Talk From The Rock Room: October 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Who Live In Texas 1975 DVD -'We're All Wasted!'

Recently "The Who" reached into their vaults and released a smoking visual document of one of the performances from their 1975 US tour. In support of the fantastic "The Who By Numbers" LP the following US tour was filled with thrilling concerts. Many Who fans consider this era to contain some of their greatest shows.  Previously available only as a bootleg recording, the November 20th performance has now been officially released. This version has been cleaned up, restored, and is a stunning record of "The Who" at the summit of their career. "The Who Live in Texas 75" is a must have for any Mod or Rocker.

     The majority of the show is filmed from a stationary camera on the side of the stage, and its obvious that this concert was never considered for a live release at the time. I assume it was filmed by the venue's staff or a promoter. There is also a stage level camera used intermittently to good effect. But the strength of the performance, as well as a few rare goods for the hardcore fan make this an obvious choice for release by the powers that be. The color is cleaned up, the sound clear, and the performance is incendiary. My one complaint is that here could be a bit more Entwistle on the DVD. But due to the placement of the camera he's slightly tucked away on the stage. Regardless, this is a vital and important addition to The Who catalog.

     The DVD starts with the band taking to the darkened stage and filling the arena with various plucks, palm mutes, and tom tom hits while they tune up. The lights rise as Pete slashes the opening chords to "Substitute", and we're off! The opening one-two punch of "Substitute", "I Can't Explain" has all animation and power of a show opener you could hope for.  The rhythm section is locked in from the start. Keith Moon is in fine form and Entwistle's Alembic bass is crushing. The show starts to get interesting when Daltrey introduces 'Squeeze Box" as the next song to be played. Electrified and sounding like a polka on acid, "The Ooo" stomp the air out of the "Squeeze Box". Bathed in a soft red light Moon bangs out counter rhythms that sounds like a pack of dogs charging across hardwood floors. Townshend plays a slightly country solo while pacing the stage with his Gibson.  Daltrey looks on in placid Woodstock glory, swinging his microphone is classic fashion.

     The first half of this DVD is stunning in its portrayal of this performance. You will not find any special effects that block out half of the stage, or strange camera angles or interludes. What you will find is a up close view of the "The Who" in all of their glory. It's a no frills concert video, any additions are straight up screen shots or still pictures. There are a few superimposition's throughout but these in no way hinder the viewing experience. After a "standard" which is to say remarkable version of "Baba O'Riley", the next song up in the rotation is John Entwistle's"Boris The Spider". Introduced by Pete as "a strange song", Keith echoes him from behind the drum kit saying John, "is a very weird person". With Entwistle's bass amped to sound like long stringy strands of rubbery spider webbing, the band creeps and crawls its way through a fun version of the tune. My personal favorite portion of the concert occurs next with the aurally and visually stunning trifecta of songs that follow. The rarely played and new at the time "However Much I Booze" is first sung tentatively by Pete, but by the end of the song is being delivered with confidence. This tune was preformed by Pete because at the time Roger did not want to sing the highly personal lyrics. What follows is a boozy street walk through Pete's imagination and a striking version of a rarely played song.

     Next up is the only song from "Quadrophenia" to be featured during the performance, a "hold your breath" version of "Drowned". It is during this track that I do notice a few of the visual issues including but not limited to trails, and some color bleeding. No big deal because this version of "Drowned" rolls to a delicious boil. Entwistle stands stoically as a statue, as Pete and Roger swing, stomp, and march around the stage.Well passed warmed up, this segment of the DVD is essential Who. If only this section of video was released it would be an epiphany. The last song of the peaking trilogy is another track from "The Who By Numbers", "Dreaming From The Waist". My favorite song of the performance, "Dreaming" is a shuddering and shuttering jam with a gold star given to Mr. John Entwistle. While Pete Townshend chops wood with his serrated guitar strikes, Entwistle slithers long snaky lead bass lines over the choppy rhythm. It's quite the role reversal with Entwistle basically playing the lead lines during this tune. During this song Pete starts to become very animated, adding in his well known leaps and thrusts to punctuate the peaks. By the intense look on Keith Moon's face at the end of this song its obvious to me everyone in the band just "hit the note". I feel breathless after watching this sequence of "The Who" at their very best. All I can say is watch it. If you've already seen it, watch it again.

