Big Star – Live in Memphis (review)

Big Star – Live in Memphis (Omnivore Recordings) review

The reunited band in front of a hometown crowd

2012’s excellent documentary, Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me, brought this underrappreciated band’s story to an entirely new audience (we reviewed the soundtrack here).  Live in Memphis follows up that success with the release of the only-known complete concert filmed of the reunited band, playing in front of their friends, family and fans in their hometown in October of 1994.

Original members Alex Chilton (vocals/guitar) and Jody Stephens (drums/vocals), are joined by Posies’ members Jon Auer (guitar/vocals), and Ken Stringfellow (bass/vocals), as they run through the high points of Big Star’s brief career, plus a few surprises.

The few live recordings of the original, Seventies’ incarnation of the band that survive feature Big Star as a trio (guitarist Chris Bell departed after their first record).  So, arguably, this quartet version is better suited to handle the harmony-laden material, like “The Ballad of El Goodo.”

Don’t be put off by the inferior quality of the opening track, “In the Street.”  Apparently, the signal back to the soundboard recording gear hadn’t been established yet, so what you get is the sound coming directly from the camera mics.  This is quickly rectified with the second tune, the rocking “Don’t Lie to Me.” Also included is the shoulda-been-a-smash “September Gurls.”  Auer does a great job on the Chris Bell solo track “I Am the Cosmos,” while “Feel” is in such a high register, yet they pull it off.

Some like-minded covers round out the set, including the Kinks’ “Til the End of the Day,” and Todd Rundgren’s “Slut.”   There’s also a couple of spur-of-the-moment throw-ins – a brief snippet of Springsteen’s “Fire,” and a pretty-good take on Stan Getz’s “Girl from Ipanema” – you can hear the other guys trying to follow Chilton’s lead.

Big Star – Live in Memphis is available in many forms – DVD, CD, download, and even vinyl.  An excellent live document of the fathers of power pop.  —Tony Peters