Big Star LIVE
Reissued, Remastered, Live
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This live recording shows Big Star's combination of pop sensibilities with a disquieting undercurrent, still unmatched to this day. The band's in a loose and jovial mood, and seems more intent on having fun than playing a tight set. The live versions of "Daisy Glaze," "Mod Lang," and a pair of Alex Chilton's solo acoustic ballads yield a new insight into those songs. Particularly notable is a cover of Loudon Wainwright's "Motel Blues," an indication of the weariness and frustration that Chilton was already feeling as a young music industry veteran. Recorded for a WLIR broadcast in 1974 and never before commercially available, the album was mastered directly from the original two-track tapes.
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Of the 12 musical tracks here, I am, initially at least, more drawn to the acoustic performances, that has Chilton just singing along with his own guitar playing. "The Ballad of El Goodo" "Thirteen" "I'm in Love With a Girl" and the previously unreleased cover of Loudon Wainwright's "Motel Blues" all feature very emotional, affecting vocals. Chilton's vocals are all the more highlighted for the lack of the studio's backing voices. The segue back into the full band (with "In the Street") sounds a bit like a tape-edit, but it's still a very effective transition, from the light acoustic blues to the great intro electric lead.
What at first seemed like a very ragged band sound on the electric tracks has settled more in my ears. After having listened to the studio versions of these tracks for so many years, it's taking awhile to adjust to hearing them played and sung any differently. But it's worth it: they're the same songs I've known and love for a long time, yet they're different enough to be a new experience. Chilton's emotional emotion-charged vocals (e.g., on "You Get You Deserve", among others) really pushes the songs to a new place. Some of the musical breaks (like the extended guitar jam on "She's a Mover") also change the songs in unexpected ways.
I think part of Robert Gordon's liner notes capture the essence of this disc quite well:
"You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you'd met, and though you'd heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well--can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archeologist's work. When you next see your lover, you're struck by things you'd never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance--though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it.
"That's what this recording is about."
Good (FM in-studio quality) sound, a ragged but energetic performance, and great songs. Five big stars.
I kept coming across B.S.'s name in association with all my favorite groups, and having read the near-ridiculous ravings for the #1 Record/Radio City combo disk I tried them out.
It is becoming obvious that Big Star is a sort of either you get it or don't type of band. As with all truly great artists, Big Star's music could easily be dismissed as dated 70's rock, and truly that's about all they are. Unless they connect with you, then they absolutely engulf you.
I really like and highly-recommend this live set. As the previous reviewer stated, the mix is a bit off on the first song, and you actually hear the knob twist that straightens everything out about a third through the second track. Never fear, it won't interfere with your enjoyment of the disk at all.
For some strange reason this disk seems to 'fill out' the louder you play it. Even a few clicks on your volume will make a big difference, so make sure and rock the room a bit when listening.
Being a HUGE Beatle/60's rock fan it is much-easier for me to forgive the 'retro' feel of some of these songs and it is that quality that seems to torpedo some people's enjoyment of the group. Make no mistake, Big Star are a product of their times, and it seems to be an insurmountable obstacle for my wife who usually digs everything I do.
Anyway, this disk is an invaluable addition to any fans Big Star collection. It comes across as a veritable snapshot of BS's moment in time, and a precarious one at that. It's sad that we don't get to hear Chris Bell here, and in truth even Andy Hummel is long-gone by this time, though quite ably 'replaced' by a surprising John Lightman who seems to noodle along without missing a beat, and some fine noodling it is.
Though another reviewer found the interview portion unnecessary I find it essential, both for its historical significance, but also because it maintains the flow of the original show. Alex comes off as a guy who delivers on par with the hype, but is obviously tired of acclaim with no reward. Having been wrung dry with the Boxtops, Chilton was a grizzled veteran before even forming BS, then having put his soul/art/talent into the project finds that pedestrian aspects of the music business can sometimes render brilliance moot.
The accoustic performances by Chilton are nothing short of amazing, for those who enjoy stripped-bare accoustic renditions. Even the at-times slipshod electric numbers are still driven hard by musicians who are masters, even if they do seem a bit 'loose' sometimes.
This recording should be in any Big Star fans collection without a doubt. It is an achingly lovely glimpse in time for those that care, and for those that don't, it still rocks.