BE-BOP DELUXE: LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (1977)
1) Life In The Air Age; 2) Ships In The Night; 3) Piece Of Mine; 4) Fair Exchange; 5) Mill Street Junction; 6) Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape; 7) Blazing Apostles; 8) Shine; 9) Sister Seagull; 10) Maid In Heaven.
Recorded on a UK tour in early 1977, this is the official answer to all of the fans' red-hot prayers for a live Be-Bop Deluxe record — but coming just a wee bit too late in the band's career, I'd say. Because there is no better reason to hope for some documentation of Bill Nelson's live powers than a desire to check the man's guitar prowess in action — yet, by that time, Nelson was already edging away from the status of a guitar hero and moving more in the direction of «economic» songwriting. There is plenty of guitar prowess on display here, not to worry; but not the sort of bold, reckless melodic experimentation as first seen on Axe Victim — for the most part, things are kept under tight control, almost as if, with new musical values on the horizon and all, Nelson was becoming afraid of potential accusations of «wankery».
Altogether, the selected setlist, spread across an unusual format of one LP and one «bonus» EP, includes but two sprawling workouts. ʽAdventures In A Yorkshire Landscapeʼ, extended by a good four minutes from the original running length, contains several fusion-style workouts in the spirit (though not quite in the form) of John McLaughlin, interspersed with Simon Clark's less involving, but pretty, keyboard solos. In stark contrast, ʽShineʼ (not the same as the studio recording, appended as a bonus track to Sunburst Finish) goes for a completely different mix of funkiness and psychedelia — real trippy, far-out-there stuff that sounds like nothing else in the band's catalog.
The majority of the other tracks comes from Sunburst Finish — oddly enough, none of the material from Modern Music was seen fit for inclusion, even though the tour itself was allegedly held to promote the latest record — and they are not too drastically different from the original, being about as well-polished and well-rehearsed as the studio blueprints. Then, almost as a «for-the-casual-fans» afterthought, Futurama is represented by quick, polite, but honest runs through ʽSister Seagullʼ and ʽMaid In Heavenʼ on the last side of the EP.
All in all, due to solid choice of material and professional commitment, In The Air Age is never «bad» or «unlistenable», but it is still a disappointment — adding very little, if anything at all, to our understanding of and «spiritual bond» with the band and Nelson in person. Serious fans will, of course, enjoy the many nuances and appreciate the minute differences in tones, tempos, and textures, but this really ain't no Live At Leeds or Made In Japan, where these differences just jump out and kick you in the face, regardless of how many years of experience you have had with the bands in question. A pity, that — Be-Bop Deluxe was one of those bands that seems like it had enough brains and brawn to make their stage act into a separate phenomenon from their studio creativity. Maybe it was just a case of unlucky selection, but, whatever be the answer, I am not going to implore you to run off in search of Be-Bop Deluxe live bootlegs based on this particular experience; sticking to the studio albums seems quite enough.
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