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Chocolate Watchband - At The Love-In Live (2001)

I remember all the messages on the various e-mail lists about The Chocolate Watchband's performance at Cavestomp in 1999. Everybody was so knocked out that this band could just rise from the dead after more than thirty years and put on such an amazing show, and I was just so SO not surprised that I missed it. It seems to be my lot in life. Perfect irony on this one, too. When the Watchband sings "Are Ya Gonna Be There (At The Love In)" my answer is "probably not."

All is not lost. Somebody had the smarts to record and videotape it, and now here it is on ROIR Records, in great sound for a concert recording -- in fact, crank this thing up and get some serious chest thumps from the bass, like the good Lord intended -- and, best of all, offering proof of what everybody was saying... well, shouting, actually: The Chocolate Watchband was better than they'd ever been.

As you can guess from the above, the crowd is all the way in it from the start, and the band obviously senses it and feeds on it. You have to realize this band received one of the worst screwings in the history of rock and roll at the hands of their producer and label back in '66, and most of what we've heard was not at all like it sounded when they put it down in the studio. Which means this might be the one true Chocolate Watchband document. If that was the case with most bands 30-some years after the fact, it would be a disaster, but not in this case. I kid you not, this is a dynamic, exciting, explosive performance by a band that has more power than any group of people over 22 have any business having. It's in the delivery of front man Dave Aguilar, his voice still strong and, judging by the four kick ass videos included on the disc, the man commands the stage and captivates his audience. I'd like to have seen all of the available performance in those videos, but somebody thought it would be real artsy to obscure most of the screen with vintage photos of the band from time to time, sometimes in long barrages. Thanks, someone.

Aguilar is joined by fellow original Watchbands Bill Flores (bass) and Gary Andrijasevich (drums), and almost-original member Tim Abbott (guitar), along with guitarist Michael Reese, who replaces the deceased Sean Tolby. Also deceased is Ed Cobb, the producer who screwed the band so badly in what should have been their hour of triumph, releasing a debut album that sounded nothing like what they expected to hear. Aguilar actually pays tribute... sort of... to Cobb, noting his death just weeks before, pointing out that he was responsible for the good and bad things that happened to them, but that he wrote some great songs. Then he sang one, choosing "She Weaves A Tender Trap," definitely not a song I expected to hear him sing.

And that wasn't the only one. I didn't expect a cover of "I Just Wanna Make Love To You," which has been done to death to the point where I didn't think I ever wanted to hear it attempted again, is at once sultry and powerful, getting the message across in almost fatalistic tones, as if the whole thing is wrong but making love is inevitable. After all these years, after all that time and experience stolen from him, Aguilar proves he was just born with that unexplainable, unattainable "it."

Most people still don't even know who The Chocolate Watchband are. This CD leads me to believe that had they been handled correctly from the start, everybody would know, and Dave Aquilar would still be at it on a larger scale. Cavestompers always know what's really hip. Find out who they are and ask for lists of their record collections. Wise up. They all have this by now. (DJ Johnson)

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"The Chocolate Watch Band - No Way Out (1967)"



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