Originally broadcast by Wichita, KS' KMUW in December of 1979, Manilla Road's After Midnight Live CD was only granted an official release in 2009, and that was after a limited first run of 1,000 vinyl copies. That's right, black wax and an entire 30 years after the fact make this yet another collectible archaeological discovery of some import for the followers of one of America's great cult heavy metal bands (not to mention anyone who actually recalls vinyl and the days when radio stations transmitted live rock concerts!). Furthermore, these recordings predate even Manilla Road's debut album, Invasion, and amazingly include none of its tracks -- a testament to the band's prolific songwriting talents, which, at this stage, ran the gamut between progressive, psychedelic and hard rock, plus, of course, heavy metal. This heady hybrid certainly explains the highly abstract lyrics permeating even the most straightforward and vigorous guitar workouts found here, including opener "Chromaphobia" and set-closer "Herman Hill" -- as well as the latent hippie sentiments expressed within far mellower meditations like "Dream of Peace" and the 12-minute epic "Life's so Hard," both of them reminiscent of Band of Gypsys-era Hendrix. Not surprisingly, and regardless of the intensity of attack, vocalist/guitarist Mark Shelton absolutely shreds his axe across all of these cuts, pushing each one well beyond the six-minute mark with his expertly improvised solos. Having raved this far, though, let's be clear on the fact that none of these songs actually surpass those eventually chosen for Manilla Road's imminent first album; they just match their somewhat inconsistent qualities with arguably better sound. The only absolutely essential gem among the bunch has to be the particularly powerful and infectious "Pentacle of Truth," and yet that's reason enough for Manilla Road fanatics to invest in their own copy of After Midnight Live.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia