Renaissance - Live Fillmore West 1970 album review

Keith Relf’s seminal but short-lived classical rockers Renaissance caught live

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One of early prog’s great tragedies was the premature loss of the original Renaissance, who forged their exotic blend of classical rock for little more than a year before disintegrating then morphing into the safer Annie Haslam-fronted band of the same name. Renaissance had been planned by the late Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty during their last days in the Yardbirds, emerging in spring 1969 bolstered by the former’s singing sister Jane, firecracker virtuoso bassist Louis Cennamo and ex-Nashville Teens pianist John Hawken, who clinched their classically-infused new sound when he launched into a burst of Beethoven at rehearsal.

This writer was fortunate to witness this original Renaissance levitate a small club that December, standing enraptured as they powered through their recently released one and only album’s intoxicating mix of dynamic arrangements, ethereal folk and impressive classical flights. Two months later, Renaissance took off on the American tour which essentially broke them up, but luckily provided this rare live document drawn from their appearance at San Francisco’s Fillmore West on March 6. In 1969, Renaissance started their set with the awesome Kings And Queens, possibly the fullest realisation of their livewire magisterial power.

Somewhat disappointingly, the Fillmore set begins with the gentler Innocence and Jane Relf-sung Wanderer, before taking off on non-album jam track, No Name Raga, which embraces Eastern influences and what sounds like wah-wah piano, before closing with Bullet, which oddly recalls Dr John the Nightripper’s shuffling hoodoo before the band’s own brand of magic kicks in. But that’s a minor gripe as this marvellous band were so woefully under-documented any live documentation can only be welcomed. The CD is completed by out-takes and home demos (Statues oddly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, and I’d Love To Love You Till Tomorrow exuding folky calm), plus a 1976 demo from Jane’s next band, Illusion.