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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bad Company: Live In Albuquerque 1976


BAD COMPANY: LIVE IN ALBUQUERQUE (1976; 2006)

1) Live For The Music; 2) Good Lovin' Gone Bad; 3) Deal With The Preacher; 4) Ready For Love; 5) Wild Fire Wo­man; 6) Young Blood; 7) Sweet Little Sister; 8) Simple Man; 9) Shooting Star; 10) Seagull; 11) Run With The Pack; 12) Feel Like Making Love; 13) Rock Steady; 14) Honey Child; 15) Can't Get Enough; 16) Bad Company.

The «Bad Company Archives» are hardly the merriest place on Earth to spend one's free time, but on this particular occasion at least, they might be worth a brief visit — in 2006, Mick Ralphs fi­nally got around to cracking the vaults, within which he had stored a large amount of live shows taped from the band's classic era, and selecting for release this lengthy concert, played on March 3, 1976, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the time when Bad Company's successful run had al­rea­dy begun to lose steam and purpose (ʽYoung Bloodʼ — "it's a silly tune, really, but we like it", Rodgers admits right in front of the hardcore New Mexican audience), but the setlist still con­sis­ted of catchy tunes, and the energy level had not yet sunk below «optimistic». Unfortunately, soon after the original release, Live In Albuquerque was pulled from the shelves for obscure «licensing rea­sons», never properly explained in any press releases, and the 2-CD package is somewhat of a collectible item today — of course, in our modern age, this does not automatically surmise «un­avai­lability», especially considering how many Paul Rodgers fans are still out there.

But is it worth searching for? Surprisingly, yes. At the height of their powers and influence (a fairly modest height, but still...), Bad Company actually did follow the golden rule of hard rock bands: polished and, consequently, somewhat restrained in the studio, lean, mean and dirty in a live setting. This isn't necessarily a good thing for Paul, whose secret weapon has always been the subtlety of phrasing, and in the live setting, especially if he has to play something while singing, it is very hard to keep that subtlety. But it is a great thing for Mick Ralphs, who, after all, initially made his reputation with Mott The Hoople as one of the grittiest rock'n'roll players of the 1970s, and on Live In Albuquerque, he has plenty of opportunities to confirm that status.

No surprise that he was the chief culprit behind the album's release — of all the original players, Ralphs gains the most from making it public. Boz has always been «just a bass player», no excep­tions ever. Simon Kirke is a good enough drummer and that's that (he is given a little «solo» at the beginning of ʽRock Steadyʼ, which is quite pathetic — it would be much better not to draw special attention to him at all). Rodgers is decent, but, as I said, his charisma works fullest in the studio. But Ralphs? Listen to him go on the final barroom boogie numbers: this version of ʽHo­ney Childʼ, had it only been a little bit faster, could give AC/DC a good run for their money (ac­tually, parts of the instrumental jam bit sound uncannily like AC/DC's live arrangements of ʽHigh Voltageʼ — that is, before Ralphs rips into the riff of the bridge section of ʽJumpin' Jack Flashʼ), and ʽCan't Get Enoughʼ, as soon as you get through the obligatory audience participation bit, be­comes a rock'n'roll fiesta that no lover of rock'n'roll could honestly despise.

The best thing about the album, really, is the setlist — it doesn't just consist of the band's cat­chiest hits, it also emphasizes those particular hits that have the most rocking potential. The only non-rockers are ʽSimple Manʼ — a nasty blight, but they did need to play some songs off their freshly released third album — and ʽSeagullʼ, performed to let the rhythm section take a short toilet break. Everything else is non-stop rock'n'roll ranging from the passable to the excellent (this version of ʽRock Steadyʼ almost ends up beating the studio original, were it not for several flub­bed vocal lines on Paul's part).

And yes, there are quite a few kick-ass live rock'n'roll albums that put Bad Company to shame in terms of technique, loudness, speed, and creativity, but that is not the point here — the point is to show that, after all has been said and done, Bad Company were still a legit rock'n'roll band rather than some sort of 1970s-bred perversion of the correct image. These performances show that they did have as much spirit as Slade, AC/DC, Aerosmith — any of those baddest boys of their era — even if their act was «cleaner» and targeted at less risk-taking audiences. In a way, Live In Albu­querque is reassuring — there is nothing wrong with guarding those Rodgers-era B.C. records on your shelves, they have their marketing flaws, but it's not as if these guys are just phoney clowns or arrogantly crass money-makers.

Actually, if the latter were the case, I think they would have put this album on the market a long time ago — indeed, 1976 was the year when it should have come out, propping up the band's re­putation that had already started wobbling. But even today is not too late, particularly with the aid of some extra thumbs up from people whose judgement you can trust (wink, wink). In any case, the whole thing is much better — sharper, crisper, louder, reckless-er — than those come-lately live albums from the Howe era, or Merchants Of Cool which is not really Bad Company; it takes a Live In Albuquerque to clearly show that a Bad Company without Ralphs at the helm is really Bum Company.

2 comments:

  1. "1976 was the year when it should have come out, propping up the band's reputation."
    I am not so sure. In that decade (I am from 1963, so I remember pretty well) the audience ánd the critics expected something extra of the songs compared to the studio versions. Led Zep's first live album generally got flamed, while these days critics (like Capt Marvel, McFerrin and you) are much less negative. And as you already have remarked, Live in A. has not much to go for besides Ralphs' nice sound, but otherwise not quite spectacular play. The underperformance especially hurts Ready for Love, which is simply a bore.
    In my view "Bad Company were still a legit rock'n'roll band" is simply not good enough for a live album; neither is not being phony clowns. Even the usual assett of interplay (compared to the track by track approach in the studio) is absent.
    At the other hand we can find some footage on YouTube from 1974 and 1975 where the band kicks some ass indeed, including a more inspired and subtle Rodgers. Of course the sound quality is not exactly optimal, but then again, does BadCo really need an optimal sound, as long we can distinguish all the instruments? Check for yourself:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfAMXiE-7Ro&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eVZenBd1VE&feature=related

    Rodgers, just like on the Free Live! from 1971, imo fully displays his charisma here. Even the rhythm section manages to hit them hard (ie play with gusto, as the classical musicians say).
    So LiA already shows BadCo at its decline.

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  2. Bad Co. always was a one trick pony. They pretty much shot their wad with the first two albums, so a kick ass live show (presuming they possessed one in the first place) was the logical last step to take before closing up shop. As it was, they made the choice to keep rolling on until it was painfully obvious that the limo had run out of gas. If they had released this live show in 1976 as their finale, it would have made for a fitting last gesture. Bad Co. would thus be remembered quite fondly as a 70's period piece, rather than the pathetic caricature they became in latter decades.

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