The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews


Live at the Electric Theater Co, Chicago, 1968

by Mark Deming

It sometimes seems there must have been some indefatigable taper who followed Tim Buckley anywhere, and everywhere he performed during his all-too-short lifetime, recording his shows with the determination of the most obsessed Deadhead.

Ever since the release of Dream Letter: Live in London 1968 in 1990, long-lost archival recordings of Buckley on-stage have been surfacing with remarkable frequency, and coming from a performer who jumped stylistic borders with the ease and elan of Buckley, it's not surprising that most of the tapes have a distinct personality of their own.

Live at the Electric Theater Co, Chicago, 1968 is a document of a concert Buckley played in the midst of the protracted efforts to record his 1969 LP Happy Sad, and while one can hear vague stirrings of that album's jazzy sensibility in this performance, the sound and approach of this music is something rather different. On this night, Buckley accompanied himself on guitar with help from percussionist Carter C.C. Collins and a bassist whose name has been lost to history. (Estate note. It was more than likely John Miller)

Buckley was no stranger to improvisation on-stage, and here he lets his muse run free, dancing about his vocal register as if it was another instrument, weaving in and out of elemental, hypnotic guitar runs, and interpolating bits and pieces of other songs as the melodies flow through his mental slipstream. If you're hoping to hear an evening of Tim Buckley delivering a focused and coherent program of his best songs, this is most certainly not what you have in mind.

But there's something fascinating and occasionally thrilling in this recording that sets it apart from a more "professional" concert, and while it sometimes feels like Buckley has gotten lost as he navigates a path known only to him, most of the time the music takes him (and us) to a place worth a visit. The recording sounds good, capturing the ambience of the theater and the patient buzz of the audience, and hearing the artist so much in the moment is a fascinating experience.

Casual observers and folks unfamiliar with Tim Buckley's work would be best off steering clear of 'Live at the Electric Theater Co, Chicago, 1968', but for those steeped in his musical ideas, it's a rare treat and a worthwhile addition to his body of recorded work.

© 2021 Mark Deming /

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