Live: Royal Festival Hall

BY David Axelrod



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A happy David Axelrod sits backstage at Royal Festival Hall, shaking hands with fans who lined up to meet one of their heroes. Axelrod is trying to make sense of one of his first live performances in 25 years. A performance that saw Axelrod lead the twenty-six members of The Orchestra through some of the most hypnotically beautiful orchestra music of the “rock” era. Axelrod’s fortunes turned radically in the ’90s when artists like DJ Shadow and Dr. Dre rediscovered the hard edge transcendental beauty of music and started sampling his work with fervor as it was seen as “60s solo masterpieces as songs of innocence and songs of experience.” Tonight, a crowd of mainly 25 to 35 year olds wait eagerly to see David Axelrod live and experience exactly what those sampled songs and original hits such as “Holy Thursday” truly sound like when played by a full orchestra. And he does not disappoint. Programming a greatest hits selection culled from his late 60s work, he sets the mood by taking the stage with a raised fist salute and a smile, delivering an opening “rap” over 1968’s “The Edge” in which he announces, “I hate samples.” Coincidentally, he also continues by stating that it is through these samples that he is allowed to travel to London and perform. The audience is in awe, unaware that, at heart, this is a Jazz performance and they should be applauding the soloists and are taken aback when Richard Ashcroft takes the stage to deliver the vocals on “Holy Are You”, Axelrod’s 1968 composition for the Electric Prunes. His vocals are of hushed, understated beauty and the next track is a revelation. “So Low” is the only new track of the evening and comes across like Jazz Stravinsky reinterpreting Duke Ellington’s oriental suite and he has fans confused, pondering which lost Axelrod classic is its origin. The rest of the evening settles into a mood of nocturnal, big city transcendence, from the blissful, driving melancholy of Cannonball Adderley’s “Tensity”, to the “Holy Thursday/Urizen” double header from Song of Innocence. All restless soaring spirit, anchored to a hard-eyed Jazz club back-beat, it’s safe to say that the record-bag kids have never seen or heard anything like this. Despite the standing ovations, there was no encore. “I don’t do encores” he shouted.

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