I briefly met Alvin Lee back in 1970 after his group, Ten Years After, played a rather problematic gig in Harrisburg, PA. The band had suffered from an intermittent house sound system, and Lee was proposing to his road manager that the group no longer rely on what was available in each city. He thought that TYA should bring its own equipment from then on. I never found out the result of that discussion, but was happy to pose for photos with Mr. Lee.
Back in those days, those of us described as “heads” had at least one Ten Years After album in our collections, even before the band’s 1969 breakout performance at Woodstock. These included the popular LPs we brought backstage for autographs, especially Ssssh (1969), Cricklewood Green (1970), and Watt. After the Harrisburg gig, what I always considered TYA’s zenith appeared, A Space in Time (1971) with the band’s only U.S. radio hit, “I’d Love to Change the World.” That was one album I’d love to have had Lee sign.
After the band’s breakup, I admit losing interest in Lee’s mid-’70s solo albums. I do not remember why. But I did feel deep sadness when I heard that Lee died unexpectedly in Spain on March 6, 2013, at the age of 68. Then, I learned the last show Lee ever performed, a gig at Raalte, Holland, on May 28, 2012, was coming out on CD. Turns out, The Last Show (out now on Rainman Records) is as fine a full circle remembrance of Lee as anyone could’ve asked for.
While The Last Show wasn’t recorded with any plans for a commercial release, Lee himself was so pleased with the results that he was the one to authorize the package, never realizing, of course, this would be his last album. His wife, Evi, knew the disc’s importance, so she contributed notes about her husband and the happiness he felt after the Raalte concert in a booklet that also includes photos of the show and memories from the band and fans who were there.
Ironically, the 14 songs on The Last Show aren’t going to make anyone think 2012. Rather, the show is a trip back in time to the glory years of Ten Years After, even if few of the selections were from that band’s catalog. The Holland show is pure late ’60s guitar god blues rock, complete with extended, melodic guitar solos typical of the era. Lee makes this connection overt in “I Can’t Keep from Crying Sometimes.” After accurately announcing Al Kooper stole that blues standard, Lee quotes passages from Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and even the theme from Peter Gunn in the middle of his jam.
Remembering that Lee named his band Ten Years After in honor of The King of Rock and Roll (with TYA jelling together 10 years after Elvis Presley’s banner year of 1956), not surprisingly, there are scattered quotes from Elvis hits here. While most tracks are Lee compositions, one cover is Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “My Baby Left Me.” We all remember who put that song on the map.
Lee’s own tunes jump back and forth between old school blues (“Slow Blues in ‘C'”) and old school rock and roll (“Hear Me Calling” and “I Don’t Give a Damn”). TYA fans will recognize “Love Like A Man” from Cricklewood Green and, of course, the obligatory “Going Home.” Admittedly, Lee shows his age during his signature song, as he’s no longer the speed demon of old. The guitar master is obviously far more mellow on this release than he was in 1969. In fact, the closest he comes to the energy we remember from Woodstock is during the encore, and Robert Blackwell’s “Rip It Up” in particular. But that song is only three minutes and five seconds long.
Supporting Lee on guitar, vocals, and occasional harmonica are the excellent Pete Pritchard on bass and Richard Newman, who’s quite capable of some tricky drum parts and contributes an old-fashioned drum solo. Remember those? Taking absolutely nothing away from the original TYA line-up, Pritchard and Newman are everything Lee needs to keep a solid groove going, helping make it clear this group could put its own stamp on classic material.
The Last Show should appeal to not only Alvin Lee and Ten Years After fans, but to those who appreciate rock shows in the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore traditions. It’s also for those who like solid and fluid guitar work that doesn’t rely on pyrotechnics or speeding train virtuosity. Yes, there are numerous previous live releases from Alvin Lee, and fans will have to measure The Last Show against their older favorites. In any case, most listeners will be glad this evening was captured for posterity and only regret there will be no more. Alvin has finally gone home.