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It is usually at a band's creative peak that they elect to put out a live album, and Saint Vitus is no exception amongst the general consensus of avid followers. Put together with a mind to get total representation from all of the band's respective works from both the Reagers and Wino era, "Live" is the sort of album that could be seen as an inevitable classic, even before the first note is heard. There are no musical slouches to be found in this lineup, everyone pulls their share, and brings several years of playing the underground metal and punk scenes at a time when everyone was trying to look pretty and get laid every night.
While the performance heard here is, note for note, a faithful reproduction of what is heard from 1985-89, therein lays a noticeable, albeit not terribly destructive flaw that looms immediately after the first chord is struck. This whole thing is an exceptional, near flawless, yet nonetheless predictable fit of going through the motions with very little to distinguish itself from the studio versions of each song, which leaves it wanting at times. Apart from the occasional few words out of Wino between songs, there is not much interaction between the band and the audience. It's pretty well akin to those hard core shows where the band plays and moves about the stage (which does not transfer onto the audio alone medium), and the audience either tears it up in the pit or sits at their sets and waits for the song to end to applause. Judging by the crowd noise, this was probably a small to moderate size venue, but regardless to the circumstances at the show, the results are something that listens more like a best of compilation with crowd noise in between rather than a live performance. In many ways, this showcases the band's ability to perfectly recreate their sound, but it is a bit out of character of what is expected in a live release.
The one area where there does seem to be a bit of contrast between this performance and all of its studio equivalents is the character of Chandler's guitar during lead breaks. Much as is the case with a typical Saint Vitus album, the solos and the lyrics tend to be what keeps each song from being just a pile of pure sonic mud with a bluesy edge. While there isn't much variation going on in what notes are being employed during each elongated, wandering fit of frustrated guitar shredding here, the tinny sounding quality of "V" is consistently employed on each solo, including the ones on songs contained in albums preceding their 5th opus, which coincided with this tour. The result is that their classic material has something of a grungy feel to it, perhaps not all that different from a virtuosic take on something that Melvins or Soundgarden might have done within a couple years of this.
Although a very strong performance, this is generally something that would agree more with devoted fans of the band rather than the average Metal maniac who only occasionally dabbles in the doom sub-genre. It's a solid performance and a solid release, but it often gets overrated by the most rabid of the band's adherents. Perhaps it isn't fair to measure this against other bands, but when you hear a live recording by the likes of Sabbath or Dio, what is heard engages the listener a lot more than this does. Nonetheless, this would likely have been quite a show to have caught live, but a solid performance doesn't always translate into a flawless listening experience via recording, especially after repeated listening sessions.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 15, 2010.