Towards the end of 2011, the Scottish band Simple Minds announced their exclusive European 5x5 Live Tour, that would include material from their first five albums: Life In A Day (1979), Real To Real Cacophony (1979), Empires And Dance (1980), Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call (1981) and New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982). At the same time EMI released the box set X5 (see review) featuring these five albums on six CDs. It was obvious that sooner or later a live document of the 5x5 tour would be released.
This double live album is logically called 5x5 Live. It features songs from all the above-mentioned albums. Since the band played slightly different sets in various cities it must have been difficult to put together a double album that would give a general overview of the songs they performed during this tour. After listening to the 31 selected songs I must conclude that they compiled a rather strong album. Right from the beginning I noticed that Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (violin, guitar, keyboards), Mel Gaynor (drums, percussion), Andy Gillespie (keyboards) and Ged Grimes (bass guitar) didn't have much problems to perform these old compositions live on stage. If you take into consideration that some of these songs were played for the first time in decades, then all pieces are very well performed. I even dare to say that I prefer the live versions over the original album versions.
Most of the songs on 5x5 Live strongly tend towards the prog rock genre mainly due to the strong keyboard parts. These parts assure that these songs are a real treat to listen to. Of course, the original versions also contained many keyboard parts, but in the eighties these versions sounded too static, too sterile. It seems as if they come more to life when the band play them live on stage. Take for example a track like Pleasantly Disturbed from their debut Life In A Day. Thanks to the new arrangements the keyboard parts sound very orchestral as if they were arranged by a true prog rock band. Thanks to the use of the violin and Mellotron samples, you often get the idea that you're listening to a live album made by a prog rock act.
The songs from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) are my favourite pieces. At the time the band were at its top. I was really enthusiastic about the strong versions of Big Sleep, King Is White And In The Crowd, Hunter And The Hunted, Someone Somewhere In Summertime and New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). These are all true beauties that you have to listen to! But also the songs released as singles in the early days still sound excellent. Thanks to the strong live vibes tracks like I Travel, Love Song, The American and Changeling sound very well on this live album. The songs were collected from several concerts and recorded during the entire 5x5 Live tour. Between the performed tracks you'll clearly hear that singer Jim Kerr speaks to the audience in different languages, something which English speaking artists rarely do.
The cover artwork and the front were designed to look like a concert ticket. The package includes a booklet of twenty-four pages containing quotes of the band members and a collection of pictures taken during the tour. Furthermore a reproduction of the 5x5 Live tour poster has been included as well. Everything has been packed in a clamshell box which is a must have for all Simple Minds fans, although prog rock devotees should try this double live album as well. You won't regret it.
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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