Friday, August 1, 2008

Wolfgang's Vaults: The Isley Brothers Palace Theatre November 7 1973 New York, NY

All of the content in this posting comes from this page:

Ernie Isley - guitar
Marvin Isley - bass, percussion, background vocals
O'Kelly Isley, Jr. - vocals, percussion
Rudolph Isley - vocals, percussion
Ronald Isley - lead vocals
Chris Jasper - piano, clavinet, synthesizers, percussion, background vocals
George Moreland - drums
Truman Thomas - organ


It's Too Late
Who's That Lady
Summer Breeze
Sunshine (Go Away Today)
Listen To The Music
Who's That Lady (Reprise)

The Isley Brothers have had a long and musically diverse career since they began in the 1950s singing gospel music. During the early 1960s, they initially established their reputation as a fine live R&B act, achieving modest success with several independently released singles and featuring a young Jimi Hendrix playing lead guitar in their touring band. By the mid-1960s, Hendrix had departed and the brothers signed on with Motown Records. They would score a big hit in 1966 with "This Old Heart Of Mine," but despite this success, they grew increasingly frustrated at Motown, where they were relegated to second class status, behind top groups like The Supremes and The Temptations. This eventually found them parting ways with the label and signing with Buddha Records in 1969. Here they attained newfound faith in themselves and began a conscious effort to update their image and sound. They soon hit it big again with the funk anthem, "It's Your Thing," which shot up the charts, earning them their only Grammy Award and going on to sell over five million copies. The group's sound was now more innovative, mixing their R&B roots with the funky soul stylings of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone. When the older vocalizing brothers added younger musician brothers, Ernie and Marvin, as well as brother-in-law Chris Jasper to the mix, everything really began to jell and this younger blood became an integral factor in redefining the vocal group as a band.

This late 1960s/early 1970s era was a time of growth for The Isley Brothers and they produced some of their most enduring music during these years. In 1973, now signed to Epic, the Isleys recorded the groundbreaking 3 + 3 album, which immediately took off with the reworking of their 1964 original, "Who's That Lady," now re-titled "That Lady, Pt. 1 & 2." When the band hit the stage of Manhattan's Palace Theatre, to record this set for Don Kirchner's Rock Concert television show, it was right at the time 3 + 3 was catching fire. Other than the obvious charms of the revamped "Who's That Lady," what makes this set (and that album) so compelling is the band’s ability to reinvent contemporary rock, pop and folk songs into a funky soulful blend uniquely their own.

From the first number this is apparent, as they vamp on Carole King's "It's Too Late" completely reinventing the song in the process. Thanks to the guitar licks of younger brother Ernie and keyboardist Chris Jasper, the group transforms this song into syncopated funky rock. During this number, Ronald mentions that Hendrix was a former guitarist with the group, followed by a searing guitar solo tribute from Ernie. At the song’s conclusion, the group dives headlong into "Who's That Lady," with Ernie continuously wailing on guitar throughout. This is a blazing performance that proves this band not only had the vocal prowess they were already well known for, but also the instrumental chops to back it up.

The next several numbers are prime examples of the band’s interpretive skills and their ability to completely redefine a song. Seals And Croft’s "Summer Breeze" highlights Ronald's emotive singing and reinterprets the song into a lengthy soulful excursion, allowing the group to stretch out. This also contains a smoking solo from Ernie. Jonathan Edwards’ folky "Sunshine (Go Away Today)" is also radically rearranged, now featuring a deep funk groove that is totally unlike the original. The group then heads into heavier political protest territory, featuring a blend of Neil Young's "Ohio" with Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun." This unusual pairing is quite inspired and nearly as captivating as the originals. Needless to say, once again Ernie Isley delivers a blazing solo that finds the middle ground between Jimi Hendrix and Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel. This may be the most compelling performance of the set.

This is followed by a cover of The Doobie Brothers' "Listen To The Music." They give it more of an R&B feel, but it's lightweight in comparison to what preceded it, and they stick relatively close to the original arrangement. The actual song only lasts a minute or so before it becomes little more than a call and response party jam with the audience. With only a short amount of time left, they return for a second stab at "Who's That Lady" that cooks even harder than the earlier version. Here it’s a bit more ragged, but Ernie's guitar chops are fully warmed up and he delivers sizzling guitar work that is more expressive and intense. This version also contains an extended vocal coda and wall of controlled feedback near the end that brings the set to a roaring close.

The 3 + 3 album would eventually be certified platinum and would begin a string of gold and platinum record achievements throughout the remainder of the decade. The Isley Brothers continued to explore a wide range of music, but never were they such a compelling live act as they were right here. This is the Isleys at their peak, breaking through racial and musical boundaries.


monster paperbag said...

I wish I was there to see this happen.

April Boo said...

I wish I was there to see this happen.