a very interesting song choice here. Sure Robin covered this classic of old for Magnet, but with so many Bee Gees songs to do, why do a cover? I expected the orchestra to really have something up its proverbial sleeve and really belt out some heartbreaking notes, but the big booms never really come on Love Hurts. Robin sings it totally sweet and the orchestra takes it all in stride. This one is so soft and nuanced it almost doesn’t sound live. This might be the only song here where Robin really let’s his voice out. Another standout.
Oddly enough, Massachusetts might be a miss here. Robin unnecessarily speeds up the pace, and he doesn’t belt it like we know he’s capable of belting it. It is funny though when his introduction is interrupted by a siren. This track is also a bit too short compared to all the others at four minutes plus.
I don’t really care about this Harold and his cutting in on My Lover’s Prayer. I want to hear Robin, but he sings okay I suppose. I really like how the starts and stops are taken to the next level on Prayer. Every pause is in just the right places, and the crescendos are on form. I’ve had this one stuck in my head now for days. Robin may have topped himself on the 97 version.
Robin tells the audience that there’s a twist to New York Mining Disaster 1941, but I don’t really hear it. It sounds totally cool and ominous and deathlike, as it should. I guess the music geeks in some of us knew what Disaster would sound like backed with a full orchestra. Say it with me now bassoon. A tough song to pull off considering it was originally done totally in three part harmony, Robin’s new mix takes the song’s focus off the background singers-thank goodness.
Harold returns and opens Please. I do like how there is a bit of talking back and forth between Robin, the band, and the crowd. Harold tells the audience to sing along, but I don’t think anyone does! Robin sings Please almost exactly like the Magnet release, but I think it would have been cool had Harold done the little echoes in the background.
It is incredible that Saved by the Bell sounds almost exactly the same as it did 35 years ago. Robin introduces a lot of the songs, giving a brief story and the title, then thanks the audience for their cheers. It is such a treat just to hear him sing nice and easy and old out those creaky notes. I never knew he was saying ‘heartbreak lane’ in the original!
Once again I wish the background singers would not sing on To Love Somebody. Their ooos and aaahhhs interrupt Robin’s lovely (if similar to other live renditions) performance. Robin slowly closes with a fading note and it sounds very beautiful-even reducing a fan to tears!
Robin introduces Words and tells the audience it’s a Barry song but he’ll try to tackle it. First off, I wonder of all the Robin songs to do, why is he doing a solo Barry song? I Started A Joke, anyone?! And secondly, why couldn’t Barry have been there?
Everyone gets to rocking with You Win Again. The guitar guy next to Robin sings along, and the real backup singers totally get in the groove. Robin starts out singing Win very strongly, but he doesn’t belt his oh baby! with as much power as the original. The back up girls also make the chorus a bit too high, but Robin looks like he having fun. The ending is also sharp.
I’ve always wondered why Robin never sings Juliet in falsetto like on its original Hoay release? Still, It’s nice when his singing is understandable. The lyrics and big booms and powerhouse are all here. On the DVD there is a slightly different ending to the track. The audience keeps singing along and the background singers do a small encore. Robin is just all beams about the fan response, perhaps the highlight of the night. Although I have to disagree with Robin saying the audience sings better. Um, no. Standout number three.
Tragedy is the longest track here. My non Gibb honey actually liked the original version, but said Robin’s delivery differed too much from Barry’s original falsetto. I known Robin can sing falsetto, so why do the back up girls always handle the high notes? Harold’s shreaks are a bit too Backstreet for me! I expected very big musical explosions but the pops were a bit weak. The ending does go to town though, and the string musicians really take a twirl with their violins!
Staunch a naysayer as I am, I enjoyed these closing renditions of Jive Talkin’ and Stayin’ Alive. All the competiting oddities I don’t like in the original versions are amended here with booming drums and sweet woodwinds. It is ironic to me, though, to end with these two songs. It seems there is a lot of jive going back and forth between Robin and Barry not getting along anymore, and if they aren’t getting along the group almost isn’t staying alive. Go fig.
As to the DVD there is a spiffy extra of Emotion. Over the end credits the orchestra plays Emotion, so I’m not really sure where it was in the original concert. It sound dang good though. Now, about the blonde background singer. I liked her voice and all, but I could go on about her diva in the making style for hours! The editors were smart not to give her any close ups. Besides her being very aware she’s on a world wide DVD, her death grip on the mike and her head bopping groove thing was just too over the top!
I do however like the percussion girl. She only smiles once near the beginning, but she is under a lot of stress. She’s got the salt and pepper shaker thing, bongos, congas, chimes, tambourine. What no triangle?! I had a good laugh when I did catch a triangle at the beginning of Words. Her and the Fabio guitar guy in the front need to get together.
It is all in good fun I notice these things about the orchestra. The video is edited very well. The cuts and split screens help carry over the feeling of a team. Robin may be the star but this entire production is made by the musicians. Props to the Conductor and his bald head. Pity we don’t find out who they are, or Harold’s last name!
In addition to Emotion, there are two five minute interviews with Robin in the Special Features section. One focuses on the Prebendal, and Robin gladly leads the camera through several areas of the grounds. He talks about the history, the chapel, and the gypsy wagon. To the Alice In Wonderland Garden! At the end he says he enjoyed the concert and hopes you watch it now. I guess he figured everybody would jump to the extras first! Robin also says he’ll see everyone next year. Hmm...
The second interview is about Robin delving into the songs. He mentions a few things about his style, the genesis of each song, and his musical inspirations. Props to his mention of Roy Orbinson! Robin also recounts the ‘Lights on Broadway’ story in quite humorous fashion. It’s like he just stops in his driveway and wants to talk about music! Robin share intimate details about all the classics, from Massachusetts to Staying Alive. The photo gallery, however, leaves a bit of something to be desired. The stills are somewhat dark and blurry and often times a picture of almost nothing. There are a few gems, if you’re willing to sit through the whole thing. Jiminy!
With this Live CD and DVD, Robin does make a go of keeping the music alive and just hearing an orchestra play Bee Gees songs is a treat and a half no less. However special it is to hear Gibb music in new ways, it is a bit sad that Barry didn’t participate and that the gap between these two genius brothers has grown since Maurice’s passing. I only hope the next live album we get will include both remaining Bee Gees. A Plus on the orchestra, B for one Bee Gee by default ;0)