Saturday, December 29, 2012

Put the Boot In:Traffic-"When the Eagle Flies"-5-17-74 London, England





     Sitting in the dimmed "rock room", a solitary candle burning well after midnight, a moody thirty eight year old audience recording crackles into life. The recording starts with the MC announcing the band, and a noisy crowd apprehensive for the performance. A slow syncopated groove begins with a grinding funky organ sliding across the top of it. The regal ambiance of the Rainbow Theatre in London comes across beautifully on this recording. All of the instruments are crisp and defined, exhibiting all of the hallmarks of a professional recording. The unknown jam patiently starts to pick up tempo, suddenly a strangled and heavily wah wah'd guitar slithers reptile like across the gurgling musical landscape. Stevie Winwood peels away the layers of the onion, as he builds a multi dimensional solo piece by piece, just minutes into the performance. The jam comes full circle and then repeats itself, this time with Chris Wood taking an earthy swing at soling over the same changes as Winwood, but on flute. The rhythm section of Jim Capaldi and Rosko Gee turn the key, and lock into a delicious groove. The band is eight minutes into the show and have not said or sang a word, but they are tight and on point as the opening notes of "Heaven Is In Your Mind" start. This is psychedelic jazz mind music, with a dash of funky for the dancing feet, this is "Traffic".
     "Heaven" swings with a sparceness that suits it well. Winwood's classically crisp voice sounds out clear as a bell. I can honestly say I have never heard the guy sing a bad show. This line up of "Traffic" is made up of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, Rosco Gee, and Steve Winwood, a four piece band stripped down from the previous years 7 piece line up. Reminiscent of the 1970 concerts featuring just the three founding members of Capaldi, Wood, and Winwood, this 1974 performance is light as a feather that buoyantly lays on the breeze. The aural warmth of the second generation audience recording, echoes the forest floor feel of the performance.  I'm receiving a very "organic" vibe from the show, and the medium I'm enjoying it through. Even though is only months from "Traffic" ending as a entity, the telepathy between the members is still fresh and impressive. The studied "rock geek" will be quick to point out that this show also features two otherwise unreleased "Traffic" songs ,one being the opening jam, and the other named "Vulcan," an unreleased Chris Wood instrumental. The performance is not only musically unique, but the set list contains many musical nuggets to be mined.
     "Love" twinkles in with a sneaky melody gently caressed by Wood"s virtuous bird song flute lines. When Winwood sings the opening lyrics his voice honey drips with its reassuring and impressive range. What sounds like a Fender Rhodes, states the tunes distinctive circular melody line with its resonate tone. The opening segment's of this performance are as musically satisfying as any live Traffic I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
     An acoustic interlude follows with the band playing exquisite versions of "John Barleycorn Must Die", and "40,000 Headmen" to the attentive crowd. I picture a band of minstrels sitting around an open campfire deep in the English woods. I see a clearing, surrounded by stately trees, an illuminated star filled sky above, and ancient instruments in the musicians hands. This is a haunted and mystical series of Traffic classics performed competently and with great care.
     Coming out of the acoustic interlude, another instrumental rises from the ashes. As far as I am aware this is an "Untitled" instrumental and a work in progress. Locked into a simple repetitive keyboard and bass groove, Capaldi accelerates the music with his intricate drum fills, fluttering across the kit. The music centers around the mantra created by the hypnotic bass line which allows Wood to improvise some exciting affected saxophone melodies. Winwood appears with some heavy jazz inflected organ parts that temporarily disorient the music. Winwood says something unintelligible into the mike, and follows it with a upfront thrilling and trilling keyboard display that brings the music to a close.
     "Graveyard People" begins with a with horror movie organ introduction that morphs into a space age twisted melody line, laying like warm taffy across the pulsing rhythm section.  The song, a union workers lament, is a trance inducing verse, centered around a quintessential "Traffic" piano based breakdown. Wood lays some moaning sax garnishes over the echoed Fender Rhodes halcyon tones. There is a miniscule cut toward the end of the song but nothing to damaging. The tune stretches its legs a bit, then ends, before Winwood introduces "Empty Pages", a complete contrast in mood to the previous number. Thick bass, a hot tempo, and a great keyboard solo highlight this version of "Empty Pages", which prefaces my personal favorite two segments of the concert.
     "Traffic" favorite "Pearly Queen" starts sparse, but quakes with a harnessed energy that explodes into marching band rim shots by Capaldi and paisley colored "raga" soloing by Winwood. The closing jam aurally shimmers on the audience recording, featuring Winwood laying down impressive scratchy Fender riffs that soar across hot desert landscapes inches from the ground, only to soar toward the heavens unexpectedly. This version brings to mind some early performances of "East/West" by The "Paul Butterfield Blues Band".  A brief pause for audience appreciation, before the next song starts. A rigid militant introduction signals the beginning of "Vulcan", an unfinished Chris Wood track that just as suddenly as it started, shifts into a funky beach strut with the emphasis on Wood's "cool cat" blowing on saxophone. Lustrous as a frozen lake, Chris Woods riffs, ripple, shimmer, and quake with a psychedelic vibrato, and a improvisational intent. Saxophone notes made of blue glacier ice, vaporize and reform, the enveloped sound of the distorted horn, pooling in depositories of sound. An epic moment not only for the musical performance aspect, but for the rarity factor. The aforementioned two performances epitomize the "Traffic" ideal; virtuous musicianship, and jazz inflected improvisations.
     "Dear Mr. Fantasy" comes next and starts slow and lazy, but reaches the appropriate peaks and is sung perfectly by Winwood. Similar to the previous tracks, there is a great attention to detail and crisp professionalism to these songs. This is a song I have heard thousands of times, yet again made fresh by a heartfelt original performance. Hats off to Winwood for another inventive and cheer inducing guitar solo. A ten plus minute version of "Fantasy" that keeps your attention the whole way through with eager playing by all involved.
     The concert continues with four songs from the "When the Eagle Flies" LP all played uniquely and confidently. The first of these being the title track of the LP, which to me sounds like a precursor to future Winwood solo exploits. A beautiful piano based number, this performance stays true to the LP version with delicate and emphatic vocalization. Winwood stays seated at the piano for the next number, "Walkin In the Wind' a jumpy and skipping stroll straight on into a stiff breeze. My hair blown away from my face as the "Traffic" song is carried on the primitive air. The clasped back beat forged by Gee's plucky bass line and Capaldi's emcompassing kick drum tumbles the song along. Wood's breezy flute exclamations, call like a loon, delicate and swirling.
     In my opinion the most "developed" song of "When the Eagle Flies", is "Dream Gerrard", and my feelings remain the same after listening to the version from this show numerous times. The tumbling circular central riff of the piano and saxophone embrace, rolling up the body and the mind. The song takes its time and savors every note of its journey. Wood and Winwood share musical ideas like good children, and let the rhythm section keep them in line. The song spins itself into a sustained ball of resounding piano chords and windy wails, and back into the verses. The nebulous lyrics contrast the repetitive ideal of the instrumentation and amazing command of the instruments by the band. This song like many others from this concert extends past ten minutes due to the relaxed atmosphere and amount of improvisation contained. After a impressive and extended Chris Wood sax solo, "Dream Gerrard" is concluded by both drums and bass solo excursions which feature Gee and Capaldi respectively. I can only speculate that this tune would have become a major improvisational vehicle for the band had they continued. The song comes to a crashing percussive conclusion, and the crowd is insane with applause after absorbing the musical genius they just witnessed.
     I cannot tell from the recording whether the final two songs are post encore break or just a continuation of the performance. Regardless, after the "Dream Gerrard" lift off, the band slows it down with "Memories of a Rock and Rolla" in which the title is pretty explanatory. The song is a refection and a celebration of a rock and roll life, and is a fitting conclusion to the evenings proceedings. The number ends with a party like rave up where Winwood does his best vocal embellishments and the band chugs behind him like a soul review. Wow, the band sounds like they could just keep playing all night, with no signs of fatigue. And apparently the band isn't done playing, and gifts the respectable crowd with a guitar centered untitled instrumental, that contains more than a few over driven Winwood guitar rips. Mired in a weighty serrated jam that would not sound out of place on "Shootout from the Fantasy Factory", the trio of Capaldi, Gee, and Wood lock in to a stone groove in which Winwood weaves multicolored strands of guitar throughout. Again, Winwood's mastery of many instruments is awe inspiring and almost defys definition. The band stretches this one out with Winwood continuing to solo endlessly, until the song concludes somewhat ungracefully, but humorously.
     The performance of Traffic on May 17, 1974 is by far one of the finest this reviewer has ever heard. I believe the combination of venue, vibe, setlist, and the ability of the artist to improvise fearlessly combined to make this particular show an enchanted experience for all parties involved. The fearlessness of the tapers must not be understated as they are the ones who captured the moment on magnetic tape for posterity so many years ago. The clunk of their microphones and light chatter are subtle reminders of the folks who witnessed and captured a magical night of music many years ago. This performance will be in the rotation for a while, with the dust being blown off of the reels. I highly suggest looking both ways before stepping off of the curb and into this "Traffic", you may come out with tire tracks down your back.
    