     Keith Moon introduces the next tune, "Behind Blue Eyes" by saying, "I'm now going to do seventeen numbers of my new album", before he leaves the stage to the other three for the drumless section of "Behind Blue Eyes". Keith looking fit and trim also introduces the band as his three best friends, "Pete John and Roger, not necessarily in that order." When Keith comes back in for the heavy part of the song, the performance reaches the same towering heights as the previous tracks. Following "Behind Blue Eyes" the band spotlights the "Tommy" segment of the show. Unlike the 1969 and 1970 performances this is the abridged version of the "rock opera". Pete growls into the microphone, "excerpts" before the band begins "Amazing Journey". Personally I favor the early versions of "Tommy" in 1969 when played in its entirety. But these later performances have a charm all of their own, and have a more ragged and improvised feel. In this show the band stomps its way through the "popular" sections of the "opera". "Amazing Journey/Sparks" isolates Pete fiddling with his hi watt amps and hunching over to face Keith while he absolutely annihilates his Les Paul with a stunning solo.

     It is true that Pete and the band tired of playing "Tommy" every night, hence the truncated version featured here. It is also true that they were aware of the its popularity and played the shit out of it most of the time. On this night they performed it like it was the last time. With Meher Baba pendant dangling from his neck and aggressive dark eyes Pete directs his rock orchestra similarly to a crazed bipolar conductor. The Who's PA system sizzles with heat like a flare on the sun, and the energy is contagious. One of the numerous highlights of the "Tommy" section is seeing and hearing Keith play evil Uncle Ernie in "Fiddle About" as he grunts and growls his filthy way through the narration. "I'm Free" runs from captivity, and accelerates its way through its many tempo changes and sideways rhythm making it a top notch version.

     The "Tommy" performance comes to a shattering conclusion, and the band prepares to close the show with an extended and blistering version of their most loved song, and some rarities thrown in for the hardcore. "Summertime Blues" starts the festivities and is hot, fast, and quick. Before the crowd can catch their breath the band thud their way into the opening of "My Generation" which rolls on and on into an extended medley. First "Join Together" winds its way out of the "Generation" outro jam with a stout and substantial improvised section that would make heavy metal guitarists blush. Punctuated with Roger Daltrey screams Pete shakes his guitar like a stringed maraca extracting bellowing feedback howls. This jam slides into one of my favorite Who songs, "Naked Eye" where Roger and Pete exchange verses, and Pete swings his arm in a windmill that looks like he was pulled back by a huge rubber band and released. With some sizzles and pops acting as a segue, a crunchy funky "Roadrunner" rises from the ashes of "Naked Eye". A nice surprise for the crowd and a great visual on the DVD as I can tell the band is really getting off. Just when you think the band can't possibly bring the energy up any higher they start the introduction to "Wont Get Fooled Again". This is one of those songs I feel gets diluted over time, based on its being played on every "classic rock" radio station is the world. Versions like the one on this DVD make me realize how relevant and amazing the song still is. It's impossible to take for granted when you witness the legendary strength and stage persona of the amazing Who.

     The Who take their bows, and exit the stage, the crowd is out of control. When the band returns to the stage they encore with "Magic Bus", the obvious and best choice for a crowd singalong. Pete dressed in long white coat does a foot tappin dance to the Bo Diddley beat, and Roger blows some quick harp blasts. Pete is all smiles as he "asks" the lyrics to the crowd. "Magic Bus" builds and then drops into a "My Generation Blues", a fitting bookend to the sequence of music that proceeded it. The three instrumental members of the band again lock into a delicious climax which ends up finishing somewhat oddly.. Entwistle, not wanting to end the show continues to conclude the song strumming his strings as Roger, Pete, and Keith gather at center stage. The band is all grins as they pull John away from his stack to thank the crowd. Pete drags jump suited Keith by the collar, and the show is over.

     I feel exhausted as the DVD ends and it returns to the menu screen. It's that kind of rock concert. Although I am familiar with this footage previous to the release, I'm ecstatic that there is now a "definitive" version. It looks good, sounds great, and features the original Who during a period of their career when they were awe inspiring. In my opinion this is a better performance than the Kilburn 1977 DVD release. While that footage is better looking, this concert is the superior performance. I do recommend the Kilburn footage to anyone who has not seen it, because it does contain moments of transcendence. But Houston on this night in 1975 was a lucky bunch. The onstage banter and camaraderie displayed on this video is priceless and any rock fan will appreciate this glimpse into prime era Who.

