801 Live is principally a Phil Manzanera project, but Eno plays an important role as well and it’s difficult to imagine an Eno fan not wanting to hear this record. This live album comes from the last night of a three night stand from a band assembled from Manzanera, Eno, Curved Air’s Francis Monkman on keyboards, slide guitarist Lloyd Watson (who won a competition to be part of the backing band) and rhythm section Simon Philips and Bill MacCormick. The resulting set, consisting of sixties covers and Eno and Manzanera tunes, is one of rock’s more indispensable live albums, since some of the material is unavailable in studio versions and because this combination of musicians sounds terrific, with a fluid and creative rhythm section and a detailed and inviting sound. The Eno songs are also substantially different from their studio incarnations, as he’s unable to treat all the instruments in the same way in a live setting, and they sound more conventional if no less excellent.
‘T.N.K.’, a cover of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, is one particular highlight. It’s more organic than the Beatles original, and obviously lacks its sheer ground-breaking nature, but it’s just as strong, stretched out to a six minute jam with a driving rhythm and strong bass line, topped off by Eno’s beeping and vocals. The cover of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ is also idiosyncratic, adding more complexity without sacrificing the song’s natural drive and charm. The most interesting of the Eno tracks is Another Green World‘s ‘Sombre Reptiles’, which is made into a longer jam, with the band augmenting the original’s austere riff. ‘Miss Shapiro’ is an Eno vocal song that originally appeared on Manzanera’s 1975 solo album Diamond Head, and although it would have fit fine on Eno’s solo records, its main feature is Manzanera’s aggressive riffing. ‘Rongwrong’ comes from Manzanera’s pre-Roxy Music band, Quiet Sun, who were able to record their material in the wake of Manzanera’s success with Roxy.
This live album’s fascinating to anyone with an interest in the 1970s British art rock scene, although some of the longer jams are hard to follow, which does take it down a notch or two. The 1999 reissue of the album includes two extra Eno songs, ‘Golden Hours’ and ‘The Fat Lady of Limbourg’, and I assume it’s the version to go for.