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Good times finally came for Thin Lizzy after years of blood, sweat and tears. In the late 70’s they scored their biggest success and recognition – musically the Irish guys were at their best, so it was a sensible choice to think about putting out a live album. It was time to discover whether Thin Lizzy was a studio band or a live band, and see if their talent was real because studio tactics and tricks can fool anybody. This double record is supposed to include performances from the Hammersmith Odeon, London the 14, 15 and 16th November ’76, the Tower Theater, Philadelphia on 20 and 21st October ’76 and the Rainbow, London on March 29th ’78.
This double-vinyl set provides us with a generous amount of live classics, almost 77 minutes in total of lively, melodic hard rock courtesy of the stellar Lynott-Gorham-Robertson-Downey line-up. Their hits “Jailbreak”, “The Boys Are Back In Town” or the Bob Seger cover “Rosalie” are given here a renewed feel and more spirited grooves from the studio originals – with the guitar combo being less restrained specially, delivering an exquisite collection of stylish, bluesy licks, as well as more passionately-executed riffs and graceful harmonies. There’s plenty of strong melodies, driven by the peerless chemistry between Robbo & Gorham, blessed with the charisma and warmness of Lynott’s singing and inimitable stage presence; revamping the studio schemes with ardent, magnetic lyricism and emotion on “Cowboy Song”, “Southbound” or the arguably most memorable version of the melancholy ballad “Still In Love With You” they’ve done to date. The interplay between both guitar players, teaming up with the front-man’s innate glamour and Downey’s masterful drumming take cuts as “Massacre”, “Warrior” or “Are You Ready” to another level of heaviness, technical capacity and fluidity. Soloing is also twice brilliant and (suspiciously) flawless than the studio records’ work, virtually unrivaled on the US-styled funk revival on “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed”, the incendiary, quicker version of “Don’t Believe A Word” or the vicious, cheeky romance of “Sha-La-La”, which interpolates a fleeting, yet juicy drum solo by “the one and only” Brian Downey. This is a set-list of contrasts and musical variety as you see, with moments to treasure like the casual, solemn funkiness on “Dancing In The Moonlight”, presenting an aesthetic jazzy sax accompaniment, or the vintage blues tribute “Baby Drives Me Crazy” with a little help from Huey Lewis’ harmonica, during which the gang is introduced to the audience; leading to the energetic finale of “The Rocker” and its extended soloing, iconic lyrics and late-60’s Hendrix/Cream-ish vibe.
This is a splendid concert recording which proves Lizzy didn’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the rivalry of neither punk nor disco, which dominated the charts and music press headlines at the time these shows were done. Lynott & co. are definitely not ashamed either of their blues past and vintage rock ‘n’ roll worshipping – the classic influences are omnipresent on each of these live titles, on their conception, perpetration and essence. It’s not only that conviction and attitude which made these performances unforgettable, but the standout level of musicianship, genius and talent from each of these excellent players – as well as their instinct and rationality. Don’t forget this is 1978, when 20-minute progressive instrumentals and self-indulgent blues jams were no longer welcomed, in particular by the new generation of rock kids, who started asking for heavier, more succinct stage acts; and the band does cleverly satisfy and reward them with brief hard rockers, without giving up their instrumental excellence and virtue, however (even though their music never demanded exceptional technical skills). All that sobriety, simplicity, melodious and magnetic feel and freshness kept Thin Lizzy’s music from being sonically banal and lackluster, unlike most of the peers of their generation back then, able to challenge the punk opposition and keep the derided classic rock principles alive and current by hardly taking into account no alternative arranging, no overlong instrumental fragments unnecessarily to not bore the increasingly-intransigent heavy rock audiences, yet not renouncing on other hand, to their proudly nostalgic roots and fondness for impeccably-neat melodies and harmonies. Honesty, smartness and discipline on stage made, against all odds, this strictly-traditional, classic, melodic bluesy rock performance explosive and inviting to not only veteran listeners, but to youngsters of the future NWOBHM, who surely a majority of them must’ve attended Lizzy shows back then.
As for the notorious controversy it kicked up over the use of studio traps on the original tapes during nearly 4 decades, producer Tony Visconti makes it clear: 75% recorded in the studio and 25% live, as he explains:
“We listened and listened and listened to at least 30 hours of tape recorded during many gigs, from Toronto to Philadelphia to London! We definitely had something but the task of choosing the right takes was awesome. When we did, Phil asked if he could touch up some vocals (…). We spent a few days re-recording a few vocals. It went very well. Once we established a sound and a system to do this, Phil suggested that we might as well redo all the vocals. So we did. Then we noticed Gorham and Robertson were not on mic for backing vocals, half the time. The guitars, bass and vocals were replaced – just Downey’s drums and the audience reaction were left!”
While Lynott declared back in the early-80’s:
“We kept the overdubs to a minimum, to do anything else would have ruined the atmosphere on those recordings and made a mockery of putting out a live album in the first place! We did do a little bit of fixing in the studio, just where it was necessary. But I’ll look anyone in the eye and tell them what I’m telling you right now...Live And Dangerous is most definitely a live album”.
