Live At Lafayette’s Music Room By Big Star

September 19, 2019

Since the death of Alex Chilton, there is been a proliferation of Big Star releases, both solo and as a band.

There has not, however, been many live releases by Big Star. Nine years ago Live At Lafayette’s Music Room was a part of a box set. It now returns as a stand alone and remastered release.

Big Star’s first album had been a commercial failure. Founding member Chris Bell promptly left the group. The three remaining members, guitarist/vocalist Alex Chilton, bassist Andy Hummel, and drummer Jody Stephens considered dissolving but decided to honor several live commitments. Several of those commitments took place in early in 1973, at the Lafayette Room in Memphis.

The 19 tracks set draws on material from their first album and unreleased second. The interesting dynamic is they performed as a trio and so had to compensate for Bell’s absence. It gave the music a different twist as the three musicians had to stretch to create their signature sound.

Another interesting dynamic  is they were the opening act for the soul group Archie Bell & The Drells. The sparse audience was a soul crowd and the reaction to Big Stars set was minimal.

The harmony parts are a stretch at times as there is a voice missing. The lead vocals are fine and the band compensates for the missing guitar parts. They wisely add in covers by the Kinks, Todd Rundgren, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and T. Rex, which are geared to the three of them.

The sound has been remastered but it is what it is. Why this odd and obscure concert was recorded in the first place remains a mystery.

Live At Lafayette’s Music Room is a glimpse into an unusual period of the Big Star Story. It should be a fan pleaser but for an introduction to the band, any of heir early studio albums is superior.


Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live And More

November 29, 2017

 

 

 

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.


Live In Memphis (DVD) By Big Star

April 19, 2015

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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.


#1 Record By Big Star

November 30, 2014

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If ever a band deserved commercial success, it was Big Star. Instead they were regulated to existing as the darlings of critics and recognized for being highly influential as one of the originators of the power pop sound.

Alex Chilton of Box Tops fame (guitar and vocals), Chris Bell (guitar and vocals), Andy Hummer (bass and vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums) formed Big Star during the early 1970’s. They released their first album #1 Record in 1972. The release was listed among Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest 500 Albums Of All Time and has now been reissued.

#1 Record was the brain child of Chilton and Bell. In the recording studio, Chilton would use a one take approach for the guitar and vocal tracks. He would then hand them over to Bell who would add the textures, polish them with overdubs, and then put together the harmonies. It all added up to an album that would influence power pop bands and their descendants for the next three decades.

“Thirteen” is just about the perfect pop song and Rolling Stone ranked it among the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The acoustic ballad is different from alot of their up-tempo material but its delicate nature makes it a stand-out.

“In The Street” has a slower tempo than the version that appeared as the theme song of That 70’s Show. The signature guitars, the tight harmonies, and the smooth delivery combine to give it layers of textures. “My Life is Right” and “Don’t Lie To Me” fuse pop and rock, while “Watch The Sunrise” is a return to a simpler approach.

I have heard this album on CD and vinyl in the past and the sound quality here is a huge upgrade. Each instrument is distinct and the vocal harmonies leap out of the speakers. You can even year the guitarist’s hands move over the instrument on the acoustic numbers. In addition the new liner notes are by Mike Mills of R.E.M.

Bell quickly became disenchanted with the album’s lack of success and left the band. He died in a car crash in 1978 at the age of 27. Chilton remained the center of Big Star until his death in 2010. Their brief time together resulted in one of the brilliant, if underappreciated albums of its era.

 


The Letter 45 by The Box Tops

September 21, 2010

“Give Me A Ticket For An Aeroplane!” With those words The Box Tops were off and running with one of the great single releases of the late sixties. “The Letter” would spend four weeks in the number one position on The American charts during the second half of 1967.

Vocalist Alex Chilton, guitarist Gary Talley, organist John Evans, bassist Bill Cunningham, and drummer Danny Smythe formed the group in Memphis, Tennessee. They would go on to create a number of well crafted rock singles through 1970.

The Letter revolves around Chilton’s gruff vocals and a raw but memorable melody. Sixties AM radio at its best.