Just over 45 years ago, Funkadelic recorded a live set at Meadowbrook, the outdoor shed in Rochester, just outside of Detroit. Twenty years ago, Westbound released the recording on compact disc, and now we have it available as Live Meadowbrook 1971, a double LP release from Tidal Waves Music. It’s the only official live recording from the seminal band, which would make it worth hearing just for the professional quality — as opposed to the numerous bootlegs — but the fact that the performance is at a crossroads in the transformation of the band makes it even more interesting.
Just weeks prior, guitarist Tawl Ross had left and been replaced with Harold Beane, while drummer Tiki Fulwood had left and been replaced by Harold Lumpkin. It’s also one of the last shows with original bassist Billy Bass Nelson and guitarist Eddie Hazel, meaning this was a very brief window where the band was in flux.
Thus, these recordings — from the original soundboard master tapes — showcase a band not necessarily at the height of its powers, but trying to deal with some recent upheaval. The liner notes, by ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman, go into the specifics in great detail, demonstrating just where notes were flubbed or where the band struggled to get into the groove, but for the listener, this is just a fun recording.
The entire A-side to the first LP is two instrumentals: “Alice in My Fantasies,” as well as a searing 14-minute version of the classic “Maggot Brain.” As Bowman states in his notes, this version — and Hazel’s guitar solo especially — would be reason enough for this to see release. The vocal numbers on the second side, which include two versions of “I Call My Baby Pussycat,” really get things up and running.
The second LP is a blistering 40 minutes of psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll mixed with soaringly soulful vocals, culminating in a slightly abbreviated version of the instrumental “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.” Despite the line-up changes and chilly temperature, the band is hot, and the mind-melting music of Funkadelic live, especially with this quality of recording, really demonstrates the entity’s full impact.
The recording is really high quality, but due to the live nature, and the time in which it was recorded, there are some points where the levels redline and the sound gets distorted. It’s infrequent, but quite noticeable when it happens. There are also some instances of vocals getting a little muddy — a side effect of being recorded at an outdoor concert in the early ‘70s. Thankfully, both only happen a couple of times, and otherwise, Live Meadowbrook 1971 sounds astonishingly fresh.
The packaging is pretty nice, though it’s a double LP in a single sleeve. No gatefold, but it’s not really much of a difference, given the fact it’s plenty big enough to hold both heavyweight vinyl LPs. There’s an obi strip, which does a nice job of summing up what the listener is going to get, and Bowman’s liner notes put the recording both in a historical and critical context. The artwork on the cover’s pretty arresting, although the rear art looks a little chintzy.
Live Meadowbrook 1971 is available on vinyl from Light in the Attic.