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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Live


THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: LIVE (1975)

1) Fanfare; 2) Faith Healer; 3) Tomahawk Kid; 4) Vambo; 5) Give My Compliments To The Chef; 6) Delilah; 7) Framed.

Strange that, in the era of triple live albums de luxe, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band decided to go along with just one LP's worth of material, giving the listener but a snippet of all the delights that constituted their live show. Where is the hard rock punch of 'Midnight Moses'? The tango tragicality of 'Next'? The film-noir satire of 'Man In The Jar'? The cathartic solemnity of 'Anthem'? The only explanation is that, perhaps, the band consciously did not want to give any pretext for being associated with the pomp of progressive rock; but in retrospect, they hardly needed to be afraid. It's a good thing that, at least, we now have a solid bunch of releases from the archives to remedy that early mistake.

Granted, Live only works well if you have no idea what a SAHB live show actually looked like (or, perhaps, on the contrary, it doesn't work well unless you have some sort of idea). At their peak, the band put out a theatrical show second to no one, with the possible exception of Alice Cooper if you're into all that decapitated dolls and live snakes stuff. Zal Cleminson's Pierrot makeup and proto-KISS stage antics were a big part of it, of course, but Alex provided the lion's share of entertainment, with each number sporting a different personality tailored after the song's "message", and his grimacing and miming alone were worth seeing the show; unfortunately, very few of them were captured on tape, but what there is is some of the funniest, most cleverly staged and most impossible to ignore video material from the decade.

Without the visuals, one could easily complain about a number like 'Framed' extended to a ten-minute running time, during much of which the band does not even play anything; in between, Alex is busy changing clothes (onstage), tearing through paper prison walls (I presume), stuffing a pair of freshly-licked stockings in his mouth (at least, that's what he does in most of the preser­ved filmed versions), and running through the entire emotional palette while trying to convince the audience of his innocence, asking if they believe him in between each phrase. It isn't particu­larly deep, of course, but it's great old-timey entertainment, and it has no way of being well trans­lated onto a picture-deprived recording.

On the good side, the band did deliver great overdriven music on stage; 'Vambo', in particular, shines during its extended instrumental break where Zal is given ample time to demonstrate his impressive chops (and no drum solo!), and the other songs are, expectedly, "dirtier" and more ag­gressive in their delivery than the better polished studio versions. By way of track listing, we're usually expecting some small surprise on every deserving live album; here, said surprise consists of Tom Jones' 'Delilah', which was actually a regular presence at the band's mid-Seventies show but somehow never made it onto a studio album. It's one of their best stabs at deconstruction, perfectly capturing the catchy melody of the original but, at the same time, wildly mocking its inescapable schmaltz (the very idea of Alex Harvey giving a Tom Jones impersonation is enough to tear the canopy off the altar).

Since this is, after all, a great band at their live peak, I cannot help but put my thumbs up in to­tal approval; but the track listing isn't entirely satisfactory (choosing 'Tomahawk Kid' over 'Midnight Moses' was simply wrong), and if someone somewhere out there, for once in someone's life, de­cided to do good, Live would have been re-packaged with a thoroughly expanded track list, and with an added bonus DVD containing whatever can be salvaged from the band's thin archival collection of live footage. Such a release would have been absolutely priceless, and recommen­dable above even the best SAHB studio records. Until then, we can't get no satisfaction.

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