The original sextet that formed 801, more or less centered around former Roxy Music bandmates Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno, debuted not with a studio effort but an engaging 1976 live album, sampling the duo’s individual efforts plus Manzanera’s work in Quiet Sun. Along with two Eno-sung covers – an exultant take on the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a reworked “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks – other highlights included an electric version of Manzanera’s solo piece “Lagrima” and a concluding blast through Eno’s “Third Uncle.”
Roxy Music’s brief post-Siren hiatus in 1976 hit right when guitarist Phil Manzanera was on an experimental roll. Between his art-glam solo album Diamond Head and his playing on Canterbury-jazz group Quiet Sun’s Mainstream, he’d spent 1975 leaving his stylized future sprawling in all sorts of possible future directions. In both cases, he was aided and abetted by Brian Eno, maintaining their artistic rapport from Roxy’s early years. And it was such a creatively lucrative stretch for them that when they formed a short-term supergroup — its name lifted from a line in Eno’s “The True Wheel” (“we are the 801/we are the central shaft”) — it felt like the perfect culmination. 801 Live was recorded at the third and final show of their initial three-concert run, and it shines as a reconfiguration of Manzanera and Eno’s recent work. There’s a harder edge to the former’s solo-album cuts (proto-Chrome drone “Lagrima”; the keening sweep of “Diamond Head”), while the selections from the Quiet Sun catalogue show a more unpredictable range: the solemnly sardonic, weirdly affecting “Rongwrong” on one end, the blastbeat fusion of “Mummy was an Asteroid”/"East of Echo” mashup “East of Asteroid” on the other. Two of Eno’s nerviest classics, “Baby’s on Fire” and “Third Uncle,” get manic jazz-prog revamps that explode all their tension into bloody-chops release. But two covers bring it all into focus: when “Lagrima” melts into “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows),” it retrofits the Beatles’ psychedelic revelations into a prescient glimpse at a looming new wave future; just dial back bassist Bill MacCormick’s funkiness just a tad and it sounds like a more optimistic prototype of Tubeway Army. And two years before Van Halen turned the monomania of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” into an arena-rock fireworks display, 801’s chirpy, serrated deconstruction was its own fun mutation — and the archest art-punk take on a British Invasion standard until DEVO got ahold of the Stones. 801 Live does feel a little too jazzy for prog, a little too artsy for glam rock, and way too noodly for proto-punk — but it’s also far too adventurous to be dismissed, much less forgotten.