The ’70s was arguably THE era of the live album, producing an array of classics, often in double-album form, that allowed punters to have their own concert experience on the home stereo. Wishbone Ash entered the fray in 1973 with Live Dates, a well-liked live double that began a long string of live releases for this band of eternal road warriors.
The first record of the set focuses on the band’s most recent efforts. Side one of Live Dates is basically a live version of Argus‘ second side, minus the acoustic idyll of “Leaf And Stream.” This makes sense as it allows the band to show off what have become multi-decade staples of the live act in “The King Will Come,” “Warrior” and “Throw Down The Sword.” They’re a little slower than the studio counterparts but rich in synergistic band interplay and intricate guitar work. The second side delivers two Wishbone Four tracks in “Ballad Of The Beacon” and “Rock & Roll Widow” – and both decimate their studio versions with enhanced levels of energy and dynamics. The blues standard “Baby What You Want Me To Do” closes this side: some fans dislike this but it’s a rock-solid bit of blues boom fun with some ace slide guitar from Ted Turner.
Side three dips back to their second album, Pilgrimage, for live takes of “The Pilgrim” and “Jail Bait.” Both songs feed off the energy of the live arena, the former showing off their ability to bring complexity to guitar rock and the latter being a white-hot boogie showcase. In the middle is “Blowin’ Free,” the carefree Argus rocker whose bouncy mix of folk and boogie is as close as they got to pop music. The fourth side is devoted to a 17-minute version of “Phoenix,” the band’s signature tune. Despite nearly doubling in length, it never feels padded or labored. Instead, the expansion allows the band to wring all the dramatic tension out of the piece as they take the time to explore each twist of its arrangement in greater detail. The entire second half is one big, multi-tiered climax that shows off the band’s ability to harness and direct their energy.
Live Dates marked the end of an era because Ted Turner departed the band after its release. Thankfully, this album allowed the original lineup to close out its era with a compelling testament to their prowess and communication. Some quibble over the quality of the sound here: it can get a little muddy at times, particularly on the first side, but the vibe and intensity shine through at all times and really draw the listener into the experience. It remains a key live album from the genre’s peak period.