Bobby Darin

Mack Is Back

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AllMusic Review by

Mack Is Back is the best Bobby Darin DVD on the market, and is possibly the best introduction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, bar none. Mack Is Back is an essential time capsule of rock & roll history and a must-own for all Bobby Darin fans. It literally has it all: a rare, filmed concert special in its complete and unedited form; great sound; songs unavailable elsewhere; and tons of extras. Some music DVDs seem thrown together to make a quick buck by people who do not understand the medium. Mack Is Back was assembled with great attention to detail and a healthy respect for his fans. Bobby Darin taped this 1973 TV special for NBC in Burbank, CA, just a few months before his death. The show is his last recorded concert and perfectly captures the passion of the man, the musician, and the performer. In 70 minutes, Darin romps through 14 songs, some personal history (decades before VH1's Storytellers), and numerous humorous riffs and impressions. During one of the last songs, "Bo Diddley," Darin attempts to get the staid and seemingly comatose Valley audience to sing along. After disappointing takes on the line "Bo Diddley," Bobby Darin cracks that maybe they need some time to memorize the part. "It's of the essence that you sing," he tells them. This sentence speaks volumes about Darin; the essence of a man is in what he says but, more importantly, that he says it. In a few poignant seconds, Bobby Darin leaves the viewer with a haunting reminder that he cared about all genres of music and that performing defined him. Mack Is Back replicates the feeling of a live Bobby Darin show so well that it became, about ten minutes in, one of the best ever concerts. Questar could have released a simple concert DVD and left it at that. Instead, they turned Mack Is Back into a wonderful celebration of Darin's career by adding amazing archival extras: a mini biography with rare footage of his family, recording sessions and concerts (including his comeback performance at the Coconut Grove in L.A.), a hit singles discography, an overview of his movie career, and previously unreleased TV appearances. In addition to a crystal-clear 70-minute concert, Mack Is Back has an amazing 52-minute section of extras. As good as all the extras are, the best part of Mack Is Back is the music. Highlights include a cover of "(I Heard that) Lonesome Whistle" by Hank Williams, Jr.; "Midnight Special"; and, of course, "Mack the Knife." Bobby Darin and his backing band had a wonderful connection and play off each other expertly. Darin thanks them at one point by saying, "How about that band. That ain't no everyday jive Burbank band. That's a special everyday jive Burbank band!" Bobby Darin also performs with high energy and does all the toe-tapping, shuffling, and strutting that you'd expect from the emotive swinger. It doesn't get better than this for Darin fans: a performance with his enthusiasm and humor in full force while he imitates a trombone, Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, W.C. Fields, and pretends to strip tease. Rock historians will also be astounded at his tale of meeting with John Sebastian's publishers over the years as they unsuccessfully try to get him to be the first to record songs eventually made famous by the Lovin Spoonful and which spent weeks atop the charts and sold millions of copies (including "Summer in the City"). "You know what it feels like to be a putz? So do I," he declares. When Darin dances around the stage (seemingly decorated by a child's Stereograph toy), he gives few clues that he is at the end of his life. But there are a few moments when he shakes or smacks his hand to increase the circulation and, admittedly, those moments are disturbing. Knowing that he must have spent hours with an oxygen tank after this TV Special does make one appreciate the show a lot more. (One wonders, too, if the world had known Bobby Darin was not long for this Earth, whether a more enthusiastic crowd would have turned out for the special.) No other performer in 1973 could have performed a set of pop standards, soul, funk, R&B, country, and rock better than Bobby Darin. And what other 37-year-old could act so convincingly like he was still 21? Bobby Darin is so genuine it is impossible for all but the most jaded viewer to tap along and want to cheer the end of each song. With the TV turned up loud, it is easy to forget this concert is 28 years old.

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