The Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll has never been able to sit still; not for one moment. Exactly what Little Richard genuinely meant, not just to rock ‘n’ roll, but to music in general, may not translate as well to current generations; outrageous performances strictly to gain attention have become a dime a dozen. However, this is real, this is innovation; this is Little Richard as the foundation. Macon’s most outrageous son actually designed the blueprint by which showmanship had to follow course. Shout! Factory’s Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969 is Little Richard gleefully swan-diving into Canadian waters and performing like no one else before him and like so many performers after him.
The DVD clocks in at just over half an hour, but that is plenty of enough time for nine classics played with abandon, determination, and soulful vengeance. The way Richard pounds the piano during “Lucille” generates amazement in that the grand piano remains intact for the rest of the performance. “Rip It Up” and “Tutti Frutti” never leave their energetic pace, and “Keep a Knockin’” goes for broke with an extended running time. There is no doubt that Prince has used Richard as a point of reference for his onstage movements from instrument to audience while sweating rock ‘n’ roll into style. Basing one’s assumption on appearances alone, glam rock owes a big over-the-top kick of the zip boots to Richard’s mirrored jacket; Bowie couldn’t have traveled to Mars without first seeing that the possibilities were endless.
With one of the only complaints with the video coming by way of audience neglect, there is no doubt that the Innovator was holding court as the center of attention at the festival (his single spotlight entrance guaranteed that), but much of the camera work is kept tight on only the performer. We are given a smattering of audience shots which allow a glimpse into the evening, but we never really get a feel of the crowd or the size of the festival (liner notes put it at 20,000 strong). By keeping the camera work up close on Richard, we see a dedicated artist never questioning his next step, come to think of it, never even calculating his next move, but just moving and being Little Richard. However, this leaves the backing band out of any real footage, and complete appreciation for maintaining their breakneck tempo throughout Richard’s sudden shifts must be given.
Perhaps this is director D.A. Pennebaker’s approach in this documentation, just as Dylan was the center piece of his Don’t Look Back. The difference is that film followed Dylan through a tour, and it did not focus on just one performance. Pennebaker certainly should be given credit for his approach in just trying to capture Little Richard’s spontaneity on film, but for those viewers looking for a festival feel, check out his Monterey Pop.
Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969 is out now on Shout! Factory.