The Records were touring the United States in hopes of persuading the Yankee masses to buy their second album, Crashes, when they popped into a recording studio in Evanston, IL, to play a live-to-tape set (with an enthusiastic audience in attendance) for broadcast on a Chicago radio station. Play Live!! In Evanston, 1980 gives this radio session a long-overdue authorized release, and while anyone familiar with the Records is already aware that they were one of the great pop bands of the new wave era, this disc demonstrates that they could also rock like nobody's business, and this combines most of the best tunes from the group's first two LPs with an explosive energy and potent guitar attack they didn't quite match in the studio. Jude Cole had replaced Huw Gower on lead guitar by this point, but Cole handles the material from Shades in Bed (the self-titled debut for American fans) with aplomb, and he and John Wicks tear into the material with enough force to make the room shake while preventing the stellar hooks of songs like "Teenarama," "Starry Eyes," "Spent a Week with You Last Night," and "Girl in Golden Disc" from getting crushed under their weight. (Phil Brown on bass and Will Birch on drums also lend splendid, supportive work.) And while most of the bands of the era would approach "Rock 'n' Roll Love Letter" as a bad joke, the Records finish their set by covering the Bay City Rollers and letting one of their best songs sound like the pop masterpiece it truly was. The set list for Play Live!! would make a pretty good Records Greatest Hits album, and anyone who ever followed these underappreciated pop masters will want to give this a listen and discover they were every bit as good on-stage as they were on disc.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming