Stevie Ray Vaughan – Live At The El Mocambo

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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.

  1. When I first saw that the video was recorded at the El Mocambo Club here in Toronto I was surprised because so many bands don’t release albums or videos for that fact from Canada! It’s mostly shows from the UK, New York, L.A., Germany or Japan so this was a treat. Having played the Elmo (as it has been nicknamed) a few times it was amazing to be on the same stage as SRV, King Crimson, Wall of Voodoo et al and although I’m not a fan, part of the Stones Love it Live album was recorded at the Elmo! That’s when Jagger was fooling around with Prime Minister Trudeau’s wife allegedly ; ) The Elmo upstairs is not a big place and the stage is rather small but the raw energy of playing there is astounding and you can smell the old joints emanating from the corners and the beer soaked floor and the stale stench of cigarette smoke that just pours out of the woodwork is so nostalgic even if you’re a non-smoker! During the 70’s and 80’s a lot of bands were recorded there and radio broadcasts were made on the The Edge and a few other stations, most of these shows can be still found through collectors ; ) Sadly the club has been in a bit of a downward spiral over the years and was on the verge of closing due to lack of funds and bands playing there and of course the Toronto city bylaw that doesn’t allow smoking inside any building or restaurant now really killed a lot of venues so clubs have to rely on bands being able to draw in big crowds of drinking age to help keep them afloat! The Elmo was bought by someone who still has the doors closed and the infamous palm tree sign outside has been taken down for supposed “restoration” but we are still waiting for that to go back up and the doors to re-open so maybe some of us can play there again or go see bands play. Great review and hands down agreed that this IS SRV at his most raw and ready. Brilliant talent sadly lost but we always have the audio and video to help us through it. Cheers.