The historic snapshot of a mighty foursome’s stage debut – ear-splitting yet rivetingly melodious.
Perhaps, not as influential as their predecessors VANILLA FUDGE whose rhythm section, Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert moved on to heavier pastures in 1969, CACTUS have always been a powerful unit, and the band’s latest album, "Tightrope" from 2021, is a testament to that. Yet there’s a new artefact has been unearthed recently, the recording of the classic quartet – in which the aforementioned masters were joined by warbler Rusty Day and axeman Jim McCarty – performing live for the very first time. On May 16th, 1970 the foursome played a few numbers from their still to be issued debut LP as well as a couple of tracks from the album to be released the following year, so those who attended the concert in Philadelphia’s Temple University were in for a rare stereo treat.
There’s a tectonic groove that hits the listener even now, from the first seconds of “One Way… Or Another” onwards – guitar fiercely blazing, bass ebbing and bulging, drums projecting a thunderstorm – and doesn’t let up until the final licks of the furious “Parchman Farm” fade away. However, for all the heaviness on display, such numbers as “Sweet Sixteen” – where Day’s vocals shine against the instrumentalists’ funk – show to which extent the band were indebted to country music too, especially once a six-string solo has been unleashed. So while the harmonica-smoothed “No Need To Worry” may fall into a regular blues category, the ensemble’s relentless drive should elevate it before the melding of electric “Let Me Swim” and “Oleo” into an expansive medley with the half-acoustic “Big Mama Boogie” will melt the audience’s faces off, with Bogert cranking up the volume and blowing Appice to the background – which is no mean feat. After that the jovial riffs and percussion fest of “Feel So Good” sound like an earth-shattering cakewalk for this quartet.
As far as beginnings go, the start of CACTUS wasn’t humble for sure – yet it was immensely auspicious, and having the concert documented to be heard decades later is nothing short of fantastic.