Album Review: The Shadows of Knight — Alive in ’65

Sundazed and its affiliated imprints have been doing yeoman work of late, providing an astounding service to the history of rock. The label has unearthed live tapes of fabled garage-rock bands (and I use that term loosely) of the 1960s, allowing modern-day listeners a glimpse of what these groups “really sounded like.” The bands’ studio works are fine – Sundazed has re-released some of them as well – but the raw, unvarnished live performances get to the heart of what those bands were really about. Recent titles have included live sets from the Remains, the Standells and the Shadows of Knight.

Now that esteemed list includes another recording from the Shadows of Knight, Alive in ‘65, a recording of the Shadows of Knight, captured onstage a year before their commercial peak.

First, the bad news (and it’s not really bad). There’s no “Gloria” here. Apparently, the tune most readily associated with the Shads wasn’t part of their set on this night in 1965 at the Cellar in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. The group signed with the Dunwich label and released its first singles in ‘66; this recording predates that.

It also come from a period during which band founder Warren Rogers was the group’s lead guitarist; in the words of liner note essayist Jeff Jarema, he would be “demoted” to bass guitar soon thereafter. But there’s nothing – literally no evidence at all – on Alive in ‘65 to suggest that Rogers was anything less than a fiery, accomplished guitarist. In fact it’s his musicianship above all else that this recording showcases.

The set list is one that will be familiar to garage-rock aficionados: Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol, “I’m a King Bee” and the like all in versions that suggest the band listened to covers of those songs by the Rolling Stones and other British groups. The Shadows (they introduce themselves without the “of Knight” tag) are impressively tight, seething with energy. The group blasts through the tunes, and the between-song banter is friendly and brief, showing that the Shads had developed a professional attitude before getting a record deal.

The recording quality is surprisingly good, not at all bootleg-sounding. Jarema’s notes suggest the set was captured on a reel-to-reel setup. The set of covers is well-chosen, and the only possibly-original tune is a brief number played as the band prepared to take a break. Here it’s called “Break Time.”

Assuming that the record follows the actual sequence of the performance, the second set is a bit sloppy. The Shads start out in fine form with “It’s All Right,” and the slow-dance Rolling Stones number “Heart of Stone” is performend well enough with some faux-bluesy vocalizations. And the band roars back for the Kinks “All Day and All of the Night.” But “King Bee” feels rickety – as if the band’s energy is flagging – and by the time of “Louie Louie” things have gotten pretty loose. The Shads barrel through “Route 66” with the feel of a group that want’s to start breaking its gear down and head home.

But this is garage rock, after all, so there’s nothing wrong with a bit of slipshod playing if the feel is right. And here it is indeed All Right. Alive in ‘65 would be an essential purchase for garage rock fans even if it was poorly recorded and indifferently performed. But it’s neither, so go get it, stat.