Stevie Ray Vaughan was hardly the most inventive of guitarists however when it came to technique and musicality there were few who could match him. Recorded by a film crew at the El Mocambo club in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1983, while touring in support of his first album Texas Flood, what was preserved on tape offers the listener an exciting and intimate snapshot of SRV and his band Double Trouble on the cusp of greatness.
Opener “Testify” is so muscular in performance that gym instructors might as well give up their day job. On instrumental “So Excited” Vaughan plays like Albert King on LSD, before launching into an effectual “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, where throughout Vaughan evokes the spirit of Jimi Hendrix so authentically that one wouldn’t be surprised if they had of seen Hendrix’s shadow somewhere on the stage. Vaughan flexes his fingers on a vigorous “Pride and Joy”, blasts his way through a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tell Me”, tips his hat to Buddy Guy on “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, then storms his way on a devastating “Texas Flood”, a performance which has about as much subtly to it as a tornado ripping through the listener’s living room. Certainly it’s a song which separates the men from the boys, that’s for sure.
The upbeat “Love Struck Baby” reveals Vaughan’s unique ability to play rhythm and lead at the same time, followed by “You’ll Be Mine”, a tune he would later record for his 1985 Soul To Soul album. John Lee Hooker’s “Hug You, Squeeze You” gets a meat and potatoes workout, although his interpretation of Hendrix’s “Little Wing/Third Stone from the Sun” medley has to be the highlight, on which he séances Jimi’s ghost through his Fender Stratocaster as if it were a Ouija board. Vaughan maintains the original melody while also creating whole new textures of his own.
The instrumental “Lenny” remains one of Vaughan’s finest compositions, and a haunting one at that. Here he stretches and extends the tune into an outward exploration of utmost expression. If I were a guitarist, this is just the sort of thing I would write for my wife. Vaughan blows away the table and chairs with his version of Lonnie Mack’s “Wham”, then keeps the cocaine coming with “Rude Mood”, another balls to the wall bluesy instrumental SRV was famous for.
Live at El Mocambo is an intense, often fascinating document and one which captures the guitarist at his best, a few years before the over produced and heavily overdubbed Live Alive. This is Stevie Ray Vaughan as he was meant to be heard, honest, raw, and in your face. I can only envy those in the audience, drinking their beers and enjoying the moment – one which has fortunately been preserved on DVD. All I can say is, lucky them.