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On Second Listen: The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Live At The BBC

on December 24, 2009, 11:00am

If you really sit down and think about it, over the course of rock music stemming from the mid 50’s to the present day, can you think of a rock trio that doesn’t sound incredibly awesome? What bands come to mind? Nirvana, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Jam, Silverchair, Rush, ZZ Top, The Didjits, The Presidents Of The USA, Morphine, and countless others spring up as prime examples. While the trio is certainly not a new concept, there’s something extraordinarily magical about three musicians coming together and belting out waves of excellent craftsmanship. How three humans can create a fiery musical force to be reckoned with is clearly something conventional science probably can’t explain, but who cares, right? The rock trio sounds great in its prime form and without any more explanation, London’s legendary colossal blues-rock trio The Screaming Blue Messiahs find themselves squarely at home with all these sonically scientific methods intact.

The Messiahs haven’t performed a live gig since June 5th, 1990 and have never given any reason as to why they vanished from the earth without a trace. What results for those who have heard of this band is a long and fruitful journey in collecting this lost band’s entire catalog as well as submerging days on end into the band’s heavily-traded bootlegs. Led by bald-headed guitarist and songwriter Bill Carter, The Screaming Blue Messiahs were certainly a revolutionary band that for some odd reason never truly came to the forefront of the late 80’s musical confusion-riddled period. While the band hasn’t performed live in almost 20 years, the band “reunited” somewhat in regards to release their newest musical slice, Live At The BBC. Pulling no punches whatsoever, Carter, bassist Chris Thompson, and drummer Kenny Harris pummel everything in sight and prove why they’re one of the greatest bands to grace this wind-swept earth.

The album is broken into three separate sessions, which all showcase how great the band seriously were in their heyday. From the get-go, the first 12 tracks accumulate the band’s performance at the Paris Theater in London on March 30th, 1985 (also this writer’s birthday). The Andy Kershaw sessions compromise the next three songs from June of ’85 and also the Janice Long sessions rounding out the final three tracks from November of ’87. These separate distinctions mark the growth and overall evolving musicianship these three awesome musicians would share together, and to have all of them back to back in a set of 17 tracks is beyond awesome. Keep in mind that these tracks haven’t seen the light of day for roughly 20+ years, so it certainly is something nice to come home to after a long day of work.

Kicking off BBC, The Messiahs hit the ground running with the slap-happy cosmic “Good And Gone” which Carter manically wails like a frightened banshee. Drummer Harris provides thunderous drumming throughout and keeps the balls-intense mood up to par. Afterward, the band divulge into never-released numbers “Vision And Blues” and “Growing For Gold”, which showcase the sultry and disgusting grooves this powerhouse trio were highly capable of. With Carter barking “You’re a hot piece of merchandise!” in “Vision and Blues”, his guitar takes the reigns, and you can hear his Telecaster twang and crash with each chord. The remastering of this concert takes strong liberties in providing excellent sound quality to the band’s high octane sound, as well as dabbling with updating the overall tonality of the original recording. Not even three songs in, the hooks fly left and right without an end in sight.

What follows next includes an incendiary and darkly humored version of “Tracking The Dog”, as well as a completely different version of “Let’s Go Down To The Woods” (drastically different than the version found on the band’s debut record Gun Shy). Bassist Thompson’s bass chugs away like a speeding steam train, endlessly pursuing the Unknown West. Because of this, the contrapuntal lines supplied here by Thompson clash and coincide well with Carter’s manic over-the-top guitar prowess, especially on the post-punk bitter love tale “Happy Home”. Fast, aggressive tempos cling to this band like bees on honeycombs and make themselves the trademark watershed this band craves so much. With rowdy, torn-to-shreds versions of “Holiday Head”, the ode to our 35th Commander In Chief “President Kennedy’s Mile”, and “Destroyer” (another unreleased song), the Messiahs end their colossal jaunt with a country-twanged variation of “Wild Blue Yonder” and a blistering version of “Twin Cadillac Valentine”. Drummer Harris absolutely kills it here and proves to be one of the best rock drummers of the past 30 years. Solidarity, durability, and overall badass grooves: These last few tunes are Harris’ highlights with the band, hands down.

On the Andy Kershaw sessions, The Messiahs offer a three song rouse of honest to goodness British hard blues. Taking it away once more, The Messiahs crush into “Good And Gone” with just as much ferocity as shown during their Paris Theater performance. Essentially the perfect opener for these guys, “Good And Gone” epitomizes everything great about this trio: loud, exuberant, and sardonic. Carter’s barking, drill sergeant-like demeanor cuts through the speakers with such incredible velocity that it almost becomes a second guitar of sorts. This follows on the second and glorious tour of “Tracking The Dog”. Chock-full of bizarre imagery, sophisticated violence, and a sick chicken picking guitar riff, Carter’s immense lyrical mastery is what sets this tune apart from the others. The pseudo-ballad rocker (and I use the world “ballad” very loosely) “Talking Doll” rounds out the set, and while not as powerful as the other two songs, “Doll” offers a different side to the band’s creative force and also showcases more of Carter’s brilliant guitar work.

Rounding out the end of BBC are the Janice Long sessions and these are easily the strongest tracks on the record. Not ones to waste any time whatsoever, The Messiahs offer a three punch haymaker with a helpful handle of tunes off their second record, Bikini Red. Arguably the best song the band has ever written, “Sweet Water Pools” opens the sessions and proves to be a masterful piece of storytelling and guitar riff central. Carter’s frantic wailing meets the thumping and crash of the other members rhythm in the middle of a musical inferno. These guys barely do anything, and within ten seconds, they’re already on fire. What follows next is possibly the greatest version of their “novelty hit” “I Wanna Be A Flintstone”. Drastically altered from their single version, “Flintstone” sees Carter transforming the mere pop rock song into a throw-down punk-blues jam with elegant guitar solos, fantastic word play, and Carter pulling off awesome imitations of Fred Flintstone, his wife Wilma, and their pet dinosaur Dino. Clearly tongue-in-cheek, these guys scorch it and surprisingly make the tune much more badass than possibly imagined before. With that said, the album ends with a wound-up version of “Big Brother Muscle”, complete with Chris Thompson’s epic rumbling bass killing the song.

While it may seem The Messiahs may never come back, this is definitely the closest thing that has surfaced in recent years in regards to any word on the group. It’s a shame, really, that this band never received the recognition it deserved, but oddly enough, and after extensive research, there’s a group of quixotic music searchers and Messiahs fans out there waiting for answers from this band. Only time will tell what will happen, but for now, this album flat out rocks and serves as a great reminder that good music truly never dies. To think this unbelievably powerful music came from a trio, too…now that’s science.

Check Out:
Live At The BBC

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