CACTUS: FULLY UNLEASHED: THE LIVE GIGS (2004)
CD I: 1) Intro/Long Tall Sally; 2) Bag Drag; 3) Evil; 4) Parchman Farm; 5) Alaska; 6) Oleo; 7) No Need To Worry; 8) Let Me Swim.
CD II: 1) Big Mama Boogie; 2) Heeby Jeebies/Money/Hound Dog/What'd I Say; 3) No Need To Worry; 4) Parchman Farm; 5) One Way... Or Another; 6) Bro. Bill; 7) Swim; 8) Bad Mother Boogie; 9) Our Lil' Rock'n'Roll Thing; 10) Bedroom Mazurka.
Okay, as absurd as it may sound, this almost comes close to a great album. See, even though by and large Cactus totally sucked as a studio band with an obligation to come up with original songs and shit, live they could, indeed, get «fully unleashed». The live side of 'Ot 'n' Sweaty never did proper justice to their capacities — not only because it already lacked the original guitarist, but also because there were physical limits on the length of the tracks that downplayed their jamming skills. However, with this sprawling 2-CD mammoth, presenting an entire 2-hour long show (the original lineup's last gig at Memphis, Tennessee, on December 19, 1971) plus an assorted selection of other live tracks (including, for some reason, the entire live half of 'Ot 'n' Sweaty as well!), Rhino Records have made the nearly impossible — made me re-appreciate the band's talent and re-assess their status.
Formally, the classic Cactus line-up on stage did not do much of anything that they did not do on the studio records, except stretching out the songs (sometimes to really absurd, Zep-worthy lengths: ʻNo Need To Worryʼ goes on for 20 minutes, all solos included). But either they really went out on a limb that night, trying to make their last show as memorable as possible, or, if that was their usual style, then it must be assumed that (not unlike quite a few other hard rock bands) they held back in the studio, whereas on stage all four players, all the time, tried to be louder, wilder, more frantic and hysterical than anybody else. It does not get much better than on the opening ʻLong Tall Sallyʼ — in the studio, slowing down the Little Richard original never made sense, but here you won't even have to remember that this is a Little Richard original. It's not at all important what this is in the first place! That is, as long as the guitarist guts his guitar like a screeching pig, the bassist lays it on so thick you'd think he had steel cables for strings, the drummer pounds like Bonham's younger brother, and the vocalist knows no other mode than ripping his voice to shreds (and he still has something left by the end of the 2-hour show).
Essentially, this is pre-Spinal Tap-era, «everything up to eleven»-style stuff, but this is precisely how they manage to add excitement to their generally clumsy-lumbering manner of playing. In the studio, their Godzilla just wandered around, mindlessly bumping into corners, but here, it actually breathes fire and demolishes skyscrapers, sometimes at a frantic pace (despite the presence of some super-slow blues, the overall pace of the show is much quicker than the average pace of any of their studio records). Check out the final wild romp of ʻBig Mama Boogieʼ, or ʻParchman Farmʼ, or McCarty's feedback stunts at the end of ʻLet Me Swimʼ — crude, tasteless, brainlessly violent, and perversely awesome.
Of course, nearly three hours of material is overkill, but the re-release of the Puerto Rican material from 1972 really does not count, and an extra live ʻParchman Farmʼ is quite welcome. And I suppose that Cactus cannot be appreciated any other way than in «total sprawl» mode: anything less than completely-over-the-top and killer boredom sets in. But frankly, I am really surprised at how much I enjoyed most of these 15-to-20-minute live tracks — even the medley of rock'n'roll oldies, although it is performed in the silly-lumpy-glammy way that most people were doing them in the early Seventies (think Uriah Heep or Queen), is appealing in their unsophisticated, unpretentiously rustic mode of performance. Even that ultra-slow ʻNo Need To Worryʼ: the guitar solo that McCarty plays at the beginning is so utterly ridiculous, it must have served as a basic inspiration for all introductory solos by Angus Young.
In brief, if you do want to hear Cactus, this is the album to hear, and the most ridiculous thing is that we all had to wait more than thirty years to hear it. Not that it could have withstood competition with Live At Leeds or Made In Japan, had it been released in 1972 as a triple live LP, but I'm fairly sure it could have endured at least as a cult classic. Anyway, even if the music is dumb, I still love me an album that pulls all the stops, and on December 19, 1971, these guys were on some rich barbecue fire, so a thumbs up, by all means. As far as I know, there's also a sequel out there (Live Gigs Vol. 2), but since the material predictably overlaps, Vol. 1 is everything a sane music listener really needs from these guys.