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











Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Save the Texas Prairie Chicken"-A Jambalaya of Rock-Bootleg's,Records,DVD's,and Record Store Day

     This "rock room" blog will concentrate less on a certain topic, and focus more on an overview of a busy couple of weeks in rock. With the holiday coming up among other time consuming things, I wanted to get some news out to my loyal readers. I also wanted to encourage any readers to let me know if there is something they would like to see reviewed or talked about in the "rock room". This is one of those times where the "rock gold" is appearing fast and furious and sometimes becomes overwhelming for the collector and fan.
     This past month there have been a number of releases that have come out that rock aficionado's will have to get their hands on. I hope to review and comment on these but as there is such a plethora of gold it will be hard to keep up when real life intervenes. Three major DVD/Bluray releases are available now by three major artists. First up, "The Doors Live at the Bowl 1968" the long awaited remaster and complete July 5, 1968 performance. While some of this footage has been available for a while via VHS, this is the first time it has been restored to its original sequence with audio remastered and visuals improved. The second video release is the "Rolling Stones Charlie's My Darling", which is the first time this Stones 1965 documentary has been officially released. This film follows the band on their tour of Ireland just as "Satisfaction" was breaking on the charts. I will have a comprehensive document on this film hopefully sooner than later. Finally, "Led Zeppelin Celebration Day" will see its official release documenting the group's one off reunion show in London in 2007. I saw this film on the big screen for its" one night only" showing and can unequivocally say that these guys have not lost a step. Jimmy Page's guitar still stings with the same strength as it did at the bands peak, and has also gained a bit of poignancy in its travels.
     The "rock room" has acquired some rare gold to add to it's archives this week with the edition of a NM mono "Revolver" LP that was found at a yard sale for .50 by my Pops. I also acquired a import edition of Yusuf Islam's (Cat Steven's) "Roadsinger Live In Australia" pro shot DVD release which is absolutely astonishing view of the great "Cat" covering his entire career live in concert in 2010. A stunning must have for any Cat Stevens fan. Finally, from the world wide web a recently circulating pro shot black and white video of Manassas live at Bill Graham's Winterland on October 7th 1973 has found its way into general circulation. This is a major find in the "rock community" and I still have to really sit down and watch it again before I will review it. The bootleg is a long well played concert spotlighting tracks from the first two Manassas records. In my opinion it captures Stephen Stills at the peak of his career. Manassas comes across in this feature like a giant orchestrated jambalaya of blues, rock, country, and ethnic tinged grooves with Stills as its crazed conductor.
     As far as the printed word goes there is plenty for the rock historian coming this winter. Biography's of Neil Young, Pete Townsend, and Mick Jagger have all hit the shelves in the last month or so. I have just finished the Pete book, which I must say is an enlightening look at the often misunderstood elder statesman of rock. I am starting the Norman authored Jagger book, and the Neil Young book is on deck. There is a plethora of insightful and important rock documents available for your gift lists!
     "Black Friday" is fast approaching, and is also the second Record Store day of the year containing many "must have" limited vinyl only releases for us crazed record junkies. Personally, I am looking forward to and going after the "Greenhornes with Eric Burdon", the Gene Clark "Echoes" 7", and the "Grateful Dead Winterland" release. There are many more I would like to get, but they falling fast down my list as my finances will not permit me to get everything! Oh well. I will include a link to the entire Record Store Day fleet at the bottom of this post.
     In conclusion I hope all of you that read my posts have a safe and wonderful holiday season filled with sounds of rock! There is much to be excited about, and much new music to be explored. The aforementioned is only a tiny taste of what is going on in my "rock room". I hope your "rock room's" are filled with the sounds of music and contain all rare goods you desire. Tonight I will travel to see "The Monkees" in Buffalo, NY. and I am full of anticipation. For those with a prejudice toward "The Monkees", or for those who are not aware, Michael Nesmith (the real father of country rock) is playing with the group on this swing. Michael is an amazing songwriter and great guitarist in his own right. I feel privileged to be able to see Mike live and in person, and playing his tunes. Again, thanks for reading my rants, and I hope to have some more interesting "rock rambles" for your review soon. Below are some links for you to check out!

