This landmark box set of rare live UFO recordings from 1977, 1995, and 1998 is a testament to this great band's ability to consistently come up with classy and melodic hard rock/metal music. Although the sound quality is patchy at times throughout this 4 CD set, especially on the 1977 show, this is still prime UFO, featuring the legendary guitar work of Michael Schenker, Phil Mogg on vocals, Pete Way on bass, Paul Raymond on keyboards/guitar, and Andy Parker on drums. Simon Wright (AC/DC) fills the drum kit on all the 90's shows.
Disc 1 & 2 contains a whole concert recorded in Vienna, Austria on 1/28/98, and is a very kick ass show with pretty good sound quality. Schenker's tone is beefy and distorted, as he rips into the main riff for "Natural Thing", a classic UFO tune, which then segues into "Mother Mary", another staple. The band displays a raw ferocity that is surprising considering that Schenker was away from the band for so long, and this is all the more evident on "A Self Made Man" one of the newer songs off of the Walk on Water album released a few short years earlier. Thick, heavy guitars, snarling yet melodic vocals from Mogg, this sounds like a hungry young band striving for success. More classics hit you, like "Electric Phase", "This Kids", "Out in the Street", "One More for the Rodeo", "Love to Love", as well as a few more cuts from the Walk on Water album. Of course, it wouldn't be a UFO show without the showstoppers "Too Hot to Handle", "Only You Can Rock Me", "Lights Out", "Doctor Doctor", the Schenker showcase "Rock Bottom", and the closer "Shoot Shoot." All of these take up most of Disc 2, and end this set on a very high note. It's great to see that the band covered songs from most of their classic albums like Obsession, Lights Out, Phenomenon. No Heavy Petting, and Force It on the 1998 tour.
Disc 3 includes a 1977 show at the Cleveland, Ohio Agora Ballroom, and while the sound is a tad rough at times there is no denying the quality of the performance. This was a young UFO hitting their peak, with Schenker's acrobatic guitar excursions, Raymond's raging keyboards, Mogg's powerful vocals, and the rhythm tandem of Way and Parker firing on all cylinders. Most of the signature tunes are here, as well as "Gettin' Ready" and the rare "On With the Action." Seeing as this was probably an opening set for another established band, there are only ten songs here, but the pace is blistering. "Lights Out" kicks major butt, probably heavier and faster than any other version save for the one on the live Strangers in the Night, and "Love to Love" also gets royal treatment here, with Raymond's mysterious keyboards and Schenker's huge power chords hammering home in a big way. The great "Rock Bottom" is as powerful as ever, a great showcase for Mogg's histrionic vocals and Schenker's guitar pyrotechnics. A great snapshot of a young band on the verge of greatness.
CD 4 was recorded at Bogart's on 8/31/95 in Cincinatti, OH, shortly after the band released the reunion CD Walk on Water. Even more so than on the 1998 show, the band sounds tight and hungry, as this tour was before the beginnings of Schenker's infamous "strange behavior" that would plague their live shows from 1998 to 2002, which eventually led to him leaving the band once again. Most of the same tunes are covered as the 1998 show, with the exception of the closer "C'Mon Everybody." The fluid playing of Schenker is especially enjoyable here, filled with strong vibrato, speedy arpeggios, blazing pentatonic scales, and heavy power chords. I tried real hard not to pay too much attention to the live photos that adorn this box set, which feature the guitarist with jet-black dyed hair and moustache, looking like a maniacal French Cassanova with a Gibson Flying V. Strange indeed not to see him with his trademark blonde locks, but hey, the guy can play a mean guitar, and that's all that really matters, right?
My recommendation to all UFO enthusiasts is to run out and get this collection before it disappears from the face of the earth. Newbies to the band are better off starting with any of their Schenker-era studio albums, but my guess is you will want this after hearing those. Zoom Club Records has done a nice job here, with detailed notes on each of the shows to boot.