Spiral 2002 / Angel Air 2016
Concert rarity from the original, Yardbirds-inhabited ensemble of quintessential British art-rockers.
It would be erroneous to see this band’s original line-up as a caterpillar which transformed into a butterfly in the early ’70s and is still self-titled debut didn’t show the potential Jim McCarty and Keith Relf envisioned for their new endeavor, but that collective’s on-stage recordings reveal the depth of groundwork they had laid to prototype the classic years’ grandeur. The Fillmore West tape, the best sounding of a handful early-days documents in existence, preserves it for posterity in the most impressive way, combining perfect, if slightly naive, songcraft and imaginative improvisations.
Expansive “No Name Raga” being the raging pinnacle of the latter aspect, the former is a foundation of “Innocence” where the singer’s psyched up guitar strum gives an edge to the tapestry woven by John Hawken’s piano – including variations on Chopin – and shot through with Louis Cennamo’s mighty bass. Yet whereas the baroque ripple of “Wanderer” bears Jane Relf’s voice in its folk-kissed heart, “Bullet” crosses over to jazz before the vocals bring a tribal chant into the mix, although a harmonica wail and keyboards’ boogie land the piece onto blues.
And that’s where a studio run through “Statues” – recorded soon after this San Francisco performance and added here as a bonus – starts to show how easily, and elegantly, the band could bend to pop idiom, one that brother and sister Relf would acoustically explore at home with the solemnly soulful “I’d Love To Love You Till Tomorrow” in 1976, shortly before Keith’s untimely death. Without him, “Please Be Home” which didn’t make the cut for the first album by ILLUSION, a new incarnation of the original RENAISSANCE, turned out rather chamber-like, if arresting, but as a reminder of the ensemble’s beginning, “Try Believing” – that gave the two Yardbirds an initial opportunity to test their new formula back in 1968, as TOGETHER – is a fittingly festive finale to the testament of the unique group’s continuity. An essential listen.