ARGENT: ENCORE (1974)
1) The Coming Of Kohoutek; 2) It's Only Money (part 1); 3) It's Only Money (part 2); 4) God Gave Rock And Roll To You; 5) Thunder And Lightning; 6) Music From The Spheres; 7) I Don't Believe In Miracles; 8) I Am The Dance Of Ages; 9) Keep On Rollin'; 10) Hold Your Head Up; 11) Time Of The Season.
This seems to have mostly been a «stopgap» record — a live album released to keep the record company happy while the band was regrouping after the loss of Ballard. But since Argent was, after all, a «prog»-type outfit, and the live album was appropriately double, the whole thing was very much in the spirit of the time. Perhaps, were Argent on the same scale of notoriety as Yes and ELP, they would have been allowed a triple format?
The setlist here concentrates almost exclusively on three of the band's latest albums, completely ignoring Argent and Ring Of Hands — and generally concentrating on the longest, loudest, and most pompous of the band's compositions, downplaying their «poppier» side. In this context, the weak, unconvincing call of «let's get it on and boogie!» that rings out towards the end of the set, with ʽKeep On Rollinʼ, is a relative disappointment, even though Ballard throws on a frantic Chuck Berry-style guitar solo that the original studio version never knew. It's one of these tributary gestures that way too many «artsy» bands of the 1970s engaged in, just to show the world that they never hung up their rock'n'roll shoes, and it was almost never credible, regardless of whether it came from good bands like ELO or horrible ones like Uriah Heep.
On the other hand, credible or not, five minutes of basic rock'n'roll can still work as a braincharmer after three full sides of heavy and/or symphonic art-rock showpieces. And it may not sound nice, but Rod is simply not a very interesting live player. In the studio, it is his compositions, sense of taste, and overall creativity that has always attracted me over Ballard's; but live, it is the Russ show all the way as long as Russ is on that way. ʽThe Coming Of Kohoutekʼ remains faithful to the original and nothing more; but ʽMusic From The Spheresʼ, for instance, is hopelessly spoiled by the band's inability to recreate the «cosmic kaleidoscope» of sounds in the coda — Ballard sets a thick, effects-laden guitar tone that smears the whole feeling, and Rod's keyboards are lost in the background.
ʽI Am The Dance Of Agesʼ and ʽHold Your Head Upʼ are both extended with lengthy solo parts, played consecutively on Rod's array of Mellotrons, Hammonds, and Moogs. Neither of these parts is particularly inspiring: perhaps they should have left the extra space for ʽBe Gladʼ or a couple more heavy guitar rockers like ʽBe My Loverʼ. Thus, it's up to Ballard to keep the energy flowing on ʽIt's Only Moneyʼ and ʽThunder And Lightningʼ. For the record, he also performs a non-Argent song: ʽI Don't Believe In Miraclesʼ, a soft-rock hit he wrote for Colin Blunstone's Ennismore album from 1972. It isn't very good. Too much pathos set to weak hooks.
You'd think that, perhaps, in order to heat up the public interest, Argent would agree to performing a good deal of old Zombies material — at least the real old hits like ʽShe's Not Thereʼ, stuff that certainly wasn't considered «dead and gone» by the mid-Seventies. But the only Zombies song here is ʽTime Of The Seasonʼ, recast in a hard-rocking mood, with a lengthy screeching guitar intro and a very rough coating, compared to the smooth studio original. They do it as the final encore — implying that, perhaps, quite a few people came to the show in hopes of hearing it — but that's the only nod to any kind of past that precedes 1972.
Which is too bad, because it means that Encore, Argent's only official live document, does not provide a comprehensive picture of the band — they were more than creators of lengthy second-hand instrumental suites and sprawling heavy rock anthems; their pop sensibility, one of their strongest sides, remains almost completely unseen. Encore deserves to be heard — the songs are good, the performances aren't rote — and so it gets a thumbs up, but there's no rush. This is not one of the decade's great live art-rock albums, like Yessongs or Jethro Tull's Burstin' Out. It is merely admirable for showing how a band that is clearly more comfortable in the studio can still honestly get away with giving a good time to a live audience.