Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 22, 2020)
Sometimes I encounter musical acts that I feel I should really like but don’t. They fit with my normal preferences and create decent work but just don’t light my fire.
Into that category falls INXS. The Australian band always seemed like a gang I should enjoy, but other than one song – “New Sensation” – their music never did much for me.
Nonetheless, I felt interested to get a look at them as a live act. Actually, I once saw them in person, as they opened for the Go-go’s way back in 1984. However, I’d not heard of INXS prior to that show, and I possess absolutely no memory of their performance.
Live Baby Live documents a July 13, 1991 INXS concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. The band’s summer tour found them in support of their X album, and the 22-song disc presents eight tracks from that record: “Suicide Blonde”, “Disappear”, “The Stairs”, “By My Side”, “Who Pays the Price”, “Know the Difference”, “Bitter Tears”, “Lately” and “Hear That Sound”.
1987’s smash hit Kick gives us a whopping ten tunes: “Guns In the Sky”, “New Sensation”, “Need You Tonight”, “Devil Inside”, “Mediate”, “The Loved One”, “Wild Life”, “Never Tear Us Apart”, “Kick” and “Mystify”.
That doesn’t leave room for many pre-1987 songs, but a few appear. We get the title track and “What You Need” from 1985’s Listen Like Thieves plus “Original Sin” and “Send a Message” from 1984’s The Swing. This means we get nothing at all from 1982’s Shaboo Shoobah, 1981’s Underneath the Colours, or 1980’s INXS.
For what it’s worth, Baby seems to capture INXS at their commercial and creative peak, and their confidence comes across well on stage. Actually, I’ll admit that they seem a little too pumped for the concert, as at times it feels like the musicians want hard to act like rock stars but they don’t really get there.
This is mostly true for the band and not singer Michael Hutchence, who clearly enjoyed a connection to the rock god muse. One can clearly see elements of Jagger, Morrison and Tyler in Hutchence, but he doesn’t come across as an imitator.
Hutchence had that big time rock singer vibe that helped tie together the band. With a lesser front man, the vamping of the others would have become unbearable, but Hutchence seems so relentlessly magnetic and watchable that he makes the experience much more enjoyable. Other than during his fairly inane between-songs patter, that is - shut up and sing, Mike!
To be sure, the band sounded pretty good this July night. Since I don’t count myself as a fan, I can’t compare this performance to earlier ones, but they seemed pretty “on” during this occasion.
The musicians annoyed me when I watched them, but if I sat back and simply listened, I could forget their posing and enjoy the tight connection they displayed.
Their clear bond helps make the music more enjoyable. As I noted, “New Sensation” is the only INXS song I ever really liked, and I can’t say this disc changed my feelings terribly.
I’ll probably need to let a few days lapse and see if any of the other tracks stick in my head. Right now, I can’t think of any that stand out terribly strongly, but I also can’t conjure any real duds. Instead, the songs represent fairly high quality rock.
The numbers definitely come to life better on stage than in the studio. Part of the reason I never cared for INXS’s albums stems from their sterility.
The band always felt cold and calculated on their records, and these lacked much spark or real visceral punch. On stage, however, INXS help make up for that. This performance infuses many of the songs with much greater power and punch than heard in their studio incarnations.
I doubt anyone’s directed more rock concert videos than David Mallet, and he provides pretty typical work here. Actually, the early moments seem somewhat choppy, as Mallet employs too much quick cutting among bandmembers.
However, Mallet soon takes his Ritalin and calms himself. Efficient and effective, Mallet covers the action well but the video never rises above that level.
Mallet is basically the “Old Reliable” of the filmed concert world. You won’t get anything fresh or innovative from him, but he gives you a clean and accurate representation of the original event, which seems fine with me.
I went into Live Baby Live without much affection for INXS, and I can’t say the disc radically changed my mind. However, I did find a lot to like about the band’s work from this fairly fiery and exciting live performance. The show brought their music to life about as well as one could expect, and it seemed like a good document of a notable concert.
Note that the Blu-ray brings a slightly extended version of Baby, as it integrates “Lately” into the program. That tune appeared on the DVD as a bonus track, but here it becomes part of the concert, and it does so in a seamless manner.