It's hard to see a reason for live 'Barbra'

September 27, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

In a strange way, the worst thing about Barbra Streisand's new live album, "Barbra -- The Concert" (Columbia 66109, two CDs), is that it's exactly like the shows she did on her recent tour.

Now, considering how well-sung and ingeniously staged those shows were, that may seem an odd thing to complain about. It isn't often, after all, that people pay as much as $300 a ticket and come away feeling as if they got a bargain. So what could possibly be wrong with getting the same experience at a tenth of the price?

Nothing -- except that it's the same experience if all you have is the album.

Sure, the singing is great. The favorites are everything a fan could hope for, from the stirring sweep of "People" to the lush, silken cadences of "Evergreen." Even those songs that it seems she couldn't possibly bring anything new to -- "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," for instance, which seems almost wilted when others attempt it -- are somehow enlivened, as if the sheer conviction of her delivery made the melodies fresh again.

Even better, she broadens her artistic approach without succumbing to the sort of artistic overreach that made the start of her tour seem so uneven. Everything she attempts in "The Concert" works marvelously, from the jazzy swing of "Lover Man" to the tuneful tenderness of the "Disney Medley." Taken simply as a measure of her vocal abilities, "The Concert" is nothing less than stunning.

So what's to complain about? Just one thing -- "The Concert" really isn't a concert. It's a show, with a set, comedy bits, special effects, and a whole range of things that don't really come off if you can't see them. And with an album, of course, you don't.

From the audience, it was easy to be dazzled by the "Therapist Dialogue #3," in which Streisand weaves snippets from her films together into a wry commentary on the nature of psychoanalysis. Seeing her move from doctor to patient and back again as character after character flicked by on the screen was terrifically entertaining, but without the images, all you're left with is a babble of voices that may or may not ring a few bells.

Also, the segment in which she talks about her youthful fascination with Marlon Brando, then joins him in a "duet" on "I'll Know," works much better when you can see the clip from "Guys and Dolls" she's using. Likewise, the "Yentl Medley," though wonderfully sung, has much greater impact when it's accompanied by scenes from the film. Even the interaction with the crowd would seem livelier if you could see the people she's talking to.

That's not to say the lack of visuals is entirely bad.

Her pro-Clinton statement on "Happy Days," which in concert was accompanied by what can only be described as a propaganda film, comes across as considerably less partisan when boiled down to a few remarks and a lustrous rendition of the song. (It also got a much bigger hand in New York than it did in Washington, which may say something about why the president is having such a hard time.)

Granted, a lot of Streisand fans won't really be bothered by such shortcomings; after all, there's more than enough music to make up for what you don't see. But if what you'd really like is the full Streisand experience, don't worry: You can always buy the video instead of the album.


To hear excerpts from Barbra Streisand's "Barbra -- The Concert," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6198 after you hear the greeting.

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