As I did with the recent re-issues of Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City, I went into listening and watching Live In Memphis with open mind and fresh ears, especially since I’ve never seen a full-length performance of the band. The 1993 release, Columbia – Live At Missouri University 4/25/93 is almost a table setter for this, but that was their first show with the new line-up (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies – who would be with the band until Chilton’s death in 2010), so I discount it. This show, filmed and recorded at the New Daisy Theatre in the band’s hometown of Memphis, is a different affair – over a year later; they’re much tighter, confident and conveying a power in their playing and singing, especially those glorious harmonies.
Filmed by a friend of Chilton’s, Danny Graflund, the 20-song (19 songs on the DVD) set is a joy. Even if you’re not a great fan of Big Star, you have to appreciate the guitar mastery of Chilton and the interplay between him and Jon Auer; Ken Stringfellow’s bass is solid and totally on-the-one – most wonderfully, Jody Stephens, aside from his rock-solid powerhouse drumming, delivers the sweetest vocal performances of the night with a chillingly perfect “Way Out West” and an emotional “For You”. Auer’s lead vocals on “Back Of A Car” and Stringfellow’s reading of “Daisy Glaze” sound amazingly close to the recorded versions (both originally sung by Chilton) – this kind of sharing made it so much more of a “band” show. Chilton was of great voice and guitar skill for this night; there’s no lack of enthusiasm and yet, there are flubs and flaws, which makes it all the more enjoyable because it is a real, human band performing live.
Other highlights include the pure-rawkin’ of the old T. Rex stomper, “Baby Strange”; a surprising performance of “Big Black Car”, the usual goosebump-inducing “I Am The Cosmos” and a balls-out closing version of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut”. With the 2-lp vinyl edition, you get a download card; this DVD and audio package is well worth purchasing. If you love Big Star as much as I do, you will appreciate what the people at Omnivore Recordings have delivered. This is essential Big Star live; it’s the only known full-length Big Star concert on film/video – and you can’t ask for more than that.
Live In Memphis is available now