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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Live

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: LIVE (1980/1994)

1) Intro; 2) Agitato; 3) Nuclear Blues; 4) Manic Depression; 5) God Bless The Child; 6) Lucretia MacEvil; 7) Hi-De-Ho; 8) And When I Die; 9) Spinning Wheel; 10) You've Made Me So Very Happy; 11) (Suite) Spanish Wine; 12) Drown In My Own Tears; 13) Gimme That Wine; 14) Trouble In Mind / Shake A Hand.

Although this album was recorded on October 12, 1980 (at the Street Scene in Los Angeles), it took fifteen years for it to see the light of day — meaning that nobody really cared until Rhino Records started out on their missionary mission to salvage, cherish, and promote historically re­levant (or irrelevant — no big deal) material that the big ones left in the vaults for one reason or another. But it does make sense that the last album to be officially released by BS&T had to be a live one, considering that the band name has continued to serve as a tag for various incarnations of the «BS&T spirit», going out on the road for over thirty years since they last churned out some studio product.

Essentially, it happens as follows: Bobby Colomby has the rights to the band's name, and leases it out to whoever is willing to buy for a reasonable price, as long as there is a trumpet and trombone attached. Some of these groupings have included Clayton-Thomas and some have not; certain sources say that he has not sung with BS&T since 2004, but as long as he stays in good health, there is no telling what tomorrow may bring. Altogether, BS&T should probably be in the Guin­ness book — through those thirty years, approximately 120-150 different people have been listed as formal members of the band, even if some may have lasted for just a month or so. Then again, why not? They never hurt anyone, and they wisely refrain from «creating» stuff under the name of Blood, Sweat & Tears, and if you want to get rid of twenty bucks, there sure are worse ways than spending them on an opportunity to sing along to ʽHi-De-Hoʼ.

Anyway, this here live album still comes from an era when Clayton-Thomas provided a solid link to the past — namely, it is from the small tour undertaken to promote Nuclear Blues, and so the album is played here almost in its entirety (with the happy exclusion of ʽFantasy Stageʼ). The sound quality is pretty good, the energy level is all right, and the songs are played quite faithfully to the studio versions, so that the excellent stuff still rocks (ʽAgitatoʼ; the ʽSpanish Wineʼ suite), the overwrought stuff still irritates (ʽDrown In My Own Tearsʼ is still drowning in its own bathos like there was no tomorrow), and the so-so stuff still remains inexplicable (why ʽManic Depres­sionʼ? who in the band was ever maniacally depressed?).

Unfortunately, being so preoccupied with this promotion, the band succumbs to the «medley curse» — or maybe Clayton-Thomas only had time to teach his Canadian friends the bare rudi­ments of the old classics (but they do play quite impressively on all the sections, so there is no question in my mind that they could have handled the proper load, had they had the opportunity to do so). In between two sections, completely devoted to Nuclear Blues material, they stuff a 15-minute potpourri of the classic hits, where only ʽHi-De-Hoʼ gets the royal treat­ment because of its karaoke potential. And even if those classic hits were not the greatest masterpieces of 20th century music, they still deserved a better fate.

Particularly since there was no reason to castrate them in order to make more space for a twelve-minute jam to the theme of ʽGimme That Wineʼ — where did that get resuscitated from? It's es­sentially a joke number, not to be promoted, much less to be used as a fanfare conclusion to the whole show. «We're a cabaret band and we want you to leave the building with that feeling?» Is that the message? Silly. But well representative of the band's entire career — where, for every splash of serious artistic ambition, there had always been a compensating splash of glitzy Vegas cheapness. There is nothing wrong with a little silliness or a little lighthearted humor every now and then, of course, but it all depends on the timing, the context, and on how high the joke in question is ranked on the playlist. (And this is not even mentioning all the ultra-critics who think that Blood, Sweat & Tears as a whole was just one big gag that ran for way too long — some­thing that I strongly disagree with, because even ʽSpanish Wineʼ has some serious points of in­terest to it).

In any case, if you actually want a BS&T live album, do make sure that your primary choice is the one from 1976, because this particular Live is not even proper BS&T — it's essentially just Nuclear Blues plus a medley of deeply humiliated classics and a joke-style funk-pop number run into the ground with way too much force. But if you are just an obstinate completist, chances are you won't be too irritated with this stuff, either, particularly because the basic condition is satis­fied: David's Canadian friends are organised, tight, collected, and energetic throughout. If much of this ends up being applied either to the wrong material or in the wrong way to the right mate­rial, well, that's quite a traditional part of the Blood, Sweat & Tears idiom, too.

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