Forget objectivity, because you won’t find it here – not from me. And certainly not about these live, orchestral, all-star performances of Big Star’s Third album, plus many of the now-classics from #1 Record, Radio City, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. Part of it is because of my feelings for Big Star; part of it is because I’ve attended two of these shows; each one having an incredible emotional impact on me for numerous, joyful reasons. Granted, they were of a slightly different nature (which makes it even more important that it isn’t the same performance repeated each time). It is the passion that was conveyed from stage to audience that carries the full weight of these songs and on this beautifully-shot DVD, you still get that feeling coming through the screen.
Each performance stands out; some are more memorable due to the sheer delivery of the individual artist, but nowhere in this show, filmed at the (appropriately named) Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on April 27th, 2016, is there a low-point or forgettable moment. This was an all-star show – featuring not only-surviving Big Star member Jody Stephens but also musical director Chris Stamey (The dB’s) plus Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone (Wilco), Dan Wilson (Semisonic) Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Robyn Hitchcock, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), Jessica Pratt, young turks (and Third performance stalwarts) Brett Harris, Django Haskins, and Skylar Gudasz as well as a full chamber orchestra helmed by San Francisco’s acclaimed Kronos Quartet and conducted by Carl Marsh. Benno Nelson directed the film and he served the proceedings well. The film was premiered at SXSW 2017, and cited by Rolling Stone as “one of 20 must-see films at SXSW”, which is something of a crowning victory.
But it is, indeed, the performances that have to be singled out and given praise, which isn’t hard because so much heart was put into each moment. And that’s what this show is – very powerful moments. From the opening of Pat Sansone doing an uplifting version of “I’m In Love With A Girl” to Ken Stringfellow’s balls-out shredding on “Feel” to Mike Mills’ perfect rendering of “September Gurls”, the beginning trio of songs is an immediate table-setter. Jody Stephens’ two solo spots, “For You” and “Blue Moon” easily puts tears in your eyes from the sheer warmth and beauty as does Jeff Tweedy’s reading of “Night Time” – the emotional weight of the lyrics has such impact and at moments, Mr. Tweedy was channeling the voice of the late Alex Chilton. The other two staggering moments were Django Haskins delivering an overwhelming rendition of “Holocaust”; haunting yet beautiful and Brett Harris bringing it all home with a powerful “Kanga Roo”. Dan Wilson’s light-emitting “Give Me Another Chance” was the capper, before the entire stage was filled for the singalong “Thank You, Friends” – closing out what was a show that I wish I’d seen in the flesh. And keeping in mind, the musicianship was beyond description. As stated before, the main band, led by Chris Stamey and featuring Mitch Easter on guitar (dead-on with the solos that so many of us know so well); the Kronos Quartet on strings and the orchestra conducted by Carl Marsh, who scored the original Third recording sessions really iced the cake.
I can sit and pontificate until the cows come home on the beauty, depth and longevity of Big Star’s music, but all you have to do is sit down and watch this. You can easily see and hear how much these songs have touched and affected so many incredibly gifted musicians for them to want to be a part of this kind of collective. And for me, it’s a wonderful reminder of the joy I felt by being witness to two of these shows at two different times. Because the music of Big Star is for all time. That message is very clear, once you’ve seen this.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – ESSENTIAL VIEWING & LISTENING
Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… And More will be released Friday, April 21st, 2017