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A Brief History of Brian Eno’s Live Performances

Ahead of the legendary musician and producer’s first-ever solo tour, we breakdown significant onstage moments throughout his career
Brian Eno performs live in London with John Cale in May 1975. (Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images)

As a composer and self-described “non-musician,” Brian Eno has curated festivals, developed apps of regenerative music that could potentially never repeat itself into infinity, created audio-visual installations worldwide, served a brief stint in iconic art-rock band Roxy Music, and produced artists ranging from Talking Heads and Devo to U2 and Coldplay. But this month, Eno is embarking on a project that’s nearly unprecedented in his 50-year career: a solo tour. 

Nearly

Eno planned to tour behind his solo debut, 1974’s Here Come the Warm Jets, but only made it a few nights before canceling due to a medical emergency. Since then, Eno’s live history has been in fits and starts. Throughout the ‘70s, he participated in one-off shows and short-lived projects, and over the years he’s sporadically engaged in improvisational experiments, festival collaborations, and various other performances that involve just about anything except for playing the “hits.” Not that his upcoming tour will involve that, exactly—the European dates will be based around his 2016 album The Ship, along with other highlights from his catalog.

Before Eno hits the road, let’s review selections from his brief and unusual live history. 

Roxy Music Tours: 1972-1973

As a co-founder of Roxy Music, Brian Eno ostensibly filled the role of keyboard player but played just as large a role in shaping the group’s sonic “treatments.” (For instance: Eno’s spaced-out effects on “Ladytron.”) In the few live videos of their early years floating around online, Eno’s also one of the band’s most visually outlandish musicians, decked out with feathers or sparkling disco ball jackets. As a member up through 1973’s For Your Pleasure, Eno toured with Roxy Music for two years, leaving due to artistic disagreements with Ferry and embarking on his own solo projects. As YouTube data points out, the most rewatched part of a 1972 performance at the Bataclan is a closeup of Eno—reinforcing just how much of a legend he became after he left the group.



Eno and the Winkies: 1974

After leaving Roxy Music and releasing his debut solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets, Eno struck out on a tour of his own in 1974, backed by his band the Winkies. The group—featuring guitarists Philip Rambow and Guy Humphries, bassist Brian Turrington, and Mike Desmarais—only played a handful of shows, as Eno was admitted to a hospital on the sixth night of their trek with a collapsed lung. That put an end to the run right then and there, though the band did manage to capture at least a handful of songs in a BBC Session recorded that February. They never released an official live album, but their handful of shows have been bootlegged several times. 



June 1, 1974 – with Kevin Ayers, Nico, John Cale

After recovering from his collapsed lung, Eno took part in a special artist showcase presented by Island Records. As part of an all-star lineup comprising his peers and labelmates, he opened the show with “Driving Me Backwards” and “Baby’s On Fire,” both from the newly released Here Come the Warm Jets, and performed alongside heavyweights like John Cale, Nico, Kevin Ayers, Mike Oldfield, and Robert Wyatt. The gig was documented on June 1, 1974, the first officially released Eno live recording—even if it’s an all-star Island Records revue of sorts.



Fripp & Eno: 1975

By the end of the 1970s, Eno left rock music behind as a solo artist—though he did produce records by the likes of Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay, even after committing full time to ambient and electronic music. Yet in 1975, Eno offered a glimpse of his vision beyond rock—to the chagrin of some fans expecting something entirely different—with a series of European shows with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Fans of either artist likely had expectations about what they might hear, but the duo most certainly went another direction. Of course, we now know that Eno and Fripp had a fruitful collaboration in the mid-’70s, yielding a pair of progressive electronic records built on synth and guitar loops. Some of their live material was taken from the two studio albums of that era, Evening Star and (No Pussyfooting), and some can only now be heard on Live in Paris 28.05.1975, the distinct kind of live album where fans cheer and shout for Fripp playing a single note. 

801: 1976

In 1976, Eno returned to rock music for three performances in England as part of the band 801, formed by his former Roxy Music bandmate Phil Manzanera while the latter group was on a live hiatus. The group also featured fellow British art rock musicians Bill MacCormick, Francis Monkman, Simon Phillips, and Lloyd Watson, and their repertoire comprised Eno’s rock material from his first three albums, Manzanera originals, and songs from his other band, the Canterbury Scene group Quiet Sun. Their sets also included Beatles and Kinks covers, and the live album resulting from their handful of shows became unusually successful in Australia. That unexpected success prompted their one and only studio album, 1977’s Listen Now, along with more performances before year’s end, wrapping up their final shows by November.



Bonn, Germany – with J. Peter Schwalm: 1998

In the late ‘90s, Eno began a collaborative partnership with ambient artist J. Peter Schwalm that yielded an excellent 2001 album, Drawn From Life. The two artists worked together during a five-year stretch, beginning with this live performance in Bonn, Germany outside the Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany). The 1998 performance—which was live-streamed on RealVideo—also included Can’s Holger Czukay, comprised three hours of improvised electronic music, and supposedly ended when the police cut the power. They followed with a couple more performances over the next few years—but over two decades later, the first set is actually being released (in excerpts) as a live album, SUSHI! ROTI! REIBEKUCHEN! 



This is Pure Scenius!, Brighton Festival: 2010

In 2010, Brian Eno served as program director for the Brighton Festival, which included audiovisual installations like the generative piece 77 Million Paintings, along with appearances by the Philip Glass Ensemble and Tony Allen. One such performance was dubbed “This is Pure Scenius!,” featuring a collaboration between Eno and a number of other musicians, including Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Australian jazz/improvisational group the Necks. It was part of a series of concerts in which each began where the last left off, then delved into a program of experimental, often improvisational pieces emphasizing the community over an individual performer. The performances are available to download via Internet archive, which is something of a blessing, seeing as how they’re unlikely to happen again—and almost certainly not in the way they already did. 

Acropolis, with Roger Eno: 2021

Brian Eno’s brother Roger is also an accomplished artist, with more than 20 albums of his own and a handful of collaborations with Brian—including their 1983 space ambient masterpiece with Daniel Lanois, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. In 2021, the sibling artists made their first live appearance together against the ancient backdrop of Greece’s Acropolis. Their set featured a number of highlights from their combined catalog, including pieces from Brian’s Another Green World and Before and After Science. The performance took place that August, just as lockdown had begun to thaw worldwide, which would have made for a hell of an entry back into live music. Luckily, for those who weren’t able to attend a once-in-a-lifetime performance, the full set was captured on video. Enjoy from the comfort of your own couch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTMoZtoMPxM&ab_channel=Diskaholic