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801 - 801 Live CD (album) cover

801 LIVE



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4.03 | 80 ratings

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4 stars Review Nš 209

In 1976, taking a break from his duties in Roxy Music while that art-rock group went on hiatus, guitarist Phil Manzanera assembled a group for three-off concerts. Choosing in some very heavy friends, Manzanera dubbed the group 801, after a lyric from a song by the group's vocalist, one Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. Yeah, I'm talking about that guy who is more shortly known as Brian Eno, the guy self-described as 'non- musician' but which is subsequently responsible for some of the music's most critically lauded productions like U2, Talking Heads and Devo.

The 801 group was an extension of Manzanera's not very well known but great fusion group Quiet Sun, which quietly issued one marvelous album ''Mainstream'', but that suddenly died. By the other hand, few realized that it also featured the pre-ambulatory Brian Eno, one of the 20th century's greatest musical figures, along with Robert Fripp. As Quiet Sun released only one album in 1975 and died in the same year, 1976 saw, somehow, 801 rising from the ashes of that band.

The line up on this live album is Phil Manzanera (guitar), Lloyd Watson (vocals and slide guitar), Brian Eno (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers and guitar), Francis Monkman (Fender Rhodes, piano and clavinet), Bill MacCormick (vocals and bass) and Simon Phillips (drums and rhythm generator).

So, with members drawn from Roxy Music who had decided to part ways, Manzanera and Eno, along with Quiet Sun and some friends, all together settled in for three legendary nights back in November of 1976, to the final show at London's Elizabeth Hall, giving the born to this new experimental prog rock project. The album took many people by surprise, especially because 801 were formed for this live outing for the first time. Their only studio album, ''Listen Now'' was released only in 1977. Besides, the album was released at the height of the punk rock revolution in the UK. So, the album wasn't a major commercial success, but it sold well throughout the world, particularly because it gained rave reviews from critics both for the superb performances of the musicians and for its groundbreaking sound quality.

On ''801 Live'' the arrangements were quirky and muscular. The dozen songs performed at their few live concerts were a mixture of solo material from Manzanera's and Eno's catalogues, plus some really out there covers in really out there versions. The tracks most often mentioned when discussing the album include the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows' (here dubbed simply 'T.N.K.') and a cover of the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me'. The instrumental interplay is exciting, and there's something for all lovers of slightly off kilter art-pop here. Francis Monkman's keyboards add a lot to the songs and the powerful and precise drumming of Simon Phillips set the stage for the rest of the drummer's musical career.

About the tracks, the selection almost obliterates their studio counterparts, especially in terms of tension and spontaneity. Manzanera's instrumental ''Lagrima'' opens the album. It's an ambient instrumental equal to anything on ''Another Green World'', that stemmed from his solo debut studio album, ''Diamond Head''. This goes on into ''T.N.K (Tomorrow Never Knows)'', a six-minute plus reinterpretation of the climax to ''Revolver'' that was ''Tomorrow Never Knows'' of The Beatles. It's one of the best Jazz Fusion songs I've ever heard. ''East Of Asteroid'' opens with a wild collision of speedy drumming and keyboards before a wild guitar comes in, slipping from slick prog to avant gardness at will. ''Rongwrong'' is a lovely song performed by Eno on lead vocals, evoking a similar feeling to a charming ditty like ''I'll Come Running''. It was written by the Quiet Sun's drummer, Charles Hayward. ''Sombre Reptiles'' shifts out of the Eno's 1975 album ''Another Green World''. This is much groovier than the original version of Eno. ''Baby's On Fire'' having the immediacy of punk rock, but has a refined sensibility with its carnival-like motif, charming English vocals and heavy handed treatments from Eno. Manzanera's ''Diamond Head'' lets him explore territory between Eno and Pink Floyd. ''Miss Shapiro'' is another lost pop song with Eno at the helm. This is a better song than the original version, too. Fans of The Kinks should appreciate a raucous rendition of the ''You Really Got Me'', one of the best versions I've ever heard. In a similar vein is ''Third Uncle'' with a starting bass line reminiscent of ''One Of These Days'' of Pink Floyd.

Conclusion: There are three versions of this fine album, the original of course, and what is referred to as the 1999 Reissue Collector's Edition with bonus material, and finally the Collector's Edition in 2009. ''801 Live'' was musically many things to many people that thought it surely stood at the crossroads or intersection of rock, progressive music, pop, and experimentational sounds. While Brian Eno was responsible for being the cosmic imager with an earthbound attitude, it was Phil Manzanera who was responsible for the sonic textures and direction of the music, coming off with a sophisticated and elegant album. This was an odd album to come out when it did, right in the middle of the 70's. All of which allowed this bit of cohesive wax to sound both refreshing and out of step. It even seems fresh to me even today.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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