However Much I Booze 1975 Houston

Baba O'Riley - Live In Houston


Friday, October 19, 2012

Put the Boot In: "Perfection" Badfinger 3-8-1974

     Today's edition of "Put the Boot In" will be exploring a live field recording from Badfinger's 1974 tour. Badfinger was a band with a star studded beginning, and a tragic end. The band's connection to The Beatles, and their unfortunate mingles with managers and adversity have sadly over shadowed their musical prowess. The group ended up losing two of its members, Pete Ham and Tom Evans both to suicides. In the end the band's claims to fame are from their connection to the "fab four" and the eventual deaths of Pete and Tom. I can tell you my faithful readers, that Badfinger contained much more substance than poorly written rock books will tell you. This performance from Vancouver, British Columbia on March 8th 1974 is a enlightening representation of how great this band was, and could be live.This show had them headlining and supporting their recent LP release 'Ass". Badfinger should be mentioned in the great rock pantheon as an important and underrepresented part of rock and roll history.
     The audience recording I am listening to is not complete and runs about 39 minutes. The tape starts with the MC apologizing that Badfinger had problems at the airport and did not get a sound check. Various monitor squeaks and buzzing amps emanate from the stage as the band plugs in. The band opens with "Day after Day" probably the groups most played and well known song. The song's well known slide guitar figure which was played by George Harrison on the LP "Straight Up" is recreated by Pete Ham on this live recording. It is my opinion that on this  bootleg recording Pete Ham illustrates that he was approaching "guitar god" status at this point in the band's career. This is not based on a historical representation, but his pure abilities as a guitarist and songwriter. Pete had already written three hit songs, "No Matter What","Day after Day", and "Baby Blue" by this time, but because of the band's business problems, and Pete's emotional issues, he could not make that push into worldwide rock acknowledgement and credibility. If you listen to Ham's guitar work and compare it with any of his contemporaries, it becomes clear that he was right there as far as talent and abilities go. Anyways, I regress, this bootleg is a closely miked stereo recording that resonates with the sound of the venue nicely. There are a few slight anomalies during the recording, but otherwise this is a impressive recording job. Any complaints would be that it is slightly high in the treble and lacking in bass definition. During the quieter moments the bass can be heard coming through nicely.
     "Day After Day" comes out of the gate with a garage band attitude, contrary to the production on the slick FM radio single version. This is not to say that it is poorly played, just rough and heavy with a bit of grit. The vocals are tight, Pete is in fine voice, and I can already tell this is going to be a solid performance. The next track up is the Joey Molland song "Constitution" off of the LP "Ass" and one of my favorite Badfinger tracks. This version is an astonishing piece of rock and roll gold. Right from the introduction its obvious the band means business. The group swings with a determined groove, with all its elements in spectacular form. Pete Ham's guitar absolutely screams above the pocket created by Tom Evans barley audible bass rumble and Mike Gibbon's off kilter drum hits. I find myself listening so intently to this track that I lose myself in the swirling outro jam. Ham is viciously bending the strings on his wah-wah'd guitar, sounding like a man possessed. Similar to water spinning down a drain the groove accelerates round and round until it retreats into itself. Stunning, and such an extraordinary find on a almost forty year old field recording.
     I have the sense that the ambiance of the recording has improved as the band counts into "Baby Blue". "Baby Blue", is still to this day an FM radio staple, and is played very true to the original on this recording. The vocals by Pete, Tom, and Joey are tight, and the instrumentation perfect. The consummate "power pop" song in all its perfection. Which is exactly the song that follows, "Perfection" off of Badfinger's 1971 LP "Straight Up". Joey invites the people in the back to move up front, before saying that the song is one they usually play naked?! An electrified version of an acoustic album track, this version soars with great guitar work by Joey. A special collaborative moment occurs at the end of the song when Joey and Pete surge through a dual guitar melody. Like strangers exchanging glances, the moment is fleeting, but its effect lingers as the song concludes. The band is fully hitting its stride and sounds heated at this point in the performance.
     The thing about the band "Badfinger", and definitely in the case of this recording is every tune is so damn catchy. "Rock and Roll" pure and simple in all of its elements. Great hooks, outstanding musicianship, and attentive songwriting.  A fast and funky epiphany of all of the aforementioned elements comes to fruition in the version of "Blind Owl" that follows. A soft temperature taking jam opens the tune until the signature dual guitar opening riff slither from the PA. A chunky and funky version of the Tom Evans song, "Blind Owl" opens like a lotus flower and blossoms into a double time jam led by Pete's glistening and emotive riffing. The energy pours off of the audience tape even through some minor sonic issues. "Blind Owl" gets my hand tapping the arm of the chair and my ears tuned into the exceptional interplay.
     The next to last tune on the bootleg is also the final song from the group's LP "Ass". "Timeless" is an extended epic, again flowing from the pen of Pete Ham. A song that must be heard in the proper setting because of its philosophical lyrics, and stretched out instrumental outro. "Timeless" is a peak of this live performance, and definitely of Badfinger's entire discography. "Are we the future, are we timeless?", Pete asks ironically. Knowing of Pete's fate only increases the poignancy of this song, as he would be gone in just a year. The vibe of this tune is hard to articulate. Joey and Pete's meshing guitars both contain a knife's edge quality, while the rhythm section chugs along nicely. There is a positivity in the delivery of the lyrics that contrasts the heavy mood of the instrumentation. The extended finale of the track is carried by Pete Ham's sustained guitar notes and aggressive attack. I can feel multiple emotions from excitement to solemn reflection while listening to this recording.This version of "Timeless" to me is the obvious high point of this field recording. The search for this recording should commence immediately because of this track alone.
     The final song on the recording is a fast poppy version of the Badfinger hit single "No Matter What". It's obvious the band plays this tune at every show, because the version the follows is tight and energetic. "No Matter What" closes this recording on a high note and leaves the crowd screaming for another number. On the boot I can hear Tom Evans reply, "Ta" and then the tape ends. I assume that this is the end of the performance, but at 38 minutes, there is the distinct possibility that more music was played at the show.
     If you are reading this blog entry and you are not familiar with the music of Badfinger, I recommend checking out their first four remastered albums for a proper introduction. The band's last two records are only available on vinyl and have no United States compact disc release. Listening to the studio versions of these tracks I assert will give you, the kind reader, a better grasp of the band before diving into audience recorded bootlegs. The story of this band is a tragic one, but the musical abilities of the group should outweigh any negativity in the band's history. If you know and love Badfinger then do yourself a favor and hunt down the aforementioned recording. The musical gifts contained within will give you a new appreciation for one of the great "unknown" bands in rock history.

