Various Artists

Live at Knebworth

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Beginning in 1976 a British organization called Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy -- a charity that aids mentally and physically challenged children in the U.K. -- presented what it called its annual Silver Clef Award to an artist the organization decided somehow served the British music industry. When Nordoff-Robbins decided to put together a fundraiser in 1990, it called upon the winners of that award and presented several of them in concert at Knebworth. This two-disc set compiles performances from that concert, and as is often the case with all-star events, the quality of music varies wildly from inspired to forgettable. Oddly, the show is opened by Tears for Fears, the only act on the bill not to have won the award. Nonetheless, their ever-catchy "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" sets a spirited tone, which is then carried on by 1981 winners Status Quo, whose ageless boogying engages the audience despite its inherent plodding thump. Cliff Richard & the Shadows serve as a reminder that British rock prior to the Beatles was fun if far from original, but the first sparks come at the end of Robert Plant's set, when Jimmy Page joins the singer for a crunching take on the Zeppelin semi-obscurity "Wearing and Tearing." The bulk of Genesis' segment is given over to a drawn-out "Turn It on Again Medley" that incorporates brief snippets of oldies ranging from the Who's "Pinball Wizard" to the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." (A side note to the record label: the song credited as Darby Slick's "Somebody to Love," a huge hit for Jefferson Airplane, is in reality Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," written by Burke, Bert Berns, and Jerry Wexler. Might want to adjust those royalty payments.) Disc two is where all the heavy-hitters reside. Phil Collins leaves his Genesis mates behind to reprise his execrable solo hit "Sussudio," before relinquishing the stage to Eric Clapton, who resorts to the crowd-pleasing "Sunshine of Your Love," which unsurprisingly doesn't hold a candle here to the Cream original. Dire Straits' "I Think I Love You Too Much" proves that Mark Knopfler remains one of rock's most underrated guitarists, Elton John offers two sides of his persona with "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and "Saturday Night's All Right (For Fighting)," and, finally, the show closes down with Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd. Macca probably could have chosen a more popular song from his catalog than the disco-era "Coming Up" and the overplayed "Hey Jude," but he's Paul McCartney, so he basically gets away with anything he chooses to do, and of course he does it superbly. And if the audience minded the absence of Roger Waters when Pink Floyd wrapped it all up with "Comfortably Numb" and "Run Like Hell," they certainly didn't voice any disapproval. A document of an event more than a set that will be listened to again and again, Live at Knebworth (also available on DVD) is worth the price if only because its proceeds continue to benefit Nordoff-Robbins, as well as the equally worth Brit School of Performing Arts.

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