[17 October 2004]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
What a difference a few years can make in the life of a musician. In 1982, Stevie Ray Vaughan and bandmates Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon stepped out of the Texas sunset and played an energized, but poorly received set on the Montreux stage. Exactly three summers later, they returned as full fledged headliners and floored festival goers. Now on the eve of Vaughan’s 50th birthday, both performances are available in an exquisite twin DVD package, complimented by informative liner notes and a filmed interview segment, all of which put Montreux and Vaughan’s legacy into proper perspective.
Twenty two years ago, Double Trouble was just another talented blues trio, playing the club circuit and eking out a living in various bars and honkytonks. Jetting over for the Montreux Festival should have been a triumphant moment, as it offered tremendous visibility to all featured performers, but Vaughan and Company were met with a mix of indifference and disdain. The crowd response had nothing to do with the quality of the band’s performance however, as the short set was punctuated by Vaughan’s remarkably soulful style and the solid rhythmic foundation of Layton and Shannon. Disc One captures every string bend and drum beat of this moment in time, allowing viewers to appreciate the band’s early brilliance. Most notable is the contrast of the set: the passion of the playing is underscored by the band’s cool demeanor, as eight songs are run through with precision: No frills, no gimmicks, just howling Texas blues. It is interesting to see Layton and Shannon in the disc’s interview section recalling their respective feelings from 1982, and how a post-set air of disappointment hung over the band based upon the crowd’s response. In an ironic twist, this poorly received appearance would propel Double Trouble into the studio to cut the impressive Texas Flood album, the initial step toward the Grammy winning and platinum selling career trajectory the band was soon to enjoy.
The ensuing three summers found the Vaughan reputation growing at light speed. By the time 1985 arrived, Double Trouble was a certified success, returning to Montreux intent on bringing the proverbial house down (armed now with a backing keyboardist). Disc Two chronicles this blistering set, as Vaughan, resplendent in flowing Hendrix-esque attire, pulls out all the stops, and treats viewers to some vintage jousting with guest Johnny Copeland. Vaughan’s maturity as an artist is evident; in 1982 he was a skilled guitarist, by 1985 he was a guitar virtuoso, style wise and image wise. The thirteen tracks beautifully capture Vaughan and the band at their performance peak, at ease with their stardom, but still committed to their music.
While there are many aspects of these two performances that make the DVD set worthwhile, it is worth noting that the Montreux discs are made up of footage that is near perfect from a technical standpoint. Expertly shot, the sequences bring the viewer to front row center of the surprisingly modest stage, with the cameras missing nary a strum. It is as fine a job of committing a SRV concert to film as any fan could hope for. Additionally, Disc Two offers several previously unreleased bonus tracks, making the 1985 set an even greater treat.
The brilliance of the Montreux shows is also intermixed with a twinge of sadness, as the two performances are a reminder of how gifted Vaughan was, and what a sizable void his tragic death left in the music world. Vaughan’s talents have never been questioned, as he was, and still is, considered to be a guitarist of unique ability. That said, Live at Montreux—1982 & 1985 is a vivid reminder of what Double Trouble gave us, and serves as a shining tribute to a remarkable man and his band.