Album Review: GA-20 – Live in Loveland

Even when their studio work is superb, some artists are simply best experienced live. So it is with GA-20, the two-guitars-and-drummer trio. Their most recent studio effort, 2022’s Crackdown is an absolutely cracking release, using Hound Dog Taylor-styled bluesology as a starting point for something that’s rooted in tradition but wholly modern. But experiencing those songs (and the band’s earlier material) live and in person brings with it a visceral feel that even the best studio recording cannot fully capture.

But a live album, well, that’s another thing entirely. When it’s well recorded – and when the artist is on fire – then the potential exists to have things both ways. Case in point: The Who’s Live at Leeds, a barn burner of the highest order. I’ve seen GA-20 live onstage, so for me the bar is quite high when it comes to the idea of a live recording of their music. And Live in Loveland gets it very, very right.

I will admit to some initial trepidation about the group when I first heard about them. In this quarter, bass-less bands are met with well-founded skepticism: the bottom end simply isn’t there. Rock or blues trios have it hard enough when it comes to live settings: listen to the way that the metaphorical air is sucked out of the arrangement when Cream’s Eric Clapton switches to lead; even the thunderous rhythm section of Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce can’t adequately fill that space. Try all that without a bass and you’re likely asking for trouble.

But there are no such concerns where guitarists Pat Faherty and Matthew Stubbs are involved. They tear things up, and even the most discerning listener won’t miss the bass guitar. The frequencies are there. The two guitarists know how to craft a powerful arrangement that feels like more than two guitars and a drummer.

A fussy approach wouldn’t suit GA-20, not at all. And Live in Loveland isn’t fussy. As the sleeve notes, the set was recorded directly onto ¼” analog tape. What they played is what you’ll hear. And as fantastic as Crackdown is, for new listeners, this live album is the perfect entry point into the world of GA-20. Unless, that is, you have an opportunity to witness them in person. If so, do that first, and stop by the merch table on the way out for a copy of the essential Live in Loveland. It’s one of the best live albums this listener has ever encountered, and I’ve heard a few.