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Live On WLIR – Big Star

January 17, 2019

Omnivore CD/LP

I am looking at my 1992 copy of BIG STAR Live. It came in one of Ryko’s distinctive sea green cases, packed in a wildly environmentally-unfriendly “long box”. Three CDs were released at the same time – Live, Third/Sister Lovers and Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos. For me this was a significant expansion of Big Star, since all I had heard thus far was #1 Record and Radio City.

Today we are all a lot better informed about the whole Big Star Thing. Third is now regularly feted as a ground-breaking and influential LP and Chris Bell’s contribution to the artistic success of Big Star is now well established.

So that leaves Live as the runt of the litter. Certainly it was an unsophisticated recording , done direct to two track in front of an invited audience in New York’s Ultrasonic Studios in March 1974. There are fourteen tracks and a revealing interview with Alex Chilton: listen to the relish with which he describes touring conditions as ‘pretty scummy’. Whilst original drummer Jody Stephens was still in the band his colleague in rhythm Andy Hummell had gone back to college and was replaced by John Lightman on bass. The mix underplays Alex’s guitar until the third track Mod Lang.

Big Star were always an erratic proposition in performance. No live tapes exist of the original Chlton/Bell/Stephens/Hummell line up, although their live-in-the-studio take of In The Street done for a promo single is impressive. So all extant live recordings are of the three-piece band, which in no way resembled other power trios such as Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jody is a powerful drummer, but Lightman is tentative and Alex is also economical with his guitar parts: no lengthy jamming here. I am reminded of the Kinks, who had a similar endearingly uncertain live sound before they tightened up and went balls-out professional after signing to Arista in the late 70s.

Omnivore have remastered the original WLIR recording. Compared to the original Ryko disc this new version is more of a Rock sound, louder and heavier. It is probably more commercial and may even be better suited to modern playback devices but I prefer my lighter, poppier Ryko version. Robert Gordon has upgraded his original liner notes and there is an interesting interview with John Lightman. Recommended if you do not have the Rykodisc original.

Also recommended but harder to find is Beale Street Green , a CD which contains 8 tracks recorded at rehearsals for the WLIR performance with a looser and more punchy sound. These tracks are also available on the official Norton Records release Nobody Can Dance. And watch out for a recording from the same tour made in Cambridge on 31/3/74 : lesser sound quality but interesting covers of Baby Strange, Candy Says, Til The End Of The Day and We Gotta Go.


From → Gigs, Music

  1. Mike Baess permalink

    Nice review Simon.

    Have you read Ray Davies’ Americana?

    Well worth a read. There’s a very touching bit in there where, laid low and in recovery after his shooting/mugging incident, Ray was visited in his New Orleans flat
    by a down on his luck Alex Chilton.

    Big Star loved The Kinks and had covered Till The End of The Day and the pair had much to talk about. One day in mid-conversation, an old cowboy film came on the TV screen and the pair of them just fell silent, and watched the movie together which was about the changing west and how the cowboys of old were needing to change their ways and adapt to modern times. The similarity to their own lives resonated deeply with the pair of them.



    • Thanks Mike – I knew Ray and Alex were friends and remember Ray guesting on the Big Star Third show at the Barbican. Sounds like I need to add Americana to my Books To Read list…

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