The arithmetic of four walls and a stage usually adds up to just another venue. But sometimes, through a dark alchemy, the result is a place where rock legends are made time and time again. CBGB's, The Fillmore East, The Cavern Club, Winterland - these are all in the common vernacular. I would like to nominate The Agora in Cleveland to join that pantheon of hallowed halls. And for one reason only: every live show I have heard recorded there is an example of balls-to-the-wall, stand up out of your desk chair, exercise the hairs on the back of your neck pure rock and roll.
Exhibit A in this rogues gallery of swashbuckling live rock: T.Rex. Included with as a bonus disc with Live 1977 is a short concert from 1974 recorded at the Agora. Things are pretty chaotic from the start as Bolan coolly deals with technical issues, overcoming obstacles with sheer desire. The show really takes off during a grinding version of the slow jam Token Of My Love, which finds Bolan's guitar spraying an exotic elixir of sweat, cocaine and Cognac. The final cut is a deranged nine-minute take on Zip Gun Boogie, Bolan wielding the pile-driver riff like a whip, shouting "Again!" before each repetition. This take on Get It On is from that show - and not featured on the CD.
Exhibit B? Merely the finest unreleased live recording of the punk/new wave era: Elvis Costello's Angry Young Sod, which I knew as one half of the double album bootleg 50,000,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong and listened to obsessively throughout high school. This adrenalized show finds EC and the Attractions blasting through much of My Aim Is True and This Year's Model, along with attendant singles, with malevolent glee. Pete Thomas commits random acts of violence on drums and Bruce Thomas constantly leads the group to the brink by climbing high on the fretboard of his bass and then scrambling back down just as things nearly fall apart. Elvis is in great voice and contributes his most convincing guitar solo (maybe ever) on Blame It On Cain. The show gathers a frightening head of steam and explodes in the evil apotheosis of Lipstick Vogue, followed by the brutal stomp of Watching The Detectives, which first comes as a relief then holds a razor to your throat. Mystery Dance closes the show as a pure celebration of frustrated carnality. I imagine sweat dripping from the walls, even though Cleveland was stacked in snow that December night in 1977. Take a look around - you can find this show and you will wonder how you lived without it.
Exhibit C you can hear for free from one of America's national treasures, Wolfgang's Vault. Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson rolled their show into Cleveland in 1979 and proceeded to blow the roof off. This was four years after Ian had left Mott The Hoople and he was on the road behind You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, his fourth solo album. Ronson starts the show with blazing lasers on F.B.I. before the band rolls into the classic Once Bitten Twice Shy. This is where the show brings that Agora magic: about halfway through, the nine-piece band just explodes into another gear and drives the audience into a frenzy that barely lets up for the rest of the hour. Check it out - now.
I have no idea what it was (or is) about the Agora that drove these shows to such pinnacles of rock and roll perfection. However, if I hear of a concert by a band I like that was recorded there, I will not rest until I hear it. Got any clues? Let me know.
In two (OK, maybe three) weeks: The origins of my musical madness.