Rory Gallagher: Stage Struck
At their peak, Rory Gallagher's live performances burned with a jaw- dropping intensity, none of which he frittered away with histrionics of any kind. Rather, the late Irish bluesman channeled his energy into his music, which is why the concert albums he released are among the best in his discography. In keeping with its dramatic title, Stage Struck is among that number.
Opening with a frenzied rendition of "Shin Kicker," Gallagher and his stalwart rhythm section of bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Ted McKenna play with such abandon, it sounds as if they've been deprived of taking the stage in front of an audience for months. "Wayward Child" isn't much less brutal in its savagery, but close listening reveals how carefully in control is the trio. As if to make the point about how Gallagher and company manage the dynamics of their playing, the next offering is "Brute Force & Ignorance," an exercise in anything but.
Deft finesse is a much more apt description of the threesome's interaction on this track, especially insofar as, with just three instruments, and not an overly loud volume, the mix doesn't betray any discernible holes. That said, the production doesn't clean up the sound to the point of sterility: guitar chording rides the mobile bass work while the heavy kick drum way at the bottom is more felt than heard, which is as it should be. Gallagher's lead guitar lines are, for the most part, incandescent and thus elevate the musicianship to often dizzying peaks, as is the case on "Moonchild." The man feeds on the excitement of the crowd and vice-versa.
Unlike some of the titles in the reissue program, Stage Struck retains its original eye-catching cover and appropriately so: it illustrates that close connection between artist and audience. The CD inset photo is almost as striking, to the point the inclusion of more such photos might better have dominated the design of the enclosed booklet instead of the posed shots that govern it. The abbreviated introductory essay authored, as are all such entries, by the late guitarist's brother Donal (who supervised the reissue campaigns), is melodramatic to a fault as well, unlike the more matter-of- fact pieces included in other packages.
No such overstatement is necessary to accompany this music. In fact, the inclusion of two bonus tracks on this compact disc achieves a delicate task by extending the momentum of the set as sequenced over the course of a total ten tracks. The truncated reggae tease inserted into "Bad Penny" clarifies Rory Gallagher was more than aware of contemporary musical movements of the time, in addition to being loyal to the roots of his own style, while "Keychain" finds him fully and deeply absorbed in the feverish spontaneity of the moment.
The astute insertion of those recordings, like the rest taken from world touring over nine months' time, allows "Shadow Play" to effectively ignite the Gallagher trio's acceleration into the home stretch of its show. Just as "Bought & Sold," like the high-stepping "Last of the Independents," may be readily interpreted as statements of both personal and musical integrity on the part of this iconoclastic musician, "Shadowplay" suggests that the closing to this non-stop instrumental juggernaut, is, like the rest of this slightly less than hour long disc, no illusion whatsoever.
Tracks: Shin Kicker; Wayward Child; Brute Force and Ignorance; Moonchild; Bad Penny; Key Chain; Follow Me; Bought and Sold; The Last of the Independents; Shadow Play.
Personnel: Rory Gallagher: guitar, harmonica, vocals: Gerry McAvoy: bass guitar; Ted McKenna: drums.