Tales from the Big Bus

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Since 1993, Fish has become something of a prog rock equivalent of the Grateful Dead. Releasing a slew of live recordings year after year, Tales From the Big Bus is yet another twin-CD collection to add to the seemingly never-ending list. Recorded live on the Sunsets on Empire tour in Koln, Germany, in 1997, Tales From the Big Bus focuses on the aforementioned record, showcasing no less than half its songs. If the Sunsets on Empire record proves to be somewhat of a return to form for the Scotsman, its lyrical content threads some difficult ground, emerging as some of Fish's most insightful verses in recent memory. As the show gets off to an 11-minute whirlwind with "The Perception of Johnny Punter," Fish opens the proceedings by shuddering, "Just another nigger/A spooky piece of white thrash/Just another Jewboy, spic, mick, yid, raghead motherf*cker living on the planet." Wow. Without discriminating, Fish then proceeds to lead his sidemen into Empire's "What Colour Is God?," dedicated "with respect," to Malcom X. As has been sometimes the case in older Fish banter, "What Colour Is God?" once exemplifies the singer's love/disdain for religion and also for the United States in general. Throughout the show, Fish addresses his audience in German, regaling the Koln fans with a host of topics ranging from his travels to his views on food, sports, and even his sexuality. Fortunately, keyboard player Mickey Simmonds returns to the lineup for this gig, leading the band into spirited versions of "Family Business," the fantastic "Cliché," and a 20-minute train wreck of a medley featuring "Assassing" (which sounds like bad Deep Purple karaoke), "Credo," "Tongues," "Fugazy," and Misplaced Childhood's "White Feather." Although noble in his intention for wanting to provide his audience and himself with an opportunity to revisit the Marillion classics, the dynamics of his medleys have become more and more erratic over the years. The collection comes to a close with yet another medley featuring "Internal Exile" and "The Company" -- two excellent Fish standards. One last sidebar, it's obvious that these recordings are marketed on a shoestring budget; however, a little bit of extra care could have gone into assembling the amateurish artwork included within. Never mind the fact that the liner notes are quasi-illegible, written in impossible-to-read, dark fonts.

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