Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26: Ted Nugent, "Double Live Gonzo!"

Artist: Ted Nugent
Album: Double Live Gonzo!
Year: 1978
Label: Epic

It is never good to start off this way, but chances are, to fully appreciate this review, you will need to completely forget nearly everything you think about the artist in question. Though he is now more well known as one of the more outspoken and polarizing people on the planet due to the things he says, there was a time when Ted Nugent was nothing more than one of the greatest rock and roll players on the planet. Taking influence from blues-rock greats like Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, and even his peers like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Nugent remains one of the most amazing guitarists of his time. Playing his unique blend of blues based, psychedelic, testosterone laced rock music, there are truly few artists who delivered the rock goods in the mid and late 1970's quite like "The Nuge." Though they are fantastic records, Ted Nugent's first three studio records were clearly lacking the atmosphere and mood that made his live performances so phenomenal. Nugent solved this problem by making his forth release a two LP collection of live performances, and the album, 1978's Double Live Gonzo! remains one of the most stunning live releases in the history of music.

The amazing tone found throughout Double Live Gonzo! must be noted, as Nugent's long time producer, Ric Browde, somehow finds the way to perfectly replicate the mood of Nugent's live performances. The sound is forward in the mix and clear enough that not a note is missed, yet there is still some separation between the music and listener, and this creates a truly magical mood throughout the album. Then again, it may just be Nugent's blistering performance that makes the record so amazing. Truth be told, Nugent is in top form, both musically, as well as the manner in which he works the crowds throughout Double Live Gonzo! Unlike his more modern reputation, throughout this album, Nugent plays the crowd perfectly, dropping one liners that keep the crowd in a frenzy and add to the energy of the songs. This is not to say that Nugent is filtering his words, but one has to admire his ability to be wonderfully "rock and roll" when he ignites the crowd with statements like, "...anyone who wants to get mellow, you can turn around and get the fuck outta here!" This notion remains throughout the entire album, as Nugent and his backing band never look back, with each and every song on Double Live Gonzo! becoming an all-out musical assault, and the undeniable, amazing musicianship of Nugent has rarely been more clear and awe-inspiring. The band even presents their own, lighting fast, truly incredible take on the classic, "Baby Please Don't Go." While Ted Nugent's hit single, "Stranglehold" is certainly a highlight of the album, the band also presents a few songs that, at the time, were new, including "Yank Me, Crank Me" and a recently released single called "Cat Scratch Fever." Simply put, there is not a weak moment anywhere on the album, and it remains one of the most stunning live musical documents ever released.

Though he rarely makes "best of" lists, after experiencing Ted Nugent's guitar work on Double Live Gonzo!, one clearly sees that he makes a great case at being one of the best players of his generation. His solos and progressions are truly extraordinary and his tone and style are unlike that of any of his contemporaries. Then again, when you have a guitar playing partner like Derek St. Holmes, it is quite hard to sound anything less than phenomenal. St. Holmes is equally a talented as Nugent, and the chemistry between the two is nothing short of legendary. The two play brilliantly off one another, though this would be the last Nugent/St. Holmes collaboration for nearly twenty years, as St. Holmes left the band soon after the release of Double Live Gonzo! Serving as both drummer and producer on every Nugent record until 1982, Cliff Davies is similarly one of the most underrated and overlooked musicians of his time. Keeping up with Nugents' breakneck playing pace is no easy task, yet Davies does so with amazing precision, and he is truly fantastic throughout the entire record, with his talents clearly on display on the albums' closing track, "Motor City Madhouse." This song spotlights the skills of each band member, from amazing guitar solos to the solid, almost menacing bassline from Rob Granger. Double Live Gonzo! highlights just how disciplined and talented a group of musicians Nugent had assembled, and every song on the album is so blisteringly hot that it serves as all the proof one needs to understand why Nugent is referred to as "The Motor City Mad Man."

While many aspects set Ted Nugent apart from his peers, one of the most obvious and important is the fact that one Double Live Gonzo!, one can clearly tell that, if nothing less, Nugent loves to play his music. The excitement and pleasure he takes in playing and singing is infectious and refreshing, as most rock stars of the caliber that he was at the time tended to almost "go through the motions" during live performances. There isn't a dull or "sell out" moment anywhere on the album, and Nugent is truly trying (and succeeding) to give the audience the greatest rock and roll show that they've ever experienced. While his guitar playing is never anything short of sensational, his singing is equally as inspired, and he never fails to convey the energy and mood behind each of his compositions. From the sleazy, somewhat sarcastic tone of "Yank Me, Crank Me," to the deeper, more serious style of "Great White Buffalo," Nugent is truly perfect on every song. Even on his more well known hits, Nugent performs as if it's the first time the audience has ever heard the song, and his makes the songs even more amazing to experience. However, contrary to popular belief, it is in fact Derek St. Holmes who delivers the vocals on "Stranglehold," as well as a handful of other tracks on the album. St. Holmes is just as good on vocals as Nugent, and the difference in their voices and style keep the album fresh. Regardless of who is singing, every song on Double Live Gonzo! is perfectly executed, and the album presents the ultimate display of a band that truly loves to play music, and it is one of the many reasons why this is an album that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

While disco, punk, and the early festering of "new wave" were still largely dominating the musical landscape in the mid to late 1970's, Ted Nugent proved that, at the end of the day, it was hard to top classic sounding rock and roll music. Bringing his no frills approach to every song, Nugent seemed intent on destroying every live audience as if they were both the first and last audience for which he would ever play. His band is absolutely phenomenal, and the manner in which they move as a single unit is beyond that of nearly every other band in musical history. Constantly pushing the energy higher, the band constantly make the case as one of the most talented and dynamic bands ever, and there is not an off note anywhere on the album. Whether it is the incredible guitar of Nugent and St. Holmes or the unrivaled rhythm section of Davies and Granger, Double Live Gonzo! serves as proof that you don't necessarily need volume or numbers to create top notch rock and roll. After one experiences Double Live Gonzo!, it becomes apparent that it is the live energy of his live performances that were truly the missing element from Nugent's studio releases. While in more modern times, he is perhaps best known for his polarizing views on life and the world, one needs to look no further than Ted Nugent's magnificent 1978 release, Double Live Gonzo! to understand why he is first and foremost one of the most spectacular musicians and performers in the history of recorded music.

Standout tracks: "Just What The Doctor Ordered," "Baby Please Don't Go," and "Motor City Madhouse."

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