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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Live At The BBC


THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: LIVE AT THE BBC (1972-1977/2009)

CD I: 1) Midnight Moses; 2) St. Anthony; 3) Framed; 4) There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mother; 5) Hole In Her Stocking; 6) Dance To The Music; 7) The Faith Healer; 8) Midnight Moses; 9) Gang Bang; 10) The Last Of The Teenage Idols; 11) Giddy Up A Ding Dong; CD II: 1) Next; 2) The Faith Healer; 3) Give My Compliments To The Chef; 4) Delilah; 5) Boston Tea Party; 6) Pick It Up And Kick It; 7) Smouldering.

Many, if not all, of these tracks had surfaced earlier on various smaller releases, but in 2009, fi­nally, someone did the job right and gathered everything that could be salvaged from SAHB's radio appearances in one place. The result is, of course, patchy, but just about everything apart from the last two tracks seriously rules.

The first disc contains full recordings of SAHB's two radio concerts from 1972 and 1973, respec­tively, with only one track ('Midnight Moses') duplicated — since the first show was promoting Framed and the second was promoting Next, what you get is a selection of highlights from both albums. I would not say they are necessarily better than the studio counterparts; since all the songs are still fresh, they mostly tend to stick to reproducing the originals ('Framed', for instance, does not yet get the extended audience participation workout), except Harvey is a little more loose and Zal is a little more ass-kicking, just what you'd expect from a live performance.

The only surprise in the tracklisting is a cover of Sly & The Family Stone's 'Dance To The Music', and it is understandable the band would soon drop it from the setlist: well-rehearsed and well-mea­­ning, but a bunch of mock-rocking Glasgow dudes doing one of the Sixties' most classic funk numbers, head-and-tails-oriented on Sly's "family style", can hardly be expected to work all that well (there is some ferocious bass work, though). My advice is to stick to Harvey originals.

The second disc traces the band's evolution through several other worthy recreations of their hits onstage (taken from the Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops, no less), where the defini­tive highlight is Harvey's possessed rendition of 'Next' (it has also survived on video, and works much better in that form), although the other four tunes are at most one notch below. Unfortuna­tely, the album peters out quite badly, allocating unnecessary space for two performances of the SAHB without Harvey (recorded during Alex's leave of absence in between SAHB Stories and Rock Drill), with 'Smouldering', in particular, sounding like very, very bad Foreigner. But I sup­pose they had to use some of that material to fill out empty space (Disc 2 is pretty short as it is, compared to disc 1).

Regardless, this is a sure-fire thumbs up, even if it does support my thesis that "radio concerts" are not a very faithful representation of any band's live sound — most probably, recording "live in the studio" still triggers that part of the players' brain which is responsible for "studio" (clean, polished sound) rather than "live" (give 'em the show of their life), and it conveys the hypnotizing power of SAHB much less effectively than the Live album, or other archive releases that let you hear full shows from actual tours. But the pleasure is undeniable.

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