Classic Rock Review

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Ten Years After Undead (1968)

ten_years_after-undead(nova)From starling.rinet.ru

I originally gave it a lower rating because I was so completely under the spell of their second live album (I still think it’s superior, but not as highly superior as before), but I’ve changed my mind. This live album’s great and groovy! Its only flaw is that there are too few songs, plus ‘Summertime’ (which really has little to do with Gershwin’s original) features a completely unnecessary drum solo (Ric Lee is a good drummer, but not a best choice for a soloist). On the other hand, perhaps extending such records would result in them losing a lot of their ‘primal’ charm. Recorded in a small club (Marquee?), it really captures the great, compact, groovy atmosphere of the evening, and you won’t have no screaming little girlies; hey, you can actually listen to the music all the way through. Ain’t it great? I’ve just finished reviewing the Kinks’ Live At Kelvin Hall which came out the same year and it’s so different in that respect…

If anything, this record shows the band as mostly cool jazz players, playing with due respect to their ‘elders’ but in their own self-taught and prejudice-free way; there’s not really too much ‘rock’ on here, and Alvin demonstrates a clear tendency towards playing everything in a funny bebop style. Besides the already mentioned ‘Summertime’, there are two more hardcore jazz tracks which totally constitute Side A: the ‘original’ ‘I May Be Wrong, But I Won’t Be Wrong Always’ and Bishop/Herman’s ‘At The Woodchoppers’ Ball’. The first one is a nine-minute generic jazz tune, the second one – a seven-minute extravaganza. Alvin is the hero everywhere: he sometimes shows enough generosity to let Chick and Leo have a couple of organ or bass solos, but they’re nothing but ordinary professional jazz solos. Good, but definitely unspectacular.

The guitar rules, however – especially on ‘Woodchoppers’ Ball’ where he dazzles you with thunderflashing waves of snappy licks coming at lightning speed. Play this at full volume and you’ll find yourself gasping for breath in no time. Gimmickry? P’raps. But I’ve never seen any single guitarist reproduce these attacks. At least, no rock guitarist. These are great solos! They’re exciting, driving and technically perfect: one of the rare cases where finger-flashing isn’t just meant for the listener to be taking his hat off and bowing down in silent respect, but is also meant for the listener to be grooving to and finding full delight in. It’s dance music, after all, not Yngwie Malmsteem. The final two or three minutes of ‘Woodchoppers’ Ball’ are especially climactic, when Alvin just sticks to a simple chord and keeps on blowing it through at an incredible speed for what is actually just about thirty seconds but seems like an eternity. That’s the climax of this sweaty record. Why evidence like this always keeps escaping guitar-raters who always miss Alvin in the best guitarists lists is way beyond me. For once, a really swell guy demonstrated that outstanding guitar technique and ‘simple’ audience-pleasing can be easily combined, and nobody gives a damn. Beats me.

But, so as not to give the not thoroughly true impression of being hardcore jazz musicians, they add a generic blues number (‘Spider In My Web’) which isn’t just as entertaining mainly because it’s so slow; slowness is this band’s main enemy – when they play a moody slow number, they sound just like every other generic blues band in the business. Even here, though, Alvin actually saves the day by adding a bit more distortion to his guitar and playing a menacing and – gasp – fast solo. So the only place where he doesn’t save the day is ‘Summertime’, completely given to Ric Lee. What a waste of vinyl.

But then again, this is also where you’ll find an early version of their bestseller – ‘I’m Goin’ Home’. This early version would be a letdown to all you fans of the Woodstock version, though: it’s only six minutes long, slower and not as rip-roaring as the Woodstock one (or the one on Recorded Live). But it still kicks ass, and its unpolished character really comes as a pleasant surprise for me. It’s always fascinating to see a good stage number grow, you know; and at least at this period there’s still enough improvisation, and the song hasn’t yet metamorphosed into a frigid eleven-minute monster with every millionth note well thought out in advance and all the solos and interludes being completely predictable. So I don’t exclude that hardcore fans of Alvin might even prefer this early version because the later one can finally get to them – especially if you realise that the way Alvin played these chords in Woodstock in 1969 and in Germany in 1973 (as captured on Recorded Live) had no differences at all. He sure played them differently in 1968. He sure ‘grew up’ since then, be it in the positive or negative sense.

And oh how they grew. This sounds totally unlike their later concert sound captured on Recorded Live. That one would be hard-rockin’, technically excellent and politically conscious. This one is just four guys having fun with their instruments and trying to lighten up the audience. Plain fun. Nothin’ more. Put this on whenever you’re in a bad mood – it can show you there’s always a good side to life.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After Undead | | Leave a comment