You know them. They laugh, talk, seem pretty normal, then they suddenly stop and glaze over. The Affected, they have stared into the eyes of Bobby Liebling…
Pentagram has as long a history of spellbinding gigs as that of its figurehead’s appetite for self-destruction. This exhaustive DVD of live performances spans thirty years and is, according to the sleeve notes of long-suffering guitarist Victor Griffin, merely the first such offering. The notes further allude to this episode being the cathartic ‘split’ between the band’s tumultuous past, including their brief stint as Death Row, and their more peaceful present. A collection comprising mostly home videos chosen by the band, it surely meets their collective approval.
Our copy highlights inaccuracies in the list of contents, 1983 being the actual year for the solitary Death Row recording on the first of this 2-disc, seven-hour extravaganza. The vast majority of these outings are in intimate settings and intimately recorded: many stage-side which, of course, leads to some seriously distorted sound, though it does enable the 1993 camera to pick up a “Fuck yeah!” close-up from Griffin. It also gives the uninitiated the chance to see why early Pentagram shows were so legendary – the powerful Doom / Classic metal crossover coming out as a booming groove, Griffin’s leadwork as intricate and stellar live as on record, and Liebling’s outfits and alarming antics bewitching. Bobby’s electric, unnerving, occasionally camp and comedic stage persona would arguably have been less startling, less intense and claustrophobic, without those well-documented issues. Indeed it’s easy to forget that his craft would have been well honed by the time the 1985 CBGB’s antics – climbing all over Griffin during his solos, at one point biting his unfortunate guitarist’s arm – stare out from the screen.
That outing as Death Row gives some of the most striking visuals of the whole package: Bobby appearing to be whacked off his tits, his stare ghoulishly affectionate; then-bassist Marty Swaney doing his best ‘Lou Reed‘ impersonation; the face-paint of Liebling and Griffin, plus the latter’s massive poodled hair, not detracting from the weighty music one iota. There’s a moment, during ‘When the Dreams Come’, where Bobby stares round the corner of a shadow: it’s a one-eyed mindfuck that’ll stay with you forever.
Most of the sets here demonstrate the improvement of a band in terms of both presence and musicianship. By 2010 you’d expect some serious slowing in action but Liebling remained at that time a potent force: eyes wild; bony fingers curling frequently around Griffin’s shoulders; biting the mic stands with an uncontrollable tension. Sadly the last two offerings are a major disappointment, with the tinny sound of the distantly-filmed 2012 Oslo concert leading into two songs from the only multi-camera experience, just over a year ago. Thankfully this makes up merely a sixth of the total which, overall, gives a comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable, if a little over-long, journey through the live history of one of metal’s most intriguing, enduring, and lovable outfits.