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Music Review: Various Artists – Live At Knebworth

It was twenty years ago, today…

Well okay, maybe not to the exact day. But in June 1990, a superstar assemblage of England's biggest music names gathered together at Knebworth House in Hertsfordshire to benefit Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy and the Brit School of Performing Arts. The Knebworth concert has been available on DVD for a while now, but has long been out-of-print on CD…at least until now.

Eagle Rock is reissuing Live At Knebworth as a 2-CD set this Tuesday, March 23. The lineup for this package really is something else, even by today's standards.

There are a few holdovers from the late eighties/early nineties here as well. But for every Tears For Fears, Cliff Richard or Status Quo here, you also get the likes of McCartney, Clapton, Elton John, Robert Plant, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins and Genesis. Nope, not a bad lineup at all.

But speaking of those eighties holdovers, Tears For Fears actually sound surprisingly good here, especially on the extended jams they get into on "Badman's Song." The duo is complimented here by a full band and backup singers, which serves them well with a much deeper, more textured live sound. There is an almost Steely Dan sort of complexity to TFF live, that I for one was quite surprised by.

Robert Plant also comes off swimmingly here, with his voice showing a much deeper timbre on tracks like "Hurting Kind" than we've heard from him in years. The Led Zeppelin samples of "Tall Cool One" are also always a lot of fun to hear. Speaking of Zep, Plant's former (and future?) bandmate Jimmy Page joins him here on "Wearing And Tearing."

I found the Phil Collins and Genesis sets a little bit irritating, as this was during the period when Phil Collins was driving the boat, and the band had essentially devolved into a Wurlitzer hits-making machine. Even so, could we at least have gotten their own hits here, rather than a covers medley? "Mama" aside, the "Turn It On Again" medley is a rather cheap-sounding knockoff of short bits from the rock and roll hall of fame songbook. Maybe they were already lobbying back then, who knows?

Clapton's "Sunshine Of Your Love" and McCartney's "Hey Jude" are the same versions each of them have been doing onstage for years, so there's no real new fireworks there. They sounded good then, just as they sound good now. McCartney does manage to turn "Coming Up" into a very cool (and very uncharacteristic) little hip-hop jammy though. I never imagined the day I'd hear Macca sampling away like he was Dr. Dre or something. What's even weirder is how well it works.

As much as I like Mark Knopfler's solo work, I kinda miss Dire Straits too, so hearing that band's "I Think I Love You Too Much" is a nice treat here, especially when Knopfler gets to the guitar solo. Man, can that cat swing an axe.

The Roger Waters-less Pink Floyd does their usual bang-up job with "Comfortably Numb" and "Run Like Hell." Elton John likewise makes easy work of "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting."

So, this is a nice little compilation of live performances from some of the world's biggest bands. There's nothing particularly earth-shaking about it, but as these sort of all-star gatherings go its a decent package. Sales of the CD will also benefit the same music and arts related charities as the original concert. Live At Knebworth will be in stores Tuesday March 23.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    What a line-up.
    Amazing.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Yeah I could probably stand to sit through Cliff Richard and Status Quo to see Macca, Clapton, Floyd and the rest. Anyway, that’s what beer gardens are for.

    -Glen