Talk From The Rock Room: April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Put The Boot In: Rolling Stones-"Rank Outsiders" 2-26-1973 Australia

      Today in the 'rock room' I am enjoying a crisp soundboard recording of The Rolling Stones that hails from February 26 1973 during their Australian tour. The performance is from the Royal Randwick Racetrack in Sydney and the next to last show on the tour. The line recording is somewhat sterile, but features a well balanced mix of instruments and a powerful performance. The band lineup is the usual classic lineup, but featuring the additions of keyboardist Nicky Hopkins and the quintessential rock horn section of Bobby Keys and Jim Price, as well as an added percussionist. The Stones in this era were a fire breathing beast on tour, leaving destruction in their wake, and this show features them during one of the many peaks of their career.
     The performance accelerates right from the start with a triumvirate of fiery versions of classic Stones masterpieces. "Brown Sugar" in a sticky sweet stomp containing jiving horns and Mick Taylor's syrupy thick lead lines. Jagger is on tonight and his vocal performance still contains a theatrical musicality, not yet deteriorating to the mid 1970's "shouting". A quick "thank you" and the band cooks up an amphetamine driven "Bitch", punctuated by Richards sustained bee sting licks and crunchy Berry riffs. The horn section swings by feeling, deliciously interjecting funky counterpoints to everyone in the band. Under it all bubbles the in the pocket groove of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. "Bitch" settles into a drums and bass interlude followed by a dual guitar melody line segment that Jagger ushers into the conclusion of the tune with some "hey hey hey's".
     The third song in the opening triad is abrasive and smokey "Rocks Off' that tumbles across the rock and roll landscape with an aggressive groove. Even more foreboding than the "Exile" version, Taylor and Richards swap jagged stoney licks while the band lifts about six inches off of the stage. Hopkins can be heard tinkling through the mix at this point, the group sounding muscular and every bit of "The greatest rock and roll band in the world". A breathless reading of a personal Stones favorite and a great jumping off point for the rest of the show.
     "Gimmie Shelter" is given a jagged and slashing reading similarly to the previous songs, all containing a kinetic energy. The band is completely invested in this show, and no one is too wasted to give it their all, despite the legal and personal issues following the band at this point. Jagger spits the lyrics devilishly while Richards stabs serrated guitar strikes through Wyman's  smooth and spooky
bass web.
     "Happy" follows, and is a drunkin romp through its melodic changes. Keith grooves out some raspy vocals as the rest of the band screams along. The guttural rumble of the horns twist up the rhythm of the song. No matter how many times the band perform this song it always cooks. Close to the conclusion of "Happy", "Tumbling Dice"chugs forward with a conceited strut, the guys know they are hot now. Hopkins twinkles in some saloon style electric piano trills under Jagger's vocals. Toward the end the band brings it down for Jagger to do some "roll me" improvisations as the instruments swirl, building in intensity around him.
     One of my favorite performances of the show, and a definite peak thus far is the version of "Love In Vain" that comes next. This is a rotund, heavy stepping version, with well enunciated and dynamic vocals by Jagger. Between Taylor's watery slide playing, and the moaning horns this reading of the Robert Johnson classic gains an orchestrated touch. Steeped in the blues, the Stones ring out every ounce of mojo from this rendition. Taylor's second guitar solo should be noted for the alchemy the band exhibits, and the deft touch by Taylor's fingers.
     The band picks up some acoustic instruments for the rare "Sweet Virginia" that comes next. Featuring some heavy harp playing by Jagger, and Keef joining in emphatically on the chorus, the show has now reached special status. Charlie dances a rag time across his skins, shuffling his way under the campfire acoustic guitars. Bobby Keys steps into the spotlight for a funky sax solo, as well as echoing Jagger's vocal lines immaculately. Classic Stones.
    An epic "You Can't Always Get What You Want" follows with Mick Taylor again taking over with intricate and intense riffing. A song often played to death gets an honest and enthusiastic reading here. "Honky Tonk Women" is a dirty version containing swampy Richards guitar and breathy horns that give it a larger than life feeling. Everything about this show feels "big" with aggressive instrumentation at every turn. Another great version with Wyman taking big blue elephant steps all over the downbeat.
     Mick yelps out an "Allright" as Keith whips out  the opening lick of "All Down the Line". "All Down the Line" runs until its out of breath in a speedy and slick version. Taylor slathers the groove in silvery slide work, while Richards distorted Telecaster teeters back and forth on Watts steady hands. The crowd has to be absolutely destroyed at the rock being put on display. I'm worn out just by listening!
     After the tiring "All Down the Line", Mick's harmonica prelude signals the start of the 10 minute "Midnight Rambler" that stalks the stage menacingly. The tune hits a delicious syncopated peak that rides Jagger's swelling harmonica and the dual guitars of Taylor and Richard's. Breaking down into a thick murderous blues groove the band rocks back and forth dangerously, Jagger screaming well timed "Owww's!" that get a reaction from the assembled crowd. Mick moans seductively and then whispers, leading the band to the recognizable start and stop middle breakdown. While not a definitive 1969 version, this "Midnight Rambler" holds its own, with magical efforts by all involved. The Stones scream back into the central riff, running for their life, or running from taking a life, you be the judge. Lubed like greased lightning the band slams into the songs conclusion.
     Mick now takes the time to introduce the band, forgetting Bobby Keys in the process as the group takes off into the concluding songs of the show. "Little Queenie" and "Rip This Joint" are quintessential Stones, straight rock, no chaser. A hearty serving of rock solid rhythm, distorted and loud Richards riffing, swinging horns and bluesy vocals.  Jagger lets out a blood curdling scream at "Little Queenie's conclusion ushering in the supersonic "Rip This Joint" that follows. Wow, keeping true to their word the Stones do indeed "Rip This Joint" with a frenzied version the borders on going off of the rails. Again, the horns take the band to another level, as when Price or Keys take a solo the band just explodes! It's no wonder why they were kept on board after the 1972 tour when they were undergoing a trial by fire nightly.
     The soundboard portion of the recording cuts off after "Rip This Joint" on the version I have which is called "Rock and Roll Stew". Regardless, an average sounding audience segment picks up and gives us the rest of the show which is the double punch of "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man". Incendiary versions follow which give the listener a different view of the performance than the soundboard, as the crowd is going loony tunes! The "Street Fighting Man" builds to a steamy peak, with Taylor playing with a "wah wah" tone, and Keef striking distorted bells with his guitar. A huge wave of instrumental sound covers the venue, and then they are gone. The crowd erupts with disappointment as the MC announces the conclusion of the performance.
     During 1972-1973 the Rolling Stones were delivering every night. The addition of their own horn section, the blossoming of Jagger and Richards in the midst of their best songwriting period, as well as rock crowds hungry for whatever the Stones could give them, added up to legendary tours and unforgettable performances. This snapshot from the Australian tour of 1973 is just a brief moment in an era bursting with prime gigs. This is the stuff of rock lore, check it out if you haven't, if you have, throw it on again. Listen to the Stones when they were the reigning "Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World".


