This is a true story, and anyone who’s ever read Lester Bangs‘ Psychotic Reaction And Carburetor Dung and actually followed through with it can confirm its accuracy.
By “followed through,” I mean reading Bangs’ assessment of the Guess Who‘s Live At The Paramount record and gone out and bought it shortly afterwards.
A friend of mine read Psychotic Reaction about the same time as me, and we discussed the book one night on the phone. Both of us were taken by his enthusiasm of Live At The Paramount. I mean, it’s The Guess Who, for cryin’ out loud—there’s no way that they could have been that good of a live band. We already knew some of the band’s material—or so we thought-as it was permanently embedded on classic rock playlists, oldies AM radio, and the occasional superstars of the ’70s compilations that lazy parents bought when outside of their car radio signal.
My friend worked two jobs at the time, one of which was a record store in a college town. Don’t bother looking for the record store, as it’s no longer around, a victim of too little traffic thanks to a never-ending inventory of Jesus Jones’ sophomore effort and Chumbawamba promo items. But back then, they did an admirable job of staying hip and filling their inventory with decent new releases.
One day, he received an upcoming releases notification and saw that the Guess Who’s Live At The Paramount album was getting the remaster treatment. The allure was too great, particularly after Bangs’ words continued to taunt him.
Was Lester just being ornery, or was Live At The Paramount really the equivalent of a Canuck snowstorm, blasting your face with the cold reality that the Guess Who was indeed a credible and capable rock and roll band.
He ordered the disc, paid for it with his payroll deduction plan (meaning that he had to stay in the store for about an hour to pay for it) and waited for the delivery the following week.
I don’t think he even got halfway through it before he called me.
“Remember that Bangs review of The Guess Who’s Live At The Paramount?” he asked.
“It’s really good, dude.” He stammered, as if he was still in shock at the record’s quality.
I should point out right now that when Bangs compares Burton Cummings to Jim Morrison, we both thought he was exaggerating. We also thought he was joking when he quoted those references to roast beef, American sluts, and drunken scat singing in Psychotic Reaction.
My friend assured me that it was all there.
“And you know what?” he added “It works!”
It was enough praise for me to get my own copy of Live At The Paramount and I concur: it totally rocks and it’s not at all what you’d expect from that Wonder Bread outfit that gave us “These Eyes.”
The only time that song was ever hip was when they made fun of it in Superbad.
Live At The Paramount shows the Guess Who was indeed very hip—at least for one memorable night—and their performance is the epitome of “superbad.”
Their ferocious performance makes them sound like a band from the Canadian prairie with nothing to do but smoke pot, listen to Doors albums, and practice.
As good as the band is, Cummings is even better. He is indeed a ringer for Morrison on some parts without all of the Lizard King pretention. He makes no attempt to feed you some bullshit that he’s a modern-day Rimbaud, he acts like you and I act when we’re drunk: stupid. He makes shit up when he forgets the words. He verbally chastises all the women who’ve done him wrong while he’s on stage. He knows in the back of his mind that the ebb of the Guess Who’s popularity is closing in and he’s come to watch the whole shithouse go up in flames with a cold Oly in one hand and a half-smoked j in the other.
It out-Doors the Doors to the point where Live At The Paramount slays Absolutely Live and it does what no other studio album can do for the Guess Who: make you believe that they are—at least for one documented evening—one hell of a rock and roll band.
Just like Lester Bangs told us back in 1972.
Check it out for yourself, if you still don’t believe.
You’ll find the proof is in the pudding—or the roast beef, in this case.