Review and photography by John Bentley
It’s ten years since the death of Arthur Lee, the genius songwriter and musician behind Love, one the seminal bands of the 1960s. Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ is consistently voted one of the top albums of all time. For over a decade, until his passing in 2006, US indie group Baby Lemonade was Lee’s longest-serving Love touring band. Over that period they learnt his repertoire inside out, including playing on the seminal ‘Forever Changes’ live concert at The Royal Festival Hall in 2003, now documented on CD and DVD. They also appeared at Glastonbury that year (find this classic performance on YouTube). Now they’ve reunited, along with original Love guitarist Johnny Echols, to do an extensive tour, bringing Love’s music to a British audience once more.
I was twice fortunate enough to see this line-up, with Arthur Lee, back in 2004 and 2005 at The Robin2, at Bilston, Wolverhampton. A few photos of these concerts, with Lee and Johnny Echols, are included in this review. Arthur is wearing his rather elegant brimmed hat in the 2004 photos, as seen at Glastonbury, but this was subsequently eaten by his dog and hence he is wearing a rather dull peaked cap in the 2005 picture.
Before seeing Love live in 2004 I’d bought a copy of ‘Forever Changes’ and not really ‘got it’, but, somehow, seeing Lee perform it with the band really got the penny dropping. It’s now one of my very favourite albums, a strange and compelling document of the hippy era, but with an unusually dystopian message for the period. It’s a record that manages to be soft and acoustic, but also heavy, dark and sinister. It’s an intriguing and complex album, unlike anything else of its epoch, and for me it never seems to outlive its appeal.
So it’s great to revive fond memories of those previous gigs and see the band again in Manchester. Centre-stage and doing most of the singing is rhythm guitarist Rusty Squeezebox. “You all know why we’re here” he says to a knowing, cheering audience, which clearly includes many very long-standing Love fans. They launch into ‘A House is not a Motel’ from ‘Forever Changes’ and, indeed, the band play nearly all the album tonight, with most of the rest of the set coming from Love’s first two albums.
Love Revisited really capture both the majesty of the ‘Forever Changes’ songs, like ‘Alone Again Or’, and the beautiful jangly guitar feel of early Love songs like ‘Can’t Explain’. Mid-set finds Rusty having some problems with his guitar. Guitarist Mike Randle hands Rusty his instrument and leaves the stage to get the busted guitar fixed and, meanwhile, the band briefly depart from the set list to play the more stripped-down ‘Old Man’. This is a song written by another original band member, the late Bryan MacLean. On the ‘Forever Changes’ live concert album, Arthur Lee comments, “I wish Bryan was here to sing that song”. In Manchester tonight we could also say “I wish Arthur was here to sing that song”. With several original members of Love now passed away, there are many ghosts in the room tonight. But, far from being a sombre occasion, it’s a celebration for band and audience alike.
Throughout the gig, Johnny Echols stands modestly to one side of the stage, as one of the three guitarists. Unsurprisingly he departs the stage for two encore songs (‘Robert Montgomery’ and ‘August’) which appeared on Love’s fourth album. This album had featured a new line-up of the band, not including Echols. At this stage of Love’s career, Lee had succumbed to the usual rock and roll issues and broke up the original group. Johnny returns to sing and play a chilling guitar solo on the bluesy ‘Signed D.C.’ (also featuring harmonica from bass-player David Chapple), a song about one of Love’s former drummers falling to junky habits (“My soul belongs to the dealer, he keeps my mind as well”).
During the evening there’s some playful fan-oriented banter. “You guys wanna hear ‘The Daily Planet’”? asks Rusty early on. As if we didn’t! He then tests our knowledge of a Love ‘B’ Side and the provenance of the vintage Eko bass guitar that David Chapple plays on the distinctive arrangement of ‘My Little Red Book’, the Bacharach / David song that Love released as an early single.
Love finish with a storming version of the incendiary proto-punk ‘Seven and Seven Is’, a strong candidate for their best ever song. What a fantastic evening. A really powerful and proficient performance. As Love leave the stage they shake hands with eager audience members. “I shook Johnny Echols’ hand!” exclaims one middle-aged guy, momentarily reduced to schoolboy enthusiasm by the experience.
Strong support early evening comes from two Manchester bands. There are short punchy songs from Proto Idiot, a garage punk band with a professed admiration for Love. Band leader Andrew has even interviewed Johnny Echols and posted the text on Proto Idiot’s Facebook page.
Manchester’s Nine Black Alps have released several albums and had many good reviews, but don’t seem to have achieved the success they deserve. It’s been said that they really thrive live and they certainly prove this tonight by turning in a really compelling and fiery set.