Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Live At The Fillmore

Doug Collette By

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Live At The Fillmore is as deceptively and unassumingly rewarding as the band who made it.
Big Head Todd & The Monsters
Live At The Fillmore
Sanctuary Records

On both DVD and CD, Live At The Fillmore is as deceptively and unassumingly rewarding as the band who made it. Colorado-based Big Head Todd & The Monsters have played their way through the rock scene dubbed alternative and are now firmly ensconced in the jamband genre by dint of their relaxed but authoritative means of creating down-to-earth blues-rooted rock and roll. The DVD and double-CD package document how they skillfully stretch out with articulate if not eloquent improvisations.

The near-simultaneous release of the two configurations provides some insight into the evolution of both technology and marketing. You have to wonder if we are beginning to hear the death knell for the compact disc, because Fillmore , unlike so many similarly-conceived companion pieces, contains all the same performance tracks. The DVD however, allows different mixes as you view it as well as footage of the trio on the road and a short tour though the famed West Coast rock venue once operated by the late Bill Graham, all of which adds ambience to the live performances at the heart of the disc(s).

The pragmatic and the whimsical sides of the band's personality surface in the road footage: BHTM has learned how to find the small pleasures of the road life and magnify them, whether they be tourist oriented or show-related. In their walk-through of the Fillmore, the bandmembers display a healthy respect for its history, but they are not at all in awe of it, which bespeaks a confidence in their own abilities to carry on the tradition they revere.

All of which is harbinger of the good news delivered by Live At The Fillmore which both reinforces the strength of BHTM as live performers as well as erasing for the most part the negative impression left by their previous studio album released earlier this year. Perhaps if the special guests—Jeremy Lawton on keyboards, pedal steel and vocals, Gary Greene percussion (virtually inaudible?!) and vocals and the ebullient Hazel Miller on backing vocals— had been present on the sessions for Crimes of Passion, the end result might not have seemed so misconceived. But here Big Head & Co play a heavy rifftune like "Dirty Juice" with a lilt instead of a leaden feel, while the band positively storms their way through "Conquistador."

It's mesmerizing too, to listen to "Imaginary Ships" not only for Todd Park-Mohr's laconic vocal delivery(he's absorbed more than a little soul from his R&B idols Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin), but for the way his rhythm guitar work accents his singing. He never overdoes the solos he takes either such as the one on "Brokenhearted Savior" and all the while, Todd has retained the delicate touch necessary to work an acoustic guitar too, which technique he utilizes so delicately on "Angela Dangerlove, " yet another Passion piece improved.

The instrumental interaction between Todd and The Monsters is that of a well-oiled machine, not surprising given their extended tenure together, but this unadorned, clear mix of the live recording reveals the inflections of both beat and melody each member of the rhythm section(Rob Squires bass and Brian Nevin drums) adds to the sound. Even given the extra sidemen mentioned above, there are no holes in the BHTM sound because each of the three anticipates the moves of the others, most clearly documented on this stage rendering of one of their earlier numbers, "Sister Sweetly," which receives the roar of approval it deserves from the audience.

Big Head Todd and The Monsters have developed a flair for the judicious cover song over the years: Dire Straits "Six Blade Knife" and Led Zeppelin's "Tangerine," to name just a couple. Live At The Fillmore concludes with their rendition of a tune recorded by Eric Clapton himself, in whose hands the song seems like little more than commercial fodder for the album on which it appeared (Mohr can compose material superior to that in the form of "Resignation superman). For BHTM, it becomes more than a little autobiographical, a statement of perseverance and loyalty, to their music, their fans and to themselves.

Track listing
1. Dirty Juice 2. Crazy Mary 3. Ellis Island 4. Come On 5. Sister Sweetly 6. Broken Hearted Savior

Todd Park Mohr: guitars and vocals; Rob Squires: bass and vocals; Brian Nevin: drums; Jeremy Lawton: keyboards; Gary Greene: percussion; Hazel Miller: lead and backing vocals

Visit Big Head Todd & The Monsters on the web at www.bigheadtodd.com .

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