Sunday, February 12, 2017

Take One: The Kinks -See My Friends - 1965 Single

Flowing through the sonic landscape of the ‘rock room’ today is an influential 1965 single by the Kinks. Composed by Ray Davies, the ‘A’ side track, ‘See My Friends’ ushered in a unique ethnic aesthetic, expressed via pale British psychedelia that would in turn influence their contemporaries, The Beatles, Stones and Who.Typically charming autobiographical lyrics by Ray Davies are framed by a unique and experimental instrumentation and melody. It's modicum of influences can be tracked in a myriad of directions.

Released on July 30th, 1965 b/w ‘Never Met a Girl like You Before’, ‘See My Friends’ was a critical release for the Kinks documenting their incredible growth as artists and musicians. The non-album track’s (only later appearing on a re-release of Kinda Kinks) unique arrangement and lyrical content have always been a focus of discussion and deconstruction. In addition to being forward thinking the song was also popular, as it reached the Top 10 of the UK singles chart.

The song’s obvious Indian vibe proceeded the ‘groovy trend’ of Eastern influence that would be continued later in the year by George Harrison’s use of a Sitar on the Beatles own ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ and Brian Jones later use of the same instrument on 1966’s  Rolling Stones single ‘Paint It Black’. Interestingly enough no 'Indian Instruments' were used on this recording though it is cited as an early example of 'Raga Rock'. It has been reported that both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were intrigued by ‘See My Friends’ and that McCartney plied it’s songwriter for clues as to its internal melodic workings.

While touring Australia in early 1965 the Kinks had a stopover in Bombay where Ray Davies witnessed a group of early morning fishermen heading to the water while harmonizing their way to their work day. The obvious imagery was duly noted by the veracious songwriter, the scene soaking into his prospective songs soil. The tune ‘See My Friends’ tries to capture the heavy pre dawn verbalization of these workers and the impression their march to the water made on Davies. It has also been stated the track is a memorial to the Davies brother’s sister Rene, who passed away suddenly from a heart ailment and who's death rightfully affected the family. See the verses, ‘Now she’s gone, wish that I’d gone with her’ Regardless of either of these channels of influence the song became a confluence of emotion; stirring the loss of a relationship as well as the realization of the permanency of a physical death together with a number of flashing songwriting signposts.  Davie’s has been quoted as saying the song references a feeling of camaraderie in addition to the thematic loss of a female love and the understanding that only your friends remain.

Instrumentally the song begins with the circular ebb and flow of the two guitar central riff, eliciting both overseas musical contemporaries the Byrds and the deep musical rolling of ancient waters. The gentle dripping of Mick Avory’s cymbal bells dribbles in lending to the trippy melancholy of the song. The track feels different, its scent providing a mystical incense to the room, the droning base of the song brought to life by the down tuning the Davies guitars to ‘D’. The strings then manipulated, become dressed in the harmonic bourdon of a tambura. 

The picked guitar line by Ray works in simpatico with Dave’s deep water sliding string excursions that wash below the verses. The song floats in and is carried by water, the featured element in Davies influence from his first witnessing of the fisherman. It’s presence essential is washing away memories, the past and in giving life while also carrying away death.

Ray Davies vocals melody steps carefully inside his guitar lines existing footsteps as they move as object and shadow through the verses.  Ray warms his vocals so that they stretch exotically rising and falling, Eastern in their inflections. Dave Davies layers his high harmony timbre seamlessly over the top. The drums increase their intensity over the songs patient movement, lapping at the songs edges in conjunction with the bass. The ethereal modality of the song’s collaborative result is cinematic in its quality. The content of the words awash in regret, proof, and acceptance as the song hypnotizes my synapses in a production that still sounds revolutionary and unique.

The middle eight comes as a slight shock as its pop imprint acts as a strange respite from the persistent droning current of the body of the song. Soon it relents back to the undertow of the track, submerging itself beneath the strong waves of the verses. Dave Davies begins to riff on chorused notes as the song whirlpools itself to the run out groove. 

This brief track illustrates a perfect example of the enduring power of the seven inch single, a giddy aural medium, a pocket novel for your ears. The Kinks, true innovators,initiate all of this aforementioned magic in the format of an under three minute pop song. 

Their successful experimentation was obviously heard loud and clear, as the sonic results were picked up upon and expanded on by a number of the Kinks musical associates. Epitomizing the musical plethora of magic taking place in the 1960’s, ‘See My Friends’ offers all of the most essential and exciting elements emanating from musical Britain; stellar songwriting, an eagerness to experiment, and undeniable instrumental talent.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks Volume One -May 25, 1977- Trembled and Exploded

