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Curved Air Live: Treasure for Your Pleasure

May 7, 2016

I sat in my driveway in awe after arriving home as the album played the rest of the way through.  What I was hearing was a revelation; I had no choice but to defer everything else and keep listening.  I’d known the band Curved Air for a few years and, in the right mood, considered myself a fan of their early 70s output of folk-tinged progressive rock.  But what was coming out of the speakers was something different.  The songs were familiar, but were altogether sharper, more alive, and seemed to just plain rock harder.  They were filled with zeal, anger, and raw energy, words that I would never have used to describe the Curved Air I had previously known.  I was experiencing 1975’s Curved Air Live for the first time and the experience was good.

Recorded during a late 1974 tour that the original band members had been compelled to undertake following two years of separation in order to pay off a tax bill, Curved Air Live was not the sound of a joyful group reunion but rather of five supremely talented artists working out their Curved Air Live (front)individual issues together on stage.  The reunion would last only for the tour and album release, but what a statement they would leave behind in this record.

That this is not your hippy uncle’s Curved Air of old is made clear from first track “It Happened Today” as it opens with tight, amplified keyboards replacing the piano flourish of the studio version and biting electric guitar and grooving bass brought far forward in the mix.  When Sonja Kristina’s vocal kicks in at the half-minute mark, it carries none of the twee quaintness of the original.  Instead we hear the slightly-gargled rasp of a woman on the verge, all antagonism and fury, and wonderfully so.  Wikipedia cites Kristina as explaining that, at the time of this recording, she was in a distraught emotional state following the breakup of her first marriage, and this had provoked wild, raw singing.  While sorry at the cause, I enthusiastically celebrate the result.

Second track “Marie Antoinette” probably represents the greatest, and most stirring, change in tone and feel from its studio version.  The original is a fantastic progressive folk rock song that tells the tale of the French revolution over theCurved Air Live (back) top of some excellent bluesy electric guitar wailing by Francis Monkman.  It looks back on a momentous historical event and imagines it from afar.  The live take here casts off the sense of the past and instead transports the listener directly into the scene.  The words are the same, but rawness and wrath now replace stoic storytelling.  One feels the “anger, born of hunger” viscerally, no longer just listening in but shouting along:

“We are the people of France, we demand that the
Elegant blue-blooded leeches that bleed us
Are taught what it means to grow fat and not feed us
We are the people of France, you must heed us!”

The mainly instrumental “Propositions” is another one that becomes something new here.  From Kristina’s gravel-voiced introductory shriek to the extended, echo-laden guitar and synth solos that double its run-time as compared to the original, this version leaves its earthbound, rollercoaster feel behind to launch itself into orbit on a Hawkwind-like rocket ride.

Curved Air’s best-known song, “Vivaldi,” is likewise transformed.  The opening bombast is turned up tenfold, and leads into a hootenanny-worthy fiddle workout by Darryl Way in lieu of the classical violin of the studio version.  This is followed by an extended, spacey electronic excursion in multiple parts, occasionally punctuated by hoarse yelping from Kristina and Way’s staccato violin bursts.  Awesome!

 

Curved Air

 

The overall musicianship demonstrated on Curved Air Live is exceptional.  In setting aside the focus on harmony and gloriously pompous crescendos, diminuendos and other prog/folk affectations that characterize their early studio albums, the band members are free to truly fly as instrumentalists here.  Monkman lets escape the inner guitar hero that we always knew was lurking in the wings, with violinist/keyboardist Way and drummer/percussionist Florian Pilkington-Miksa also allowed ample space to shine.  It is vocalist Sonja Kristina however who best takes advantage of the on-stage freedom to demonstrate her range, the precious chanteuse of the studio replaced by a take-no-prisoners woman with attitude.

The “folk” side of Curved Air is not to be found in this outlier offering.  This is progressive hard rock.  I’d recommend this even as a one-off exploration for rockers put off by the artifice and pretense of early 70s “art rock.”  As for those who only know Curved Air from their studio output, prepare to spend some time dumbstruck in your driveway.

 

Marie Antoinette (live): 

From → Music

8 Comments
  1. Lovely concise review. I’ll be back with more when I have re-listened to a selection of Curved Air, including this album.

    While that is happening, a fascinating factoid. Curved Air’s first album was the first ever picture disc. It looked excellent, but the sound was shit.

    • Thanks VC. Did you or do you have one of those original Airconditioning pic discs? I understand they are quite the sought-after artifact. Glad to have spurred a Curved Air revisiting. Look forward to hearing the results.

      • Never owned one, VF, but would be sorely tempted just for the artefact aspect.
        Just enjoyed ‘Phantasmagoria’ (Marie Antoinette) – very folk-psych, as you say.
        Currently enjoying ‘Second Album’ – perhaps my favourite. Will move to vinyl later for the debut and ‘Live’, in-between celebrating Mother’s Day.

        • Funnily enough the picture disc fact is the only I thing I’ve ever known about Curved Air.

  2. Really interesting but can i just say I really rather fancy those two hot chicks on the right of the band photo.

    • No, you cannot. According to Wikipedia, one of those two worked as a croupier at the London Playboy Club between the band’s previous breakup and the reunion tour during which this album was recorded. Not sure which one though.

  3. Cool, man.

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