Published first March 10, 2010 via Blogcritics Magazine
Fans of the glory days of ‘70s hard rock may remember guitar maestro Gary Moore via his three stints with his childhood friend (the late) Phil Lynott’s beloved Irish hard rock band Thin Lizzy. There, he made his name as a guitar virtuoso before going on his own in the 1980s, when he continued to be a hit with the hard rock/metal community, while also writing occasional ballads (like many heavy ‘80s groups).
By 1990, Moore had returned to his first love, blues rock, and toured behind the electric blues album Still Got The Blues, released that same year. Over the next 11 years, starting in July of ‘90, he played five memorable shows at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Moore’s monstrous Montreux shows from 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 were released as Essential Montreux in audio form as a 5-CD box set and mp3 download last year. But as powerful as hearing the Belfast bluesman is, the visual aspect is what does his music true justice.
And now, after previously only being available on film via import, for the first time, these shows have been released in America as a 2-DVD set with a bonus CD entitled The Definitive Montreux Collection (Eagle Rock Entertainment).
The two DVDs here highlight 39 different songs from the five concerts and have all the essential post-Thin Lizzy Gary Moore cuts. The sets are mostly blues-based, but Moore does bring back his hard rock and metal sides every now and then.
In his 1990 set, Moore, with long, messy hair ripped through 15 cuts, about half of which are captured on the first DVD. Highlights include the loud and wild slide guitar-propelled hard rockin’ blues of “Moving On,” the soulful blues of “Midnight Blues,” and Albert Collins’ guest lead vocals and guitar playing on “Cold, Cold Feeling.”
In the 1995 set, the beloved hit and strings-aided ballad “Still Got The Blues” is a highlight (but is oddly excluded from the 1990 portion of the first DVD), as is the intimate “All Your Love.” Interesting to note is the sound of Moore’s voice in this performance, which has a trace of Steve Winwood to these ears.
Moving on to DVD two, the 1997 show – a personal fave of the five - sees the ace guitarist wearing sunglasses and a bright yellow shirt, all casual wear for a man far removed from the leather jacket days of the past. Moore’s most straight-ahead rocker “One Fine Day” starts off the set, followed by “Cold Wind Blows,” a slowly building, mid-tempo bluesy metal piece. Like fellow guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, Moore isn’t afraid to try new, exotic sounds, but the sitar featured on this track feels like a natural element of the tune. Its only drawback is the repetitive chorus towards the end.
The blissful “Always There For You” contains another side of Gary Moore you wouldn’t have seen 10 years earlier, one that experiments with electronic beats (like latter day Jeff Beck), and drum ‘n’ bass in particular. Keep in mind that Moore was listening to the likes of Roni Size at the time, and electronic music – The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers - in general was at its pinnacle, at least commercially.
1997 set closer “Out In The Fields” is the true metal-ish masterpiece here. Written by Phil Lynott and Moore and released in 1985, it’s about religious turmoil in their native Ireland and was one of the last (if not the last) tune Lynott wrote before his untimely death in January 1986 at the age of 36. Here, Moore stretches it out with a The Police-ish breakdown, and a raucous crowd enjoyed every bit of it, handclaps and all.
In the 1999 set, the 12-bar blues of “Tore Down” is aced by Moore and a tight backing band which includes keyboardist Vic Martin, who shines and effortlessly keeps up with the guitar whiz as they trade one short solo after another on the hoppin’ blues of “Further On Up The Road.” The strings-aided ballad “Parisienne Walkways,” another Moore-Lynott hit (from 1979) and crowd favorite, ends that track list.
Highlights of the 2001 set include the one-two-three punch of “Walking By Myself,” a rip-roaring cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” where Moore fits every improvised guitar lick he can between verses/choruses, and the swingin’ bluesy hard rock of “How Many More Lies.”
Gary Moore’s face may be a bit bigger by 2001 but his long hair is long gone, and in its place a short hairstyle that makes him look like Paul Simon at times. But looks are pretty much irrelevant here, as he still sings and plays with the same passion and enthusiasm in his fifth appearance at the Fest as he did in his first. The boyish joy he displays on the rockers and the painful expressions on his face during the more somber blues numbers are all elegantly captured throughout these shows.
The CD in this package is merely an 11-song sample of the Moore Montreux experience (or the mammoth Essential Montreux CD set), but a damn enjoyable one. It is highlighted by the metallic Irish rock of his mid-‘80s hit “Over The Hills And Far Away” (not a Led Zeppelin cover). Speaking of which, the only real disappointment in this package is the omissions of “Over The Hills” from the 1997 portion of the second DVD and that set’s opener “One Good Reason” from either DVD or CD form.
That said, with 50 total songs (including the 11 on CD) that total over five hours, The Definitive Montreux Collection captures Gary Moore doing what he does best: playing his ass off. It also serves as a natural and largely satisfactory complement to the Essential Montreux set, which totals over six hours.
To put it simply, Gary Moore fans who've stuck with him over the years, and fans of loud and soft blues music in general can’t go wrong with this three-disc package. If seeing is believing, this marathon set will make you appreciate Moore’s talent and musical works more than ever before.
4 1/2 stars