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Spins: INXS • Live Baby Live: Wembley Stadium

| July 9, 2020


Live Baby Live: Wembley Stadium

(Eagle Vision)

INXS’ concert film Live Baby Live was originally released on VHS in 1991, following the Aussie dance-rock kings’ juggernaut world tour supporting 1990’s X album. The Summer XS event was held at London’s original Wembley Stadium at the peak of the sextet’s popularity, cementing the multiplatinum success of 1989’s smash LP Kick and its powerhouse follow-up. The generous 22 song set list puts viewers in prime seats for a stadium show celebrating those world-dominating chart successes, with 9 songs drawn from both albums.

The band had performed at the celebrated sports haven and famed Live Aid venue previously, becoming the first Australian band to perform at Wembley Stadium while supporting Queen in 1986. But on July 13, 1991, INXS were headlining in front of their own sold-out audience of 74,000 fans on a perfect summer night. The band was clearly energized by the accomplishment, delivering a performance worth immortalizing on 35-mm film. “It’s the biggest pub we’ve ever played,” says singer Michael Hutchence at one point.

Director David Mallet’s crew included 17 cameras and a helicopter, capturing dynamic close-ups and bird’s-eye perspective long before the age of the GoPro or drone camera. Video has been restored and repositioned in widescreen from the original 35-mm print to 4K Ultra HD quality. Audio has been remastered in immersive and vibrant Dolby Atmos by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios.

Longtime fans may voice common grievances about absent favorites, including a couple of fairly conspicuous omissions. Not only did INXS eschew popular fare like “Kiss the Dirt” or the title track from 1985’s Listen Like Thieves at this gig, but they also ignored breakthrough 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah entirely–meaning older concert staples “The One Thing” and “Don’t Change” were shunned. This is partially rectified by the concurrent live album of the same name, which collected 16 songs from different stops on the 1991 tour. The Live Baby Live CD track listing includes “The One Thing” in addition to “One X One,” “This Time,” and The Swing favorite “Burn for You.” Alas, the Wembley crowd is not treated to the improvised soundcheck jam “He’s Got No Pants On” heard on the older CD release. Those few differences combined with Live Baby Live: Wembley Stadium’s longer set list and its deeper dive into Kick and X, however, will simply send many fans to claim both documents as must-haves. In its favor, the film includes 11 songs not present on the Live Baby Live album.

The trade-off for any diminished breadth across the band’s catalog during this concert is evident when seeing INXS enthusiastically supporting its most recent work, which has since been enshrined with classic status three decades later. The 2019 update of Live Baby Live also restores the slinky and previously missing X song “Lately” to the lineup. The bouncing and soulful “Bitter Tears” is announced as the band’s new single.

There are no projection screens or major production diversions in the band’s presentation. This is simply a well-oiled rock unit delivering a finely tuned set at peak power. Kirk Pengilly switches between chiming rhythm guitar and wailing saxophone on “New Sensation,” while the crowd surges and drummer Jon Farriss plays a pile-driving beat. Pengilly’s sax is featured again during a revved-up “I Send a Message.” His guitar leads the ascent of “The Stairs” and uncoils the memorable riff of “Need You Tonight.” The crowd joins together as a massive choir during “Mystify.” Tim Farriss’ guitar slashes and sparks through a thundering encore of “Devil Inside.” Songwriter Andrew Farriss anchors the band on keyboards and various other instruments including guitar, percussion, and harmonica, and is featured during songs like “Disappear” and “Who Pays the Price.” Bassist Garry Gary Beers’ rumbling bass lays the groove that sets bodies into motion on songs like the lusty “Know the Difference” and provides counterpoint to Tim Farriss’ razor-sharp guitar during the throbbing “Original Sin.”

While the entire band are formidable, the star of this show is clearly frontman Hutchence. His performance brims with swagger and ease. It’s thrilling to watch the late vocalist in his prime, tackling the emotive “Never Tear Us Apart” with supple control or roaring through “Suicide Blonde” and “Kick” with raw power, and realize what a rare gift his emotive baritone was to rock and roll. He’s also a charming and intoxicating presence while prowling the stage and slithering like Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison with amplified sex appeal. “Excuse me, I’ve been to Paris,” he says enigmatically after letting a raunchy innuendo slip (and goading guitarist Tim Farriss) while leading a boisterous singalong to “What You Need.” “No waving and no cigarette lighters, please,” he teases fruitlessly before leading the swaying “By My Side.”

Live Baby Live is a reminder from the pre-cell phone era of the potential for a hot band to connect with a stadium-sized crowd using minimal frills. The band is abetted by the essentials of meticulous sound and a stellar light show, vividly captured here. INXS leads a wild party, and makes it look effortless. “Is this what they call a f—ing rave or what?,” asks Hutchence to roaring response.

One of the great anecdotes surrounding this show bears repeating. As the musicians were already on stage blazing through set-opener “Guns in the Sky,” Hutchence and INXS manager/executive producer Chris Murphy peered at the massive crowd. With a smile, Hutchence looked back at his mentor and asked, “So how much are we making for this?” Without flinching, Murphy made the sign of a zero and replied “17 cameras and a helicopter, mate.” Hutchence responded, “You m———-r!” then ran onto the stage to join his band brothers and deliver the performance of his life. Live Baby Live: Wembley Stadium is an enduring gift from the band to its fans, and among the finest rock films ever recorded.

– Jeff Elbel

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