Dream Gerrard-Traffic



    



Friday, December 21, 2012

The Kinks-"Thunder and Lightning"-Four More Respected Gentlemen-Unreleased LP A Rock Room Reconstruction

                          
     Today in the rock room I have reconstructed a legendary "unreleased" record by rock legends The Kinks. Fortunately, all of the tracks for this record are available on other official releases. So, this LP is not a "bootleg" so to speak, but an interesting compilation of tracks destined for other representations, and for future times. The LP "Four More Respected Gentleman" was supposed to be the United States album release of what would eventually become "The Village Green Preservation Society", in a round about way. It was in mid 1968 when The Kinks delivered to their record company a 15 track LP that was being readied for a fall release. Information is sketchy, but according to Kinks scholar Doug Hinman indecision by Ray Davies, as well as misgivings about the demand for Kinks product in the US factored into LP's eventual disappearance from the Reprise catalog.

     The Kinks were not allowed to return to the US to tour as of yet, so their popularity was concentrated in Britain, and was believed to be waning in the states. The eventual release of the concept album "The Village Green Preservation Society" ended up containing many of the same tracks as the planned "Four More Respected Gentleman", LP as well as many songs that ended up on future Kinks singles, and compilation albums. Gathering these tracks from the various releases and listening to them as a "real" LP is an enlightening experience, full of rock detective work! Obviously "Village Green" is now recognized as a highly influential LP, and one of the first "concept" records, but diving into its genesis offers a unique view of its construction. Ray Davies had the idea for a highly different release for the American market, and was disappointed when it did not come to fruition. He also was planning a solo LP so some of his cache of songs was to be spread between the two records. "Village Green" eventually became a fifteen track British release, and "Four More Respected Gentleman" was stripped from fifteen tracks to eleven and then eventually withdrawn from release. Reprise Records had even created a catalog number for the LP (RS 6309), so it was very close to becoming a tangible object. In fact, a track listing does exist and acetates were cut, so an authentic listening experience is possible!

     The unreleased LP finds the Kinks in a defining moment of their careers, on the verge of breaking back into the US, but floating in the "grey area" between their early jagged R and B punk days, and their mature and blossoming musical storytelling future. Both of the Davies brothers are reaching creative peaks in their songwriting and instrumentation during this period, culminating with the songs "Village Green", and this mysterious aforementioned LP.

     The "album" opens with "She's Got Everything", a track that sounds like it could have been pulled from any of "The Kinks" earlier releases, which is the case, as the song dates from 1966. A chunky revolving riff decorated with some jangling rock and roll piano. The guitar solo segment of the song emphasizes the "rave up" technique of Dave Davies early guitar explorations. A solid LP opener and an obvious choice for a proposed US release as it recalls the heady "You Really Got Me" days of the band.

     The first side of the LP now drifts into a stoney groove with a series full band, but acoustic orientated Ray Davies masterpieces. "Monica" sways with a ethnic and sexual groove. Accented by staccato Dave Davies guitar strums, and melodic tribal percussion by Mick Avory. Ray croons in his most distinguished fashion, declaring his love for "Monica" his woman of the evening. The song feels different in this position, changed from its next to last song slot on "The Village Green Preservation Society" LP.

     A definite coherence can be felt in this LP, and as I previously stated, Ray Davies had a plan for this record as well as for his supposed "solo" LP, which morphed into "Village Green". The first two tracks on the LP both view a woman who seems to have everything, including the narrators heart. It doesn't seem as if the singer can make it, "I shall die if I should lose Monica" without the object of his affection.

     The following song, "Mr. Songbird" is unabashedly poppy, and warmly emanates positivity like a shiny summer day. The verse of the "Mr. Songbird" is distinctly "McCartney-esque", and leads into the carefree request of the chorus, to "help me keep my troubles away". Breezy keyboards glance by the vocals adding a breathy second voice. Again, the sparse acoustic concentrated arrangement, and tasteful instrumentation keeps the focus on the lyrics and the clean sound. I feel like the narrator of the record is starting to gain confidence, after the submissiveness of the first two songs.

     "Johnny Thunder" is the culmination of this new gained confidence, as the music also mirrors this belief. Shimmering guitars by the Davies brothers work as one instrument, as Pete Quaife's bass groundhogs in and out of the mix. Sewing his oats, the narrator crashes and flashes throughout the scenes of the song like "thunder and lightning".

     "Johnny Thunder's  character equivalent "Polly" makes an appearance next, leaves home, and then comes back again. Ray Davies in these last two tracks has identified the male's and females in his audience, and expressed some of their misgivings through his artistic voice. The "alpha" and testosterone of his male listeners characterized in "Johnny Thunder". The longing and regret of Ray's ladies sketched in musical notes by the pretty "Polly". I like these two emotive songs in this back to back line up, drawing contrast between the two distinct characters.

     Side one closes with the beloved Kinks song "Days", a song of hope, and a song thanking a someone who has left by choice, or has been taken away. "Days" fits perfectly in this closing slot on the hypothetical records first side, a statement of finality, but yet hopefulness. An uptempo ballad in which the instrumentation lends an air or triumph to the bittersweet lyrics.

     The supposed second side of the record opens with a personal favorite of mine, "Animal Farm", its lyrics dealing with how easy life was, or could be, if taken simply, and going to where the animals live. A song of reflection, and hope for change. An uptempo and beautifully melodic start to the second half of music. It could be just me listening with a great intent, but I love how this record has an organic and thematic flow, even though it, and was not designed as a concept so to speak has never seen the light of day officially!

     "Berkeley Mews" opens in a saloon, a standup piano playing in the far corner of the bar.  As Ray's lyrics pour from his mouth like serving a top shelf whiskey, Quaife's electric bass thumps out the backbone of the song. "Berkeley Mews" is again a reflection of time spent and how the place epitomizes that time. "Berkeley Mews" is the place our meaningful narrator had left for the "Animal Farm" in his thoughts.

     Kinks klassic "Picture Book" shimmies itself across the boardwalk like an exhibitionist at a nudie show. It' ascending rolling groove the most "moving" of all of the songs on the record. The track is, similar to the previous songs, a holding on to and paying respect to the past. What "Village Green" would become, is found on this record in its basic elements. The emotions and thematic content of  Ray's view of rural life for an English person, can also be found in their entirety on this unreleased record.

     Numerous small vignettes make up the bigger portrait that Ray Davies envisioned, the next song "Phenomenal Cat" is one of these detailed snapshots. What sounds like a fleet of cartoon flute players, acts as a prelude to the song. The content of the song is a cat who "in the land of idiot boys" does what he likes and is contented for it. There can be many interpretations for the symbolism contained in this song, much too much, for my meager literally analysis. But the song does deal in personal choice, and the music plays with a child like curiosity. The wordless sing along chorus adds to the fairytale delivery of the words.

     Closing the unreleased album and collection of songs is the track "Misty Water".  Piano based in its delivery, "Misty Water" elicits the belief lyrically that things that people do not like, or fear, can often be beautiful and misinterpreted. Finding like minded people in your pursuits and beliefs can be beneficial to all involved. Alluringly portrayed by Ray Davies through the images of "Misty Water", haze, fog, and mist, the narrator ultimately finds what he is looking for through the connected interest in all things "foggy". The narrator takes a chance at the end of the record, and through experimentation, willingness and courage finds the things he longs for. The song rocks confidently through the chorus, falling back on the verses, a bubbling brook of words tumbling over the rocky instrumentation. Meeting around a stocky Dave Davies guitar interlude the song navigates the nebulous landscape ending the album slightly wet but none the worse for wear.

     I had great fun reconstructing and listening to this missing link in Kinks history. While many of the songs have permanent homes on other records, enjoying them in this context gave them a new life and unique placement. The era in which this music was created is important in the Kinks history as well, as soon after this time they would again reach astronomical popularity in the States starting with the "Arthur" LP, and then detonating the "Lola" single. If you are so inclined, take the time to search your collection, and put together your own version of "Four More Respected Gentleman", it will be time well spent. The album feels good, sounds good, and lets us as listeners in on a period piece that never saw the light of day, and probably never will!




The Kinks-Days

The Kinks-Misty Water



     

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Put the Boot In:"Twilight"-The Band 9-18-1976 The Palladium NYC





