It’s a holiday today. That is to say: it’s a holiday for Liza Minnelli fans everywhere, today. That is because today all the Liza devotees are being given a gift for which they have been waiting for forty-two years.
In 1979 Liza Minnelli appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall for eleven nights. That concert was an artistic smash that has been discussed, ever since, not only because of its artistic excellence but because there has never been a complete recording of it. There was a two-album release on vinyl that was ruthlessly expurgated and there was a VHS recording of the concert (shot in New Orleans) that was also trimmed, though less so than the vinyl release. Together, the record album and the film footage (occasionally broadcast on television) were enough to keep fans satisfied, but it was also enough to tease them about what they were missing. Since the advent of the CD listening format, fans have craved and prayed that one day a digital recording would be made available, and that day has finally arrived, and it is a day worth celebrating.
Liza Minnelli re-shaped the concert industry. There might be those who will argue this point and this Minnelli fan is ready to go toe-to-toe with them, willing to concede that there were great concert performers doing amazing work before Ms. Minnelli, but the fact remains that the journey upon which Liza takes her audience during one of her concerts is unbelievably intricate, filled with moods and monologues and (practically) movies worthy of the name Minnelli and that it is a format that Liza and a team led by Fred Ebb created to suit her unique, particular gifts. To have a full recorded representation of a Minnelli concert is a bonafide boon, and, actually, not one that comes along every single time. The Live At The Winter Garden album was trimmed down (although the CD release included three bonus tracks), and the Live From Radio City Music Hall recording omitted some material that had been performed by Liza and the Demon Divas, but the live recording from the Three Weeks At Carnegie Hall appearance was always touted as being a complete concert documentation, and it is, inarguably, one of the best concert albums ever made. Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK 1979 rivals that recording and, for this fan, surpasses it.
With a CD cover that looks exactly like the original 1982 album Liza Minnelli LIVE AT Carnegie Hall (using the famed Minnelli Warhol), this new release has had a change in title, becoming Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK 1979. The back cover of the CD features the same photo as the OG release, with Minnelli striking a pose in her white bugle-beaded Halston, but that is where the similarities end. Although the original double album opened up to show a red-tinted photo of Liza with the band behind her, this new CD is a four-fold presentation filled with photos – some from the original souvenir program and some not previously seen – a thirty-five-page booklet full of liner notes by many people, including Minnelli herself, and Michael Feinstein (both of whom have executive producer credits), and reminiscences by close friends and family. The need for the four-fold presentation is more than just aesthetic because those fold-outs contain the booklet and three discs – the first, a digital remastering of the 1981 album (that a lot of us still own, having treasured it like a diamond, all these years), the second, the entire First Act, and the third, the entire Second Act. And although it may seem superfluous to own the original truncated version, it is fascinating to, first, listen to the complete concert and then play the OG recording to hear how the album producers tweaked and trimmed it to make it fit and flow on two vinyl albums. Obviously, there is no denying that the discs providing the full concert appearance will get more listening action, but it is still fun to have the full set. The original recording is also being made available on Vinyl for collectors, as originally released but on two red albums, including a booklet. Die-hard fans may, well, find themselves owning both versions of the new release from Real Gone Music.
