Becky's Reviews of Chicago Albums, CTA through 17
|CHICAGO LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL (CHICAGO IV)
Release Date: 1971
Cover Design: White on White
Proves Cover Theory: Doesn't Apply
Becky Rating: III out of X
THE PRESTIGIOUS MESS
Let's start with the"prestigious" part. In April 1971, Chicago became the first rock band to sell out a week at Carnegie Hall. The performance stage that has hosted Tchaikovsky, Caruso, Benny Goodman, Isaac Stern, and the Buena Vista Social Club found an enthusiastic audience waiting for what was then one of the hottest young groups in the country. Chicago decided to record this historic series of shows, and released this four-album boxset, which went on to sell over two million copies.
I remember buying this album in the Spring of 1979. I had saved up several weeks worth of allowance and babysitting money, for the set sold at the then princely sum of $16. Bringing it home, I couldn't help but be impressed by the packaging. A concert program book included photos of each band member (including the best picture of James Pankow I've ever seen - hint, he didn't have his trademark beard) and a complete list of every gig Chicago played up until that time - from Shula's Supper Club to Itcheyfoot Mose to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go to a college tour.
There also were three posters included. One was a black and white drawing of Carnegie Hall itself. The second was a standard-sized poster of the group members standing in a line, and featured Walt Parazaider in his infamous "Loose Lips Sink Ships" shirt.
The third is almost indescribable. It was four times the size of the other two posters, and contained photos of each band member tinted in shades of orange and maroon. I put piece after piece of masking tape on the back of this thing, only to have it fall to the ground repeatedly, usually at about 3 A.M., waking me up with a loud crackling noise. Nothing like seeing a giant Terry Kath head on your floor in the morning! My dad eventually built a frame for the mega-poster so it would stay up.
Now for the "mess" part, and I won't mince words. The sound quality on this album is horrible. I've heard better sound on some self-recorded tapes of Grateful Dead shows that my brother gave me. Don't believe me? Here's James Pankow: "I hate it. Well, I hate the horn sound. The acoustics of Carnegie Hall were never meant for amplified music, and the brass was amplified, solely, obviously, to compete with the rhythm section, which is amplified, and for whatever reasons, the sound of the brass after being miked came out sounding like kazoos." Peter Cetera has been quoted as disliking the sound on this set as well. Tellingly, Chicago recorded a live album in Japan a few years later that sounds 100% better.
The music is drawn from the band's first three albums, with one original: Robert Lamm's A Song for Richard and his Friends, in which he lambastes Richard Nixon and his colleagues and asks him to resign. Remember, folks, this was before Watergate, CREEP, Spiro Agnew. It's an experimental song that isn't one of my favorites but stands as a good example of the band's political direction. The performances of all the songs are OK; if you follow the Deadhead philosophy of enjoying different live versions of the same songs, you might find something to enjoy. Otherwise, stick to the studio versions.
Is there anything worthwhile here? For me, the most enjoyable part of Carnegie Hall was always the asides from the band to the audience and vice versa. Usually they showed the band's annoyance with impatient audience members, as follows:
Hippie #1 (yelling at band): "I Don't Want Your Money!"
Another time, there's:
Hippie #4: "Colour My World!"
I also love the opening few minutes of band warmups, in which Terry Kath plays something that sounds like Duelling Banjos, and later quotes God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (in April???). It sounds like Space from a Dead show. (The six-note warmup Cetera follows with is the first thing I always play when I pick up my own bass.)
There's the weird chanting in Anxiety's Moment. There's the "I don't give a shit" line sung in DARKWTII that my friends and I appropriated as some sort of secret code in eighth grade. Then there is that side comment Robert Lamm throws into Beginnings: "Don't even know how to hold your hand." Of course, in 1979, I didn't know that song. I learned quickly.
Should you buy it? If you're a Chicago completist, you'll probably want it. If you're a casual fan, no. You might be able to find the original package on Ebay.
They never do play The Approaching Storm, by the way.
(c) 2001 Becky Banfield for Dos Gardenias Productions