Long before Christopher Reeve's tragic horseback accident that left him a quadriplegic for the remainder of his life, one could say that Teddy Pendergrass could have been the most recognizable celebrity face for spinal injuries and paralysis. Injured in a 1982 car accident that left him without the use of his legs, he continued to perform (albeit on a limited basis) and started the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to help those who have incurred similar injuries. And while his face was familiar, it was his voice that helped him become popular, and his singing is highlighted in this 1982 concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon, recorded shortly before the car accident later that year which would transform his career.
Never having seen much film of Pendergrass before his injury, what amazed me about his performance is how kinetic and always moving it was. The concert itself is a short and compact set, but he dances and sings throughout the more upbeat numbers and belts out the ballads. The songlist is:
Medley ("I Don't Love You Anymore"/"The More I Get, The More I Want"/"You Can't Hide From Yourself")
"Where Did All The Loving Go"
"Come Go With Me"
"Close the Door"
"Turn Off The Lights"
"Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand"
For those unfamiliar with Pendergrass' work, the singer forged a reputable career within the Philly soul era, leading Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in popular hits like "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "Don't Leave Me This Way" before the group eventually disbanded and he forged a solo career. He went on to release ten consecutive solo albums (from 1977's self titled album onwards) that would reach the Billboard U.S. R&B chart Top 10, including four certified Platinum albums.
Is this concert, seeing Pendergrass singing as he did, belting out the lyrics while dancing to the songs and interacting with the crowds and his on-stage musicians, clearly he possessed a innate control of his surroundings and his music, and while the set goes on you can't help but get swept up in the mood. However, knowing what he experienced in the months and years following (the accident and his 2010 death from respiratory failure at the age of 59), it breaks your heart to witness it. On one hand, you can see the power he had on stage and how he employed it, on the other knowing that it would all be taken away makes for a mix of feelings of awe and wonder combined with regret.
It's that conflict that hinders me from really enjoying Live in '82. I enjoyed seeing Teddy in his prime and doing what he loved to do and do well, but I can only hope that the work he did for his charity over the last quarter century of his life ensures that similar moments can be enjoyed by others without experiencing tragic endings.
The concert is presented in full frame video. This is a straightforward presentation, lightly dusted with video effects here and there, and the source material looks a bit worn and there is some image noise. That said, when one is looking at a digital reproduction of a near 30-year old performance, beggars can't be choosers. There is no haloing or edge enhancement in the concert and things look as good as can be, though I wish they could have been better.
It is disappointing that the audio is two-channel Dolby stereo. The rear channels receive little to no attention whatsoever and the concert occurs entirely in the front speakers. The said it sounds fine in the front, with no panning to speak of and Pendergrass' vocals booming as much as they can from the limited sound choice. Damn, wish it could have been a surround track.
Three additional songs ("I Can't Live Without Your Love," "You're the Latest, My Greatest Inspiration" and "The Whole Town's Laughing At Me") are the only extras on the disc.
Live in '82 is definitely worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with the musical stylings of Teddy Pendergrass. That said, with a substandard technical presentation and supplemental material, the disc feels a little symbolic of Pendergrass himself in that his work continues to be underappreciated and virtually unrecognized. I wouldn't buy this disc unless another better looking (or more importantly, sounding) title is out there or in the pipeline.