AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH BARBRA: “Barbra Streisand at The Village Vanguard”

“Barbra Streisand at The Village Vanguard”
Every once in a while, a major diva will make a surprise appearance at a popular NYC nightspot for an impromptu performance, delighting their fans and creating priceless buzz for their latest creative endeavors. Madonna, Cher, and Britney all did it in the last few years; Madonna and Cher at The Roxy, Britney at SBNY. On September 26, 2009, enduring gay icon (like it or not) Barbra Streisand did just that, appearing at the jazz club The Village Vanguard, which has a seating maximum of 123 and an “old fashioned 60‘s mic“. What a happy coincidence that Donna Karan, Nicole Kidman, and the entire Clinton family (Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea) just happened to be in the audience that night! And apparently lightning struck several times that evening: Babs managed to bring not only state-of-the-art recording equipment to create a live CD, but also a film crew to record the night’s concert for a DVD. Whoever “just happened” to wander into the club that night must have gotten the surprise of their life!
Actually, that‘s not exactly how it happened. Promoted as Barbra‘s “first club appearance in the concert in 28 years”, the CD/DVD recording “Barbra Streisand Live at the Village Vanguard” was an invite-only event for Barbra’s close celebrity friends and a few contest winners. Most of the songs were from her jazz-flavored, 2009 studio album “Love Is the Answer”, released the day this show took place. With that particular album, like many of Barbra’s others, the listener can’t help but get the feeling– knowing what an ardent perfectionist this diva is– that the singer must have done about 300 or more takes of each note before committing it to disc. The ironic thing is that, when listening to the studio “Love Is the Answer” and “Barbra Streisand Live at the Village Vanguard“ side by side, the live album is arguably the better of the two. The inevitable post-recording tinkering aside, the spontaneity of this Streisand-fest works very well. Barbra sounds relaxed and seems to be (Dare I say?) having fun. Of course, her singing voice remains as smooth and unblemished as ever, even (Dare I say again?) girlish at times… and our diva can still hit those high notes.
Barbra talks almost as much as she sings on the CD. She opens with, “This is hysterical… I mean, are we a box of sardines here or what? Gosh, it’s so funny. I haven’t sung in the Village since 1962… After everything I’ve done, and after everywhere I’ve been, I’m back to where I started. Life is a circle, right? So, this is where I was, and this is where I am now”. The chanteuse then breaks into “Here’s to Life”, an admittedly timeless classic. Throughout the CD, Ms. S. inserts a lot of banter between the songs: She comments about how her 1967 album “Simply Streisand” was a commercial flop, she recalls a phone conversation with her then-matinee idol Marlon Brando, she dispenses some Streisand-esque musings about the good things about getting older, and she tells the now famous story about how one of her auditions in the ’60’s was at a gay club–where Babs and her friend/mentor Cis Corman were the only women present. Only at one point does the diva talk a bit too much: She gives a fawning shout-out to our former Prez Bill Clinton that goes on way too long.
Her newer recordings, like “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “Gentle Rain“, really seem to please the crowd. Once she breaks into the classics like “My Funny Valentine“ and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered“, even those who don‘t worship at The Church (or Synagogue) of Streisand should be impressed and maybe even a wee bit nostalgic. By the time she delivers the first few notes of “Evergreen” near the end, Barbra’s hardcore fans will likely need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As for the companion DVD, the best parts– like with the album– come with the spontaneous moments. They include the shouts of “Barbra! Barbra! Barbra!” and the shot of a trio of gay guys looking like they’re ready to faint outside the club before the show; as well as the camera shots of a grizzly-looking James Brolin (AKA Mr. Streisand), and a luminous Sarah Jessica Parker watching Babs during the concert (and wiping tears away afterward). Barbra admittedly doesn’t look quite as relaxed as she sounds, although the cinematographers light her up like a princess.
Barbra Streisand may not tour as much as her worshippers would like, but with 60 albums in 37 years of performing, she certainly turns out he material. Compare that to some gay icons who are one step away from appearing on a milk carton. (Donna Summer: Your deviant homosexual fans miss you– actually miss your MUSIC! Grace Jones: No album of new stuff in over 20 years? WTF? Liza: We‘re waiting!) Love her or hate her, Barbra Joan Streisand gives her fans what they want. You fans know who you are…


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