Live And Dangerous

Thin Lizzy

Warner Bros., 1978

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Thin Lizzy is the only band I ever saw live twice without ever meaning to see them at all. They were second-billed on two different concerts I went to back in the day, a December 1976 show headlined by Queen and a stacked August 1978 triple-bill where they were sandwiched between headliner Kansas and opener The Cars. Neither show turned me into a superfan, but even as a fickle 15-year-old, I was impressed.

In the wake of Peter Frampton’s 1976 monster hit Frampton Comes Alive, the live album would reach its apex in the late ’70s. This sudden focus on live releases held across the board but was maybe especially true in one particular niche—the fist-pumping, guitar-hero-worshipping, reflexively anthemic music that would soon earn the label arena rock. That said, several notable 1977-79 entries in the live album sweepstakes that followed Frampton’s spectacular rise—I’m thinking particularly here of both Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous and UFO’s Strangers In The Night—were not classic AOR; rather, they’re melodic hard rock.

Like that close cousin, Live And Dangerous features blazing guitars and a heavy sound that nonetheless leans into melody and doesn’t hesitate to throw in a bluesy ballad or two. It’s the kind of music that feels custom-made for an arena-sized crowd, loud and propulsive but also hooky and engaging. And Live And Dangerous was beautifully timed, capturing Thin Lizzy at the peak of the considerable powers wielded by its classic 1974-78 lineup of Phil Lynott (lead vocals/bass), Scott Gorham (guitars/vocals), Brian Robertson (guitars/vocals) and Brian Downey (drums).

There has been controversy over the years about how much overdubbing was done on this album—a common practice with live albums of the era—but Gorham and Robertson both insist the only tinkering was the re-recording of some background vocals and one rhythm guitar track. Regardless, the results speak for themselves: Live And Dangerous hit #2 in the UK album charts during a 62-week run that cemented its status as “one of the best double live LPs of the ’70s” and “a true live classic,” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide.

It didn’t hurt that at the time of the first shows recorded for this album in December 1976, the band had just released one of the great album- and concert-openers of the era, “Jailbreak,” a pulsing, dynamic number that’s pretty much guaranteed to get the blood pumping. On its heels they proceed to rip through three more in-your-face rockers in “Emerald,” “Southbound,” and a smoking cover of Bob Seger’s “Rosalie,” with the result that when they break it down for a moment in the latter, the crowd rises up immediately to urge them on. (And if the crowd noise was in fact manipulated by producer Tony Visconti, all I can say is well done, mate, because it sounds completely organic.)

They finally ease off the gas at track five for a swinging take on hit single “Dancing In The Moonlight,” with guest sax from John Earl of Graham Parker’s band. After that the well-paced show moves from the hard-and-heavy “Massacre” into the smoldering slow blues “Still In Love With You,” highlighted by one of the most expressive lead vocals of Lynott’s career. “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” doesn’t fare as well, saddling a cool stutter-stepping beat and sizzling solos with an unfocused lyric. But we’re quickly into more highlights…

In its studio incarnation, “The Cowboy Song” starts out so quiet you almost have to turn it up to hear Lynott’s vocal over the acoustic opening. Here they substitute gentle electric strums for acoustic and ramp it up to an all-out electric assault inside of the first minute, and damn does it soar. Not letting up for an instant, they take advantage of a common note to segue directly from the last of “Cowboy” into the first of “The Boys Are Back In Town,” the latter’s galloping rhythms pushing and pushing until the closing twin-guitar solo feels like it achieves low orbit.

There’s plenty more, of course; the heavy anthems “Don’t Believe A Word” and “Warriors” take no prisoners and “Sha La La” spotlights Downey’s thunderous work behind the kit. Still, it’s the fun bits near the end that put the cherry on top. First, Lynott introduces the ace harmonica player who’s just lit up encore “Baby Drives Me Crazy”… and it’s Huey Lewis! (No, seriously; Lewis’ first band Clover opened for most of the dates on Lizzy’s fall 1976 swing through the UK.) Finally, an ebullient Lynott gets playful with the crowd ahead of the final encore, reaching back to early days for a blistering take on non-album single “The Rocker.” While the lyric is a jumble of swaggering bad-boy cliches, the sentiment wins out, the arrangement is clever, and the quartet wrings every bit of muscle and flair out of it they can, leaving nothing on the stage.

As for the question of overdubs, the only place they’re really noticeable is on “The Boys Are Back In Town,” where the background vocals are far too clean and crisp to be the originals. For the most part the album indeed feels live, and is fueled start to finish by the tremendous energy Lynott, Downey, Gorham, Robertson pour into these tunes. Sadly, Live And Dangerous turned out to be the final bow for the band’s strongest lineup, with Robertson departing a few dates into the subsequent tour. Nothing ever came easy for Thin Lizzy, but the group absolutely earned the reputation they cemented with this superb live album.

Rating: A-

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