UFO – Live Sightings


junkheadv1tmbUFO – Live Sightings

For most bands, four disc live sets are never a good idea. There’s going to be too much track overlap, the original versions were better anyway, the singer sounds like he’s panting like a dog in heat half the time, the guitarist misses some crucial notes. That studio magic will always trump a sound board guy in some sweaty club in Raleigh.

That’s where UFO proved the world wrong. Their album Strangers in the Night raised the bar for all live albums to come by drastically improving the flaccid mixes of their studio work. UFO was always a little too tight for their own good and more than a little bland in their riffs, but get them on a stage and it’s like unleashing a starved Malawi Terror Beast out into a massive crowd of children and elderly people. Even clunkers like “Mother Mary” and “Too Hot To Handle” become rock ‘n’ roll juggernauts, morphing prosaic riffs into metal poetry.

So when Michael Schenker left UFO in 1980, the band took a huge plunge. After Strangers hit the UK top ten and US top fifty, the prospect of more mainstream success was like the band eating tons of cheese without their fiber supplements: the studio productions sounded more constipated than ever before. As far as listeners knew, UFO was the shittiest band in the world and couldn’t dump anything good if they tried.

That’s why Cleopatra desperately needed to release this collection. The post-Schenker era needs a brief revisiting, and their studio work is not the place to do it. These four sets from ’80-’82 will reveal the real truth of how the band sounded when Paul Chapman took over Schenker’s lead guitar spot. I mean, isn’t that why he’s prominently on the cover wagging that guitar over his groin?


The Chicago ’80 set that kicks things off is absolutely ball-breaking, at times better than Schenkers in the Night. The guitars are bloated and overpowering throughout, pushed up to the front right next to Phil Mogg’s never faltering voice, setting the tone for most of the following discs. Chapman’s solos are also the perfect blend between mid-range wankery and high-pitched meedly-mee, and the high-hats bleed into your ears in a way that only the most professional bootleg can. Most of the songs are Schenker-era tracks, but this proves the band were still power chord heroes after he split.

The second disc is another Chicago show from ’81. The opening tracks end up being the standouts, but this is mainly due to the continuously dropping sound quality. The first tracks are crystal clear, but the further you get, the more everything sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine strategically placed in a ventilation shaft. The closing classic “Doctor Doctor” gets totally neutered, a shame considering this is its only appearance.

A year later in St. Louis, the recording sounds almost studio quality. While it has a much needed harder edge than their then recent Mechanix album, every element is clearly mixed for maximum audibility. I’m proud to look at Chapman’s groin when I hear the solos, now mostly stuck in a higher register but keeping things melodic enough to hold interest. Almost the entire set is now Chapman period tracks, showing how awesome these songs are in the hands of real rock producers and not executive whores. If you’re interested in this era of UFO, this is easily its finest hour.

The final disc from Cleveland circa ’82 is pretty clean, but it’s only a little better than most modern cellphone recordings of Beyonce’s Super Bowl MXVLLIIILVMX performance. The set list is largely identical to the St. Louis recording except it sounds crappier.

Regardless of the redundancies, this really puts Chapman UFO in a new light. It proves the band wasn’t the Michael Schenker Show gone bust, with solid new tracks and a bruising power guitar sound. It’s essential listening for anyone who loves UFO, and while the uninitiated will scratch their head wondering why they have to listen to “Too Hot To Handle” four times, they have no taste in music and I hope they accidentally scratch their heads so hard that a finger sinks through their skull and pushes the part of their brain that makes people want to rock.

Individual disc ratings:

1: A-
2: C+
3: A
4: C-

Final rating: B