We gave it an A
Not since lazarus was coaxed out for a costume change had there been a comeback quite as celebrated as the one documented in Judy at Carnegie Hall, which is getting a much needed CD remastering on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. Judy Garland’s 1961 one nighter wasn’t her first or last phoenix style resurrection — she’d made a cottage industry out of those — only her best.
The show caught the century’s greatest female entertainer at that magic hour when the nervous girlishness and no holds barred vibrato from her early movie musicals could cheerfully cohabitate with a heartrending sensitivity to loss and regret in the classic ballads being added to her repertoire. It’s no wonder that Carnegie Hall, which spent 13 weeks at No. 1 in 1961 and won Garland a best album Grammy the following year, is still probably the most renowned non rock live album ever: Even the combined power of the Who at Leeds couldn’t add up to quite this much life force.
By then she was in the September of her years, even though it should’ve been more like the July, with Garland being only 39. (She lived, against many odds, to age 47.) And so many admirers emphasize the show’s autumnal aspects. Listened to in this retrospective, bittersweet context, her first signature song, ”Over the Rainbow,” can sound almost as world weary as her last one, ”The Man That Got Away.” She’d belted every number like she meant it from the time she got pushed on stage at age 2, but those extra few decades of professional betrayal, bad marriages, barbiturates, and self loathing counted for something when it came to waxing resigned in the service of melancholy babies Arlen and Gershwin.
But it would be a mistake to make the set sound like a downer. Above all ”Carnegie Hall” (in stores Feb. 27) is a kick in the pants, full of honest razzle dazzle and a generosity of spirit that few of today’s pop stars could imagine, much less muster. Her guilelessly funny ramblings between songs remind you why she was a hit on the Bogart and Bacall Beverly Hills party circuit. The second act opener, ”That’s Entertainment,” wasn’t written for her, but might as well have been, with its brassy mixture of cynicism and celebration. If the winter of Garland’s last few years would prove to be fairly cruel, we should all have an Indian summer this spectacular.