Mahavishnu Orchestra: Live at Montreux 1974/1984 DVD: Surprisingly Awesome!


I’ve always been a huge fan of the Mahavishnu Orcehstra’s first two albums, Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire, and just recently realized how amazing their third album is, Visions of the Emerald Beyond.  For more context, I think the track Devotion on John McLaughlin’s 1970s solo album Devotion is amazing, as are his When Fortune Smiles and Extrapolation albums, and the Tony Williams Lifetime albums on which he plays guitar.  I will now have to pull out the Apocalypse album to see if I like it as much as I like Visions of the Emerald Beyond (which I like better than the Lost Trident Sessions–they messed up on the mixing of the Trident Sessions big time, it sounds like too contemporary of a mix/too digital/fake, what’s with the weird drum placement in the mix, maybe the guitars stand out too much if I remember correctly, they should remix that album to sound more like the mix of all the other 70s Mahavishnu albums).

I could do without the sixth or seventh Mahavishnu Orchestra album Inner Worlds, which features lots of bland weird 70s hippie R&B cult ballads–he really should have dropped the name Mahavishnu Orchestra for that album.  John McLaughlin’s Electric Dreams album in the late 1970s is very bland to my ears (oh, actually I like some of it as I’m listening to it more!), and his early 80s album Mahavishnu really blows too.

The Mahavishnu 80s album is like Herbie Hancock’s Rockit mixed with the Main Street Electrical Parade mixed with muzak, which might sound good in concept, but here it’s totally devoid of any funk, hard edged rock touches,  or even any electric guitar solos (on an album with John McLaughlin???)–and filled with tons of terrible, awful bad 1980s synth sounds (as opposed to good 1980s synth sounds, which do exist elsewhere in the universe, just not on the 1980s Mahavishnu album).  There’s like 10 seconds of actual electric guitar on Radioactivity…the rest sounds like some bad Sega video game synth-guitar farting noises…in an elevator…in a Nordstroms…opening out into the section with the perfume counters and the lingerie section…in Moraga…bland, bland, bland, yuck, yuck, yuck.

But here’s the thing…the 1984 Mahavishnu band playing the Mahavishnu songs on the 1984 disc of the Live at Montreux DVD set rocks!  I mean, John does play the synth guitar, but he also pulls out his real electric guitar too (he will literally take one off and puts the other on all during the same song) in equal measure, and plays some of the best electric guitar solos he is capable of playing, all caught on great looking and sounding footage.  There’s awesome feedback on the first song, and he does this awesome hammer on hammer off stuff or something, it’s kind of like John McLaughlin meets Van Halen or something.

The band actually rocks, it’s weird, the Mahavishnu 80’s album is so bland, and there are some cheesy moments on the 1984 DVD too, but all of the musicians really shine.  The keyboardist breaks out his Rhodes sometimes, and plays this really amazing Rhodes solo.  The bassist plays this Jimi Hendrix song on his bass, the drummer and saxophonist do their thing.  Too bad they didn’t play like this for the album!!!  It kind of reminds me of a really good night at Yoshis or something…kind of cheesy, just edging into adult contemporary, but really good too.  ; )  Is this show the beginning of that kind of “Yoshis” rock?  Oh, and what’s that amazing low pitched sound John McLaughlin gets in that one part on his synth guitar, he should have used that more…

The 1974 show is awesome as well.  It’s MO II, with the lady, the other drummer, the other bassist (I should probably know all this, Narada Walden Smith or something, Ralph something maybe, Gayle Moran maybe, too lazy to look it up) and the awesome Jean Luc Ponty.  The playing is really fantastic.  Only maybe half of the show has video–but that’s still a good 74 minutes or so of great video!

I’m going to be seeing the John McLaughlin/Chick Corea Five Peace Band soon, and I really, really like John McLaughlin’s Floating Point album–it’s awesome, he plays synth guitar and killer electric guitar in equal measures here too, with awesome songs and solos, and the drums are crazy.  The drums are like real prog rock/jazz fusion drums in the style of Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford in their heydays, but there are two drummers, from India, and it’s cacophonous in a good way, almost like good drum and bass in parts–John McLaughlin and a keyboardist will be playing these relaxing synth parts but the drummers wil be making this incredible racket in the background, it makes for a great contrast and is kind of unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, drum-wise.  With all of this great material and touring coming out it’s a great time to be a John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra fan, thanks John McLaughlin!

Screen cap from All About Jazz


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