Best Live Release of 2016: Big Big Train’s STONE AND STEEL


Retro-re-review of Big Big Train, STONE AND STEEL (EERBR001; English Electric, 2016).

Way back on the first day of April, 2016, I posted this:

For the most part, the live studio versions performed on STONE AND STEEL are similar, but not identical to the original album versions.  It’s clear that the band encourages spontaneity in each musician.  Watching the band, I was happily surprised to see how many duties Manners and Poole (even Longdon plays keys briefly) share when it comes to the keyboards and just how much Gregory (my all-time favorite guitarist, along with Alex Lifeson) shares with Sjöblom.  Such sharing, of course, is nothing if not a sign of wisdom and charity, yet another example of why so many of us love this band.  Individual ego diminishes in proportion to the excellence manifested by the entire band.

Spawton, it must be noted, is clearly the sturdy pillar around which all revolves.  Though he’s off to the side and not in the limelight, his bass is strong, innovative, and warm.

My review was glowing, and there’s nothing in it I would change, even 9 months later.  When it comes to live releases in 2016, there have been a fair number of simply excellent ones.  Steve Hackett’s TOTAL EXPERIENCE, Aryeon’s THE THEATER EQUATION, Morse’s ALIVE AGAIN, and even BBT’s second live release of the year, A STONE’S THROW FROM THE LINE, each captured something unique about the musicians and the time period.

At the time of its release, BBT had decided to release it on Blu-ray, but they understandably postponed the North and South American release until they could work out the codes specific to the western hemisphere.  As it turned out, the band never succeeded, and the western hemisphere was left without a proper, tangible copy of STONE AND STEEL. This proved a bit of a sore point for their American fan base which had been growing by leaps and bounds and even more leaps since 2009.

STONE AND STEEL closes(?) an eight-year long chapter.

Still, whatever the problems, the Blu-ray of STONE AND STEEL is truly a thing of majestic beauty.  The book, the booklet, the photos, and even the brief liner notes all point to something breathtaking.  I personally never had the problems with the Blu-ray, as I was able to use my Mac software to tweak the settings, but I can’t play it on any of my normal, standalone Blu-ray players.

In so many ways I couldn’t have understood in April of this past year, STONE AND STEEL closes a chapter on the band’s history.  It revels in the music Spawton and Longdon have so lushishly written and produced over the past eight years.  Whereas FOLKLORE (2016) is beautiful in a knowing/pop/Beatle-esque kind of way, STONE AND STEEL captures the gothic imagination of the band at its most adventurous innocence, 2009-2015.

I’ve been along for the ride since THE UNDERFALL YARD, and I will continue to be so.  I know I speak for the American fanbase (again, the whole western hemisphere), when I wish Spawton, Longdon, and Co. nothing but the best.

Regardless, I thank the band and the good Lord for my two copies of STONE AND STEEL (one opened and one left in the package).  I’ve not treasured a release as much since Talk Talk’s THE COLOUR OF SPRING.

Yes, it is THAT good.

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