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.