"Timeless" 3-8-74

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Alchemy-Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live-October 8, 2012

On October 8th 2012 Neil Young and Crazy Horse performed at the Wolstein Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. I was lucky enough to attend this show, and therefore will express my feelings about the concert in this week's blog entry. This was a mid sized arena that was a welcome relief from an expected cavernous venue. The crowd was mellow and primed for an amazing experience. There was plenty of room on the floor for moving, and the atmosphere was electric with anticipation.

     Neil started his set at 9:00 PM after a group of white coated "mad scientists" and orange bedazzled "construction workers" readied the recognizable oversize stage props. Moving furiously with exaggerated movements, the stage hands scurried moving invisible objects and admiring their work . Towering, bubbly cartoon storage crates were hoisted toward the ceiling by the stagehands to reveal the over sized amplifiers hidden underneath. A dominating (15') microphone was set up at center stage, a yellow ribbon attached to it levitated on the breeze coming from the stage fans. Two vintage television screens were set up and stage left and right respectively to give every seat personal shots of the band. The arena was buzzing, and the smell of beer and "homegrown" stuck to the inside of my nose.

     The horse took the stage after a very patriotic intro, complete with huge American flag and immediately ripped into the "Ragged Glory" track "Love and Only Love". Huddled into a tight circle around drummer Ralph Molina the band plowed into a extended and charged version of the tune. A fitting opener for the show with lyrics that express what the "Alchemy" tour is all about, "Love and only love will endure, hate is everything you think it is, love and only love will break it down". When Neil's first vibrato guitar solo hit my ears, shimmering as a prism through the thick air, my heart erupted. This opening track hovered around the ten minute mark and ended amongst a wash of cymbals and chiming guitars. Without pause the ending crashed into the quintessential Crazy Horse live track, 'Powderfinger". Cutting through the rough waters of "Powderfinger" the band rocked back and forth on the waves. I squeezed the ticket stub stuffed in my pocket and thought to myself how lucky I was to be witnessing this performance. Legendary stuff, and I am shaking with excitement. I'm about twenty feet from the stage, slightly stage left with my eyes on Neil.

