Yvonne Elliman - vocals, guitar; Jefferson - guitar; Bruce - guitar; Joe - bass; Wayne - keyboards; Dean Hagen - drums; "Stomach" - sax; Esther - background vocals; Afrika - background vocals
Singer and actress Yvonne Elliman will be forever associated with her #1 hit from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, "If I Can't Have You." The monstrous success of this song, written for her by The Bee Gees, has resulted in Elliman being pigeonholed as a disco artist, but this song was an exception. As popular as her hits were, they only hinted at the impressive range and depth of her albums, which featured many of the top musicians of the day and a diverse range of material.
Elliman's musical career began in 1970, when she began performing in London clubs. The combination of her vocal talent and exotic beauty led to her being cast as Mary Magdalene on the smash hit album, Jesus Christ Superstar, which became a global phenomena, thanks in part to Elliman's reading of the ballad, "I Don't Know How To Love Him." She was soon cast in the role for the subsequent Broadway and film versions of the rock opera and was offered a recording contract. Her self-titled debut album, released in 1972, was an impressively diverse affair which also contained "I Don't Know How to Love Him," her first single to hit the U.S. charts the previous year, as well as a striking cover of the Blind Faith song, "Can't Find My Way Home." Her performance in Jesus Christ Superstar led to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, making Elliman the first Pacific Islander to be nominated for such a prestigious award. The mid 1970s became her most fertile period on the charts, when she scored numerous hits including the seductive "Love Me" and an infectious cover of "Hello Stranger." During the mid-1970s, Eric Clapton recruited Elliman for his own band and she spent three years on the road with the guitar superstar, singing backup vocals on some of his most memorable hits of the era, including "I Shot The Sheriff" and "Lay Down Sally." In June of 1977, Elliman left Clapton's band and recorded her fifth solo album, Night Flight, which was released to great acclaim the following year and spawned three substantial hits, including two #1 smashes.
This set, recorded at New York City's Bottom Line, captures Elliman promoting the Night Flight album, when this material was still fresh and she was at the peak of popularity. It is a captivating glimpse into the diversity of Elliman's music as well as her engaging personality and stage presence. The set places an abundant emphasis on the new Night Flight album material, but also features a sequence midway through her set where she revisits several key highlights from earlier in her career.
Elliman and band kick the set off with a triple whammy of songs off the new album, beginning with the funky "In A Strangers Arms." Next up is the elegant adult contemporary number, "Down the Backstairs of My Life." Right off the bat, this establishes that Elliman is not concerned with genres and is comfortable jumping from funk to pop to introspective ballads with ease. Elliman straps on her acoustic guitar for "Up To The Man In You," another new album track that recalls the swampy grooves of Little Feat.
Longtime fans of Elliman's earliest recordings will be delighted with the middle sequence of the performance, which contains stripped down acoustic performances of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" followed by a truly beautiful and stunning rendition of "Can't Find My Way Home." Here the captivating nuances of her voice are most easily apparent. This middle sequence concludes with the title song of her 1976 album, Love Me, another of her most popular hits. The remainder of the set focuses back on new album material, which expands on the musical diversity already explored. The monster hit, "If I Can't Have You" is included, of course, but it is the other two songs that are most compelling. "Lady Of The Silver Spoon" ventures deep into reggae territory and Elliman's reading of the classic "Sally Go Round The Roses" is utterly original, maintaining the sexual ambiguity and eeriness of the original within a funky framework. This number also provides a showcase for her band which gets an opportunity to develop a driving groove and jam a bit on this extended number.
Yvonne Elliman's 1970s pop radio hits only hinted at the depth of her albums. Upon listening to this live performance one soon discovers that far too much attention was paid her work on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which tended to obscure her musical accomplishments. One look at the credits on her albums reveals that she was worthy of some incredible musical support. Many major names of the era were involved in her recordings including guitarists Steve Cropper, Lowell George, and Steve Hunter, keyboardist Eric Carmen and much of the Elton John camp, including Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone, James Newton-Howard, and Kiki Dee, among many others and her talent deserved the support. The huge success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack has unfortunately resulted in Elliman being remembered as a disco artist, but this song was an exception to the ballads that she specialized in and the diverse musical styles that comprised the vast majority of her recordings.