Henry Cow

Concerts

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Avant-garde rock & roll of 1970s vintage -- especially, it must be said, of the British variety -- doesn't typically age very well. And although Henry Cow was quite a unique ensemble, even by the standards of the 1970s avant-garde, it would be silly to deny that much of the music captured on these two live discs (originally released on LP in 1976) sounds pretty dated. But this is much more true of the song-based material than the more free-form, improvised music, which still sounds remarkably fresh and surprising 25 years later. And even the more period-specific material is of very high quality: singer Dagmar Krause (previously of Slapp Happy, later of the Art Bears) delivers fine performances on "Beautiful As the Moon/Terrible As an Army With Banners" and "Bad Alchemy," as does bassist John Greaves. On the second disc, guitarist Fred Frith tends to dominate, much to the music's benefit; for the most part, the sound is strictly abstract with Frith employing many of the extended guitar techniques that he would later expand and amplify in his solo work and in his duets with Henry Kaiser. The woodwinds and piano lend an almost classical feel to some of these tracks. It's probably not for everyone, but this really is great stuff.

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