The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews


Live at the Electric Theater Co, Chicago, 1968

by Jeff Burger

Nothing in my rather gigantic CD collection means more to me than the music of Tim Buckley; his soaring, arresting vocals and penchant for experimenting with the fringes of jazz-tinged folk/rock resulted in some of the most memorable albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Like his son Jeff decades later, Buckley died tragically and young: he overdosed at 28, when he’d released only a handful of albums. Happily, though, his Complete Albums Collection—an eight-CD box that includes a disc of works in progress—has proven to be far from the end of the line that its title suggests it to be: in fact, it now occupies considerably less space on my shelf than Buckley’s numerous posthumous releases.

The latest of those is Live at the Electric Theatre Co., an extraordinary, nearly 90-minute two-disc record of a 1968 Chicago performance in which Buckley is backed only by conga player Carter C.C. Collins and an unidentified bassist. Manifesto, the label responsible for this and quite a few other Buckley releases, says the gig captures the singer as he “works out new material,” which makes it sound as if these might be rough versions. In fact, while some of these performances differ significantly from renditions that later appeared on studio albums, they are polished, fully realized, and frequently stunning.

The program includes six Buckley originals: “Gypsy Woman,” which is much more concise but no less terrific than the version on Goodbye and Hello, his sophomore album; “Sing a Song for You,” which appeared on his great third LP, Happy Sad; “Happy Time,” which would be the title track on his fourth LP; “Danang,” which later evolved into a portion of Happy Sad’s “Love from Room 109 at the Islander”; the previously unknown (at least to me) and mostly instrumental “Look Out Blues”; and “The Father Song,” which also shows up on the aforementioned box’s works-in-progress disc.

Among the eight covers are three from the late Fred Neil: “Dolphins,” which Buckley performed often and included on his Sefronia LP; a rousing “Looks Like Rain,” which incorporates lines from Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” and seems reminiscent of Goodbye and Hello; and “Improvisation on ‘Roll on Rosie’,” which runs nearly nine minutes. Other highlights include a nearly 17-minute rendition of the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” and, somewhat surprisingly, Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” which proves that Buckley could put his own stamp on just about anything.

If you’re new to his work, you should probably start with The Complete Albums Collection. But after you’ve spent some time with that box, you’re almost certain to want his whole catalog. Whatever you do, don’t miss Live at the Electric Theatre Co. Though Buckley was still in the early part of his brief career when he gave this performance, he was already producing consistently stunning work.

© 2019 Jeff Burger/Morton report

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