The Average White Band: Person To Person

WELCOME BACK the musically credible and eminently excellent Average White Band with this defiant poke in the ear for all those people who seven months ago dismissed them as down and devoid of inspiration.

Although the release of this double set could have come too late to re-establish their superior credentials, it does, in fact, manage to do that in just less than 90 minutes of playing time.

And in many ways it is the live companion to their classic second set, known widely as the White Album.

Person To Person is an unexpected triumph for a band who in June performed abysmally at the Hammersmith Odeon and shortly afterwards disgraced themselves with their fourth studio album, Soul Searching.

Reaching their position as a highly acclaimed act worldwide was a difficult and sometimes unpleasant struggle that caused one casualty and an aftermath of critical adversity from the American press; yet they travelled the road to artistic ruin on an extremely well-oiled roller board.

There isn’t, you might observe, any justice in the Rock Biz.

Although accusing fingers were pointed at certain members of the AWB for destroying the band’s creative energy by being more concerned with the Star Pose, it’s generally believed the reason their recent recorded and live music was inferior is because they set their own standards too high.

How, for instance, can you follow The White Album with another set of comparable merit?

Cut The Cake and Soul Searching were both inevitably inferior; generally dull playing with only a few exceptionally good songs.

It’s interesting to hear live recordings of two songs from Searching because although neither ‘I’m The One’ nor ‘Love Your Life’ can be classed as excellent material they do, on ‘Person To Person’, sound considerably better than the studio versions because of the concert arrangements and the way in, which they are used as low-key musical grooves by the band.

Perhaps the release of a package like this should have followed The White Album; having proved how good they can be in the studio it seems (admittedly with the advantage pf hindsight) a logical move to show just how well they can performed on stage.

And when they’re hot you need to approach them wearing protective clothing.

Besides the quality of this set being of an exceptionally high standard it also exudes the atmosphere of a concert: Hamish Stuart’s vocal on ‘Cloudy’ for instance, is greeted delightedly by the audience; and later with ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ the crowd roar out the words on the long, closing, accapella section of the song.

In short, the albums are smouldering with the excited heat of the venues and dripping sweat all over the turn table.

And from the band comes a relentless surge of energy, magnificent musicianship and continuous improvisationary inspiration.

Inevitably their own standards, such as the title track, ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’, ‘TLC’ and ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ are considerably longer than the studio versions, with the later clocking in at slightly over 18 minutes.

But ‘Pieces’ in itself has always opened up in this way on stage, allowing the Dundee Horns – Roger Ball, alto; Molly Duncan, tenor – to solo extensively, and then step aside for every other group member to come up front and challenge the previous soloist. Instrumentally this track can’t be surpassed.

The set is not without its faults, few though they are.

Occasionally the brass is blandly arranged and boringly repetitive on numbers such as ‘Cut The Cake’, and although Stuart and Alan Gorrie sing admirably throughout, there is sometimes a loss of theatre mike contact which dilutes their vocal strength, as on ‘School Boy Crush’.

‘Grapevine’ isn’t their finest reading either; the vague instrumental introduction meanders too much and once they’re into the main melody they never allow themselves time to build on it, handing it over to the audience too early.

The set was recorded in four American venues, including Philadelphia’s Tower Theatre where Bowie recorded his live double, but unfortunately no dates are listed on the sleeve.

Because of the repertoire it’s likely that it was made either just before they came to Britain in June, or shortly afterwards.

Bearing that in mind, it seems to signify that as a performing band AWB are far from being over the hill.

© Tony StewartNew Musical Express, 8 January 1977

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