Playing in the ‘rock room’ today is the first in the series of live archival Grateful Dead concerts released under the moniker of Dave’s Picks. Named after David Lemieux, the keeper of the Grateful Dead’s musical vault, this collection concentrates on high quality shows representing peak Dead and is the follow up to the popular and original 36-volume Dick’s Picks live concert collection; brainchild of original keeper of the vault Dick Latvala. In between these aforementioned collections came the short-lived Road Trips series which offered varied concert highlights of underrepresented periods in the group’s long history.
Fans never really latched on to the piecemeal Road Trips, which for the most part offered musical selections as opposed to full concert recordings. Dave’s Picks subscribesto the vision of original and famed Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, who initiated the idea of releasing the most transcendent Grateful Dead performances to the public — regardless of some minor sonic anomalies that may have previously prevented their release to the general public. These collections were originally available to order through the mail and currently can be accessed through the Grateful Dead’s official website.
The subject of today’s ‘rock room’ rant, Volume 1 of the Dave’s Picks series was given an auspicious introduction, starting at the end of one of the Grateful Dead’s most popular tours hailing from May of 1977. That legendary month, containing some of the band’s finest musical moments, has now been mined for a box set, an official release and three Dick’s Picks. The premiere edition of Dave’s Picks pulls from this spring 1977 tour a performance that in some ways equals or surpasses any of the previously released and aforementioned shows.
Dave’s Picks, Volume One brings us back to May 25, 1977 in Richmond Virginia at the ornate musical venue, the Mosque. Two shows would remain until the conclusion of the storied Spring ’77 tour and this concert finds the Grateful Dead playing at a consistently levitated level. The group is listening intently to one another, playing variable and extended set lists — and developing the songs that would become important jam vehicles and cornerstones of their catalog for years to come.
The concert’s first set is a typical of 1977’s extended performances, which is to say it is brimming with power and grace. The Grateful Dead, by this time in their history, had learned to harness their explosiveness. No longer playing the extended five-hour concerts of the past, they could now sustain a steady level of intensity for an entire evening. Witness how every song of the first set is a perfectly sculpted piece worthy of individual inspection.

Opening with the pairing of 'Mississippi Half Step' and 'Jack Straw,' it’s obvious that the Grateful Dead mean business from the get go. The pairing together two usual openers into one package, “Mississippi” and “Jack Straw,” show an aggressive eagerness by the band. By this point in the tour, the songs have been cracked open enough to reveal a multitude of sunny musical horizons — and the same holds true here with substantial versions being disseminated.
 A favorite major highlight of this opening set of music includes a usually poignant 'Peggy-o,' which in 1977-78 reached a place of refinement and dignity that the group would find hard to surpass in future years. The same applies for a well-jammed 'Cassidy,' and a charged version of “Lazy Lightning/Supplication” that masquerade as a set closer,  but in typical 1977 fashion is followed by more music represented by devastating versions of 'Brown Eyed Women' and 'Promised Land.'
The real wizardry occurs in second set, when the band opens with the 14th version of the 'Scarlet/Fire' pairing of the tour, and arguably the best. While there is a reasonable argument for a number of previous versions containing the same alchemy as this particular one, notably the obvious choice among Deadheads of May 8, 1977, this particular rendition from the 25th contains a forward-moving assertiveness that forsakes dreaminess and drift for a swirling current of percolating sonic foam. Phil Lesh and the drummers are particularly spunky, grumbling under Jerry Garcia’s phased string explorations that eventually result in an orchestrated and seamless transition into 'Fire on the Mountain.' The Grateful Dead is as 'on' as they have been for the tour and they know it.

Garcia freaks out on his fret board for 'Fire,' playing hot potato with multiple melodic constructions, while the drummer’s willfully enthusiastic exclamations are the impetus for much of the excitable jamming. The hallmark of this performance for me is the melodic sensibility and original creativity by all of the players, in addition to the aggressive and musical drumming for this show. Obviously these elements combine equating to a top performance in a respected era by the entire group.
Following a compact 'Estimated Prophet,' a notable extended take on a stretched out 'He’s Gone' appears and then morphs into a stout blues groove. The swamp-stepping jam that follows illustrates the contagious tendency for exploration exhibited by the Dead on this evening. The band slowly crest a hill and then fade into an imposing double drum breakdown that explodes in a series of percussive bombs. Out of the remnants of these war drums comes in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion the finest 'Other One' of the tour.

Garcia is again, conjuring a wealth of melodic ideas, blowing his psychedelic horn and constructing the song into a series of dramatic swells that elicit a cosmic response from the entire group. Following the first verse the drummers keep the jam bobbing for life, never letting it disappear under the surface of the musical swells. This following musical excursion features some of the finest group jamming you can uncover in the month of May 77. Organic and tangible musical creation is on display as the group weaves there way through a plethora of musical expressions.

 Unique here, is that the version of the 'Other One' is split, straddling a typically cinematic 1977 version of “Wharf Rat.” The Grateful Dead plays this one like its the final one, and in the context of the show feels just exactly perfect. After completing regal and proud reading of 'Wharf Rat,' the group returns to sing verse two of 'Other One' completing the version, but not finishing the tale. A perfectly placed 'Wheel' rolls in from the road, bringing with it a cool breeze after the preceding half hour of heavy musical exploration.
Seizing the moment to take it home and satisfied with the evening’s discoveries, the Dead blast through the Chuck Berry songbook with a heavy and extended double time 'Around and Around,' just like they used to build ’em. Following this is a rip snortin’ encore of 'Johnny B Goode.' played with a duck walkin’ fervor that closes the evening definitively.
When the Grateful Dead play at their best, it feels trite to try to express the madness in words. Dave’s Picks, Volume One comes from what many feel to be the band’s finest era, so its addition to the canon is not a surprise. What may be a surprise is how such musical quality and continued improvisational searching could be accessed on a nightly basis.

This recording contains one of these evenings, filled with numerous unique and delightful passages now forever immortalized. Unfortunately limited to 12,000 copies, this release is now in the hands of flippers and gougers — but its contents can still be found for those willing to search.

May 25, 1977