Love In Vain-2-26-1973


Monday, April 22, 2013

Put the Boot In: 'The Flood' -Bob Dylan and the Band Live January 4,1974

       Playing today in the "rock room" in an excellent stereo audience field recording from Chicago, Il on January 4th, 1974, the second show from the legendary Bob Dylan and the Band arena tour. This concert finds the group settling into the set format that would develop the framework for the rest of the tour. This change follows a unique song list and different concert order from the first evening in Chicago. What is appealing about this performance is that it contains a loose intensity and focus that slowly changed into forced excitement and redundancy once the shows started to be recorded for the live album. At this point Bob and the Band are enthusiastic and still developing their chemistry for the upcoming run of shows. The performance is fiery and homegrown highlighted by the stellar sounding field recording. For fans of the "Before the Flood" release and/or 1974 era Dylan and the Band, this show presents a multitude of surprises and standout performances.

     The recording starts with a "Hero Blues" in progress, but finds the group in a full on funky swing. Danko's humming tuba bass, and Robertson's screaming Stratocaster coming through lour and clear on the tape. Helm, who missed out on many of the early Dylan and the Hawk's shows, contributes his unique country swing to Dylan's originals by hitting tasty and original double stops and rattling ride cymbal dances. "Hero Blues" its self is a unique opener being unreleased at the time, and only being played at the two Chicago concerts, this being its final performance ever. The song is an obvious commentary by Dylan on the reaction of media and fans to the 1974 tour. The tune is a stellar opener and an immediate highlight of the recording.

     Following "Hero Blues" comes a floating and slightly out of tune "Lay Lady Lay" that seductively rolls, picking up momentum and intensity. Garth Hudson's lacy Lowery organ work drapes over the song adding a ghostly quality to the performance. Dylan's vocals are clean and on target with the "shouting" of later performances missing. The crowd loves the song choice, but is not intrusive with their approval.

     "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" follows, and opens on a Dylan strum and Danko bass run. "Tom Thumb" contains beautiful Flamingo tinged response guitar runs by Robertson that echo all of Dylan's verses. Unlike the explosive 1966 versions this performance moves at its own pace, taking off when Robertson mows down the assembled crowd with electric guitar scatter shot. Manuel's piano is now audible on the recoding delicately laying down the foundation of the track. Garth puffs up his chest with colorful swells that breath life into the aural water color. The group has now caught fire and is "locked in tight and out of range". The momentum does not dissipate as Dylan and the Band prepare for the following tune.

