Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

801: 801 Live

801: 801 LIVE (1976)

1) Lagrima; 2) T.N.K. (Tomorrow Never Knows); 3) East Of Asteroid; 4) Rongwrong; 5) Sombre Reptiles; 6) Golden Hours; 7) The Fat Lady Of Limbourg; 8) Baby's On Fire; 9) Diamond Head; 10) Miss Shapiro; 11) You Really Got Me; 12) Third Uncle.

I had no original intentions to write about 801 separately — after all, the project was so short-lived and so inseparable from other, much bigger acts that it seemed more appropriate to simply cover the material as an appendix... but to what? Roxy Music? Brian Eno? Phil Manzanera's solo career? The band was put together by Manzanera once Roxy Music went on their long-term break, and included Eno, a former member of Roxy Music; but they never played any Roxy Music mate­rial — selections on 801 Live are more or less equally divided between Manzanera's solo career (the Diamond Head album) and Eno's great trilogy of mid-Seventies albums (unfortunately, Before And After Science had not come out yet to round out the quadrilogy), plus a Beatles cover, a Kinks cover, and a Quiet Sun cover (due to bass player Bill MacCormick having been a member of that short-lived band as well). In the end, this is an eclectic, derivative mix that ends up belonging to nobody in particular, so welcome, Totally Autonomous Band 801.

It is important to remember, though, that the band was not even assembled for any major purpose: essentially, it was just an amusing detour for everybody involved, put together to play some con­certs. Considering that Eno had not properly played live since his days in Roxy Music, his in­volvement was particularly intriguing, but, as I have already implied, 801 is not at all an «Eno cover» band. Rather, it is merely a celebration of the psychedelic spirit of the mid-Seventies, and so it is hardly a coincidence that the first proper song played at the concert (all of the songs, by the way, were recorded on September 3, 1976 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London) is ʽTomor­row Never Knowsʼ, sort of like the Godfather song for this entire genre. Of course, it has been completely rearranged — the rhythm is sped up, made funkier and bubblier, and the friendly Eno-led vo­cals shift its mood from doomy-ominous to intellectually meditative. But the trippiness and the mesmeric qualities of the track have been respectfully preserved all the same.

As perfect as Eno's songs are in the studio, 801 have enough talent to make them shake and shimmy on stage — most noticeably, the demonic ʽBaby's On Fireʼ is funkified as hell, and while the lack of Fripp to take care of the guitar solo may be lamentable at first, they make up for it by sharing lead guitar duties between Manzanera (who delivers a predictably avantgardesque part) and slide guitarist Lloyd Watson (who counteracts him with a more normal, but still relatively schizophrenic shower of bluesy licks). The big highlight is saved for last: ʽThird Uncleʼ, in the hands of these guys, becomes a charging Arabian steed, trampling all organic life under its hooves — and of special note is the maniacal drumming by Simon Phillips, who seems to be trying to prove that he can play even faster and frenzier than Manzanera... and pretty much suc­ceeds. If you wanted to know why The Who later chose Phillips to replace Keith Moon on their 1989 tour, look no further than this particular track, incidentally recorded when Moon was still alive, for your answer.

Fans of Diamond Head will need this experience, too, for a louder, braggier version of the Manzanera-Eno collaboration ʽMiss Shapiroʼ, and an excellent jazz-fusion piece (ʽEast Of Aste­roidʼ, a collage of Phil's own ʽEast Of Echoʼ with Quiet Sun's ʽMummy Was An Asteroidʼ) that shows 801 could easily be on par with Brand X, late era Soft Machine, or any other fusion outfits, except that most of the band members would have probably thought it too boring. It was far more fun to them to offer deconstructed versions of classics like ʽYou Really Got Meʼ — this particular version is not quite on the Devo level, but overall, does sound like an approximation of what it would be like to have ʽYou Really Got Meʼ played by a well-developed AI.

In fact, starting the show off with ʽTomorrow Never Knowsʼ (one of the major symbols of the psychedelic revolution) and ending it with ʽYou Really Got Meʼ (one of the major symbols of rock music in general) and putting all the new creations in between is highly symbolic — new skins for old wine and all that. But in some ways, indeed, 801 were simply there to continue doing for a while what the early Roxy Music had been doing, before Bryan Ferry's pressure began driving them way too much in the vaudeville direction: putting a futuristic coating on good old fashioned rock'n'roll. And where in 1972 Roxy Music had been way ahead of their time, in 1976 this playing style may have already become a little obsolete, as it places too much emphasis on near-virtuoso rock guitar playing. Yet if you like this particular combination of pop hooks, rock energy, and electronic futurism, then, from a purely technical perspective, 801 Live is one of the finest representatives of its genre.

On a final note, despite the word Live actively featured in the title, the album as a whole does not give much of a true «live» impression. Audience noises are kept as low in the mix as possible (although the band members are still heard giving out occasional thank you's), and this is one of the very few live albums in existence whose encore track is not followed by uplifting roar and a lengthy or quick fade-out, but is simply cutting off the record, period. It is interesting, then, that they still decided to record all this before an audience rather than in the studio, as if the collective spirit of the people present gave some sort of invisible energetic incentive to the players — yet, at the same time, minimizing the actual presence of this people was just as important, so that no­body could ever confuse this performance with what passes for «arena rock» with all its cheesy implications. Some might find this insulting for the fans, but I guess that fans of Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno are quite a special brood anyway, and they probably wouldn't mind being insulted that way. I know I certainly wouldn't, so there's no problem at all giving this odd experience a thumbs up rating.


  1. Thx for writing about this exceptional album. I have loved it since I got it as a blind buy at a used vinyl store 15 years ago.
    The energy and inventiveness grabbed me right away. I don't listen to it as much anymore but it is always something I pull out when someone mentions they want to hear something new.

  2. Oddly, I was just rereading my own summation of the album. We agree:

  3. Speaking of Simon Phillips, kind of strange that the next project he did after this was adding drums to Sin After Sin by Judas Priest.