Director Tony Palmer's exquisitely filmed portrait of Rory Gallagher's 1974 Irish tour has gone down in rockumentary history as one of the finest available examples of the documentarian's art -- only Pennebaker's work with Bob Dylan can reasonably argue a superior case, only the Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter a rawer approach. Shot at a time when such projects were indeed a rarity, Irish Tour 1974 was, nevertheless, something of a distortion of the true nature of the event. Gallagher, after all, ranked among the most down-to-earth "superstars" one can imagine, even balking at Palmer's insistence on staging an end-of-tour party for the benefit of the cameras. Donal Gallagher, Rory's brother, was eventually persuaded to make sure the event took place, and everything eventually went according to plan. But the guitarist's discomfort is nevertheless apparent here and in those other scenes that called for him to do anything other than play the blues. That, after all, is what he excelled at, and it is in the plentiful live footage that Irish Tour 1974 in turn makes its mark. An oft-bootlegged Old Grey Whistle Test appearance aside, there is shockingly little video available of Gallagher at his peak (Irish Tour 1974 itself never made it to either home video or television, rendering its DVD release of especial value), so the nine performances showcased here really are vital to any understanding of how and why Gallagher was so important to the early '70s. At a time when other artists, even within his own blues framework, were becoming ever more grandiose and self-important, Gallagher eschewed even a taste of stardom's trappings, and Palmer's footage captures him at his barest -- old shirt, old jeans, old axe, and a very old soul -- peeling out some of the most dynamic guitar playing of his career. Irish Tour 1974 may not be perfect, but it's as great as Gallagher himself ever was. And that should be good enough for everyone.
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