October 07, 2008

Newly Released Otis Redding Live Album Recalls Timeless Soul

Less than three months before his exultant appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival and just nine months prior to his tragic death Otis Redding toured Europe in the spring of 1967 as part of the Stax/Volt Revue, treating rapt audiences to his firebrand expressions of soul.

Headlining a roster that included Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and Eddie Floyd, Redding capped off each show with a select mix of originals and covers, summoning the grit and visceral grind of his Georgia roots. Two such performances, originally recorded and mixed by legendary engineer Tom Dowd, have been preserved in their entirety and released this month as Live in London and Paris.

With the Stax house band of Booker T. & The MGs and The Mar Keys bringing its service to the concert stage, the songs assume much of the muscle and thrust of their original studio versions. Redding then revs them up a notch or ten, barnstorming through cuts like “Respect” and “Shake!” with bravado to spare.

His unvarnished, when-the-spirit-moves-him enthusiasm is ever-present, whether he’s plowing through urgent renditions of “Day Tripper” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or pouring out his last ounces of pain in “Try A Little Tenderness,” which mightily concludes both sets.

While a curfew at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria accounts for a somewhat condensed setlist, the Paris date at the Olympia Theatre afforded three additional songs “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and “These Arms of Mine” which, besides being among the finest works Redding ever wrote, also make for some of the best moments on this collection.

Both sets are otherwise comparable, but Otis Redding invests so much vitality into each performance that they come off as individually inspired. And, as Live in London and Paris illustrates, you simply can’t have too much of a good thing.