Record Store Day 2012


Doom and Gloom-New Stones Tune


Mike Nesmith - Some of Shelly's Blues 2012






Friday, November 16, 2012

Grateful Dead Dave's Pick's Vol. 4 1976 Review-"Forgotten Space"

     The latest and final installment of this year's Grateful Dead Dave's Picks subscription series hails from the under appreciated year of 1976. Dave's Picks Volume 4 is from the Grateful Dead's concert on September 24, 1976 at William and Mary college in Williamsburg, Virginia. This is the first time that this concert has circulated in its entirety in soundboard quality. While the "Playin In the Band" suite was released on the "Spirit of 1976" bonus disc, the rest of the show is new to our ears. Fall 1976 is the twinkling dusk before the legendary sunrise of 1977. 1976 is a year often discussed by discerning Deadheads as being a "so so" era for performances. It is true that this is the year the beast shook off the rust and came roaring back to relevance after a year of rest. It is also true that the Dead were reintroducing Mickey Hart to the repertoire and band after a five year absence. The set lists were revamped, some the songs were slowed down to great effect, (depending on who you ask) and the band was sliding into the formats that would shape the next twenty years of their career.
     I am of the opinion that 1976 holds some of the Grateful Dead's best performances of the era. There is a loose improvisational quality to the shows that by late 1978 had slightly slipped away. There is an eagerness and excitement to the shows that translates well to the recordings and is not lost in the translation. New instruments for the band members is also cause for the new direction and unique sound of the 1976 shows. Garcia started to play an aluminum necked Travis Bean guitar which gave him a softer more slippery attack, Phil Lesh also started to play his Alembic "Mission Control" bass full time and retired "Big Brown" for a bit. In addition to these changes is the aforementioned return of Mickey which completely changed the tempo and overall design of much of the repertoire. After a summer of touring the Dead came back in the Fall tight, rehearsed,and breathing fire, which takes us to the 9-24-1976 performance.  This concert comes from a month full of well played shows with unique song combinations and decent sounding recordings. Both the Landover (9-25-76) and Syracuse (9-28-76) shows are immortalized on Dicks Picks 20 if you want to dive into this month in more detail.
     The recording of the show sounds nice, while not as "crisp" as other vault releases, it does have a fuzzy warmth to it and the listener should have no complaints. There are audience splices during some songs, but for the most part these are non intrusive and fit almost perfectly with the soundboard portions. This release is a compact, satisfactory sounding snapshot of the Grateful Dead in action during a pivotal and underrepresented time in their history. The show opens in full gallop with a "Promised Land" opener that shows the band means business. The same goes for the following "Deal" which is not as jammed out at later 1980's versions, but swings with a reckless abandon like a drunk holding onto a swinging saloon door. One of the critiques of 1976 is the first sets often sound over rehearsed, and contain no adventure. I can tell you that is not the case with this show. I am of the opinion that by the Fall the boys were back to taking chances, and feeling a bit more loose. I have no issue with the band sounding practiced, the vocals are on key and crisp, and the group sounds very slick.
     The show really takes off like the "flight of a seabird" with a early but kinetic version of "Cassidy". Jerry's deft touch during the middle solo is like multicolored feathers falling from the ceiling after a band pillow fight. The band hits the changes together, and with feeling just like the following "Sugaree". While not even close to the majestic versions to come in 1977, this infant "Sugaree" has a charm all of its own as Keith and Jerry wrap around each other in a musical embrace. It's amazing to track the evolution of "Sugaree" and to watch this song grow into itself. The 1976 versions are on the cusp of greatness and set the stage for what is to come. The next two songs in all honesty seem like they would be a "lull" in the proceedings because of their quiet and oft played nature. "Looks Like Rain", and "Row Jimmy" are both tracks that have to contain an attentiveness to detail and on key vocals to be successful. The 1976 attitude puts both these songs in a positive spotlight as the vocals are right on, and the instrumentation is patient and tasteful. "Row Jimmy" if not played well can be a dirge and somewhat painful to listen to, as I'm sure well listened Deadhead's can attest. This version is full of elegant and subdued playing by both Jerry and Phil, and I can feel myself slipping away as the track plays. I think to myself that this has been a well played set, but I still am waiting for that "moment". The "moment" that takes the show from good to great, from great to transformative, and from transformative to legendary. That moment occurs after a smoking "Big River" and textbook "Tennessee Jed" set the stage for the set closer.
      1976 was beginning of the end for epic stand alone "Playin In the Band's". By the end of the 1970's "Playin's" were often tied into a suite of songs or separated to open and close a set to great success, but with less jamming. The epic Playin's that closed the first set throughout the early 1970's are the standard that all must be judged. At this time the band was still closing first sets with extended versions of the song which I believe culminate in the grandiose version played on 12-31-1976, but that is another story for another time. This "Playin" is special in its own unique way, and is a wonderful example that when the "music played the band" anything could happen. This "Playin" starts off with a slow exploratory float with all band members on board. Jerry has his "underwater" envelope filter on and stirs the intensity with delicate cascading riffs. At five minutes the drummers start to push the tempo forward and the band starts to gain momentum as one musical organism. The slightly "tropical" sound of the Grateful Dead shows its face throughout this show. The addition of Mickey's tribal drums, Garcia's flamingo guitar styling, and Godchaux's electric piano give some of these fall 1976 instrumental passages a groovy island feel. As the jam reaches seven and a half minutes there are slight glimpses of the "Wheel" passing by the window as the band swells and moves.The band seems to be levitating weightlessly over the venue in a sparkling orbit as Garcia's sweeps flash and then disappear like dying stars. Phil Lesh at this point is the man responsible for the organic pulse of the improvisation. The jam soon starts to peak with Garcia throwing out muted lightning bolt licks as he climbs the psychedelic ladder rung by rung. Keith is on Garcia's scent as he follows, echoes, and replies to every idea Jerry throws his way. Garcia takes the jam to its summit then quickly back to earth as Bobby starts to strum the chords to enter a full blown "Supplication" instrumental, and eventually leading the band into the song proper.
