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Teddy Pendergrass: Teddy! Live in ’79 [DVD]

Teddy Pendergrass
Shout! Factory

It makes sense to capture Teddy Pendergrass performing live at a Lake Tahoe, NV casino, because his concerts back in the ’70s were obviously ‘adults only’ affairs. This rearview mirror video disc glance gives viewers another chance to experience Pendergrass getting all soulful in front of a swooning, mostly female audience.

Indeed, you cannot analyze a Teddy Pendergrass performance without also factoring in the sexual component. Granted, Pendergrass is a fine singer who’s recorded some memorable records both as a solo act and with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes over the years. But watching Pendergrass live, the way he’s captured here, is like looking in on a mating ritual of some sort: Pendergrass, the male, calls; and all the ladies respond immediately, smitten. Even though he’s recorded some quality songs over his career, he might just as well have been singing the praises of Dick Cheney’s hunting skills during this show for all these ladies cared — he’d still have gotten the same rabid, submissive response.

Unlike so much in the rap realm today, however, Pendergrass’ old school come-ons were never verbally explicit. This DVD is not for the kids, it’s true, but there’s also no naughty sex talk or foul language on it. Nevertheless, when Pendergrass sings about love, everybody in the house knows exactly what he’s talking about. (Uh, it’s the physical kind, ya know).

As sexy as this performance is, it sure doesn’t last very long. (And no, that was not meant as a Viagra pun) Its running time is a chintzy 80 minutes. There are only eight selections — medley included — contained on the whole DVD! Its best moments are contained in that medley, however, because Pendergrass takes a few moments to relive snippets of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, “The Love I Lost”, “Bad Luck”, and “Wake up Everybody”, which were all hits for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. The strangest musical moment of all, by the way, is Pendergrass’ cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. It may possible for a man to be lonely, even with many other people around him, but it’s impossible to picture this singing love machine (Pendergrass, that is) completely alone. In this case, the song just doesn’t fit the singer.

Unfortunately, too much of this material is forgettable. For instance, the show opens with “Life Is a Song worth Singing”, which expresses one of those ‘everything is always alright’ sentiments that always go over well at casino shows. Nobody ever wants to bring anybody down when wallets are not yet emptied of their content. Much later, the show closes with “Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose”, which is a generic, funky dance tune. In other words, it sends the audience on their way out of the venue tapping their feet. Perhaps it’s foolish to expect a transcendent experience at a freakin’ casino. These are, after all, places where everybody lives under the illusion that they’re lucky winners.

“Close the Door” is the musical moment where the performance/audience foreplay hits its highpoint. As the song’s intro plays, Pendergrass throws off his shirt, revealing all of his many gold chains hanging over a white tank top. A couple of times when performing it he walks away from the microphone while still singing. This might have been a cool and intimate move for the folks sitting right down front, but for home viewers, it’s an annoying and uncomfortable vocal silence. During this seductive song he sings, “Let me do what I want to do”, and his audience screams back it’s willingness to follow his buff body anywhere it leads.

As a bonus, this DVD includes an interview with Pendergrass, which was recorded at his home in 2002. Pendergrass is now wheelchair bound, which prevents him from having the same sort of erotic affect on his audience anymore. It’s uneasy to see and hear him talking about making a comeback, when such a plan seems hardly plausible. It’s now been 20 years since Pendergrass was tragically paralyzed from the waist down. If he hasn’t won back his audience by now, he’ll probably never get them back.

On a lighter note, this interview segment reveals some valuable background information about Pendergrass’ musical history. For example, he started as the drummer in Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes before he became the group’s lead singer. Strangely enough, Marvin Gaye began at Motown as a pianist prior to becoming one of the greatest ever soul singers. It makes you wonder about the shy personalities of such sex symbols: How do they ever get the courage to step out into the spotlight and melt women’s hearts? One supposes that beneath all of that extroverted sexuality, there’s a bashful boy inside Pendergrass somewhere. Same with Marvin.

This DVD offers a small taste of Pendergrass’ work. It would have been a much more fulfilling offer if it had also included the standout track like “Love TKO,” and if it were measured in hours rather than minutes. But as it is, it’s a good, but not great, portrait of the charismatic performer Teddy Pendergrass once was.

RATING 6 / 10