fans will doubtless recognize much of this box set as a reprise of sundry, previously released collections and anthologies, most notably the three Manticore Archives
box sets of the early 2000s. The cumulative cost of those boxes, however, makes this a magnificent alternative, cherrypicking the very best of those earlier releases to create a one-stop portrait of one of the world's most exciting live bands at its best. With 43 tracks spread across four discs, the first three CDs are sensibly divided between the three primary eras of the band -- soundboard quality collections of "the early 1970s," taking us up through the band's 1974 tour; "the late 1970s," rounding up the Works tours of 1977-1978; and "the 1990s," capturing the reunions. A fourth disc then skips through all three eras to serve up some of the fabulous performances preserved in lesser sound quality, but with equal excitement, aboard the bootleg bandwagon. And it's fabulous. If there was any drawback about the early releases, it was that they were simply too much of a good thing. Here, though, we never get to experience a "full" concert, there is no faulting the selection of material, whether it's a full-blooded "Barbarian" from the trio's second-ever live show at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the full-length "Karn Evil 9" from Anaheim in 1974, a menacing "Peter Gunne" (1977); or a triumphant "Fanfare for the Common Man," that swoops into both "America" and "Rondo," from 1993. In between times, "Tarkus" and "Lucky Man," "The Endless Enigma," and "Pirates" all get a run out, and though purists might balk at the notion of the '90s trio reliving the mad excesses of their '70s counterparts, the later recordings are no less spectacular than the early ones. Indeed, in some places, they're even more so.