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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Booker T. & The M.G.'s: Back To Back

BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s: BACK TO BACK (1967)

1) Green Onions; 2) Red Beans And Rice; 3) Tic-Tac-Toe; 4) Hip Hug-Her; 5) Philly Dog; 6) Grab This Thing; 7) Last Night; 8) Gimme Some Lovin'; 9) Booker Loo; 10) Outrage.

The Stax-Volt Revue circa 1967 was a pretty hot affair, largely due to some of its megastars such as Otis Redding — popular enough for the label to graciously allow even the instrumental backing bands to leave behind some musical documentation. Technically, Back To Back is a split album between Booker T. & The M.G.'s and The Mar-Keys. However, The Mar-Keys are featured only on three numbers out of ten, and they are actually piled above the other band — being represented by the horn section of Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, and Joe Arnold who just play on top of the Booker T. rhythm section, so essentially it's all Booker T., really.

As a document, it's okay: the bands play their biggest hits, a few obscure tracks, and a bit of con­temporary material (such as ʽGimme Some Lovin'ʼ by the Spencer Davis Group). As something to enjoy, it is certainly disappointing, particularly for the standards of 1967, by which time pop bands who knew how to stretch it out on stage were already beginning to be expected to stretch it out all right. Granted, the world was only just warming up to the sounds of Cream and Jimi Hen­drix in March 1967, but there is not even the tiniest hint here that a muscular R&B outfit could do something else on stage than just faithfully reproduce its studio sound.

They do extend ʽGreen Onionsʼ for about one minute, that is for sure, but merely to add a small, playful, quiet pre-coda movement — nice, but nothing special. Everything else is similar, but slightly inferior to the studio versions, as the band does not have the benefit of choosing the perfect take or canceling out unnecessary noise (although, to be fair, the sound quality is quite high, and the audiences at the Olympia Theater are politely listening to the players without ripping stuff up — ain't no hurly-burly Rolling Stones messing up the local morals here). The tempos are sped up just a very tiny bit, so that it is really hard to say if they did it to raise the excitement level or simply to cramp more tunes into the half-hour slot allocated to them. Possibly the latter, since the entire performance is also completely banter-free, bar a short introduction.

The three numbers where the M.G.'s and the Mar-Keys play together are arguably the most ex­citing part of the show, because the M.G.'s thrive on a «stern» attitude where the brass-crazy Mar-Keys are a little more wild and eccentric, and it is fun to watch the two different attitudes collide and collate for about ten minutes. Other than that, the release is completely inessential, although it would probably make much more sense as a brief instrumental interlude in a large multi-volume retrospective of the Stax-Volt Revue (and, as far as I understand, something of the sort is actually available, except all the individual performances have been cut short on the col­lective Stax-Volt CD releases).

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