Even in the freewheeling 1970s, Thin Lizzy were an utterly unique rock band — and not only because they were fronted by a towering, half-Irish/ half-Guyanese singer-bassist, the late Phil Lynott. A mesmerizing frontman and uncommonly gifted singer and songwriter, his soulful vocals, melodic flair and vivid storytelling were rare for the thundering ‘70s-style arena hard rock the band delivered, which was spearheaded by the twin-lead-guitar attack that was one of their defining trademarks, as epitomized on their biggest-ever hit, 1976’s epochal summer song, “The Boys Are Back in Town.”
But for all of their talent, promise and success, the group was plagued by problems throughout their career, including an almost comically unstable second-guitarist slot — which changed six times over the course of as many years — and, most significantly, Lynott’s debilitating heroin addiction, which brought about inconsistent material and performances and played no small role in his death at the age of just 36 in 1986.
Yet Thin Lizzy were indisputably one of the mightiest rock bands of their era, and their 1978 double-live set “Live and Dangerous” is widely considered one of the best of its kind, although many of the songs the hard-touring band played during the 18-month period the album documents were not included on it. Anyone who has ever felt shortchanged will be satisfied in supreme fashion by this gloriously expanded 8-CD boxed set, which combines a remastered version of the original album with the seven full concerts recorded for it between November 1976 and March 1978, when the band was at the absolute peak of its powers.
Lizzy are in explosive form on each of the gigs presented here, bringing a vibrancy and fluidity that was sometimes missing from the studio versions of these songs. The band’s all-time best lineup is in top form: Lynott’s propulsive bass anchors not only the songs’ riffs but their melodies as well; guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson peel off blazing, melodic leads on every song, while drummer Brian Downey is a powerhouse with the ability to both swing and deliver thunderous, double-bass-drum powered beats. (And since those members were American, Scottish and Irish respectively, they brought their own range of influences to the band.)
That diversity is reflected in Lizzy’s rare ability to fit in with multiple music scenes: While technically a hard rock band, they opened for countless ‘70s arena acts, from Queen to Journey, but were also respected by the first wave of British punk rock — Lynott formed a side project with two Sex Pistols called the Greedies — and were an icon of the late ‘70s “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” even though they were hardly a stereotypical metal band. And not least, they paved the way for that other world-beating Irish band, U2.
But what’s most on display here is how great many of Lizzy’s songs were. Although mostly a hard rock band, Lynott’s soulful voice would always make them stand apart, and he also brought with him the influence of traditional Irish music as well as contemporaries like Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen (particularly on “Dancing in the Moonlight,” which owes much to the former’s “Moondance”), and he could also write heart-rending ballads like “Still in Love With You,” which is lovely and lovelorn enough to be covered by Sade decades later. And although his lyrics were maddeningly inconsistent — for every evocative song like “Johnny” or “Fool’s Gold” there was also plenty of dashed-off, sexist and rocker clichés — he also had the rare ability to bring the listener into the song: “The Boys Are Back in Town” does that almost literally with the line, “They were asking if you were around/ Where you was, where you could be found.” For all the countless second-person lyrics in rock history, it’s rare for the listener to be invited into the song in such a casual, conversational and approving way. You, the listener, are cool enough not only to know the back-in-town boys in question, they want to hang out with you.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from this peak, at least creatively. Robertson left for good a few months after the final date recorded here, and the band never recaptured this lineup’s chemistry. Lizzy split for 1983, and although Lynott released a series of solo records, addiction overtook him and he died less than three years later. A statue of him in Dublin, unveiled in 2005, is a major tourist attraction.
Yes, seven concerts by anyone is a lot, and not surprisingly for shows recorded across just 18 months, there’s a lot of repetition. But this is the best kind of boxed set: one you can keep coming back to. Nearly 50 years later, Lizzy has never sounded better.