Saturday, March 5, 2011

Big Star 3: Live and Nobody Can Dance

While Big Star wasn’t well known in their time, those that had experienced them firsthand generally agreed that their few live performances weren’t exactly stellar. But when the band became trendy in the early ‘90s, Rykodisc managed to pad their catalog with a live performance recorded by a Long Island radio station two months after Radio City was released, and after bass player Andy Hummel had quit.
Live presents the band, now reduced to a power trio with an unfamiliar bass player, plowing through two short sets of songs from their two albums, stopping halfway through for a quick interview and an acoustic set by Alex Chilton. The fluctuating levels inherent in most radio studio performances can be distracting, making the band sound even shakier than they already are. Alex is still depending on the same Strat tone he used all over Radio City, but he does a good job of covering all the guitar parts while straining to hit some of Chris Bell’s high notes. His disdain for the record business is apparent in both his between-song comments and the interview, and he gives the most of himself in a cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s groupie anthem “Motel Blues”.
While not as essential as their studio albums, people clamoring for anything from Big Star were happy to ingest Live, as it was the only official record of the band (well, part of them, anyway) in concert. That would change.

A few years later, another CD snuck out on a tiny label. Nobody Can Dance is split between a March ’74 rehearsal for that Long Island radio show and a short, pitch-problematic Memphis set from a few months after. The sound is even better (for the most part) than the Ryko set for the first half, while the second half provides proof that they not only played “Baby Strange” back then, but even included “The Letter”, presumably by audience request, an acknowledgement of Alex’s teenybopper past. Typically perverse, they do it in the slower Joe Cocker arrangement.

Big Star Live (1992)—3
Big Star Nobody Can Dance (1999)—

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