Documented during an era in which U.K. performances by Caravan were few and far between, Live at the Fairfield Halls 1974 is a brilliantly remastered and likewise complete presentation of a concert held just prior to their inaugural tour of North America. Although Caravan had been subjected to several key personnel and managerial alterations in the preceding months, once they hit the stage they shed any behind-the-scenes acrimony and were transformed into a stunning synergy of progressive and symphonic rock. This warm-up show took place on September 1, 1974, at Fairfield Hall in Croydon and was initially documented as a possible promotional tool for their upcoming stateside appearances. The tapes remained on deposit, seemingly forgotten, at the Decca studios storage facility in West Hampstead, U.K., until the stunning 19-minute "For Richard" was resurrected for inclusion on the two-LP Canterbury Tales compilation in 1976. Then, in 1980, the French budget label Kingdom Records issued a double album under the title The Best of Caravan Live. All but the most keen-eyed and -eared enthusiasts passed the set up as a poorly assembled hits package. It was, however, this show sans "Chance of a Lifetime" -- which the band rarely ever performed. Then as mysteriously as it appeared it was deleted and remains out of print. On this release, the sound has been sonically scrubbed and is now presented faithful to the original presentation. Enthusiasts who prefer the band's lineup and subsequent edgier tone, circa For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, will be doubly thrilled with this release as they re-create most of the album. Additionally, they wrap themselves around the crushing "Memory Lain, Hugh"/"Headloss" opener. Perhaps foreshadowing how powerful this rendition will be, the evening's proceedings fade in to the hovering resonation of Geoffrey Richardson's electric viola as he fiddles underneath the band's introduction. Caravan's most recent release concurrent to this performance is the equally impressive Caravan & the New Symphonia. From that disc comes "Virgin on the Ridiculous" -- performed here by just the quintet. Although composed for the incorporation of an orchestra, this rendition is leaner and displays the band's almost conversational way of jamming and improvising. The transition into the "Be Alright Now" suite is seamless, and, under the thunder sticks of Richard Coughlan (drums), the band is propelled into one of the only live versions of the medley to have been professionally documented. With a well-deserved nod to the "New Symphonia," Live at the Fairfield Halls 1974 will perhaps become the quintessential live Caravan release. The sound is crisp and the stereo image is direct and very warm. This disc is highly recommended for newly found fans as well as the more seasoned consumer.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer