Tentative Review #126

(various artists)
Night Of The Guitar

(released 1988)

1. Pete HaycockDr. Brown I Presume****
2. Steve HunterThe Idler****
3. Pete HaycockLucienne**1/2
4. Randy CaliforniaGroove Thing***1/2
5. Randy CaliforniaHey Joe****1/2
6. Robby KriegerLove Me Two Times***1/2
7. Ted Turner & Andy Powell The King Will Come****1/2
8. Leslie WestTheme From An Imaginary Western**1/2
9. Steve HoweSketches In The Sun****1/2
10.Steve HoweWurm*****
11.Alvin LeeNo Limit*****
12.Alvin LeeAin't Nothin' Shakin'****1/2
13.All ArtistsAll Along The Watchtower****1/2

All guitarists appear on their featured tracks. Other personnel:

<note: Henry Padovani is also thanked in the liner notes.>



To complement the release of the first Guitar Speak album, IRS records organized a week-long "Night Of The Guitar" British tour with many of its featured artists. Naturally, the final show was recorded for release; a two-part video set (which I don't have) presents the show in its entirety, with the album release presenting various highlights.

This tour was obviously the fulfilled dream of many guitar craftsmen, particularly those with an affinity for the psychedelic/early progressive period. For some of the artists, as well, it must have appeared as a step in the right direction after a period of decline; Howe's subsequent recovery after the Asia/GTR years now seems obvious enough, for instance, and Krieger's appearance may have helped prepare the world for the Doors revival a few years later. The show was not without it lulls and fiascos, of course, but it seems to have been based in an artistically credible idea. For 1988, this wasn't an everyday occurrence.

Pete Haycock and Steve Hunter serve as the "resident sidemen" for most of the night, making it somewhat appropriate that they'd receive the opening positions on this release (after Miles Copeland's introduction, of course ... he sounds exactly like his brother). Haycock (formerly with the Climax Blues Band) starts the show with "Dr. Brown I Presume", a fusion-based track with, appropriately enough, features a fairly good (if slap-heavy) bass solo by Livingstone Brown; Haycock puts in a good performance as well, though the keyboard backing sounds more than a bit dated. Not a bad track to whet the appetites of the audience, I suppose.

Steve Hunter (formerly of Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel) comes out next, with "The Idler". This track has a rather troubling introductory section -- a smooth, urban jazz feel that seems a bit too laid-back for the occasion (it's never a good sign when live drums sound sequenced, I suppose ...). Thankfully, the sheer level of space granted to the track (a common Guitar Speak feature) allows it to develop into something more interesting; by the song's end, it actually comes out as a decent piece of music.

Haycock comes into the foreground again with "Lucienne", though he probably shouldn't have -- this apparent tribute to an earlier period of guitar stylings comes off rather flat. The melodrama seems forced, the band accompaniment is weak, and not much really happens in the foreground. From a historical standpoint, Haycock's technique is somewhat interesting; as a song, though, this doesn't rate too highly.

Copeland then introduces ex-Spirit guitarist Randy California, who performs "Groove Thing" for the assembly. All things considered, a different track might have been in order -- the guitar introduction is a work of raw beauty (from California, at least ... the band seems much tamer), but the vocal sections aren't really that notable by any standard. California's solos reveal quite a bit of talent; he may have been almost completely derivative of Jimi, but there's no denying that he was good.

After thing middling success, California then manages to come up with something really notable in his version of "Hey Joe". I'm not even that much of a fan of Hendrix's version of this track (which, obviously, California's is thoroughly based on ... even as far as the vocals), but will acknowledge that RC managed to come up with a powerful tribute, in this instance. Some might differ with the reggae additions on bass and drums near the end, but these don't distract from the point of the song.

