If you like your rock and roll raw, bold and ballsy, then one can’t go much further than The Aztecs. Led by Billy Thorpe, The Aztecs trailed a blaze across every city and cultural waste zone that was Australia in the early 1970’s, unleashing their own version of heavy-rock as only they knew how. That they could blow people’s minds and ear drums at the same time was all part and parcel as far as the audience was concerned, where heavy riffs and uncompromising volume was to be expected at every gig, and with a stack of amps the size of The Great Wall of China, even the most naive of music lovers must have known that it wasn’t a Seekers concert they were attending.
Aztecs Live was recorded at the Melbourne Town Hall on 13th June, 1971, and I can just imagine the local mayor and council collectively having spasm attacks over the prospect of an earth-shattering rock concert being held in a historic public building maintained by such a conservative establishment. But play they did; and the earth didn’t open, nor did the heavens fall. Proving that rock wasn’t about to fulfil the Book of Revelations any time soon (although it did result in quite a few cracked windows apparently).
After a brief introduction by Jerry Humphreys (of Loved Ones fame), the set opens with a pipe organ recital by Warren Morgan, whereby Billy Thorpe decided to grab a microphone and sing apparently whatever came to him, in a way that I’m surprised he didn’t rupture his larynx in the process. The band then launch into the epic “Time To Live”, built around a ‘bigger than Ben Hur’ riff, as the rhythm section try to bludgeon the brain cells of every audience member. The only description I can think of to portray this song is ‘operatic-rock’, which may sound dumb, but believe me you have to hear it to understand where I’m coming from. Billy Thorpe gets the crowd going on “Be Bop A Lula”, and is played at a much slower tempo than the more well known version performed at the Sunbury music festival the following year. One thing’s certain though, no matter how Thorpe chose to render it, I’m sure that Gene Vincent himself could never have imagined even in his wildest dreams an interpretation quite like this.
The monumental “Momma” is next, and takes up the remainder of the album, or what would have been side two of the original LP, and remains a classic piece of working class hard-rock, guaranteed to get the head banging and the fists pumping. Thorpe himself roars like the ultimate king of the jungle, amidst a fury of heavy riffage and high wattage; to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if the energy utility at the time had to put on a few extra staff that night so as to ensure that several Melbourne suburbs didn’t suddenly experience any power blackouts. The track is divided into three parts, as was expected in ‘70s, where in the middle section the ever dexterous Gil Matthews breaks out into a drum solo, slicing and dicing his drum kit, before Thorpe picks up where he started just to obliterate whatever might have been left of anyone’s inner membrane.
Back in 1971, live albums were nowhere near as common as they are nowadays, mainly due to the limit in recording technology to adequately capture what was being performed. Faulty stage equipment also played its part in preventing performances from ever finding their way onto vinyl, and this gig was no exception in that sense. But overall, Aztecs Live is a valuable piece of Australian music history, and a virtually priceless artefact of the time it was made; whether for those who were there, or the ones who came after and are infatuated with vintage rock. I guess in the same way that there are twenty year old Black Sabbath fanatics getting around in their Gothic garb a la Ozzy Osbourne. But I digress, because this album represents some of the gutsiest, and most honest rock and roll ever preserved on tape. A big call I know, but then The Aztecs were just that kind of band.
Now as with all Aztec Records reissues, we are blessed with a compendium of bonus tracks, all of the A and B sides released under the Havoc label, which one can either take or leave, depending on your interest and attention span. First is “The Dawn Song”, a string laden pastoral piece which floats through the listener’s mind then disappears as soon as it’s gone. But then we’re back in business with a studio version of “Time To Live”, and is Viking rock at its very best. Next is “Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy”, a song which captured the public’s attention, and for good reason; it was a bloody fine tune. “Regulation 3 Pufff” is an instrumental almost bordering on jazz-fusion, not the sort of thing one would expect from a guitarist who sought to get in touch with his inner Neanderthal. “Believe it Just Like Me” is a country-rock toss away, not bad, but nothing special. “Get To Hell Out of Here” was I imagine Thorpe’s own attempt at writing something for the radio, but comes across as far too progressive and instrumental for the mainstream.
The last track is one of those “I can’t believe that it was recorded” numbers and that is “Long Live Rock and Roll”, a song which for whatever reason was never captured in the studio, but obviously in their repertoire. Recorded at the Rosebud outdoor festival in 1972, Billy Thorpe once again managed to justify his status as one of Australia’s premier rock performers. A living legend, now sadly deceased.