A lot of things can go wrong with live albums.
Sound quality may go sour. Technical problems can go awry. Performances may miss the mark.
But the problem with live albums also highlight the problem of studio albums. Recording studios can process out every imperfection, resulting in works that give an impression not borne out on stage.
In the studio, Bonnie Pink possesses a sweet flower of a voice, at times fragile, at times emotive. It’s not a voice suited to the theatre-size capacity of Akasaka Blitz, as evidenced on the singer-songwriter’s first live album, Pink in Red.
Right from the start, Pink sings like she’s trying to hear herself over her band, her voice straining to project. And her tender falsetto? Positively drowned out. In fact, it’s downright painful to hear her flub a note at the beginning of “Over the Brown Bridge”.
Pink works best when the band backs off. “Rope Dancer”, on which she’s accompanied by nothing but piano, allows her voice to inhabit the song more comfortably. “Need You” scales back the busyness of the opening “Your Butterfly”, and Pink sounds like she own the song.
Does that mean Pink should be exiled to little more than intimate club gigs? Not necessarily.
It does mean, however, that in translating her songs to stage, she could perhaps stray from the studio arrangement a lot more, especially if it means highlighting her voice.
Another flaw of Pink in Red is its concentration on one performance at one venue. It’s not uncommon for a live album to be collect different performances from various venues. Concentrating on one performance risks catching a performer on an off-night. (See Do As Infinity’s Do the Live.)
If Pink in Red demonstrates nothing else, it shows the studio album for which this live performance supported, Present, is one of her strongest ever.
Most of the CD portion of Pink in Red — it also includes a DVD — focuses on tracks from that album, and it’s tough to get “Rope Dancer”, “Present”, “April Shower” and “Need You” out of your head hours after the album has played.
The album ends with a new song, “Soldiers”, which only highlights further the fallibility of the live recording. Pink sounds gorgeous as usual on the track.
As my brother suggested when he listened to Pink in Red, maybe it’s time to give Bonnie Pink her own Unplugged special.