Live!! N'rG

Mark Farner

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Live!! N'rG Review

by Joe Viglione

Mark Farner does something extraordinary on his 2003 in-concert album, Live! N'rG, named after his NRG band. Recorded on March 8, 2003, at Chicago's DuPage University and March 9, 2003, at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, songs from the two shows are combined onto one disc, starting with "Footstompin' Music" from 1971's E Pluribus Funk album and lasting through to the closer, "Closer to Home," from the 1970 album of the same name. And what a powerful set of recordings this is. As producer Steve Lisuk, Farner's partner in Lismark Entertainment, told AMG in August of 2003, this was a special weekend when Grand Funk Railroad's lead singer went out with a three-piece unit performing classics by the influential 1970s hard rock group. This is not your regular five- or six-piece Mark Farner Band live, it is the vocalist with a solid rhythm section reworking Grand Funk classics, and sometimes surpassing the originals in power and translation. It is Grand Funk all grown up, the clarity of "Time Machine" and "Paranoid" proving that the songs were much more than they appeared to be, immersed in the grunge and hype that made them so very popular when they first appeared. Live! N'rG is an important document on many levels. First, it captures the musicianship of bassist Lawrence Buckner and drummer Hubert Crawford wonderfully, their precision giving a classic like "Heartbreaker" definition that was missing in the popular original. Secondly, it shows what a great and underrated songwriter Mark Farner is; the material not only survives, but without the trappings of the "amps on 11" onslaught of Don Brewer and Mel Schacher, everything shines like a beacon. Farner plays keyboards on the opener, "Footstompin' Music," the band's second Top 30 hit from early 1972, and belts it out with sheer joy. Re-recorded over 30 years later it has new authority, the singer switching from keys to guitar, blasting the leads. With the huge fan base up in arms over the lead singer from .38 Special touring with the Schacher/Brewer Grand Funk, it is essential that the man who wrote and sang the songs originally make a statement. Live! N'rG is, in fact, quite a statement. "Aimless Lady" has an entirely new perspective, with Farner's voice out in front of the solid and slick bass and drums. It's Carole King's "The Loco-Motion" that Farner topped the charts with in early 1974 and "Some Kind of Wonderful" -- not the tune by Goffin and King, but the John Ellison & the Soul Brothers Six composition -- which went Top Three for Grand Funk that same year, brought to life again with love and care by this on-fire trio. Missing from the set are George Harrison's "Taxman" and a title from the second Grand Funk LP, "Mr. Limousine Driver," as this live album clocks in at 77 and a half minutes. "Bad Time" and "We're an American Band" weren't even considered for this release, though a companion DVD from another series of concerts is also available with some different tunes. A vital addition to the collection for any serious fan of this artist.

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