Saturday, 28 May 2011

‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ – Big Star (1972)

"Years ago my heart was set to live, oh.
But I've been trying hard against unbelievable odds."

If David Bowie was playing in my car parking space right now, I wouldn’t even look out the window. Well, ok, I’d probably take a peek, because I love Bowie. But I know I should really have seen him as Ziggy at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 2nd/3rd back in 1973. My excuse is I was only two years old. The same is true of Bob Dylan (who turned 70 this week - happy belated birthday, Bob!). When I get my TARDIS working I’ll be setting the controls for the Manchester Free Trade Hall on 17th May 1966 to see him move beyond his folk roots and dare to to plug in an electric guitar, much to the horror of the "Judas!"-heckling audience. But I just can’t get excited about seeing Dylan in the modern day.

80/90s indie bands reforming to play their ‘classic’ albums at the Brixton Academy have the same effect on me. Pixies playing ‘Doolittle’. Dinosaur Jr playing ‘Bug’. Suede playing, er, ‘Suede’. All great, but I saw them the first time round in small North London pubs and university halls while the songs were often still unrecorded. Play me something new and I’ll be there.

So you can imagine I was somewhat surprised back in 1993 to find myself all smiles to hear that Big Star were reforming after almost 20 years and heading to the Reading Festival. Perhaps it was because they achieved such little recognition for their magnificent trilogy of albums back in the 70s, that it felt like their greatest performance was still ahead of them. My friend Chris was certainly bemused on that Sunday night at Reading as I left him watching New Order while I disappeared through the pungent haze of burning plastic beakers to the Melody Maker stage. Let’s point out here that there are few bands I’d choose over New Order, but we’d seen them at Reading four years earlier playing the sublime ‘Technique’ so I felt pretty certain I’d made the right decision. And I wasn’t disappointed. Orginal members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens had enlisted two Posies (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, fact fans) and treated us to songs from all their albums. It was a revelation to hear ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ and all my other favourites played live for the first time.

Chris and I argued all the way back to Reading station that night about who had seen the greatest show. We’ll never really know. But let’s just all agree I had.      

RIP Alex Chilton, Christopher Bell and Andy Hummel.

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