Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
No one will ever accuse Annie Lennox of being addicted to touring. Although she performed regularly in her days with Eurythmics in the Eighties, once the band took a break and she embarked on a solo career, her concert appearances almost totally ceased. She did quite well with her albums, as both 1992’s Diva and 1995’s Medusa performed nicely, but they didn’t move off the shelves due to her live work. She only played a few concerts in support of either record, as she did a few isolated gigs to promote Medusa.
Anxious fans finally got another look at Annie up-close in late 1999, when she and Dave Stewart reunited as Eurythmics and launched a world tour to support their album Peace and a few charities, but chances are good the show didn’t make it to your town. It certainly didn’t come to mine, as the “Peacetour” hit only two cities in the US. Europeans were a bit more fortunate, and the British received a slew of shows, all of which culminated a final London performance documented on the fine Peacetour DVD.
As I write this in July 2001, I have no idea where Anne Lennox’s career will go. Will she create more solo material or will she continue with Eurythmics? Whatever the case may be, I’ll be surprised if her path takes her on any form of extensive tour. It seems likely that most fans will have to settle for DVDs like Peacetour and Annie Lennox Live In Central Park if they want a fix of their favorite diva.
The latter comes from her only significant appearance to promote Medusa, as she played a show in New York during the fall of 1995. On the DVD, we find a nice sampling of material from that show. Not surprisingly, her solo songs dominate the package, though I didn’t expect Diva to offer better representation than the more recent Medusa. The latter provides three of the 12 songs, as we hear versions of “No More ‘I Love You’s”, “Waiting In Vain”, and “Train In Vain”. For the record, Medusa consisted of covers of others’ songs; these three originally came from the Lover Speaks, Bob Marley, and the Clash, respectively.
Diva offers another five tunes, as that album’s “Money Can’t Buy It”, “Legend In My Living Room”, “Walking On Broken Glass”, “Little Bird” and “Why” also make appearances. It does seem odd that the older record featured more material, but since she toured behind neither Diva nor Medusa, I can’t quibble; both albums received essentially their first live renditions here.
Lastly, the other four songs on Central Park come from Annie’s career as a Eurythmic. We discover the band’s signature tune, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), which comes from the 1983 album of the same name. 1983 also offers Touch’s “Who’s That Girl?” From 1985, we get Be Yourself Tonight’s “I Love You Like a Ball and Chain”, while “You Have Placed a Chill In My Heart” emanates from 1987’s Savage.
From what I can tell, these 12 songs do not comprise the total Central Park concert. I did some research but I couldn’t discover a full setlist for the show. However, Medusa can be purchased with a bonus CD that includes tunes from the concert. On that disc you’ll find a live version of Touch’s “Here Comes the Rain Again”, so it seems obvious that at least one number was omitted from the DVD. Why the program fails to show the entire performance seems mysterious, but that’s the way it is.
With or without “Rain” and any other potentially absent songs, Central Park provides a fairly solid experience. The concert seems less theatrical than I expected. I thought Lennox would follow the same vein explored in her artsy videos and also seen on TV appearances like one on David Letterman’s show to promote Medusa. However, this is a pretty naturalistic and laid-back show that focuses primarily on the music.
Personally, I prefer a little flash and a stronger visual element, but at least Central Park provides some fine musical performances. Lennox has a great voice, and she sounds terrific during the show. She never appears to falter or waver, as her singing seems clear and vibrant at all times. The backing band are very competent, though they lack much panache or style. Nonetheless, they represent the material nicely and help make the show very positive musically.
Favorite moments will likely depend on preferred tunes, for there isn’t much to differentiate the songs visually. For example, during Madonna’s current tour, I thought the best parts of the show depend as much on the theatrics as on the tracks. I never much liked “Sky Fits Heaven”, but the performance of it live makes it something to which I look forward.
That factor doesn’t really come into play during Central Park. Since the visuals remain fairly static, my enjoyment of the songs becomes paramount. “Who’s That Girl?” offers a moderately stripped-down rendition that works quite nicely, and “Walking On Broken Glass” is also a winner. As for the rest, they all seem about the same, really. I like all of them, but none stand out as anything particularly special.
During my reviews of concert performances, I occasionally rail against directors’ tendencies to provide too much extraneous footage. For example, in Paul McCartney’s Get Back, an absurdly high portion of the film shows crowd shots or material that has nothing to do with the concert; not once during “The Long and Winding Road” do we actually see Paul and the band!
Central Park doesn’t rival that program in this way, but it does shift from the stage too frequently. The show starts with some shots of Annie and company as they arrive, and we learn a little about the popularity of the concert. As the performance progresses, we occasionally find shots of rehearsals and general images from New York that are cut into the concert. I think these are rather annoying and distracting, as they shift focus from the appropriate place.
Sonically, the program stays with the concert for the most part, but it does provide some rehearsal audio at times. Prior to “Ball and Chain” and “Little Bird”, we see and hear some shots of Annie and the band as they go through the motions. I also could have lived without these moments.
When Central Park remains on stage, it provides a competent and watchable concert. Otherwise the director largely resists the urge to spice up the program with excessive cuts and flashy effects, though the piece offers some effects that could get on my nerves. Nonetheless, Annie Lennox Live In Central Park provides a generally winning night of fine music.