Warren Zevon - vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards; Bob Harris - synthesizer, piano, keyboards, vocals; David Landau - guitar; Roberto Pinon - bass, vocals; Marty Stinger - drums; Zeke Zirngiebel - guitar, vocals
After establishing himself in the late 1960s as a quirky songwriter, session musician, jingle composer, and then venturing into the 1970s as the keyboard player/bandleader/musical coordinator for the Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon's increasing dissatisfaction with the music industry led him to abandon it and leave America. When he returned to Los Angeles during the mid-1970s, he soon became associated with the burgeoning music scene developing around Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and the Eagles. A much darker and more ironic songwriter than other leading figures of that era's singer-songwriter movement, Zevon shared with them grounding in earlier folk and country influences and a commitment to an intellectual style of song craft. Though only a modest success, Zevon's self-titled 1976 album would begin the second and far more successful phase of his career. In 1978, Zevon released his next album, Excitable Boy, to critical acclaim. This would be the breakthrough album that would finally bring him the personal recognition he was searching for.
Despite dark and cynical underpinnings to Zevon's songwriting with lyrics that are often downright disturbing, his music is often joyfully sunny. Herein lies the secret to his uniqueness as a songwriter. His cynicism has such a sweet candy coating that it remains irresistible. Zevon wallows in the abyss of his own character flaws, using music to legitimize and eradicate them. Unlike countless other songwriters who pursue this path, Zevon's songs remain upbeat and pleasant to listen to, investigating the dark side looking for light, and bringing truth to his songs in the process. Zevon was unquestionably a true original that found hopeless escape in his music. Although Zevon was often an electrifying performer on stage, it was really his songs that have remained the center of his artistic legacy. His cynical edge gave his songs that Lennon-esque feel, and classics like "Mohammad's Radio," "Excitable Boy," and "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" hold up today as well as they did when Zevon first introduced them in the late 1970s.
Originally broadcast on WMMR-FM at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, PA for the King Biscuit Flower Hour, this performance captures a classic Warren Zevon show, when many believe he was at the height of his creative prowess. Near the start of the show, Zevon steps up to the microphone and exclaims: "It's great to be back in Philadelphia... And it's great to be in a rock and roll band!" Then, he launches into a blistering version of his hit, "Excitable Boy," with all the bravado of a pool hall punk. A song about a high school age sociopath's murderous prom night, this is a prime example of Zevon's extremely macabre outlook. Later in the show, he reminds the audience: "This is one of the best audiences I have ever seen; I may go berserk!"
Recorded on the tour for his third studio album, 1980's Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, Zevon had a strong band and arguably the best collection of material he performed on any tour in his career. The deadpan sense of humor that would become Zevon's signature is quite apparent during this performance, with perfect examples including the sarcastic "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," and of course, "Werewolves of London." He also performs one of his most brilliantly written narratives, "Accidentally Like a Martyr," the song that included a line that Bob Dylan would lift as the title of his return-to-form album, Time out of Mind. (Dylan would also cover this song in his own performances.) Another highlight is a terrific version of "Jennie Needs a Shooter," which he wrote with Bruce Springsteen. He pays tribute to his friend, the Boss, before the start of the song by saying: "God may have rested on the seventh day, but he got up in the afternoon and made us one Bruce Springsteen."
This set not only contains an excellent overview of the most compelling material from the first half of his peak years (1978-1982), but is a superb quality recording that captures the excitement of the performance and the chemistry between Zevon and his band, with the songs rocking harder than anything Zevon had summoned in the studio at that point. In December of this same year, Zevon released a live album, Stand In The Fire, culminated from a series of performances at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood during this same tour. Anyone who caught Zevon on what he called "The Dog Ate the Part We Didn't Like Tour" can attest to the fact that he was in superb form, playing music that rocked hard while displaying intelligence, passion, and a sharply corrosive wit. This recording can be perceived and enjoyed as an expanded edition to that set, containing a complete alternate performance from earlier in the tour.
Warren Zevon never again attained the same commercial and critical success as he did between 1978 and 1982. In 1980, newly sober at the time, Zevon was delivering captivating edgy performances that utilized the power of rock and roll to purge his self-destructive tendencies. Nearly 30 years later, this performance still displays plenty of tangible fury, and the violent mayhem of Zevon's lyrics penetrate the driving rhythmic crunch, sharp stabs of lead guitar, and raucous piano provided by Zevon and this remarkable band. Few would argue that Warren Zevon was a gifted singer and songwriter, but this superb quality live recording and performance proves that he could also rock with the best of them.