BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST: LIVE (1974)
1) Summer Soldier; 2) Medicine Man; 3) Crazy City; 4) After The Day; 5) The Great 1974 Mining Disaster; 6) Galadriel; 7) Negative Earth; 8) She Said; 9) Paper Wings; 10) For No One; 11) Mockingbird.
Released just a wee wee bit too late — I would much have preferred a live album recorded prior to the stylistic transition that we see on Everyone Is Everybody Else, in full-fledged «Stuck Between the Procol and the Moody Blues Again» mode. As it is, five out of eleven songs are here to promote the latest studio album, and the difference between the «impoverished» new sound and the much richer sound of the days of yore is still striking — although, granted, nowhere near as striking in a live setting, where the sound is beefed up with thicker guitar tones and denser clouds of Mellotron radiation, as it is in the confines of the studio.
Still, other than the «intertextual cheese» of ʽMining Disasterʼ, the new songs all range from great (ʽFor No Oneʼ) to passable (everything else), and the only reason for sorrow is that they leave no space in the setlist for anything off the debut album (which the band had pretty much disinherited long before that anyway). The soundboard recordings have not been captured too well — or, perhaps, have not received all the digital remastering they deserved — but the «brutal» aura of the sound quality is quite appropriate for a live show, where, after all, one does not expect to revel in all the subtle minutia of the studio equivalents.
John Lees is, of course, the unsung (but singing) hero of the album: his rough, extra-distorted, but melodic, psychedelically tinged, and occasionally, quite glammy soloing makes him a serious competitor of Mick Ronson in the «knock-yer-pants-off» department. ʽMedicine Manʼ, in particular, is transformed from an acoustic guitar / strings-based art song into a heavy riff-rocker, with a lengthy instrumental part where John plays the god of thunder, scattering lightning bolts through the audience (and Woolly keeps up respectably, playing the god of hailstorm and occasionally torturing his organ in perverted ways previously known only to Keith Emerson). But everything else, with the exception of the short and soft interlude of ʽGaladrielʼ, also bears the burning stamp of his electric (and electrifying) solos.
I wouldn't say that, except for the completely revamped ʽMedicine Manʼ, any of these versions open up and explore previously unknown dimensions. The band knows what the people want when they come to see them — a feeling of collective ecstasy that involves both romance and power — and they stock up on the power without losing the grasp on romance, sticking fairly closely to the original creativity but giving it a little more gas at the expense of subtlety, which is what a predictable solid art-rock concert should look like, I guess. Fans of Lees should know that most of the guitar tones are different, and fans of Woolly should know that the man is capable of losing his head and getting carried away in a power frenzy. All of this is enough to guarantee a solid thumbs up, and leave BJH with at least one all-through excellent live album in their history — their Yessongs and Welcome Back My Friends rolled into one, although, funny enough, they did refrain from making it into a triple LP set.