Greatest Hits Live


Avenue / Rhino, 2008

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I looked through the liner notes for Greatest Hits Live, the latest release (and second live album) from the legendary multi-cultural funk-rock band War, I thought, “This isn’t War.” The only original member present from the classic line-up is keyboardist/lead vocalist Lonnie Jordan, other members of the band having formed the Lowrider Band after losing the ability to call themselves War. (For that matter, one could argue that War “ended” with the deaths of Charles Miller and Papa Dee Allen.)

But listening to this set (which, by the way, almost demands that you give it more than one shot -- to the point that I even obtained the DVD to get the whole “picture,” as it were), and you realize that the musicians backing Jordan are more than capable on their instruments. While the familiar harmony vocals and sounds may be a thing of the past, this group holds their own rather well, though there are a few missteps on this set.

Let’s get the complaints out of the way. First of all, whoever was responsible for the cut-edit from crowd noise to the beginning of “City, Country, City” should be shot for the way it sounds like something was deliberately removed. It sounds like a little bit of drum work from Salvador Rodriguez is still present just as Mitch Kashmar kicks in on harmonica, making me wonder just what I missed. (This is present on the DVD as well, though a similar sudden start, namely Stuart Ziff’s guitar on “Gypsy Ma,” is smoother on the DVD. Maybe the second CD should have faded the crowd noise in first before going straight to the music.)

And while I enjoyed hearing each member of War circa 2007-2008 excel at their instruments, did we really need a 30-minute version of “Low Rider,” complete with excerpts from so many other songs that weren’t even part of War’s catalog? Yes, I know they included all of their big hits within the course of this show, but couldn’t they have trimmed the excess fat of this number and thrown in one or two lesser-known tracks from their history? Maybe something off of the nbtc__dv_250 Peace Sign album, perhaps?

Lastly… look, I know that music is a living, breathing thing and must change with time in order to stay alive. I know this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I also know that playing the same damn songs for over thirty years has to get boring, and you need to do something new with arrangements to keep things fresh. That said, I’m really sorry, but when I listen to songs like “Spill The Wine” or “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” I still expect to hear the original song.

So far, one would expect me to completely hate Greatest Hits Live -- and, after one listen to the CD, I was prepared to pretty much write this one off. But something kept drawing me back to the discs (and, eventually, the DVD; the only difference between the two is an extended piece featuring audience participation during “Me And Baby Brother”), and despite the lack of most of the original members, this version of War proves to hold their ground quite well.

Jordan does act as the lynchpin holding War together, and his voice and keyboard work gives the material the familiarity it needs for the listener. Meanwhile, people like woodwinds/vocalist Fernando Harkless, bassist Francisco Tomaselli, and percussionist Marcos Reyes all inject new life and new voices into the music. The one redeeming factor about War’s music is that, with rare exception, you’re not listening for a solo to be note-for-note; you’re listening to see what direction that musician is going to take things. Harkless, in particular, is amazing with what he does on saxophone and flute, and the DVD only adds to his legend.

One note for the old-school people that might seal the deal on which version to get: the DVD closes with a snippet of the old video for “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” featuring the laughing face asking the famous question. I’d have like to have seen the whole video on there, but I guess that’s why YouTube is out there. Still, it was nice to see this again for the first time in over three decades.

In the end, I have to admit that the biases towards the old versions of the songs was erased by more than competent musicianship, and Jordan’s leadership (as well as knowing when to relinquish the spotlight to his bandmates) does prove that War is still very much alive and kicking. With a little bit of tightening up the ship, Greatest Hits Live could have been an outstanding disc. But, then again, War has always sailed by throwing a little caution to the wind. This one will definitely bring back some memories for the children of the ‘70s.

Rating: B-

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I saw WAR a couple of years ago. They Threw Down.I thought maybe a couple of members might not be original, but not not the whole band except the leader. You really wouldn't know it.

© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Avenue / Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.