Containing four-and-a-half hours of multi-camera concert footage, this new two-disc set paints a magnificent portrait of the late Rory Gallagher, his battered ’61 Strat, and his butt-kicking blues. The music spans two decades of the Irish guitarist’s career with performances drawn from five concerts (1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, and 1994) at Switzerland’s prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. With his tough brand of boogie and riffed-out rock, Gallagher was a favorite at the festival, as evidenced by the large, enthusiastic crowds who often chant his name.
This 40-song collection lets us witness the evolution of Gallagher’s playing, as well as how time affected his material, band personnel and instrumentation, gear, stage presentation, and—sadly—his health. In ’75, he’s an energized 27-year-old lad, pounding out Muddy Waters songs with reckless abandon and a stinging, toothy tone that pays homage to Buddy Guy and Roy Buchanan. Two years later, we hear him begin to drift toward a more rocking sound that owes as much to Thin Lizzy as it does Chess Records. In this set, he hauls out his metal-body National resonator to play wicked, ragtime-inspired acoustic slide. A touch of early Dire Straits finds its way into several songs in the ’79 show. Gallagher’s move from a Fender Bassman and tweed Twin to Ampeg and Marshall combos gives a harder edge to his gnarly riffs, and his crowd-pleasing antics reveal an innate ability to command a big stage. These three shows capture the tone and spirit that fuel his legend.
In ’85, Marshall half-stacks and Boss and DOD footpedals appear in Gallagher’s rig, along with flashier clothes to replace his trademark sneakers, jeans, and Western shirts. His tone is more pinched and distortion more fried, though his fretwork remains spellbinding. By ’94, health problems have caught up with the great guitarist, who now looks puffy and tired (he would die within a year), and at times his stage volume seems to overwhelm both the audience and the repertoire. Highlights of the 12-song ’94 set include Gallagher’s Tele slide licks and open-tuned flat-top picking, and a surprise appearance by banjo wizard Béla Fleck in an extended acoustic medley.
The camera work is uniformly superb in all the shows, offering lots of close-up shots of Gallagher’s hybrid picking, string bending, and slide maneuvers. As a bonus, disc 2 includes six acoustic songs culled from the ’75, ’77, and ’85 concerts. A fitting tribute to one of the world’s most passionate 6-stringers, Live at Montreux will satisfy guitar nuts and Gallagher aficionados alike. (Eagle Eye Media).