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Live: Are You Ready?

Review by Larry Toering

Recorded on August 30th, 2008, at the Morongo in California, by the Westwood One Mobile Recording Unit, this was a major undertaking for them which could not have been done better if you really love Sweet. It features the US line-up of original member Steve Priest (bass /guitar and vocals), along with Stuart Smith (guitar / vocals), Richie Onori (drums), Joe Retta (vocals / acoustic guitar), and Stevie Stewart (keyboards / vocals). This line-up, not to be confused with Andy Scott's UK line-up has been around for a few years now, as this new release is from a show in 2008, and one hot night it was. Produced and mixed by Dave Jenkins, engineered by Biff Dawes and mastered by Brad Vance, this is a killer recording that features a fine example of a pile of their best material from the heydays, along with a bonus track studio recording of a Lennon / McCartney classic upon which they stamp their their own Sweet groove. It was a joy to revisit these numbers done by what sound like the same band, resulting in true justice to the originals. It must be noted what a talent Stuart Smith really is, as he squeezes out the glue that seems to hold it altogether, along with obvious major efforts to keep the very spirit of the band intact. Steve Priest proves he knows how to pick them well, with a fantastic version of  his often neglected glam wonder. This is one killer disc that does nothing but justice to the Sweet legacy.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review

This is for me the quintessential Sweet number with which every show should open. It’s also a fan favorite. They instantly establish their current prowess and ability to remain intact concerning every particle of their sound. It's amazing how they pull this off in a world of questionable technology being used to either sound as far from a classic sound, or as close to it as they can get. In fact it seems effortless, which is the mark of true professionals. They don't even slip into the groove here, it starts and ends with massive energy to spare.

Fox On The Run

Another huge fan favorite is blazed through with ferocity. You just know this is going to be a killer performance. This track doesn't seem an easy one to keep a modern hook on. Although it was a big hit, it tends to define Sweet in the same way “Little Willy” does. But with this line-up it does sparkle tremendously and somehow goes down a smash. This was actually one of my favorite tunes in 1975, so I do have an attachment to it.

Hell Raiser

Continuing the perfection, this is really the first testing track for me, as some of the more glam antics come into play. Of course, they pull it off in style. This one has a few of those factors that stand apart from the previous two tracks, as it displays a bit more variety and, it's delivered with pure moxie. The understated, but very effective, keyboard work is spot on, as it tops the whole thing off perfectly.

Love Is Like Oxygen
This is probably where they prove losing nothing to be such an important thing. A vicious intro sets up a fantastic run through what seems to me to be the ultimate challenge. Once again, they sound like the years between have been turned into seconds. There is just no doing wrong at this point. It's just so Sweet, without a sliver removed from what some would consider dated material. The guitar work is fantastic as Smith goes into impressive mode during the mid-section.

It's as if hit after hit is run through with such ease here, and this track just kills all the more with its melodic backing vocals and humorous glam antics. I have always loved the groove here. It's all Priest and then some on this track. His bass playing shines brightly throughout, but really cooks here.

Wig Wam Bam

Not usually one of my favorite Sweet numbers, I'm sure it's not the case for millions of others. This is another big fan favorite with a strong Slade feel to it. Sweet is a band I much prefer but, Slade was one of their peers so it's probably a natural thing. Perhaps they're more like the real Slade as far as I'm concerned, and sounded and looked better doing it.

The Six Teens

Finding this to be one of the best performances on offer here, this is just perfection in a nutshell. Once again nothing is lost, and everything gained as they crack through a splendid rendition. It comes complete with searing guitar, almost pretty vocals and super snappy drum fills. I love this, and it makes the whole thing for me.

Windy City

Many will notice the similarity in the riff here to Deep Purple's “Woman From Tokyo,” but it was four years later, in 1977 when they recorded it. It should be no secret that Sweet were not only somewhat influenced by Purple, but members of both bands were in a band together called “Wainwrights Gentleman.” So it's a compliment in this case. Everything kicks up a notch here on this outstanding version, complete with massive energy and spacy synth work that just proceeds to singe hairs off the listener. Smith shines all the more on this track. That is no surprise, as he did learn a thing or two from Ritchie Blackmore personally.

Sweet F.A.

More biting guitar work is featured on this one, a smooth tune with a great underlying groove throughout. The keys really come alive again here as well, and the machine gun like effect is massively infectious. The vocals are more stripped back on this track, but it's alright because the instrumentation is absolutely bludgeoning.

Turn It Down

This track finds the vocals back in the spotlight. There is a better structured tune altogether compared to the previous, if you like shorter numbers.

Teenage Rampage

Getting back to fan favorites, not an ounce of energy is to be spared as they run through yet another one of their more popular cuts. Their ability to make it sound like it was recorded just yesterday is some kind of magic if I've ever heard it. In many ways, Sweet never sounded better, as this matches the classic sound.

Little Willy

As with tracks such as “Fox On The Run” and “Love Is Like Oxygen,” this is yet another tricky number to pull off. Still, no Sweet show would be complete without those cuts, and once again they make you love what's been missing in classic rock music for so long. I would put this up against any version, as I would with all of the rest on offer here.

This is another of my least well trained to the ear Sweet tracks, but it has given me something to enjoy outside my usual Sweet choices. More excellent guitar work from Smith must be noted here. I'm glad I revisited it with this review opportunity. This is great stuff indeed, with fun lyrics and another fine vocal performance from Retta, who happens to pull it all off with ease.
Set Me Free

No energy is lost on this track, either as it sets up the momentum for the final number of the show. The background vocals aren't heavy here but add a perfect touch as things go off the charts by the time Smith burns through a searing solo of sheer delight. I love the way they all sound here. It's Sweet through and through, and the way Smith begins and ends the songs is a very commanding and ominous touch.

Ballroom Blitz
For most this would be best to take the show out with but, for many others it would fit anywhere in the set just as well. Expect nothing but more perfection here. They have such a rehearsed feel but, their delivery shows that isn't likely the case. They're just so good that it seems that way. They are very tight yet loose, and that can be lost in too much rehearsing. This seems to just naturally fly out of them, as do all the tracks on offer. Many bands would have to crawl away from such a performance, but they seem ready for more action by the time it's all over.
I Saw Her Standing There
The Beatles classic is kicked up a notch on this studio bonus track. They proceed to Sweet-en it up and then some, rocking through a sizzling hot version, with just enough of their signature slapped on it to nearly make it their own. This isn't just some average run through, as they make it work on all levels, and do so with amazing finesse.


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