Nico

Do or Die

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When the tapes which comprise this album first appeared, on the bootleg Nico Sings the Void cassette sold at her 1982/1983 live shows, they were the only evidence of her live performance you could find. Today, there's close to a dozen such collections out there, including several radar-sharp recreations of entire performances. But Do or Die, salvaged from both that original tape and a handful of other period concert and radio performances, ranks among the finest of them all. And here's why. Culled from five European gigs during 1981, and featuring the finest of Nico's latter-day live bands, the Blue Orchids, the 12 songs (but 14 performances -- two songs appear twice) are drawn from almost every phase of her career, essentially lining up as the definitive "greatest hits" album Nico is still awaiting. And no, The Classic Years, well-meaning hodgepodge though it was, doesn't fit the bill. From the Velvets to Drama of Exile, the emphasis is on the crowd-pleasers -- even if one acknowledges that the things which pleased a Nico audience weren't necessarily those which would thrill anybody else. Kicking off with a chilling, echo-laden "Janitor of Lunacy," closing with a positively medieval rendering of "The End," Do or Die sweeps from the knowing bombast of "Heroes" to the skillful beauty of "Abscheid"; from a positively lovely "Femme Fatale" to an a cappella "All Tomorrow's Parties"; and peaks with a funereal "Saeta," recorded for Manchester's Picadilly Radio in 1981, and the seldom heard "No-One Is There," originally written for Richard Nixon, but dedicated now to Ronald Reagan. None of the performances are themselves definitive -- for all her live experience, Nico worked best in the studio, surrounded by silence, darkness, and friends. The concert environment paid the rent (and financed a few other little necessities) and, particularly through the mid-'80s, Nico gigged for little other reason -- you could hear it in her voice, see it in her movements, and, years later, still recount it on so many live posthumous albums. But not every flight was on auto-pilot, not every night caught her staring blankly ahead. Do or Die is important because those are the nights it captured.

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