Live Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf

Dunhill / ABC / MCA Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/10/1998

This is all Eric E5S16's fault...

We got chatting via e-mail not long ago about older albums and their availablility on CD. Somehow, the topic got onto '60s stalwarts Steppenwolf. I don't know what happened next, but something got lodged in my brain, and this evening, I found myself marching down the aisles of the Pierce Archives (next showing for Titanic: 15 minutes) and grabbing for a slab of Steppenwolf vinyl.

And after listening to their 1970 live effort Live Steppenwolf, their success just has to be a case of being in the right place at the right time. These live versions not only pale in comparison to their studio versions, but they also prove that John Kay and crew really - gasp! - weren't that talented to begin with.

It's not that I hate Steppenwolf. I spent my later years in high school grooving to the first two Steppenwolf albums, blasting them from the speakers of my '75 Mustang II (you know, the one with the sunroof you had to hand-crank - further proof I was uncool). Their studio work may have taken on a few wrinkles over the years, and if one more person mis-uses "Born To Be Wild," I'm going to vomit. But all in all, their early studio stuff wasn't that bad.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So what happened on Live Steppenwolf? First, I've always said that the live album is the most difficult thing for an artist to perfect. There are always so many variables, not to mention the inevitable comparison to the studio cousins of the songs, that it almost always disappoints in some ways. Add on to this Kay's pontificating from the stage about the governmant's crackdown on marijuana and the Vietnam War (why not, this was 1970), and as long as you have a Lava Lite and some incense, you're ready for flashback city curled up next to the hookah. (I have one, but for some reason, it dispenses iced tea. Gotta read the manual next time I install something.)

What's more frustrating are the actual performances, combined with Gabriel Mekler's production work. I happen to like "Hey, Lawdy Mama," and the version here especially rocks - but to abruptly segue into "Magic Carpet Ride"? The splice isn't a natural one - I can hear it. Why not let one of the better songs finish naturally? While we're on a rant, will somebody explain why the fuck every blues-based song done by a rock band has the line "I've got a bird that whistles, and I have birds that sing?" It wasn't cool when Led Zeppelin did it on "You Shook Me," and it isn't cool when Kay croons it during "Corrina, Corrina"... stop it, goddamnit, STOP IT!!!

It would be something if the live versions of the hits lived up to their studio counterparts - alas, they don't. For some, like "Magic Carpet Ride," it's almost impossible to recapture that feeling, the original having relied on studio tricks to get some of the effects. Even some of the lesser-known ones, like "Draft Resister" and "Monster," suffer.

But there are a couple of redeeming performances here. Besides "Hey, Lawdy Mama," I happened to like "Power Play," and "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam" wasn't too far off from the original. "The Pusher" is always kind of fun to listen to as well.

Live Steppenwolf is definitely a relic from the past - and to the casual listener, might be one best left resting in peace. If you grew up with this music, you might want to give it a spin or two... but remember what momma said about playing with wolves...

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1998 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 Dunhill / ABC / MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.