Monday, September 21, 2015

I'd Love to Turn You On #138 - 801 - 801 Live

In 1976, Phil Manzanera, of the temporarily disbanded Roxy Music, got together with his ex-bandmate Brian Eno (then still going just by Eno) to form a new band for a series of live shows. Dubbed 801, from an Eno lyric, the group included several members of the prog scene and young drummer Simon Phillips who would go on to be one of the premier session players in rock and jazz. The material came primarily from Eno and Manzanera's solo work as well as containing a pair of classic covers, cleverly reworked. Most of the live set (and resulting album) alternates between instrumental and vocal tracks with Eno singing lead. With everything Eno has accomplished in the years since, and with the reputation that has grown up around him, this album seems like an oddity to look back on. This is primarily a prog/fusion group and it may seem like heresy to some to hear a few of Eno's classic songs performed in such a fashion. But at the time, they were all part of the same scene and it's great to hear this excellent material performed by a highly talented group of musicians, even if Eno claimed to be a "non-musician."

The album opens with "Lagrima," a Manzanera solo guitar piece, which serves as an intro to a radical reworking of The Beatles' psychedelic classic "Tomorrow Never Knows." The song is turned into a funky, spacey workout with particularly excellent bass lines from Bill MacCormick. The complex instrumental "East of Asteroid" follows and is the album's most purely prog selection. Next comes the ballad "Rongwrong" which contains a surprisingly gentle vocal from Eno, who breaks out of his usual monotone style of singing. This leads to the first appearance of an Eno composition, "Sombre Reptiles" which originally appeared on Another Green World. The tape loop-enhanced original actually translates nicely to a full band format. Unfortunately, the time and space limitations of old LPs force the track to fade out before the performance is complete. Another Eno tune follows and "Baby's On Fire" get transformed from an intense slow-burn to an all out rocker. Manzanera takes center stage on "Diamond Head," the title track of his solo album from the previous year. This is a true guitarist showcase with Manzanera moving from clean melodic lines to fiery solos. "Miss Shapiro" was also taken from the Diamond Head album but was co-written with Eno and actually sounds more like an Eno track than anything else here. Just as "Miss Shapiro" reaches its musical climax, in pops one of the most recognizable riffs in rock, The Kinks' "You Really Got Me." The venerable classic is given a complete makeover that manages to be whimsical while still rocking out. The album concludes with a thunderous version of Eno's "Third Uncle" that finds the entire band charging at full speed.

801 Live may not be the first record that comes to mind when discussing the long and varied careers of Eno and Manzanera. It is somewhat of a relic from the time when prog and glam were fading but punk had yet to assert itself.  It's essential listening not just for Roxy/Eno/Manzanera fans, but fans of prog, fusion and art rock.
            - Adam Reshotko

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