Put out a landmark recording like 1978's "Strangers in the Night" — considered by many to be one of the greatest live rock albums of all time — and you can pretty well kiss goodbye any chance of ever matching it with a future live album. Fortunately, a revamped UFO lineup that features long-timers Phil Mogg (lead vocals), Pete Way (bass), and Paul Raymond (keyboards, rhythm guitars, vocals), and new guys Vinnie Moore (guitar) and Jason Bonham (drums, vocals; since replaced by returning Andy Parker) — both of whom played on the rock solid "You Are Here" album — are amazing musicians and songwriters. So the double-disc live set "Showtime" may not match the fiery intensity of "Strangers in the Night", but it is fine performance document that provides a nice overview of the band's career. SPV has also released the DVD version of "Showtime".
First, a little nitpicking. While there is not much to be concerned about here, especially for diehard fans, there are a few minor points of criticism that should be pointed out, namely the sound mix and the backing vocals. The mix is by no means bad. I just thought the rhythm guitar parts came off a little flat and Way's bass is a bit muffled (like I said, these are "minor" issues). The performance is of course very tight (and Moore is absolutely amazing), even if the same sense of live excitement one experienced with "Strangers in the Night" is not present here. For example, "Lights Out" (one of my favorite UFO songs) doesn't have the same sense of urgency, particularly during the chorus. Finally, the backing vocals come off awkwardly in a few spots (i.e. "Too Hot Too Handle" and "Baby Blue"). Are these reasons to avoid purchasing "Showtime"? Hell no! Chalk it up to a picky fan.
Recorded on May 13, 2005 in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, the album's mix of old and new material works surprisingly well. You won't blink an eye listening to show-opening classic "Mother Mary" from 1975's "Force It" followed by "When Daylight Goes to Town" from 2004's "You Are Here". Newer tracks like "The Wild One", "Fighting Man", "Mr. Freeze", and "Baby Blue" also match up well with vintage fare like "Let it Roll", "Only You Can Rock Me", and "Doctor Doctor", a testament to the band's first rate songwriting ability.
Mogg's vocals are as distinctive and alluring as ever, his sense of melody and patterning second to none. I will admit that it took me a while to get used to Vinnie Moore's playing on "You Are Here", especially after enjoying Michael Schenker's work on "Sharks", but the fresh, yet fitting, approach he brings to the band is especially evident on "Showtime". Moore is the star attraction on the 15-minute rendition of "Rock Bottom", a very well-done extended version.
As far as I'm concerned, the album highlight is unequivocally "Love to Love". It is such an amazing song that the band would have to purposely try to screw it up and then MAYBE it wouldn't come off so well. The melancholy beauty of it is captivating, and it is far and away Mogg's most convincing performance on the album.
I still run into people that are either unfamiliar with UFO or never heard any of the music, which probably has more to do with a popularity in the States that faded much more quickly compared to Europe. If you are one of these people, then I implore you to introduce yourself to the band's music. Picking up both the CD and DVD versions of "Showtime" wouldn't be a bad place to start.