Miles Copeland then goes overboard in his introductory hyperbole, signaling the appearance of former Doors guitarist Rob Krieger, the biggest name on the tour. Krieger begins this set with an (over)long free-form introduction which doesn't really have anything to do with "Love Me Two Times", and not terribly much to do with music; I suppose that one can get away which such moments once one reaches the status of a legend, though. The actual song is a bit better, though not necessarily by much -- this was never the most shining moment in the Doorsian catalogue, and the vocals here are out-and-out bad. It's only when the mid-song guitar solo comes in that this performance justifies itself; with Hunter acting as a moderating influence, Krieger seems able to focus more clearly. This is obviously a mixed bag performance, but some points of merit can be drawn from the well.

The double-guitar driving forces of Wishbone Ash, Ted Turner and Andy Powell, make their appearance next, and perform the best-composed track of the night (thus far). "The King Will Come", from their progressive Argus album, seems a shining jewel in the ragged terrain of Wishbone Ash's career, developing the story of the Book of Revelations in a fairly non-sophomoric manner. The vocal harmonies are actually fairly good in this performance (apparently sung by the guitarists themselves), and the guitar interplay goes over quite well. Neither guitarist seems to be a real virtuoso, and the soloing is a bit limited in comparison to some of other tracks here; the value of the song makes up for this problem, however. The edges may be a bit rough on occasion, but this one's worth seeking out.

Ex-Mountain guitarist Leslie West's "Theme From An Imaginary Western" was a noble idea, but it didn't go over that well in practice. Dedicated to "my partner Felix, who's up in heaven" this number was apparently written primarily by Jack Bruce; despite having some decent vocals (not from West) and a few interesting blues-rock sections, however, this never really amounts to that much of a track. Arguably, West's sentiments were getting the better of him here; the soloing at the end, in any event, is far from the album's high point.

West then introduces ex-Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe. On the video, Howe performs "Clap" as his opening piece; this album, however, features "Sketches Of The Sun" in its place. Why this track was chosen over the more well-known "Clap" for the shorter version isn't quite clear -- nevertheless, this is a good performance of the track (featuring Howe's usual subtle variations), despite a few sound problems that seem to plague the performance. Howe then performs "Wurm" with assistance from Pete Haycock; I've already discussed this track in my review of "Yesoteric Volume Eleven", but suffice it to say for this commentary that this version features the penultimate live guitar performance of the track, generally unhindered by a duel with the keyboards (which imitate Tony Kaye's performance on the studio version). Another high point of the show, even if its separation from the rest of "Starship Trooper" is a bit jarring at times.

"The Governor" Howe then introduces Alvin Lee (ex-Ten Years After), who quickly adds another high point to the concert with his performance of "No Limit" (possibly the best track on the Guitar Speak album). As far as this style of playing goes (straightfoward rock, with strong melodic presence), Lee may well be one of it's masters; this version of the track, after a somewhat silly intro, is faithful to the album version. After muttering something incoherent, Lee then goes into a performance of "Ain't Nothin' Shakin'", which is much better than anything by that title should be. The extended (and extensive) soloing may be a bit indulgent at times (and does anyone need another "Sunshine Of Your Love" reference point?), but this is still Lee working within his best idiom.

The entire ensemble then comes out for "All Along The Watchtower", an appropriate a choice as any for the final song of the night. Stewart Copeland seemingly makes a guest appearance on drums here, and possibly on some of the vocal parts as well. After a subtle lead-in, the song begins in earnest -- the first two verses are handled fairly well, but the focal point of this track is obviously the mid-song solos, of which there are four: Krieger's is good, Powell's creates a sustained ambience without quite getting the "highs", Howe's is almost completely out of left field, Haycock's is fairly smooth. The third verse is marred by a silly reference to the "two horses" traveling through the Night Of The Guitar touring list (with accompanying guitar scales), but this isn't unforgiveably bad. It drags on a little bit, of course, but this is still a decent performance.

Those listeners who liked the Guitar Speak album should like this as well. Recommended for those interested.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 17 Sep 1998)

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