CARDIACS: LIVE (1988)
1) The Icing On The World; 2) To Go Off And Things; 3) In A City Lining; 4) Gina Lollobrigida; 5) There's Too Many Irons In The Fire; 6) Tarred And Feathered; 7) Goosegash; 8) Loosefish Scapegrace; 9) Cameras; 10) Is This The Life; 11) Big Ship.
This is possibly the best Cardiacs album available on the market, and I'm not joking. Following a first attempt at a live presentation (Rude Bootleg from 1986), which was somewhat shorter and slightly inferior in quality, the band hit it just right on their second live album, recorded at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on May 15, 1988 with first-rate equipment and capturing the band in all of their visionary-demented glory.
Like most pop or progressive bands, Cardiacs tend not to stray away from the original versions of the songs in live performance; at best, they may add a brief atmospheric intro, never allowing themselves to break away into free-form jamming or even a mighty drum solo (this is why the review will be brief, because there are no specific details to discuss). However, they also have that punkish streak, and this means throwing themselves into battle with fiery gusto, pounding the shit out of their instruments and straining the vocals to breaking point where necessary. So, true to the «pronk» moniker, they implement it on stage by combining technical precision and accuracy with increased energy — if you thought the studio recordings were already crackling with electricity, these live performances will blow them away in terms of sheer power.
The other major benefit of the album is the high quality of the setlist, making it essentially a «best-of» package without turning it into a compilation. Most of the catchiest highlights from the 1984-88 period make the list, which is as emotionally and stylistically diverse and entertaining as it could possibly get; it is possible to get a very representative overview of what the Cardiacs were really all about from the album — all except the accompanying stage show, uncapturable on an audio record (and the stage banter is also cut surprisingly short, limited to just a tiny handful of quips, jokes, and announcements).
Normally, I tend to shrug such records off, as they tend to be cash-grabbers or time-fillers; but much of the band's reputation (and most of their money, I suppose) was really based on live playing, and the total dedication with which they throw themselves into each of these songs is the best proof that they actually took themselves seriously — that their mix of pop-punk energy and progressive complexity was more than just a sarcastic put-on. It does not make the overall enigma any easier to crack, but it brings them a tiny bit closer, and makes them feel a little bit more humane and friendly. An important record, well worth a thumbs up.