Jeff Buckley - Live At L'Olympia
Jeff Buckley - Guitar/Vocals
Michael Tighe - Guitar
Matt Johnson - Percussion
Mick Grondahl - Bass
John Leckie said it best. Fake Plastic Trees, from The Bends, was written after Radiohead took a break from recording and went to see Jeff Buckley. It was September 1994, at The Garage in London, and Thom Yorke was transfixed. Their producer at the time, Leckie remembers the effect the gig had on the Radiohead frontman - 'It made him realise you could sing in a falsetto without sounding drippy.' And that about sums up Jeff Buckley. When Grace was released, the world of indie and rock was filled either with bands who were far too bombastic, throwing everything into their music bar emotion, or too hestitant to really go for it and soar, or experiment, lest they be labelled as pretentious. Then, after Grace, we suddenly had the Radiohead that made The Bends and OK Computer. Not to mention Coldplay, Starsailor, Feeder, Keane, Travis, Muse, Geneva, Mansun, Tom McRae....even Opeth, at times. You might not think it at first, but Grace is a contender for the Most Influential Album of the 90s.
Of course, he died not long after making it, meaning this considerable talent left us with one album, a handful of EPs, a set of demos, and several live recordings. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so the saying goes, and so every Jeff Buckley release is going to be met with rapture by a fiercly loyal hardcore fanbase, and met with interest by the media - in other words, there's always a demand for it. It's thanks to this that we now have 5 major Jeff Buckley albums to buy; Grace, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, Mystery White Boy, Live At Sin-E Legacy Edition, and this, Live At L'Olympia. And let's not forget his album with Gary Lucas.
L'Olympia is a venue in Paris, France - probably the most famous venue in the country. James Brown, Velvet Underground, and Edith Paif have all helped give this venue a mystique and reputation that is arguably on a par with Wembley Stadium, or MSG. When you play there, you are made in that country. Jeff himself said, 'For a rock singer, playing at the Olympia is as much of an honour as when an opera singer is invited to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York'.
For some reason, Jeff Buckley was recieved hugely well in France - better than in any other country, as far as I'm aware. Jeff didn't seem to understand why this was - he refers to the crowd as 'crazy', 'weird', yet 'wonderful'. The crowd does seem to know every one of his songs, applauding and cheering each intro, and at one point singing for him (Hallelujah, although it's mixed fairly low.) Perhaps it was the strong Edith Piaf influences. Meh.
There's several tracks here that make this a near-essential Buckley album, rather than a live album for collectors. The version of Lover, You Should've Come Over featured here is arguably the definitive version, much as the version of Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry featured on Live!. It's less polished than the Grace version, obviously, but it's a stunning rendition. Then again, it is my favourite Buckley song, so maybe I'm biased. The same could be said of Eternal Life - it's much more energetic and harder than the Grace version, featuring a new intro, some sweet lead guitar licks, and an unhinged vocal - "Woman against woman! Man against man! Death! DEATH!!!". The hard rock don't stop with Kick Out The Jams - originally by MC5, and apparently played at every Jeff Buckley gig. Again, some great lead guitar work. These two songs showcase the Jeff Buckley that listened to Bad Brains, and wanted My Sweetheart The Drunk to be a hard rock album, better than anything on Grace or, for that matter, any Buckley album I have. (I have all 5 mentioned above.)
And, much like the Live At Sin-E Legacy Edition, everything musical is offset by the atmosphere, the crowd, and Jeff's great sense of humour. All these elements come together with Jeff Buckley's attempts to speak French between songs - I'm no expert, but I'm prtty sure it's gobbldigook. In fact, at one point, I'm pretty sure he asked a rapturous crowd, 'Where is the cheese?' Mentalist. You can't beat his rendition of Kashmir, though. I bought this album expecting this to be an incendiary run through of one of my favourite Led Zeppelin songs. Nope. Apparently the original Kashmir is 33rpm, so Jeff does it at 45rpm. With chipmunk vocals.
The album concludes with a version of What Will You Say, recorded with Alim Qasimov at the Classic Festival. If either that name or that festival registers with you, please share, because I have no idea.
How does this album compare to Jeff's other live albums? Well, Live At Sin-E was a great showcase for both Jeff's guitar playing and his ability to improvise within a song, as a solo artist. Here, he's backed by a full band, so there's less improvising (as he's somewhat restricted by having 3 other people to think of). However, the fact that there is a band behind him means that this gives you the opportunity to see Jeff's talents in a different context. It's difficult to say whether or not this is a good opportunity to see Jeff's talents as a guitarist, though, for the simple reason you often don't know if it's him or Tighe playing. The guitars are very good though, so who cares who's playing? Mystery White Boy is the album it bears the most similarities to, but for me this wins, thanks to both Jeff's interjections, and the opening four tracks - all of which are great versions, and superior to their respective versions on MWB (those that have them, anyway).
Grace and Live At Sin-E (Legacy Edition) remain more essential purchases than this. Live At L'Olympia represents something of a gateway between the two - the improvisation, playful spirit, and insight into Jeff's personality that Sin-E gave us, coupled with music that sails closer to what he recorded on Grace. Both Mystery White Boy and Sketches....fail to bring you this mixture. Then again, Sketches has more new material, and some unreal songs, so it's your call. Leave MWB till last, though.
Within The Genre - 4/5
Outside The Genre - 3.5/5