Live In Memphis DVD – Big Star
Now this is an unexpected delight. The only live Big Star DVD I have ever seen is a grainy lo-fi souvenir of the debut performance of this line up from Columbia University in April 1993, worth watching for Alex Chilton’s masterful non-interview with MTV and a spirited encore of Jeepster. Live In Memphis is a huge advance. Original Big Star members Chilton (guitar, vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums, vocals) had been playing regularly with new recruits Jon Auer (guitar, vocals) and Ken Stringfellow (bass, vocals) for a further 18 months by the time this concert took place at the funky New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. As a result they play with the relaxed ease of a band that knows its songs and knows itself.
The concert was recorded on four cameras, some extremely close to the action giving rise to the sleeve notes claim “this show is better than front row”. Producer is Danny Graflund, who first entered Chilton’s erratic orbit during the making of Big Star Third when he was hired as bodyguard and drinking buddy. Somehow he has charmed a warm and relatively outgoing performance from Chilton, including the world’s lamest version of the Roger Daltrey Microphone Lasso. By contrast Chilton’s guitar playing is effective and economical, exchanging leads and rhythm parts with Jon throughout.
Picture quality is crisp, despite the tapes languishing in a cupboard for twenty years. The music gets off to a slightly murky start with opener In The Street as the desk was not ready and so the song was recorded on video camera microphones. From second track Don’t Lie To Me all is well – Jody sounds almost Bonzoid, the guitars of Alex and Jon intertwine and Ken’s Hofner Violin bass underpins it all. There are some goofs but this just makes the concert warmer and more human. Musical highlights are the harmonies on I Am The Cosmos, Jody’s vocal on Way Out West and a rocking Baby Strange. Intriguingly the CD and LP versions of this concert list a performance of Fire (Springsteen rather than Hendrix): it turns out to be a 35 second fragment which is not included on the DVD for licensing reasons. The band get such a strong reaction that after an impromptu Girl From Ipanema and a sturdy Patty Girl they are persuaded back onstage a third time. Sadly it is to perform Todd Rundgren’s Slut, a grubby tune of which Alex was inexplicably fond.
Alex’s death means that we will never again be able to enjoy these songs sung by him. So it is wonderful to have a permanent record of the band in action, recorded professionally in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd. Thank you, friends.