Live In New York 1979

Liza Minnelli

Real Gone Music, 2021

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski


Liza Minnelli’s recently reissued concert album, Live in New York 1979 (titled initially Live at Carnegie Hall), isn’t merely a concert album. It’s an artifact of 1970s celebrity culture, particularly 1970s New York celebrity culture. Gotham in that decade was a very different place from the gentrified Wonderland it is today.

The Liza Minnelli of the 1970s is a study in contrast. Not quite a legend but no longer an ingenue, she was the epitome of the 1970s celebrity: famous for her work, but also for who she was. She wasn’t just Liza Minnelli, the actress or singer; she was also Liza Minnelli, the professional celebrity. In a world before Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons, and Nene Leakeses, celebrity for celebrity’s sake was a side hustle that “real” performers took on to supplement their “real” work.

And so Live in New York 1979 is a great soundtrack and souvenir of that time—just one of many from that time that now inspires nostalgia. The music is beside the point; its mere existence and what it chronicled is what matters. It’s a relic of a glitzy moment in a city that was coming to terms with its own identity. Recorded in the hallowed Carnegie Hall, the album is the perfect work of New York art.

Andy Warhol, the man who may be credited with (or blamed for) creating celebrity culture, did the album cover of his frequent Studio 54 compatriot. Warhol’s image of Minnelli captures the diva at her most 1970s: her jet-black hair is a pixie-cut helmet, her eyes rimmed by lashes thick like scrub brushes, her lips an exaggerated cherry red. She’s very real in the picture but rendered artificial through silk-screening. She looks like a painting, a disco-era Mona Lisa. The album art of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Live in New York City 1979 came from the portrait Warhol took of Minnelli in 1978, a gift to the singer.

And what of the music of Live in New York City 1979? The 2021 reissue brings the show to its entirety to listeners. The setlist is a mix of the Great American Songbook, musical theater, pop radio, and 1970s cinema. It’s a survey of popular music of the mid-century, and Liza Minnelli straddled that transition from the pre-rock era of pop music with the rock-and-roll generation. It wasn’t always an easy compromise between the two musical movements. This conflicted persona speaks to what I earlier referred to as the Liza Minnelli of the 1970s. She sings the songs her mother made famous, and she sings the songs of her close pals, John Kander and Fred Ebb, but then she also includes 1970s soft rock mainstays like Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, and James Taylor in the mix. So, sure, it’s a history cache of sorts, or maybe it’d be more accurate to describe the somewhat confused setlist as a mixtape.

None of the songs in the show is shocking or startling—that’s not the kind of performer Liza Minnelli is. Instead, she’s curated a setlist that operates much like her celebrity: it sorta glides alongside her, existing as its own thing. Her artistry is more about pretend, so it makes sense that her choice of material feels more like costumes than inspired song choices.

Some of the tunes included in the show were from her last triumph, The Act, a star vehicle penned for her by Kander and Ebb. By most critical accounts, the show was a dud, little more than an excuse to have Minnelli on stage again. But The Act wasn’t merely musical theater. It was the ticket to be, as Liza Minnelli was quite fashionable in 1979.

It’s interesting to imagine people attending this concert. Ensconced inside the plush, revered Carnegie Hall (where Minnelli’s mother Judy Garland had triumphed some 18 years earlier) while the outside world of New York with all its mythic grittiness carried on, audience members were treated to a couple of hours of celebrity entertainment. This glitzy show captured what it means to be a celebrity in 1970s New York. Crowds were watching a woman who grew up in Hollywood, a cinema princess who would become an Oscar-winning movie star.

And yet, some of the lucky members of the audience—if they were beautiful enough or fabulous enough—may have boogied on the same dance floor as she on some random night in Studio 54. Like the artist herself, Live in New York 1979 is a remembrance of a distinct time and place, an item to be secreted in a time capsule.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For a deeper dive into this album’s relationship with New York City in the 1970s, see Peter's essay “Liza Minnelli and the Perfect Work of New York Art.”]

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Peter Piatkowski and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Real Gone Music, and is used for informational purposes only.