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Do you know where your version is?
on September 17, 2004
The makers of 'Five Live Yardbirds' must be pro-choice. There are at least 5 or 6 versions of this CD listed on Amazon, and the particular one I possess, which contains only ten tracks from the March 1964 Marquee show, isn't even here. The disc I'm reviewing is a French import, on the 'Decal' label. There is a comparable 10 track Rhino version, 16 track versions by Prism and JVC Japan, an 18 track Repertoire version, 19 track Verese version, and a 20 track Phantom version. Most of these alternates package the Marquee show with a variety of other Yardbird demos, studio releases, and various live tracks. The Marquee show, however, is always at the core as the 'main attraction'.
While some reviewers disparage the quality of the recording, I find it remarkably good considering the year and the locale... the London Marquee club. In contrast to live recordings by The Beatles of the same era, these tapes are clean and crisp. Comparing these recordings to bootlegs is really a disservice. I once owned a fairly extensive bootleg collection, and this recording puts most of them to shame.
The Yardbirds were clearly at the forefront, along with The Rolling Stones, of the emerging rhythm and blues genre in the UK in the early 1960's. It's rather fascinating to listen to the superb quality of Eric Clapton's lead guitar, although if there is to be disparaging of the recording quality, it would have to be the squelching of Eric's leads in favor of Keith Relf's mouth harp. Never again in his career would another instrument render Clapton to second fiddle.
At times the Yardbirds leaned toward pure rock and roll rather than rhythm and blues, as in their opening cover of Chuck Berry's 'Too Much Monkey Business', and at other times submerged themselves in pure blues, as in Ellas McDaniel's 'Pretty Girl'. Three of the last four songs on the disc, in fact, are McDaniel compositions, including one of his best, 'I'm a Man' ("...spelled M... A... N... man....", what a great lyric!), which I would pick as the best song of the evening. As other reviewers have noted, however, this is bare bones RnB from a band working hard to establish themselves (this recording even pre-dates the release of their first single, 'I Wish You Would'). Every song is infused with maximum voltage, and the crowd is clearly a hard-core bunch eating it up. For a band without a hit to their name, they already possessed a rabid following.
While none of the songs on this disc proved to be hits for the Yardbirds, the recording provides a unique, high-caliber snapshot of early British pub-rock. Beyond Clapton, Relf's vocals and mouth harp are exquisite, and Paul Samwell-Smith's bass meanders in delightful ways not often experienced. While the Yardbirds lacked the 'innocence' of the early Beatles, they were above the decadence the Stones excreted even in their genesis, opting for a sound not unlike the early, blues-oriented Animals. Despite Beatlemania, it may have been the most excitingly musical place to be as rock and roll evolved full throttle into the mid-1960's. You can sense the band is on the cusp of something special. We're lucky to have this recording, and you should hear it.