The live album is an interesting concept. Very often these will do little to entice new fans and appeal more to a band’s more hardcore audience who wish to relive the memories of past concert trips. At the same time they serve as a form of greatest hits package for a band who inevitably will choose their most cherished and well known songs to present to an audience without rehashing and re-releasing studio versions. Lastly they give the fans a chance to hear a band play with a different energy, very often more stripped down, raw and vibrant that their carefully considered and systematically produced studio counterparts. In the 1970’s any band worth their salt would produce at least one live album, more often than not two or three released at intervals of three to four albums…and usually doubles so the audience got “the whole concert experience”. Look at the list of bands whose live albums are considered classic moments in their catalogue…Kiss, Rush, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Queen, Motorhead, AC/DC, Humble Pie, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy and…er Peter Frampton!!! How live some of these albums actually are is open to much speculation but the reality is immaterial, they are great albums deserving of classic status. In recent years the trend towards doing live albums has largely disappeared.
It’s certainly not because bands aren’t playing live and arguably the technology to record live sets has improved immeasurably. Perhaps it’s because bands have easier access to recording technology that recording studio albums has become far easier. Perhaps it’s because the business model for music has changed and bands are not tied into contracts that demand a number of albums, hence the live album released to fulfil a contractual obligation. Perhaps it’s because bands are keener to present their live sound on their studio recordings thus making live recordings redundant. Who knows the true answer?
For a band such as Samsara Blues Experiment to release a live album in this day and age is an interesting move. It flies in the face of current musical trends and is limited to 500 CD copies hinting that the band are aware of its more collectable value. However, if any band are worthy of a live album it is SBE. Much like Siena Root with whom SBE share much musical kinship, who have also released their own live effort, the SBE sound is built to expand, weave, twist and explore new avenues that may not be found on their studio work. SBE stay true to the more experimental aspects of 70’s influenced space/stoner/psychedelic rock and, from this release, it is clear that the live arena is where they feel comfortable and free. Recorded live on Germany’s legendary Rockpalast TV show and featuring nine tracks taken from their whole back catalogue, this overdub free recording showcases the band at their freewheeling live best, taking the studio versions of the songs and breathing additional life into them to produce new, far reaching versions of the songs unhindered by the constraints of having to stick to form and structure in the sterile environment of the studio. The guitars weave and twist around each other with both players clearly relishing the freedom of the stage whilst the whole band creates an impressive ebb and flow in which songs build and explode then drop back once again to their bedrock.
As the band say, this is an album free from overdubs and it is a live recording so the sound quality is not pristine. At times the guitars can become a little muddy and indistinct and the heavily delayed and reverb drenched vocals sometimes become lost in the mix but the sonic shortcomings become irrelevant when the band hits their stride and start to generate raw electricity.
For anyone new to the band I would hesitate to recommend this as an initial point of contact, rather check out the band’s studio works first, particularly magnificent second album “Revelation And Mystery”. For fully paid up members of the SBE fan club, however, this is an essential purchase but be quick, those 500 copies won’t hang around forever.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall