Rocking the Roxy: Five Great Live Albums Recorded at Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre

Peter Asher

 

On the Rock & Roll High School with Pete Ganbarg podcast, singer / manager / former record executive / hit record producer Peter Asher discussed yet another music-related venture in which he engaged – as part-owner of the iconic Roxy Theatre, a 500-seat music venue on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Calif. Along with investment partners and music industry heavyweights Lou Adler, David Geffen, and Elliot Roberts, Asher was determined to make the onetime strip club an intimate space for a wide range of acts to perform to small but intense audiences.

“It was great,” Asher told Ganbarg. “It was an interesting gang of us. The other partner was this guy, [concert promoter] Chuck Landis, who was in it because he owned the license of the premises or something, because it was a strip club. It was ‘Chuck Landis’ Largo.’  So it was Chuck Landis and then the rest of us.

“It was fun. We took it all very seriously, getting a good sound system in there and trying to make it really comfortable. We took our club owner duties seriously.”

A cursory look at the venue’s website reveals how many great acts performed there, particularly in the early days – a melange of stars, from Cheech & Chong to Genesis, Smokey Robinson to Patti Smith, Dolly Parton to the Sex Pistols.

A number of great live records also came from performances on the Roxy stage, including a handful of classics:

 

Frank Zappa & the Mothers, Roxy and Elsewhere: This double-LP – mostly recorded during four shows at the Roxy in December 1973 – is a favorite among Zappa fans and more casual listeners alike (it hit the Top 30 of the Billboard 200 album chart in 1974). Highlights include the sidelong freakout of "Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen's Church)" (according to Zappa, a “very special, highly evolved, permutated tango – it’s actually a perverted tango!”); the strangely soulful “Village of the Sun”; and the immortal virtuosic display that is “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?”

 

 

Ian Hunter, Welcome to the Club: Ex-Mott the Hoople frontman Hunter recorded three-plus sides of this cracking two-record set over a seven-night stand at the Roxy in November 1979, and though it was not a hit album (few of his solo records achieved that status), it is a wonder of rock ‘n’ roll power and top-shelf songwriting and performing. Guitarist Mick Ronson was in the band for the first time in four years, and his leads and fills are among the tastiest morsels on the album. There’s one great song after another: “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “All the Way from Memphis,” “Irene Wilde,” “Cleveland Rocks,” “Bastard,” and, of course, “All the Young Dudes.” This is one record on which you can definitely hear the intimacy of the venue contrast with the energy of the band – there was a lot of that energy, bouncing off the walls of that small room, reflected through the crowd, back to the stage. It’s an awesome thing to hear.

 

Warren Zevon, Stand in the Fire: It was difficult to tell from his studio records, but Warren Zevon could rock. Stand in the Fire, recorded over five nights at the Roxy in August 1980, features his acerbic wit and keen observations, given new vitality by his band, at maximum volume. The classics are here – “Werewolves of London,” “Excitable Boy,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” – all played with heart and abandon, like a garage band with exceptionally good chops. He even throws in a cover medley of Bo Diddley tunes, for good measure, just to prove himself capable of doing such a stomping, bluesy thing. The original single LP is tighter than tight – a compact set that leaves you wanting more. The 2021 expanded reissue delivers on that desire, pulling in four tracks not on the first issue, and six tracks never before available anywhere. We recommend listening to the initial release first, to get a load of the energy and Zevon’s original concept, then luxuriating in the 2021 set, with its bonus material.

 

Neil Young, Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live: Neil Young brought a band he called the Santa Monica Flyers to open the Roxy stage September 20–22, 1973, shortly after recording his haunting album Tonight’s the Night, and though that record wouldn’t see the light commercially for nearly two years, the ever-mercurial Young made it the main feature of these sets. The music is loose and intense, losing none of its narcotized menace in translation to the stage. The deaths of bandmate Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry were still fresh on Young’s mind, and the desolation comes through in spades, particularly the title track, “Tired Eyes,” and “World on a String.” The intensity gets cut a bit by Young’s mostly jovial between-song raps, but they’re part of the performance, and are captured here as they were. Tonight’s the Night was a great record, and the Roxy crowds certainly got a stellar preview of one of Young’s most profound statements.

 

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Live 1975–85 (Sides 1–3): Nine of the 11 tracks across the first three sides of The Boss’ massive live box set were taken from two Roxy gigs – one song from October 18, 1975, and the remaining eight from July 7, 1978. Highlights include the set-opening, solo-piano take on “Thunder Road” (from the ‘75 show); a tremendous “For You”; and a show-stopping, 10-minute “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” including band introductions and a ramped-down/ramped-back-up dynamic in the song that most bands would kill to execute. In 2018, Springsteen released the ‘78 show as a standalone live album through his Live Archive Series.

 

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