Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cactus: “The Birth Of Cactus – 1970” (2022) CD Review

How often is a band’s very first live gig recorded, and then released? I’m not sure, but if that band shared the bill with the Grateful Dead, the chance of the set being recorded rises dramatically. Such is the case for Cactus, whose first show was performed on May 16, 1970 at Temple University in Philadelphia. In addition to Cactus, the bill included Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead. That’s a pretty good lineup, eh? Hendrix was the headliner. The show started in the afternoon, and tickets were $6.50. Cactus at that time was made up of Rusty Day on vocals and harmonica, Jim McCarty on guitar, Tim Bogert on bass and vocals, and Carmine Appice on drums and vocals. Rusty Day came from The Amboy Dukes, Jim McCarty from Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, while both Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice came from Vanilla Fudge. The band rocked, playing mostly original material.

The set begins with “One Way…Or Another,” a hard rock tune that would later serve as the title track to an LP released in 1971. The band comes on strong here, delivering an instrumental rendition of the song, this performance featuring some strong work on guitar. Perhaps the lyrics hadn’t yet been written? This disc credits Appice and Bogert as the songwriters, while on the studio release all four are credited. The energy here is tremendous. Rusty Day then thanks the audience and introduces the band members before they launch into “Sweet Sixteen,” a song that would end up on another 1971 LP, Restrictions (and which here is identified as “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Rusty Day). It is a heavy blues rock number, featuring some great work on bass. The group cuts loose here, and that unrestrained energy is delicious. “Her head is always spinning/Sometimes she can’t see straight.”

“No Need To Worry” is a song that would be included on the group’s first LP, released in 1970. It has a classic blues rock rhythm, and features some excellent work on harmonica. Those first lines are delivered as almost a howl: “Yeah, it’s so hard to be lonely/Feeling everyone is down on you/It’s hard to be lonely/Feeling everyone is down on you.” We’ve all been there, right? And I suppose the lines “I said it’s hard to believe/The condition the world is in right now” are always relevant. But, really, who would have thought we’d be where we are now? It’s beyond difficult to fathom. I am digging Carmine Appice’s work on drums, and this track also features some wild work on guitar. They then go into “Let Me Swim,” also from that self-titled debut LP. This song is a delicious and driving rock number, again with some guitar work that flies and burns. It leads straight into “Big Mama Boogie,” which would be included on One Way…Or Another. A seriously fun tune, this one includes some good stuff on harmonica, then takes off in a higher gear. That eventually leads into “Oleo,” written by Sonny Rollins, one of only two covers on this release.

“Feel So Good” is another strong rock song, this one ending up as the final track on the group’s first LP. It features some excellent stuff on drums, including a cool solo that builds wonderfully, helping to make this track one of my favorites. The album then concludes with a cover of “Parchman Farm,” written by Mose Allison. Cactus also included this song on that debut LP. They totally rock this song, delivering some great stuff on both guitar and harmonica. Yes, this is one high-energy set of music. I imagine those folks who were at this show had one hell of a good time.

CD Track List

  1. One Way… Or Another
  2. Sweet Sixteen
  3. No Need To Worry
  4. Medley: Let Me Swim/Big Mama Boogie/Oleo
  5. Feel So Good
  6. Parchman Farm

The Birth Of Cactus – 1970 was released on January 21, 2022, on both CD and vinyl (and the vinyl is purple).

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