     "It Aint Me Babe"struts with a dirt road skip in its step. This version is a much more tender reading than those later in the tour. Danko adds his perfect Appalachian harmony to the chorus joining Dylan. Levon's "rat-a-tat" drum beat pushes the groove in a unique way, like a rubber ball on a trampoline. A version that brings to mind a day of fishing at a quiet country pond as opposed to on a thrashing speed boat screaming over waves which later versions played on the tour would elicit.

     "Tough Mama" trickles in on the back of Dylan's rhythm guitar and develops into rock solid and bawdy version with all band members on deck. Dylan is in fine throat and despite a vocal miscue spits out the lyrics with attitude. "Tough Mama" is another song that would disappear from the set list after the Chicago and Philadelphia performances, for reasons unknown. This version is particularly good, rolling on the circular honky-tonk Robertson guitar figure and slippery Danko bass riffs. In their own unique fashion Hudson and Manuel's organ and piano mesh like a circus band, with both becoming more audible on the tape. The end of the song is signaled by some great but distant Dylan harp blasts. A "Planet Waves" favorite of the rock room and a great live rendition.

     The conclusion of the first segment of the show is reached with a slow percolating "Ballad of a Thin Man". Brimming with Hudson's hide and seek Lowery organ producing spooky swells, and Dylan's aggressive piano pounding along,this version, like the 1966 versions is a early highlight. Special mention to Dylan's dynamic changing tempo vocals, and Robertson's wobbly tremolo string bends. Dylan's voice is in fine form for these early performance, and this version is a fitting example.

     Signaling that first segment of the show is finished, The Band begin their part of the show. Dylan leaves the stage and lets The Band do their thing. "Stage Fright" begins the set and is a fine version, containing the usually fantastic Danko lead vocals, and Garth Hudson's orchestrated and virtuosic  solo spots. The Band's sets would not vary after the first few shows of the tour. This prospect is both a positive and a negative. The positive is that the sets become tight, well timed, and by February have exploded into powerful concise statements; the negative is that they also became somewhat stale, and lacked new information for the assembled crowds. Regardless, this set from early in the tour hits the spot and contains a surprise or two. Solid versions of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "King Harvest" precede the distinct and rare version of "Long Black Veil" which would not be played again after three shows. Garth's sacrosanct organ lends a serious emotion to the reading of the classic song. Danko and Helm sing together like high and lonesome brothers, as the group keeps a slow and steady swing. The Band's set closes with a stirring version of "I Shall Be Released", and crowd pleasing "Up On Cripple Creek". The "I Shall Be Released" features Manuel's usual falsetto reading, and he sings it with his expected heart and soul.

     Dylan now returns, with the Band remaining on stage for another segment of electric music. "All Along the Watchtower" comes roaring out the gates with the fierceness of Hendrix's version, but made more relevant being performed for one of the first times by its original author. Robertson plays sustained "thin wild mercury" notes, silvery in their statements as The Band scans the horizon from the watchtower's lofty heights.

    The recording sounds so sweet and for brief moments I can put myself there through the magic of magnetic tape. Keeping the excitement tapped into the red Dylan pulls out a "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" from the closet's top shelf. A definite peak of the performance, "Pill Box" plays on the strengths and history felt by the entire group. Manuel and Hudson wind up tight like a tangled spool of yarn, Dylan blows gusty harp, and Robertson pulls out all sorts of distorted chunks, screeching bends, and warbles from his Strat. Under it all, the rhythm section of Danko and Helm drive the group, a pair sped up trucker following an all night white line.

     Bringing down the momentum a bit the group plays a first time singalong version of "Knocking on Heavens Door" with Dylan really putting himself into the performance, which also contains some different lyrics. This is also a top version with the entire group invested in each and every detail. For a debut version it is a confident and emotive performance.  This track sets the stage for the five song acoustic set which Dylan will return for after a brief break.

     This acoustic set spotlights delicate harp playing, a respectful crowd, and a Dylan who is carefully expressing each beautiful line. I can really feel the crowd grasping onto each lyric for dear life. The oft played "Times They Are A Changing" begins the set, followed by my personal favorite, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit". Almost whispered by Dylan, "Love Minus Zero" and its compelling melody bring the crowd to its collective knees. This version is an evening breeze comprised of breath, space, whispers, and slivered harp.
     Following close on its heels, is a dramatic "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol" which Dylan sings magnificently. The tempo Dylan directs is addictive and balances the song on the natural beat of his voice. His harmonica solo is fantastic and exists in its own space and time as Dylan's breath acts as a ghost metronome for his silver guitar strokes. Amazing.

The new song featured in the acoustic set is the striding "Nobody Cept You" from "Planet Waves", which like other songs from the LP would eventually disappear from the concerts after the first few shows. Listening to this version I have to wonder why? Dylan is very interested vocally in this version, as I can tell that his new music excites him. Was it the crowd responses that caused the disappearance of Planet Waves tracks from the set? Whatever the cause, "Nobody Cept You" is a fine performance and quite possibly the peak of the acoustic set. Closing Bob's solo spot is "It's Alright Ma" (I'm Only Bleeding) which I can say is a great version, but pails compared to some of the later tour versions. Obviously one of Dylan's greatest compositions and a song that draws amazing feedback from the crowd, any version is going to be worthwile.

     Following Dylan's acoustic interlude, The Band returns for another electric solo spot. The group really punched the time clock on this tour, putting in plenty of overtime. This spot features exciting versions of their "greatest hits" "Rag Mama Rag", "The Shape I'm In", and "The Weight". Special mention goes to the rare "When You Awake" which would feature in many of the shows in the first quarter of the tour then disappear form the set. This version of one of The Band's most beloved songs is sung endearingly by Danko, and features sympathetic instrumentation by the boys, and spotlights their recognizable overlapping vocals. A lofty and misty summit of the show for me. The spirit of The Band shines true through this special performance.

     Dylan then returns again to the stage yet again for more electric tunes and a expansive panoramic version of "Forever Young". Performed like someone reading a private love letter by candlelight this is a delicate performance. Dylan's harp, Hudson's organ, and Robertson's guitar blend together like pastel watercolors on a pallet during the solo spot taking the song to new emotional heights. Highlight.

 Another "Planet Waves" track follows, with the entire group joining in on "Something There Is About You", a tune that would also be played for about half the tour before being retired. In spite of one or two muffed notes the song builds to a grand peak with Dylan sharply shooting out the verses and dolling out some more harp. Hudson's organ colors the track rising like a fresh musical ball of dough.

     The set closes with the expected "Like a Rolling Stone" which in my opinion is a energetic well played version, but pails in comparison to the explosive 1966 performances when the guys really played it like they meant it. After the excited and appreciative crowd urges them back out to the stage, the Band regroups to blast out the rarely played and newly syncopated "Maggie's Farm". Dylan rips into this one with show ending abandon, with the group chasing him down from behind. The new arrangement serves the group well, and enables The Band to make the song their own. Percussive piano, wavy organ, mixed with some southern swamp drumming by Helm take this one to the next level. During the mid song solo Danko and Robertson turn up and mix up the medicine, bringing the song to a proper show closing conclusion.

 The 1974 Bob Dylan and The Band tour contained 40 dates across the US and Canada with many shows being recorded for the eventual live album "Before the Flood". Reviews for the shows were mixed; with the fans being blown away, while some of the musicians and critics feeling the performances were "forced". The early dates of the tour like the aforementioned, I believe contain undeniably fantastic and well played concerts. I can concur that some of the later recorded dates have a preconceived aggressiveness and a "play for the tape machine" vibe. This could be because of many reasons drugs, pressure, management or all of the above. Regardless, these early shows feature a looseness and rough energy that is a pleasure to listen to, especially when captured by a sonically pleasing field recording.

 There are many other shows on the tour which contain these same qualities such as the Toronto performance on January 10th and the two Boston shows. The 1974 tour is legendary and regardless of opinion and conjecture is a high point for all the musicians involved. If you are a fan of Dylan and/or the Band and have not explored this tour I recommend starting with the early shows, then move into the slick and polished February performances. If you are not familiar with the shows at all, begin with the official release, "Before the Flood" and then dig into the field recordings for a more detailed and all encompassing view.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'Bes friends'-The Lovin Spoonful-'Hums of the Lovin Spoonful' LP


      In November of 1966 the 'Lovin Spoonful' quietly created an influential LP that now examined through the hazy mists of time is seen as a inspiring and game changing release. The record "Hums of the Lovin Spoonful" is an eclectic and diverse album that deserves to be mentioned along other important musical creations from the era such as 'Revolver', 'Aftermath' and 'Pet Sounds'. Purposely designed as multifarious collection of songs, the album spans jug band music, folk, rock, country, and blues. The version spinning today in the 'rock room' in the mono LP version on Kama Sutra records. While running only 27 minutes, there is an expansive array of songs packed into a limited amount of time. Songwriter and founding member John Sebastian penned an impressive number of classic songs during this time period, a few of them being the four charting singles this album contains! 'Hums' is a refined collection of songs with one foot in the past and one foot in the multicolored future. There is not another album like it. Soon after the band would change line ups and Sebastian would eventually go on to have a successful solo career.

    The LP opens with a husky metallic riff embellished with a warm meshing Steve Boone bass line that combines to create an 'electric jug band' groove. Hopelessly catchy, the track shuffles its feet across hardwood floors with the unique and kinetic sound created by an electric twelve string, and a Hohner Tubon keyboard. These instruments saturate the track with a aged but paisley vibe. Zal Yanovsky's unique country blues picking here, similar in tastefulness to the 'Band's' Robbie Robertson is just exactly what the song asks for without going overboard. Sebastian's smooth as glass vocals an obvious highlight, are ticklish and enticing.

