[The original of this appears in a Yahoo group and is in full, not an expurgated version]
Let's start out by saying that at the time that this album was released, yours truly like quite a few other folks was in shock. Why you ask? Well for one, after a long abscence [short when compared to the sabbatical the Moody Blues took] one would have hoped that the comeback album would be back in the old style. A strident answer to the punk rock/dance rock/corporate rock genres that seemed to have permeated the airways. However just from first view of the cover, it seemed that Renaissance had been assimilated into the morass.
Secondly, it was the cover that was a tad...well different. Yes it was that era and it seemed a little bit out of character. Even the back cover, which features a smile from Jon well almost could give the impression that 'do not worry, we are playing a joke on all of you folks...WINK'!. Ok, that would make sense...after all, I have read O'Henry and Rod Serling, so a twist like this could be expected.
Mind you I was still in college at the time and one of the few in the town who bought the album on day of release. And that evening ,a friend of mine heard me go off on a rant that would be close to:
- what diehard fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers felt when the team announced they were moving to Los Angeles in 1958
- the words used when the first few folks had gotten their Edsels and felt cheated
- or when the city of Seattle felt an earthquake when Boeing announced they were moving their corporate headquarters to Chicago ['you people are doing WHAT???']
After all this did not look like the Renaissance of old, the one that had played with the New York Philharmonic, the same one that created Novella and A Song For All Seasons. But being the true, diehard fan I was, I had purchased tickets for the concert in town that followed this release by 2 weeks and was surprised by the performance. And it is these discs, recorded in San Francisco [a few nights before the show I went to in Rochester, NY at the Triangle Theatre] that brought this back.
On disc one, there is the opening, which is the instrumental exposition from 'Can You Understand?' which was another way of saying that Ren [with two sidemen Peter Gosling and Peter Barron taking the place of John and Terry respectively] was back. Then it was Annie's vocals on 'The Vultures Fly High' that sealed the deal. The crowd was then hooked. But it is after this that even upon further listening...things get a little strange.
'Day of the Dreamer' opened ok, but it was the bridge for same that was a precursor to what else would be heard, synthesizer wise. Peter Goslings major ax of choice was an Oberheim [OB-X if I remember correctly through other means] which in this performance sounded a little tinny, which could be rooted in where the mike was placed, etc. In a sense though, this bridge did sort of set the scene for the new material that was coming up.
When you listen to this, please keep in mind that as with many bands, the live versions will sound different and even will be expanded from the said same album versions. 'Camera Camera', the title track and 'Fairies Living at the Bottom of The Garden' are good examples of this. Also this is where further review helps in that the keyboard parts for 'Camera' sounded as though they were put together from what could best be described as an almost, intro, basic primer to 'How to do a solo on your new synth'. Granted, the beat being kept does keep ones mind off of this little faux pas and this song is danceable [sidebar...I did see them on the second leg of the US tour at the Palladium in NYC and there were folks in our section, myself included who WERE DANCING along to 'Camera Camera'. It seemed the synthesizer parts were better rehearsed and as such were cleaner], but you will hear the crowd give a little bit of a lukewarm reception after it was done. 'Fairies' which was in the same vein sounded very much like its album counterpart, but once again the crowd reaction here is in the same ballpark.
It was and is the classic material in this concert that saves the day. 'Running Hard', 'Northern Lights' are welcomed and in further listening really work well. Then comes up one of the two new pieces from 'Camera' that really do seem to show that Ren can not just play something a little different and make it work live. 'Tyrant-Tula' which Jon, in some cases has introduced as being inspired by episodes of 'Mission Impossible'. An amazing piece in that one hears the band stretching it out...hitting on all cylinders. It is the ending of this that the crowd does go a little crazy, due to the segue into 'Mother Russia'. This brings about the 'WOW' factor.
Another highlight here in this performance is 'Jigsaw'. On the album, its intro is short, but still with the traditional Ren flourish. In this concert, this piano introduction is expanded and shows the old style, what got many folks into Renaissance in the first place. Ah, this is beautiful...and when listening to this again if I am in the store, I do play along with the keyboads on the top of the shopping cart if only due to Peter Gosling taking it home and making it his. Jon's bass rocks harder, Mickey attacks his chords like this is the last time he would be playing this song, Peter Barron's drums hits the right points and of course Annie soars.
For some reason it is after this highlight, that on disc two one hears 'Bonjour Swansong' as the lead in to 'A Song For All Seasons'. In a sense this appears to be a little bit of a letdown and you will hear the crowd feeling the same thing. Granted, 'Bonjour' in the concert was announced to be the followup to 'Northern Lights', so one would expect that the same piece would come off as being in the same vein. The reaction from the crowd will give you a hint as to what was thought of the song. This portion of the concert though is saved by the encore.
'Ashes Are Burning'. What more can be said...and like on 'Jigsaw' the band does what they do best. Even Jon's bass solo brought it all home [during this tour it should be mentioned, they played smaller venues and as such, one did get to see the expressions on the face, the ones that showed he was having his 'zen moment' while playing the solo on the 'Great White']. When this concert ends, you hear the folks clapping as though they did not want this to end, although I sense through repeated listenings that they wanted the older material.
There are those who would consider the tour for 'Camera Camera' to have been a missfire, something that was just a minor blip on the screen or resume. Again it does need to be mentioned that this was the first tour in close to three years, there was the integration of the two Peters into the band, as well as the attempt to fit the band into the atmosphere of the time. If the minor glitches are overlooked, this is a concert that can be listened to to remind us that Ren did put forth the effort as oppossed to throwing in the towel, that they did rescue the night not just with the older material, but with two newer songs that reminds anyone that the spark is still there. And when given the chance to do so live, the spark is intensified.