Live In Montreal 10/22/66
Remember protest music? No? It was a blast; the folk singers came pouring out of the coffee houses in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War and sing folk songs and smoke pot. Phil Ochs was a leader of this movement until he took his own life in 1976. He mixed journalism and entertainment and befuddled the musical press, American pop culture and his own fans all in search of what he felt was truth, justice and his version of the American Way. In 1966 he was making a mark, and this concert sounds GOOD. The vocals and guitar are decently miked, and there’s little or no crowd noise when he sings thanks to the very polite Montreal audience. Ochs was making a mark on the world; while many of his best songs lay ahead, here you hear a clear voice, simply accompanied and projecting a sense of righteous anger tempered with the musical sensibility of a true artist.
There are, for a ground-breaking singer, few actual hits here. Ochs’ nasal voice recalls Bob Dylan as someone who sang from the heart, and not because their voice was especially stunning. “Power and the Glory” takes a while to get going; it celebrates the details of America while looking to a better, fairer future. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” takes a nuanced take on warfare. Somewhere in the back of our minds lies the concept of a “Fair War”; here Ochs seems to point to such a battle, but recalls its always up to the young to fight each attempt as the old folks talk them into the insanity. Then there’s “The Bells.” Here a strong hook driven acoustic guitar makes a memorable song; there’s a positive feeling that things can improve, if only we sing loud. Ochs died too young, and even if he didn’t change the world, he let it know it could do better. Not all his best material is here, but it’s a sedate live show with an appreciative crowd.