     The next track, 'Bes Friends' is ragged daguerreotype that contains a stand up bass, a trap kit played by Joe Butler, and Sebastian's antique harmonium that wheezes its way across the jumpy rag. The song is a blues, sweetened into a 'good time' juke by a heaping 'Spoonful' of various instruments and a back country holler by Sebastian. There is also a dusty squeaking clarinet that adds to the authenticity of the tune. This song is an absolute joy.

     Continuing the broad range of the styles the LP represents, "Voodoo in my Basement" with lead vocal chores taken over by Zal, is a funky blues, reminiscent of the classic 'Smokestack Lightning' lick or the tune 'Last of the Steam Powered Trains" by the Kinks. Filled with clicking and banging kitchen drawer percussion and a hollow tribal drum thump during its change, 'Voodoo' charges forward with a sharp edge, stitched up by the fuzzy string bending holding the song together. Again, the tune is an example a traditional concept, rang out, and given its own special 'Lovin Spoonful' stamp for uniqueness.

     Probably my favorite song on the LP and one of my most beloved Sebastian tracks, "Darlin Companion" is arguably one of the first examples of 'country rock' which can also be recognized in the Beatles track 'What Goes On' and the Byrds 'Time Between' both released in 1965 and 1966 respectively. Eventually covered by Johnny and June Cash in 1969, 'Darlin Companion' is pure 'chewing on straw' country with a quintessentially 'Spoonful' groove and a melodic pop sensibility. Containing echoed finger picking and a scratchy brushed drum rhythm, the song brings to mind Presley and Cash's 'Sun' era bands. The song a country train on an open plain, the group is tight and on point. Kudos to Yanovsky's chorused guitar licks that melodically answer Sebastian's vocal lines at every turn of the tracks.

     Already having covered some blues and a bit of country, "Henry Thomas" contains a slide whistle played by Zal, and the ocarina played by Sebastian in a rollicking purist jug band jam. The song also contains some whining harmonica licks by Sebastian which add to the expansive foot stomping swing. One of the most unique tracks in the Spoonful's catalog, "Henry Thomas" is a tune unlike anything found on any rock albums from the era. A homegrown homage to the bands early influences, and a back porch stomp.

     Side one closes with pure and simple pop with the Sebastian/Boone co-written track "Full Measure". Starting with a rich pulsing piano line the song contains echoed and layered response vocals and a quintessentially 1960's pop groove. The most blatant expression of straight 'pop' on the LP its placement closing the first side is perfect. The song is also notable for Boone taking over lead vocal duties.

     Flipping the LP, side two begins with the classic "You and Me and Rain on the Roof", a song found on every oldies channel in the world because of its delicate instrumentation and easy going melody line. Regardless of its popularity and exposure the song continues to be an exquisite example of the groups multiple instrumental talents. The acoustic guitar chiming with cloud splitting sunshine, and Zal's muted electric, dripping like the rain dancing down cracked glass.

     Keeping with the theme of mellow melodies, "Coconut Grove" trickles in again spotlighting special instrumentation such as Sebastian's auto harp and a hand drum. According to John Sebastian this song was conceived on folk icon Fred Neil's boat in the pre-Spoonful days. The song rides rolling waves of sound, gently rocking to and fro, the breeze of Zal's guitar gusting beautiful accents across the reflective seas. The strength of the tune is Sebastian's vocal melody, almost able to carry the track on its own. This song can put you right on the deck, riding straight into a sun dipping behind the horizon. Mood music at its finest.

     The tempo picks up quickly as "Nashville Cats" begins on a chunky muted string strum. Another purely country jam, this one sways like clean sheets on a spring day clothes line. A tribute and remembrance to the inspiration of the early Southern guitar masters and the early "Sun" sides. Sebastian's amateur pedal steel licks during the chorus deserve special mention for their beautiful addition to the song. Sometimes not knowing how to play an instrument is the best way to make it speak in a new and interesting fashion.

     The final two tracks of the LP are also the hardest rocking. The first song is "4 Eyes", Sebastian's remembrance of being made fun of and bullied for his spectacles as a youth. Beginning with a fuzzy distorted lick, the song takes off riding on Zal's sprint across ice slide work, and Boone's R and B influenced bass lines. "4 Eyes" moves seductively in a way that most of the Spoonful's American contemporaries could not jump on or get a grip on, unless they were a member of the famed "Wrecking Crew". This one makes it swing, all that's missing are the go-go dancers in the cages!   
     The final song is also arguably the Spoonful's most popular and well known song, "Summer In the City". Brimming with everything that makes a hit song a hit, melody, a hook, great vocals, and a lick, "Summer In the City" has it all. The piano riff that pulls it all together, Sebastian's emphatic vocal delivery, and singable melody hook that once in your head will not leave. The song still sounds as fresh today as it did in 1966, even the traffic sound effects do not sound too dated! A fitting closing to an influential and immaculate collection of tracks.

