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Best Live Album Of All Time?
on 26 May 2010
If this isn't the best live rock album it's certainly way up there. I guess when you reach the very highest peaks of guitar playing then you bring into play some of the few, the very few, whose names give you reason to pause. Jimi Hendrix for me, maybe Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck or someone else for you. It doesn't matter. Music isn't a competition, in the end.
But I will stick my neck out and say that if Michael Schenker's axe work on this album has ever been bettered I'd love to hear it. The whole band is, of course, on top form during this tour, and in a way resembles a huge and awesomely powerful machine, beautifully tuned, synchronised and smooth, and crackling with an electric charge barely contained. Unlike a machine though, UFO can act spontaneously too, a chord or tempo change timed according to mood as well as absolute precision. The one feeds on the other when a band is really flying, and part of the thrill for the listener comes from not knowing exactly when a new direction is coming, but still knowing that it will blow you away. Schenker combines beautiful and melodic delicacy with thunderous might.
The best example on this album I can think of to illustrate the point is 'Rock Bottom', where Schenker takes us on a journey of prolonged excitement, interplaying with drums here, bass there and keyboards and vocals throughout. I love Schenker's mastery of feedback, holding the shrieking demons under control inside the huge Marshalls for most of the song, but knowing exactly when to let the guitar moan and whine in sympathy with the way the solo is going. Hendrix fans like me will always adore that. Oh yes, and the famous re-start after the song has apparently ended is superb, the audience playing their part in carrying the band through to conclusion on a sustained wave of cheering and approval.
People sometimes ask why we don't get majestic live albums like this any more. Unfortunately, everything has its time, then passes. Thirty years and more have (gulp) passed since UFO's heyday. The era of great live rock albums has gone, and we are left with the shallow and insipid, the dreary and predictable over-rated not-very-goods who may have big names and even bigger bank balances (you too, did somebody say?) but simply cannot play guitar like Schenker and co. Sign of our present culture, perhaps.
Rock fans can't afford to miss this album.