Historic live sets: Townshend, Toto, Scorpions
Owls Head — Pete Townshend's Deep End: Face the Face (Eagle Vision, DVD + CD, 86 min.). Captured live on Jan. 29, 1986 in Cannes, France and broadcast via German TV's "Rockpalast," this was the third and final live performance by the band The Who's Pete Townshend put together to create and then promote his "White City: A Novel" concept album, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a low-income housing estate in the West London area called White City. Townshend had decided to work with a larger band, including the five-piece Kick Horns. Townshend mostly plays acoustic guitar during the show, leaving the electric guitar to special guest David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Also in the band is keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, who toured as an unofficial member of The Who.
While Gilmour contributed to the writing of "White City Fighting," the track is not included in the show, although Gilmour takes lead on his "Blue Light," with punchy horns and drummer Simon Phillips (he would be part of The Who's 1989 reunion tour) and percussionist Judy Linscott taking over the break. The show does contain four songs from "White City," including the then-new single "Give Blood," featuring Gilmour's guitar and the horns big on the breaks, and the then-current single, "Face the Face," more of an R&B groove like David Bowie's "Young Americans" period. Both are among my favorite Townshend solo songs, along with the rocker "Slit Skirts," with its great chorus, and the ferocious "Rough Boys," one of the few with Townshend on electric guitar.
The show opens with The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," with Peter Hope-Evans' harmonica acting as the second voice (in place of the absent Roger Daltrey). Later, Townshend starts the encore with a solo acoustic version of "Pinball Wizard" from "Tommy." Other highlights include "After the Fire," written for Live Aid and for Daltrey to record; a steady version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" (the song only appears on the DVD); some world music flavor to "Hiding Out," with its synthesizer and flute; and the glorious "The Sea Refuses No River," with more harmonica. Townshend dances a bit out of control a handful of times, including during "Blue Light" and "Face the Face," and he drops his guitar while switching instruments at the start of "A Little is Enough. The show closes with a cover of Jimmy Forrest's 1951 blues standard, "Night Train," by way of the Georgie Fame version, with a lot of harmonica, a Gilmour guitar solo and a Phillips drum solo. Grade: A+
Toto: Live at Montreux 1991 (Eagle Vision, DVD + CD or Blu-ray + CD, 69 min.). This concert was recorded in July 1991, during the short period when Toto performed as a four-piece, after troubles with a couple of lead vocalists -- Jean-Michel Byron was fired and original vocalist Bobby Kimball was touring by himself as Toto with a backup band. That meant lead guitarist Steve Lukather steps up to become the main vocalist and front man, while David Paich sings lead on their hit, "Africa." Brothers, drummer Jeff Porcaro and bassist Mike Porcaro, completed the abbreviated lineup. Keyboardist Steve Porcaro, the third brother, had left the band in 1987 for a solo songwriting career. (An amazing fact is that members of Toto, who used to record with Boz Skaggs, Sonny & Cher, Steely Dan, Seals & Croft and others, have performed on approximately 5,000 albums that together have sold half a billion copies and earned more than 200 Grammy nominations.)
This show finds the band performing several tracks from their upcoming January 1992 release, the album "Kingdom of Desire," including the two opening numbers, the rocking "On the Run," with its heavier sound, and the title track, which features showy Lukather guitar, and later, the instrumental "Jake to the Bone." Lukather was involved in the mix of this release, helping re-mix and re-balance the board mix off the recording truck, as he says it "was not up to par." (Also in the accompanying booklet, Lukather amusingly apologizes for the state of his hair in those days.) There is more familiar territory with highlights, "I'll Be Over You," "Africa" and "Rosanna," the band's mega-hits. They also do covers of Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" and Sly & The Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher."