     Despite their pop sensibilities and impressive number of hit songs, the "Lovin Spoonful were not just a "hits" band or a "teeny bopper" group. Deeper inspection of their catalog reveals a diverse and creative group who were constantly in search of new ways of expressing their music. Whether through experiments with strange instruments, unique genres of music, or differing ways of production, the group and principal songwriter John Sebastian were always on the prowl for something special to share with their audience. The LP "Hums of the Lovin Spoonful" is the apex of these practices, and a conglomeration of the influences and techniques they band developed over their time together. In my opinion "Hums" is one of the great records of 1966, often missed and underrepresented, but always there for those willing to search for melody, experimentation, craftsmanship, and "good time music".

Lovin Spoonful-Darlin Companion

Lovin Spoonful-Nashville Cats

Friday, April 5, 2013

Put the Boot In: "Doin That Rag"- The Grateful Dead May 3, 1969 Winterland

     Blasting today in the "rock room" is a Grateful Dead audience recording hailing from the Winterland Arena on May 3, 1969. This recording is easily one of the best audience recordings around, as it was made with stereo microphones at the lip of the stage. While the vocals are a bit distant, the instruments are loud and clear and the performance is exhilarating. Adding to the excitement are the on stage shouts, and off stage screams which lend a "being there" type of vibe to the show. This recording finds the Dead smack dab in the middle of their "primal" era where mind expanding concerts where a nightly occurrence. At this point in their history the Dead were a seven piece band as illustrated by Bill Graham's introduction of the group as the "Samuri Seven". May 1969 is a month like many others in the Dead's history filled with legendary performances, and this partial recording should be mentioned in the same breath as the Florida and Oregon shows a few weeks down the line. This is a show where the vibes can be felt through the field recording, as the audible chatter and crowd can attest to. Turn the lights down low, get the headphones on and enjoy! Only the first set of this show circulates, so we are left to wonder what magic exists in the later part of the show.

     The concert opens on a laid back note with a slow and steady eleven minute "He Was a Friend of Mine" full of breathy dynamics, and thoughtful listening by the entire group. Each shining cymbal bell chime, and harmonic pluck of the guitars combines to create a dramatic and attentive reading of the tune. The performance uses actual artful moments of silence to draw out a deeper emotion of the songs reading. Garcia coaxes thick teardrop string bends from his Gibson that ooze a deep country soul gently jumping like fresh popcorn over Lesh's heated dances. The drummers sit back and glide, never racing or dragging, just accentuating the lead instruments with careful percussive accents. This is the Grateful Dead doing their thing, masters of moods and grooves.

     The highlight of the recording and presumably the entire performance is the twenty plus minute version of the "That's It For the Other One" suite. After a typical 1969 "Cryptical Envelopment" introduction, a short forty second drum interlude introduces the wind sprint through a psychedelic minefield, chocked full of close calls with Lesh's well timed detonations. Lesh's opening explosion actually clips the microphones of the recording gear for a brief second. While the first few seconds of the jam lag slightly, once Garcia lays down a few twisted boogie statements and stuttering swing licks over the boiling drummers, the band starts to pick up velocity. Prior to the first verse at about three minutes Garcia and Lesh start to stretch at the fabric of the jam, ripping at it like rabid dogs.

Garcia starts to unravel the musical silver threads as the song falls into the first verse. This is just a diversion because after escaping from the first verse, Garcia lays down a few deranged notes and then begins to ascend higher, with Constanten stepping in each footprint with a display of colorful organ flourishes. Lesh follows suit in a perfect example of the group mind hard at work. Weir, who's guitar comes and goes, keeps the band grounded with his tangled vine strewn chords. Garcia plays with a sneaky muted tone, but soon switches to his "distorted sitar" sound and levitates the jam to astronomical levels. At about five to seven minutes into the "Other One" proper Garcia sprays a "day glo" stream of lysergic notes that inspires Lesh to begin to play in a time and space that is only known to him. The jam gets a bit overwhelming as everyone is peaking out, yet holding it together perfectly. The drummers chase their tails as Lesh rises and falls like a rutted two track mountain road. The group hugs the corners, almost sliding off of dangerous precipices, but keeping control enough to keep improvising more ideas. Garcia has gone multidimensional and is no longer in control, he is just channeling whatever musical muse he has tapped into. T.C., Lesh Weir, and Garcia all reach numerous summits during this west coast "Other One". While never exploding into a many armed all knowing god form, there are numerous psychedelically charged moments of bliss.

     The band eventually falls back into the "Cryptical" reprise, suspended, as Garcia twists and bends a delicious amber syrup of licks. Weir chimes in with some tasteful filigree's behind Garcia's soulful picking. Picking up momentum, while still taking their time, the band constructs a satisfying musical plateau out of the "Cryptical" conclusion. Taking into account the idea of "the faster we go the rounder we get" the band begins to revolve and rotate into a delightful "Cryptical" climax. Taking off down a downhill slope the band spins until they are dizzy, eventually falling into a cotton filled landing. Just then the tape cuts off the end of the "Other One", and puts us straight into a "Doin That Rag" already in progress.

