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The James Gang 

Live at the Allen Theatre (North Coast Bootlegs)

The James Gang reunion was a cultural touchstone and lovefest for Cleveland's classic rock crowd, which can be heard cheering ecstatically in approval on this surprisingly good recording of the first of two shows held at the Allen Theatre earlier this year. After opening with a passable rendition of "Walk Away," the group, which sounds remarkably tight considering its 25-year hiatus, gets better as it rolls out the hits -- "Midnight Man," a punchy "Asshton Park," "The Bomber," "Tend My Garden," and "Lost Woman." Walsh came to play, and hearing those distortion-saturated power chords ripping through the Jimmy Fox/Dale Peters rhythm section again is a treat.

But, intentional or not, Walsh's dry wit and self-deprecating humor really steal the show. "I was really, really nervous all day about trying to remember all the words," he confesses to the crowd early on, adding, "Then I realized I never knew the words." Tuning up for "The Bomber," he muses, "G is a good key -- we made a lot of money in G." But Walsh murders "Bolero," and his voice sounds like sandpaper. Toward the end of the set, the band hits a groove and concludes with a ferocious rendition of "Funk #49." Unfortunately, just as the trio is jelling, the show ends with an anticlimactic "Rocky Mountain Way." In all, though, it's a much sharper and better performance than the one the band gave at the Rock Hall, with the trio's hearts clearly in their best work. The sound quality is superb, too -- let's hope that whatever clandestine recording setup was used at the Allen Theatre makes it to the North Coast's next bootleg venture.

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