I can think of nothing more disappointing than going back in time via video tape and seeing something I remembered cherishing when I was younger and finding it wanting. Things that I once thought funny not only don’t make me laugh anymore, they are so un-funny I wonder why I had ever considered them humorous. This doesn’t just apply to television shows and movies I once laughed at, but also books and music I remembered as being brilliant but that no longer shine with the same intensity they once did.
Part of it can be put down to whatever altered state of mind I might have been in during the time the memory comes from. It’s really quite amazing what I realize I missed seeing or hearing the first time around when I see the same program sober at some later date. The reverse also applies in that’s it’s amazing how what I thought I saw and heard at one time no longer seems to exist.
Whatever the reason for it happening, there have been sufficient occasions recently when memories of an event have proven more entertaining than what actually happened such that I’ve started to grow nervous of trips into the past. While I’ve never been one to get all teary eyed with nostalgia over the good old days or want to return to my youth, it would still be nice to know that some of the things I enjoyed when I was younger have been able to stand the test of time.
It was with mixed feelings that I sat down to watch the DVD, Mink DeVille Live At Montreux 1982, just released by Eagle Rock Entertainment as part of their Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival series. I was pretty confident in my belief that the music would stand up to being as good as I remembered it being because the music that Mink DeVille’s front man, Willy DeVille, has been producing recently has been great, but a whole bunch of times being been bitten can sure make you shy.
I needn’t have worried. As soon as I heard the opening notes of the band’s instrumental piece prior to Willy’s entrance, I knew this was one time when the music was going to sound as good now as I remembered it sounding when I listened to Mink DeVille back in the seventies and early eighties. Ironically, it wasn’t a configuration of the band that I was familiar with, as there were some people in it who hadn’t been on any of the albums the band had released to that point. I hadn’t known that Paul James, a Toronto, Canada Blues guitar player, had played with the Mink DeVille band until I saw this concert disc.
It doesn’t seem to matter, though, who is in the band; the music is impeccable. From the moment they began to play the show’s opening instrumental, “Harlem Nights,” to the last chord of the last song fading away, they sounded like they had been playing with Willy, and that they had been together for decades.
The rhythm section of Joey Vasta on bass and Tommy Price on drums, long time Mink DeVille keyboard player Kenny Margolis, saxophone player Louis Cortelezzi, and the previously mentioned Paul James on guitar handled the multitude of styles required to play the band’s repertoire with ease. From the hard rocking numbers like “Lipstick Traces” to the smouldering torch song sound required by “This Must Be The Night,” they don’t miss a beat or a note. They managed that rare balance only really good bands achieve of sounding loose while being incredibly tight.
Then there was Willy – nearly as skinny as his moustache, hair swept back and up in his trademark pompadour, and elegant in a three-piece suit. All the deadly beauty of a switchblade at midnight on the streets of Spanish Harlem, singing with a voice that originated in the cotton fields of Mississippi, mixed with the street smarts of West Side Story, and the soul of Memphis made Willy the nearest thing to a pure distillation of American Pop music you could possibly hear.
With either his guitar or the microphone as his partner, Willy danced across the stage with the deadly elegance of a matador doing a tango. With a roll of his shoulders, a tilt of the head, and a flick of his hand he communicates more with his body than most singers can dream of with their voices. At the same time, he never allows himself to become more than the music. Instead, everything he does is part of his effort to ensure the listener gets the full measure out of each song.
The music on the disc includes classic Mink DeVille songs like, “Spanish Stroll,” “Cadillac Walk,” and “Savoir Faire.” It seems only fitting that, for his encore, Willy chooses to do a cover of the Ben E. King classic, “Stand By Me.” With its mixture of Soul, Rock and Roll, and Blues, it might have been written for Willy and the sensibility he brings to popular music. It’s also a great song for the whole band to show off their abilities, as it has great parts in it for the rhythm section, guitar, and saxophone.
Eagle Rock Entertainment has been gradually releasing DVD after DVD of concerts from various Montreux Jazz Festivals. Mink DeVille: Live At Montreux 1982 is due to be released on April 29th, 2008 in the North American market. As has been the case with all of these releases, they have re-mastered the sound for modern digital playback.
There are times our memories deceive us and over-inflate the quality of things from the past, but for those of you who have memories of Willy and the Mink DeVille bands from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, you can rest assured your memories haven’t deceived you. If anything, you may even have underestimated how good these guys were. Mink DeVille: Live At Montreux 1982 isn’t an exercise in nostalgia; it’s a chance to hear some great music being played by some great musicians.