Three reviews from the Jeffrey Morgan Archive.
Serious musical acceptance by late 1976
801 : 801 Live (Island)
Most live albums are of no more than token value. The promotional guff will claim that we should have been there but since we weren't we can grab this instead. It's an accommodating consumer service, I suppose, but all the bluster rarely justifies the release of material that's only documenting the minutiae of studio-to-stage transfer.
"801 Live" is, like Bowie's "David - Live" or Dylan's "Before The Flood, one of the exceptions that prove the rule. It's a properly creative live recording, on which songs differ radically from their blueprints.
801 were conceived by Roxy's Phil Manzanera & Co. as a summer of '76 spree and this is a useful summary of their operations. The set is a mixture of Quiet Sun material, Manzanera/Eno collaborations and a pair of gold-plated oldies thrown in for sheer enjoyment purposes. It's all been sensibly reshuffled and tightly edited to make an untroubled run onto record.
The selections almost obliterate their studio counterparts, in terms of tension and spontaneity. Although most amenable, Manzanera's solo album maintained a hedge-hoppingly low profile; potential excitement was often exchanged for painstaking exactitude.
Play these versions of "Diamond Head" and "Miss Shapiro" and youll get the picture. "Diamond Head" began life as a prettily florid melody. Here it's unsanctioned purpose and power. Mananera's guitar feeds greedily off Eno's treatments until he severs the connection for a final break, all metal and mobility.
"Miss Shapiro" has 801 wrenching themselves into a ritual frenzy as Eno snaps off chains of image-associated lyrics. In fact, Eno's singing is a real surprise. I've often found it strangely extraneous on his own records, whereas here it's completely attuned to the band's performance.
His neo-nasal delivery of "Baby's On Fire", deadpan intonation on the humourously motorik version of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" and philosophical baladeering on the restrained "Rongwrong" are all telling.
Manzanera's "Lagrima" opens, its rarefied melody quartering back and forth like an Andean condor, just guitar and electronics. Whereupon 801 take their breathless arrangement of Lennon-McCartney's "Tomorrow Never Knows" right up into Cloud Nine. A cirrus sweep of keyboards from Francis Monkman and Eno clears the way for Bill MacCormick's exuberant bass, Manzanera and Lloyd Watson's snickering guitars and Simon Phillips' splattered drums and hi-hat.
On your feet out of your head for zero-gravity nostalgia as Eno's vocals are tape-slowed into the mix. The initial momentum is maintained until closedown. "T.N.K." is stoned and immaculate, a peak of psychedelic revivalism.
The name of the 801 game is energy, and an energy undiluted through all the complex changes of "East Of Asteroid" or slipways of "Sombre Reptiles".
Watsons slide is a satisfying foil for Manzanera's more acrimonious playing. MacCormick (whose bass is at once intricate and warm-blooded) and Phillips are the kind of rhythm section most bands can only dream about having aboard. Monkman's electric piano and clavinet balance out against Eno's more wayward contributions. The recording quality is excellent, even with both sides well over the 20 minute mark. It would he great to see 801 become a more permanent live fixture. I almost hope Roxy's sabbatical is extended indefinitely.
Who need Roxy Music, now anyway? They simply haven't cut it on album since the cataclysmic "Stranded". In addition, Ferry's solo work has improved noticeably since last autumn. His next record of original songs could well take on from where "Stranded" left off.
Roxy have become an ineffectual exercise in self-parody whilst 801 do what they do with unbridled enthusiasm.
Admittedly, the two units place their emphasis on very different aspects, but it seems pointless for Roxy to continue firing on less than one cylinder (and I doubt very much whether things will change even after a year's break) -- thus ensuring that 801 effectively cease trading as a band right now.
In 801 Manzanera has a really strong base on which to build. It's altogether far too good an offer for him to refuse.
PHIL MANZANERA, ENO, BILL MacCORMICK, FRANCIS MONKMAN, SIMON PHILLIPS, LLOYD WATSON: 801 Live [Island ILPS 9444) ****½
THURSDAY September 2, 1976. British Left-Fielders' night out at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. It was 801's second and last gig (the other was Reading Festival). Phil Manzanera put together the six musicians, some of them from his former band Quiet Sun, specially for those two dates. Just for kicks.
As you might expect from musicians of Eno's and Phil's imagination and dedication, 801 were in no way a jamming band. Although the musicians don't play together on any regular formal basis, 801 are tight, responsive and as mutually sympathetic as any established gigging/recording band. Their music's a fruitful meeting-ground between Quiet Sun's experimental free-form jazz, Roxy's snazzy commercial bite, and Eno's highly personal games/adventures with words and music. The tracks are from Phil's solo 'Diamond Head' album, Eno's three Island solo albums, and Q.S's 'Mainstream.'
Drummer Simon Phillips dominates, free as jazz but militant (i.e. brisk, stirring, aggressive) as the best Jamaican drummers. Eno's vocals are always exciting. His delivery's polished and stylised, like Ferry's. Meanwhile Manzanera, notably on his instrumental showcase, 'Diamond Head,' reels off shimmering silken ribbons of guitar lines with Allman-esque fluid grace, or rocks ferociously.
Three cheers for the Island Mobile's crystalline recording they don't miss a lick. 801 produced, at Basing Street, and the sound's so immaculate that if it wasn't for tumultuous waves of applause phasing in and out, 'Live' could pass for a studio album. The unmistakeably live quality is due to the exuberance and spontaneous energy in the music, not, as in most live albums, the roughness of the sound. 'Miss Shapiro' judders with excitement.
Phil's eloquence is pure soul, Phillips' drums are frighteningly intense. Eno implodes into the song - first biting off words like bullets, then opening sensually in the middle break. His enunciation is clipped and English, as always, clear and tough as a diamond; then Phil's angry guitar slams the band forward into a menacing attack on the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me.' Eno sounds psychotic, as his keyboards bleep with infuriating deliberation; like an Oriental water torture, each note drips inexorably into the nerve centres.
All this, and rock 'n' roll too.
801 Live (Island ILPS 9444)
A memorable occasional band featuring the talents of Roxy guitarist Phiul Manzanera and vocalist extraordinaire Brian Eno. Though recorded in the confines of Londons Queen Elizabeth Hall, the set reflects the same atmosphere of the woodsmoke-filled air of the Reading Festival a few days earlier. The music comes from the two leaders solo albums and has a sense of the unreal about it, featuring knife-edge beats and strange world rhythms. Highlight of the whole affair is when they somehow manage to weld in the Kinks You Really Got Me into their own Miss Shapiro composition. Clever and clean.
++++ David Brown, Record Mirror, November 13 1976