The appearance of the Ultravox! [exclamation point, please!] “Live At The Rainbow 1977” album as an Island/UMG release in 2022, of all years, was a least expected event for certain. Sure, there were reissues every 7-10 years of the first three Ultravox albums that eventually mopped up all of the band’s loose A/B-sides as bonus tracks. The last of which was an all-encompassing boxed set with that fourth disc of rarities no longer scatted randomly as bonus tracks across the three albums. But that was 2016, and it had seemed to be a final flourish on the early Ultravox! canon. It was the Midge Ure period that actually sold discs, so when word first came of this title as a streaming release, along with a video component online, it seemed to be a least likely scenario made flesh.
Eventually the title was for sale as a download along with music videos of each of the songs also available on a piecemeal basis in the iTunes music video store. But immaterial music of this importance sits poorly with me. I was annoyed that there was no physical release of the title, but suspected that the next Record Store Day would see some movement on that front. While in my mind the notion of a CD with a DVD/BluRay of the filmed performance [which had been scanned at 4K] was the natural endgame for this title, in the end I had to make do with just an LP. Ironically making this title the only Ultravox album that is unavailable on CD in this contrary, backwards future we’re enduring. At least the GZ pressing was good quality this time. It’s always a crap shoot as to how one of their LPs will sound, but this is the second good one in a row [this year!] for me, so maybe they’ve put their past behind them?
Ultravox!: Live At the Rainbow 1977 + – US – CD-R 
- I Came Back Here To Meet You
- Modern Love
- Slip Away
- TV Orphans
- I Won’t Play Your Game
- Wide Boys
- Satday Night In The City Of the Dead
- The Wild, The Beautiful & The Damned
- Dangerous Rhythm
- I Want To Be A Machine
- Slip Away
- Frozen Ones
- Distant Smile
- Young Savage
- My Sex
- Artificial Life
- Wide boys
- Satday Night In The City of the Dead
- The Wild, The Beautiful & The Damned
- Fear In The Western World
The program was brief; only nine songs, but holy moly, three of them were new to these ears. While I had the scant Ultravox! bootlegs, the Foxx-era one [more on that later] lacked any unreleased material. “I Came Back Here To Meet You” started off the first side and it sounded like it may not have been too far removed from Tiger Lily material like “Monkey Jive” that was that early incarnation’s only original recording. Listening to the track, it seems to be more strongly rooted in mid-70s Rock with squealing guitar from Stevie Shears high on the neck.
“TV Orphans” from the title alone immediately brought to mind the apocalyptic “Fear In The Western World” but maybe Foxx just recycled that title as a lyric fragment in a much more potent song. “TV Orphans” played uncannily like a re-think of “I Came Back Here To Meet You,” actually. There was a sense of the same building blocks of chords and riffs being recombined in slightly different ways here. I could hear the seeds of better things to come like “Young Savage.” “I Won’t Play Your Game” was quite a bit different, but more “rockist” to dredge up that term in the 21st century. It had 60s punk rock roots of bands like The Seeds in its insistent snottiness. It’s amazing to think that Billy Currie was playing at that minimal level at this stage of the game, but the expansive flight he took in the coda was a startling half-glimpse of the keyboard monster we all knew and loved.
The rest of the program is a solid selection of first album material with “Slip Away” always being a vibrant track, that managed to tip their hand as to where they would be investigating with the organ solo in the coda. The decision to include two monophonic tracks from the filming of the concert seems to indicate that the mobile unit that recorded the show, either didn’t record the whole program, or master tapes might have been lost somehow. I’m not sure, but I will go on record as to applauding the decision to throw caution the wind and include the two mono tracks into the mix on side two.
“Wide Boys” was always a favorite swaggering track from the debut, and the amphetamine speed punk of “Satday Night In The City Of The Dead” was always a treat. Hearing Foxx articulate the rapid spew of lyrical syllables at the fastest possible speed almost had lyrics colliding into each other on the way to the mic! I’ve tried to sing along to this track live and how did he manage this? The mixing issues between going from mono on the first two tracks on side to stereo were an awkward transition, to be sure, but having nine songs at least gives us a sense of the early Ultravox! sets.
“The Wild The Beautiful And The Damned” featured a torrid synergy between the squealing leads of Steve Shears and the frenetic viola of Billy Currie. With Chris’ Cross bass adding truculent sludge to anchor the whole thing. The character of the final track, “Dangerous Rhythm” was much further removed from the cod-Reggae of the band’s debut single. The additions of Currie’s keys softened the track even as Foxx’s powerful vocal did no such thing; soaring on the expression vocal hook.
This Rainbow show was recorded in February of 1977; concurrent with the release of the band’s debut album that same month. For a sense of how the band were developing, to fill out the CD, I included as tracks 10-21, a bootleg live album I’ve had for ages that has been awaiting a context for digitization. The “Systems” bootleg revealed a snapshot of the band from October 19th of 1977 as recorded for radio at The Radiohuset, Stockholm. So the quality was not bad for a bootleg. The pressing was a little wonky as these things go, but hardly worse than the worst of today! And it’s a timely recording as their sophomore “Ha! Ha! Ha!” album had just been released five days prior.
So that means that material from the first album has been augmented with dips into the feedback pool that had informed half of the material on the much more aggressive second album. Like the feedback solo at the end of “Slip Away,” for instance. Elsewhere, “The Frozen Ones” revealed a more expansive attack on bass from Chris Cross that was really in your face in ways that got glossed over on the speedier attack used on the album. But here, it really took center stage in an almost J.J. Burnel fashion.
I enjoyed the new injection of squirts of acidic synthesizer made into the marrow of “A Distant Smile’s” bones. “Young Savage” was a beast with a Ramones-esque four-count before bursting free from the starting blocks to barrel full speed down the sidewalk; mowing down pedestrians left and right.
The band were still sequencing “Wide Boys” followed by “Satday Night In The City of The Dead” and by this time the velocity of articulation from Foxx was even faster that it had been in February! With the rest of the band meeting in speed! It was bracing to hear bass playing that aggressive yet that fast! The whole song had the effect of being slightly time compressed with no open space left at all between the notes. Nearly a minute and twenty seconds was pared from “The Wild, The Beautiful & The Damned” here to no ill effects as the spirit of ’77 invested the band with an impatience that they might not have had earlier in the year.
The synth riffing at the beginning of “Rockwrok” was like licking a nine volt battery before the song exploded forward with all due haste. The staccato organ riffing by Currie in the middle eight while Shears soloed was something new for this song. And the recording ended with what has become my favorite song from “Ha! Ha! Ha!” in my old age; the apocalyptic “Fear In The Western World” as Foxx exhorted the crowd to stand up and get on their feet over the chaotic noisecrash intro and Warren Cann’s steady, insistent beat. Sadly, the recording faded out after just three minutes; depriving me of the wall of flesh-peeling feedback for three more minutes that I fervently hope that this song had in concert.
These two recordings painted a pretty thorough picture of Ultravox! in their early phase. I only wish that I had some official recordings of the band’s astonishing third phase which would occur in 1978 with “Systems Of Romance.” But it would have been very challenging to convey the astonishing nature of that fusion of electronics and Rock back in the day. So I might have to one day seek out some highly unofficial sources and see what is out there since there’s now a big gap in the storyline of Ultravox live for me. And sadly, it’s their most exciting chapter.
REVO + OUT | 2022