CHARLESTON, W.Va. --I'm a sucker for live albums. There's just something about a band ripping out songs to a room full of screaming, sweat-soaked, fist-pumping friends that gets the ol' mojo revving. On its first in-concert album, the aptly titled "Live & Inspired" (recorded in 2010 at Detroit's Fox Theatre), Godsmack gets it cranking and doesn't let up.
The band has been a consistent presence on rock radio over its 17 years, so it's no surprise that the disc's 13 tracks -- including "Awake," "Speak," "Whatever" and "I Stand Alone" -- are drawn from a hefty list of favorites. Familiarity, though, isn't what makes this set click. Take away slick studio production and executive noodling and the meat and potatoes of any live performance is the actual unobstructed playing... and these dudes do play their asses off!
The first thing that strikes me is the brawny punch provided by guitarist Tony Rombola. He has interpreted singer/songwriter Sully Erna's proven riffage formula on tunes like "Realign" and "Keep Away" as a steamroller rather than just a few quick jabs. Rombola is one of the few guitarists to emerge from the '90s scene that emphasizes the importance of solos, portrayed here with flavor and the knowledge of how an effects board should be used.
Bassist Robbie Merrill is the perfect yin to Rombola's yang, and he cuts loose here like you may have never heard on record. Robust, yet incredibly clear, his dexterity is showcased throughout with a little leeway for improv which, as often the case may be, is lost in the studio.
Shannon Larkin is simply a beast on the drums. I don't want to sound biased (I've known him for nearly 30 years), but for my money, he's an amalgam of the masters with his own added flair. You've got the finesse of Neil Peart (Rush), the precise timekeeping of Phil Rudd (AC/DC), the thunder of John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) and the wild-man showmanship of Keith Moon (The Who) all rolled into one. He has definitely upped the ante of Godsmack's "metal-ness" over the past decade, and anyone who has seen him perform knows they are in the presence of a student of the percussion/concussion art.
The thing that really makes you sink your teeth into "L&I," though, is its presentation. You feel like you are there in Detroit.
Erna demonstrates why he is the king of blue collar frontmen, working the crowd and inspiring participation. He has a unique "one-of-the-guys" flair as he bypasses at least a half-dozen chances to be cliché. Also, naysayers who claim that his rich baritone can't hold up live need only listen to the passion of "Changes" or "Voodoo" to be proven wrong.
From the opener ("Straight Outa Line") through the finale ("I Stand Alone"), "L&I" accomplishes what live renditions strive for: it makes you feel like you are in the concert hall, wading through a beer-cup littered floor, fist in the air, bellowing choruses for 70-plus minutes.
Arena masters are few and far between in present-day rock. Godsmack is in the thick of the fury and should, if "Live & Inspired" is an indication, remain there for another 17 years.
And, the fun doesn't stop there. Also included is a four-song second disc of band-favorite cover tunes. There's a 'Smacked-up version of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" followed up by a heavy and pounding, yet incredibly accurate, take on The Beatles' "Come Together." You also get Pink Floyd's "Time," a number Shannon recorded in '89 with his first band, Wrathchild America. The collection concludes with a unique, orchestrated translation of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters."All said and done, this is a nice little offering to hold fans over until the next album.