In early 1973, Genesis allowed the taping of a couple of live shows for broadcast in America as part of the King Biscuit Flower Hour syndicated radio show -- most of their current set, drawn from their albums up through 1972's Foxtrot, was represented. A few months later, Tony Stratton-Smith, the head of Charisma, to which the group was signed, approached them about allowing him to fill the extended gap between Foxtrot and their next album, Selling England by the Pound, by releasing a live album from this same taped performance. The bandmembers, who now say they were somewhat distracted at the time by their work on the new album, agreed to it. And the result was Live, which was originally the only official document of the group in performance with Peter Gabriel in the lineup. And it's not just the singer, but everyone who shines here -- it's doubtful that anyone ever got a richer sound out of a Mellotron on-stage than Tony Banks does on this album, and Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins' playing is all quite amazing as a whole unit, holding together some very complex music in a live setting. And on that basis alone, this album was an essential acquisition for fans of the group, as well as a key link in solidifying their growing popularity -- the intensity of the performances on "Watcher of the Skies," "Get 'Em Out by Friday," "Return of the Giant Hogweed," "The Knife, and, especially, "The Musical Box," easily transcend the work (superb though it was) on the studio originals, and is an in-your-face presentation of the theatrical intensity that Gabriel and company brought to their work on-stage. What's more, the very fact that the band could pull off some of what they do on-stage -- and this was in an era where other prog rock bands, such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, were running up against a brick wall in terms of re-creating their complex studio sounds in concert -- is mighty impressive. Additionally, in the case of "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," both songs originally recorded on Nursery Cryme, the versions here documented this lineup's true approach to these pieces -- at the time when Nursery Cryme was recorded, guitarist Steve Hackett had barely joined the group (and fragments of music composed by his predecessor, Anthony Phillips, still exist on the album), and most of the guitar parts there were actually the work of bassist Mike Rutherford (who did, in fact, take over most of the group's guitar chores after Hackett's departure in the late '70s). So what we hear on this album are the definitive interpretations of these pieces by this version of the band, more so than the studio originals. And one also gets to hear the classic version of the band tackle the oldest part of their repertory, "The Knife," which went back to their first Charisma album -- and it's a killer compared to the original. And one could say that about the whole album, as well as being the best representation of this version of the band at this point in their history, but for one glaring flaw -- the original King Biscuit broadcast included the epic "Supper's Ready" from Foxtrot, which Stratton-Smith was compelled to leave off of the album, rather than face the economic challenge of issuing a three-sided double-LP. That flaw aside, this is about the best single-LP representation of what this band could do on-stage, and to the surprise of a lot of people, it actually won them lots of new fans ahead of the release of Selling England by the Pound.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder