Daniel Amos

Live Cornerstone 2000

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Always something of a cult band, Daniel Amos could never quite muster enough of a national fan base to support a sustained, coast-to-coast tour. Consequently, the group's few live appearances -- usually limited to summer festivals -- take on something of a mythic quality, akin to sighting Big foot or the Loch Ness Monster. Just like the photographic evidence of those two phenomena, this recording of the group's performance at the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois is frustratingly blurry, vaguely unconvincing, and undeniably fascinating. After a shaky start with slightly off-key versions of "Ghost of the Heart" and the Swirling Eddies' number "Hell Oh," the group kicks into high gear with a spirited rendering of the jangling "Prayer Wheel" from Kalhoun. From that point on, the double-album is a rollercoaster of lows and highs. It's the old songs that come off the best -- "I Didn't Build It for Me" retains all of its Devo-esque new wave energy, and "Walls of Doubt" twinkles and shines like an old Byrds classic. Less successful are the thundering tepid grunge numbers from BibleLand and Kalhoun. Because the production is less than pristine, songs get swallowed by the garrulous guitars and thumping drums. The group's cover of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" is charmless and bloated, and the fact that they are unaccustomed to playing live shows through in multiple missed cues and flat notes. The disc is riddled with technical problems as well. The track listing is wildly inaccurate: The tracks are misnumbered, and two tracks are omitted altogether. The cover art is abominable, and much of the record sounds as if it were recorded from a single on-stage microphone. There seems to be almost no post-production work on the record, and while this would be a boasting point for some bands, Daniel Amos' sloppy performance would benefit from some cosmetic surgery. What is most ultimately Live Cornerstone's greatest asset is Terry Taylor's between-song banter. Oscillating from wise-ass recognitions of the band's country past (he rebuffs an audience request by saying "No. We burned our cowboy hats.") to sincere and moving confessions of his personal faith, Taylor comes off thoroughly genuine and free of pretension. It is clear he relishes the few opportunities he has to talk with his fans, and his candor and storytelling almost compensates for the record's severely flawed production and spotty performance.