Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Live at the BBC

I believe that I first encountered the SAHB via a new wave/rock'n'roll cover band in Indiana that did the fantastic "Midnight Moses". This cut stood out among their other cool 60's and 70's numbers, even though I didn't know what it was until I asked them. I know that Creem magazine hyped the band a bit, but they were never very popular in the States and so their albums were not easily accessible. I did finally find a greatest hits package and that was all that I owned for the longest time. I am still catching up on their records even today, but I found this 2-CD set for a reasonable price and it is certainly a keeper!

Here the group first performs numbers from their debut album, which had been released a short time before. Although Alex had been a performer for a number of years, he didn't really hit the spotlight until this combo with their mix of hard-rock energy and visual theatrics. The drive'n'spirit of the new group blasts through the airwaves here.

The afore-mentioned "Midnight Moses" starts things off with its ferocious riff-rock'n'roll - really one of their best and most memorable numbers, and here Alex is shouting out the opening "heys" with a raw roar, demanding the audience's attention. Not stopping for a breath, "St. Anthony" is another high-energy wah-wah riffer, with cool interaction between clown-faced Zal's guitar and Hugh's electric piano and a dynamic breakdown that's a bit different than the studio take. Their version of "Framed" is even more slow'n'deliberate and I'm sure there was some theatrics going on here. They follow this with the whimsical/vaudeville-like (and odd) "There's No Lights On the Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie". "Hole In Her Stocking" is a cool 50's-styled blues-rocker with some lively keyboard work and a surprising cover of Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" where Alex makes the title a vicious demand, rather than a fun invitation. Really dig this - they make it their rockin' own while keeping a bit of the original feel, and everyone gets to shine in the solo section.

"Faith Healer" is increasingly dramatic as the opener to their 1973 set, where they are a more seasoned combo - although the previous material was far from lacking! Again, they change things up a bit in the live setting and it is all well-done and rockin' and the instruments all work together to build in intensity as Alex adds different lyrics and a vivid'n'fierce vocal performance. We get another "Midnight Moses" - still terrific and, if anything, more fervent than before - and a swingin', very politically-incorrect "Gang Bang", still one of my faves. I was not familiar with "The Last of the Teenage Idols", which starts off as kind of a piano ballad, adds an heavy, ominous pounding section and then takes off in high-speed to become a frantic rocker, before ending as a doo-wop number! Freddy Bell's "Giddy Up a Ding Dong" is the unusual ending to CD1 - a 50's rock'n'roller that also becomes a doo-wop tune!

CD 2 continues in 1973 with a couple of Old Grey Whistle Test appearances, Jacque Brel's "Next", a melodramatic bit of stagecraft, and an abbreviated "Faith Healer" - both studio backing tracks with live vocals from Alex. I had never heard the slow, quiet "Give My Compliments to the Chef" before, either, but, like the others, it does build a bit, it remains a nice smoulderer until about half way through, when they do let loose as a fast-paced, electric piano-driven number. I always thought that their version of "Delilah" was a bit corny, though it is a bit more intense here, and, also new to me, "Boston Tea Party" isn't particularly memorable. The final two tracks are also from the OGWT, now in 1977, and are without Harvey, who was having health issues at this time - "Pick It UP and Kick It" and "Smouldering".

I still want to explore more from this wacky group, but this is a strong one to pick up.