     This edition of "Put the Boot In" is inspired by an amazing and well known live recording by The Band, recorded shortly before their retirement as a group in 1976. The recording I am listening to was taken from an "off air" master FM reel. The show was broadcast on WBCN New York the evening of the performance. The music quality sounds absolutely breathtaking, and the performance stellar. Once in a while there are some slight level drops, but nothing that really detracts from the recording. There is the usual high crowd noise between songs, and some intermittent vocal issues, usually associated with FM broadcasts. But all in all this is a professional level recording of The Band approaching the end of their career, but still playing with fire.
     By this time, The Band's musical camaraderie had stared to wain, and substance abuse, ego, and musical disagreements had seeped into the once unbreakable bond between the five men. This was to be the groups last tour before their farewell "Last Waltz" taking place on Thanksgiving. The tour for the most part was consistent and well played. Richard Manuel had some off nights vocally, as did the other band member in other ways, but in the end, they closed their ranks and put on some exciting shows. Fortunately for us many of these performances have been saved for posterity for our enjoyment.
     Listening to the recording I immediately notice that the crowd is quaking with anticipation, as The Band had not played New York City since the 1974 tour with Dylan. The enthusiasm is contagious as I also feel myself getting giddy for the music to start! This was the opening night of The Palladium (formerly the Academy of Music) and The Band also brought along the Howard Johnson horn section to help celebrate the opening. Similar to the live LP "Rock of Ages", whenever The Band involved a horn section the music seemed to elevate to another level. This harkens back to their days as "The Hawks" when they used a two man horn section consisting of Jerry Penfound and Garth Hudson.
     The show starts with a ready, steady and ragtime version of "Ophelia". The horns swaying like a tire swing in a wind storm, and the band as tight as a jazz quintet, Levon Helm in prototypical fashion singing the song like a southern storyteller, emotion and world's of experience in each line. Richard in gruff tour voice supports on the chorus admirably spiting the backing vocals. In what should be no surprise to anyone Garth Hudson's medicine show organ shifts and swirls underneath everything eliciting a celebratory carnival vibe. Robbie takes a joyous solo, similar to the LP version but with an added intensity. Biting at the heels of "Ophelia", "The Shape I'm In" starts fast and flies by like a tractor trailer on the Northway. Rick Danko's bass sound is a hot air balloon, fat, rotund, and floating over the top of Levon's kick drum. The Band is in outstanding form and the opening two songs can attest to the enthusiasm surging through the group.
     Slowing down the performance a bit the group begins the emotive introduction to "It Makes No Difference", the horn lines contributing drama to an already emotional song. Always a spotlight for Rick Danko's vocal abilities, this performance is the first glorious peak of the show. Rick's lilting "country" voice, similar to Levon and Richard's golden throats, evokes a wise old sage, deeper meaning in all of his words. The sweet waiver, cracking falsetto, and well timed caesura's contained in the lyric, "These old love letters, well I just can't keep", exemplify Rick's knack for expressing lyrical content. There could be no one else in the world so tailor made for interpreting Robertons's lyrics. Similar to other performances, like in "The Last Waltz", the conclusion of the song is where Garth and Robbie trade solo's between guitar and saxophone. Like that performance, this one is inspiring with virtuosic performances by both Robertson and Hudson.
     "The Weight" follows and is a note perfect rendition with all three vocalists working in harmony. Obviously a crowd favorite, this song was played nightly by "The Band" and there is a plethora of outstanding versions to choose from. This performance being one of them. A smoking version of "King Harvest" is up next with Richard in great "whiskey and cigarettes" voice. The real alchemy takes place when Robbie steps up for a stinging, sustained portrayal of his famous understated guitar break. While blending with Garth in a intimate musical dance, Levon and Rick lock it down like a swinging southern bar band as the horns punctuate the song with blasts and flourishes. Robbie chews up his solo and spits it out as the band signals the conclusion of the song. A must hear version of the definitive "Band" tune.
     One of the recently composed songs debuted on the tour is up next with the performance of "Twilight". Played here in its "reggae" guise, "Twilight" never made it as an album track, but was a standout live performance featuring shared vocals by Rick and Levon. Funky New Orleans horns and a foot stomping Levon Helm drum groove propel the tune forward. The chorus flashes back to the days of "Big Pink" with all of The Band's vocalist collaborating their voices into a natural blend.
      The designed segue of "The Night They Drove Dixie Down", and "Across the Great Divide" comes next amongst a shower of requests from the heated up crowd. "Dixie" is a great version similar in scope to the "Last Waltz" version a couple of months later but lacking the emotional intensity of that version. Levon's drum hits and vocal lines share a bed and embrace, as the historic gunshots ring out. The "Across the Great Divide" is a marvelous version with the moaning horns echoing Richards impassioned vocals. The celebratory vibe of the track is felt and reciprocated in kind by the crowd. Again, Garth Hudson's shifting ethereal organ work is complementary to the popping rhythm section.
     The group has now levitated themselves well above the stage, and are playing at a standard where it seems they can do nothing wrong. The "Stage Fright" that follows is a kinetic version that gains momentum like a burning tire being pushed down a hill. Danko's earnest vocal delivery is stirring, as in my minds eye I can see his arms swinging assuredly as he bops and pops to the groove. Garth's organ colors between the lines, and elicits images of a psychedelic hurdy gurdy. The band builds to a volcanic peak as the horns bellow tunefully above Robertson's jumpy licks.
     After a few preparatory pops on Robbie's Stratocaster he hits the tremolo drenched introduction to the opening song from 'Northern Lights, Southern Cross", "Forbidden Fruit". This is one of my favorite songs on the broadcast recording. The song cooks with slightly more gas than the studio version with Robbie taking a couple of crisp slippery guitar breaks. His first guitar break sings with sustain and a slightly over driven tone. Levon is in his usual fantastic voice with nice falsetto help from Richard on the chorus. The horns fit perfectly and act as an natural extension of the group. A definitive version of an under appreciated Band song.
     One of the most beloved tunes in The Band's impressive songbook is "Acadian Driftwood" which is the song to be played next. What starts out slightly turgid ends up being a pretty good version of a song difficult to translate into live performance. Garth really carries this number with what sounds like twenty five sets of hands doing all sorts of things and stuff to the keyboards. Richard's voice sounds slightly worn out at this point, but does improve by the end of the number. In this case I still feel the studio version has a slight edge. Because its such a wonderful song to hear I cant really knock this performance, but it is a bit ragged around the edges.
     The improvisational segment of the evening comes next, signaled by a long sustained note by Garth Hudson. A "modern", for this time period sounding synth disperses atmospheric embellishments, as Garth continuously experiments with every genre of music that he can. Gone is the "woody thump" of the "Music from Big Pink" days, replaced with a slicker sounding Band. This does not detract from the music, but instead gives The Band a unique sound, like a vintage New Orleans street band with space age instruments! From spongy to rigid to liquid to gas, Garth shapes and metamorphoses the music at his whim, levitating it like a feather, and dropping it like a stone.
     Garth plays with his "Genetic Method" for about four minutes until he signals the slip into the crowd favorite "Chest Fever". The Band sprints into "Chest Fever" with Levon and Richard in full throat and Robbie decorating the verses with his quintessential hit and run guitar riffs. His slightly over driven guitar tone on this tune is one my favorite sounds that Robbie coaxes out of his instrument. For the finale jam the entire group hits that special place that all groups long for. Literally, the "music playing the band". Peaking gloriously the horn section crashes to a enthusiastic conclusion. The crowd has been whipped into a bubbling froth and screams emanate from the gallery, "Hey Rick Danko, Unfaithful Servant!" The Band continues the high octane excitement as Garth begins the introduction to the Danko/Dylan song, "This Wheels On Fire". Similarly to "Chest Fever" the stage is littered with tire tracks as the band speeds intensely through the number. Almost hitting what sounds like a funky disco beat Levon propels the band forward with open high hat hits. Robbie takes a hold your breath spider bite guitar solo that slowly brings the band to a summit. Rick's vocals are emphatic as ever and as the band rumbles to a conclusion, before anyone can catch a breath Danko hits his well known opening bass figure to the Motown favorite, "Don't Do It". Like they were playing on a small stage in Toronto as the "The Hawks", The Band overflow with their early R and B influences.  A tune that The Band made their own closes the show in explosive fashion, and leaves the crowd stunned, jaws dropped and eyes bug eyed.
     During the encore break the announcers reveal that after the performance that The Band are going to record their spot for "Saturday Night Live". I have included a link for one of the SNL performances below as to give a visual context for the concert review above. As The Band takes the stage to a jubilant crowd, they give them the gift of a textbook version of "Up On Cripple Creek' that sways like a old front porch swing, and smokes like a winter campfire. Levon Helm steps to the microphone to announce another encore song to the crowd as well as a special guest appearance. Paul Butterfield steps from the wings to add some roaring harmonica to a definitive version of "Life Is a Carnival". The horns, harp, and Hudson whip into a disorienting vortex of sounds that skip across Levon's chiming cymbal hits and Danko's gutteral slides across his fretless neck. An incredible display of chemistry and talent on display. Since the "Chest Fever" explosion late in the set, The Band has played with a virtuosity and intensity that even on recorded tape is an amazing joy to hear. 3,500 people have been brought to their feet and whipped into a euphoric tizzy. The band finally concludes a marathon performance with a similarly hot "W.S. Wolcott's Medicine Show" which "shakes the windows, rattles the walls" and brings the performance to a fitting end. The breathless announcers exclaim that they may have witnessed one of the best performances of their lives. I can honestly say that I concur, and I have only heard the recorded version!
     This incredibly atmospheric recording captures the Band just mere months before their eventual retirement and demise. The broadcast recording finds the Band still performing at an incredibly high level and with plenty of fresh originals to play. Perhaps one day this recording, or the Washington D.C. show from July will find their way onto an official release. This show is especially deserving, as it combines a raucous crowd, a well oiled band, and a career spanning set list. One of the most enjoyable listens I've had in a while, this performance never fails to ignite an exciting and introspective musical experience.





