Alex Chilton, formally of the Box Tops, formed Big Star in 1971 with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummell. Their first two albums were critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful. The band folded in 1974 but re-appeared in 1993 with vocalist/guitarist Chilton and drummer Stephens joined by two members of The Posies; guitarist/vocalist Jon Auer and bassist /vocalist Ken Stringfellow. The band recorded and performed together until Chilton’s death in March of 2010.
While there are a number of live Big Star recordings around, their Memphis concert of October 29, 1994, was the only one to have been professionally filmed. That concert has now been released as a DVD, CD, and double vinyl LP.
Despite being professionally recorded the sound and video is average by today’s standards. The energy of the band more than makes up for it as it was a homecoming concert and was advertised as their farewell performance. The band is trying very hard and it shows in this superior live show.
The material is primarily drawn from their first two albums, plus a number of cover songs that Chilton liked to include in their live shows. The exception is a poignant cover of deceased member Chris Bell’s solo tune “I Am The Cosmos.” Jon Auer provides the vocal as they salute one of their founding members.
The highlights of their tunes from their acclaimed first albums are “September Gurls” and “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” which are presented in all their harmonic pop glory.
Chilton always had an eclectic taste for other people’s material and that was on display in this concert. The covers range from a wicked interpretation of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut,” to a rocking cover of the Kinks “Till The End Of The Day,” to the pop/jazz classic “The Girl From Impanema.” He even reaches into the obscure past with a cover of the long-forgotten Gary and The Hornets “Patty Girl.”
Live In Memphis catches the second generation Big Star at their best. While their first two albums remain must listens; this live albums presents a different version of the band that was about to carve out its own legacy.