A look at some classic live albums [part one]

Well, I started this out as a pile of reviews of some of my favorite Live albums, but find myself enjoying rifling throughout [and a few newer] live albums in my collection. There was a time when live albums were a bit more rarely released and held more meaning — such as they capped off a period for a band or captured a band on a special occasion… Now a-days live albums seem pretty regular for most bands, releasing them after almost every tour – or more than one per tour. Though there’s some great single live albums out there [and I’ve included a few here] – there is something special about those big double LP gatefold releases – and every great band of the ’70s has such a legendary album in their catalogue – Thin Lizzy, UFO, Uriah Heep, Humble Pie, Deep Purple …. well – except for Black Sabbath [with Ozzy] and Alice Cooper [the band!]. Anyway, more to come next time – as I have pulled a pile of these from the shelf to revisit, as well as I have a few new[er] great releases too.

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Kiss – Alive
The first ‘used’ albums I ever bought were from a school friend’s older brother – he was kind enough to sell me his LP copies of a few early Sabbath albums and a couple of Kiss albums for a mere 50 cents  each! A great deal then [and still] for a grade 5’er, even if the guy had bothered to print his damn name on the front of each LP cover! For me tho, this was my first hearing of a band ‘live’, and it was an exciting experience! Kiss Alive was my first and easily still my fave Kiss live release [Alive 2 was ridiculous and I hardly played it even when i got it]. Something about the band’s material from the first 3 albums that makes that period their best for me, and the infusion of volume and a live crowd to a band that was young, energetic, eager to please and cool back then – was pretty spectacular! Alive was just a great set of guitar rock; sure Kiss lyrics were fairly lame even back then [they got worse after this period] – side one just packed with Kiss early classics like “Deuce”, “Strutter”, “Got To Choose”, “Hotter Than Hell”, and “Firehouse”. Elsewhere, faves include “C’mon and Love Me”, “Black Diamond” [w/ Peter Criss singing], “Rock Bottom” [w/ that cool light intro] and “Cold Gin” [w/ Paul Stanley’s goofy story beforehand]. This album was highlighted by the single “Rock And Roll All Nite” – which became the band’s first hit — and one of those songs I just can’t stand!
Classic packaging courtesy of Fin Costello, who used a similar concept he’d done on Uriah Heep’s “Live …January 1973” release – with memorable photos [front and back], and a gatefold cover that includes a program featuring a pile more live band and individual photos [note the bandmember close ups signed, just as the Heep ones were].  This was Kiss at their peak, before they tried being a pop-rock band of cartoon characters on the next several albums. I should add i enjoyed Alive 3 in the ’90s, as well as the live Unplugged [reunion] release, but for me Kiss – up until Alive was the most magical for this band – no dolls, lunch boxes, comic books and stupid solo albums – just a solid and exciting guitar heavy rock band!

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BOC – Some Enchanted Evening
The first Blue Oyster Cult album I ever bought, and heck I’m not even sure why[!?] – likely the cover-art combined with it being on display and sale at the local Sam The Record Man [and I knew “The Reaper”!].  Taken from various shows around the globe in 1978, Some Enchanted Evening was a mere single LP release [the band’s previous and next live releases would be doubles, but not sure of the reasoning behind this release!?],  w/ color photo’d sleeve. Some Enchanted Evening would be my introduction to this seemingly scary band with songs about death – “The Reaper”, monsters – “Godzilla”, and unknown  / other worlds – “Astronomy” and “ETI [Extra Terrestrial Intelligence”], 4 of the best known BOC classics – all here! and for the longest time – my favorite BOC songs [til I much later completed buying the band’s catalogue].  Side one kicks off with “R U Ready 2 Rock” [from Spectres] – turn up loud because this IS BOC at their best! The song comes off heavier, and rocks harder – Albert Bouchard kicks the shit out of it on drums.  A prime example of why BOC was never remotely the same after he [and brother Joe] left. ETI follows with that classic riff, and a cool vocal delivery from Eric Bloom, but it’s the performance of “Astronomy” here that really got me early on and remains my favorite BOC tune; delivered as more of a heavy bass / guitar track; it wasn’t for a long time that i realized this was in fact a piano based song originally – and both are pretty different but classic recordings. Side 2 opens with a huge rocking rendition of “Kick Out The Jams” and closes with a smooth cover of The Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, in between is “Godzilla” and the band’s biggest hit “[Don’t Fear] The Reaper” – all beefed up in guitar and sound, with strong backing vox. BOC :  Eric Bloom, Donald Roeser, Allen Lanier [RIP], Joe Bouchard, and Albert Bouchard – that was it for me! I enjoyed subsequent studio albums – Mirrors [despite it being a bit lightweight], Cultosaurus Erectus, and Fire Of Unknown Origin, but definitely things began to fade when Albert left, and aside from a few tracks ’80s releases The Revolution By Night and Club Ninja [minus Joe as well] i rarely got beyond a couple of tracks. 1989’s Imaginos was a great record, but too many guests and not a real reunion to follow. Oh well. Some Enchanted Evening captured BOC at their peak, and it’s fun to revisit and crank up loud still. I should add that tho I lost interest in the band throughout the ’90s, it was really Joe’s first solo album and Blue Coupe shows that I really got back in to the BOC catalogue, but this remains my favorite release from them [studio or live!] and their biggest seller. *Note: the remastered CD version of this album adds a pile of songs as well.

