Ut - Early Live Life - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ut - Early Live Life

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2018-11-09
Ut - Early Live Life
Ut - Early Live Life

Second up in the Out Records reissues of late 70s/early 80s no wave band Ut, is the remastered live album Early Live Life.  Out started this reissue series about a year ago with the combined EPs of Ut/Confidential (reviewed on this site).  Though the EPs represented the band’s earliest studio releases from the mid-80s, the band actually formed in 1978 and the recordings here span from their earliest dates at the legendary CBGB in 1979 to the reinvented Peppermint Lounge in 1985.  Appended to the CD release of Early Live Life, is the recording Ut Live Nov 1981 (also described as Live at The Venue).  

Unlike most bands, their live output was not a recap of their studio work.  But then again Ut was not like most other bands and only one of these earliest tracks (‘This Bliss’) ended up surviving to a studio take.  Early Live Life was more of a mid-career look back on their formative years, spanning recordings over six years and no less than eight clubs in their New York City beginnings or post-relocation London.  There are some shadings of difference over time and geography on these recordings, but for the most part, the trio of Nina Canal, Sally Young, and Jacqui Ham remained as uncompromising and seemingly spontaneous over the course of their existence. 

Somewhat amusingly, on the initial Blast First issue of Early Live Life, there was an all caps disclaimer:  These are all live recordings and there is distortion.  As if a bit of distortion was all that separated this from Laura Branigan’s latest big seller.  Distortion hardly begins to tell the half of it.  The hour’s worth of output here is as daunting as the stone heads (is that a Raymond Coins piece in the middle?) on the album’s cover.  Ut existed at the same instant as early Sonic Youth and The Fall but upped them both in atonality.

Commenting on the punishing contents here is a challenge, but several things stand out.  The longer tracks do provide some time for the band to stretch things out and develop something resembling structure.  Accordingly, the Ham led ‘Limbo’ that goes for a dozen minutes sets itself apart.  Even though in the middle of the chronology, with Canal on drums here, there are moments where any semblance of a rhythm falls apart.  But Young keeps things moving with her guitar work here and on the jagged chords of ‘Surgery’ (the three all sing and interchangeably play all instruments to keep things always off balance).

Further, having the five Live at The Venue tracks together does provide some continuity of what a live set must have been like.  In this case, the recording is of high quality and the vocals are well more intelligible than on most of what is assembled here.  Being able to clearly hear the lyrics is a bit of a mixed bag, but otherwise, the clarity of the disparate parts here is a blessing.  Whether a punk in a heavily lacquered mohawk related to lines like “I follow you around so as to steal your furniture” with its intended menace is a bit doubtful.  But Ham’s sawing guitar on ‘Swamp’ and the singsong Canal vocal on ‘Ambule HCB’ with Young’s guitar scales popping in the background make The Venue tracks a highlight.

From the core of the album, the pre-studio ‘This Bliss’ is particularly fierce and is recognizable as the later recorded track.  The three consecutive tracks from Harrah’s have background noise about on par with the recording in places, but on ‘Mouse Sleep’ Canal and Ham’s scratched guitars keep pace with Young’s insistent bass and vocal and make for an interesting moment.  The opening burst of ‘Fire in Philadelphia’ serves as fair warning to all comers, while Canal’s blood-curdling scream that chokes off ‘Sharp’s Loose’ makes you wonder if something else was going on at Hilly Kristal’s place that night.     

Though the earlier released EPs may make for an easier listen, these live recordings stand as a testament to a time and one band’s uncompromising stance.  The lyrical snippet that defined Ut appears here on The Venue recording of ‘Mere Animal In a Pre-Fact Clamour’ (that sounds like a classic The Fall title, British spelling and all).  On ‘Animal’, Ham intones “I have no memory, I have no plan”.  That sums up Ut’s mantra as well as any.  Of the moment and for the moment, informed by nothing and with no designs on becoming something else.  If their refusal to evolve to some mainstream concept of melody or structure ultimately was the part of their DNA that led to their demise, it also produced some of the harshest and tortured landscapes you will find in a rock context.  That is a worthy crown to claim.  Pretenders be damned.     

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