Everyone knows that the best thing about Youtube is digging through live performance footage for gems. Here are six that changed my life.
Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror – Grammys 1988
I only recently started watching live MJ footage, and it's been surprising to see when he lip-syncs and when he has live vocals. I'm not mad about it, but I've gotten in fights with friends who swear that he never lip syncs. For the bulk of this performance, it sounds to me like his live vocal is mixed in along with the recorded vocals, but this doesn't detract from his performance at all. And then there is a moment when the microphone seems to cut out, and we're left with just the live vocal. From this moment to the end, it is pure magic. The moment when the background singer walks over to Michael and helps him up off the ground. I feel like the background singer is acting on behalf of the whole world, as if we're all saying, “Stand up Michael, sing out Michael.” Then he does, and he takes us all the way to the top. And he gets so excited that he can't help but jump up and down. He's so dynamic.
Annie Lennox / David Bowie – Under Pressure – Queen Tribute Concert 1992
First of all, Annie Lennox's makeup, wtf. Bowie is always Bowie, but in this performance you see a calm intensity in his eyes that seems to say, “I know, I know.” The song moves along, we're enthralled, and then they get to the climax, “love's such an old-fashioned word…” and they meet in the middle and start holding onto each other, Annie a little bit tighter than Bowie. She moves her head to his chest, she creeps in and tries to kiss him, the tension is building, then they look into each other's eyes and say to each other with a sigh of relief, “pressure”. The way they time their interactions with each other, every moment of chemistry seems spontaneous yet in perfect unison with the rises and falls in the music, a brilliant duet.
Peter Gabriel / Youssou N'Dour – In Your Eyes – Live in Athens 1987
So many things to love and talk about. Peter's vocal performance is rich and vulnerable, it might be better than the studio version. And Youssou's high tenor is the perfect complement. Peter's physicality is awkward and unrefined, but he doesn't hide it or shy away from it at all, he's relaxed and committed. It reminds me of the way a proud father dances at their child's wedding. The weird overcoat guy with his spinning gallop move. The energy on the stage is so genuine and unrestrained. It reaches a high point when Youssou and Peter hold hands lumberjack-style and start pushing and pulling back and forth like schoolchildren, screaming “HOO, HOO, HOO.” Also, the added sections at the beginning and end make for nice bookends to an already brilliant pop song. The moment at the end when Peter says, “it's in your eyes” and he steps back so that the only thing in light is his hand. The gesture is so genuine, it makes me want to phase out the concept of irony from my life. Also this footage was shot by Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc.) and was produced by Martin Scorcese.
Stevie Wonder – Musikladen – 1974
Stumbled upon this performance during a late night Youtube binge. Saw that it was 30 minutes, thought that I would watch a little bit, hit play and ended up watching the whole entire thing from beginning to end and being very tired the next day. The simplicity of a group of great musicians playing great songs. Note the long-haired white guy in the back shredding on a hollowbody. This is a no-frills jam. The content of this performance lies completely in the feel and skill of the musicians.
Kate Bush – Suspended in Gaffa – French TV Show
All we see here is her lip-syncing in the middle of a studio surrounded by an audience of bored looking French twenty-somethings. It's mind-blowing that Kate can create a performance as bold and strange as this one all by herself with nothing more than choreography and facial expressions. Nowadays this would be done with CG effects, big costumes, and technology, which would likely only end up distracting from the essence of Kate. Kate Bush was a performer who trusted her instincts, I can imagine her rehearsing in a dance studio coming up with these odd moves, whereas many people would have laughed at them, she had the courage to trust in the absurdity of the human mind. She let this performance be a pure expression of the song and herself. Somehow, she never let her vision be clouded by exterior unrelated influences. She is a true visionary.
Nina Simone – How it Feels to Be Free – Montreux 1976
One of the greatest performance I have ever seen. The little nugget of humanity that exists in every human being yet that we so rarely feel connected to, Nina Simone effortlessly hands it to us on a silver platter. It's almost cruel to compare her to other musicians, the weight of her performance renders them frivolous and childlike. It's easier to compare her to someone like Marlon Brando, yet that in itself is astounding considering how many more tools a film actor has to work with. This 5-minute performance develops in complexity and depth to a level only reached in classic films. It's exhilarating, tragic, and life-changing. Jonathan Livingston Seagull ain't got nothing on her.
Body Parts debut album Fire Dream is out October 29 on Father/Daughter.