Album review: NINE BELOW ZERO – Live At Rockpalast 1981 &1996

MiG Records [Release date 30.10.20]

As a latecomer to the Nine Below Zero party having only caught them live in the last couple of years at the Butlins Rock and Blues Festival, this set is the ideal package to explore the band’s earlier live work. Spread over three CD’s and two DVD’s this well packaged box set is the latest in a long line of Rockpalast retrospectives from MiG (Made In Germany) Records and contains liner notes from no other than NBZ frontman Dennis Greaves himself.

CD 1 contains the band’s slot from the 1st Rockpalast Open Air Festival held at Loreley and the guys were in great form over the course of the 15 tracks. Things kick off with ‘Don’t Point Your Finger At The Guitar Man’ and ‘Homework’ both of which feature great guitar work from Greaves and top harmonica playing from Mark Feltham.

Other set highlights include the band’s cover of ‘Rockin’ Robin’, the harmonica heavy ‘Ridin’ On The L+N’ and an excellent run through of ‘Three Times Enough’.  There is also a wonderfully discordant version of ‘You Can’t Please All The People All The Time’ which demonstrates the wealth of musical talent on stage. The first set rounds off with two live favourites, ‘Pack Fair And Square’ and ‘Can’t Say Yes, Can’t Say No’ which also go down a storm.

In the liner notes for the first show Greaves talks fondly about his excitement of playing on the same bill as Thin Lizzy that day and it’s a note of the band’s rise in stature that in 1996 one of the guests during the band’s set is none other than ex Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson. The second set featured is an interesting proposition as it is more of a Rory Gallagher tribute show than a true NBZ headline set.

The premise was that the guys appeared under the ‘Band Of Friends’ moniker along with various special guests to celebrate Rory’s music almost exactly a year after his death. CD2 starts off with more NBZ favourites including ‘Soft Touch’ and another excellent version of ‘Ridin’ On The L&N’ before various guests are invited on stage to play a mix of blues classics and the pick of Gallagher’s back catalogue.

With the likes of Gerry McAvoy, Lou Martin, Brian Robertson, Robbie McIntosh and Paul Rose on stage you know the music is going to be spot on and tracks like ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ take on a new life.

‘Off The Handle’ and ‘Laundromat’ open the third CD in fine style which also contains a great cover of ‘Let’s Work Together’ and Gerry Garcia’s ‘Tore Up Over You’. The extended jam medley of Boogie/Bullfrog Blues gives everyone space to stretch their individual talents and I am sure Rory would have been nodding along in approval.

A heartfelt version of ‘I’ll Admit You’re Gone’ rounds off the set before the massed band return for a blast through of the Irish folk tune ‘The Mountain Road’ then finishing off with a blistering version of ‘Tico Tico’.

This package will have dual appeal to both fans of Nine Below Zero but also to aficionados of Rory Gallagher’s back catalogue. Above all though it is a celebration of all things Rhythm and Blues and another great value for money package for MiG Records.

I may have been late in appreciating the music and talents of Nine Below Zero but it is no chore catching up on past history and these shows amply demonstrate why the band are still playing to capacity crowds nearly 40 years on.  ****

Review by Dave Wilson

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