"I'll buy you breakfast; they'll think you're my wife. Come up to my hotel room,
save my life."
save my life."
Live is the official release of a late-1973 in-studio performance by Big Star (at this point a trio) recorded by WILR-New York, which had been circulating for years, in one form or another, as a bootleg. The circumstances for the recording were the promotion of a two-day residence at the historic Manhattan nightclub Max's Kansas City in support of their newly released, Radio City, which the band hoped would avoid the tragic commercial fate of their brilliant debut, #1 Record (unfortunately, it didn't). Alex Chilton's frustration and tentativeness regarding the band's commercial prospects at the time are palpable during the brief interview that sits (quite awkwardly) in the middle of the WILR show. For example, in response to DJ Jim Cameron's somewhat generic praise of the new album, Chilton, a master of sarcasm, responds, "Yeah, that's, uh, nice. I hope it sells." However, by late 1973-early 1974, the band was either in a state of transition or deterioration, as both Chris Bell (the band's originator) and original bassist Andy Hummel had quit, the latter, having had enough of the music industry (and working with Chilton), decided to head back to college to pursue a career in engineering. At the time of the WLIR show, Hummel's replacement, John Lightman, had only been with the band for three weeks. Despite the incipient turmoil and Chilton's growing sense of diminishing artistic returns, the band manages to turn in a typically lovely, shambolic and world-weary performance on Live, including a fantastic acoustic cover of Loudon Wainwright III's "Motel Blues," which also appears as a studio-demo on the Keep an Eye on the Sky box set. It's easy to understand what attracted Chilton to this song as it is a razor-sharp depiction of the loneliness and waywardness of life on the road. His fragile, defeated vocals lend the song a tragic character that arguably bests Wainwright's slightly more ironic version. On the other end of the sonic spectrum is a sexy, grungy version of the rave-up "Mod Lang," which sounds something like T. Rex on Quaaludes while playing a gig underwater. Also noteworthy is a fine rendition of "You Get What You Deserve," featuring some impressive guitar-playing by Chilton, mixing his trademark grimy, jazzy chime with some down & dirty lead work. Big Star's live recordings never seemed to capture the band in optimal conditions; nevertheless, Live finds the band in ragged but committed form, energized by the then-recent release of their second masterpiece. This is well-worth hearing.