     Fans of Neil Young are aware that there is one thing Neil does not do. That is cater to the wants and needs of his audience or critics. Neil does whatever the hell he wants, in whatever way he feel fit. The 'Alchemy" tour is no different, and Neil used the majority of the rest of the performance to illustrate to his fans where he is "now". Five new songs were introduced over the course of the rest of the show. After forty plus years of touring Neil has acquired an awareness as an artist. He knows how hard it is to introduce new songs to an "old" audience. I believe Neil has learned that the way to stay relevant is to stay true to his own muse, and to keep changing, because in the end his audience will have to "listen harder".

     The next two songs in the show were of the brand new variety. First up was "Born In Ontario" which the title sums up succinctly. A biographical stomp with a "Harvest" vibe, this tune moved smoothly with the rudimentary rhythm thrown down by the horse. With a melody that was easy on the ears and a swinging groove, this tune was an early concert favorite. Purely Neil. A nice introduction to the new songs he has been composing. Following 'Born in Ontario" was in my opinion the centerpiece and first "peak" of the performance.  "Walk Like a Giant" was presented like an epic in the variety of past Crazy Horses glories such as, "Cortez the Killer" and "Like a Hurricane". With a whistled fairy tale melody line, "Walk Like a Giant" left footprints in its wake with a churning heavy back beat. Neil played Paul Bunyan by chopping wood with his huge quivering guitar lines. With his firetruck red suspenders hanging akimbo, Neil rocked back and forth shooting riff after melodic riff toward the back of the arena. "Walk Like a Giant" trampled upwards of twenty minutes, with the end of the tune suddenly dropping off of a cliff into a darker realm. Explosive tom tom hits by Molina in collaboration with pixelated feedback growls from Pancho and Neil, made the music moan like two boulders grinding themselves into dust. Guttural belches from the band sounded like dropping a guitar down a flight of steps. Billy thumped his bass and squeezed closer to the amps groaning notes. The arena moaned as Neil painted the "giants walk" on a canvas for all participants too see. This is the reason live music is such a special spectacle to witness. The moments when you can lose all time and space, like I experienced in "Walk Like a Giant" make the entire journey worthwhile.

     From the smoking rubble that was, "Walk Like a Giant" Neil emerged from the haze with his acoustic softly playing the opening line to, "Needle and the Damage Done". The crowd roared its approval and sang along. Following this classic rendition, Neil gave the crowd another new number. Still donning his acoustic Neil strummed, 'Twisted Road" a song that name drops, and honors friends and musical heroes from throughout Neil's life. Whereas a former Neil track, "From Hank to Hendrix" is a reminiscence of a friend or lover, "Twisted Road" is a tribute. Crisp Neil plucks on his acoustic guitar rang in my head like an old friend's voice. This performance was in perfect contrast to the madness that proceeded it. Neil sang, "How does it feel?" to whoops from the grooving crowd. The acoustic interlude acted as a prelude to what would be the second half of the show.

     Yet another new song this one titled "Ramada Inn" started the second half festivities. To my ears this song would not have sounded out of place on 2003's Greendale LP. The context of this "story" tune would be too much for me to disseminate in this review. I can offer that the song was long, took its time, and was well narrated by the man himself. I recommend checking out the sixteen minute video for this song, which I will include the link for below. My exposure to the new songs was positive and I can offer to the reader that Neil is still a man creating at at furious pace. After a brief pause Neil stepped to his microphone and quipped, "Here's one I wrote this morning", and started the instantly recognizable introduction to "Cinnamon Girl". To anyone put off by the large number of new songs played, this instantly got their attention back. A well played version of a legendary song got the entire arena fired up, and on their collective feet.

     After the reception quieted Neil and the Horse started what I consider to be the second glorious peak of the show. After rhythm guitarist Poncho Sampedro gave the obligitory "finger" to everyone on the floor the band slugged its way into "F#ckin Up". A thick sludgy version of the song filled with tight band interplay and Neil's snaking solos. Everybody in the band had beaming grins on their faces, and Neil bumped into Billy Talbot repeatedly as he hunched over conjuring howling beasts from "ol' blackie". This is why Neil always comes back to playing with 'Crazy Horse". Freedom, friends, and power are the things the band thrives on and offer up to Neil.The enthusiasm contained within 'F#ckin Up" was infectious and the crowd caught it.I included a link for a audience shot version of this song below. Before anyone could gain any composure from the jam that just occurred, Neil stepped to the mike and introduced the final new song of the evening, "Psychedelic Pill". Neil remarked something about "all my songs sound the same" and then blasted into the new number. A fitting spectral light display collaborated with the images of the song. Meanwhile its catchy chorus marked by "shakey" "Crazy Horse" backing vocals was already ingrained in my mind. In my opinion, not the best new song of the night, but fun and well played nonetheless.

