The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition (Legacy)
By Brian Arsenault
There was a time – about when the British Invasion occurred and for some years thereafter — when Roy Orbison had faded from America’s musical consciousness. He hadn’t had a hit for a while after a seemingly unending stream of them in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Yet he soldiered on at small clubs; the Something Beach Casino, the Thirsty Lounge, the Whackadoodle. You know the kind of place or, maybe not if you’re less than a certain age. Will smell of beer unto eternity.
Sparse band – guitar, bass, drums, sometimes a backup singer or two. Playing in a dimly lit room and wearing sunglasses. And black clothes. Just black.
He could always get gigs because the room would always be full. His fans never went away, but what we didn’t know at the time was that those fans included the giants of the day.
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Keith Richards, so many more. Orbison would emerge from the shadows to play with some of them, most of them. He would more than carry his weight in the Wilburys. The biggest of the big were more thrilled to work with him than he was with them. He was just gracious. As always.
He finally took his place among the Immortals. And then he died.
I had a boss back in my ad agency days who used to say: “Life sucks and then you die.” Maybe so, but it never sucked when you saw Roy Orbison perform or listened to his records. Also best in the dark, alone, as Springsteen has pointed out.
By the time of the show captured in The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition, he had a pretty slick multi-piece band — strings even and bongos and congas and fine support singers — but it was still that voice they came to hear. You can hear them, devoted as a Joni Mitchell crowd, urging him on, cheering more with each song.
A man who’d had so much loss in his life sang about your loss, our loss, everybody’s loss. Only the dead and those who’ve never been lonely — raise your hands; what?, none? — can hear “Only the Lonely” without at least a small twinge of the heart. And he hits the high notes of pain at the end like he had a thousand, ten thousand times before. Perfecto.
In an era when men didn’t cry they could hurt and hurt bad in Roy’s songs. That bittersweet pain as in “Crying” when “just the touch of your hand . . .” Did you think you were over her? Did you? The crowd loves it. Loves it. Don’t we? And don’t we know why?
That magnificent torch song (maybe they all are) “It’s Over” sung like it was a flippin’ opera. Maybe an opera could be constructed around Orbison’s lyrics and music if the artist was great enough. “Your baby doesn’t love you any more. It’s over.”
Can you hear it? I can’t stop hearing it.
One song on the album I think suffers from an overwrought arrangement. My second favorite of all his tunes after “Only the Lonely” is the soft regret of “Blue Bayou.”
The original 45 is just so good and Linda Ronstadt’s version is to break your heart. I think he wrote that last note with her in mind, even if he didn’t know her then. On this CD, there’s some cluttered instrumentation and backup singing.
A small flaw, though, when you are to be possessed by the Jamaican rhythms of “Leah,“ the mournful loss of “In Dreams,” the rockabilly of “Dream Baby,” and the hope, finally hope, of “Pretty Woman.”
He had lost a lot. I know, I said that. I didn’t write about it here but it’s well documented elsewhere and just so damn sad. Through it all somehow, Roy Orbison gave a lot. Then we lost him. Now when you need him, only in the dark, in music, in dreams.
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