Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

Roy Orbison’s Finale

By David Luhrssen
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Taped for a Cinemax broadcast in 1988, “Black & White Night” featured Roy Orbison and an all-star band in what proved to be the singer’s final concert. Reissued now on DVD, “Black & White Night” has endured as one of the great concert documentaries, its moody black and white cinematography matching the lonesome spirit of many of the songs.

For most of the show, Orbison stood still behind the microphone and those trademark horn-rimmed shades, the center of gravity on a stage crowded with stars that humbled themselves by performing out of the spotlight as backing musicians. Yes, that’s Bruce Springsteen in suit and bolo tie, and Elvis Costello seated on a chair strumming staccato rhythms on acoustic guitar. Could that really be Tom Waits behind a pedal steel or k.d. lang in a little black dress singing backup?

Orbison had operatic range, not technically but emotionally as he plumbed depths of desolation and resignation seldom fathomed in pop music on “Only the Lonely,” “Running Scared: and “The Comedians.” His falsetto was frightening, yet he could relax into a country mode on “Sweet Dreams” or recall his rockabilly roots on the playful “Ooby Dooby.” “Black & White Night” captured a magnificent performance by an artist who would soon be dead, struck down by a heart attack.

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