     The concert came to a crashing and apocalyptic close with the expected but welcome, "Hey Hey, My My) Into the Black". The floor of the arena became a celebratory stomp with everyone including myself smiling and staring attentively at the performance unfolding. A fitting conclusion to a show which like a desolate mountain path rolled through many peaks and magical locations. Screaming for an encore is always an anticipatory moment, especially when waiting for an artist as eclectic as Neil. When Neil and Crazy Horse finally reappeared it was for a hallucinatory trip through Buffalo Springfield's, "Mr. Soul". A tune I can never tire of hearing, this was a note perfect rendition of a song that made me shake my bones. "Mr. Soul" indeed. The final song and fitting send off for the evening was "Roll Another Number (For the Road)". A swinging roadhouse version of the song followed with Neil's emphatic vocals and tasteful saloon instrumentation. A sweet and stony sendoff to the crowd, and the perfect epilogue to a long satisfying concert. We shouted our goodbyes, and I yelled my ass off for "Dangerbird" but to no avail. We then made our post concert swagger to the exits, high on the feeling you can only get after a really good show.

     I love live music, and I sometimes seem to have unrealistic expectations when seeing my heroes live in concert. In the case of the Wolstein Center Neil Young and Crazy Horse show, I was in a heightened state of anticipation because it had been a while since I had seen Neil. This show met every hope I had for the performance.The set list was a masterful mix of old and new, and was played with a "Ragged Glory". Neil remains focused on the future and pays homage when necessary to his past. The band is in a good place, and the love could be felt translating from performer to attendee. Thank you to Neil Young and Crazy Horse for a shining night full of reflection, creation, and old friends.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse-Ramada Inn Video

Wolstein Center 10-8-12 F#kin Up


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Salutations and Explainations-" Let's Hope We Continue To Live" Paul Simon's Live Rhymin'

     Many of the blogs that I have posted for your review have been deconstructions, ruminations, or an extreme analysis of music I have been listening to in the "rock room". Today's blog is just a greeting to the people who do read my blog, and a thank you for reading it. I do this because I obviously love music, and I really like to blather on about it. It would be nice to get paid for this kind of work, but in the meantime I will continue to write for the joy of it. Which is the only real reason to do it, for the joy. If anyone EVER has any suggestions about shows, recordings, or artists that you would like to see mentioned or reviewed on the blog please do not hesitate to write or post.

     My hopes for this blog spot, is that it will become a place for like minded folks to introduce others to the" rare rock gold" that we all love. I want this spot to express the importance of not only "hearing" music, but "listening" to it. Letting it soak into your skin and envelop you like a soak in a steamy bathtub. I hope that through questions and comments I can get "turned on" as well as my readers.

     If I can encourage one of my blog readers to hunt down a rare field recording I have reviewed, and to go on their own journey into the dark forest of music exploration it would be fulfilling for me. I hope to ignite conversation, and encourage thought about the classic musicians featured in my writings. I understand from experience that once you dig into the family tree of rock history its branches stretch in directions that you cannot even fathom. Following these branches to the blossoms and leaves representing the artists of our time, and exploring their musical relationships is a fascinating undertaking.

     I hope to have the first "rock room" concert review sooner than later. I will traveling to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse this week and plan on being able to compose a review of the performance for y'all to read. So, that's enough about me. If you are reading this you are obviously here to read about some rock. In the interest of not having this entry be a total loss, I will briefly review what is spinning as I write this.