     The "Supplication" is a powerful edition with the entrance to the verse punctuated by two beautiful Godchaux glissando's down the length of his piano. Keith is really shining during this segment of music and he and Jerry share in the glory. Special notice to the Jerry melody at around four minutes as "Supplication" eases back into "Playin". It's one of those unique fragments that Garcia would compose in the moment, on the fly, and just brings a smile to your face. Beautiful stuff. The band takes their time easing back into the "Playin" reprise and hits the note in every way. The band gallops through the reprise and closes the set with a tasty sandwich. End of set one.
     The second set starts with the band pleading with the crowd to give the people in the front a break and "take a step back". Bobby at one point tells the crowd that if they wont move back to, "jab the person behind you with your elbows!" and that should do it. After the thick experimental "Playin" suite that closed set one, I'm sure the crowd is euphoric with excitement. The second half of the show starts with a loud and raucous "Might as Well" followed by a standard 1976 "Samson and Delilah",which is to say it is full of funk, fire and Phil. The set moves with a workman like attitude through a dark and intense "Loser" that is well sung by Jer, and finally into a "Minglewood" that sets the stage for the magic that will end this performance. The "Loser" is a fine version full of detail and shade that is sometimes lacking from the later versions. The "Minglewood" is solid, but as you know there are hundreds of versions of this song to choose from. I'm sure "Minglewood" fans will find something in this one to make their day.
     Similar to the "Playin" that closed set one, the "Help On the Way, Slipnot, Franklin's Tower" triad that is featured in set two is the second crowned jewel of this performance. Started in the instantly recognizable tempo setting introduction accentuated by Phil's husky lead lines, this version bubbles over with substantial additions from all the band members. Moving at a faster tempo than some other versions the drummers are deep in the pocket, and lead the group into special version of this triumvirate. There is a cut in the soundboard during this performance, but don't worry the audience splice during "Slipknot" is not as painful as it may seem, and sounds just fine. The "Slipknot" opens like an early morning flower, with Garcia's guitar bellowing like a horn and wrapping its self around Godchaux's piano in an erotic dance. Immediately the jam grows and with intensity with Lesh and the drummers shifting the tempo in many directions at once. Weir slashes his sharp razor riffs across the shuffling base set by the rhythm section like a vandal on a midnight spree. Jerry and Keith start to escalate their interaction, and at around four minutes Jerry finally unties the "knot", and hits the magic spot, dropping the band into a mid jam drum interlude. The drummers slam around their kits in a drama fills drum partnership that eventually finds the rest of the band slowly coming back together one at a time to enter back into "Slipknot". At one point during the return to "Slipknot" Jerry is peeling off so many riffs the band almost loses control. The drummers are finding it hard to keep up with Jerry, and for a brief second I feel like the band is going to careen into a crashing stop. Thus the fun of a Grateful dead concert, always a certain element of danger, and of the unknown. Again, the band is tuned right in to one another during this performance and every note is measured and placed in its correct location. Not an easy feat when a group of six is improvising at such a furious rate.
     After the speedy outro from "Slipknot" the band slips into a compact and swinging "Franklin's Tower". I especially like these 1976 versions because they have not yet grown to redundant proportions, nor have they lost the unique original shuffling groove. The band is aware at this point that they have the crowd in their pocket, they have blown their collective minds, and now are going to take it home. Without being redundant I must say that a big part of what makes this show a solid Dave's Pick is the attentiveness of the band to one another. There may be other shows that are longer, contain better set lists, or have some other interesting criteria we use to judge performances. But during this late 1976 era the band was really interested in what one other had to say musically. They were back to really enjoying playing together. The "Franklin's Tower" is a impeccable display of this idea as tempos are changed, riffs are shared, and the joy is infectious. "Franklins" segues without pause into the well timed and perfectly placed "The Music Never Stopped". The band struts its way through "Music" with every change hit perfectly, and Donna sounding in good voice. The jam hits a  well timed peak and deftly slides into a  "Stella Blue" that contains as much silence as it does music. These 1976 performances of "Stella" are so amazingly delicate and tasteful that its hard to find a bad version. At this point in the show any miscues can be forgiven anyways, after such a plethora of intense tunes. This one will not disappoint, and is an appropriate chaser to the marathon that proceeded it. The band then sends the crowd off on a rock and roll stomp through the always exciting "Around and Around" (before it got WAY overplayed), and the patriotic encore of "US Blues". Again both versions are strong, rocking, and well played with all band members equally invested.
     The 'US Blues" ends the show on a high for the assembled crowd, and sends everyone into the brisk fall night satisfied and exhausted. This performance was a wonderful pick for official release, and one of those shows that does not contain one moment of transcendence, but a consistent level of band interaction, and playing that makes every moment worth savoring. While some may not pick 1976 as their favorite year of Grateful Dead music, the fall of 1976 is full of performances such as the aforementioned that contain absolutely unique playing not found in any other year. I am of the opinion that 1976 contains the improvisational skill displayed in 1974, but housed in a package of power and glory that epitomized so many 1977 concerts. This release finds the Grateful Dead on a uphill climb, still approaching heights other bands would not dream of reaching. It finds the band still searching, creating, and continuing the 'long strange trip" that would last for another 20 years.



