Three albums seems to be the industry standard before you can release a live one. Harem Scarem followed suit and issued Live in Japan right after their third LP, Voice of Reason. It was their first with new bassist Barry Donaghy, replacing Mike Gionet.
Live in Japan is a safe, fairly compact selection of tunes from the first three. It could use less Voice of Reason, an album which never boasted the killer tunage from the first two. In fact if one edited out “Blue”, “Candle”, “Breathing Sand”, and “Paint Thins”, you could make a pretty tight set. Leave in “Warming a Frozen Rose” though; it was always the best of the Voice of Reason tracks. You can also leave in the title track as it’s pretty heavy. Most of the real firepower comes from Mood Swings. The opening salvo of “Change Comes Around” and “Saviours Never Cry” are a rousing start to the proceedings.
Live, Harem Scarem were tight. Their harmonies are handled easily by the four guys, all capable singers. Harry Hess’ roar is not lessened by the road nor jet lag. He’s as powerful here as he is on record. This is necessary for amped rockers like “Had Enough” and “Empty Promises” from Mood Swings, both very strong. There is only one song from the 1991 debut album Harem Scarem. Representing Harem’s early pop rock roots is “Slowly Slipping Away”; call it a power ballad or just call it a song. It feels like it has too much guitar to be a ballad, so call it what you want: it’s great. You can clearly hear Barry Donaghy’s contributions on backing vocals, an essential part of the song’s hookiness. The live set closes on “No Justice”, the best known track from Mood Swings and an obvious crowd favourite. The vocals are just outstanding from the whole band.
There are two bonus studio tracks on this album, a nice little unexpected treat. The first, “Pardon My Zinger” is a peppy instrumental the likes of which you expect from guys like Joe Satriani. Not so much for guitar trickery, just in terms of composition and hooks. The last track is a new ballad called “More Than You’ll Ever Know”. It has since been reissued on Japanese compilations such as Ballads and B-Side Collection, but this live album is the easiest place to get a copy. As far as ballads go, this one’s not bad.
For fans who didn’t get into Voice of Reason the way they did the first two, Live in Japan offers a bumpy ride. There is little question that the recorded performance is freaking amazing. It just comes down to the songs and personal taste.