Soft Machine

Live 1970

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By 1970, the Soft Machine were ensconced into what would become its most revered lineup and repertoire. The two performance excerpts are from one of the many European jaunts the Softs took that year. While the material leans most heavily on the band's Third (1970) album, the second and significantly longer set concludes with the finale from Volume Two (1969). These provide a fascinating timepiece of the group with a slight variation in personnel. The first extract includes an 11-minute-plus workout of "Facelift" and "Moon in June" in a hypersonic scrape-your-face-off-the-wall jam featuring Robert Wyatt (drums), Mike Ratledge (keyboards), Hugh Hopper (bass), and Lyn Dobson (saxophones). On sheer energy and vibe alone, this snippet will prove popular with enthusiasts of this particular vintage. Keen-eared listeners will note the conspicuous absence of Elton Dean (saxophones) during this show. In his liner essay, Hopper recalls that "Elton was presumably stuck somewhere else in Europe...." At the core of Live 1970 is the considerably lengthier portion that commences with "Out-Bloody-Rageous" and a potent "Facelift," recalling the intricate nature and tricky timing of the studio version. The alternately delicate and brash reed work of Dean is showcased here as he vacillates between beautifully gnarled passages and straightforward power blows. The extended non-ensemble section of "Facelift" careens back into a forceful band interaction. A brief solo from Wyatt introduces the Volume Two medley containing "Pig," "Orange Skin Food," "A Door Opens and Closes," and "10:30 Returns to the Bedroom." While these renderings are by and large instrumental, there are a few audible moments of Wyatt's trademark rhythmic, wordless vocalizations, although he doesn't seem to have been singing into a proper microphone. In contrast to the earlier bombast, "A Door Opens and Closes" is a breezy fusion of jazz and prog rock. It collides into a decidedly Dadaist "10:30 Returns to the Bedroom," which allows the band to stretch out and get weird before a suitably heavy ensemble conclusion. When coupled with the thoroughly excellent Live at the Paradiso 1969 (1995), Live 1970 is an accurate depiction of the Soft Machine's free-form fury running on all sonic cylinders.

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