Life Is A Carnival SNL 1976
    
    

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jefferson Airplane Loves You-"Sweeping Up the Spotlight" Fillmore East 1969





      Recorded at the legendary Fillmore East on November 28 and 29th 1969, "Sweeping Up the Spotlight" captures the Jefferson Airplane at their tightest and most hallucinatory, having already approached legendary status in the rock pantheon. This archival recording and official release is a beautiful sounding capture of the band shortly before their fracture into many different elements, and at a time where psychedelic rock was reaching extravagant heights.
     Today in the "rock room" I pull this 2007 CD from my vault shelves and prepare for lift off. Compared to other live releases of the Airplane, including 1969's definitive "Bless It's Pointed Little Head" this release features a powerful and sometimes recklessly intense Jefferson Airplane prodded on by the notoriously crazy Fillmore East crowd. Being that this is a compilation of two performances, the track listing is not an actual set list as played, but a mixture of the best tracks. While the Airplane, similarly to San Fransisco brethren The Grateful Dead, were sometime noted for erratic performances in their early days based on many external and internal factors; this collection distills the shows down to their very best performances.
     The opening of the CD is a rough and ready version of "Volunteers" signaled by Paul Kantner's chiming Rickenbacker guitar strums. Balanced precariously on the edge, the music teeters back and forth between magic and disaster, like a runaway semi truck barley gripping to the road as it negotiates sudden turns. Marty Balin and Grace Slick trade punches vocally as the Airplane's classic "sing when you can" vocals wrap around one another. "Volunteers" a fitting opener for the show and recording, as you would be hard pressed to find another song so quintessentially "60's".
     Following up "Volunteers" is the traditional song, "Good Shepherd" arranged by Jorma Kaukonen, and deranged by the Airplane. "Good Shepherd" was described by Jorma as being a "psychedelic folk rock song", which is an apt description. The band absolutely explodes into the guitar solo segment of the tune with Jorma spitting sinewy over-driven guitar licks over Jack Casady's apocalyptic "Alembicized" bass's depth charges. One of my personal favorite Airplane songs, and a definitive version contained on this release.
     The energy stays consistent with whats introduced as " a song about your television set", "Plastic Fantastic Lover". Marty Balin lays down some white boy scat over the pulsating liquid rhythm. Again the tune is signaled by a luscious and metallic Paul Kantner guitar strike, funky and tight. "Plastic Fantastic Lover" flies by supersonically, blink and you will miss it. Special notice goes to Jorma's arpeggio break down licks, which to these ears sound like they were lifted from a live version of the Grateful Dead's "Viola Lee Blues". Good stuff.
     A Jorma and Jack favorite, "Uncle Sam Blues" is up next and I find myself turning the volume up a little more, as the band smokes this one down to the butt. Heavy, and thick as molasses in the wintertime, the rhythm section of Spencer Dryden and Casady sludge through the changes as Jorma, with a sly grin in his voice sings the "pro war" lyrics. The genesis of "Hot Tuna" can be found in this hardcore performance of "Uncle Sam Blues".
     Introduced by a rolling and tumbling Dryden drum beat the Marty Balin penned "3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds" blares from my speakers with a kinetic intent. All three vocalist's Marty, Paul and Grace get it on, in a triad of vocal gymnastics. The energy from the stage is infectious and mind altering, as screams and caterwauls echo off of the band's churning electric chaos.
     Rolling in on a husky Kaukonen guitar line, "You Wear Your Dresses Too Short" struts sexily down the New York City streets, showing enough leg to get the assembled crowd excited. More about the jam than the lyrical content "You Wear Your Dresses Too Short" is a Balin composition featuring his impressive dynamic vocal range punctuated with stinging Jorma counterpoints. The tune stretches to over nine minutes and like a snowball rolling down hill picks up speed and girth until it reaches its chosen destination. Representative of the "San Fransisco sound" this jam sprawls out like a liquid light display across the assembled crowd.
     Similarly to the aforementioned "Good Shepherd", the next track, "Come Back Baby" is another sepia toned traditional song turned technicolor freak out by the Airplane. Jorma sings lead and deconstructs the classic blues through numerous effervescent guitar solos. Casady's tonal varieties are unbelievable, and my mind lets the music pass through me, as opposed to keying on the specific riffs. This late 1969 performance is a must have for any fan of pure psychedelic rock performed to a hungry audience. This release fell through the cracks of my own music collection, so I 'm sure it has also languished in the bins of music shops everywhere, lost among the expansive landscape of live concert releases.
   The concert  now gets extremely spaced out, in a good way, over the next tracks.  Drippy and trippy, "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon" features the three vocalists intertwining with one another as the group shakes and shifts the stage underneath them. A belligerently distorted Kaukonen guitar drives the band through the spongy instrumental changes. The introduction to "The Ballad of You, Me and Pooneil" spotlights the same destructive Kaukonen guitar sound spraying out prismatic feedback crashes and prefacing the slamming groove of "Pooneil" "Pooneil" crashes into a chordal extravaganza by Casady, as he takes a rich and thick slice out of his bass solo. The Airplane enter a tailspin as they exit Casady's solo piece, and rotate faster and faster crashing from the stratosphere toward a meeting with the earth, also reflected in the lyric, "If you were a cloud and you sailed up there,You'd sail on water as blue as air,You'd see me here in the fields and say,"Doesn't the sky look green today?" The band sings the concluding lyrics and ends the excellent ten plus minute "Pooneil".
     "White Rabbit" follows and is a note perfect rendition with a nice twist on its normal rhythmic drum groove by Spencer Dryden. Grace speaks to the crowd after the conclusion of "White Rabbit" and her dialog is where the title of the compact disc "Sweeping Up the Spotlight" gets its genesis. The final two songs of the release feel like an encore to me, but that is probably just a testament to the order of the track listing. For a compilation, the CD has a great "feel" to it.
     "Crown of Creation" is a fiery testament, eerily relevant even in today's very different world. The band makes the three and a half minute song seem historically long, navigating its changes. A defining statement by the "Airplane" and an important track in their catalog. As soon as "Crown of Creation" ends, Casady hammers out the pounding bass line to "The Other Side of This Life". Penned by Fred Neil, this song is another example of the "Jefferson Airplane" taking a folk or traditional tune and pouring "Owsley's finest" all over it until its drenched in mind altering visions. Wringing every bit of psychoactive substance from the song, the Airplane throttle through the number as such a rate that it makes me chuckle. The playing is right on, but played with such a reckless abandon that it has to make the listener smile. Jorma is scrubbing his guitar like an ancient washboard with a scratchy percussive tempo. At the song's climatic moment Kantner is striking chattering chords from his Rickenbacker, Jorma is weaving webs around himself in "waterfall colors", and Casady is sliding up and down the fretboard like a man possessed by dark musical visions. A fitting close to the "show" and a consummate performance by the band.
     I hope this rant about the Jefferson Airplane CD, 'Sweeping Up the Spotlight, Live at the Fillmore East 1969" encourages the readers who have it, to dig it out, and who don't to hunt it down. The CD is a great capture of the band with its quintessential lineup, during a period of great fertility, and just before its eventual end. Everything that is great about the San Fransisco bands can be experienced on this release.  Make sure you turn it up, because its needs to be played loud to be enjoyed properly.
     









     The Ballad of You, Me, and Pooneil-Sweeping Up the Spotlight

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Velvet Underground-"The Gift"-White Light/White Heat LP

     Spinning in the "rock room" today is a shadowy and distorted record that was released without much fanfare in 1968. It has since become a well respected and important part of music history. Released as a follow up to 1967's "The Velvet Underground and Nico", "White Light/White Heat" is a jagged and experimental follow up record in major contrast to many other rock records of the time. Filled with innuendo, feedback, dialog and funky electrified madness, this LP is more of an experience than a common listen. The "Velvet Underground" are easily one of the most influential artists in rock history, and this record was the antithesis of the norm of the day. It's odd instrumentation and strange lyrical content separated it from the rest of the rock world. The sound of the record is peculiar, with a low-fi vibe mixing with a charged dynamic energy completely modern. This is a vampire record, that waits in the shadows, hides its face, and stays out of the daylight. Bleary eyed and druggy this record has a unique personality all its own.
     I am listening the MFSL version of the LP which shimmers with a charged electric energy. The opening track "White Light/White Heat" quakes with an amphetamine shake, the piano crisply rippling over the distorted and hot instruments. Lou Reed's guitar a snow filled television screen stuck between channels, images faint and flashing, yet static and shocking. An edgy opening to the LP and classic "Velvets" influential and forward thinking.
     Following the opening track comes the first epic of the album, "The Gift" a narrative set against a funky altered improvisation decorated with a fuzzy John Cale bass and rambling Reed guitar. The story is a damaged tale of love where a rejected lover (Waldo) decides to mail himself in the post to his one and only (Marsha) to surprise her and win her approval. The package makes it to its desired location only to reach a dramatic and horrifying conclusion. I hate to spoil the far-out ending so I will leave it for the listener to discover on their own. The song, a mantra, chugs along hypnotically with only Reed's polluted riffing awakening its mesmerizing qualities.
     Track three of the record "Lady Godiva's Operation opens with a beautiful Reed guitar line, that sings the vocal melody over the thumping groove set by drummer Tucker. Again, a tune with a different and unique lyrical content by Lou Reed, who is also the composer or collaborator of all of the songs on the record. The song sung by both Cale and Reed is a disturbing tale of a surgical procedure gone south. Complete with hospital sounds and deadly serious vocalizations throughout the track, the song is a fitting collaboration of the factors that make this record so dark and so good. One of the things that separates this release from others at the time is the black humor that is sprinkled throughout the compositions.
     The last song on side one of the record is the Lou Reed sung "Here She Comes Now". The track brings to mind earlier Reed compositions such as "I'll Be Your Mirror" off of the "Velvet Underground's" debut LP with its delicate guitar figure, and light fingertip percussion. This song is in definite contrast to the abrasiveness of the previous songs. Again, the ambiguous lyrics leave listeners wondering what or who Reed is singing about. There are the obvious sexual connotations all over the song, so I'll just let the listener be the judge of the subject.
     Side two opens with a straight razor guitar line that cuts flesh with the song, "I Heard Her Call My Name". The guitar drowns the rest of the band in feedback as the drums and bass sound like they were recorded in another room. Conventional backing vocals act in contract to the insanity and over driven guitar sounds being produced by Reed. The guitar solo like twisted metal, screams, wails, and cries, as it folds over on itself. At one point the bass drops out completely and Reed coaxes horror movie sounds from his ax. This is back alley rock defined, street rock, and in my opinion what would be the major influence on the upcoming punk bands of the 1970's. This is what rock and roll is all about, and should be, loud, defiant, and abrasive. The slick, produced sounds of today's so called "rock" seems like a bad joke when looked at side by side with band's like "The Velvet Underground" This is the real deal.
     Because of the two longer epics on the record, side two only has one more song which is also the closing number. "Sister Ray". "Sister Ray" is a seventeen minute improvisation that was recorded in one take and included on the record. There is no bass on this song, only guitar, drums, and a highly distorted and perverted organ sound. Lou Reed spends the song "looking for his mainline" and the picture he paints is one of sexual madness, and getting higher than anyone else can imagine. The song is an orgy of sound, and bodies, of all orientations and fetishes. The instrumentation reflects the schizophrenic scene of sex, drugs, and debauchery. The music pulsates and melts into a primordial ooze that boils out of the LP's grooves. Reed scat sings over the chugging drone that continues to swirl and disorient itself. Morrison and Reed's metallic guitar strikes mesh like steel wheels in a rock and roll machine with Cale's belligerent organ, and Tucker's cardboard box drum strikes. "Sister Ray" changes tempo numerous times during the stretched out orgasm of sound but always tumbles back into some semblance of order. Until, finally it peaks, and then ends on a car alarm guitar note that fades to black.
     "White Light/White Heat" is a record that is difficult to explain and encourage in words. The LP is similar to a physical piece of visual art, in that it requires study and contemplation as if it was a portrait on the wall. Much of the time I try to concentrate on the narrative, but as I do so there is absolute madness going on instrumentally underneath the lyrics. The album fittingly is as much about visualizations in the listeners mind as it is aural satisfaction. Due to Andy Warhol's connection with the group this makes complete sense. The record may not be for everyone because of its dark nature. It is a very "real" LP, containing for the time controversial subject matter. But for those who like their rock and roll, edgy, rough, noisy, and raw, the way it should be, this LP is for you.






