big-star-live-in-memphis[xrr rating=3.5/5]There are few live documents of Big Star in any incarnation, which for some people only adds to the band’s allure. The Rykodisc release Big Star Live is the only official live recording of the band’s original lineup. Live In Memphisis the second live album documenting the revived Posies-heavy lineup that toured from the early ’90s until Alex Chilton’s death in 2010. Though it is every bit the piece of celebratory nostalgia that Columbia: Live At Missouri University was in 1994, Live in Memphis is the better album.

Recorded on the same tour that as that 1994 release, Live in Memphis has a similar setlist, with added covers including “Patty Girl” and “The Girl from Ipanema,” then a staple of Chilton’s solo live sets. The band kicks things off with the one-two rock punch of “In The Street” and “Don’t Lie To Me,” and the Posies’ Jon Auer proves to be a capable stand-in for the late Chris Bell on “I Am The Cosmos.” The set covers most of Big Star’s career, but since such a live album already exists, Live In Memphis has a hard time justifying itself as essential.

Chilton is more playful here than on other live Big Star recordings. He never seemed to take performances that seriously, with plenty of bootlegs existing to show Chilton as an erratic goofball onstage. This side of Chilton doesn’t comes across on the band’s other live recordings, but he’s in rare form here. Given his initial resistance towards to reuniting Big Star, it’s surprising (and pleasing) to hear Chilton having so much fun. Stringfellow and Auer provide a different layer of excitement, that of longtime fans giddy to be playing onstage with a songwriting legend. But the most shocking thing about Live In Memphis may be the crowd’s silence. Sure, they clap and cheer, and a member of the audience shouts out a request for Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” (one that Chilton obliges for all of twenty seconds), but the crowd isn’t the loud, rowdy sort that often hears on live albums. The crowd gives Chilton and company the reverence and respect they might give to the crowd, as if they’re present for a religious service. Then again, given the devotion Big Star inspires in some people, it’s not hard to see why that would be the case.

Taking into account the band’s past failures and Chilton’s notorious self-destructive streak, it’s surprising that we ever got a Big Star reunion at all, let alone one that lasted so long. It was supposed to end here, too. In the album’s liner notes, Jody Stephens notes that no one ever took the band to task for posters declaring this as their last show ever. Then again, when a band is having this much fun, it doesn’t make sense for them to stop.

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