Recognition must be granted this early 70s live recording by War. One frame would be to call this the greatest live funk album ever. Give or take JB, it’s certainly that.
Another and perhaps more useful frame would be to call this absolutely the best jam band album ever. I’ll take this seven song double album over anything the Grateful Dead ever thought about conjuring. This band was so much more skillful, tight and muscular than the Dead, with much more interesting original compositions than Funkadelic.
In the studio, the band typically worked in the unusual manner of recording their songs as long extended jams, then editing down ten or twenty minutes into a five minute radio friendly album cut. Thus, this album shows their songs closer to their original design.
The band really hit a sweet spot here with their fierce tough precision and simultaneously laid back jams. Particularly, the combinations of organ and cymbal heavy drums make for some heller heavy grooves with supple nuance.
Most specifically, I would rather listen to the centerpiece 18 minutes of “Slippin’ Into Darkness” than any Phish or some half hour of Jerry Garcia noodling away at “Sugar Magnolia.” This thing is just tight, running through distinct movements. A couple of minutes of pure drum solo at the top of part 2 works as a musical movement, not just some whacking off while the rest of the band takes a smoke break. Boy, they really wind it up sweet with the Latin guitars in the last two minutes. That’s worth listening to.
The “Ballero” also works up some nice Latin rock grooves that inspire some particularly sweet flute.
I’ve always been personally obsessed with the 20+ minute finale “Get Down.” It’s about the least known song here. I can’t really remember the five minute studio version, but this extended groove essay on the ghetto versus the cops was critical to my early understanding of such issues.
They made a strong statement of perseverance in the face of official brutality and corruption, including a little thing for the ass kicker.
“I’ll whoop your black ass
I’ll whoop your gray ass
I’ll whoop your uncle’s ass, and your sister’s ass
I might even whoop my own ass
Anybody’s ass- Ass kicker, booty whooper”
Then they’re off into the dedication to the police, with the nicest vocal harmonies on the album dedicated to “the lawman, the one with the shotgun.”
After a few words for all the brothers locked down in that “ferocious Cook County jail” (the album was recorded in Chicago), they work up their most righteous jam of perseverance. Looked at in that kind of frame, I’d take this recording against nearly any reggae freedom jam ever.
For being slow on the uptake, I’ll admit that I was listening to this recording for over 20 years before I quite picked up on the meanings of the pronouns “I” and “it” in “I’ll try it again. I’ll try it again. I’ll try it again.” The “I” would have been Richard Nixon.
In short, War never had the cache of the Dead or George Clinton, but I’ll take this record over any of theirs any old day. Sure, George Clinton is the very epitome of cool, but he never wrote a song as good as “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”