During the late 1980’s, I saw Rory Gallagher in concert
in Los Angeles, and the two-DVD set I recently watched
of his Montreux Festival performances demonstrated
that he was a Bluesman to the core. More than a
19-year span of concerts were included from 1975,
1977, 1979, 1985 and 1994, and all of these shows
featured Gallagher (1948-1995) playing a wide array
of music on electric and acoustic instruments, primarily
in a Blues vein, with various band personnel.
He was considered to be one of the most important
Irish musicians in Rock, and his rise to fame began in
the early 1970’s, propelled by his constant recording
and touring. Gallagher was an example of a musician
who needed to be seen “live,” in order to appreciate
his considerable skills as a guitarist, and the raw
emotion of his playing. Somehow, it didn’t come across
as effectively in the recording studio.
As such, the Montreux concert excerpts I watched
were particularly valuable and informative. From a
musical standpoint, the 35-minute 1975 clip and the
44-minute 1977 footage were probably the best
overall. Both of these concerts featured the
considerable skills of Lou Martin on keyboards.
Gallagher’s voice was fresher and for the most part,
the music making was more inspired.
In contrast, the 1979 32-minute set had different
personnel on drums and no one on keyboards,
but featured Gallagher striding into the audience
during the concert. The 37-minute set from 1985
showed him supplementing his trusty Stratocaster
with an electric sitar. However in both cases, the
music making wasn’t as inspirational as his 1975
and 1977 performances.
Nevertheless, all four of the concerts on Disc One
featured fine acoustic guitar performances from
Gallagher and Gerry Mac Avoy on bass. The sound
quality varied from concert to concert, but the 1975
show had a particularly strong bass in the mix.
There was also fine camerawork on this two
and one-half hour DVD.
Disc Two contained a 1994 set, with a running
time of about 88 minutes. By now, Gallagher was
playing with a new bassist, drummer and
a keyboard player who was relegated to “backup”
work, unlike the lead performances given by
Lou Martin in 1975 and 1977. But in the main,
the music making was at a higher level than
Gallagher’s 1979 and 1985 Montreux sets.
Aside from using a Telecaster for a couple of
songs, he relied on his Stratocaster which had
very little paint by then. This set had the
ubiquitous acoustic songs, with Bela Fleck
joining in on banjo for the classic, “Walkin’ Blues!”
Even Montreux Festival promoter Claude Nobbs
joined Mark Feldman on harmonica for the
encore tune, while Fleck switched to electric guitar,
thereby making it a five-man band.
Six bonus acoustic songs from the 1975, 1977
and 1985 shows were included on Disc Two,
with Gallagher strumming a mandolin during one
of the 1977 concert extras. The aforementioned
recorded sound continued to vary; however, it was
generally fine on this DVD. With a total running time
of more than four and one-half hours on two discs,
Rory Gallagher’s performances were certainly the
most documented in the “Live at Montreux” series,
showcasing a large part of his career. No problem
there! In my opinion, he rocked the Blues hard,
never achieving the acclaim that he deserved. It was
a pity that he died at age forty-seven, and I think
that this two-disc set is a fitting memorial
to a great guitarist.