Saturday, January 15, 2022

Yardbirds Live and Rare Box Set


I'm sure it goes without saying that I've been a Yardbirds fan since the 60's and while I know that I do not have everything that they have released, I have a fair collection, including some oddball live records, but I'm always interested in hearing new-to-me performances, so I grabbed this 4-CD, 1-DVD set.

Disc one is the DVD (kinda of confusing - I thought it was a defective CD when it wouldn't play, but then I finally read the cover!) and it has some fantastic footage - some that I've seen before but plenty that I have not, especially the early cuts with Eric Clapton that has the whole band positively wailing on "Louise" and "I Wish You Would". These cuts are damn near worth the price of the set on their own! But there's a number of tunes from the Jeff Beck incarnation (I've seen parts of this set before) and then the final, Jimmy Page line-up that kinda vary in quality - the songs themselves and sometimes the sound'n'mix, but are great rockin' fun, regardless. It's particularly entertaining to watch the evolution of Page's Telecaster and the various designs he augments it with. Drummer Jim McCarty is positively explosive on these performances, as well.

I have a tendency to prefer a band's earlier works, and while the first numbers here on the first CD are beyond fierce, there is plenty of greatness throughout. The Eric Clapton version of the band borders on punk rock in many places - unquestionably during their patented "rave ups", but there is an underlying intensity in most of the numbers - the power of youth, I suppose! Keith Relf gets to show off his harmonica skills on many of the blues songs and Eric's playing is piercing'n'pointed, with no excess. The rhythm section - Jim McCarty on drums, Paul Samwell-Smith doing flying bass runs and Chris Dreja imitating Johnny Ramone a decade before the Ramones - is incredible from start to finish and truly carry the songs and give them the dynamics needed behind the soloists. The set list is phenomenal, as well, with plenty of frenzied Chuck Berry ("Little Queenie" is done at warp speed!), John Lee Hooker and one of my faves, "Respectable" (even with the silly "Humpty Dumpty" coda).

There is a break for the nice, acoustic guitar'n'bongos ballad in "Hush-a-Bye" before returning to the heaviness with Jeff Beck's first numbers with the group (in this set) and he shows why he is revered to this day and had no problem with replacing Clapton. His tone is excellent and heavier , and, as the CD progresses, he shows that he was willing to experiment even more than Eric, with feedback, slide, and distortion - and he really impresses in the two versions of "Jeff's Boogie" included here. 

OK, I really haven't been paying attention and I just realized that my box set was packaged out of order and the above CD is actually number 4 and the DVD IS supposed to be at the end of the set as number 5! Yeesh! So anyway, disc number 1 is the Jeff Beck version of the band and encompasses the addition of Jimmy Page, as well - on second guitar and on bass - with live cuts and some truly odd rarieties, like two wimpy songs done in Italian for a pop festival that they were roped into as well as a couple of commercials! Much more successful are live takes of "Train Kept A-Rollin'", "Shapes of Things" and "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" and terrific semi-rarities like the hard-psych of "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (one of their best!) and the dynamic, edgy R'n'B of "Psycho Daisies" (another near perfect number). Other additions are the Blow Up take of "Stroll On" ("Train Kept A-Rollin'" under a pseudonym), a couple of Keith Relf ballads (Mr. Zero" and "Knowing"), a cool psych-pop-ballad in the single version of "Shapes In My Mind", a lightweight, harp-led blues in "Blue Sands" and concluding with an alternative take of "Shapes In My Mind".

CD 2 is made up of 1967 Jimmy Page-led live versions of their hits (with plenty of repetition), showing that he could hold his own against the previous two guitar gods and also emulate pretty much any of the tricks that they had done in the studio, while adding many of his own - with plenty of wah-wah and even using his violin bow in a precursor to his Led Zep days on "I'm a Man". Chris Dreja was now on bass and doing a great job keeping up with McCarty's ever-fabulous drumming while Relf's vocals were still strong overall (he strains at times) and his harp playing remains superior.

For the third CD we're in 1968 and the final days of the band. Jimmy has pretty much taken over (he even does the intro BBC interview) and while they still perform the lame single "Goodnight Josephine", they are also now playing "Dazed and Confused", complete with the violin bow and the drum'n'guitar call'n'answer that was a pivotal part of the Zep arrangement, along with a hip Page composition, "Think About It", and Jimmy does his solo instrumental raga-rock number (with bongo accompaniment), "White Summer".

There is a nicely done booklet with liner notes by none other than Mike Stax and each CD/DVD has its own, smaller booklet describing the material within. All-in-all, this is one helluva package - it looks and sound great!