the age of the smartphone, if a musician was to test out new
songs and ideas in front of a live audience, then, like clockwork,
videos would be posted online for everyone to see and post
even if the songs werent played live, theres always
the possibility of demos being leaked and downloaded, which
has happened to dozens of musicians this century. But, back
in 1968, the pre-internet world allowed for artists to take
bigger risks in performances without fear of backlash from
year, legendary folk singer-songwriter Tim Buckley travelled
to Chicago with a new batch of musical ideas to work out.
Over two nights, he gave two performances at the Electric
Theatre Co., accompanied by an unknown bass player and frequent
collaborator Carter C.C. Collins on congas and
tambourine. And rather than promote his recent sophomore album,
Goodbye and Hello, Buckley workshopped new original songs
that would appear on his next folk release Happy Sad along
with a few covers that would later be re-recorded for his
eighth and more funk-based album Sefronia.
addition to songs that would find a place on studio albums,
he also treated his Chicago audiences to improvised jams of
traditional folk songs, popular songs and, most notably, an
interpretation of a Johnny Cash classic with Buckleys
more than 50 years, the skilled guitar playing and shamanic
vocal improvisations of Buckleys Chicago performances
remained unreleased that is, until now. On Friday,
L.A.-based record label Manifesto Records, which is headed
by the nephew of Buckleys late manager, unearthed the
concert recordings and offered his following the chance to
assess a new period in the singers stylistic progression
with the 14-song double LP 'Tim Buckley: Live at the Chicago
Theatre Co. 1968'.
And despite many songs on it having already appeared on studio
albums, this new release does tout a few exclusive tracks,
which are also among the albums most enthralling moments.
first of the two standout exclusive recordings is a reworking
of Fred Neils song Roll On Rosie, where
Buckley flexes his poetic lyricism over upbeat congas, bass
and guitar. Among the most striking declarations from Buckleys
smooth but gnarled voice is the line Some men read their
religion out of books/But all I gotta do is stare in your
at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 ultimately pays off
with an epic 16-minute version of the folk standard
Trust me when I say its not your grandfathers
Burl Ives vinyl'
over this album, Buckley plays the bluesman, often singing
about his woman and her love. This song is no different and,
after the sparser, more developed opening tracks, his band
lets loose and turns up the intensity to make the nine-minute
Improvisation on Roll On Rosie a memorable addition
to his canon. This is not to say that the first two songs
are throwaways, though. The opening ballad Sing A Song
For You, already in its final studio form save some
switched syntax, perfectly sets the tone for songs to follow
with inviting lyrics such as, So please let me sing
a song for you /One Ive known so very long/Oh please
can you find the time? If its a song as good as
Roll On Rosie, that wont be a problem.
other unique highlight from this live album is Buckleys
unexpected cover of Johnny Cashs Big River.
Whereas Cashs original was taut and controlled, Buckley
and his bands cover is much looser and more than three
times as long, sounding more like it comes from the English
songbook than the American one. Despite having been written
as country music, the songs natural imagery is easily
adaptable into Buckleys wheelhouse.
interesting to note that, like his son Jeff would go on to
do in the 1990s, Buckley covered songs outside of his own
genre and interpreted them into his style, including other
songs on this release such as The Jaynetts Sally
Go Round the Roses and a tune from the 1953 musical
Lily, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo. Sally Go Round
the Roses would later appear on Buckleys Sefronia,
but played in a funkier, less serious manner than the improvisation
found here, which sounds as if its in the early stages
Buckleys Chicago performances are more than a half century
old, the sound quality of these recordings is, for the most
part, well done by Manifesto. As far as the live aspect of
the album goes, the crowd behaves reverential and applauds
after song medleys end. Buckley only once addresses the crowd
following the blues song Looks Like Rain to say,
that was a Beethoven fanfare,
whether thats actually true or hes joking around.
For the most part, Buckleys singing and warm guitar
playing dominate the mix as they should while
the congas and bass briefly come into focus and return to
their supporting roles. The only time the rhythm section takes
center stage is during the outro to Look Out Blues
into the beginning of the shell of a song that would later
become the 12-minute conga odyssey, Gypsy Woman,
on Happy Sad.
the albums hour and a half runtime, the spotlight for
the rhythm section is short, but showcases the strength of
its playing while accompanying Buckley. But on several unaccompanied
parts of this double LP, theres noticeable static, despite
Manifestos attempts to mitigate it. Staticky recordings
detract from the pretty folksy guitar of Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo
and the brooding atmosphere of The Father Song.
In addition to static, several tracks such as Dolphins
and Happy Time are sloppily structured
even by the standards of live workshopping and the
album would have benefitted in quality and length from their
in remedy to all the technical faults and slapdash works-in-progress,
Live at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 ultimately pays off
with an epic 16-minute version of the folk standard Wayfaring
Stranger. Trust me when I say its not your grandfathers
Burl Ives vinyl. Buckley embodies the titular vagabond riding
atop an endless road of raucous folk jazz, utilizing his voice-as-instrument
singing that would come to fruition two years later on Starsailor.
His intense voice bursts out its choruses, singing Im
going there to see my brother/Im going there no more
to roam/Im going there its just over Jordan/Im
going there to make my home.
a short jam, the band goes into a conga and spoken word interlude
where Buckley critiques the music industry, It all started
out with a beat, Lord/A very long time ago/And they told me
at the front make it pretty/Cause thats the way its
gonna go, and delivers other more abstract improvisations
about the sun, moon, foxes, rabbits and the beat.
The trio ultimately returns to the folk jazz frenzy in which
they started and close the performance to energetic applause.
Several of Buckleys live albums include Wayfaring
Stranger, but this performance might be the one with
the most powerful playing and impassioned delivery. It ends
the album on a strong note.
at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 is a fascinating artifact
that captures songs that would reappear throughout Buckleys
career. For close listeners, its fun to pick out which
songs are fully realized and which ones are still being figured
out. Never before heard covers such as Improvisation
on Roll On Rosie and Big River make this
release a must-listen for any diehard Buckley fan. And although
its not as transcendent as the previous live album Dream
Letter, Live at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 adds another
touchstone in Buckleys creative output and allows us
to experience how his earlier folk sound was morphing into
what would be found on definitive albums such as Happy Sad,
Starsailor and Sefronia. Were just lucky someone had
the foresight to record it for posterity.
2019 Luke Furman /Lukes