Album Review: Cactus – Live in the U.S.A./Live in Japan

Album review: Cactus – Live in the U.S.A./Live in Japan
Rocker Records LLC
All Access Rating: A-

Cactus - Live in Japan 2013
Around for only a short while in the early '70s, Cactus never quite lived up to the expectations that come with being called the "American Led Zeppelin." Still, they left their mark with a greasy. blues-infused mix of hard-hitting proto-metal and full-throttle boogie-rock that served as an archetype for the likes of AC/DC, Aerosmith, the Black Crowes, Montrose and Van Halen to follow.

Always a scintillating live act that attracted big crowds during their 1969-1972 run, despite the lack of a hit album or a smash single, Cactus was one of those bands that everybody figured called it quits too soon. And maybe they're right, considering the searing rock 'n' roll heat coming off two live releases – available separately as digital downloads from drummer Carmine Appice's new label, Rocker Records LLC – from a reunited Cactus that, sadly, did not include deceased singer Rusty Day.

Cactus - Live in the U.S.A. 2013
Revived in the mid-2000s, Cactus played B.B. King's in New York in 2006 – captured on Live in the U.S.A. – as a warm-up for their triumphant appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival. It being the first time Jim McCarty, Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert – with a new lead vocalist in tow – had performed as Cactus since 1972, Live in the U.S.A. documents their return in gloriously ragged fashion. 

It's a rough-and-tumble recording, lending a sense of closeness to a sweltering atmosphere that seems as hot and sticky as any down-South juke joint – one guy can even be heard yelling out, "I can die now." Cactus does not disappoint him. This is raw stuff, with some of the nastiest guitar licks McCarty has ever produced, as Cactus, propelled by the rhythmic rumblings of Bogert's bass and Appice's drums, struts like Mountain through "Muscle & Soul" and "Evil" with a rugged bluesy drawl that's also evident in the huffing and puffing they do in the harmonica-laced "Brother Bill." They kick out the jams with "Let Me Swim," this version sweating bullets and exploding like Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." Expressed with the confident swagger of men who realize they have nothing left to prove to anybody, their gnarled, slowed-down readings of "Long Tall Sally" and "Rock and Roll Children" are tantalizing, allowing them to mop their brows before diving headlong into the frenzied, blustery boogie of Mose Allison's "Parchman Farms," where Cactus lets it all hang out.

Bogert had retired by the time Cactus played Japan in 2012. Pete Bremy, his replacement, fills in admirably on a Live in Japan set that has a cleaner, more professional sound, but is no less combustible. "Swim" is just as feverish here, and throughout the performance, Appice's drums are punishing, McCarty's guitars are blazing and Bogert thunders away on the bass. A little bluesier, as Cactus indulges in classy renderings of "Alaska" and Willie Dixon's "You Can't Judge a Book (By Looking at the Cover)," Live in Japan finds Cactus exploring stoner-metal moods and sounds on a particularly hazy "Electric Blue" and then gnawing on the bones of a simmering pot called "One Way or Another" that threatens to boil over but never does.

Two rollicking concerts, captured at different points in the Cactus reunification, Live in the U.S.A. and Live in Japan see this reinvigorated band, which once arose out of the ashes of Vanilla Fudge, scratching and crawling its way toward fully realizing what they set out to do. The journey isn't over.
– Peter Lindblad

1 comment:

  1. Tim's motorcycle accident has prevented his touring. Cactus broke up in the early 70's for 2 reasons: Bogert and Appice had planned to join Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart to form a supergroup, but oddly Jeff's car accident delayed the project. Rod went solo and Beck, Bogert & Appice held a monster concert in Japan afterwards; unreleased in the US market, on the Made in Japan LP. Grammy winner, Jim McCarty (from Mitch Ryder and Buddy Miles Express) went on to form The Rockets with old friend Johnny Bee from Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels. A revised Cactus was put together for the Mar Y Sol Pop Festival (an anagram for Puerto Rico's Miss Universe Winner that year, Marisol Marilet) which was a solid group with some new material. The Cactus LP "Hot n Sweaty" consisted of live and studio tracks. The studio songs from this version of Cactus are not performed by the current remaining members as they require a keyboardist. Werner; the guitarist from the Mar Y Sol concert and LP sometimes performs with the remaining members when Jim McCarty is touring with his Mystery Train group. If you're a big Jim McCarty blues fan, check out "Texas" with Buddy Miles Express.