    





 

    

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Life Is Brief"-Richard Manuel Live at the Getaway Club-October 12, 1985


During a recent family vacation to Orlando, Florida it did not occur to me that I would drive right by the town of Winter Park. Winter Park, Florida has the dubious distinction of being the location of Richard Manuel's suicide in 1986 after The Band performed a concert there. Somewhat haunted by this prospect I decided to listen to a recording made on October 12, 1985 at the "Getaway Club" in Saugerties, NY, less than a year before Richard would take his own life. This recording is personally one of my favorite performances that I have in my collection. I think its a combination of the intimacy of the recording, emotion in the performance, and delicacy of Richard's voice. Richard had worked his way up the "rock" ladder performing in clubs as a lad, then eventually arena's and stadiums with Dylan and The Band, and then back to clubs and bars. It was hard on him to feel like he was irrelevant by the mid 1980's, but he always preformed admirably and to the best of his ability. I feel if Richard could have made it through the 80's he would have been back in the center of things, with the revival of music festivals, rambles, and benefits. But, alas it was not to be.

     I am not going to get into the "why's" of Richard's death in this blog entry. Anyone who has been touched by a suicide in their own lives know that it is often unexplainable and emotionally taxing. To any reader who wants to look deeper into this horrible event, I recommend reading Levon Helm's biography "This Wheel's On Fire" I want to use this space to reflect on the recording I was inspired to revisit, and enjoy the music that Richard left behind. Containing what I, and many believe to be the greatest voice in rock, Richard was in a constant battle with his demons and unfortunately, he eventually lost. Along the way he created a unique and timeless songbook, and breathtaking vocal performances right up until the end of his brief life. To quote Eric Clapton regarding Richard Manuel I believe says it all," For me he [Richard] was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that."

     The recording I am reviewing was recorded at a pivotal point in Richard's life. Relegated to playing dives, and mid sized concert halls since the breakup of The Band, Richard's confidence had been shaken and his dependency and depression weighed heavy. At the point that the Getaway Club recording was made Richard was organizing his originals and reaching out to old friends with the hopes of releasing a debut solo album. The performances at the Getaway were great because they were close to home, and a fantastic way for Richard to "try out" some new tunes, and play the old favorites to a friendly crowd.

