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"Give it a Spin"

April Wine at Toronto's

El Mocambo ages well

Surprise shows at small clubs have been a hallmark of the Rolling Stones for years. However, billed under pseudonyms, such as the Cockroaches, the show's usually didn't remain secrets for long. Such was the case on March 4, 1977.

That's when April Wine, a Montreal-based band, shared the bill with them for two shows at the El Mocambo in Toronto, Canada, resulting in the recording and release of "April Wine: Live at the El Mocambo."

I picked it up at a record store in college, having been heavily into the music scene while pursuing a degree in radio broadcasting. I used to buy two or three albums a week.

If I hadn't rescued it from the used-record bin, it might still be there. According to the sticker that's still quite visible on the cover, I purchased it for a mere $3.00. I not only consider it a tremendous bargain, but a classic recording, as well.

The band, who would't hit it big for another four years with the

release of "Nature of the Beast," featuring "Just Between You and Me," along with "Sign of the Gypsy Queen," seized an amazing opportunity during those shows.

The Stones were there to record for an upcoming live album, and they made their state-of-the-art recording equipment and top-notch engineers available to them, too.

The Stones performance appears as side three of their double-album "Love You Live." There's also a bootleg of their entire show.

April Wines' performance was released on London Records and it sounds damn good, especially at maximum volume, but I've heard the re-release on compact disc is much better. There's also an expanded version available.

But, being a traditionalist, I prefer vinyl, not to mention the liner

notes remain discernible to an aging hippie who wears bifocals. Who can read that stuff on a compact disc?

The inner sleeve contains the lyrics to each song and a special thanks to the "Cockroaches:" Mick, Ronny, Keith, Bill, Charlie, Billy, and Ollie. More commonly known as the Rolling Stones, with some special guests.

At the time, April Wine consisted of Myles Goodwyn; lead vocals and guitar; Garry Moffet; guitar and vocals; Steve Lang; bass guitar and vocals; and Jerry Mercer; drums and vocals.

Another interesting thing about the album is that it captures the

patrons chattering at their tables and the sound of clinking glasses during the show. It's not distracting in the least. Actually, I think It reflects the cozy, intimate atmosphere of a club. It's rather unique.

The album begins with the host introducing the band.

"From Montreal, welcome, April Wine -- have fun."

The band then kicks off the show with "Teenage Love," which sets the tone for the entire album. They play tight and loose at the same time. They don't sound nervous or intimidated by the immensity of the event.

The first side of the album is steady, but subdued. They would become known for their ballads, but they could rock, too.

The first rocker doesn't appear until after they've played "Teenage Love," "Tonight is a Wonderful Night," and "Juvenile Delinquent." At this stage of their career, their lyrics were a bit sophomoric," but their potential was evident.

They pickup the pace to end side one, with "Don't Push Me Around," which features the use of a "talk box." It's the gadget popularized by Peter Frampton on his mega-hit "Do You Feel Like I Do," which can be found on "Frampton Comes Alive."

Joe Walsh is often credited for introducing it on his signature tune, "Rocky Mountain Way." However, it didn't work for April Wine.

The second side is where the band really starts to shine.

It starts out with "Oowatanite," which is a concert favorite from their earlier days, and features some distinctive cymbal "crashing." It sounds like someone frantically ringing the bell during a boxing match.

It reminds me of the storm-warning siren heard at the beginning of R.E.O Speedwagon's "Ridin' the Storm Out." It's a signature sound, but any further use would have become annoying rather quickly.

"Drop Your Guns" follows, with its driving guitars and snappy drumming. It'll get your foot tappin' and your head noddin'. By now,the bands energy and enthusiasm can't be stopped.

"Slow Poke" is an overtly suggestive tune, with Myles Goodwyn boasting about his sexual prowess. It may be highly offensive to prudish listeners. It might have a hard time passing today's censors, where nearly anything goes, especially where rap's concerned.

"I've got something to keep you satisfied/so won't you excuse me while I slip inside. I ain't gonna rush things/you know I ain't no speed freek And I like to take my time whenever I eat/Cause I'm just a slow poke, uh-huh, with long strokes."

And those are just the opening lines. It's enough to make Lou Reed blush and envious at the same time, if he were still alive.

"You Won't Dance With Me" displays some of the most emotive vocals I've ever heard -- bar none. Close your eyes and you can hear the true angst of a unrequited love. It's clearly my favorite.

However, the version I've provided as a Youtube link is from the Canadian release. It's different than the U.S. version, which is much better.

The link only provides the audio. Other cuts from the album are also available on Youtube, including "Slow Poke."

In regard to "You Won't Dance With Me," the spoken verse doesn't appear on the U.S. release, the vocal isn't nearly as soaring or emotive, and it's much harder to hear the crowd enjoying themselves.

Nonetheless, I encourage you to give it a listen, anyway.

Then, without a break, the band unleashes it's most powerful track on the album, "Could Have a Been a Lady," which concludes the show. The song, a Hot Chocolate cover, was released as the first single on their second album.

It doubles down on the driving rhythms showcased throughout the performance. It's a snapshot of a guitar-based band running on all cylinders.

Overall, the vocals are crisp and clear throughout as is the often searing lead guitar work. The background vocals, which are a bit overstated at times, are exceptional for a live album from back in the day. The acoustics must have been awesome.

Give it a spin.

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