BEE GEES: HERE AT LAST... LIVE (1977)
1) I've Gotta Get A Message To You; 2) Love So Right; 3) Edge Of The Universe; 4) Come On Over; 5) Can't Keep A Good Man Down; 6) New York Mining Disaster 1941; 7) Run To Me / World; 8) Holiday / I Can't See Nobody / I Started A Joke / Massachusets; 9) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart; 10) To Love Somebody; 11) You Should Be Dancing; 12) Boogie Child; 13) Down The Road; 14) Words; 15) Wind Of Change; 16) Nights On Broadway; 17) Jive Talkin'; 18) Lonely Days.
The Bee Gees never got around to recording a live album during their «golden» age — and there is nothing wrong with that, because throughout that age, the Bee Gees were a studio-based band through and through: even the surviving «live» footage, for the most part, consists of meticulously choreographed, sterilized, lip-synched TV performances, and the actual live shows, overall, would have to be rated in accordance with how close, on that particular night, the Gibbs were able to match the perfection of their studio productions. The shows sold out fine, to be sure, but something tells me that the audiences were mainly there to see the Gibbs than hear them — Barry at least was impossibly handsome in those early days, enough to make one think twice about one's preferred sexual orientation... 'scuse me.
By the mid-1970s, things had seriously changed. The Bee Gees got older and a little worn out (especially Maurice, daily increasing the sacrifice of his hair in his brothers' favour), but as they went further and further down the dubious road of R'n'B-ization and then disco-ization of their sound, it gave them a chance to stretch out a bit and add some looseness and freedom to the show. An early live take on ʽHeavy Breathingʼ could be extended to over ten minutes, showcasing the band's improving instrumental technique (particularly Maurice's bass parts and Alan Kendall's lead guitar playing) and giving the crowds plenty of room to practice body language. So it is only natural that, eventually, the possibility of a live album entered the picture — and, fortunately enough, was realized in the pre- rather than post-Saturday Night Fever era, when the «total sterilization» that the Bee Gees had already achieved in the studio had not yet completely neutralized their live shows.
If anything, Here At Last... is worth taking a peek at just to see how they manage to integrate the «old shit» with the «new shit». In terms of sheer quantity, the «old shit» only occupies about a third of the entire running length, but it is so skilfully scattered throughout the album that there is an illusion of «democracy». Here they start off the show with Robin's heartbreaking ʽMessage To Youʼ — and then immediately follow it up with the plastic confection of ʽLove So Rightʼ off Children Of The World, as if the two had something in common. Or, after a final sequence of their stompiest dance hits, close the album on a melancholy / psycho note with ʽLonely Daysʼ.
The major misstep, which turned into a practice that they would stubbornly observe up to the very end, is in their jamming most of the old hits into a rather pathetic «medley», which eats up huge parts of ʽHolidayʼ, ʽI Can't See Nobodyʼ, ʽRun To Meʼ, and other songs. This is one clear sign of where their primary allegiance now lies — I mean, sacrifice the integrity of their baroque pop legacy in order to make room for five extra minutes of straightforward disco dancing (in the guise of a lengthy coda to ʽYou Should Be Dancingʼ)? It would have been more sensible to simply leave out some of these castrated snippets, but apparently they thought that the fans should be given the chance of hearing every hit single's chorus at least once — go figure.
One major reason why they still so left so many oldies in the setlist, I suppose, was to provide Robin with something to do — since he was practically excluded from singing lead on most of the disco stuff, and never played any instruments either, his role was reduced to strengthening the harmonies on the chorus parts and jumping around like an idiot on everything else. (Fortunately, this is not a problem with the audio record). But generally, they concentrate on Main Course and Children Of The World — and it must be said that at least ʽCan't Keep A Good Man Downʼ, with extra focus on Kendall's aggressive lead playing, is an improvement here, shedding some of the studio gloss and getting more in line with the livelier vibe of Main Course.
In short, this double live LP, recorded December 20, 1976, right in the heartland of newly conquered Bee Gees territory — The Forum at Los Angeles — has its ups, downs, historical importances, and dated gimmicks, but most significantly, it still has some entertainment value: at the very least, of all the officially released audio and video recordings of the band, it is unquestionably the best one, still capturing a small bit of the flesh-and-blood Gibb brothers just before they crossed over completely into Vegas territory.
Check "Here At Last... Live" (MP3) on Amazon