April 30, 2007

CD Review: Warren Zevon - Stand in the Fire

What an absolute eye opener of a live album this was. It captures the unbridled rock and roll energy that Warren Zevon possessed, at once large and epic and small and intimate as an artist could ever be. A storyteller, a singer, a songwriter, an artist, a live performer, no one will ever be able to match what Warren brought to the table. This release has been a long time coming, but now that it is here, it must be witnessed.

I was something of a latecomer to the table when it comes to my listening to Warren Zevon. My Father was a fan, but he was not an artist that I picked up on from him until I was into my 20's. We had the oppostunity to see him perform live in 1999 when he was gearing up for the release of Life'll Kill Ya, a brilliant slice of classic Zevon wit, insight, and skill. It is an evening that I am likely to never forget. He was on the stage alone, he performed half the set on acoustic guitar, the other half on keyboard, and it was this fantastic evening, kind of like hanging out with an old friend, singing along and just having a good time. Now Stand in the Fire is a distinctly different experience, but one that is in line with what I know of the man known as Warren Zevon.

Stand in the Fire was recorded at The Roxy in LA, a small, intimate club that seemingly had its roof nearly blown off by this energy filled performance. This has to be one of the best live albums I have ever listened to. This is what a rock show is all about, loud, and brimming with energy. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been there that night, but it is one for the history books. It features a Warren Zevon teetering on the edge of madness. It stands apart from his great studio recordings, as the wit infused songs take on a new life as he adlibs a few lines, involving such characters as James Taylor and Brian de Palma in his tale of a werewolf loose on the streets of Los Angeles.

Generally, I would not think referring to a live performance of this style to possess unbridled energy, but that is the case here. You can feel each note bubbling over as they are performed by an artist on the edge. Having overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol, Zevon did not allow the temperament of his past indiscretions take a toll on his fervent energy, dark tales, or ingenius way of incorporating humor. I thought I had a good idea of what Zevon was about based on his studio recordings, but this is an eye opening foray into just how skilled an artist he truly was.

The album contains performances of such classics as "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," "Excitable Boy," "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," and the incredible "Werewolves of London," which everyone knows even if they don't know who Warren Zevon is. I have to give much thanks to Rhino for finally releasing this long sought after album. There are even a few bonus songs that were previously unreleased from that special night, "Johnny Strikes Up the Band," "Play it All Night Long," "Frank and Jesse James" as a solo vocal/piano piece, and "Hasten Down the Wind" which he introduces with a personal note regarding what it means to him and just how important the song was to him.

Bottomline. This is just a great album capturing an artist at his peak. It is powerful, epic, personal, and everything in between. At one point he says “Get up and dance, or I’ll kill ya! And I’ve got the means!” and you believe that he could make do on that promise. That is one in your face sentiment that is countered later during his intro to "Hasten Down the Wind,": "Speaking as one who has abused privilege a long time, I tell you, it's great to be alive." And I tell you, your music will live forever.

Highly Recommended.


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