     Like I previously stated, I was urged to break out this CD because of the heavy vibe I experienced while traveling in Florida. There are some collections of music that I have to be in a unique place to listen to. As I'm sure you the dear reader understand, there is "sacred" music that must be felt, the kind that you cannot play in the background or casually. To me LP's like "Plastic Ono Band", Van Morrison's, "Veedon Fleece" and Gene Clark's "No Other" are albums that have way too much emotional content to not have my full attention. The same goes for this Richard Manuel performance, which requires a devoted listener who will let its music crawl inside of there ears and marinate their soul.

     This is a crispy line recording direct from the soundboard where Richard sounds if he is singing at you from across the room. This recording was released by the Estate of Richard Manuel and was only available as an imported CD. It now has been reissued and can be easily found if you so choose to search. The recording starts with Richard solo at electric piano honky tonkin the Bobby Charles song "Grow To Old". Richard's voice is immediately stunning. Even at this later stage in his career when booze and cigarettes had done some damage to his smooth syrupy throat, Richard's lyrical expression was unparalleled. After the opener Richard quips,"Thanks, Glad I came", in classic sweet self depreciating fashion. "Grow To Old" is followed by one of Richard's signature performances of "Georgia On My Mind". Often referred to as the "White Ray Charles" Richard over his many performances of this song almost succeeded in making it his own. This version is no different with the indescribable "catch" in Richard's voice eliciting such emotive qualities. I recommend the available version from Saturday Night Live 1976 where Richard will make your hair stand up on end. He of course felt he "oversang" it, but we can be the judges of that.

     The next song on "Whispering Pines" in an untitled instrumental composed by Richard. With a rolling piano melody reminiscent of a New Orleans band original, the track immediately catches the listeners attention with something unique. One critique of Richard toward the end of his life was that he was no longer composing original compositions. Well, this track and the upcoming second original featured on the CD prove that melodies were still writing themselves in Richard's head, and he was slowly gaining the confidence to let people hear them in a public setting. Without a co writer like Robbie Robertson to edit and add lyrics to Richard's song's he basically stopped writing. This is one of the saddest stories in rock history, the loss of new material by Richard Manuel, and the eventual loss of Richard physically from this earth. When I listen to this track again, I can hear it on an uncompleted album of new tracks that never happened, featuring all of Richard's friends, Jim Weider, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Rick Danko, and it makes me reflective on what could have been.

     Guitar virtuoso and Woodstock native Jim Weider then joins Richard for "Across The Great Divide" adding his honey bee Telecaster licks to a exclusive and personal performance. Then follows another classic cover that Richard sang so well so many times that it eventually became his song. "You Don't Know Me" contains a quiver, shiver and shake. I can feel my spirit levitate as Richard sings the middle eight, and his voice reaches falsetto range and shimmers with soul and effort. A truly inspiring and emotional version of a well played song. Throughout the performance I can hear Rick Danko off microphone encouraging Richard and eventually joining in on the festivities. One of the great things about "The Band" was their brotherhood, and you can hear the love in Rick's voice as he encourages the crowd saying, "Let's have a big hand for Richard Manuel".

A quick and note perfect, "King Harvest" is followed by a duo version of "I Shall Be Released" to close the first set. Rick and Richard perform a delicate and world weary version of the Bob Dylan and Band classic. A song used to close many rock gala concerts including but not limited to "The Last Waltz", this version is like two old friends embracing in a quiet candlelit room. Richard and Rick's voices and instruments meld together in the cool Woodstock night for the lucky few to witness the performance. I feel the warm fireside glow and cool snow blowing in from under the door. I sure wish I was there. But I can try to make it there through this blog and review.

     The second set is started with the expected but always welcome, "The Shape I'm In". The set is again started with Richard solo on piano, and the soundboard recording picks up the celebratory vibe of the venue. The one thing about this rare recording is you can hear all of the vibrations come through the recording. I can hear the apprehension, the confidence, the embarrassment and the camaraderie shining through every song. For those you love "The Band" this is the special gift that this recording shares. The next featured original on the recording harkens back to the Hawks era of Richards life. While the song is a newly composed instrumental, it would not feel out of place on either of The Band's first two records. The track is positively screaming for a lyrical melody line, it also exudes that feel of other early Richard compositions. In my opinion it fits right in with tracks like 'Jawbone", and "Just Another Whistle Stop" as originally and uniquely Richard. One of the most exclusive songs on this CD which Richard refers to as a "novelty", is the execution of the Cole Porter song, "Miss Otis Regrets". Similarly to Jerry Garcia, some musicians are just wonderful interpreters of other peoples songs. There is something in their voice and in their soul that enables them to express and disseminate any song in their own unique way. Richard is one of these "story tellers" and the aforementioned song is one of the most fantastic examples of this. This is no novelty song in the hands of Richard Manuel.

