Arthur Lee and Love, Royal Festival Hall, London
Love changes everything
Tuesday 21 January 2003
Don't be fooled by the name. During the Sixties, Love were the dark and twisted alter ego of the loved-up hippie scene. The singer Arthur Lee's songs described alienation, thwarted love, urban decay and social disintegration with alarming ferocity. Love's was also a tale of rock'n'roll excess taken to new heights of madness. Drugs, financial disputes, jail sentences and (rumoured) mental illness all contributed to the band's downfall after just three albums. Nowadays Lee is dining out on glories past – and rightly so.
After six years in jail on a firearms charge, Lee has taken the lead from the Beach Boy Brian Wilson (another troubled Californian destroyed by his own prodigious talent) and is performing Love's 1967 masterpiece Forever Changes in its entirety alongside a handful of other old hits.
Lee is the only original Love member on stage. Most of his backing band Baby Lemonade must have still been in their prams when Forever Changes was released – the fresh-faced guitarist, in his cool shirt and retro tie, looks as if he's on loan from Busted.
After a creaky beginning during which Lee struggles to connect with the audience, he finally warms to his surroundings and, by the time he gets to the proto-punk rendering of the Burt Bacharach song "My Little Red Book" it's clear he's starting to enjoy himself. When a man in the audience lets out a great howl of approval, Lee quips, "Hey, who's standing on that poor boy's foot?"
Tall and wiry, Lee cuts an impressive figure. Mercifully, the crimped wig has been ditched in favour of a stars-and-stripes bandanna and Stetson. At 58, he's still in fine voice, effortlessly moving between the punk rock, psychedelic folk and stirring soul.
The arrival of an eight-piece string and horn section signals the beginning of Forever Changes and the lilting Latin groove of "Alone Again Or". The banter is kept to a minimum as Lee quietly laps up the adulation and gets on with the job of being a legend.
The mostly male crowd, who are old enough to know the songs yet young enough to think they can dance, are beside themselves with joy. "Andmoreagain" brings a lump to the throat, "Live and Let Live" is as bizarre as ever while the "The Red Telephone", with its eerily prescient lyrics "They're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key/ I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?", is quite astonishing. You know that a show's going well when the orchestra are dancing like goons. An extended encore includes a bemused-looking Graham Coxon (or "Gram Caxton", as Lee introduces him) and, during the only new song (a love-hate letter to America), a bagpiper. Yes, a bagpiper. I told you that the man was twisted.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
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