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Published: 2008/03/27
by Brian Ferdman

Albert Collins Live at Montreux 1992

Eagle Vision

The locomotive of the Montreux archives chugs along with the latest release in the seemingly endless array of DVDs from classic performances at the famed festival. This time around, the star is renowned bluesman, Albert Collins, whose 1992 set was captured but one year before he succumbed to cancer. As a bonus, four songs are included from his 1979 show at Montreux.

Electric blues music occasionally suffers from a degree of “sameness,” primarily because most songs are working from the same scale and, quite often, the same groove. Collins’ 1992 band, The Icebreakers, doesn’t do much to stand out, as their horn-laden feel is a bit too crisp and precise, sounding very much like countless blues bands across America. However, once the lead axeman begins his solos, it’s a different story. Using his signature Telecaster with a capo and strap slung over on his right shoulder like a machine gun, Collins attacks his strings with ferocity, sustaining and bending notes for great effect. His aggressive and strident tones serve as a great contrast with The Icebreakers’ mild maneuvers, particularly on the milquetoast, second-line-lite groove of “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot.” As his backing band locks into their lines, Collins goes on one of his patented strolls through the crowd, soloing with ferocity while also finding time to shake several hands at the ends of several measures. It’s a maneuver that Albert Collins has used countless times throughout his career, but it’s also the clear highlight of this show, causing the crowd to enthusiastically get up and unintentionally provide the answer to the ancient Buddhist riddle: “What is the sound of 1,000 white people clapping on every downbeat?”

Four bonus tracks from the 1979 festival are tacked onto the end, and this is where the DVD really kicks into high gear. 1979’s Icebreakers are a lean, mean blues machine, speedily rumbling through “Listen Here,” while Collins plays tension-and-release games, ripping up and down the frets before taking one of his notorious strolls into the audience. This time around, he takes a seat in the crowd and proceeds to blow the minds of those around him with a variety of theatrics, including playing his Telecaster behind his head. Unlike the measured excitement of 1992’s crowd, this group of Swiss music fans jump on their seats and go absolutely crazywhile still managing to clap on every downbeat. A nasty, deep pocket of funk is laid down in the grinding slink of “Snatchin’ It Back” before a standard blues ballad awakens in the form of “Cold Cold Feeling.” The finale of “Frosty” is Collins’ mega-hit, and The Icebreakers swing through it with ease and dexterity, aided by legendary guest guitarist, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

Watching and listening to performances from thirteen years apart provides an interesting point of comparison. This is especially true when one particular song, “Frosty,” is played in both gigs. The songs from 1979 appear to be fluid, passionate shots that come straight from the gut, while 1992’s set is much more polished and slick. Although it probably says something about the times, the audience in 1979 is having way more fun than their 1992 counterparts. To say that the offerings from 1979 are vastly superior to those of 1992 in every single way is a bit of understatement, as the former completely dwarfs the latter in quality and intensity. Even though it’s only four bonus tracks, the 1979 gig is the reason to own this DVD; 1992’s performance is but mere icing on the proverbial cake.

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