     "Gang Rock" is upcoming as Richard calls everyone up on stage to jam on the J.J. Cale tune, "Crazy Mama". Rick, Jim Weider, and Sredni Vollmer all join in to help jam on a groovin blues stomp. The most extended jamming of the evening takes place on this song, and it is obvious everyone is having a good ol' time sharing riffs. This exciting display of" straight rock no chaser",by the aptly named "bandettes" comes in stark contrast to the following two numbers. Introduced by Rick as "one of his favorite songs" he asks Richard to sing "She Knows" for the crowd, which Richard does after saying "No". Richard puts the venue into stunned silence with his performance on "She Knows" and the following Ray Charles track. "Hard Times". All I can offer the reader is these two songs take the performance into the stratosphere. While its nice to hear the versions of "The Band" songs, it is Richard's interpretations of these two tracks which touch me so deeply its hard to express. The ironic lyric in "Hard Times", "I know that one of these days, there will be no more sorrow when I pass away", cuts deep as Richard pushes, pulls and stretches for the notes only he can hit. His falsetto flourishes, even slightly dulled with age have an edge that no other rock singer can even compare too. These two tracks need to be put under glass, or sent to the moon, or encased in a time capsule, because they are too important to become a memory turning "dusty, old, and grey". I am so glad someone thought to immortalize them on this compact disc.

     To bring the show to the proper close, Richard calls his friends back up on stage for a "rollin and tumblin" version of "Chest Fever". Even without the ever important Garth Hudson on the track this version swings with a reckless abandon and brings the show to a fitting conclusion. Every musician on stage shines, and while no one takes a "lead", the sum is greater than the parts and they all collaborate to support Richard  and preform a beautiful ending to the show. The recording fades back in to the Getaway Club screaming and stomping their approval. Richard in classic fashion exclaims, "this calls for something extreme". The loudest voice in the crowd is again Rick Danko, egging Richard on and calling out song requests!

     One of these songs requests is for Richard's most beloved song and the title of the CD, Whispering Pines". Richard explains he may not be able to hit the notes or remember the words, but is still encouraged by the loving hometown crowd. He decides to give it a try and starts the recognizable intro piano figure. There are some flat notes, an intermittently cracking voice, and some fluffed lyrics, but if this performance does not move something in you, you must be made of stone. This performance of "Whispering Pines" stirs so many emotions inside of me that I can only listen to it in the correct setting. The melody, the words, the performance,the foreshadowing, all combine to make this a musical moment without equal. If you are a fan of Richard and/or the Band please do yourself a favor and search out this significant moment, you will not be disappointed. It will actually lift you up spiritually, if I can be so bold to assert. Richard considers the show over at this point and says his "thanks you's" to wonderful applause. But the crowd will not let him go and he decides to play one more rarity with Rick joining him. Similar to the performance of "Whispering Pines" I can tell you these are unrehearsed and unplanned songs not on the set list. But that is actually why they are so charming, because they are "off the cuff" and unplanned. "Tears Of Rage" is like Richard expresses at the end of the song, "brief", but still a fun performance that has its moments of transcendence. In no way will it compete with the "Big Pink" studio version, but because of the aforementioned undercurrents it is a special version nonetheless.

      That is the end of a memorable and exceptional performance by Richard Manuel and his friends. There are two more bonus tracks on the CD that Richard performed "after hours" which are repeats from earlier in the show. These are slightly different than the other versions and are nice additions to the concert. This intimate performance is special to me because Richard is someone who I respect and love deeply, but will never be able to know, or see perform. It's through releases like this that let me feel a part of I time I was unable to be a part of. Richard's music and voice lets me get in touch with emotions I may not otherwise be willing to seek out because of their negative connotations or embarrassing overtones. Listening to Richard makes me feel lucky, sad, realistic, and spiritually moved. I only wish Richard was aware of how deeply his music moved people and how important he was in their lives. If he had an inkling of how powerful he was, he may not have made the wrong decision in his moment of weakness. Richard has now become "God's Own Singer" and our singer eternally.


You Don't Know Me-1983