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The Move had had three years of hit singles in Britain, two line-up changes and were becoming generally dissatisfied with being seen as merely a pop group on their home patch, when they eventually undertook a long-delayed tour of America in October 1969. It would be their only visit across the Atlantic. Soon after returning to Britain, vocalist Carl Wayne left, songwriter and guitarist Roy Wood reluctantly assumed centre stage as vocalist as well, his friend Jeff Lynne from the unsuccessful band Idle Race joined, and their transition into the more ambitious ELO and later Wizzard soon followed.
In their early days they had issued a live EP recorded at the Marquee in London, more recently reissued with additional tracks. However, this is their only genuine live album - and we only had to wait 42 years to get it. The tapes had been kept by Wayne, who always intended that they should be released as a document to show what the group were capable of on stage. They were all set to come out on record until he passed away from cancer in 2004. The Move 'Anthology' 4-CD set in 2008 treated us to a preview of two helpings, but at last, here's the lot.
Recorded over two nights at the Fillmore West, this 2-CD set features about 100 minutes of music (admittedly with two slightly different performances of three tracks from consecutive nights), plus nearly 11 minutes of drummer Bev Bevan's reminiscences of the tour.
Warning - if you just know The Move from a handful of daytime radio-friendly golden oldies like 'Flowers In the Rain' and 'Blackberry Way', after five minutes of this you'll wonder if it is the same group. If you're open-minded enough to accept a group who could play heavy guitar-based rock in the style of their heroes Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience with plenty of improvisation and lengthy workouts, and are not familiar with their second album 'Shazam' which includes studio versions of five tracks here (I suspect few people apart from diehard fans are), this will come as quite a revelation.
Also, strangely in view of Wood's writing talents, only three numbers here are his compositions - and even then, two of them include plenty of integrated snatches from music by others. The rest are largely obscure covers of American songs. A slightly perverse decision, but then rules are there to be broken.
A few slashing power chords on guitar, a thunderclap on the drums, and a short sharp scream kick off seven minutes' worth of 'Open My Eyes', a song by Todd Rundgren and The Nazz. I'm not normally a fan of overlong guitar solos, but Wood's mastery of the six-string fretboard means there is rarely a dull moment. And his harmony vocals, amounting to almost shared lead at times, are pretty neat as well - even if the balance is a little off-centre and he is sometimes in danger of drowning Wayne out. Not forgetting that bassist Rick Price also contributes harmonies too, though as the 'new boy' I suspect his mic may have been kept turned down lower than those of the other two.
Next, a brief blast of feedback and some crunchy guitar takes us into 'Don't Make My Baby Blue', best known as a Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil song which gave the Shadows one of their few vocal hits. Slow and dramatic, and far heavier than the original, this clocks in at just over five minutes, very short by this album's standards.
At last, a Wood song (make that 'Wood song plus'), with 'Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited'. 'CBC' initially appeared on their first album, with extravagant strings and a tongue-in-cheek lyric about an inmate from a mental hospital (those were less PC days when the term 'loony bin' was bandied about quite frequently and most of us thought nothing of it). Here it is stripped down to basics, guitar, walking bass and shared vocals, segueing into a lengthy 'those you have loved' from the classics. Snippets from 'Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring', 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' (with an insanely catchy if armour-plated bass guitar figure that almost ends up sounding like the theme to 'Roobarb and Custard' at times), and 'Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy' all take a bow. It has to be heard to be believed.
To those of you who know Tom Paxton's 'The Last Thing On My Mind' as a poignant folk song of love and loss, The Move's version will come as a surprise - well, like much of this record. Tasteful guitar intro, vocal harmonies that sound rough yet exquisite at the same time, and some extended guitar stuff on the wah-wah pedal, add up to another eight minutes of standing the song on its head yet still coming out intact.
Finally, hit single territory - with a difference. 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow' (the only early Move chartbuster which stayed in their live set until they disbanded in 1972) clocks in at ten minutes. For the first three, it's perfectly recognisable and punchy, then Wayne takes us into a snatch of Steppenwolf's biker anthem 'Born To Be Wild', after which it's improvisation city on guitar and drums, followed by quotes from 'Peter Gunn' and '1812 Overture'. It stays just on the right side of self-indulgence.
Disc two starts with a marathon (almost seventeen minutes) of 'Fields Of People', originally by Ars Nova - who? - well yeah, this appears to be their sole claim to fame. It sounds like somebody forgot to hit the record button in time, as the intro is truncated and very quiet for the first few seconds. (Ah, the joys of leaving someone in charge of the reel-to-reel tape machine who either isn't paying attention, isn't familiar with the controls, or is...er...slightly high on something). After about seven minutes of mid-tempo song and rough yet spot-on vocal harmonies it almost comes to a halt, followed by a lengthy guitar-sitar solo. On a single CD this really would have sounded self-indulgent, but on a double CD it sounds OK, though you may not want to play it too often.
'Goin' Back', normally associated with Dusty Springfield (a Top 10 hit for her in 1966) and the Byrds, takes a bow with some good accapella harmony singing. Kept to just over five minutes with the minimum of soloing, this is one of the high points. As Wayne notes in the booklet, while they were there they had the image of 'a rock'n'roll Byrds' - no bad thing. The same goes for 'Hello Susie', the third Wood song which Wayne introduces a little dismissively as recently a British hit for teenybopper group Amen Corner. If you are familiar with the breezy brassy AC hit version, this heavy rendition of the song adds a very different dimension.
'Under The Ice', another Todd Rundgren song which stretches out to almost fifteen minutes, is for the most part another exercise in guitar and drum improvisation. Spot the little quotes from 'Matthew And Son', 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Eleanor Rigby'. It's another number which you may play every once in a while, and then skip or press the fast forward button the rest of the time.
Only then do we come to a short introduction from the compere welcoming us to the band onstage. (Maybe it should have been placed at the beginning?). That is followed by second performances of 'Baby Blue', 'Cherry Blossom' and 'Last Thing', and finally Bevan's memories of the tour sharing a bill with Little Richard and Joe Cocker, when they drove extraordinary distances from one venue to another, had to leave after Price's coke was spiked with acid, and were on the plane back to England while a promoter was expecting them to come and play further dates in New York. Naughty, lads.
Throughout the record, Wayne's spoken introductions are rather muffled and only really audible on a good pair of headphones (or is it my ears?). Also, unusually for a live album, there is very little applause to be heard - and what there is is well muted, so as not to interfere with the music too much.
As befits a release for the devoted but demanding minority (i.e. diehard Move fans like me who want more than just two shiny silver discs in a prettily-designed plastic case), the 12-page booklet has been put together with care. Included are several photos from the tour, a few words from Wayne's widow and son Sue and Jack, memories from Wayne, Bevan and Price plus fan-who-was-there-at-the-time Archie Patterson.
It's a kind of warts'n'all record, with rough edges left as they are. But then live gigs are like that, or they were in the days before photogenic, endlessly choreographed pop stars who would never dream of playing instruments on stage, even if they could, and would go on and sing to a backing track, or worse still mime the pesky songs. This has its flaws, the sound balance is not perfect, and it's a tad self-indulgent in places. Yet if you're a real Move nutter, or even a fan of what we used to call underground music at the time, approach it with an open mind. At its best, it is very good. Not quite five stars, but not far off.
[Revised version of a review I first posted on ciao]