Tag Archives: Live Albums

Saxon – BBC In Concert (18th September 1985 – Review)

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“Did you listen to the radio every Friday night?” asked Saxon in their classic track Denim and Leather. If you did back in the 80s you might have heard this excellent live recording of Saxon’s show at the Hammersmith Odeon. Broadcast on Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show, BBC In Concert (18th September 1985) captures a difficult and interesting time in Saxon’s career as they toured to promote their controversial new album Innocence Is No Excuse.

Only a selection of the concert’s songs were broadcast so only four Innocence tracks appear here. Of those, Broken Heroes and Devil Rides Out fare best in the live setting, sitting comfortably alongside the band’s established repertoire. However, the moody Rockin’ Again is badly placed and struggles as the first encore tune. And while the catchy and upbeat Back on the Streets kicks off the broadcast well, its worth is put into question by the absolutely spine-tingling performance of Dallas 1PM that follows it.

On one hand the Innocence era tracks weaken the set but their lesser-heard nature adds to the interest for long-time Saxon fans. The rest of the broadcast is taken up by their radio-friendly classics which, with the possible exception of a tired-sounding Strong Arm of the Law, sound fresh and lively. Some of the performances here are exciting enough to make you feel like you’re hearing these songs for the first time. The versions of Dallas 1PM and Power and the Glory might be the best I’ve heard yet and older material like Wheels of Steel and Princess of the Night serve as strong reminders that this is the same band that recorded The Eagle Has Landed three years previously.

Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson
Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson

But they wouldn’t be for much longer. This would be the band’s last tour with bassist Steve Dawson. Disagreements with the band and management saw him fired before sessions began for their next studio album. It was a risky decision: Steve’s playing, performance and writing had played a crucial role in the band’s career and success.

But the problems behind the scenes are not evident in this live recording. It’s not an essential purchase but Saxon devotees are sure to get a good kick out of this. It’s an exciting and atmospheric time capsule of classic 80s Saxon out to prove their worth at a challenging time in their career. They certainly seem to have won over Hammersmith on 18th September 1985 but, with a key member gone and a couple of spotty studio albums behind them, the challenging times would continue.

This recording is available as part of the EMI Years [1985-1988] box set and also available separately as a download through iTunes, Amazon etc…

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

[Saxon – Back on the Streets live at Hammermith]

Saxon's Emi Years 1985 - 1988 Box
Saxon’s Emi Years 1985 – 1988 Box

Avatarium – All I Want EP (Review)

Avatarium - All I Want EP (2014)
Avatarium – All I Want EP (2014)

Their self-titled album Avatarium was one of 2013’s surprise delights and one of the strongest debuts of recent years. What I really want is a proper follow-up album but, in the meantime, All I Want will do nicely. With just two new songs and three live recordings, it’s essentially a stop-gap until the next full album. But this 2014 EP is well worth hearing in its own right, offering evidence of their evolving and gelling sound as the band hit a new richness of depth following their first live shows.

Vexed by the typical variable Scottish weather, the band hedged their bets.
Vexed by the typically variable Scottish weather, the band hedged their bets.

Formed by Candlemass’ Leif Edling, Avatarium hadn’t performed any live shows when they recorded their debut album so it’s interesting to hear how they deliver live. Taken from their spot at the Roadburn Festival, the three live tracks are all excellent. It’s especially impressive to hear Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals in the live setting. She’s an incredible discovery: delicately soulful, ominously powerful and one of the best singers around today. The band ably replicates the studio versions, the crushing Dehumanizer-grade weight of Marcus Jidell’s riffs are just as potent live but the psychedelic side of the music is more apparent as Carl Westholm’s keyboard textures are allowed more room to breathe. And Jidell’s lead guitar is looser, more confident. His outstanding Blackmore-esque solo on Pandora’s Egg draws appreciative cheers and he takes the Tides of Telepathy solo into a Hendrix-inspired section that lifts the song to new classic heights.

But the main event is the two new songs. They continue in the same vein as the debut but the more expansive chemisty, evinced by the live tracks, feeds into both: they sound richer and more colourful than the tracks on Avatarium. All I Want is a groovy rocker, graced with Edling’s seemingly infinite supply of golden hooks and drenched with Hammond organ and a percussive passage right out of Zeppelin. Fittingly, Deep Well is a deeper, darker experience. The swampy vamp and soulful vocals lifts into a chilling chorus. The dread of the thick, heaving chords graced with the subtle, rising power of Wilson’s vocals is monumental in the way only the best Doom can be and one of Avatarium’s greatest triumphs to date.

So, while it is a stop-gap release, All I Want is a satisfying and enlightening listen in its own right. Existing fans will welcome the new songs and new flavour the live tracks add to the older material. And given that the new songs rank among the very best the band has yet recorded it serves as a potent introduction for newcomers. The EP deserves to draw new fans into Avatarium’s increasingly deep, dark well.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

Cheap Trick – On Top of the World: 1978 Live Broadcast (Review)

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I’m going to call this Cheap Trick live album “unofficial” rather than a “bootleg”. Bootlegs tend not to be stocked in Amazon, HMV etc… whereas this one is. There have been quite a lot of these radio broadcast releases lately and, while the recordings will have been floating around as bootlegs for years, they seem to have found a legal route to the shops. I’m guessing there is some loophole regarding the ownership rights to broadcast recordings and these labels are tellingly keeping themselves on the right side of the law by not using the copyrighted band logos. Bootleggers aren’t that shy about stuff like that are they? So… “unofficial” it is.

Recorded in December 1978, the band really were on top of the world: riding high between the release of their successful Heaven Tonight album and the domestic US release of the classic At Budokan. There’s a good deal of crossover between this and the Budokan release but the Passaic audience sounds way rowdier than the Japanese crowd. There are no high-pitched squeals of “Robin!” here. As a result the band performance feels more raucous and less mannered. This is Cheap Trick going for the throat and it puts a fresh, biting spin on the familiar Budokan tracks as well as offering up a couple of lesser-heard tunes too.

What a bill! WHAT. A . BILL.
What a bill! WHAT. A . BILL.

The highlights of the set-list prove to be these less familiar tracks. Stiff Competition is absolutely savage with a shredding Robin Zander vocal. I’m also especially blown away by the rendition of Heaven Tonight. It’s not a track I was ever particularly excited about but here it is thrillingly menacing. Another highlight is Big Eyes, opened with an immensely entertaining guitar solo from Rick Nielsen during which he proclaims himself “100,000 times better than Fred Nugent will ever be!” to huge roars of approval. The scamp.

In general, the sound quality is very good: rough and raw but more evocative of the live atmosphere and excitement than many official live albums. Only Tom Peterson’s bass struggles to be heard on most tracks but makes up for it during Need Your Love, the intro of which sounds like it might have caused structural damage to the venue.

All in all, a great use of £8 and a great live album to add to the collection. I find it thoroughly inspiring hearing such classic acts in the raw and in the case of this and last year’s KISS release, The Ritz on Fire, it feels like I’m discovering the bands for the first time. Again!

As Henry Rollins would say, hearing a band live is the only way to know for sure, and on this evidence you can be very sure of Cheap Trick.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

(£8 – Fopp Glasgow)

[Cheap Trick – Stiff Competition]

Manowar – Hell on Wheels (Review)

“Ladies and Gentlemen. From the United States of America… all hail… Manowar.”

Being a Manowar fan brings with it both agony and ecstasy. Ever since their debut Battle Hymns in 1982, the New Yorkers have pounded out albums where epic, awe-inspiring classics have been accompanied by unwelcome bass solos and monologues. So the question that always has to be asked of any new Manowar release is: does the filler outweigh the killer?

Arguably, the band’s golden-era ended with 1992’s Triumph of Steel so the release of their first live record Hell on Wheels in 1997 seemed a bit belated but also had a tantalising wealth of material to draw from.

The album kicks off in thrilling style. Orson Welles heralding the band’s arrival on stage for their signature tune, Manowar. The album does a fine job of capturing Manowar’s punishingly loud live sound, vocalist Eric Adams fighting to be heard amongst the din. Unfortunately, the momentum created by the strong opening is damaged by the ill-conceived grouping of a guitar solo, piano interlude and the ballad, Courage, which creates the feel of a last dance too early in the album’s running time. Blood of my Enemies and Hail and Kill close off the first disc and should be the album’s centrepieces but their effect is neutered by the poor pacing.

Thankfully the second CD is slightly more even. Once again it opens well and although Joey DeMaio’s bass solo Black Arrows is well played and varied, it’s too long and Fighting the World struggles to restore the excitement levels. The back end of the album is over-weighted with newer material from 1996’s disappointing Louder Than Hell but the songs are more convincing live than in the studio and the final stages of Hell on Wheels are great fun, culminating in the moving Battle Hymn.

Ultimately, what should have been the definitive statement of Manowar at their absolute best is hobbled by the inconsistencies that often dog their studio output. You can press “skip” or stick the kettle on and this is a great live album, but victory is barely snatched from the jaws of defeat and I expect more from the Kings of Metal. Thankfully, Manowar had now developed a taste for the live album. There would be more… and they would be better.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Dissection – Live Rebirth (Review)

Swedish Black Metal legends Dissection had only released two studio albums before they embarked on the “Rebirth of Dissection” tour that kicked off with this show in Stockholm (listed on the LP jacket as September 2004 but it other sources suggest that the show was actually in October!).

The band had disbanded in 1997 following the imprisonment of guitarist/vocalist Jon Nödtveidt as an accessory to the murder of an Algerian man in Sweden. Upon his release in 2004, Nödtveidt quickly assembled a new line-up of Dissection for the tour captured on Live Rebirth.

