In Concert was the first album by Phil Ochs that I remember purchasing as a teenager. Little did I realize at the time that a number of tracks had been re-created in the studio due to the defective taping of the concerts that were supposed to be used for this release. Just how many tracks were recorded in the studio remains open to question decades later. Nevertheless the album has a live feel to it and his comments between songs are almost worth the price of admission on their own. “John Wayne Plays Lyndon Johnson. And Lyndon Johnson Plays God. I Play Bobby Dylan. A young Bobby Dylan.” And so it goes.
Despite the problems and questions, in many ways In Concert remains his defining album. His passion and commitment to the protest movement are self evident. Combined with his acoustic guitar virtuosity and soaring vocals, it all adds up to one of the best folk albums of the 1960’s.
Bob Dylan’s influence can be felt on some of the tracks. “Ringing Of Revolution” is a call to the faithful and remains an anthem of the protest movement. “(The Marines Have Landed On The Shores Of) Santa Domingo” finds Ochs branching out into the narrative form of song.
Most of the tracks find him doing what he does best. “Bracero” is his criticism of the wages and working conditions of immigrants. It can only be imagined what he would think about this issue today. “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” is another of his amusing but scathing attack songs. “Canons Of Christianity” criticizes the hypocrisy of the church. “There But For Fortune,” which was a hit for Joan Baez, is a song about comparisons and fate.
The oddest and most poignant composition on the album is “Changes,” which is a straight love song and is a rare occasion of Ochs showing a side of him removed from his political agenda. Given his body of work it remains a gentle look into his personal life.
The final track on the original album, “When I’m Gone,” could have been used on his tombstone. It is a call for activism and a chilling look into his personal future.
Given the state of the world today, Phil Ochs In Concert is worth a listen as it deals with topics that are still relevant. It not only remains one of the best statements of protest to emerge from the sixties but shows an artist trying to make a difference while creating some good music along the way which remains a rare combination.