Regardless of the fact it might be overdubbed to extremes, as well as plenty of studio tricks in order to fix the band’s human goofs and mistakes, it’s obvious Lynott & the boys have never sounded so stunning. No wonder NME named it the best live album ever made. Thin Lizzy are on fire here, revitalizing the energy, improving the instrumental quality and increasing the passion and soul of each of these British classic rock anthems – hitting new levels of musicianship not even themselves were to match ever again. Not to mention the huge influence Live And Dangerous has had on countless musicians from so many unconnected and dissimilar music styles – from their natural, worthy successors of the NWOBHM, to mainstream rock stars in the likes of U2, Bon Jovi or Foo Fighters (!!!), they all find this masterwork inspirational, addictive, and so does the author. No surprise Gorham feels justifiably pleased about it:
“You know when I listen back now to what we did back then, it still staggers me. We were a really hot band, and I think this is when we were at our hottest. Am I proud of Live And Dangerous? Absolutely, I think anyone who was involved with such special project would feel justifiably proud. I hope that a new generation of rock fans will get into the music”.
Amen to that, brother.
So yeah, my perfect album. This isn't something disposable to me... I didn't just pick this one up in Sainsburys and then progress to the fruit and veg aisle. Your mum may well be able to hum these tunes, but this is in no way housewife-friendly background music which they can take their medication and put babies in microwaves to. These are my anthems and it takes something of a very high quality and depth to achieve that status... well, I do hold myself in very high regard.
You can call me hackneyed and jaded in a sort of "standing on your mama's porch you said that it would last forever" way for having my own special songs. I can go for months without listening to this (not that I'd want to) and I'd still be able to recall every moment of this album. 'Live and Dangerous', to me, is perfect in every sense of the word; the timing of its release, the performance, the iconic cover art, the band's chemistry - a perfect combination of in-fighting and street gang bravado - and of course Mr Lynott's engrossing tales of vagabonds, rogues and cowboys.
To understand just why 'Live and Dangerous' is so good, one must be aware of what other live shows were like in the late 1970s. Zeppelin were the archetypal rock monoliths, but in the live arena they were too bloated, what with all the excessive drum solos and Robert Plant going "Ahhh Ahh Ahh" for five minutes on end. Sure, the folk segues were a nice little breather, but as Brian Adams once said - the kids wanna rock. At the other end of the spectrum you had the emerging punk scene and though I won't say they all sucked live (far from it, indeed, The Ramones' 'It's Alive' is one of few live records that can hold its own against 'Live and Dangerous'). But on the whole the punk bands were often more concerned with spitting and fighting against the establishment rather than becoming truly great live acts.
Make no mistake about it, 'Live and Dangerous' is an effortlessly commercial record; truly the work of a 'band of the people'. These songs can posthumously fill arenas and sell jeans, tampons, Swiss army knives... whatever, it doesn't matter. All commerce aside Lizzy are still my band. No amount of overplaying can kill them, they always will remain my band. Zeppelin, are one of my favourite hard rock bands who are now clearly in the public domain - the BBC and general public keep trying to ruin them for me. Zeppelin are subject to all sorts of horrors, be it kids referring to 'Mothership' as "Their new album" or Jimmy Page scraping away any rock credibility he has by playing at Olympic ceremonies. Lizzy, despite being an immensely well known and loved band in Britain are not subject to the same abhorrence. Johnny Dolequeue, your standard North Yorkshire no-hoper, may well be able to blurt out 'The Boys are Back in Town' after nine pints of Eurobeater, but I'll be damned if he can tell me just why Brian Robertson is so cool. Also the BBC tends to keep its greasy mits away from Lizzy, so all this and more means that this album is untouchable.
And for the music? Well, this is a collection taken from nearly all of Lizzy's classic albums... so this has a cat in hells chance of sucking. But not only do you have essentially the cream of the crop of Thin Lizzy, but you have an absolutely perfectly paced live performance. Lizzy are the masters of tension and excitement in the live environment. The opening salvo of 'Jailbreak' gets things off to the great start with its tight, muscular riffing. It rocks so hard you can overlook the silly lyric of 'tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak somewhere in the town'. Well, I'm no Cagney or Lacey... but I'd try the jail first. Never ones to keep an audience waiting next up is 'Emerald' which really acts as a bit of premature ejaculation for guitar fans. The song itself would be what you could label as a wholly sincere take on folk ideas from a hard rock band (I'll refrain from using the term folk metal). Brian Downey's drums take on a rolling almost Bodhrán-like feel and Phil tells a tale which conjures images of celtic battles (you know, Mel Gibson movie fare), again it's convincing and powerful rather than trite as it could of easily been. The guitar solos are simply otherworldly in their excellence, they should be framed in placed in galleries (preferably replacing whatever Tracy Emin has shat out this week). Robbo in particular steals the show, he crafts near celtic melodies in his playing which strengthens the epic feel of the song. This is what a guitar solo should be, you get your allocated space to work magic and the band works with you rather than simply playing a drab chord progression to give your wankery a backing (fuck you John Mayer!). It should be noted that during the solo section Phil's bass playing is a bit more busy and perfectly accents the solo. In short: this is guitar playing... get the fuck out of my house Joe Bonamassa.