White Light/White Heat

Sister Ray

    
    

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Put The Boot In: "Free as a Bird"-John Lennon-"At Home"

     This time of year my thoughts, as well as the thoughts of other music fans drifts toward remembering John Lennon and his contributions to music and peace. December 8th will be a day that will forever live in infamy, due to the heinousness of the crime perpetrated against the Lennon family. Thankfully there is a plethora of Lennon music, unfinished ideas, and art to help fill the empty void caused by his death. I myself am grateful for the words of wisdom and peaceful directives Lennon has left behind, as he has been a compass point in my own life. It's a pretty high regard for a musician that I never had the honor to meet in person, but who can have such an profound influence on my life.
     Spinning in the "rock room" this week in remembrance, and because its so damn good is the collection of home recordings fittingly named "At Home". This collection was compiled by the company "His Master's Choice" usually known for quality recordings. To my ears the majority of these tracks are from tape sources close to, if not the master Lennon tapes. Many fans on different discussion boards seem to think that these recordings are from the infamous "Fred Seaman stash" of tapes due to their stunning quality. For those not aware, Fred Seaman was Lennon's personal assistant through the last years of his life. He was later arrested and charged with pilfering the Lennon estate in exchange for a book deal. Regardless, this collection contains many things familiar to Lennon fans, and some things not so much. There is not a chronological flow to the recording, though all tracks are from 1976-1980 (except for one). The quality is the real star here, with the ambiance and clarity of Lennon's guitar/piano and voice unbelievable. The songs are raw and in various stages of development, the ironic content sometime too much to take.
     The collection is broken into two compact discs with the first being guitar demos and the second piano based recordings. The first disc opens with the now familiar "Watching the Wheels" acoustic "Bermuda" version from Anthology, a fitting opening to the collection and one of my favorite Lennon lyrics. It's crazy how Lennon's ability to speak through his listeners is magnified when witnessed during the intimate moments of creation on recordings like this one. The poignancy of a solitary Lennon and his guitar is the real magic of his legend, and these demos. It's not "granny glasses" and his loud mouthed public statements; its his working class attitude, quick mind, and completely uncensored art. As the first disc of the collection continues there comes a series of "Dylan parodies" which have circulated for some time, but are still good for a chuckle. These parodies can become somewhat monotonous, as they feel like one big inside joke. But in the context of Lennon's situation at the time of their creation, they are a curious peek into his psyche.
     Fittingly, following the Dylan satire is the Anthology version of "Serve Yourself". A vitriolic reply to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" that unfortunately never got to see the light of day during Lennon's lifetime. If you have never heard this song before, do not pass go without finding it! Classic Lennon, with a venomous bite not heard since 1971"s "How Do You Sleep". It makes me giddy to think of what Lennon's follow up LP to 1980's "Double Fantasy" would have been with tracks like the aforementioned languishing in the Lennon tape vault. A follow up LP containing songs like "Help Me To Help Myself", Whatever Happened To, Serve Yourself" and "Gone From This Place would have been another career defining statement! Not too mention the finished studio songs, "Borrowed Time"," I Don't Want To Face It", and others. The LP would have been a definite change from the fantastic, but somewhat "safe" song choices John made for "Double Fantasy".
     A track by track analysis of this set would be redundant and somewhat long as there are thirty six tracks on this set. The reason for this blog is more about sharing the vibe and encouraging a listen. By the time I get to the "Bermuda" home recordings that make up a fair amount of the guitar demo disc, I understand why "Double Fantasy" producer Jack Douglas said he'd release Lennon's demos as they were, unadorned. Obviously, Lennon made it into the studio, but the statement is a comment on the "completeness" of Lennon's home creations pre production. The single tracked version of "Stepping Out" on this disc is so crisp that every plectrum hit, every catch in the throat, and fading falsetto note rings inside my ears and head. I look at the timer on my CD player as it counts down to the next song and swallow in anticipation. This is a hi-fi series of lo-fi recordings, with every song beautiful. I look at the track listing know whats coming, but I still cant wait.
     The song that had Lennon fans like myself "flipping Out" over this release was the acoustic version of "Grow Old With Me" that was rumored to exist since the 1998 release of Lennon Anthology. Starting with the rustle of papers and John's mumbled, " Hold it, and the next day" this "lost" version is everything you think it should be. Sure, there are a few moments of uncertainty as John searches for the chords during the bridge, but the intimate sound and soulful performance is enough to give chills. I feel that by showing the fallible side of Lennon only makes these "documents" more valuable.
      I sometimes have a feeling of hearing something I shouldn't be hearing when spinning John's home recordings. As the crystalline version of "My Life" plays I hear Yoko's faint backing vocals sounding like they are coming from the corner of the room. It's like reading a diary, these performances are a private dialog not destine for public consumption, but they ended up here somehow, and I'm glad that they did. The double tracked version of "Woman" which John announces as "Take three" is again breathtaking in its completeness and sentiment. Superlatives cannot do justice to these discreet and passionate performances, the only way to feel them is to listen to them. I have to say "Woman" towers above the studio version, because of Lennon's impassioned vocals and one man instrumentation. Similar to Plastic Ono Band era Lennon some of these songs are so stark and powerful that they cannot be enjoyed in a casual listening session. Deep concentration and a perfect seat are required.
     The first CD concludes with "Say It Again", which I think is a "Mind Games" era demo that made its way onto this collection mistakenly."Say It Again" is a desolate melody with the middle eight of the released Lennon composition, "You Are Here" gestating as its center. Following "Sat It Again" are three luminous takes of "Nobody Told Me". These versions move briskly like a Bermuda seabird, with Lennon's "rhythm ace" providing a tight back beat. Lennon's Ovation guitar chiming profoundly throughout my room its dynamics clear as the unbroken blue sky. The final song closing out the disc is a solo acoustic version of "I Ain't Got Time" a bluesy interpretation on a classic number, that epitomizes what the first disc was all about. A closely miked, unadorned, private recording not designed for pubic consumption but stunning in its beauty. Yoko's typewriter acts as additional percussion in the background as the song approaches its ending.
     The second "piano" disc starts with a version of "Grow Old With Me" that contains a young Sean's yells in the background. Different from the "released" demo version found on "Milk and Honey" and a glimpse into the songs development. There is something "otherworldly" about John's piano based demos from this era that I have never been able to put my finger on. The ambiance of the recordings lends a natural reverb to the piano that gives it a spectral, or ghostly quality. One theory I have is that the tremendously high ceilings and thick walls of The Dakota building offered a historic spectral echo to the proceedings. I cannot be sure all of the piano based demos were captured there, but I think there is a good chance that many of them were. It's hard to explain, but if you listen to them you may understand my feelings on this. These home recordings have the ability through their fidelity to put me in The Dakota, with the West 72nd street traffic rolling by below, and an expansive vista of Central Park stretching before the jagged Manhattan skyline. John sitting at his upright piano, with crude cassette machine rolling and capturing his moments of creativity before they escape, "Free as a Bird" to soar forever.
     Probably my favorite John Lennon demo recording is "Help Me To Help Myself", and this collection offers an extended version of the released take, and a lower quality version of an unheard alternate take. A beautifully sung gospel song with Lennon asking for God to "Help Me to Help Myself", and including another achingly blatant display of emotion from John. It's rare to hear John vocalize in such a way as his approach is slightly different from his "rock" voice.Being a "private" recording John lets himself go a bit more than he would in the confines of a professional recording studio. I can envision this tune eventually becoming dressed in a choir and glorious instrumentation, with John singing the shit out of it. Directly after, the unused Beatles Anthology Lennon demo "Now and Then" is included on this set. Complete and without the annoying "buzz" that plagued earlier recordings and Beatle producer Jeff Lynne. What would have made a welcome addition to "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" as "Threetles" recordings on 1995's Anthology, takes its repaired and rightful place on this collection. The melody unmistakably Lennon, the falsetto chorus chilling, the song so good it makes me weak.
     Making up the rest of disc two are extended and upgraded piano based demos of "Cleanup Time", "Real Love", "I'm Losing You", and "She Is a Friend of Dorothy's which all contain something special to offer the listener. "Dorothy" is a fluctuating and rolling song, with tentative Lennon vocals still feeling their way around the melody line. There are more "complete" versions available (Dakota Home Demos CD) but this one has a delicate charm, brushing by my ears like a butterfly moving from leaf to flower. The electric piano version of "Cleanup Time" should be given special notice because of the emphatic vocalizations by Lennon. I have heard that the electric piano played on the "Cleanup Time" demos was a gift from Lennon friend Elton John. I find myself so entranced by disc two of this set that I switch between concentration on the music, to reflection on the source, and finally reasoning behind my ability to listen to it. What is amazing to me is that these private compositions emerge developed, and then metamorphosize into other compositions, which then spawn melody lines, for new songs. Lennon a musical miner, sifting through the rock and soil for his bits of gold, using everything he finds, no waste. It's a testament to the quality of Lennon's work that songs such as "Real Love" would be left behind in consideration for other tunes, and while others were continuously being developed.
     The collection closes with multiple unique and clandestine compositions, "Don't Be Afraid" is a show tune styled paean to Sean similar to "Beautiful Boy" in its domestic tranquility. Birds can be heard screeching in the background a testament to the aural sound quality. A rare and early version of "Real Love" follows containing a middle eight eventually used for "Stepping Out". Finally the entire set closes with a composition titled "Solitude", a minor key, delicate work in progress with similar vocalizations to "Help Me To Help Myself". An appropriate conclusion to the set, with definite references to what would become "Strangers Room", and eventually I'm Losing You". "Solitude" contains all of the elements that make this set so amazing and worth your time. If you are a fan of John Lennon you owe it to yourself to put this music on, and using John's word's,"So we'll settle down, deeply, I hope, and comfortably in an easy chair and then, lay back, put the incense on, light the candles and give yourself a hard time".
     This year, as the time comes to remember friends and family, and to share in the holiday spirit, also remember to reflect back on the music you love most, and the artists who create it. Think of how bleak our existence would be without artists like John Lennon, and how their creations can color our own lives. Remember how one of the greatest artists of our modern times was silenced by an assassin's bullets, but yet his music continues to this day to deliver the feelings of peace and love into our lives. Peace and love is not just a T-shirt or silly hippy ideal, its a way to live and a way to treat others. Lennon never thought this idea was silly and continued to express it until his last breath.
     Lennon always tried to use his celebrity to spread a message, or to encourage his admirers to "think". Even though he is no longer of  this world his medium will still distribute his message, and his simple belief that "love is the answer". Lennon had the ability to bring to the forefront things that should be obvious to us all, but sometimes disappeared to the back, obscured by bullshit. Through his experience and uncanny talent to express the human condition Lennon is still a part of all music fans, and his influence will endure forever. Listen to some of Lennon's non commercial works in progress today, and hear a side of the man unchanged by massive celebrity, and still constantly searching, changing, learning and creating.








