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Music Review: Sweet – Are You Ready: Sweet Live

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Trying to categorize the band called Sweet is a bit like trying to hold down an air bubble trapped under plastic. There’s the bubblegum outfit that had hits like “Funny Funny” and “Little Willie” from 1968 to 1972. There’s the glam-rock group that had a series of 13 top ten international hits during the mid-’70s, although few of these releases made any mark in the states.

Then Sweet dropped the glam trappings and went for a heavier sound and image that carried it until its last chart success in 1978, “Love is Like Oxygen.” Then the group broke up in 1982. While producers, personnel, and the roles each played changed dramatically over the years, the classic line-up was unquestionably the group listed in the roll call in the opening moments of 1973’s “Ballroom Blitz.” These were lead singer Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker. Connolly died in 1997 and Tucker in 2002. Along the way, the two surviving members went their separate ways and led two different versions of Sweet—Priest in California, and Scott in the U.K.

It’s the Priest version of the group that was recorded live at the Morongo Casino in California on August 30, 2008, to a comparatively small crowd. Along with Priest providing background vocals and bass, the American incarnation of the new Sweet included Stuart Smith (vocals, guitar), Joe Retta (vocals, acoustic guitar), Stevie Stewart (vocals, keyboards), and Richie Onori (drums). Naturally, the purpose of such gigs is to give fans recognizable renditions of the songs they remember. This ensemble does a reasonable job at this, but it isn’t Sweet. It’s a Sweet tribute band. Nutra-Sweet, perhaps.

Of course, one can take this stuff too seriously and that would miss the point. AM hits like “Fox on the Run,” “Little Willie,” and “Ballroom Blitz” weren’t designed to be creative monsters to begin with. Still, songs like “Wig Wam Bam,” “Windy City,” “Sweet F.A.,” and “Hell Raiser” are derivative pop montages. “Blockbuster” is only different from David Bowie’s “Jean Genie in its lyrics. The guitar middle section was clearly taken from The Shadows’ “FBI.”

Then again, the same could be said of the original recordings. But there was a magic back in the day not captured in the new band. Two tracks that clearly show how different this group is from the founding fathers are “AC.DC” and “Six Teens.” The originals featured the Queen-like choral vocals of the Desolation Boulevard period, Sweet’s high point in the U.S. This group doesn’t always demonstrate that range.

On the other hand, tracks like “Turn It Down,” “Teenage Rampage,” and especially “Set Me Free”—the concert’s standout jam—are perfectly suited for Retta’s Ronnie James Dio-style delivery. That’s the main distinction. To be Sweet, you need Connolly hitting the high notes.

For dessert, Priest’s Sweet adds a few empty calories with a previously unreleased studio version of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” Sure, why not? In the end, this concert was for Sweet fans who were there when the performance was live. For everyone else, forget the name. It’s an evening of bubblegum glam-rock pop candy that’s dispensable fun. It’s just in the wrong wrapper.

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About Wesley Britton

  • Carina

    Just one small correction here.. FBI was in the live version of Blockbuster NOT in the original recording..
    As far as straight facts go…and surprise surprise, most of us were actually around when Sweet rocked the arse off most other bands.

  • Wesley Britton

    Well, I don’t know what the historical errors were supposed to be—other than apparently not crediting the correct singers of high notes. Yes, I said “Blockbuster” included “FBI”—and in the next sentence said this was true of the original recording. When I said “Queen like,” that wasn’t a reference to who came first—clearly that was Sweet—but rather making a comparison to a band most readers are familiar with. Anyway, I’m delighted the band still has such a devoted following. I’ll still listen to the original recordings. But I’ll now bow out of this discussion. Have fun, y’all.

  • Kitty

    Let’s say then that you made some typos and were a bit confused?
    You clearly mixed up a couple of things that every normal Sweet fan knows. It’s them who read this, so if you want people to take your review serious, then it wouldn’t be bad to refresh your knowledge a bit. Sweet’s real history you can find easily and also the one of the two remaining Sweet members who still keep it going with their own bands. Does only deserve respect that they do, isn’t it?
    Don’t worry though…you know it aint easy 😉

  • Wesley Britton

    So far, the implication from the comments here is that I neither know Sweet’s history nor, apparently, rock of the 70s either. I suspect I heard much of Sweet before a lot of people and helped push “Fox on the Run” when I played the living daylights out of it over WVCS back in the day. I respect all disagreements with my opinions, but when you challange my credentials, I best respond with one track from the U.S. Desolation Boulevard—“No You Don’t.”

  • Richard

    Both Steve Priest and Andy Scott both have damned fine bands keeping the classic Sweet songs alive and for people to hear and enjoy, and are far from being tribute bands!! To the band in question, Steve has a superb band with a great singer/frontman inJoe Retta who does the songs justice. The band is tight and rocks hard and i think the album shows this perfectly well.

  • Come on, reviewer, stop being so lazy! No-one expects this incarnation of the band to live up to the mighty 70s version with two of its four corners missing! This is no tribute band – this is a classic artist revisiting the music which made him (rightly) world-famous. How else are you going to hear it these days? Andy’s (UK and Europe) version is just as good – why not insult him too, while you’re at it?

  • Lucy

    Please refer to Mr Connolly as “his royal highness” next time, thank you!

  • René Brouwer

    Connolly wasn’t the one to hit the high notes, that was Andy and Steve!
    And I agree with Carina, Sweet came first, than came Queen.
    Queen was a band mixing Sweet and Led Zeppelin and became famous and became more famousafter the Live-Aid gig (the band was already forgotten) and ofcourse when your leadsinger dies, you’re huge!
    For me, The Sweet is very huge, missing Connolly and Tucker…
    And anno 2011 is indeed a bit sad to see that both Sweet’s trying to be something, but…
    Enjoy the very good past, forget about the rest.
    Sweet still rules!

  • Carina

    Just want to add some comments here.
    About Blockbuster the author of this reveiw as apparently never heard that song in it’s original state, sure it sounds like FBI in the middle…that’s because it IS FBI that has been inserted into the song, just like the original lineup did live back in -73.
    And as for Queen-like vocals, wich of these bands came first..? Right answer..SWEET!
    Well I could add more here..but I know that there are more people out there who knows the facts even better than me.