Love With Arthur Lee – Warsaw (Brooklyn, NY)
As his rejuvenated version of Love prepared to hurl into a ripping reading of “A House Is Not A Motel”, Arthur Lee was moved to wonder aloud: “Why do I feel like this is an historic event or some shit?”
Lee may have been the only person among the 400 zealots packed into this historic community hall who doubted the significance of the moment. Lee is back on the road, supported by the consummate Los Angeles pop combo Baby Lemonade plus a string and horn ensemble, performing his 36-year-old cult masterpiece Forever Changes. Of course, if that is all there was to it, then this evening would represent nothing more than another show business comeback story. But Lee spent almost six years in prison (between 1996 and 2001, over a mandatory three strikes gun conviction) and was largely written off as pop history roadkill. So don’t call it a comeback; Lee’s return has more to do with a Lazarus-like resurrection than mere nostalgia.
Lee is not only back from oblivion, though. He’s in excellent, energetic form and fine voice, writing new material (the jaunty “Rainbow In The Storm” was served up tonight) and supported by a band that, given the original Love’s sorry history, is very likely performing his mix of Sunset Strip garage-rock anguish and opulent ’60s pop arrangements better than it has ever been heard onstage. Perhaps most impressively, Forever Changes is proving to be one of the few ’60s artifacts that has not only weathered the decades, but is more relevant now than then.
Lee’s recent history has lent added poignancy (and prophecy) to the Forever Changes songs, particularly “The Red Telephone”. Its coda — “They’re locking them up today/They’re throwing away the key/I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?” — was extended in concert with a gliding horn figure and an urgent battle cry from Lee: “I want my freedom!” On “Live And Let Live”, Lee snarled with extra emphasis, “Served my time, served it well/You made my soul a cell,” and who can doubt his sincerity?
While Flower Power was running away with the ’60s zeitgeist, Lee was, by most estimates, a troubled soul, and Forever Changes cycles through his disillusionment (“A House Is Not A Motel”, presented on this night with an astringent guitar solo by Mike Randle; a jocose reading of “Live And Let Live”), his detachment (“Alone Again Or”, “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”), and, ultimately, his faith in the future.
Other highlights from Love’s songbook included the punchy “Your Mind And We Belong Together”, the trippy “Orange Skies”, the flute-spangled “She Comes In Colors”, and the garage classics “Seven And Seven Is”, “Stephanie Knows Who” and “My Little Red Book”. But the main attraction remains Forever Changes, with its weary embrace of life’s tribulations and its recognition of what truly matters.
The culminating rush of “You Set The Scene”, with Lee embracing the inevitability of death and rededicating himself to life, amid an orchestral swirl of strings and a brassy flourish, is one of the most profound statements ever offered up in the name of popular music. And on this night, it made for an impossibly powerful climax. There can be little doubt that Love and Arthur Lee aren’t just triumphing over their own history, they’re hungry to make new history.