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Horslips - Horslips Live  CD (album) cover



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4 stars Right, let's get the prog thing out of the way first: Horslips were never prog, which is partly why I am giving this album only four stars. Horslips were (and are again, thankfully) a combination of spirited and skilful traditional musicians and rockers. The second reason this album only gets four stars is because of the awful sound quality, which makes it sound as though they are playing at the bottom of a lake, rather than on stage. That said, the music is spectacularly good. The most prominent instrument (mostly due to the mixing) is Johnny Fean's by turns liquid and barbed-wire guitar. From the opening double-shot of Mad Pat and Blindman, which blend seamlessly into each other, Fean's Les Paul dominates you in a good way, catching the ear and leading you through a roller-coaster of swoops and plunges. I'm not going to go through the album track-by-track, but stand-oouts include a majestic take on King of the Fairies, an instrumental, thankfully, which loses nothing through the mixing. For guitar fans, though, it is Furniture that stands out. A beautiful song written by keboardist/piper Jim Lockhart about growing up and leaving home, it is alchemically transformed into a masterpiece by Lockhart's mournful flute intro, CHarles O'Connor's hypnotic mandolin playing and Fean's heart-wrneching solo, first a resigned lament, then a scorching, pounding on the heart in the crescendo. It would be the finale for any other band, but not Horslips. After lightweight versions of Can't Fool the Beast and More Than You Can Chew, Eamonn Carr's shimmering cymbals herald the greatest Irish rock track ever, Dearg Doom. Fean then joins in with a crazed intro, while Barry Devlin's muscular bassline charges along like a racehorse in the final furlong over Lockhart's keyboards. Then Fean breaks abruptly into THAT riff (the one that knocks all others into a cocked hat) and we're away. It's spoiled only by the weedy recording of O'Connor's usually powerful vocal, but the song stands alone as a tribute to Fean's mastery of traditional and blues music. And as if that's not enough, they follow it up with Comb Your Hair and Curl It (or Bim Istigh Ag Ol as it was known on their first album), complete with false stop in the middle, and their first single Johnny's Wedding, a triumphant bellow of drums, bass, flute, mandolin and guitar. I defy you not to feel out of breath after it finishes. So, there you go. It's not prog, it's dreadfully mixed and still it comes out leaps and bounds ahead of most live albums by dint of the sheer quality of the material and musicianship. The band is raising its head once more these days and that is something that should be applauded rather than pitied. These guys were and are amazing. It's not an introduction to them, but it is a document of the excitement and vitality they provided to countless people in the grim Ireland of the 1970s. Do another one.
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Posted Wednesday, March 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
Tony Fisher
5 stars OK it's not really prog; it's Celtic rock. If that's all you're bothered about, stop reading now and look elsewhere - you're the loser. However, if you want a live album full of amazing material and brilliant musicianship which will have you singing along and dancing like a lunatic, look no further. This is one of, if not THE best live performance by any band that has ever been committed to LP (or CD). It contains many of their best tracks from their first 4 albums as well as 2 singles.

The down side is that the sound quality is mediocre. However, the music makes up for it in spades since every track is, to a greater or lesser degree, a gem; there's not a duff track in sight. Of particular merit on disc one are Mad Pat, The Silver Spear, The High Reel and Hall of Mirrors. The second CD is perfection with an extended version of Furniture, the sheer energy of King of the Fairies and, of course, Dearg Doom with its killer riff, to which no other even comes close. The encores of Comb Your Hair And Curl It and Johnny's Wedding finish it off with a bang. Johnny Fean wields his Les Paul like a scythe at times whilst at others it's like Guinness; smooth and fluid. Devlin's bass and Carr's drums drive the band along like Dervishes and Jim Lockhart resembles an octopus on a bewildering array of keyboards, whistles, pipes and flute - and NOONE plays the flute as well as he does. O'Connor alternates between mandolin, concertina and his fiddle, giving the band its distinctive, unique Celtic feel and making those who liken them to Jethro Tull look ridiculous.

I saw them 7 times in the 70s and their energy and originality, combined with the quality of their material and their musical skill, made them consistently unforgettable. This captures the essence of their gigs; 2 hours of jigging, reeling and singing along to great songs. Their reemergence after 25 years to release a live DVD of their 70s act (Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts) is phenomenal news and has reminded me just how good they were - the best Irish band of all time, by far. 6* for the music, less 1* for the poor sound quality so - 5*. Less would be an insult.

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Posted Friday, January 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Mad Pat's on the road!

This was Horslips' first live album, recorded and released right in the middle of the best and most progressive period of their career. At this time they had a handful of studio albums under their belts already, including the excellent concept album The Tain. Horslips Live showcases a somewhat rockier side of Horslips than can be found on their studio albums from this period. It contains lively and energetic performances of a good selection of tracks from their early albums and as such it is an excellent addition to any Prog (Folk) collection. Some people would perhaps prefer this over the studio albums, while others would have the opposite preference. Personally, I like both for slightly different reasons, and I think they have different virtues. I would say that Horslips Live is an excellent complement to the band's studio albums, but it is by no means an accurate replacement for the studio albums.

There are several sections of continuous music with songs that flow into each other and Prog fans will take note of a 15 minute version of Furniture. Compared to the band's other live albums, the present one is in my opinion not quite as good as the recently released Live At The O2, but certainly better than The Belfast Gigs.

Highly recommended!

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Posted Thursday, April 25, 2013 | Review Permalink

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