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Rodís sods
The Faces get properly boxed on Five Guys Walk into a Bar . . .

Itís April 1, 1973, and a London audience is crowded inside the intimate Paris Cinema for a performance by the Faces thatís being taped for broadcast later that month on BBC Radio 1. On stage, frontman Rod Stewart is cheerfully muddling his way through the introduction of a cover tune, "Youíre My Girl (I Donít Want To Discuss It)" and wondering aloud when the pub down the street is closing.

"This is a really old one, itís nearly as old as Ronnie Lane, this one," Stewart says, poking fun at the Faces bassist (who in fact was three years younger than the then 28-year-old singer). "Itís ĎYouíre My Girlí . . . " He stops abruptly. "Is it gettiní on? And theyíre closed in 20 minutes?"

Everyone dispenses with the chit-chat. Guitarist Ron Wood cuts into the tuneís chunky opening lick and the rest of the band ó Lane, pianist/organist Ian McLagan, and drummer Kenney Jones ó kick in alongside him. Stewart leans into the songís chugging groove, lending his splendid sandpaper voice to the proceedings, and suddenly the Faces are a strutting, steaming five-headed hydra of slicing riffs and thrusting rhythm. The arrangement is loose, but the music doesnít stumble, it swaggers. Five minutes later, the song is done and the Faces are out the door and racing back to the pub.

At least, thatís how Ian McLagan remembers it. "We had already been to the Captainís Cabin [a neighborhood pub located a stoneís throw from the Paris], and we wanted to go back," he says with more cackle than chuckle over the phone from his Austin home. "So the show was a little bit in the way. It must have been 20 to 11, because the pubs close at 11 and they wouldnít serve us after that. Englandís so miserable." Stewartís closing-time query is just one of the many delightful and illuminating moments to be found on Faces: Five Guys Walk into a Bar . . . (Rhino/Warner Bros.), a new, exhaustively researched and lovingly compiled four-disc box set that teems with treats culled from the groupís relatively brief (1969Ė1975) but offhandedly brilliant history.

A good part of that bawdy brilliance had to do with the freewheeling humor, impish charm, and sense of reckless joy that beat inside the rollicking heart of the Facesí music, which routinely ran the gamut from raunchy rock-and-roll sass ("Miss Judyís Farm," of which three versions, including two from a pair of BBC sessions, are included here) to incandescent, folk-tinged ballads ("Debris," Laneís stirring tribute to his father) to cheeky, semi-autobiographical ditties about one-night stands and standoffs (the well-known "Stay with Me" and the deeper cut "Youíre So Rude"). There was also, as McLagan puts it, "a little bit of vaudeville here and there." As "Youíre My Girl" and the scores of other tracks here so aptly demonstrate, though the notoriously boisterous, carousing Faces didnít take themselves terribly seriously as a band, their devotion to, and affection for, the music they made was anything but frivolous.

"Thatís what was so great about all of us ó we were pulling and pushing and wrestling musically," McLagan says, pointing out that the Faces had not one or two but three songwriting voices in Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, and Ron Wood (and, he adds, "eventually, a little bit of me"). But it was chemistry that made the songs special. "If you listen to the solos, sometimes Iím right in Woodyís face with my piano licks if he stops for a second, and he comes back at me if I stop. That was a nice, friendly tussle going on. The Stones always had that, but I thought what we had was more character."

In the ensuing years, Wood would join the Stones (and McLagan would tour regularly with them); Jones would replace Keith Moon as the Whoís drummer; Lane would quit the Faces in 1973 to form Slim Chance and record sporadically until succumbing to multiple sclerosis in 1997; and Stewart would become a solo superstar. But no member of the Faces was ever more musically inspired than they were back in their Faces days. "Whatever it was, it was certainly a little bit magical, and much better than the separate parts," McLagan agrees. "Together, we became more than just five pieces. I finally realized how great we are after listening to all the stuff over the past few years."

For McLagan, who five years ago assembled the superb single-disc survey The Best of Faces: Good Boys . . . When Theyíre Asleep (Warner Archives/Rhino), putting together a more comprehensive overview was a logical next step. (Expanded CD reissues of the bandís catalogue and a DVD are also in the works.) The pianist ó whoís spent the past few years touring with Billy Bragg and his own Bump Band (who released Rise & Shine on Gaff earlier this year) and regularly performs a few Lane-penned Faces chestnuts in concert ó compiled the box in much the same way in which his old band used to storm the stage during the first half of the 1970s: with mischievous glee, boundless enthusiasm, and an air of affectionate comradeship not insubstantially enhanced by the drinks in hand. "I just let the music do it. I became part of the audience and let the running order just happen."

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Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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