It is quite a noteworthy achievement of this record that it maintains a streetwise everyman sense of story telling (much like Bruce Springsteen... but without the cheesy yankee fare) whilst still appealing to the musos out there. I suppose it comes with the combination of immensely tight song craft with perfectly honed performances. Brian Downey's performance is an example of this, he is without doubt a very fine drummer with a distinctively neat style and sound, but he never overplays... even his bloody drum solo is the right length! But everything about this performance is ruthlessly efficient yet not lacking in warm or soul, much like a strategic grope on a girl you've liked for a long time or crushing a kitten's skull with a breeze block because it would grow up to be the next Hitler.
Not all of the songs here actually made it onto the live set. 'Southbound' for instance is taken from an inspired sound check performance. It acts as a beautiful, gentle comedown after the celtic battle hymn 'Emerald'. Whereas, the 'Bad Reputation' version came across as a little dulcet, especially in the guitar harmony, this performance is far more ernest, heartfelt and even with a lot more balls than the studio version. Never once were Lizzy caught sans testicles in a live environment. Picking up the pace once again is another song which really outshines its studio counterpart, 'Rosalie'. A crowd favourite (which Motörhead have actually been playing of late) and strikingly simple in its execution but with an astounding energy. 'Dancing in the Moonlight' once again shows the great use of tension and mood changes that Lizzy had in their live show. This version is a little less funky and more guitar driven (with the notable addition of some harmonies under the saxophone solo) than the 'Bad Reputation' version and that's fine by me, what's the point of having two identikit versions? Scott thankfully plays the solo faithfully to the original and it's crisp and lighter than most of the solos here, especially with that descending octave lick. Also worthy of note is that this version is a little darker than the original single, what with less studio polish which came in the form of hand claps and finger clicks, and more of a beautiful pathos in Lynott's vocals.
For some reason, hard rock giants in the 1970s always had the knack of delivering absolutely killer slow blues songs, Purple's 'Mistreated', Zeppelin's 'Since I've Been Loving You' and The Osmonds had 'Crazy Horses'. Here we have Lizzy's 'Still in Love With You' and perhaps the best of the lot. A slow blues is very easy to make a arse-over-tits job of, if you give the wrong guitarist - a minor key, sparse chord progression they may well just go ballistic and disappear up their own arse. Thankfully, no one ego completely overrules Lizzy (though at times it certainly was Phil's) and the vocals and both guitarists get sufficient time to shine and never at the expense at the expense of the song. The verses give Phil a chance to deliver quite possibly his most passionate vocal performance ever and the lyrical simplicity of the song really allows his emotions to come through. Robbo's solo (yes I am aware of the level of analysis I'm placing on individual solos, but they're that good) is a long one for this album but it's perfectly crafted and well accented by the drums. The subtle use of tremolo picking is almost ethereal in the emotions it conveys, which isn't normally a feeling I would associate with the technique. But most guitarists wouldn't really have you associating techniques with emotion, unless it is Steve Vai and the emotion is nausea. 'Still in Love With You' really is a triumph and contributes to the album's perfect sense of light and shade.
After this and 'Johnny the Fox' (perhaps the albums weaknest number, but still far preferable to any other rock band's foray into funkier territory) we are bombarded with rockers. After all the teasing of the first half of the album finally it's time for some balls-to-the-wall rock. 'The Cowboy Song' goes from melancholic ballad to shuffling rocker. The song has a fantastic sense of movement to it, I don't think any idea is repeated more than twelve times in succession, meaning nothing has time to stagnate and the song seems to be finished all too soon... not that it feels incomplete. 'The Boys Are Back in Town' arrives mid-set, which is unusual for the band's best known song, still it works amazingly well. It's got that butterflies-in-your-stomach excitement to it and sums up the band's gang-like attitude perfectly. It may be overplayed, but with good reason. You can just picture Scott and Robbo running up to the microphones and blurting out the backing vocals then running off again like school boys after too much lemonade and sherbet to play that world-beating guitar harmony. A feminist would perhaps single some of the lyrics out as sexist, but this raises the question - why is she listening to music when she should be preparing her spouse/father/abuser's next meal? The album continues with this fine rocking and big tunes till its finale after the greatly reinvigorated 'Rocker'. This song acts as one final solid ball of rock, anymore would have been unnecessary... always leave 'em wanting more, right?
Come to thing of it, that's exactly Lizzy did... or at least this line-up, the Fab Four would never record an album again. 'Live and Dangerous' acts as one final hurrah from Lizzy's classic era. After this album Robbo's ego got in the way one too many times and he was out, Scott and Phil got involved in harder drugs and Brian Downey spent his fortune on dog eggs. RIP Phil Lynott... Heaven has more leather trews and Irish half-castes with you there.