Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brian Eno 5: Live Collaborations

Some would call it a short attention span, while others would insist that it was part of his quest for something new, but the truth of the matter is that Brian Eno didn’t stay in one place for long. From time to time he’d be coaxed onto a stage, even going on a brief tour with a backup band supporting his first album. Bootlegs of usually short lengths go in and out of circulation, lately under the title Dali’s Car; of most interest is an early version of “I’ll Come Running” with different lyrics, based on a riff out of “Baby’s On Fire”.
Soon afterwards, attracted by the other performers involved, Eno took part in a one-off showcase featuring singer-guitarist Kevin Ayers, as well as John Cale and Nico, both late of Eno’s beloved Velvet Underground. The performance by the combo (dubbed ACNE from their collective surnames, an acronym sure to appeal to Eno’s fondness for wordplay) was released later in the year as June 1, 1974. Eno starts the album with “Driving Me Backwards” and “Baby’s On Fire”, supported by Cale and Ayers’ backing band, and sticks around for Cale’s dark cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” and Nico’s even more harrowing take on the Doors’ “The End”, with only her see-sawing harmonium below her voice. The other side of the album is devoted to Ayers, whose voice has its own issues with pitch. (Not included on the album was Nico’s rendition of the German national anthem, including the verses usually left out following the demise of the Nazis.)

Following some appearances with Robert Fripp, Eno’s next high-profile extracurricular performances were with a group headed by fellow Roxy Musician Phil Manzanera. The 801 got their name from an Eno song lyric, and he takes the lead vocal on the majority of 801 Live. The suitably somber “Lagrima” leads into “TNK”, a wonderfully arranged cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, followed by two rearranged pieces from the Manzanera catalog, dovetailing into Eno’s own “Sombre Reptiles”. “Baby’s On Fire” gets a funky makeover, complete with the aforementioned riff, before Phil’s “Diamond Head” instrumental from the album of the same name. A crash through “Miss Shapiro” from the same album leads into the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, and it all comes down to a reverent “Third Uncle”.
Of the two, 801 Live is pretty solid, and more accessible to a broad audience than the cult sounds of Ayers, Cale and Nico. While the 1974 show has yet to be expanded, the 801 has been upgraded twice: first to add two more Eno songs between what were sides one and two, and again with a bonus disc of rehearsals from a few days earlier.

Kevin Ayers–John Cale–Eno–Nico June 1, 1974 (1974)—3
801 801 Live (1976)—
1999 CD reissue: same as 1976, plus 2 extra tracks
2009 Collector’s Edition: same as 1999, plus 12 extra tracks

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