Wednesday, December 11, 2013

40 Year Itch : Big Star Plays Max's Kansas City

In early December, 1973 Big Star had just finished mixing Radio City, the band's second album, when they performed for two nights at the New York City club Max's Kansas City. They played mostly to music writers on the first night. Among them was Billboard Magazine's Sam Sutherland.

Big Star at Max's Kansas City

   During the last year several young bands have emerged with a striking command of the tight, vibrant pop and rock styles that made Top 40 radio a high-energy delight in the mid '60's. Big Star seemed among the most promising, despite the disappointing reaction to their debut Ardent LP, but the lucky core of followers who heard that powerful first bow were soon dismayed by the collapse of the band and a parallel lack of general interest in the act.

    Well, weep no more. Big Star is back as a trio, and , on the strength of a hastily-scheduled two-day shot at Max's, there is some strong new material on the way. If anything, the departure of the band's second guitarist and writer has provided a new coherence to the act, which centers logically around Alex Chilton, lead guitarist and vocalist, and composer of the band's best material.

   Chilton, who first emerged as lead vocalist of the Box Tops while still in his middle teens, has evolved into a superb rocker whose reverence for the Beatles and the Byrds is balanced by his own explosive approach to straight-ahead rock 'n' roll.

   The band opened with a solo slot by Chilton, singing "The Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thirteen", two of the most evocative songs on the group's first release. Chilton's aura of fragility was perfect for those songs, one an anthem of self-realization, the second a  bittersweet but loving re-creation of true teen first love that is parenthetically a eulogy for the innocent vitality of rock in the early 60's.

  From there, Big Star shifted into electric overdrive with full force. Chilton's electric guitar taking command. Despite  some rough edges--the band hadn't played, except for a quick rehearsal, in months--the set was a triumph, covering some exciting bases with the new tunes.

  With virtually no publicity outside the industry itself, the second night crowd was lean. Hopefully , this one group that won't suffer the frustrating fate of the best critics' bands: a second LP is due in January, and, with Chilton's presence and some solid material, it would be sad indeed to see Big Star lost in the shuffle.

--Sam Sutherland, Billboard Magazine, Dec 22, 1973

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