Having already offered two pieces on the joys of ‘live’ albums*, it would probably be sensible to leave that topic alone for a while. But I re-acquainted myself with so many terrific recordings while writing those posts that I just had to bring out those that didn’t quite make the first two ‘Live In Your Living Room’ articles. Their omission was nothing to do with quality, only word count.
What’s special about ‘in concert’ recordings? Here’s a refresher course:
Five Things To Love About Live Albums
Getting in – you didn’t buy a ticket for the concert but get to be there anyway
Getting real – hearing the artists speak to each other and to you
Refresh page – performance breathing new life into well-known music
Shifting time – you didn’t get born in the right era but get to be there anyway
Reliving your own past – a souvenir of a brilliant band you actually saw
The concert Return To Forever IV played in Melbourne in February 2011 was one I fondly remember. For starters, I was there with Ms Connection – an uncommon but delightful event. The venue was Melbourne’s ornate Regent Theatre – packed with eager fans jostling for a plastic cup of over-priced red wine but not getting over-wrought, simply excited about seeing this great band.
One notable characteristic of the crowd was the significant number of parent-child combinations: I found it deeply encouraging that this complex yet rewarding music was spanning the generations. Well, hopefully. The younger halves may have been slouched on their smart phones checking Facebook for all I know. I hope not, though.
And what an exhilarating noise it was. Frank Gambale, an 80s Corea alumnus and Aussie born, did sterling service on guitar. The core trio of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White were as tight and fluid as you would expect from these veterans whilst the addition of Jean Luc Ponty added extra tonalities and textures to bring even well-known tunes new life.
The set list covered many of the important albums from the rich RTF catalogue, from “Spain” (1973’s Light As A Feather) and “After The Cosmic Rain” (Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy, also 1973) via “Beyond The Seventh Galaxy” (Where Have I Known You Before, 1974) to this writer’s favourite, Romantic Warrior (1976) which scored no less than three selections: the title track, “Sorceress” and “Medieval Overture”.
The inclusion of Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Renaissance” (Aurora, 1975) was a welcome addition, as was a Lenny White solo composition and Stanley’s fun “School Days”.
This was a joyful concert experience enhanced and preserved by the 2012 release of a double CD live set (plus DVD) that I have returned to several times.
I connected to the spark plug magic of Kraftwerk while transiting 1974’s Autobahn and have loved them ever since, so their appearance in Melbourne in 2005 was a thrill. As much art statement as performance, the “Min Max” tour was a mobile greatest hits package. That is to say, Kraftwerk travelled to various countries where a generous selection of songs were accompanied by wide-screen visuals, many of which showed lots of movement (especially the Tour de France and Trans Europe Express selections). The four musicians, in contrast, remained utterly statuesque, apparently affixed to small rostra supporting the computer keyboards which presumably drove the music. The uncertainty in this description is because there was so little data visible from the audience; not much more can be gleaned from the DVD. This was a non-concert. Other than a couple of words from Ralf Hütter, no-one spoke. No-one smiled. No-one moved on stage until they walked off. It was simply brilliant.
Adopting the maxim “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, Richard Thompson created his own Beeswing label to release “official” live recordings from his regular tours. All those I’ve heard are terrific, but this is a favourite. The first section blazes through the opening five-song “Metroland” grouping of the recently released Mock Tudor, climaxing with a trademark avalanche solo on “Hard On Me”. It’s visceral and exciting. Then the pace drops for a beautiful reading of “Jennie” before a second half that includes more live interpretations of Mock Tudor songs plus two from my favourite RT album. Danny Thompson’s bass playing is a cohering subterranean force throughout (and that’s the third time he’s been mentioned in Vinyl Connection dispatches!) while son Teddy adds vocals. A class songwriter and iconic guitarist doing something he clearly loves… and doing it damn well.
I listened to It’s Alive in the car this morning. Started off at modest volume, as you do when you’re warming up to a longish day. By the third track I was cranking up the volume, grinning like an idiot and rocking around like the characters in the VW in Wayne’s World, except this was “Blitzkrieg Bop” not bloody Queen. To call this live album an adrenaline rush would be clichéd understatement. But the stats tell the tale: 28 tracks (including a couple of ballads!) in the staggering time of 54 minutes. Do the math. This is one fast and furious mofo of a concert, but one that flings you forwards on a wave of the fizzing fraternal energy that made them justly famous. “WunTooFreeFawa…”
I knew the Velvets and the solo albums well, but was taken aback by this live ‘tour de force’ from an artist who hated and baited the media and who most believed to be wracked by addiction and tormented by demons. Somewhere I may still have an interview from a 70s university student newspaper tellingly entitled “An afternoon of sheer terror with Lou Reed”. But despite the harrowing reading of “Heroin” there is little terrifying about this album. The addition of not one but two gun guitarists (Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, later to ante up Alice Cooper’s sound) added fire and unexpected virtuosity as Lou powers through the show. When I saw him live in Melbourne a couple of years later, I was chuffed to discover that audience response during the instrumental passage of “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was to Lou dancing. Who’d a thought it? Here’s a live recording that amplifies the studio versions in most agreeable ways.
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