Brookes University, Oxford
UK, January 16. 2003

Last Update: 03. oktober 2003

Seven and Seven Is
Orange Skies
Your Mind and We Belong Together
Signed D.C.
Robert Montgomery

Forever Changes:
Alone Again Or
A House is not a Motel
The Daily Planet
Old Man
The Red Telephone
Between Clark and Hilldale
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer in the Summer
You Set the Scene

My Flash on You
Everybody's Gotta Live
Listen to My Song
She Comes in Colors
My Anthem for Right Now
Always See Your Face
Singing Cowboy

Back in 1967, the word "love" was on all the hippies' lips; it was bandied around as the password to euphoria, peace and harmony. Perhaps not many people understood very well what the word really meant; meanwhile the commercial world milked it for all it was worth before passing on to the next fad. Two years before, a group of young musicians had formed in Los Angeles, and called themselves Love. They were led by a mulatto named Arthur Lee, who, in the next few years, wrote and performed songs of unsurpassed poignancy, mixing melancholy and insight, gentleness and power, using the developing electric guitar sound to form a shifting melodic concoction that arrested the attention of discerning listeners as much as the experiments of the Beatles or the Beach Boys during the same vibrant period. It was in 1967 that Love recorded its finest collection of songs, and, ever since, "Forever Changes" has appeared on innumerable lists of best-ever albums. It has not dated, and even now, and after many hearings, possesses the ability to move and to astonish. There's no flower-power sentiment here, but a bleak vision of a dark reality tinged with a fragile optimism.
Arthur has always been a rather mysterious figure. Too reclusive to seek the heights of fame enjoyed by his old friends Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who burnt and then died, but much too talented to be overlooked, he has now emerged again with a tour of Britain, performing the "Forever Changes" collection in scrupulously faithful style, with his four new band members and a Swedish ensemble of eight playing the string and horn arrangements. His timing is exquisite: the songs of war and trouble, triumph and desperation, strike a renewed chord of anxiety for these parlous times. In the interim he seems never to have matched the quality of his song-writing in this period, but he has kept going, despite a period spent (some say unjustifiably) in prison, and has now decided, as he approaches 60, to commemorate that purple patch, knowing perhaps that it is how he will be remembered - in my view, very likely long after we have all passed away.
Thus it was he appeared in Oxford in January 2003. There were no disappointments. He came on stage, looking a dark, hidden, almost sinister character, wearing a black bandanna (covering his evident hair loss), cowboy hat and dark glasses. Before beginning the album with the arrival of the small orchestra, he played five of his finest other songs, including the legendary and superb "You Mind and We Belong Together", and an outstanding rendition of "Signed D.C." with its haunting harmonica, lamenting his lost friend. Gradually he warmed to the occasion, and was soon laughing with his colleagues on stage, and smiling at us a smile as serene as it was surprising. If one had never seen him before, one would note his simple and expressive gestures as he goes through the words of the songs, clarifying them like a deaf interpreter - he draws the pistol, he wags an admonishing finger, he hitches a ride, "me" is right where his heart is, while the ace of hearts on his shirt perhaps symbolises where he is truly coming from.
There was no break as he passed through the eleven masterpieces of the album itself. There are far too many delights to reiterate them all. An amusing incident occurred before a song called "Old Man" (one of the few not written by Arthur) when the word-sheet was brought out for the first time: a wag calls "Have you forgotten the words?"; after a long silence, Arthur finally drawls, "You talkin' to me?" Here maybe was the cool guy who knew how to defend himself in downtown LA, and who looked down aloof from the album covers. For one who fears the sad sight of a master now aged and unable to hold his own, there was no need for concern, for Arthur's voice is as fine as ever, sounding almost operatic as he held the long notes and the changing pitches, and his musicianship matched it.
For me the musical highlights were in the middle of the album, "The Red Telephone" with an extended, drifting finale, "Between Clark and Hilldale", perhaps overlooked by some, and "Live and Let Live", with Mike Randle's driving guitar. The album's last track, "You Set the Scene", is perhaps the best of all, seeming to splice together the pessimism, dreams, melancholy and hope of all that had preceded it. The words alone are deep and moving:
"You go through changes.
It may seem strange. Is
This what you're put here for?"
"I'll face each day with a smile,
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style."
Perhaps we could all learn something from this.
There is an interesting story behind the album that the last quotation reflects: Arthur had at the time a belief that he would pass away within a year or two, and it seems his hypochondria drove him to reach the great heights that he did, believing nothing else would be left for him afterwards, and leading him to inspire his band to abandon the lethargy that had apparently overtaken them. Perhaps it also explains the mysterious broken vase Arthur holds on the album cover.
An encore call ensued, and Arthur was in no mood to disappoint, reeling off another eight songs, in a more relaxed and friendly way, even discarding his glasses for "Always See Your Face", whistling in the little-known gem "Listen to My Song", and enjoining the audience to sing "Oo-oo" in the chorus of the protracted finale, "Singing Cowboy". His undoubted good spirits and gladness for his undiluted applause led him to express his hopes for returning to Oxford one day. I think everyone there would have echoed this.

Ken Weavers Ken Weavers 2003