AVERAGE WHITE BAND: FACE TO FACE (1999)
1) Soul Mine; 2) Got The Love; 3) A Love Of Your Own; 4) Oh, Maceo; 5) Back To Basics; 6) Work To Do; 7) Every Beat Of My Heart; 8) Pick Up The Pieces.
Any respectable studio comeback deserves a live counterpart. Over the past decade, the AWB has released quite a number of these, actually, and spending a lot of time, words, and web space on them would be overkill, but Face To Face, as the first one in the series, deserves a brief mention. Roger Ball left the band shortly after the recording of Soul Tattoo, and, for the ensuing tours, was replaced by Fred Vigdor — clearly a hard-working guy, since he seems able to fill Roger's shoes to the extent that I honestly do not hear any big difference. The album itself is said to have been recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco — not the legendary Fillmore of old, of course, which was closed down by Bill Graham as early as 1971, but still the Fillmore, lending a bit of extra glitz to the whole thing.
The track listing is somewhat bizarre, though. Clearly, the band did not want to be perceived as simply an oldies act, so the inclusion of four tracks from the new album is understandable. But, altogether, there are only eight (plus a ʽLet's Go Round Againʼ as a bonus on some releases), and this leaves rather a miserable amount of space for the classic hits — and, for that matter, where are the classic hits? Other than ʽPick Up The Piecesʼ, there are none. If you are going to bring back the oldies at all, why resuscitate mushy balladry like ʽA Love Of Your Ownʼ (particularly since mushy balladry is already represented well enough by the new song, ʽEvery Beat Of My Heartʼ)? Where is ʽCut The Cakeʼ? What's wrong with ʽPut It Where You Want Itʼ? ʽPerson To Personʼ, anyone? Huh?..
It is all the more bizarre considering how well the new-look band actually sounds. ʽSoul Mineʼ almost had me believe that I am listening to a studio re-recording with fake crowd noises; I hope to God the suspicion is not true (what point can there be for a band like this to release a fake live album?). Sound quality is impeccable, as is the level of coordination between all the band members. Most importantly, they are still having fun, going at it as if the past twenty years had not happened, and we were all still huddled in a circa-1974 club venue, knocking off that sweaty-funky music while it was still relatively fresh.
So it is no surprise that, most of the time, the audience is kept well awake and on its feet, with a particularly huge rise of enthusiasm at the opening trills of the show-closing ʽPick Up The Piecesʼ ("I think you know this", Gorie adds, and they sure do). If only they left out the slow ballads — there should be a law out there, allowing no more than one «slow-burner» per a show like this — and concentrated more on funky grooves, there could even be a chance of beating the impact of 1976's Person To Person. As it is, only ʽSoul Mineʼ, ʽOh Maceoʼ (explained from the stage to be a tribute to James Brown's sax player, Maceo Parker — shame on me for not realizing that earlier!), ʽGot The Loveʼ, and ʽPiecesʼ help us work up a respectable sweat. Still, it's a fair enough document, and solid proof — at least, for the turn-of-the-century period — that it still made good sense to purchase tickets to an AWB show.