John Lennon-Help Me To Help Myself



John Lennon-Grow Old With Me


    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eric Burdon and The Greenhornes EP- Record Store Day

     On this past Record Store Day, a four song EP quietly came out on Brendan Benson's Readymade records. Quiet that is, until you place it on the platter of your turntable, then it explodes into thick blues grooves and Eric Burdon's instantly recognizable growl. What seems to be a match made in heaven between Eric Burdon with The Greenhornes is consummated on this 12" vinyl record.
     Cincinnati based garage band powerhouse "The Greenhornes" have been dishing out their unique combination of garage psych, blues, and power trio stew for almost twenty years. Their modus operani fits like hand in glove with Eric Burdon's, and the results can be heard on the document of their collaboration, the "Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes EP. The four songs featured on the record are original Eric Burdon compositions, complete with full instrumental backing from the Greenhornes.
     The record starts with a growled statement from Burdon, which I'll leave out and let the listener discover on their own! The Greenhornes then kick the door in amid a wash of noise, and explode into "Black Dog", Burdon's vocals signaled by Jack Lawrence's plump bass riff.  Greenhornes alumni Andrew Higley lays down a sneaky organ riff that darkens the vibe behind the tight trio of Fox, Keeler, and Lawrence. Burdon's lo fi delivery is all soul, with a side of hurt, containing growls, and full on Amimal's era screams. The camaraderie generated at these sessions between the musicians translates well to the recording. In addition, Brendan Benson production talents are fully on display.
     The second track on the EP "Out of My Mind" is exactly that, a jumpy, unpredictable tune that shows Burdon has not lost his sense of humor. Patrick Keeler's drums dynamically drive the song poly-rhythmically, as Craig Fox gamely tosses around some "ethnic" sounding licks.This tune could have been the only song to come from the session and it would still be worth the price of admission.
     Flip the record and "Can You Win" sticks it right in your face with a fat, sludgy riff that features Burdon pushing deep vocally for a straight soulful blues. The song soon jumps into double time with Fox laying down some impressive psychedelically infused guitar lines. The rhythm section tight as a jail house door, and in the pocket. "Four Stars" given to everyone involved, each member conjuring up the best they have to offer.
     The last song on the EP is "Cab Driver" a smoky midnight street walk with Burdon in control. His voice full of the emotion encountered in 71 years of life, wearied but intense. The playing by the Greenhornes is so sympathetic and intuitive its like Burdon has been fronting the band for years. I only wish there was more as the needle skids into the runout groove.
     The 180 gram vinyl release is the way to hear this recording because of its warm presence and dynamic qualities. But for those so inclined there is also a download available. The Eric Burdon and  Greenhornes collaboration resulted in a recording that is organic, explosive, and unique. The record is a captured moment of a rock a roll legend who still has it, and also of rock and rollers continuing to build their own legend. Both working in conjuction to create new and original music.



You Can Win

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Take It All"-The Legacy of Pete Ham of Badfinger-Keyhole Street Demos 1966-1967/Memorial/Tribute and more!

     This installment of "Talk From the Rock Room" is going to focus on the enormous news that has been announced by The Estate of Pete Ham this week regarding upcoming releases and events for 2013. Dan Matovina, author the definitive Badfinger text "Without You", and representative of the Pete Ham estate has teamed with PledgeMusic to release some very special Pete Ham ephemera. A hometown celebration, in addition to varied audio and visual releases are planned for next year.  Whether you are a casual listener or a hardcore fan like myself there are many options in which you can donate and receive special Pete Ham merchandise. This project will not be undertaken unless the donation quota is met, so read on and please donate to get some super rare Pete Ham goods! This event will coincide with what would have been Pete Ham's 66th birthday.
     First, I would like to give a brief background on Pete Ham for my readers who are not familiar with his importance to the world of rock and roll. The rest of this blog space will be used to expand on the series of events and releases which will culminate in a special tribute concert in Pete's hometown of Swansea, Wales. Pete Ham is easily one of a handful of singer/songwriter guitarist whom I would consider as being labeled with being the "best" of all time. Author of such prodigious songs as "Baby Blue", Day After Day"," No Matter What", and "Without You" is as an impressive a resume as you can get. This is not to mention his superlative and underrated talents on guitar. A combination of unfortunate events weighted Pete down and resulted in his eventual suicide. What makes this loss even more painful is that I feel Pete was on the cusp of wider recognition as his songwriting and guitar playing were on their way to reaching new heights. I digress, because this entry is supposed to be a celebration of Pete Ham, not a rehash of negative events. To anyone who wants to explore the world of Pete Ham and his artistry I suggest starting with the Badfinger records, and moving on to Pete's solo and home demos for a complete portrait of his multiple talents.
     Moving forward, the big news for Pete and Badfinger fans is the possible release of "Keyhole Street" a two CD collection of Pete Ham's home demos from 1966-1967.Composed when Pete was at the ages of nineteen and twenty this collection will feature a diverse portrayal of Pete's songwriting abilities in their formative stages. These demos were recorded by Pete on his home two track machine. This will be a highly limited release dependent on reaching the donation goal in the allotted time period. This is planned to be a fifty track release full of special and intimate recordings. In addition to the music there are special packages that contain posters, stickers, limited edition 7" vinyl plus member only benefits for donors helping to get this release off of the ground. This release cannot happen without Pete's fans, who all need to step up and show they want this music to be heard. Three percent of the funds collected will also be donated to charity.
      Similar to previous Pete Ham demo releases "Golders Green" and "7 Park Avenue", "Keyhole Street" will be an intimate peek at an artist in development, and on the cusp of greatness. There is already a sample track available for folks that pledge, so I urge you to go to the page and check it out. The fidelity and rarity of this release make these tracks a "must have". With all of the excitement generated by this unique release, there will also be a series of events planned around the reveal of the actual musical gifts.
     Coinciding with Pete's birthday next year in his hometown of Swansea, Wales will be a blue plaque ceremony, tribute concert, and memorial stone unveiling, all paying tribute to Pete. It's a long overdue celebration of a musician who was never in search of any kind of accolades. Having Pete remembered in his hometown with a "Heritage Plaque" is an honor for his friends, family, and fans. If Pete's music has touched you in any way, these events are a positive way to show your support. Even if you cannot make it to Swansea, your donation can still make a difference.
     At the conclusion of my blog I will have links to PledgeMusic, and Pete's official page where more information about the releases and events can be found. I will also include a few tunes of Pete to keep with the usual "rock room" theme. As any "rock geek" can attest Pete Ham's contributions to music cannot be understated and this release and tribute are a beautiful expression of love from Pete's family and friends. Please check out all of the events planned around Pete's 2013 birthday, and "No Matter What" you do, please remember to pay respect to an amazing musician, and even better man.






