Phil Manzanera/801: 801 Live (Island)****

THURSDAY September 2, 1976. British Left-Fielders’ night out at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. It was 801’s second and last gig (the other was Reading Festival). Phil Manzanera put together the six musicians, some of them from his former band Quiet Sun, specially for those two dates. Just for kicks.

As you might expect from musicians of Eno’s and Phil’s imagination and dedication, 801 were in no way a jamming band. Although the musicians don’t play together on any regular formal basis, 801 are tight, responsive and as mutually sympathetic as any established gigging/recording band. Their music’s a fruitful meeting-ground between Quiet Sun’s experimental free-form jazz, Roxy’s snazzy commercial bite, and Eno’s highly personal games/adventures with words and music. The tracks are from Phil’s solo Diamond Head album, Eno’s three Island solo albums, and Q.S’s Mainstream.

Drummer Simon Phillips dominates, free as jazz but
‘militant’ (i.e. brisk, stirring, aggressive) as the best Jamaican drummers. Eno’s vocals are always exciting. His delivery’s polished and stylised, like Ferry’s. Meanwhile Manzanera, notably on his instrumental showcase, ‘Diamond Head’, reels off shimmering silken ribbons of guitar lines with Allman-esque fluid grace, or rocks ferociously.

Three cheers for the Island Mobile’s crystalline recording – they don’t miss a lick 801 produced, at Basing Street, and the sound’s so immaculate that if it wasn’t for tumultuous waves of applause phasing in and out, Live could pass for a studio album. The unmistakeably live quality is due to the exuberance and spontaneous energy in the music, not, as in most live albums, the roughness of the sound. ‘Miss Shapiro’ judders with excitement.

Phil’s eloquence is pure soul, Phillips’ drums are frighteningly intense. Eno implodes into the song – first biting off words like bullets, then opening sensually in the middle break. His enunciation is clipped and English, as always, clear and tough as a diamond; then Phil’s angry guitar slams the band forward into a menacing attack on the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’. Eno sounds psychotic, as his keyboards bleep with infuriating deliberation; like an Oriental water torture, each note drips inexorably into the nerve centres.

All this, and rock ‘n’ roll too.

© Vivien GoldmanSounds, 30 October 1976

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