I’D WAGER that the market for import albums is sustained primarily by fanciers of various exotic genres (Kraut-rock, pub-rock, punk-rock, zen-rock, bla-bla-bla). Some of this import-only stuff is pretty intriguing in an offbeat way, but for the most part it’s easy to imagine why your favorite cult items from abroad never get picked up by American labels.
The 801 band was (rumor has it) put together for the purpose of plying one concert (which was recorded and released as 801 Live) and disbanding immediately afterward. Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and the prolific Eno are the only familiar players in the sextet, but all six 801s sound great throughout this ICBM of an album. Unlike other live albums, 801 Live has been toyed with (by Eno, of course) during the period between the recording and the release, so it’s hard to tell at times what’s directly reproduced and what’s “treated.” But that’s the point, I guess, and part of the fun, too, especially when the applause at the end of ‘Baby’s on Fire’ metamorphoses into the jet noise that becomes the intro to the next track, ‘Diamond Head’.
Most of the material is drawn from the recorded work of Manzanera and Eno, but the renditions (especially ‘Baby’s on Fire’) are without exception or question more powerful than the original recordings. The 801 band also brilliantly recharges the album’s two rock classics, the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (retiled “T.N.K.”) and the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’. Through the course of its 47 minutes, 801 Live hurtles along like the aural embodiment of the Loop at Magic Mountain, rarely allowing you enough space to take a deep breath. The most manic of the 801 crowd has to be drummer Simon Phillips; he hits those heads with the fury of a Chicago cop in a nightstick fantasy — it almost hurts. Actually, the rest of them sound pretty deranged, too. This album may have been dreamed up as a conceptual experiment, but it plays like Demetrius and the Gladiators Versus Godzilla and las Roller Derby Dolls de Uranus.
© Bud Scoppa, Phonograph Record, June 1977