Ah, is there anything more glorious than the excess of the double live rock album from the 70’s? Well, if there is you can keep it to yourself! Over the next half a million posts (you think I’m joking?) we’ll be re-evaluating the glory that is the double live album from the decade of excess….the seventies!
A few ground rules:
1. The album in question had to be a double album on release. So no Live At Leeds, Unleashed In The East etc. 2. All four sides have to be live. So, Kiss Alive is a go, Kiss Alive II not so much. No Floyd’s Ummagumma (yay!) and no Cream’s Wheels of Fire either. 3. I’ll only be reviewing contemporary live albums, so the vast majority of Grateful Dead live albums will NOT be featured (thunderous applause from the audience)
I’ll try to keep the albums in chronological order but I promise nothing! So sit back, relax, slap on your patchouli oil and turn on your love light as we dive into rock n roll excess! (I’m going to be listening to a lot of drum solos, aren’t I?)
Live/Dead is the first official live album released by the rock band Grateful Dead . Recorded over a series of concerts in early 1969 and released later the same year, it was the first live rock album to use 16-track recording. The album was met with very positive reviews, with Village Voice critic Robert Christagu writing that it “contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded” and Rolling Stone magazine’s Lenny Kaye saying it foreshadows “where rock is likely to be in about five years”. In his ballot for Jazz and Pop magazine’s 1970 critics poll, Christgau ranked Live/Dead as the third best popular music album. So that’s what the critics at the time said, does it still hold up after 51 years?
Well, yes and no and maybe. I’ll be honest here, I enjoy some of the Grateful Dead albums and I’ve even bought a few (Mars Hotel, Blues For Allah, Aoxomoxoa) but I’ve never got into them as a live act. I know that they’re a ‘you had to be there’ kind of band and I’ve discovered that in my dealings with them on their live releases (I owned this, Skull and Flowers and Europe ’72 which we’ll feature in later posts). It starts off sloppy and noodly with Dark Star, the band warming up and feeling each other out; and when it takes off Dark Star is an amazing track–the guitar interplay is lovely with some beautiful soloing. St. Stephen, to me, is not as good as the studio cut, there’s some lovely guitar work on The Eleven (another jam track) but its only when Turn On Your Love Light kicks in that the band and the audience actually connect. The bluesy Death Don’t Have No Mercy is another cracking song, full of emotion, great keyboard work and probably my favourite song on here and then it all goes downhill. The near-eight minute track Feedback is exactly what you think it is and the final track is probably the quietest way to end a live album I’ve ever heard.
So that’s it then, ending with a whimper rather than a bang Live/Dead is a mixed bag of stuff for me. A couple of really good to decent tracks and a few duffers, especially the last two.
Is it excessive? Kinda. Lots of noodly guitar solos and a song made up just of feedback makes it kind of excessive. Were the critics correct? Again, kinda. It probably was “the finest rock improvisation ever recorded” at the time but listening back it feels sort of meh and of its time. Would I listen to it again? Unlikely. Would I recommend it? Doubtful. Does it feature a drum solo? Not as such. There is a little few moments of solo drumming in Love Light but nothing you would class as a ‘drum solo’, so that’s a positive! Marks out of 10 for me was going to be 3.5, however as there is no ‘true’ drum solo, I’m gonna round it up to a 4/10.