Five guys walk into a bar…

As influential on both musical and subliminal levels as the Faces were — imagine a rock world without the rooster-haired, testosterone swagger of “Stay With Me,” or an alt-country world minus the self-reflective, wry luminosity of the late Ronnie Lane’s “Ooh La La” — it’s hard to fathom why it took so long to assemble a box set on the band. But considering that the group’s reputation was largely built upon its hard-drinking, full-tilt stage prowess and not as an airwave-friendly band of pop chart busters — Rod Stewart’s solo records generated the hit singles — it’s likely that the powers that be simply figured the 1999 best-of comp Good Boys… When They’re Asleep to be sufficient.

Fans, however, vote with their hearts and their wallets, which helps explain the plethora of Faces bootlegs that have surfaced over the past few years. Last Step, for example, was stuffed to the digital gills with studio outtakes; Real Good Time resurrected a stunning live show originally aired by the BBC in 1971; and just recently, a tape of a San Diego concert (also 1971) surfaced on the cheekily-titled Five guys walk into a stadium… CD. Into the boot gap, then, steps none other than Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, who (under the auspices of the ever-diligent archivists at Rhino) combed through his personal tape library in order to arrive at a comprehensive Faces package that would tell the full story while, at the same time, making the fans’ mouths water.

That classic four-album, 1970-73 brace of studio records — First Step, Long Player, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse and Ooh La La — is amply represented, of course. But it’s the trove of unreleased recordings (some 31 tracks among 87 total) that makes the legacy even more explicit, a virtual alternate history of the band. Just the raw 1969 rehearsal of Willie Dixon’s “Evil” alone will make your neck hairs tingle. Some of the live-at-the-BBC material’s been previously bootlegged, but never with such good sound quality; covers of Free’s “The Stealer” and Robert Johnson’s (by way of the Stones) “Love In Vain,” are downright incendiary, while the Rod Stewart workhorse “Maggie May,” returned to its early ’70s context, is both innocent and inspired. There’s even an obscure 1973 flexi-disc track, “Dishevelment Blues,” finally rescued from bootleg-dom in sparkling sound quality.

A 62-page booklet featuring a band discography, photos of memorabilia, an exhaustive band history from journalist David Fricke and two essays (one a tender paean to the late Faces bassist Ronnie Lane) penned by McLagan rounds things out. Elaborately designed in a digest-sized “book” format, Five guys is a keeper in every sense of the word.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].

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