Sort of live, but definitely alive
The 1980’s was a pretty strange time to be in if you were a blues guitarist. Since the ‘70s the blues had taken a serious back step since its ‘60s heyday. Even Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, two of England’s finest blues guitarists, had updated their style and sound to suit what was overall an extremely artificial decade. Not so Stevie Ray Vaughan. The six-string tornado from Texas was firmly, and proudly old school. His favourite guitar was a 1959 Fender, which he called Lenny (after his first wife), while his choice of amps was purely vintage. The older it was the better the sound, in his estimation.
In 1986, the time seemed right for Vaughan to release a live album, however the resulting product was anything but what the title suggests. For a start, while the recordings chosen had indeed been recorded live, from four separate performances, much of what was finally presented was in fact overdubbed in the studio, which means that many of Vaughan’s most loyal fans were actually being duped.
The album gets off to a good start with the psychedelic instrumental “Say What!,” before an intense, though tender rendition of “Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up On Love,” both from Vaughan’s 1985 LP Soul To Soul. On “Pride and Joy” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” the trio work up a serious sweat, before a superb cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that would easily impress Jeff Beck.
He flexes a little finger muscle during his take of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I’m Leaving You (Commit A Crime),” followed by a soulfully muscular “Cold Shot,” a song that was a surprise hit on MTV. The funk-blues of “Willie The Wimp” and the Texas bar-room shuffle of “Look At Little Sister” each have their moments of instrumental brilliance, but it’s Vaughan’s tempest-inducing “Texas Flood,” and near-demonic interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that clearly take centre stage, and will no doubt be of most interest to any long time listener.
After such strong performances, the album can only go in one direction, and that’s downhill. “Love Struck Baby” and “Change It” are decent enough, but can’t match the energy of the previous two numbers, however the LP does improve with a stirringly emotional “Life Without You,” a track available only on the original vinyl and cassette editions.
Since this album was released, far better and more authentic live albums have found their way onto the market. Live At El Mocambo, Carnegie Hall, as well as his two shows at The Montreux Jazz Festival, are all worth owning, and remain superior and more enjoyable representations of the guitarist’s inimitable talents. Which means that Live Alive is merely a curiosity at best, an enjoyable remnant of the age in which it was created, despite there being many fine moments.