Monday, July 16, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: 801 Live (1976)

[Welcome To the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Sixteen. Archive here.]

I’m blasting 801 in my bedroom right now, and Phil Manzanera is letting loose coils of sinister electricity.

It’s “Lagrima,” the first song on 801 Live, a solo guitar workout quickly followed by a joint called “T.N.K.” On this tune, Manzanera’s 801 band switches itself on. Programmed calculator noises and a resolute (and shortly afterward, absolutely jamming) bass mess around, followed by a two-note synth part, and the work of what is surely an eight-armed drummer. Then the vocals start, jumping out of a digital swamp. It’s Brian Eno, sounding more demented than most burgeoning ambient musicians.

“T.N.K.” is a cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an attempt to feed Lennon’s radical experimentation through 70’s art-rock. It’s brilliant, not better or worse than the Beatles recording, just existing in a different universe.

801 were a supergroup who, in this incarnation, featured not just the former Roxy Music bandmates Eno and Manzanera, but also Bill MacCormick on bass and Simon Phillips on drums (a wicked, precise rhythm section) and Francis Monkman and Lloyd Watson on piano and guitar, respectively. Manzanera formed the group while Roxy was on sabbatical, collecting an all-star squad of experimental and prog musicians.

The experimentation on 801 Live is a mad dash for new sounds. The set features a few Eno songs, some Manzanera compositions, tunes from Quiet Sun (Manzanera and MacCormick’s group) and two brilliant covers. “T.N.K.” is the best, but there’s also a proggy, wild-eyed “You Really Got Me.”

The Kinks cover leads into the closer, a version of Taking Tiger Mountain’s “Third Uncle,” which is currently playing very loudly in my room. It’s really fast--the band is just ripping through this already fast song. It’s another fantastic performance--the tenth in a row--and a fine distillation of what makes this strange and futuristic live album so fantastic. 801 Live is at once precise and unhinged, the product of six gifted musicians eager to venture to whatever strange direction the songs suggest to them.

And then it just stops, abruptly. Time for another listen.

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