If you’re gonna buy this, you’re gonna buy this for the DVD, not the CD. There’s so little live Mitchell material out there, and it’s somewhat surprising that this great nugget of a live show (1989 Rockland tour) came out as part of a weird Swedish greatest hits set. Included on the CD is a new song written for the Sweden Rock Festival called “Fill Your Head With Rock”. It was later included on Mitchell’s studio album Ain’t Life Amazing, rendering this CD obsolete. Since the CD is little more than an extra to me, I’ll start by reviewing the included live DVD.
What kind of solo artist opens his show with five minutes of drum solos before taking the stage himself? I can only think of one: Kim Mitchell.
This live DVD, recorded in 1989 at the Kee to Bala opens exactly that way. Astoundingly, it’s a triple drum solo! Three drum kits, from left to right, keyboardist Greg Wells, drummer Lou Milano, and bassist Peter Fredette! The stage is so crowded that Wells is hidden behind Mitchell’s amplifiers! And the party-ready crowd loved it. When Mitchell entered the stage at the start of “That’s the Hold”, they were already in the palm of his hand. Mitchell sports his neon pink baseball hat, a duplicate of which I owned at the same time! Mitchell’s guitar solo is extended and suitably gonzo.
A really bad edit goes into the single “Rocklandwonderland”, opened with yet another solo, this time on keyboards. Keep in mind this is a radio-friendly commercial rock artist that appealed to old-school prog rock fans, but also every beer-slurping hoser in the 1980’s. To their credit the audience seems to be digging every note. But then again, this is no band of slouches. “Rocklandwonderland” was a huge hit in Canada. If the studio version is a little too light on guitar, Mitchell compensates live.
One of the more rocking new songs is next, “The Crossroads”, and no it’s not a blues. While there’s no argument it’s a party atmosphere (beach balls passed around), it’s also an extravaganza of Mitchell’s always classy guitar. Fredette is suitably solid yet goofy at the same time, and backing Kim up on vocals with range to spare. In my opinion, Peter Fredette has always been the secret weapon of this band.
“Crossroads” merges into the ballad “Lost Lovers Found”, not one of Mitchell’s best songs. His vocal range on the chorus is still remarkable, and the duo of Wells and Fredette harmonize with just a hint of twang. Once again the highlight is Kim’s soulful, brilliant guitar solo. Yet all of this pales to the majesty of “Battle Scar”. The three drum kits return for this Max Webster/Rush classic. Fredette easily handles Geddy’s powerful vocal part. “Battle Scar” remains one of Mitchell’s greatest compositions, heavy and relentless.
Another of Kim’s greatest, “All We All”, easily follows “Battle Scar”. Once again, the solos are brilliant, as is Fredette’s lead vocal. The Akimbo Alogo classic “That’s A Man” is a smooth showcase of Kim’s bluesier playing, on top of a cool ZZ Top style rock song. Beers are hoisted into the air. Fredette switches to guitar to accompany Mitchell on the lead solo, and several mustachioed audience members play air guitar. One bearded man even attempts the air-drums.
“O Mercy Louise” isn’t exactly a standout, but the poodle-haired girls in the audience seem to like to bob and dance to it. The whole room seems to sing along to the gleeful country of “Easy to Tame”. Same story with the summer classic “Patio Lanterns”. It’s nothing but the hits from here in, “Go For Soda” and “Rock N Roll Duty” inspiring plenty of sing-alongs.
As for the CD, I’m not sure if I follow the logic of its track selection. While many of the biggest hits are included (“Rock N Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Get Lucky”, “Go For Soda”), many are not. Some of Kim’s best later material is included, such as “Kimosabe”, “World’s Such A Wonder” and “Find the Will”. Even though the album concentrates on later Mitchell material, I’m baffled by the lack of inclusion of singles such as “America” and “Acrimony”.
There are, among the later songs, a lot of good tunes worth a revisit. “Human Condition” is a grinding blues rocker, and “Wonder Where & Why” smokes from start to finish. I think “Big Smoke” is one of the better tunes from the Aural Fixations album, an often overlooked record.
Of course we have to talk about the “new” song, “Fill Your Head With Rock”. It’s very much in the mold of the later Kim Mitchell material included. It’s hard, with a gritty guitar riff and slippery solos. It won’t go down in history as a classic, but it’s a workmanlike Kim Mitchell rocker. A year or two later, Helix wrote their own song called “Fill Your Head With Rock” for the Sweden Rock festival as well!
With Amazon.ca asking an absolutely ridiculous $124.75 right now, I would say snag this one if you find it used.
CD: 2.5/5 stars
DVD: 5/5 stars