THE ASSOCIATION: THE ASSOCIATION LIVE (1970)
1) Dream Girl; 2) One Too Many Mornings; 3) Along Comes Mary; 4) I'll Be Your Man; 5) Goodbye Columbus; 6) Let's Get Together; 7) Wasn't It A Bit Like Now; 8) Never My Love; 9) Goodbye Forever; 10) Just About The Same; 11) Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You; 12) Seven Man Band; 13) The Time It Is Today; 14) Dubuque Blues; 15) Blistered; 16) What Were The Words; 17) Remember; 18) Are You Ready; 19) Cherish; 20) Requiem For The Masses; 21) Windy; 22) Enter The Young.
Behind all the gloss, fuss, and bliss of The Association's studio recordings, one almost forgets that, throughout their existence, they toured quite extensively — so much, in fact, that in a very short while they would mutate into a traveling oldies act. In 1970, however, they were still a creative force, and this live album captures the band at a stage when it still had something to offer to the world, not that the world was all that willing to take it.
Recorded at the University of Utah, no less, and featuring the revamped seven-man line up (as reflected in the sly title upgrading of their non-LP hit 'Six Man Band'), the album has mostly been panned: first, by those who castigated The Association for not matching the perfection of their studio output, and then by those who castigated The Association for overdubbing some parts in the studio so as to satisfy the first group. In reality, of course, it is simply that they came out a bit too late with this double LP — in 1970, this sort of music was even less cool than the Beach Boys, and the harder you could throw the dirt, the more self-confidence it would get you.
Truth is, The Association Live is terrific. It is true that few of the songs live up one hundred percent to their studio equivalents. But the band members did know how to play their instruments and not reduce the songs to their basic, raw components, including thoughtful reproduction of all the important flourishes and modulations (something that, for instance, The Monkees never really learned to do well). As for the vocal harmonies, even keeping in mind that some of them may have been doctored in the studio (is that the real reason why the word Live is in quotation marks on the sleeve?), the seven-man band is in complete control — simply check out the intro to 'Just About The Same' for proof.
Another key thing is that, had the live album been released in the year of Monterey, when the world was much more curious about The Association, it could never have boasted this sort of richness. With five studio albums and a bunch of non-LP singles behind their belt, the band can allow itself to forget about the weak and concentrate almost exclusively on the strong — the track selection is impressive as hell. We get to hear a whole six songs off the debut — confirming its Boetcher-masterminded greatness; no songs at all from Renaissance — confirming that the band themselves considered it rushed and dated; four from Insight Out — all hail rejuvenation; only one from Birthday — strange, but, perhaps, understandable, since they might have felt it was a more coherent «art-pop» LP where the songs belonged all together; and four from the self-titled record, which they were, after all, supposed to promote (all good ones, although I personally miss the inclusion of 'Look At Me, Look At You').
Among other things, those who do not want to bother with Best Of packages get to hear the band's first two singles — brave and efficient covers of Dylan's 'One Too Many Mornings' and Anne Bredon's 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' (of course, by 1970 the song was practically owned by Led Zeppelin, but this here way is what it used to be before the metallization), as well as the already mentioned 'Seven Man Band' and the title track from the Goodbye Columbus soundtrack (which, technically, could count as an additional Association LP from 1969, but it had like only four new songs on it, and only 'Goodbye Columbus' itself was any good, which is why I did not review it separately). There is also a version of 'Let's Get Together', a song that seems to have almost been written with a band like The Association in mind — a wonder it never appeared on any of their earlier records.
One thing that is entirely a matter of taste is the band's stage banter: little bits of obviously pre-rehearsed theatricality that even I may find ranging from the hilarious to the obnoxious, sometimes both at the same time. There is definitely a level of sophistication here that far surpasses the poor Monkees or, God help us, Mike Love — the little rant on attitude comparison between old and new times before 'Wasn't It A Bit Like Now' is probably the smartest bit of all — but on the whole, humorous stage banter is a thing that pop bands rarely do well, unless they secretly get Lenny Bruce or Woody Allen to script it for them. On the other hand, it's a better way to fill in the pauses between songs than just tuning up (and they had to fill it in, or else they wouldn't have enough space for a double album, and in 1970, a live album had to be double, because how else in 1973 could a live album be triple?).
Summing up, I just cannot imagine how a live album from The Association could be any better than this. Let's see: leave out the banter... polish a few tiny mistakes on the harmonies... tighten up the musicianship... you're ending up with their studio recordings. Obviously, a series of live albums from this band would be useless, but to experience them once, at the very top of their game, with humor, confidence, and professionalism, is perfectly all right by me. Thumbs up.
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