PledgeMusic-Pete Ham


Pete Ham Official Website


Pete Ham-I Miss You-Home Demo 1967


Badfinger-No Matter What-Midnight Special 1973


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"First Step"-The Small Faces Grow Up- The Faces First LP

     This week in the "rock room" I decided to drop the needle on a famous but undervalued LP by the "Small", soon to be only "Faces".  This LP was released in early 1970 by the conglomerate of the remnants of the "Small Faces" with the addition of Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart from the "Jeff Beck Group". Critics sometimes dismiss the record as being not the best effort of the Faces discography, but in my opinion it is a record full of enthusiasm, and some tasty musical nuggets. The rough and ready attitude of this LP is one of its charms, as is that its a band oriented recording,before ego and hurt feelings ate at the core of the group. While there is some "filler" on the LP, the classic songs outweigh any weaker tracks. This LP is an Instamatic portrait of rock and roll when it was it was still dirty, fun, and loud, played by musicians seeped in the craft.
     The first side of the LP opens with a cover of the Bob Dylan song "The Wicked Messenger", punctuated by Ian McLagan's cathedral organ flourishes and Ronnie Lane's "plonking" bass lines. Rod's voice is serious, yet pure rock and roll, as he owns one of the most diverse voices in rock. In my opinion, while Rod was fronting the Beck band and the Faces he was the best rock singer around. It was hard to match his range and stage personae, as even Jagger had some competition when Rod was at his peak. For me the translation of Dylan tunes is one of the hardest things to do as a musical artist. Even The Byrds couldn't always pull it off to full effect. This version of 'The Wicked Messenger is indeed a success as the band conveys the mood effectively through their instrumentation and attitude. The appealing and unique aspect of The Faces is in their group attitude. As they did not give a shit about anything but their music. They were going to get sloppy, boozey, and say "Sod it!" to anyone who disagreed. That's the way I feel about this record, its a good time record and anyone who doesn't like it can "F" off!
     Continuing on as the needle caresses the blank grooves between song one and two the spiritual and delicate opening of the Ronnie Lane track "Devotion" hovers from my speakers. For those who are not familiar Ronnie Lane is still one of the most overlooked songwriters in rock history. Though many of his songs fill the classic FM airwaves his voice is not recognized nor talked about like other songwriter/musicians of his ilk. Beginning with a dampened and tender Ronnie Wood guitar opening "Devotion" sounds as if its humming out of a church gathering field tent. This song contains a blessed vibe, and healing attitude that never fails to direct me to contemplation and happiness. Mac's organ paints light strokes of gospel color, while Rod just sings his ass off. Ronnie joins Rod to sing the change in the middle of the tune which takes the song to magical levels. Underneath this Woody plays "Robbie Robertson" riffs tastefully underpinning the vocals, eliciting warmth and making my windows fog. The song keeping out the brisk winter night with notes that contain a luminosity like flame.
     The third track on side one is the Lane/Wood composition "Shake Shutter Shiver" containing a dual organ and guitar revolving ballroom dance as its centerpiece. Rod and Ronnie Lane share the vocals on the verses, and Woody again delights with his demonstrative slide work. The song swirls and agitates itself into a nice peak before it fades to silence. Following "Shake Shutter Shiver" comes one of my personal favorite songs on the LP and possibly of all time, "Stone", again penned by Ronnie Lane. This song similarly to "Devotion" is a highly spiritual tune, based in Ronnie's faith in Meher Baba'a teachings. The song grooves on an acoustic guitar played by Lane, and banjo riff played by Rod Stewart, with some honky-tonk bar room piano tinkled in by by Mac. The earthy title of the song is reflected in the the rustic atmosphere of the instrumentation and the reincarnation themed content of the lyrics. The tune has a stomping celebratory vibe with Rod and Ronnie singing call and response during the middle eight to take any edge of the philosophical lyrics. "Stone" would remain a song that Ronnie would return to over the course of his career many times in many different arrangements. A towering song and one of the best on the album.
     Side one closes with a popular Faces live track that always reached extraordinary heights when played in concert, "Around the Plynth". "Plynth" is a despondent song about a man reflecting on his life and using the image of water going down the drain as a metaphor for his existence. Centered around fervent slide guitar work by Ronnie Wood and heavy footed bass drum stomps by Kenney Jones the song is a quintessential Faces track. Tight instrumentation with a feeling that it could careen off of the tracks at anytime is a hallmark of many of the Faces best songs. A gold star goes to Kenney Jones on this track for his sturdy and tenacious drumming. Any fan of the Faces should hunt down some of the legendary live versions of this song.
     Side two opens with what many, including some of the band members consider to be the definitive example of the Faces at their best. "Flying" a Wood/Stewart/Lane composition fades in with a metallic picked guitar introduction by Wood, which reaches out of the speakers and grabs you with its windy etheral vibe. Mac's ghostly organ follows, then Lane's bass with "plonking" neck slides setting the stage for what are probably Rod's most superlative vocals on the record. This is the "best" band performance on the record, and a true collaborative effort. If someone asked me who The Faces were I would play this song. Side two continues with Ronnie Wood's "Pineapple and the Monkey" which opens dramatically with Mac's silky smooth organ introduction, soon after joined by Woody's funky chunky guitar riff. This instrumental track does seem like it may have been taken out of the oven a bit to early, but it does contain a lovely melody line featuring Woody's guitar and Lane's bass locking together like a DNA helix.
     "Nobody Knows" is up next and spotlights shared vocals between Lane and Stewart once again. Its such a pleasure to hear those two guys sing together, its unfortunate that as time passed it happened less and less. Another fantastic band performance containing tasteful drumming, and slippery round guitar licks abound. A tender song containing the yin and yang of exsistence, and the optimism and pessimism we all feel traveling the road of life, perfectly packaged in a tuneful format. A marvelous song stashed away on the "B" side of a sometimes forgotten album is exactly why I write this blog. To rediscover, reconnect, and reintroduce these dusty hidden treasures back into the light of day. I have included some rare footage at the bottom of the page of the group performing this song. The next to last track on the album is again an instrumental this time composed by Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones. Propelled by Woody's bouncy rubber ball guitar work, this tune has the feel of a rehearsal that was quickly committed to tape. This in no way diminishes the tune, it just has that "jammy" attitude to it. At around two and a half minutes in the groove picks up slightly with Kenney and Mac pushing the song forward and Lane holding down the bottom end like a ships anchor. I feel that moments like this on the LP show the guys feeling each other out and learning how to play together. For that reason alone the instrumentals on this record are perfect looking glasses into the band's development.
     The closing song on the album is again a song that continued to be part of the Faces stage show throughout their career. "Three Button Hand Me Down" is a swaying and swinging rock and roll number. You can't help but to stomp your feet or bob your head to this track. Ronnie Wood takes over bass duties for this tune, like his previous stint in The Jeff Beck Group, and leads the way with his upfront sound and rock steady heartbeat."Three Button Hand Me Down" elicits shades of Motown classics gone by mixed with the drunken "Englishness" of The Faces. The song dissolves into a small little improv toward the end, and that signals the conclusion of The Faces debut LP.
     The one characteristic of The (Small) Faces that separates them from other rock bands of the era is their ability to not compromise who they truly were as artists. The music they created, starting with "First Step", was birthed by a organic process taking into account all of their influences and infusing them into a unpretentious rock and roll stew. All of the members would go on to have their own musical careers filled with artistic achievement after the group disbanded. But for a short time they collaborated to create some of the finest, most diverse rock and roll ever composed and performed. It all started with that "First Step" that they took in 1970. Time for me to stop writing and throw the LP on the turntable for another spin, and try not to be so serious about my rock and roll.




