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Slade in the shade as Rock Envoys





slade Don Powell Earls Court 1973Remember the troubles T.Rex had in trying to transfer some of its enormous English popularity to these shores? Well, Slade, which has been a regular visitor to the top of the British sales charts, thanks to a series of consistently infectious rock singles, is having those troubles now.

There was both optimism and concern in the air last month when Slade (Noddy Holder on guitar and vocals, Don Powell on drums, Dave Hill on lead guitar and Jimmy Lea on bass) left England for the "vital" U.S. tour. "I wished them luck and waved them goodbye", wrote Melody Maker's Chris Charlesworth, one of Slade's strongest advocates. "What else was there to do?", Charlesworth continued. "For Slade this was the big one. The ultimate goal in their two year rise to glory is to crack America like many a British band before them. England and Europe have fallen under the might of Wolverhampton's ambassadors of rock. The next month will tell whether the United States will do the same".

A Disappearing Commodity

If indeed Slade is going to become the new savior of good-time rock n' roll (a joyous, but rapidly disappearing commodity), there were few believers on hand last week at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to celebrate the group's local arrival. For a band that draws enthusiastic, capacity audiences in England, it must have been quite a shock to see the 3000-seat auditorium only half filled Thursday. But the size of the audience was only one disappointment in what must have been a particularly discouraging day for Slade.

While one could point to the strong competition around (Jeff Beck's new group at the Hollywood Palladium and Loggins & Messina were at the Ahmanson Theatre the same night), the real problem was that Slade has not picked up much support here. Its singles (including such worthy efforts as "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and "Gudbuy T' Jane") have not sold well and the informal, word-of-mouth grapevine - so potent a force in building audiences in rock - apparently hasn't been spreading the gospel on Slade.

slade Don Powell Earls Court 1973Thus, Slade needs to do a lot of work to build momentum in this country. Despite its success in Europe, the rock quartet needs to gain exposure the same way any promising new band must. The safest way is to play second-billed to an established act or play several days at a club (i.e., the Whisky). By being the second act, Slade would be assured of a large audience and it would also be in the easier pyschological position of not having to carry the burden of the concert. A rock group can pick up fans by merely being "good" when it is a supporting act, but it must be "very, very good" to succeed as a headliner, particularly when it is headlining for the first time.
Slade did tour the United States as a supporting act briefly last year, but its management apparently thought the group was strong enough to now headline. It was a mistake, at least here. Slade was "good" at Santa Monica, but not "very, very good". A crucial difference in degree.

Borrowed Sound System

Part of the problem was a borrowed sound system that failed half-way through the group's set, thus allowing much of the momentum that had been building to disappear by the time (some eight minutes later) the system had been corrected. But an even bigger problem was Slade's continuing, hard sell urging for the audience to "get with it", to get up on the chairs and boogie. Holder, who seemed to preface each number with a 20-30 second call to "get it on", is right when he says Slade's live success "depends 50% on the audience and the feedback we get from that audience", but he's wrong when he suggests in America he's got to "show 'em what we want "em to do". Slade has to let the audience find its own way into the music. It's a bit self-defeating to keep lecturing, even light heartedly, about what it should be doing.

Because of these various problems, there was less impact to Slade's music live (including such concert naturals as "Get Down and Get With It" and "Let the Good Times Roll") than, I would have expected from its records. But, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now", offered as an encore number, did carry all the solid rock power that the record suggests, a closing clue that Slade can - under the right conditions - provide as fine an evening of good-time rock n' roll as any band around. But the conditions weren't right at Santa Monica.

Robert Hilburn LA Times, 8/5/1973



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