The Pointer Sisters

Live at the Opera House

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This offering presents the multi-faceted talents of the Pointer Sisters -- Anita, Bonnie, June and Ruth -- in a live setting with a full orchestra under the direction of the ladies concertmaster and keyboardist Tom Salisbury. They were the very first pop act given permission to do their proverbial thang at the San Francisco Opera House, which they did on April 21, 1974. While the entire program provides an ample spotlight for the siblings' remarkable vocal prowess, the show commences with a lengthy (seven-plus-minute) instrumental "Overture: Prelude to Islandia." Once they hit the stage the real action begins, led off by a suitably hypersonic reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." The extended ensemble adds a further dynamic quality to the hot-steppin' bop revival. Hearing the vocalists pull off the performance with such aplomb is a treat for those familiar with the Sisters' similarly blistering take from That's a Plenty (1974), the long-player they were concurrently touring in support of. Fair warning to the uninitiated though, as the Sisters' mercurial delivery is a fast and furious ride and the quartet certainly seem to be having a good time bringing it to life. They continue with two Sisters' originals from That's a Plenty -- the lolloping uptown "Shaky Flat Blues," followed by the rurally-flavored "Fairytale." While admittedly odd in concept, the ostensibly incongruous juxtaposition comes off exceedingly well, no doubt thanks in part to the musical malleability of Salisbury's scoring. They give the cut a warm spoken introduction, inquiring whether attendees "mind if we sing a l'il country music here in the opry (sic) house tonight?" This might be a reference to the Pointer Sisters' recent invitation to the venerable Grand Ole' Opry House, an honor rarely bestowed upon non-genre artists. However, it was fitting as "Fairytale" chalked-up a sizable crossover on both the country and pop singles charts. They reach back to their self-titled debut for a vivacious interpretation of "Cloudburst" and the lush mellow and layered harmonies of "Jada." The moody "Black Coffee" is a highlight, as the emotive torch ballad is given a scintillating workout that easily outshines the studio version. The latter half of Live at the Opera House (1974) is notably grittier with a rousing cover of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" that simmers into a churnin' hunk of burnin' blues. The Broadway-derived "Steam Heat" -- taken from the soundtrack to the Pajama Game -- likewise thrives in these environs, even more so than it had on That's a Plenty. Saving the best for last, the Allen Toussaint classic "Yes We Can Can" is a funk free-for-all that prominently features the Sisters' usual quartet of Tom Salisbury (piano/organ/clavinet), Gaylord Birch (drums/percussion), John Neumann (bass) and Chris Michie (guitar). The jam linking to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's "Love in Them There Hills" climaxes with the Sisters wailing into a faultless a cappella ending. When Hip-O Select issued their domestic North American edition on CD, the audio was significantly improved by Grammy-winning engineer Gavin Lurssen and the four sides of the double-LP were joined, forming a single, cohesive listening experience. They replicated the original gatefold album jacket as well, adding a nice touch of nostalgia. Live at the Opera House is by all accounts and measures an essential entry from the Pointer Sisters in their prime.

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