Full performer name: Kevin Ayers/John Cale/Nico/Brian Eno.
Personnel includes: Kevin Ayers (vocals, guitar, bass); John Cale, Nico, Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, Ollie Halsall, Archie Leggatt, Eddie Sparrow, Rabbit, Liza Strike, Doreen, Iris Chanter.
Recorded live at the Rainbow Theatre, London, England on July 1, 1974.
It isn't just that the four credited lead players are together, it's also that Robert Wyatt and (if one is excited by such a thing) Mike Oldfield are helping out as well. The whole result should have been a mind-blowing example of one moment of twisted brilliance after another, captured for the ages. And is it? Well, close enough. The week's rehearsal mentioned in the liner notes seems to have gotten everyone more or less on the same wavelength for the chosen songs, but Ayers, who was the headliner, just sounded too laid-back in the end to match the chilling brilliance of his guests, even with old Soft Machine mate Wyatt along for the ride. The first half of the album is the real winner as a result, not least for the sharp song choices. Eno's two selections are inspired; "Driving Me Backwards" gets even more freaked out than the studio version, turning into a lacerating death crawl thanks to Cale's violin, while "Baby's on Fire" in contrast almost turns friendlier at the end. Both Cale and Nico make strong marks with two of their most notable and notorious cover versions. The former's "Heartbreak Hotel" keeps much of the spaced-out paranoia familiar from the studio cut, just ominous enough. Meanwhile, Nico's take on "The End" easily equals her own studio take, the song creeping with dread and fear. Ayers' selections take up the remainder of the album and they're, well, nice. But after the earlier shadows and psychosis, there's a little too much guitar mellowness and bongwater lounge grooves in contrast, aside from a wonderful, dramatic take on "Two Goes into Four." His between-song asides are fun, though, while his voice is in fine shape, even if the French part on "May I?" just makes him sound like a dirty old man instead of Serge Gainsbourg. ~ Ned Raggett