As live albums go, there is only a handful that are completely perfect. And while some of us may differ as to which of those live documents fit into that exclusive club, there is no denying that there are only a few perfect live albums. The mix may not be all there for some of them and that is certainly true about my subject here, Wishbone Ash’s marvelous Live Dates, which has a muddy mix that needs fixin’ (the US MCA version; England has a 2003 BGO remaster available), but the performances are unforgettable and outstanding.
Wishbone Ash, having come off the excellent but damned album (damned because it came out after Argus, the breakout album for the band), Wishbone Four, released their 2LP gatefold live album and fans snapped them up. This was an upward time for the band as they began to find a wider audience in both the States and England. Their shows were energetic and exciting. They willingly performed the extended classic “Phoenix” in every show, never producing an exact duplicate but delivered, with every performance of the song, a uniqueness.
The original Live Dates contained 11 performances, all of them from four English venues in summer 1973. On the original US 1992 MCA 2CD reissue, the classic “Phoenix” performance from the band’s impossible to acquire 4-song promo, Live at Memphis EP (1972), was included. But the mix is low and somewhat muddied and could do with a current treatment of remastering (as can Wishbone Four). (I do not have nor have I heard the 2003 BGO Remaster to remedy this but regardless, I have an end result in mind as you'll note further down).
The set begins with “The King Will Come,” “Warrior,” and “Throw Down the Sword” from their popular Argus album before moving into new material from Wishbone Four, a soaringly gorgeous “Rock and Roll Widow” and a majestic performance of their ‘closest to a perfect single,’ “Ballad of the Beacon.” It is injected with a non-album live cut of Jimmy Reed’s superb “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” On the CD version, that disc is completed with the bonus inclusion of the extra “Phoenix” track.
The second disc provides a great performance of “The Pilgrim” from their 2nd studio LP, Pilgrimage along with the rockin’ “Jailbait” (even though this live version lacks the BITE of the studio version, it still retains the gracefulness) from the same album. The wistful “Blowin’ Free” from Argus is tucked in along with “Lady Whiskey” and a splendid 17-minute performance of “Phoenix” from their debut self-titled Decca album. All songs on this album have a feeling of love and comfort that comes when a band has grown into their songs and understand them enough to skillfully provide us with memorable shows. And that is just what Live Dates is, a memorable show that Wishbone Ash fans the galaxy over have adored to this day.
In this era of expansive reissues and Deluxe Editions, in the case of UMe,, Live Dates is a prime candidate for a multi-disc Deluxe Edition. I can see this with a DVD of a show from this era, a greatly expanded booklet, added songs from live shows in this period (they’re there, I have Tracks, a collected album of performance songs from various periods of the band’s existence and lineups), and, most importantly, a new-tech remastering of this set. No live classic such as Live Dates is, deserves it more.
Live Dates is, without question, one of the 70s' great Live albums. It now needs to be treated as such.