Big Star was one of those bands whose influence was far greater than their commercial success. Formed in 1971 by Alex Chilton (1951-2010), Chris Bell (1951-1978), Andy Hummel (1951-2010), and Jody Stephens, they have influenced a generation of alternative rock and indie bands who have followed them. Known for their precise harmonies, jangling music, and incisive lyrics, they left behind a small but brilliant number of album releases.
Their legendary third album, which was basically just Chilton and drummer Stephens, sat on the shelf for a number of years before its release. It was a complicated work, complete with strings, and had never been totally reproduced live. Chilton’s death in 2010 set in motion a series of events that led to its recreation and this release, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live…And More.
Shortly after Chilton’s death, a number of musicians including Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (Posies), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mike Easler (Let’s Active), and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens performed a full-orchestrated version of the third album in Charlotte, North Carolina. They then took the show on the road. This culminated with a recorded concert at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, in April of 2016. Added to the mix were Robin Hitchcock, Benmont Tench, and the Kronos String Quartet.
The concert included material from the bands entire career but its foundation is their third album. The music goes beyond the simplicity of many Big Star performances. The enlarged band and the presence of a string section help to explore the full musical vision of Alex Chilton. They are able to present the textures, layers, and sound that up until now were only present on the studio version. In many ways it is superior to the original music as it is both modernized and expanded.
Big Star, especially its early incarnation, shall not pass this way again. The music left behind, particularly from its third album, has now taken on new life courtesy of some friends and devotees. A must listen for fans and a good stand alone release for anyone who likes creative rock and roll.