     Paul Simon's 1974 live LP "Live Rhymin"is the soundtrack for this blog and is a short but beautiful peek in at Simon's  1973 concert tour. Starting off with the quintessential acoustic versions of "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard", Homeward Bound", and "American Tune" the beginning three compositions of this LP feel like opening a old wooden, and ancient door. The door reveals a troubadour surrounded by rapt listeners in the warm charcoal glow of a wood stove. This triad of songs represents Simon's biggest solo song up to that point, as well as Simon and Garfunkel's most beloved song 'Homeward Bound" and finally "American Tune" in my opinion one of the best tracks Simon has ever penned. "Julio" is a joyous romp through the playground supported by Simon's speedy folk strumming. "Homeward Bound" is a success even without Garfunkel's soaring high harmonies. The aforementioned "American Tune" is a contemplative meditation through the American landscape of Simon's consciousness:

"I don't know a soul who's not been battered
Don't have a friend who feels at ease
Don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to it's knees.
But it's all right, all right,
We've lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we're traveling on,
I wonder what went wrong,
I can't help it
I wonder what went wrong."

     The next track "El Condor Pasa" features the artists that Paul brought with him on this tour "Urubamba", and the "Jessie Dixon Singers" . "El Condor Pasa" is a song that was on the final "Simon and Garfunkel" LP, "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The version on this live LP destroys the studio cut with stunning instrumentation and absolutely glittering and crisp Paul Simon vocals. A must hear version of an amazing song. I will include the performance at the end of this post so you may judge for yourself. Side one continues with definitive versions of two of Paul's detailed story songs, "Duncan", and "The Boxer". Again, both of these numbers benefit from the added instrumentation making them definitive versions. "The Boxer" twinkles like a soft star with delicate mandolin, whispering woodwinds and Simon's lullaby storytelling. "

     Side two opens with a gospel revival version of "Mother and Child Reunion" with the Jessie Dixon singers in full throat. The slow shift from folk, to gospel, to world music over the course of Paul's career, can see its genesis in these live recordings. The rhythmic hand claps, in addition to the joyous vocals again make this a version that all others must be judged against. "The Sound of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" both of the "big" songs receive the gospel treatment. The "Jessie Dixon Singers are featured on these songs as they share vocal duties with Paul. I must admit the slow vocal treatment of these songs breath new life into songs that are sometimes over played. The overlapping of vocal lines, sharing of harmonies and swapping of lyrics create new counter melodies and encourage playful voice exchanges. In between these songs the "Dixon" singers get a church organ drenched spotlight. They preform "Jesus Is The Answer" in all its soulful glory.

     I am listening to the LP so unfortunately I do not have access the the bonus tracks that were included on the CD reissue of this record. If you, the kind reader have these tracks, (Kodachrome and Something So Right) and want to comment on them, I encourage you to do so. The finale of the album comes with a stompin' "Loves me Like A Rock" that gets the crowd whipped into hand clapping frenzy. Then Simon ends the LP with a tender and poignant version of "America" solo acoustic. Before starting the song someone from the audience asks Paul to "say a few words". Paul Simon responds with, "Let's hope we continue to live" which gets rapturous applause from the attendees of the show. Once again a heartfelt and" best of" version closes this collection.

     Paul Simon, "Live Rhymin" is a huge success as a live musical document. While not as well known as other Simon recordings, it captures critical moments in his musical growth, and offers an insight into his development. Any admirer of Paul's works should have a listen to this LP for its unique versions of well known tunes. I wish this LP was a double set as I have read reviews of shows from this particular tour which tell of concerts extended to twenty plus songs performed. This LP is a perfect mate with a steamy coffee on a early quiet weekend morning. With only the sunrise and birds as an accompanying soundtrack. "Let's hope we continue to live", Paul says on this recording. Truer words have never been spoken. To start your introduction to this collection of live performances I have included a link below.

El Condor Pasa- Live


Friday, October 5, 2012

My Old Familiar Friend-Brendon Benson's "What Kind of World"

      Spinning in the rock room today, is in my opinion the best modern day songwriter, Brendon Benson. With the release of his 2012 LP “What Kind Of World”, Brendan has again crafted a melodic and eclectic collection of songs. While I believe this LP is a more disjointed effort than 2009’s “My Old Familiar Friend”, I do feel its a better record. Any nonconformity among the tracks is because of Brendan’s never ending search for originality through experimentation in his songwriting. Brendan is often found languishing in the shadow cast by fellow “Raconteur” band mate Jack White’s extreme popularity. With “What Kind Of World” it is obvious to me that Brendan has not only met the standards set by Jack White, but in many ways toppled those standards. Brendan’s gift for crafting unique melodies, in addition to his soothing and honest voice are characteristics I believe set him apart from his cohort. “What Kind Of World” is a statement that shows Brendan in the perfect space, and able to craft a song in any style that suits him. This LP was released in May on Brendan’s Readymade label and immediately received multiple spins on my turntable. I must say that after a couple of months off, this album has grabbed me again, and has improved with its age.

