CD Review: Big Star - Live in Memphis

An unearthed reunion show from the Memphis power pop giants.
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In 1993, original Big Star members, Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, were asked to perform at a one-off concert at the University of Missouri's Springfest. They rounded out the lineup with The Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow and Big Star, the Memphis power pop band who never lived up to their name sales wise, but who influenced countless bands, was reborn. A live album was recorded from the event and the band played a short tour.

It was an offer from Mike Glenn to play the New Daisy in Memphis -- a homecoming gig -- that really enticed the group though. The show was billed on the poster as their final U.S. performance. Fortunately, it wasn't the band's last show, as they played together on and off for the next 16 years until Chilton's untimely passing in 2010 and, even more fortunately for fans, the show was recorded and makes up the live CD Big Star -- Live In Memphis.

Live In Memphis is a soundboard recording and not quite up to modern professional standards. Its opening track, "In The Street," is presented from another source for completeness. The show does not sound bad by any means, however and the performance more than makes up for any lack of fidelity.

The crowd is all in from the get go. "In The Street" is pure power pop bliss, with the band harmonizing well and Stephens' drums sounding big and powerful. The sound quality picks up with "Don't Lie To Me," with the band offering a gritty rock and roll take on the song, pushing their vocals to match the original version.

The band pays tribute to its fallen founding member Chris Bell with a fine version of his solo track "I Am The Cosmos." Auer handles vocal duties and the band nails the song's harmonies -- a moving tribute to a great talent lost too soon. Chilton always included well-chosen covers in his shows and this one is no different as the band gives a potent reading of the Kinks' "Till The End Of The Day" and offers a fun version of one of Todd Rundgren's naughtier tracks, "Slut."

Material from all three of the band's albums (In Space came much later) is included in the show, including the melodic pop of "Jesus Christ" and Stephens' "For You." from Third. Still, it is material from the first two albums that most people wanted to hear and there is plenty of that here, including the chimey goodness of "September Gurls" and a great reading of "The Ballad Of El Goodo" that finds the band finally realizing the harmonies of the studio version on stage.

For fans, thankfully this wasn't there last Big Star Show. The band recorded one more album, In Space, and played sporadic live gigs for the next 16 years. While the sound quality is not A+ (Think of this as an official bootleg), it is still good and finds a great band having fun in front of a hometown crowd. Well worth owning for fans.