Big Star's Third at the Sydney Festival

Big Star is a band that I have written about before and you can get an idea about their story here.  If you haven't clicked through, they were a Memphis based band from the early 1970s who created three albums and, through a series of mishaps and bad business, were never distributed or promoted. Their three albums became a cult amongst musicians and musos.

In the last couple of years a series of one-off or limited run concerts have been taking place around the world where an all-star cast of musicians both local and international gather to perform Big Star’s third album, called Third or in some cases Sister Lovers. The base group of musicians who do these concerts are the only remaining founding member of Big Star, Jody Stephens, R.E.M’s Mike Mills, The dB’s Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter (Let’s Active).  

From the 2011 Concert in the USA, this is Brett Harris doing Kangaroo

Last night it was Australia's turn, as the Sydney Festival brought these musicians to the Enmore Theatre in Sydney to put on this concert for one night. The core group of musicians were joined by The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow, guest vocalists Skylar Gudasz, Brett Harris, Kurt Vile, Cat Power, Edwyn Collins, and Aussie singers Tim Rogers (You Am I), Kim Salmon (The Scientists) and Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus) along with a Sydney-based 12-piece ensemble of strings and brass.

This concert emphasised how important live music is. This tight knit group of musicians come together on stage and created a wonderful night full with big personalities, great songs, and moments of joy and sorrow that can only happen at a live show. All the guest vocalists did a fantastic job of evoking the original song and simultaneously making it their own. I for one, was very happy to see the music played live especially as we had the added bonus of most of the songs from the other two albums and some of the solo work of members of Big Star being played. If you want to sample some of Big Star's music listen to a couple of the clips below.

Thirteen off the album, #1 Record.

O My Soul from the album Radio City

Stroke It Noel off the album Third/Sister Lovers


In The Streets off the album, #1 Record 

Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me

 Big Star Nothing Can Hurt Me is a feature length documentary about the 1970s Memphis band Big Star.  The documentary is very straight forward and workman like but it is the subject matter that makes it a must see movie for anyone who likes music from that era. The band made three albums and because of various distribution and record label issues, they were a commercial failure.  But the influence of those albums are still felt today. 

The death of lead singer in 2010, Alex Chilton was commemorated by Congressman Cohen, see below: 

William Ruhlmann at Allmusic.com sums up the impact of their music perfectly:

"The problem with coming in late on an artwork lauded as "influential" is that you've probably encountered the work it influenced first, so its truly innovative qualities are lost. Thus, if you are hearing Big Star's debut album for the first time decades after its release (as, inevitably, most people must), you may be reminded of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or R.E.M, who came after -- that is, if you don't think of The Byrds and The Beatles, circa 1965. What was remarkable about #1 Record in 1972 was that nobody except Big Star (and maybe Badfinger and The Raspberries) and wanted to sound like this -- simple, light pop with sweet harmonies and jangly guitars. Since then, dozens of bands have rediscovered those pleasures. But in a way, that's an advantage because, whatever freshness is lost across the years, Big Star's craft is only confirmed. These are sturdy songs, feelingly performed, and once you get beyond the style to the content, you'll still be impressed."

Big Star's resurgence in the 1980s happened when bands such as R.E.M, Teenage Fanclub and The Replacements sited the influence of the band on their music.  Subsequently, the band acquired a cult following and in 1993 two of the original band members reformed the band with two new members and toured for the next ten odd years.  In 1999, one of their songs, In The Streets, was used as the opening song for the US sitcom That 70s Show and the band's music start become more and more mythical.

It is an interesting story and as such so is the movie, but I recommend just putting on #1 Record or Radio City and listen for yourself.