     The "Doin That Rag" follows the evenings theme of attentive and tight playing, and this is a solid version with an intoxicating concluding jam. Stabbing jabs of Weirs stringy rhythm guitar work their way into twisted lead lines that weave with Garcia's soling and T.C's carnival organ. A quick little jam and then we are out, but a nice version nonetheless. The crowd must feel the same way as their applause permeates the recording. The boys then start into a nice early version of "Me and My Uncle" notable for T.C's exciting organ work and the chugging groove. It is "Me and My Uncle" so that's about all I have to say. Unfortunately it cuts off at the end, and that is the conclusion of the recording.

     While somewhat short, this 1969 Grateful Dead recording deserves to be placed along side the best that 69 has to offer. The version of the "Other One" is the centerpiece of the show and is one of finest versions from this era. Just hearing a field recording with this type of clarity is reason enough to hunt this one down. The Grateful Dead would again change, as 1969 moved into 1970 leaving behind some of their songs and attitudes of the primal era, but always building upon the group mind that this era berthed. If you feel as if you've heard all this time period has to offer search this one out, you will not be disappointed.

Grateful Dead 5-3-69 Entire Show

Monday, April 1, 2013

Stephen Stills-"Embracing the Many Colored Beast"- The "Carry On" Box Set


     This week in the rock room I have slowly worked my way through the brand new and comprehensive Stephen Stills "Carry On" four disc box set. This five and a half hour collection represents the long, durable and diverse career of "blues man" Stills in stunning fashion. Lovingly compiled by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein this set takes a sustained and detailed look at Stills career. Spanning his humble beginnings in the "Au Go Go Singers" followed by stardom with the "Buffalo Springfield", right through to "CSN(Y)", "Manassas", and his extended solo catalog. What is important about this set, is that by placing this wealth of Stills music in one context you realize the power of his influence throughout popular music both as a guitar player and songwriter. Known as "Captain Manyhands" to his musical comrades, Stephen's extraordinary talents on piano, bass, drums, banjo, as well as his monumental acoustic and electric guitar abilities are all given equal exposure on this anthology. These traits are spotlighted in addition to his storytelling ability and perfect ear for production. Cumulatively, this collection reveals through its content an artist who is often underrepresented, is highly talented, outspoken, and has led a consistent and quality filled musical career. There are eighty two songs on this set covering the classics you expect to hear, but still uncovering numerous precious gems from the foundation stones of Stills career.
     Disc one begins with a never before heard track of a Stills original called "Travelin" recorded in 1962. A bushy tailed and clear throated Stephen sings with the enthusiasm of a young folkie. Similar to an early Dylan recording in regards to feel and era, this track is a special introduction to Stills sprawling career. The introductory disc covers the aforementioned first recorded song, through the "Deja Vu" era of CSNY, somewhere 1970. Included are the well known "Buffalo Springfield" and "CSN" classics, in spectacular fidelity like "Bluebird", "For What It's Worth"," "Helplessly Hoping", "Carry On" and numerous others. But the real magic on disc one lies in the unreleased tracks, "Who Ran Away", "49 Reasons", and a Stills version of "The Lee Shore". Intamate, forward thinking and unique these "demo" versions find Stills mining gold from his earthy creative veins. Experimenting with other worldly backwards guitar tracks, tonal expressions and enchanted vocal melodies that would come to full fruition in Crosby Stills and Nash. The song order on this first disc hits me with song after song that is just a towering standard in the annals of rock. Moments to note occur in numerous rich clusters. Stills boogie bass in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", his fuzzy neck slides during the intro to "Questions", and the fireside vocal expression of "4 and 20". Stephen's life long love of Latin rhythms starts to seep out by the end on disc one and is fully mature by his "Manassas" tenure. If you are a fan, you've heard them before,just not in this context of a career, which lends a new focus. In addition to the impressive liner notes, there is a plethora of beautifully rare pictures. The disc closes uniquely with an alternate mix of "Carry On", and the studio version "Woodstock".
