LIVE REVIEW: Big Star at Fillmore
On a night that residents of San Francisco were encouraged to turn off their lights early to save energy, a band from yesteryear plugged into the Fillmore soundboard for the rarest of concerts. Power pop Big Star sparkled out of the rock ‘n’ roll ether for a solid set of its hits from the 70s.
For the uninformed, Big Star was a 70s band that critics adored (the band’s three albums, #1 Record, Radio City, and Third, all appear on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest 500 albums), yet never sold many records. Founding members Alex Chilton and Chris Bell took a Lennon/McCartney approach to their songwriting, harmonizing, and playing. The band’s other members, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens added to the Beatles mystique, a quartet of talent who could all sing and write songs. But after 1977′s Third didn’t do well, the band seemed to split, then Bell died in a car accident in 1978. Over the years, the band’s legend has grown, as countless alt-country and contemporary rock acts (The Jayhawks, REM, Wilco, et al) cite Big Star as a major influence. In 1994, the band reunited for some shows, with two members of the Posies joining in – guitarist Jon Auer filling in for Bell and bassist Ken Stringfield taking Hummels’ spot. The new lineup recorded a 2004 album, Big Star In Space, which generated very favorable reviews. Still, performances are rare and Big Star continues to exist as a cult favorite act that never received its proper due.
Which brings me back to Saturday night’s Fillmore show. When I saw the listing, I thought it was a “must-see” event, which I imagined was part of a theater/club tour. Not the case. Apparently, the Fillmore was Big Star’s only gig of the year. Yet, as I entered the legendary ballroom, I was astonished to find it less than half full. I suppose it was true to the Big Star legend, that, once again, people had a chance to see this class act – and did not show up.
Not that the band seemed to mind. Hitting the stage at 10 p.m., Big Star started things off with “In The Street” (the song Cheap Trick covered for the opening credits of That 70s Show). Chilton, who looks more like a mid-50s software engineer than a rock legend, navigated through a punctual, best-of set list, including “I Am The Cosmos,” “Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen,” “Back of a Car,” “Way Out West,” “Thank You Friends,” “O Dana,” “September Gurls,” and a cover of the Kinks’s “‘Til The End of the Day.” The band was friendly and seemed to be well-rehearsed, but didn’t address the unique-ness of the event, other than drummer Stephens commenting that it had been a few years since they had played the Fillmore. The audience, though small, seemed to really enjoy the rare opportunity to see these unknown legends perform live.
- Review submitted by Peter Crooks.