     I drop the needle on the opening track of the LP, which is also its title track. “What Kind Of World” sets the stage similarly to other charged Brendan Benson album openers such as, “Folk Singer”, “My Old Familiar Friend”, and “Spit It Out”. The song starts as a simmer and moves through the verses slowly reaching a rolling boil. The tune makes a fitting LP opener, and the perfect introduction to the rest of the tracks. “Bad for Me” is the second track on the LP and in another time and place could be a career defining song for Brendan. What I mean by this, is that in this age of singles and mp3’s, “Bad for Me” is destined to languish as an LP song.  Only fans who buy the album will ever have the opportunity to hear this amazing work. This is unfortunate because “Bad for Me” is a lush stroke of pop melodism that makes me think of McCartney or Badfinger’s Pete Ham. These artists are responsible for such towering rock ballads as “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and “Without You” respectively. It’s rare to find a song with such a stellar combination of lyrics, vocals, and production.          Following “Bad for Me” are two examples of the perfect rock songs, “Light Of Day”, and “Most Of The Time” which harken back to Brendan’s earlier albums, “Lapalco”, and “Alternative To Love” with their arrangements and“power pop” sensibilities. “Light of Day” starts with a purely Brendan Benson phased guitar intro which contrasts the dark vibe of the lyrics. Feel, lyrics, and hook, this tune has it all. “Most Of the Time” immediately gets me going, and is a shining example of Brendon at his best lyrically and musically. The verse, “The last time I checked I was about the size of an insect, with just about as much to say”, hits me where it counts as Brendan scats the lyrics across the swelling groove. Before I can catch my breath, “Keep Me” slithers out of my speakers with a tender funk which frames the verses sung by Brendan and Young Hines. The middle eight of this tune is one of the special moments on side one, and is a goose bump moment for me. Side one comes to its glorious conclusion with the psychedelic swamp sounds of “Pretty Baby”. The syrupy tribal pulse of this song leaves me no doubt as to who was responsible for some of the production specialties on the two Raconteurs LP’s.  This is a very heavy and atmospheric way to close side one, leaving me with a swell of anticipation, as I flip the record to side two.
     The flip side of the LP starts with “Here in the Deadlights” which began its life as a candidate for the “Raconteurs 2008 LP “Consolers of the Lonely”. This song feels right at home on Brendan’s album, being a great way to set the stage for the songs to follow.  The high energy continues with “Met Your Match” which feels like it moves at a furious rate, even with the well thought out verse that takes its time. The track listing of this LP is incredibly effective, and illustrates Brendan’s love  toward the medium of vinyl. Making me feel like a stumbling drunk with its sideways groove, “Thru the Celing” is another gem in this LP of glistening stones. Brendan’s voice soars over the levitating chorus “I’m weightless, I’m shapeless, I’m invisible”. I’m starting to think side two of this record is where it’s at! This assertion is supported when “No one Else but You” quietly tip toes in, flaunting its very “Wings” vibe. I think to myself, “I’m so happy music is still this good!”. Only Brendan can compose a song with a melody this powerful, and sing it with such conviction. This may be his best vocal performance of the record. Absolutely stunning. “Come On” blasts me back to reality with a big fuzzy bass and stellar instrumentation. Again, I feel that this is a nice placement for this song in the track listing, and a fitting lead in to the LP closer, "On the Fence". “On the Fence” is a swinging, smoky, campfire stomp that sounds like a long lost Gram Parson’s track. This is also due to the vocals of Ashley Monroe who also lends her abilities to this song and “Pretty Baby”. Brendan is a master of whatever genre he chooses to work with.  “On the Fence” is a great upbeat close to the album, that finds me satisfied and flipping the record back to side one for more.
     “What Kind of World” is a dramatic and diverse collection of songs that illustrate Brendan Benson at the peak of his musical maturity. I will refer to this record as a “grower”, a record that will sneak inside your room in the middle of the night, whisper its melodies in your ear until it is a part of your consciousness. It’s clear to me Brendon has fully developed his own sound, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. There are intricacies and dynamics contained on this record that other artists have either forgotten about or are too lazy to use.  “What Kind of World” is a record that gives me faith in where rock is, and where rock is headed.