     Disc two starts with Stills first solo excursion and his biggest hit "Love the One You With", and what follows is a musical map that ends with "Manassas" just prior to Stills self titled 1975 LP. Stephen's collaboration with Jimi Hendrix is represented by "Old Times Good Times", and a previously unreleased  "No Name Jam" which contains some nice interplay between Stephen and Jimi. What is amazing about disc two is its diversity, finding music that spans country, blues, jazz, afro cuban, funk, created both acoustically and electrically. The segment featuring "Go Back Home", "Marianne", "My Love Is A Gentle Thing", Fishes and Scorpions", "The Treasure" and "To A Flame" is a musical ride I'd take on my hypothetical "desert island". "The Treasure" and "To A Flame" are both unreleased versions with Stills taking on most of the musical duties himself and both containing definitive vocals. Disc two is overflowing with the ringing of acoustic guitars and the husky mountain of Stills vocals, sometimes icy Colorado winds, and other times a stifling dry desert breezes. The remainder of the disc features the first "Manassas" LP and it's numerous highlights, as well a definitive version of "Find the Cost of Freedom" from a "CSNY" performance from 1971. It will crab you by the collar, shake you, and make you listen. In my opinion the song being one of Stills finest efforts, and this maybe the definitive version. There are seven rarities to be found on disc two among the commercially released tracks, again cudos to Nash and Bernstein for a well put together and well timed box. The disc concludes with a unique early version of "Sugar Babe" containing some searing white heat licks from Stephen and hailing from the "Stephen Stills 2" sessions, and finishing with the groovy stomp "Isn't It About Time".
     The third disc of the set features in my opinion some of the best work on the collection. While containing some less well known songs, the period from 1975's Stills through "CSN's" "Daylight Again" contains some of his most mature songs in both content and musicality. His guitar playing was reaching new heights while still expanding on his acquired career knowledge and practice. While this collection is not in perfect sequential order, the vibe is right and it does follow a "ballpark" timeline. "Turn Back the Pages" starts of the disc on a shuttering note and again the next group of songs keeps improving with every change of track. A testament to the quality control Stephen put on his music, while it did not often gain him friends, his songs were never let go in a sub par condition. Highlights of disc three are a "CSNY" version of "Black Coral",( that is everything you want it to be) a live version of "Know You Got To Run", the acoustic epic "Thoroughfare Gap and the eleven minute "Spanish Suite" which while recorded in 1979 did not see a release until 2005. If you have never heard this piece, search it out and listen a song that epitomizes the acoustic side of Stills as a writer and performer. Delicate bronzed melodies using silence as an advantage twist in a dimly lit village square, Stills sings in native tongue, his vocals even more emotive in another language. The song journeys through metamorphosing themes that mix and match, swirl and spread like a painting to a child's hand. Beautiful and memorizing. This CD exposes the most undervalued era of Stills career covering the era around the LP's "Stills"," Illegal Stills"(not represented), "Long May You Run" (w/Neil Young), and Thoroughfare Gap". There is a nice representation of the era's strongest music, as well as more than a couple of rarities. One gripe is that my personal favorite "Myth of Sisyphus" did not make the cut. Oh well, cant win them all. (as well as the absent "Hung Upside Down on disc one!). The disc closes with a triad of Stills most powerful second era "CSN" songs and a fitting precursor to the conclusion of the set.
     Disc four blends in with the ending of disc three beautifully as the final disc begins with the glorious and justifiably famous "Southern Cross", moving swiftly into a twinkling and steamy live version of "Dark Star". An interesting surprise is the unreleased "Welfare Blues" which nestles nicely in with familiar songs on the disc, it spotlights Stephen alone with electric guitar. A nice sampling of the 1991 album "Stills Alone" makes up the core of the disc which is fine, because it finds Stills in perhaps his finest late era voice, and his acoustic picking had never been stronger. Mixed into this run of tunes midway through the disc is a personal favorite of mine, "Haven't We Lost Enough", as well as the ornate decorated arch that is "The Heart's Gate"  from 2005's "Man Alive". "I Don't Get It" is a funky chunky reggae that smolders like a stubbed joint, and makes a welcome appearance here. The collection closes with a late era sampling of Stills recent work featuring songs like, "Feed the People"," No Tears Left", and a soulful live version of "Ol Man Trouble" that sums up Stephen's later output. Stills slippery serpent guitar slithers its way across the songs on disc four, keeping with the high standard of unique effects and melodic playing that is a hallmark of his career. A heavy line up of tunes, and representative of the the consistent strength of the track listing of the box. Stephen is still to this day a mountain spring of melody and creativity, and his vibrato guitar lines continue to kinetically hum with youth like a foaming torrent across sun kissed stones.
     The Stills "Carry On" set will be in the rock room rotation for the next few weeks, and is a welcome addition to any rock collection. The multitude of diverse musical examples and exemplary playing is no surprise to me, but in the context of the set, it makes me all the more aware of Stills important contributions to guitar and songwriting. Also, the set is a gentle reminder of how many definitive songs he is responsible for! From acoustic blues, to Latin, to psychedelic rock, and delicate three part harmonies, this anthology has it all, quality and quantity. The Crosby and Nash editions of similar formats are also well worth the search, having come out in 2006 and 2009 respectively. I hope this collection inspires new fans to dig in deeper to Stills work, and encourages old fans to take a second look at songs that we may have taken for granted.

Stephen Stills-Stephen Stills Full Album