So just how live is On Stage? Coming from an era when a remarkable number of "in concert" albums were actually cut in the studio with crowd noises overdubbed after the fact, it's hard to say if this 1965 release really was recorded during live Ventures engagements in Japan, England, and the United States, as the liner notes claim. It's clear the wildly enthusiastic audience has been at least partially faked, especially on the tracks from Japan (either someone used a tape loop of crowd sounds or there was an especially eccentric audience member who let out the very same high-pitched ascending whistle every two seconds), and the performances here don't sound at all different than the Ventures did in the studio, in terms of both technique and production. But if this was the product of three nights on-stage or a couple days in the studio, On Stage still sounds like one of the greatest of all instrumental bands reveling in the mastery of its craft. The guitar work is lean, precise, and full of fire, the drumming is as reliable as the atomic clock but a lot more exciting, and together these guys bring something fresh and invigorating to everything they tackle, which includes an eclectic batch of covers (encompassing the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" and Duke Ellington's "Caravan") and trademark originals such as "Pedal Pusher" and "Driving Guitars." Listening to On Stage, one marvels at the effortless perfection of this band, as Don Wilson, Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, and Mel Taylor lock in and ride these songs like an endless wave; whether the cheering is 100 percent authentic or enhanced in the studio, this music certainly deserves a big round of applause.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming