After performing at Italy's finest venues for two years on the Work In Progress joint tour with Lucio Dalla, for his next outing, De Gregori decided to return to his humble beginnings. The Pubs and Clubs tour was exactly that, De Gregori and his band performing in the kind of small clubs where in the early '70s the singer/songwriter begun to build his reputation as one of Italy's greatest cantautori. This CD (which for a while was only digitally available), documents the last show of the tour, recorded at the Palace Club in Rome in December 2011 in front of an audience of only 80 people -- who had to win a contest to be there -- but simultaneously broadcast live on YouTube for another 10,000 fans. De Gregori has released such an exorbitant number of live albums and compilations, often featuring the same songs, that to further criticize him on that account seems pointless: it seems to be his way and he is not going to change it after all these years. Better, then, to take Pubs and Clubs strictly at face value. As such, it is actually an excellent De Gregori live album. Despite the venue, this is not exactly unplugged, but it is the closest De Gregori has come to recording one -- why he never has is yet another mystery. In fact, the songs that are presented in an acoustic format, mostly built around the piano of Alessandro Arianti and the violin and backing vocals of Elena Cirillo, easily outshine the more uptempo numbers. Curiously, some of these are among De Gregori's most oft-performed songs, such as "La Storia," "Alice," and "Generale." These will always remain extraordinary songs no matter how many times De Gregori has included them in his albums, but here he achieves the rare feat of making them sound new. The rest of this set has a strong bluesy/swinging flavor, used to good effect on some of his more recent (and, truth be told, lesser) compositions such as "Finestre Rotte" and "Tempo Reale," and with some bemusement when applied to a workhorse such as "Buonanotte Fiorellino," here revamped with the riff from Dylan's "Rainy Day Woman." Dylan's influence on De Gregori can never be underestimated, and it actually seem to have increased rather than diminished over the years, as he now appears to be strongly influenced by Dylan's 2000s obsession with country, boogie-woogie, and New Orleans music, particularly when performing live. Other than that, Pubs and Clubs is like any other De Gregori concert album, as it combines predictable and less predictable selections, all played with verve and sung with passion. On the plus side, it marks the first live appearance of two of his most beautiful songs, "Bellamore" and "Sempre e per Sempre."
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AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes