Moby Grape

Live Grape

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Moby Grape's dissipation from business and personal pressures didn't stop the surviving guitar frontline of Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, and Skip Spence from trying to recapture their charisma. This homegrown live album functions as a souvenir of a late attempt -- which ran from July 1977 to March 1978 and mainly consisted of gigs around Santa Cruz, CA. (The album doesn't feature original drummer Don Stevenson and bassist Bob Mosley, who did play the odd gig or two.) However, former manager Matthew Katz's iron-fisted grip on the band's name forced the band's late incarnation to call itself the Grape or the Original Grape to avoid legal retribution. This album is mainly worth hearing for how Lewis and Miller matured as songwriters. Depending on how you read its lyrics, "That Lost Horizon" could be an epitaph for the group's lost potential, or an inability to find meaningful love. Lewis' other moments are outstanding, too: "Up in the Air" is breezily upbeat, but no less thoughtful, and "Your Rider" is credible boogie-pop. Miller's style tackles snappy country ("Here I Sit") and blues-funk ("I Love You So Much"); Spence's lone contribution is as joyously eccentric as anything that he ever wrote for the band, even if it doesn't stray terribly far from the I-IV-V chord trinity. Miller's picking is deft as ever on "Cuttin In" -- Johnny Watson's sly request to a rival jousting for the same woman. The group could have made better choices elsewhere. Future Doobie Brother Cornelius Bumpus' tenor sax lights up an otherwise pedestrian reading of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," but his only song ("Set Me Down Easy") is too bland to make an impression, and the lightweight funk jamming on the 11-minute "You Got Everything I Need" is hardly revelatory, either. For diehards, Live Grape is an engaging snapshot of a low-key night with one of rock's great lost bands, while neophytes may want to stick with the debut album.

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