Live at Carnegie Hall
It happened the day after Stevie's birthday in 1984. He played the one place he'd always thought was unattainable: Carnegie Hall in New York City. He played at top volume, as always, and effectively defeated the purpose of the natural acoustic amplification in the building, creating a sonic assault that must have sounded muddy to the audience. (I had a similar experience at Phoenix Symphony Hall, when I saw a non-traditional Kansas lineup open for Alan Parsons. The sound personnel did not account for the natural acoustics of the hall, and Kansas played way too loud. The music was difficult to understand and differentiate. Fortunately, they had the problem worked out by the time Parsons took the stage; his sound engineering experience probably helped with that.)
On the album, whenever Stevie strums a chord and mutes it immediately after, you can hear the sound echoing off into the rafters. It takes some getting used to; I kept wanting to tweak a non-existent reverb control on my stereo to reduce some of the overall echo.
The best tracks on this album are the "new" ones. Stevie plays songs by several of his heroes, his way of saying thank you for influencing him. In particular, "Letter to My Girlfriend" shows a rare side of Stevie's vocal talents and the backing help from Dr. John, the Roomful of Blues horns and Jimmie Vaughan works well. "Iced Over," a classic Albert Collins tune, is excellent as well.
Stevie's playing on "Dirty Pool" is characteristically great, but the arrangement hinders the song. I am particularly annoyed by Jimmie Vaughan's embellishment in the left channel throughout the song. I have never seen the talent in Jimmie that the music industry attributes to him, honestly. I respect the man for his influence on Stevie and for carrying the torch after his death, but his guitar playing seems to me to be a repetition of the same tricks over and over. He is very fond of triplets, both when playing and singing, and tends to overuse them in both cases. His rhythm playing is low key throughout the rest of the album, and therefore tolerable. Unfortunately, he trades solos with Stevie on "The Things That I Used to Do." When I hear his choppy, stilted solos I get the picture of someone walking with cement blocks strapped to their feet; that's how strained his music sounds to me.
<Ducking as blues purists throw things at me for my disrespect.>
"C.O.D." is notable because it shows just how laid back and respectful Stevie could be as a rhythm player, yet still add to the song's overall melodic quality. His musical phrases between Angela Strehli's vocal lines help to create the illusion of chord movement without stepping on her toes in the bright spotlight of Carnegie Hall. A vocalist couldn't ask for a better rhythm player.
Stevie ends the concert with a solo encore comprised of two of his old standards, "Lenny" and "Rude Mood." "Lenny" seems a little disconnected without the band, but the quiet parts work well in the acoustics of the hall. Unfortunately, you can also hear the crowd getting rowdy, including someone clearly shouting "Shut the fuck up!" (Interesting note: The only guitarist other than Stevie that I've ever seen pull off a solo version of "Lenny" is Carvin Jones, opening for Albert Collins not long before his death. This young bluesman also plays some mean Hendix covers.) At the beginning and end of the piece, you can hear foreshadowing of the song that would eventually replace it as Stevie's favorite slow number: "Riviera Paradise."
"Rude Mood" works well as a solo piece. It has so many notes that it carries well without a band, and Stevie's trademark simultaneous rhythm and lead playing style fills in the background. It also helps that he knows enough not to carry it on too long.
Basically, the historic value of this album makes it important, but it is not one of the best live recordings of Stevie Ray Vaughan & and Double Trouble that exists. This is not the band's fault; the detractions from the quality of the performance were due to other factors and do not reflect on the members of the core group.
Rating (out of a possible five):