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Saga – In Transit
One of the first albums I bought, In Transit covered material from the band’s first 4 albums – easily their strongest era, and (in my opinion!) – a period that ended with 1983’s Heads Or Tales.
Originally from Toronto, Saga would make a bigger name for themselves in Europe where their more progressive approach was far more appreciated, and with this album being recorded at shows in West Germany and Denmark. I can clearly remember first hearing this album at a friend’s when it came out and then buying it soon after at the Eaton’s in the Rexdale Mall [a time when department stores had decent sized music sections; sadly Eaton’s and that mall are long gone].  Though part of a great up and coming Toronto scene in the late 70s and early 80s, Saga’s more keyboard / prog approach and more thought provoking lyrical approach set them apart – a good bit of drama and melody in this band’s music. And frankly most of my fave Saga songs are still all found on this single LP, full of classics like “Careful Where You Step” [a cool intro for this young new fan at the time], followed by “Don’t Be Late” and Humble Stance”. Side one closes with “Wind Him Up” from the band’s [then] latest World’s Apart – which had a couple of big radio hits at the time [and 2 of the few Saga tunes that still get any radio play]. Side 2 boasts “How Long”, the ballad “No Regrets” (w/ Jim Gilmour singing lead), a short drum solo aptly titled “A Brief Case”, the dramatic “You’re Not Alone”, and the other big hit from World’s Apart “On The Loose”. After hearing the studio versions, In Transit showed what a great live band Saga were [are] – bringing a lot of energy and life to already great songs.  On this upswing in their career the band followed up with Heads or Tales, which featured classics like “The Flyer”, “Cat Walk” and “Social Orphan”, though to me – the studio stuff just lacks that energy. Of note – the band was to play the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena on February 29 [!] of 1984, which I’d planned to go, but this was cancelled when a blizzard at the time close schools for a few days and cancelled the show. The band’s last album with that classic line-up of Michael Sadler, Jim Gilmour, Jim Crichton, Steve Negus, and Ian Crichton was 1985’s Behaviour, but saw the band heading in a more commercial/ aor direction with the hit “What Do I Know”. 1987’s Wildest Dreams saw Negus & Gilmour gone from the band [both return later, tho Negus has since departed permanently] – a totally forgettable album for me [aside from the fact that Curt Cress, who’d played with Lucifers Friend was on drums!]. I never got back to being a big Saga fan, though In Transit remains my fave album by them, and one of my favorite Live albums. Sometime in the early ’90s Saga played a club in St.Catharines, and I was able to take and get all those early Saga LPs fully signed [i recall the drummer taking them for me and commenting “wow, someone has vinyl!”].  Interesting also that last years Saga-City album, though a decent sounding album [def sounds like Saga] – added a bonus disc of live material – much of which is still from the In Transit era.

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Uriah Heep – Live in Europe ’79
My fellow Heep fans may disagree, but this is my favorite Heep live album. Granted Heep’s “Live – Janurary 1973” is legendary as it captures the classic line up at their peak as well as set a standard for live album packaging, courtesy of Fin Costello.  But this post-David Byron line up release of the band then fronted by John Lawton in 1979 – his last tour before being dropped, came out in 1986 [Raw Power / Castle]. A shame it didn’t come out at the time it was made, may have helped the band at a declining time. Though the band’s profile in North America had sank pretty far since the band’s heyday from 72-75, Heep still had a string of hits throughout various European countries during the Lawton era and still played to decent crowds there. Believe it or not, there are still those Heep fans that gave up after Byron was canned [sad for them] – and even sadder if someone didn’t give this line-up a listen here. Lawton’s debut with Heep was on Firefly – a classic album!, though i find the next 2 a bit inconsistent and softer, with songs seemingly more hurried in the studio and not given the full classic Heep production. Having said that – Lawton and bassist Trevor Bolder [RIP] really added some new life to the Heep classics here, while the band really beefs up and adds energy to tracks from [then current album] Fallen Angel. Actually wish they’d chosen more from the Lawton period here [btw the remastered CD release includes a couple of Lawton era tunes not on the original LP set]. While Lawton adds a powerful voice to classics like “Easy Livin”, “Stealin”, “Sweet Lorraine”, and mixes well with Ken Hensley’s vocals on “July Morning” – it is side 3 here that is my fave, with Fallen Angel tracks “Falling In Love” running into “Woman Of The Night”, followed by “I’m Alive” – heavier than the studio and sounding better IMO. That side ends with Lee Kerslake’s “Who Needs Me” – complete with drum solo, though i’d prefer less drum solo and another Firefly track! [*Drum solos not my thing, especially hearing more than once.] L:awton era lightweight hit “Free Me” even comes off a bit heavier on the opening side of this album [sitting comfortably after “Look At Yourself” and “Lady In Black”. Love the way Hensley’s keyboards would connect “The Wizard” into “July Morning”! Last side features Mick Box’s moment in the spotlight during “Sweet Lorraine”, before the it winds down with blaze-throughs of Innocent Victim’s lone rocker “Free N Easy” [w/ Hensley adding slide guitar] and old classic “Gypsy”.
Original packaging was lacking – a nice brief band overview on the back, the front featuring just photos of Box and Hensley, as well as photos of Box, Hensley [the same pic!] and Kerslake only featured in the gatefold [someone couldn’t make the effort to include Lawton or Bolder at the time!?]. Oh well, definitely a great listen to a classic band, capping a period that should’ve been bigger and more successful. Interesting that this came out at the end of Heep’s period with Peter Goalby fronting the band; makes me think we’re long overdue for a Goalby era Heep double-live release!?

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