Graded on a Curve:
Rod Stewart/Faces Live,
Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners

What a rotten deal. The Faces were one of the premiere bands of the seventies–and one of the best live acts as well–and what do we have in the form of a live LP? This crumby piece of half-baked crap. Recorded during the Faces’ sad downward slide (they would never release another album) and including only three Faces originals, 1974’s Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners is nothing less than a travesty of justice.

By the time the Faces got around to recording Coast to Coast they weren’t really the Faces in name only. They’d become Rod Stewart’s de facto backing band–just check out the billing on the album cover. The Faces acquiesced to the demotion with the exception of bassist (and band heart and soul) Ronnie Laine, who wrote or co-wrote such classics as “Ooh La La,” “Glad and Sorry,” “Debris,” and ‘Too Bad,” amongst others. Laine opted to quit the band and go solo, and his replacement Tetsu Yamauchi was left the impossible task of filling his shoes.

It was inevitable, I suppose. Stewart’s 1971 solo album Every Picture Tells a Story transformed him into a superstar, and the Faces–from his perspective at least–had outlived their usefulness. He would use the Faces on his solo albums as sidemen, but he was done recording or touring under their name. The band might have gone on without him, but the additional loss of guitarist Ron Wood–who would continue to play and write with Stewart before ultimately joining the Rolling Stones–was a death blow.

Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners reflects the schizophrenic state of Stewart’s career come 1973. As mentioned, only three of its songs are Faces originals, while another six appear on Stewart’s solo albums. Also included are two covers (the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”) not released by the Faces or Stewart. In short Coast to Coast is a rags and bone affair that doesn’t cohere, and it doesn’t help that the boys tuck “Amazing Grace” in the middle of “Borstal Boys” and tack the chorus of “Every Picture Tells a Story” to the end of “Too Bad.” What listeners are left with is a confusing mishmash, and the LP’s running time is short to boot.

The LP isn’t a complete loss. The Faces were a famously raucous (if shambolic) live act, and on the hard-rocking numbers they acquit themselves quite well. The band ups the wattage on covers of “It’s All Over Now” and “Cut Across Shorty,” and make short work of Faces originals “Too Bad,” “Stay With Me,” and “Borstal Boys.” The Faces may not have been the tightest live act out there, but on Coast to Coast Wood, drummer Kenney Jones, keyboardist Ian McLagan, and Yamauchi made an arena rock din, happy to sacrifice the subtle touch for raw power. The live version of “Stay with Me,” for instance, may lack the jet propulsion take-off of the studio version, but I’m betting it rattled every window within a seven-block radius of the Anaheim Convention Center where the LP was recorded in October 1973.

The album’s slow ones don’t fare as well. The rough and ready approach doesn’t suit “I Wish It Would Rain” or the blues and soul classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and the band’s cover of the Jimi Hendrix ballad “Angel” lacks the light touch of Stewart’s studio version. And Stewart’s reading of “Jealous Guy” lacks the naked vulnerability of the Lennon original. Stewart has always been an excellent interpreter of other people’s material, but on this one he misses the mark–his raspy croon simply can’t do justice to a song as fragile and uniquely personal as “Jealous Guy.”

Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners fails at many levels, largely due to the fact that it documents a band coming apart at the seams. It’s not a Faces album and it’s not a Rod Stewart album and if it was either it still wouldn’t work because without Ronnie Laine the Faces lost the guy who made the Faces the Faces in the first place. Coast to Coast is a post-mortem farewell from a band whose members would soon move on to other endeavors–Wood with Mick and Keith, Jones with The Who, and McLagan with session work. As for Laine, he would go on to record four solo albums and several collaborative LPs–1977’s lovely and moving Rough Mix with Pete Townshend being the best—before succumbing in 1997 to pneumonia after a long bout with multiple sclerosis.

It defies belief that this lackluster shambles is the best–indeed only–live Faces recording out there. Certainly there must be a live recording of the band at its prime locked away in a studio vault somewhere, and its legions of fanatical fans deserve the chance to own it. That Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners should be the Faces’ live legacy is beyond sad–it’s a disgrace, and somebody had better get their act together and do something about it, and quick.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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