Mike Miller - guitar; Peter Robinson- keyboards; Percy Jones - bass; Morris Pert - percussion, keyboards; Mike Clark - drums
Brand X originally formed in 1974 as a project by Robin Lumley (an early member of David Bowie's Spiders From Mars), session bassist extraordinaire Percy Jones, and former Atomic Rooster guitarist John Goodsall. The name came about when they rented a popular music rehearsal studio just to jam. The group had no name, so an attendant at the studio logged them as "Brand X." When the group was offered a deal on Island Records, the A&R exec liked that name, and it stuck. The band's initial recordings were rejected by Island as having little commercial appeal. Unwilling to change their sound, the band parted ways with Island, and signed with Charisma, the label that had such progressive rock acts as Genesis and Van Der Graff Generator on its roster. It was around this time that Phil Collins started sitting in with the band when the original drummer, John Dillon, departed, working on and off with Brand X between his commitments to Genesis. The group's debut album, Unorthodox Behaviour, was released in 1976, followed by a live album, Livestock, and then Moroccan Roll the following year. By this point, Collins exited the group to concentrate on Genesis and Al Di Meola drummer Chuck Burghi was brought in along with keyboardist Peter Robinson, who had played with Stanley Clarke. With these musicians on board, their next album, "Masques," not surprisingly headed deeper into jazz-fusion territory. This lineup was clearly following in the pioneering footsteps of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Eleventh House, creating a musical bridge between the progressive rock movement and the jazz-fusion scene. On this album, Robin Lumley turned keyboard responsibilities over to Robinson completely and produced the album instead. Robinson, who had played with the progressive hard rock band Quatermass, fit the bill perfectly, adding new textures to the group's sound. By the time of this memorable Halloween run at the Bottom Line, two more significant personnel changes had occurred. Drummer Chuck Burghi had departed and was replaced by the extraordinary drummer, Mike Clark, from the Headhunters. John Goodsall was battling tendonitis in 1978 and upon doctor's orders, was temporarily replaced by Mike Miller on guitar.
Despite the personnel changes, the group sounds better than ever on these Bottom Line performances. They had a wealth of strong material and a punchier more colorful sound, thanks in no small part to percussionist Morris Pert, who became a driving force, both as a musician and as a composer during this time. These performances from the early show on Halloween night, 1978, capture this rather short-lived lineup in spectacular form. Unlike the late show (also available here at Wolfgang's), this set features a lengthy exploration on "Deadly Nightshade" and a complete recording of "Nuclear Burn."
However, before those enticing compositions begin, Brand X delivers a highly expanded treatment of the Morris Pert composition, "Earth Dance." Beginning in a haunting manner, this piece vacillates between thoughtful and meditative and then fun and funky on the turn of a dime. Nearly twice as long as the studio recording, this features high caliber performances from all concerned, especially Pert, whose exotic percussion accents abound.
Following introductions of the band members, they tackle a highly adventurous "Deadly Nightshade." Also written by Pert, this serves as an exploratory vehicle and although incomplete, features 18 solid minutes of colorful interplay. Mike Miller provides very impressive guitar work and he gets several opportunities to burn. Bassist Percy Jones is outstanding throughout this performance and here his agile fretless bass style is endlessly inventive and creative. Fans of the legendary bass player, Jaco Pastorious, will discover much to appreciate throughout this performance.
This all leads up to the full-tilt assault of "Nuclear Burn." A collaborative effort composed for the group's debut album, this performance also gets the expanded treatment and showcases this lineup at their most intense. Featuring many rapid-fire thematic changes and highly complex rhythmic interplay, this recalls both Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever at times. High praise indeed! Although Robinson's keyboard work is wild and exciting and the rhythm section is both propulsive and powerful, it is guitarist Mike Miller who truly wails here, burning up the fret board with incredible dexterity. Although this song was a signature piece for John Goodsall, Miller more than holds his own, finding a near perfect balance between precision and passion.