Earlier this year Phil Collins released his first new studio album in eight years. Entitled Going Back, the album paid tribute to Motown’s salad days of the 1960s and rearly ’70s. New on Blu-ray, Going Back – Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC gives fans a chance to see Collins perform over two dozen Motown classics for an adoring audience. Backed by an eighteen piece band, including three original Funk Brothers (Motown’s famed house band), Collins remains in relatively strong voice throughout the hour and a half concert.
Given Collins’ vast amount of commercial success, both with and without Genesis, he can pretty much do whatever he wants at this point in his career. Collins deserves considerable credit for battling a couple nasty health issues over the last decade. After revealing he had suffered significant hearing loss in 2000, he considered retiring. During the 2007 Genesis reunion tour, Collins injured vertebrae in his neck, requiring surgery. On the official Genesis website, he explained that although the surgery was successful, his “hands still can’t function normally.” However, Collins persevered and played drums on the Going Back album with the sticks taped to his hands.
All things considered, Collins’ fighting spirit is quite impressive. The fruits of his labor are a mixed bag. Nearing sixty, his voice naturally isn’t what it used to be. Throughout the concert at the Roseland Ballroom, he manages to sound basically fine. But there isn’t much power in his vocals. Tackling each song in more or less the same straightforward way, Collins carries the tunes but doesn’t interpret them uniquely. Dressed in formal wear and squinting like Mr. Magoo, he shuffles around the stage like the world’s best karaoke singer.
That might seem exceedingly harsh. But consider that Collins’ own stated intent was to recreate the Motown songbook exactly as it was originally recorded. The horns, rhythm section, and backing vocalists are note-perfect in their disciplined, tasteful treatment of the songs. Unfortunately, there isn’t any real spark amongst the assembled musicians. The taut tension of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and bouncy fun of “Too Many Fish In the Sea” remind us of the great original recordings. I only wish the players had been allowed to cut loose a bit. Having a few Funk Brothers (bassist Bob Babbitt, guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette) in the band definitely helps add authenticity. Still, there just isn’t enough variation from the originals to keep things interesting.
The Roseland Ballroom set list was based largely on the eighteen track Going Back album, also available as an expanded edition with seven extra tunes. Not all of Collins’ choices are obvious signature Motown songs. In particular, he delivers effective readings of two Stevie Wonder ballads, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” and “Blame It On the Sun.” A couple songs featured on the Blu-ray are not on the album, such as a rendition of “You Can’t Hurry Love” (a massive hit for Collins in 1982) and the show-closing “My Girl.”
Eagle Rock presents the Blu-ray of Going Back – Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC in 1080p high definition at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The clarity of the video quality is apparent in the bold red curtains, with crisply defined folds, that surround the rear of the stage. Whether showcasing the entire stage or a tight close-up of a musician, everything is in sharp focus. Most of the show is brightly lit but even during the darker, shadowy lighting of numbers like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” the picture is free of pixelation or other digital artifacts. The DTS HD Master Audio is equally strong. The mix is always balanced, with each musical element registering clearly at an appropriate volume level. Crowd noise provides a quiet ambiance and helps maintain a you-are-there feel to the soundscape.
A pair of supplemental featurettes, each just under fifteen minutes, will no doubt please Phil Collins enthusiasts. Rehearsal footage shows the band hard at work, with commentary from Collins that unfortunately is not optional. I would’ve preferred to simply hear Collins leading the musicians through the rehearsal. An interview with Collins provides some background information for why the artist chose to delve into the Motown catalogue.