For a band with only two albums of material to draw from, this is an exceptionally strong set of well-written and passionately performed tracks. The atmosphere and excitement at the show is well captured. The taped intro of instrumental track At the Fathomless Depths combines with the enthusiastic crowd cheering to build the excitement level for the first track proper Nights Blood so the feeling of being at the gig is palpable from the offset. In fact, the opening song is exciting and epic enough to be worth the price of admission alone.

Dissection’s take on extreme Metal is grounded with a strong grasp of songwriting and pacing. There are stunning, memorable riffs in abundance here and, although the hoarser vocals and dark atmosphere may be off-putting for some, there is much to love here for fans of the NWOBHM era and other older acts like Mercyful Fate.

Highlights for me include Where Dead Angels Lie and Maha Kali (the only new track here). These are absolutely thrilling and timeless, both delivered with an enigmatic folky lilt. Maha Kali also builds to a fantastic climax with its exotic feel bolstered by female Hindi vocals. The Somberlain evokes Iron Maiden with its melodic guitar harmony lines and there is also an excellent cover of Tormentor’s Elisabeth Bathory. Another band for me to check out!

Overall, this is an incredible Metal live album and is right up there with the best of them. It’s dripping with atmosphere, epic in scope and there is not a single track on here that is anything less than incredible. For such a short-lived band to have created a set like this is pretty remarkable. Jon Nödtveidt would commit suicide in 2006.

Buying Note: This full gig is available on DVD as Rebirth of Dissection and also available as Live in Stockholm 2004 on CD and LP but that version has some tracks removed and some are shortened. This edition, released in 2010, by the excellent High Roller Records has the full set intact.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5

Sammy and the Wabos – Live Hallelujah (Review)

I’m not the biggest Sammy Hagar fan in the world but I particularly enjoyed the period that followed his (initial) acrimonious split from Van Halen in the mid-90s. Having put together a great backing band called the Waboritas he proceeded to bring out a trio of  joyous Rock albums – Red Voodoo, Ten 13  and Not 4 Sale. With the Waboritas, Sammy had also become a formidable feel-good live act too and following a very competitive jaunt with Dave Lee Roth (the Sam and Dave tour) it was decided to capture the fun on CD.

The first thing that has to be said about Live Hallelujah is that it is LOUD. I actually can’t think of a live album that sounds more like being in the front rows of a concert than this one. Sammy’s older tracks are bristling with the kind of unhinged guitar assault that would make Ted Nugent proud and the Van Halen-era tracks are feel-good bliss (some featuring a speaker-rattling Michael Anthony and When It’s Love features Gary Cherone). Although Sammy and Vic Johnson are fine players they sensibly chose some of the least flashy Van Halen tracks which means they sit more comfortably alongside the non-VH songs. The newer tracks like Shaka Doobie, Deeper Kind of Love and Little White Lie are also strong, fitting in perfectly with the old favourites like Three Lock Box and Heavy Metal. In fact, one of the great features of the album is how it assimilates material from a long and varied career into a really cohesive set.

This has obviously never become a classic of any description but I really enjoy this and it actually served as a gateway for me to get more into Sammy’s and Van Hagar’s albums. Overall, if your ears can take the remorseless pounding of the production, this is just great fun and one of the best examples I can think of where a live album manages to evoke the excitement and vibe of a being at a really entertaining Rock show. If I’m looking for an album to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step this would be a strong contender and there can’t be a higher recommendation than that.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

W.A.S.P. – Live… in the Raw (Review)

 

Live… in the Raw 1997 Reissue

Many of the great live albums functioned as “end of an era” releases. They documented a period of a band’s career and placed a full-stop on it before evolving into something new.

Ever since the release of their debut single (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast, controversy had dogged W.A.S.P. and they soon became a prime target for the PMRC, while also experiencing death threats and even assassination attempts. The stress had tired the band, causing tensions in the ranks but also galvanising band leader Blackie Lawless who felt that the focus on the band’s image and antics had meant their musical merits were under-estimated.

Live… in the Raw was recorded over three dates on their successful world tour promoting their third album, Inside The Electric Circus. Opener Inside The Electric Circus is thrilling and has some great sawing guitar riffs. The band proceeds to tear through a taut, muscular set that mixes classics and new tracks alike. In fact there are three tracks on here that would have previously been unavailable: two excellent live tracks Harder Faster and The Manimal and one studio track Scream Until You Like It recorded to promote the Horror sequel Ghoulies II.

2011 reissue of Inside the Electric Circus relegates Live… in the Raw to mere bonus disc.

Like many of the best live albums, some of the songs here enjoy their definitive performances on this album. Inside The Electric Circus, L.O.V.E Machine, Wild Child and 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. are all superb. The only thing that stops Live… in the Raw being all the W.A.S.P. you’ll ever need is the notable omission of (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast (although they would atone for this with the release, in 1988, of the Live Animal EP).

Live… in the Raw would prove pivotal to the band’s career. It boosted the profile and legitimacy of their catalogue and functioned as a historically important “end of an era” release. The album would provide a full-stop on the sex, parties and gore period of their career. From now on, W.A.S.P. were going to get serious!

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5