CD Review: Big Country – We’re Not In Kansas (The Live Bootleg Box Set 1993-98)

Formed out of the ashes of Scottish punk band Skids by guitarist Stuart Adamson, Big Country were one of the leading British alternative rock bands of the 1980s scoring many well remembered hits including In a Big Country, Chance and Look Away.

By the 1990s, although chart success had waned, the band still had a loyal fan following, proving a popular draw on the live circuit across Europe and the States.

Like many of their peers, Big Country came to fame in an era where live concert albums had fallen away in favour of live video recordings. It is therefore appropriate that We’re Not In Kansas: The Live Bootleg BoxSet, a 5 CD box set focusing on live performances in venues as diverse as Minneapolis, Stirling, Rotterdam and Tunbridge Wells between 1993 and 1998 has now been released by Cherry Red Records

As the title suggests, many of these recordings were only previously available as under the counter bootleg recordings. All feature the classic Big Country line-up of Stuart Adamson, Bruce Watson, Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki.

Across the box set collection, which also features a detailed booklet including Q&A interviews with Watson and Butler there is much to savour,  including songs from the albums The Buffalo Skinners and Why the Long Face, greatest hits and covers.

The live versions of some of their hits capture an energetic and playful side to Big Country. The climax of their 1993 Minneapolis show, for instance, sees their performance of In a Big Country feature an extended and seemingly impromptu guitar solo which rises and surpasses the studio version of a decade earlier.

The band then return for an encore of four numbers including a rendition of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper, one of several cover versions which give a glimpse into Big Country’s live repertoire from the 90s. Other covers across the set include Smokey Robinson’s Tracks of My Tears, Neil Young’s Rockin’ In the Free World and The Monkees’ Daydream Believer, showing that the band were never afraid to end a show with a good singalong.

As to be expected with a live collection, some songs appear more than once, while in some places, notably The Tower Records Glasgow set from 1995 the sound quality dips somewhat.

Defying any barriers, Big Country’s energy remains steadfast and We’re Not in Kansas remains a wonderful glimpse into their live sets of the 1990s. The collection is also a fitting tribute to Stuart Adamson, who we lost in 2002, but is celebrated here, both as a passionate musician and a performer, full of vitality.

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