Fleetwood Mac

Helsinki Carousel

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AllMusic Review by

Given that there are almost ten discs worth of officially released early live and BBC Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green was in the lineup, do you really need to seek out concert bootlegs of the group from the same era? Not unless you're a completist. But if you are one, this two-CD set is at least not totally redundant with the live stuff that's made it onto legitimate releases. The first 18 songs -- all of disc one, and the first five tracks of disc two -- come from a show at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco in June 1968, hence documenting a slightly earlier period than the ones covered on most of the official live early Mac discs (which tend to come from 1969 and 1970). The sound on this portion is surprisingly good -- extremely clear, almost up to official release quality -- yet also curiously dead, as if it was recorded as the band was in rehearsal prior to a radio-only session (and in fact, the audience is virtually inaudible). Too, the vocals are fainter than they should be, though not buried or indecipherable. It all tends to make it sound less exciting than anticipated. Also, the song selection is a little too much on the conservative blues side, though it does have live versions of some of their better early tracks ("Got to Move," "I Loved Another Woman"), as well as some songs that didn't make it onto their early studio releases (like Freddie King's "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and a ten-minute instrumental "Jam," whose riff sounds much like Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would"). And as usual, there's a little too much of those early rock & roll oldies covers Fleetwood Mac were prone to throw into their live set, including "Willie and the Hand Jive" and three Little Richard numbers.

The final 13 songs on disc two are taken from a spring 1969 concert in Helsinki, and the band actually sounds more much lively here. It also helps that by this time, they'd developed some better original material that was moving away from strict blues-rock limitations, playing "Man of the World," "Only You," "Oh Well," "Albatross," and "Coming Your Way," to name a few highlights. There's also energetic straight blues -- Otis Rush's "Homework" is pretty scorching -- including some songs that, again, they never got around to doing in the studio, like the superbly rendered slow blues "Got a Mind to Give Up Living." (There are also, alas, a couple more of those not-so-hot oldies encores, Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and Little Richard's "Jenny Jenny.") The main problem is that the fidelity, though listenable (certainly listenable by late-'60s bootleg standards), isn't that great, and isn't nearly as good as it is on the preceding 1968 Carousel Ballroom tapes. If only the Helsinki portion boasted audio as good as the Carousel section -- and if only the Carousel section boasted songs and performances as good as the Helsinki portion -- this would be a match for any live Fleetwood Mac recordings from the period. There are no complaints about the length, though, the two CDs totaling almost two-and-a-half hours.