    

Three Button Hand Me Down Live 1971


Nobody Knows-Faces

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Put The Boot In-"Up From The Skies"-The Jimi Hendrix Experience 2-28-68

     This edition of "Put The Boot In" will take a look back at The Jimi Hendrix Experience's performance at The Scene Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 28, 1968. The recording I am listening to is a purported first generation audience tape of both the early and late shows played that day. This performance finds Hendrix touring in support of  the newly released "Axis: Bold as Love" LP, with the Experience supporting him in peak form. This recording is boomy and distorted at points, but all instruments are audible, and the recording is a beautiful portrait of the raw dynamism of Hendrix's guitar. The biggest knock on the tape is that the vocals are often concealed by the screaming instruments. At least Hendrix's guitar comes through impressively. I absolutely love audience recordings where the vibe of the venue and the sound of historical air can be felt through the captured sound waves and magnetic tape. This recording does just that, even with the sometimes peaking and hot levels, the recording elicits a moment perfectly as I allow myself to travel back in time. Hendrix played an early and late show on this day, but in my opinion they play out like one complete show. The only repeat song between the two performances is 'Foxy Lady". If you can deal with some questionable sound quality to enjoy a provocative and legendary performance this tape contains the transportational properties to take you there.
     Hendrix's popularity at this point was already reaching astronomical levels and his guitar playing prowess well known and universally accepted. This was the groups most extensive tour of the States and the band was practiced and playing demagogic shows every night. The first of two performances this evening find The Experience opening with the Hansson and Karlsson penned number "Tax Free". A song often used by Jimi to open shows and warm up his fingers, the tune takes its rightful position on this recording. Immediately Hendrix has the crowd cowering in the corners of the venue as he annihilates them with over driven consciousness expanding runs up and down the neck of his Stratocaster. "Tax Free"spikes in a multicolored wash of feedback that leaves the collected throng breathless. I love the feel of this recording, as the natural reverb and captured crowd comments all add to my enjoyment of the recording. Next comes an absolutely screeching version of "Fire" which starts with a collective scream from the crowd. I can make out snippets of conversation near the recording equipment of the clandestine taper asking, "Is everything on?". I can understand his concern, because if I was witnessing this performance I would want to make sure it was captured for posterity myself!
     Following a hot to the touch "Fire" Jimi settles back into his nightly rendition of "Red House". I really enjoy this version of "Red House" because it benefits most from the sound of the room and the recording. The trio's instruments are clear, and the vocals the most audible of the show. Hendrix's "fuzz face" over driven guitar soars over the rhythm section as Jimi peels off riff after virtuosic riff. As I tune into this version of "Red House" it occurs to me that I am hearing Jimi's actual amp sound on this tape. I feel like the taper is close enough that he is getting a true amplifier sound as opposed to a straight PA recording. This is another reason to hunt this recording down, the organic, vintage electric guitar representation. I can smell the heat off of the tubes, and the plectrum scrape across the strings. Noel Redding introduces the next song, "Foxy Lady" and the band crashes into its recognizable intro with a stuttering intensity. The music jumps from my speakers as I sit in awe of the power on display. A master of mood's Jimi takes the intensity down a bit with a definitive version of "The Wind Cries Mary". Slick and quick The Experience slide through the chord changes dynamically, as Jimi's guitar comes blasting through during the solo in startling fashion. The next tune is somewhat of a rarity when the band follows "The Wind Cries Mary" with the Bob Dylan "B" side, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window". Drenched in a thick Hendrix wah, this cover stays fairly true to the Dylan original. Unfortunately the vocals are hardly discernible during this part of the recording, but the groove of the performance makes up for any shortcomings. Mitch is especially strong during this jam, and the crowd responds in kind. Jimi follows the end of the tune with a blink and you'll miss it snatch of "Satisfaction", before a break for tuning. A tripped out tremolo introduction leads to an overdrivin and feedback filled prologue to "Purple Haze". Again, the shortcomings of this audience tape are the same things that make it so charming. Jimi's guitar bounces and reverberates around the room, its organic echo translating its historic code to the tape.
     Thanks to enterprising tapers like the folks who made this recording I can ruminate and fantasize about the performance and live vicariously through this field recording. Thus ends the days first performance closing with "Purple Haze", and with a evening performance to follow. The recording starts the second show mid tuning, and captures the tapers bantering before the show starts proper.  Jimi thanks the crowd for staying for the second show, introduces the band, and introduces himself as "playing radio". What follows is a scarce and freewheeling instrumental of "Bold as Love", which starts mellow but soon accelerates smoothly into an extended guitar extravaganza.  Jimi then takes off on a tour of the "Bold as Love" theme with some syrupy extended runs. A beautiful moment expressing Jimi's melodic prowess, and a rare little gem. Jimi's Stratocaster sings the lyricless melody in ways words could never do justice. Jimi often opened his performances with warm up instrumentals, using the stage as a "live workshop" for new material. This pair of shows is no different showing the Experience is full experimental mode. Jimi and Noel then drop out of the jam for Mitch to take a brief but pounding drum interlude prefacing the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that follows."Sgt Pepper" marches in ways "The Beatles" could never imagine with a psychedelic strut. A unique and well played opener that sets the stage for the fury to follow. "Spanish Castle Magic" starts innocently enough but opens up into a blinding maelstrom of a jam that ends much too soon. The end of the song finishes with comments from someone close to the recording gear exclaiming, "Did you see that drummer?' Indeed, the entire band is peaking out at this early point in the show, with Mitch playing especially well. The next three songs are quaking with psychedelic energy and kaleidoscopic instrumentation. "Spanish Castle Magic" contains a brief but kinetic central solo. This version a precursor to epic versions to appear later in the year.
      "Stone Free" follows with its syncopated funky introduction and low key vocal delivery. The band has the audience in the palm of their hand by this point of the show. Again, the sound is distorted and the vocals buried, but the energy is infectious, and the performance provocative. Jimi and Mitch work in conjunction through the solo each dancing around the others riffs. Even on this distorted recording Mitch's free flowing drumming glides behind Hendrix's sharp phased soloing. Unfortunately it's Noel's rumbling elephant bass that gets lost in translation.
      Next on the set list comes one of my favorite Experience live tracks with a poor version impossible to find, "I Don't Live Today". This version is no different, while not as stretched out and improvised as later versions in 1969 and 1970 this version contains stratospheric jams where the music achieves lift off. At around three minutes and thirty seconds the alchemy starts to take place with Noel laying down thick reverberating bass rumbles. Jimi surfs across the earthly landscape with not only flashy awe inspiring riffs, but with careful probing and stretched out electric statements. The rhythm section palpitates with substantial girth, agitated into a monstrous groove. Hendrix discharges a multitude of melodic statements with his slightly overdrivin tone, meticulously driving the jam in an assemblage of directions. A soundboard recording of this jam I'm sure would reveal a number of hidden secrets and a wealth of band interplay, but for now I will be content with the natural sound of this forty plus year old field recording. "I Don't Live Today" peaks and finishes and leads into a resplendent version of "Burning Of the Midnight Lamp". This song holds the same position as the early show's version of "The Wind Cries Mary", a fitting cool down moment after the previous songs aural assult. This is a sturdy version of a delicate song. I am of the opinion that Hendrix was incredibly under rated as a composer of great ballads and or love songs. While Hendrix analysis is often redundant, his melodic senseabilities and penchant for writing beautiful love songs is often undervalued. Tracks like "Little Wing", "Angel", "The Wind Cries Mary" are a few examples of this ability. This version of "Buring of the Midnight Lamp" reminds me of these talents, and is a fantasic performance.
     Next up is the only repeat between the matnee and evening performance, "Foxy Lady", which is a powerhouse display similar in scope to the earlier version of the tune. "Manic Depression" follows closely on the feedback trail left by "Foxy Lady" and becomes a marathon version, full of drama. The entire band has again locked into one another through the diverse changes of the tune. The bell chime of Mitchell's cymbal is upfront on the recording, and sets the tempo for the raving guitar solo the inhabits the middle of the song. Hendrix paints a lunatic's portrait with large multicolored strokes of his guitar. The jam reaches stratospheric heights and then plummets straight to earth, only to stop one inch from the ground, and then fire straight to the sky again. Hendrix is putting on a clinic for his Midwestern fans who are witnesses to magic and invention.
     What comes next is the most painful, yet mind blowing part of the performance. A unique and well played version of "Hoochie Coochie Man"closes the recording and what I assume to be the end of the show. Written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters, "Hoochie Coochie Man" is a quintessential example of the blues, and its influence on Hendrix's playing. Once in a while Jimi would break out a rare blues cover and redefine it live on the concert stage. This is one of those nights and the crowd is gifted for their enthusiasm for the show. Unfortunately this recording cuts before the song ends and in the middle of some mind blowing music. At 3 minutes Jimi lets loose with a blues redefined and highly electrified solo. Licks like falling water, cascade and coalesce into one another. The band swells like one giant organism, and Jimi peels off riff after thrilling blues riff  twisted originally in his own unique fashion. At around four minutes there is a small Noel spotlight where Jimi does a call and response with his afro headed bass player. Jimi then heads into a power scrubbing solo that brings the tune to a apocalyptic peak before dropping out to do a small call and response with Mitch. Before this segment can complete the tape cuts off, thus signaling the end of "our" performance.
     This document of two Jimi Hendrix Experience performances at the peak of their power is a must listen for any major fan of the Hendrix catalog. Cursory fans may find it difficult listening but the treasures to be unearthed are numerous and worthy. This recording finds the Experience learning how to play together and like a child with a new toy, experimenting and having a good time doing it. The band a comet streaking across the night sky, short lived, but illuminated and intense, flashing bright before disappearing into rock history. Before long Hendrix would be switching band members, writing new and diverse music, and continuing to change the way guitars are played. "Put this boot in", and become a witness to a moment in rock history privileged few were able to witness and we can still relive.



Red House-2-28-1968 FIRST SHOW