Liza Minnelli has put out some great recordings during her career, especially those that document her concerts, but this one is special. This is Liza Minnelli at a very particular time in her life and career when she was the biggest star in the world. The movie and song Cabaret were still in the public’s memory, but the film “New York, New York” and the play The Act had given Liza two new signature songs (three if one counts “But The World Goes Round”), and all of these signature songs get hefty showcasing in this program. The performances of “Cabaret,” “New York, New York,” “City Lights” and “But The World Goes Round” are electrifying. Minnelli is in great voice, throughout, and in impeccable form, as she oh-so-theatrically starts the concert acapella, the band members taking their places on the scaffold-staircase behind her (we’ve all seen the New Orleans documentary, now available on iTunes). As, musical monologue by musical monologue, Liza Minnelli takes the listener down a series of rabbit holes, her ability to tell the stories she has brought to the stage shines brightly, resonating with individuality and originality. As enchanting and savvy in her storytelling as ever, Liza sets the scenes for “Arthur in the Afternoon” and “London Town,” and there is great connective tissue in Minnelli’s set-up for the “You And I” medley and the “New York medley,” two numbers that foreshadowed future offerings that went beyond the simple mashup into epic medley territory, like the “Men’s Medley” from the Radio City concert and the “Kander & Ebb Medley” from Three Weeks At Carnegie Hall. To be in the theater and see these numbers live, back in the Seventies, was to be exposed to something brilliant, stylish, and uniquely Minnelli, and this remastered presentation by Mike Milchner captures as many thrills as is possible to get without having actually been there in person. I should know – I was there in person.
In 1978 I was living in Switzerland. I was a fourteen-year-old teenager who was obsessed with Liza Minnelli, having been introduced to her by my mother, whom I adored. Liza was playing the Palais de Beaulieu, and though it meant a train ride of over an hour from Berne to Lausanne, my parents agreed to let me go and gave me the money for the entire excursion. It was my first live concert, my first of nine Liza Minnelli concerts, and one of the most exciting nights of my life. I remember every moment of it in detail, to this day, including my nonchalant stroll up to the stage during the intermission to pilfer bugle beads that had fallen from the Halston onto the boards, as mementos. Somewhere in a scrapbook, I still have six or seven 4×6 prints of terrible photos shot on one of those little fold-up Kodak Instamatic cameras. But the pictures in my head are as clear as though shot on a Hasselblad. Not owning a complete recording of the show all these years has left an honest-to-goodness void in my heart, and when I turned on this album to listen to it, in a way, it felt like coming home. I didn’t turn it on and do housework, I didn’t put it in my phone and listen to it on the subway: I sat in the living room with a pot of tea and listened as though I were sixteen again, reliving every moment in my mind, these four decades later. And I smiled the smile of someone truly happy. It would not surprise me to learn that others picking up this recording had the same reaction.
With Obba Babatunde (“Mister Cellophane”) and Roger Minami (“Arthur”) providing superb backup for Liza and a stellar orchestra led by Bill LaVorgna, the concert is classic Minnelli. One of the greatest things about Liza has always been her ability to cast the most gifted and exciting people with whom to share the stage, and even though the original album removed numbers like “Jam/Dance Across The Floor” that showcased the band and the boys, their restoration here is most welcome. At the end of the day, though, it’s a Liza Minnelli album, and hearing Minnelli perform everything from her tried-and-true hits to pop songs of the day is a genuine pleasure. Liza has always been interested in exploring that which is current, and her performances of songs by James Taylor (“Everybody Has The Blues”), Barry Manilow (“It’s A Miracle”), and Melissa Manchester (“Come In From The Rain”) wonderfully showcases her versatility and her interest in something that goes beyond the world of Sally Bowles, Michelle Craig, and Francine Evans – though the performance of “The Man I Love” (as combined with “My Ship”) is one of the album’s strongest selling points. That’s saying a lot because, from start to finish, Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK 1979 isn’t just one of the best Liza Minnelli albums to be released on CD, it isn’t just one of the best concert albums to be recorded, produced, remastered, and re-released after an uncomfortable four-decade wait, it’s just one of the best albums, period. Album reissue producers Joe Marchese and Charles L. Granata are to be commended (and thanked profusely) for finally making this happen for all the fans. It’s a treat to be treasured, an album to be savored over and over again for years to come. As frustrating as the wait was, the pay-off is worth the four decades. Get the complete recording and find out for yourself – you won’t be sorry. Contrarily, you will be thrilled and thankful that you did.
Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK 1979 is a 2022 release on the Real Gone Music label. Visit the Real Gone Music website HERE.
THIS is the Real Gone website page for Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK on CD.
HERE is the Real Gone website page for Liza Minnelli LIVE IN NEW YORK on Vinyl.