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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Camel: A Live Record


1) Never Let Go; 2) Song Within A Song; 3) Lunar Sea; 4) Skylines; 5) Ligging At Louis'; 6) Lady Fantasy; 7) The Great Marsh; 8) Rhayader; 9) Rhayader Goes To Town; 10) Sanctuary; 11) Fritha; 12) The Snow Goose; 13) Friendship; 14) Migration; 15) Rhayader Alone; 16) Flight Of The Snow Goose; 17) Preparation; 18) Dunkirk; 19) Epitaph; 20) Fritha Alone; 21) La Princesse Perdue; 22) The Great Marsh.

This is quite a long album, but the review will be very short. Instead of concentrating on a single show, the band took a selection of recordings from various points in their career, spanning the 1974-77, interval, and capped it off with a complete live recording of The Snow Goose at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1975, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra (which must have been on a real tight budget that year). Only one of the tracks, Bardens' instrumental ʻLigging At Louis'ʼ, was previously unreleased; everything else is quite familiar... and played almost note-for-note the same way as it was in the studio.

Not that this is somehow atypical of prog bands, but it does place Camel in the category of those of them who were usually happy just reproducing the complexity and the atmospheres of studio material (like Yes or Genesis) rather than those that used the stage as a pretext to fire up some improvisational creativity (like King Crimson, or even ELP on a good day). And it pretty much renders any «review» of such a live album pointless once the reviewer has stated the obvious — yes, they do a very good job reproducing it all on stage. Even the lonely melancholy of Snow Goose is carried over so flawlessly that it almost feels weird to hear the occasional round of ap­plause — like, you're not saying there are actually people out there to witness the proceedings?

Serious Camel fans will, of course, notice minor differences and maybe even take delight in savoring some of them (like, there's a short extra bass solo on ʻNever Let Goʼ, and Latimer's guitar solo is more distorted and fusion-esque), but then they might also get mad at some of the others (like, the synthesized string tone on ʻSong Within A Songʼ is so much cheesier than the melodeon-like tone of the original), ultimately spending a lot of time and emotions on mutually outcanceling flaws and advantages. Even the addition of the orchestra for Snow Goose — on one hand, it's a nice distinctive touch, on the other, they pretty much shush it much of the time so that it doesn't overshadow the band. So why bother in the first place?

If you do wish to bother, know that the 2002 reissue of the album has made it even huger, adding about 6-7 additional tunes (mostly from Moonmadness) to completely pad out the storage capa­city of 2 CDs; I have not heard that one, but I have no high hopes for pleasant surprises. Not that it hurts or anything to hear Snow Goose one more time, but ultimately, this is just more proof that classic progressive rock rarely makes for treasurable live records.

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