Review: Fleetwood Mac – “Before the Beginning 1968 – 1970 Live & Demo Sessions” (Sony Music) Part 2 – The Warehouse recordings
Tracks 6 through 15 on Disc 2 and tracks 1 through five on Disc 3 of “Before the Beginning 1968 – 1970 Live & Demo Sessions” (Sony Music) are taken from Fleetwood Mac’s three day stand at a short lived but much-loved venue in New Orleans, LA, The Warehouse.
As with the recordings taken from the Carousel Ballroom, this collection shares tracks with two other collections released in 2019. Disc 3 of “Transmission Impossible – Legendary Radio Broadcasts From the 1960’s & 1970’s” duplicates the single disc collection “The Warehouse Tapes” (Good Ship Funke). The ten tracks were taken from a radio broadcast marking the venue’s opening night on January 30, 1970. The Flock opened the show and Fleetwood Mac took the middle slot in support of headliners The Grateful Dead.
“Before the Beginning” leaves off three of the ten numbers from the show on the thirtieth and adds eight (from eleven in circulation on bootleg) from a show on January 31, 1970 at the same venue.
A year and a half separate track five, from the Carousel Ballroom and track six from The Warehouse on Disc 2 and the difference in the band’s sound and approach, especially with the juxtaposition of the ridiculous ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ and the sublime ‘Before the Beginning’ is jarring.
Christopher Hjort takes five pages in the liner notes to explain what transpired within the band to provide proper context and newcomers would do well to pause the disc and bring themselves up to speed before jumping into the 1970 recordings.
The sound quality on these recordings is not as strong as on the earlier show; the first track finds Green’s voice too far back in the mix and the drums far too loud. More distractingly, the mike by the drums also picks up Mick Fleetwood’s atonal moaning as Green plays and sings. They have managed to lower his presence in comparison to the bootlegs that I have heard, but he can still be heard.
Green plays well on the track, but the rhythm section’s inflexibility render this performance “good” rather than “great”.
Unfortunately, the next number played, a smoking version of Otis Rush’s ‘It Takes Time’ is one of the three songs left off this collection, an unfortunate decision.
The next song in the set has also been excised, Kirwan’s ‘Like It This Way’. By this time, the number was a set standard for Kirwan, and he and Green build the tension taking turns batting the riff back and forth.
Elevating this number is the surprise appearance of Spencer on piano; he is buried in the mix, but it is still a thrill when Green drops back during the break and Spencer joins in.
The set picks up with what was Kirwan’s second number, another original, ‘Only You’. The fact that the vocals are still too low are less of a problem on this number as it is the number’s drive that the listener is focused on. The band are all in on this one, capturing the dynamics better than on many of the other live versions in circulation and while it still feels as if the number ends too soon, it leaves you wanting more, rather than feeling as if they simply cut the number off before its time.
The feeling that the number has been cut too short rises with the second version on the set of ‘Madison Blues’. Compare this performance with the one from 1968; Spencer takes his time with the intro and the band brings a swagger, prompting a more robust vocal from Spencer, that was missing from the earlier version.
This performance is a minute shorter than the earlier one, but flare-ups of feedback throughout the number may have caused Spencer to truncate the performance.
Undeterred, Spencer comes back strong with his cover of Elmore James’ ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’’ (mis-titled on the other two collections as ‘Oh Baby’). Spencer’s guitar is a highlight but the band all contribute to the number’s success, especially Fleetwood’s percolating percussion.
For reasons unknown (at least to me), the collection then reverses the order in which the next two numbers were played, having ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ follow Spencer’s number and after that, ‘Albatross’.
This is only the third available recording of ‘The Green Manalishi’ from when they first introduced it in concert in November of 1969 and it is a very strong rendition, one of the better ones now commercially available, in my opinion. Even at almost twelve minutes, it never goes slack.
Green’s introduction, “This is one called ‘The Green Manalishi’. It’s all about the Devil.” Adding, in a theatrically sly voice, “And how he tries to get you.” has been cut so his comment at the song’s conclusion “Don’t forget to watch out for him”, now has no context.
Green and the band were having a particularly good night and this carries over into their performance of ‘Albatross’. This again, to me, is one of the finest live versions caught on tape, overcoming the return of Fleetwood’s moans.
As originally played, with ‘World In Harmony’ coming after ‘The Green Manalishi’ this lovely instrumental came off almost as a continuation of that number’s extended coda; the next movement in a suite; a new day slowly dissolving the darkness of the previous night.
The next eight tracks are all taken from the show on January thirty-first. There is a noticeable drop-off in the sound quality but the strength of the performances compensates from these deficiencies.
Spencer can be just barely be heard on piano at the beginning of the first number, ‘Sandy Mary’ but is soon lost in the mix which is a shame as he helped paper over some of the difficulties that the band always struggles with with the tricky stop time rhythmic changes in this number. (It has been noted that there is a “glitch” around 1:14 / 1:15 in the number – this is found in the original recording as is not a manufacturing error)
The next number played at this show was Green’s eight-minute performance of B.B. King’s ‘All Over Again’ (I Got a Mind To Give Up Living); this is the seventh of nine available recordings and is considered one of, if not the best performances of the song by Green. That it was not included in this set is a bitter disappointment.
Instead, we get that night’s performances of both ‘Only You’ and ‘World in Harmony’.
Programmed on the same disc, there simply isn’t enough variation in the performances (the differences in ‘World in Harmony’ render it far inferior to the earlier version) to warrant their repetition, especially at the loss of Green’s number.
Spencer’s cover of ‘Stranger Blues’ was among the numbers excised from the first night’s set and it gets the ax again here; a shame as it was a particularly strong performance.
Small compensation that this night’s performance of ‘I Can’t Hold Out’ (Talk to me Baby) is included. This is a thrilling performance of an oft-played tune, with John McVie putting bounce in Spencer’s step as he trucks through the number’s seven minutes.
A brooding ‘Oh Well (Part I)’ breaks like a sudden cloud burst, drenching the audience and setting up the night’s two longest numbers, ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ and ‘Under Way’, clocking in at a combined twenty minutes. Comparison with the original recording shows that ‘Under Way’ is faded out before it’s natural ending. The number ran at least another minute and a half, (there is a sharp cut in the original recording indicating that the number ran even longer) with the band quickly ramping back up to a rousing climax.
The fade makes for a smoother listening experience, but that was not how the number was played that night.
The Warehouse recordings conclude with a completely reimagined arrangement of Kirwan’s ‘Coming Your Way’, featuring an extended drum break from Fleetwood with Green joining in on hand percussion.
Absent on the disc are the show’s two final numbers, ‘Tiger’ and ‘Twist and Shout’.
Fleetwood Mac’s three nights at The Warehouse (they played an unscheduled gig on February first to raise funds for the legal defense of the Grateful Dead and others who were arrested after the January thirtieth show for possession – memorialized in Robert Hunter’s song ‘Truckin’’) found the band near the top of their form and hopefully we will eventually see all three nights released in full, as they serve as a prelude to the shows at The Boston Tea Party just a few weeks later.