Live on the Sunset Strip
While inessential for the most part, a select few live albums are able to accurately convey the excitement of actually being there, of transmitting the electricity of a live concert to a listener far removed from the experience. Although not generally recognized with Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan, James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, or Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square, Otis Redding’s posthumous release Live at the Whisky A Go Go was an exciting, soulful celebration, an album that could serve as both an entry point for Redding’s brand of soul or as a chance for fans to hear the grit and faster tempos the songs displayed live.
Now, with the release of Live on the Sunset Strip, that document has been expanded to include three full sets, a chance to hear the complete 1966 performance on two CDs.
Live on the Sunset Strip shows Redding in full command of the stage, with a tight 10-piece band behind him. Seemingly able to stop and start on a dime, the band loves to throw in false stops, catching the audience off guard, especially on “I Can’t Turn You Loose” where they end the song like 10 times, only to come back faster and more intense.
The sets are a nice mix between ballads like “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” and fast-paced burners, like the cover of “Satsifaction” which takes the song into almost hardcore tempos, while Redding ad libs whole verses over the frantic band.
Live on the Sunset Strip is able to rise above the “you really had to be there” problem common to live albums. You actually feel you are there — the careful listener can catch a couple musical flubs, but the overall energy and electricity more than makes up for it. There is no phony overdubbed Kiss Alive crowd noise, in fact, the crowd is often difficult to hear, but having the entire concert, including the version of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” that gets restarted after a few minutes, gives the listener a feeling of being there.
Redding and the band are able to stretch out on the songs, turning songs like “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Chained and Bound” into six and seven-minute soul epics, where Redding adds words and phrases at random (the phrase “Hold on, I’m Coming” gets thrown in a lot, and Redding’s “one time I’ve loved you… two times I’ve loved you…” ad lib on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” is both playful and yearning).
Any student of soul, hell, any human being with a soul, should pick this up immediately.