This would be the last tour with the Jeff Porcaro. Sadly, he died just prior to the release of the Kingdom of Desire" album. The replacement on drums was Simon Phillips, who had played with The Who (see above) and Lukather before. Grade: A-
Scorpions: Live in Munich 2012 (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 109 min.). I have always enjoyed the German rock-metal band Scorpions, hooked by their mega-hit "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and having the chance to interview the band back in the day. The band was formed in 1965 in Hanover by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, who was joined by vocalist Klaus Meine and guitarist Matthias Jabs during the band's most popular period, 1978-1992. While Schenker has been the only constant member, Meine has sung on all the albums and Jabs was been part of the band since 1979. Joining the three in the lineup here are bassist Pawel Maciwoda, who became a member in 2004, and drummer James Kottak, an American, who joined in 1996 and subsequently left the band this year. Around the time of this show, there had been a lot of rumors about the band breaking up. (Note that Schenker's younger brother, Michael, also a guitarist, was originally in the band, but left to join UFO.)
The Munich show was the final concert of the band's Sting in the Tale world tour. The rocking show includes 21 numbers. Early highlights are "Make It Real," the slower "Is There Anybody There?" and "The Zoo," with its solid, chugging beat. Then comes the fine instrumental, "Coast to Coast," with all the band members except the drummer lined up in front of the crowd on the stage extension. The band, of course, is noted for its melodic hard rock, including "Love You Sunday Morning," "We'll Burn the Sky" and "The Best is Yet to Come," the trio performed before "Holiday," which is acoustic for its first half. Then it is back to hard rock for "Raised on Rock," "Tease Me Please Me" and "Hit Between the Eyes," before drummer Kottak takes his solo. The concert closes in strong fashion with "Still Loving You" and "Wind of Change," both of which have softer starts, then "No One Like You," "Rock You Like a Hurricane" (with pyrotechnics) and an acoustic "When the Smoke is Going Down." Grade: A-
Eric Clapton: Live in San Diego (Reprise, 2 CDs, 1:47:48). One can never have enough "Cocaine," right? That is, the song. Clapton had the big hit with it, but here he gets to perform it with the songwriter, JJ Cale, who joins on five numbers, including "After Midnight," another song Clapton had great success with. Of the five performed by Clapton and Cale, three are from their Grammy-Award winning album, "The Road To Escondido," released in 2006.The show was recorded on March 15, 2007. The band lineup is a fan-favorite, with Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II on guitars, Chris Stainton and Tim Carmon on keyboards, Willie Weeks on bass, Steve Jordan on drums and backing vocalists Michelle John and Sharon White.
The concert opens with Clapton's bluesy "Tell the Truth," which has a nice swampy feel that recalls his work with Delaney & Bonnie decades ago. Next is a bit more chaotic cover of William Broonzy's "Key to the Highway." Continuing in a blues vein is Clapton's jaunty "Got to Get Better." The band then covers Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," which is superb, as is Clapton's fluid guitar on "Anyday." After the set with Cale, which includes "Anyway the Wind Blows" and "Don't Cry Sister," a drum intro leads into the heart-felt "Motherless Children." Then it is back to the blues with Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades," featuring a piano solo by Stainton (originally part of Joe Cocker's The Grease Band and then Mad Dogs and Englishmen) and then the rest of the band stretching out in turn, and "Further on Up the Road," with first an organ and later a piano solo. The show ends with three of Clapton's biggest hits: the pretty "Wonderful Tonight," which has an acoustic start; the dynamic "Layla," with a lengthy instrumental ending; and "Crossroads," another piece written by Johnson. Grade: A
Eric Clapton and Guests: Crossroads Revisited (Rhino/Reprise, 3 CDs, about 4 hours). And if you really cannot get enough of "Cocaine," there is another version by Clapton on this anthology of 41 tracks taken from his Crossroads Guitar Festival, held in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013. Released in July, the set includes 15 tracks by Clapton, both solo and with others, including "Presence of the Lord" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" with Steve Winwood (they were in Blind Faith together; the latter is a Traffic song), and "Drums of Passion" with Carlos Santana. Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmie Vaughan kick off the collection with "Sweet Home Chicago," while Clapton, Guy, B.B. King and Vaughan perform "Rock Me Baby."
