When Otis Redding finished his brilliant performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, his name was already synonymous with the greats. To this day the Monterey set is regarded as an ethereal moment in pop history; a major dispensation of gutsy explosive Southern soul wrapped around the genius of his backing band, Booker T & the MG's. At this point in his career, Redding was without a shadow of a doubt the king of the live experience. Unfortunately, a devastating interruption pierced his very life six months later when he, along with members of the Bar-Kays, became a victim of a plane trip gone wrong. Had he survived, Redding 's career may have eclipsed his fellow contemporaries and those who came after him.
Concord Music Group decided to honor Redding 's golden moments as a fireball live performer by releasing a 2-disc set capturing his West Coast trek at the prestigious Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles . His unreleased four-night affair in April 1966 was never a deep secret for the folks at Stax; they'd already reached into the vault to release a posthumous short-form LP with In Person at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. But most of the footage remained in lock-up until now.
Live on the Sunset Strip is a collector's dream that honors the magic of the night with all three complete sets wrapped tightly with James Brown-influenced introductions (see the Godfather's Live at the Apollo), cool dialogue and audience interaction in between songs and Redding taking on his big hits like "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Respect" and a list of renditions of pop/rock favorites. He whips through his beefy, horn-drenched take of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," the biggest revisit of them all, at least five times throughout the 2-disc collection. Keeping with his nod to the British invasion dominating the scene at the time, Redding pours his soulful Stax lava all over the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." Switching gears, Redding proves he's also not afraid of touching James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag;" extending the jam over the ten-minute mark with the audience's approval. Coming off that high, Redding slows the tempo down, when deemed appropriate, with warm ballads like "Chained and Bound" and "Just One More Day."
On the third show, the energy is almost combustible with the audience reacting with high-pitch fervency; shouting as if they were at a Sunday morning church service. In several places, a sweaty, drained Redding and his touring band run across a few flubs and rusty spots, but the live experience is preserved righteously-without those trifling overdubs -like it originally was planned.
Devout Otis Redding fans craving more bait and more nostalgia will have a field day marveling over the exhaustive musical gallery presented on Live on the Sunset Strip. Highly recommended.
By J. Matthew Cobb