Other combos include Susan Tedeschi with the Derek Trucks Band on "Little By Little," Vince Gill, Keith Urban and Albert Lee on "Tumblin' Dice'," Guy with Jonny Lang and Ronnie Wood on "Five Long Years," James Taylor and Joe Walsh on "Steamroller." Individual tracks are by Doyle Bramhall II, Jeff Beck, Walsh, Los Lobos, The Robert Cray Band, Guy Clark Jr., ZZ Top, Jeff Beck and John Meyer. Contributing to combinations are Sheryl Crow, Sonny Landreth, Willie Nelson and Booker T. Most of the tracks have not been released on CD before; fans had to buy the DVDs or Blu-rays previously. Grade: A+
Joe Jackson: Live at Rockpalast (Germany, MIG, 2 DVDs + 2 CDs, 4:26:17). This is the early Jackson, when he was semi-new wave/semi-punk. The collection features three complete performances on German TV's "Rockpalast." His debut album, "Look Sharp!," was released in 1979 and placed him in the same category as Elvis Costello and Graham Parker (interestingly, all three would move on to more sophisticated music in their careers). That year also produced "I'm the Man." So, the March 14, 1980 Cologne show has four songs from "Look Sharp!" and five from "I'm the Man," among its 12 performances. Highlights include "On the Radio," a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," more reggae in "Fools in Love," the furious "Don't Wanna Be Like That" and his classic, "Is She Really Going Out With Him."
With much more material to choose from, the two 1983 shows repeat only the same five songs from the 1980 show. The Hamburg show on Feb. 21, 1983 has three unique songs in "Cancer," "Real Man" and "Cosmopolitan." The band is much bigger, with bassist Graham Maby (amusingly misspelled as "Maybe" in the booklet) the only carryover. Maby has performed with Jackson throughout his career and still does. The bigger band also has a drummer, two keyboardists and a percussionist, but no guitarist.
On the other DVD are April 16/17, 1983 performances before a huge crowd in Essen, Germany, featuring the same bigger band. "Look Sharp!" features a "duel" between drummer Larry Tolfree and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos. The crowd goes crazy during a very upbeat "Steppin' Out," and both 1983 shows contain a fine Motown medley, with Maby singing "Ooh, Baby" in falsetto. Maby also sings the verses on "Beat Crazy," another highlight. With the five band members as backup singers, Jackson sings a wonderful a cappella version of "Is She Really Going Out With Him." On some numbers, like "TV Age," Jackson plays sax, which, along with a cover of Glenn Miller's "Tuxedo Junction," shows the musical direction Jackson would shortly be taking. The CDs included capture most of the Essen show and abridged versions of the other two shows. Grade: A
Peter Hammill & The K Group: Live at Rockpalast -- Hamburg 1981 (Germany, MIG, DVD + 2 CDs, 105 min.). Hammill was, and is, the front man of Van der Graaf Generator (the band has a new album coming out , "Do Not Disturb," its 13th studio album, on Oct. 21), as well as having begun a prolific solo career, when this show was recorded. However, there are only a few official releases of live material featuring him. Here, he is backed by VDGG drummer Guy Evans and former VDGG bassist Nic Potter and guitarist John Ellis. Hammill plays guitar and keyboards.
The music here has a raw, new wave sound. Hammill sings is his distinctive, dramatic style (a bit similar to John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited, who was an admirer). "The Future Now" talks about the rape of the planet, with Hammill on piano. He switches to guitar for highlights "Sign" and "My Experience," both from his then-current solo album, "Sitting Targets." Other songs are from the solo albums, "The Future Now," "ph7" and "A Black Box." "Modern" is an older track that features electronics. While playing it, Hammill breaks a guitar string. Also good is "The Second Hand," while the only VDGG song performed is "The Sphinx in the Face," with Hammill back on piano. The group also performs the nearly 22-minutes-long "Flight," which took up a whole album side. On "Flight," Hammill's vocal is softer. The four-song encore is strong, with "Central Hotel," the more melodic "The Spirit" and a solo piano "Door/My Room," as Hammill explains the quartet had played everything they had rehearsed. Grade: B+