Talk From The Rock Room: July 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

Put The Boot In: The Doors-'The Palace of Exile' Live at the LA Forum 12-14-1968

     For today's 'rock room' entry I will be revisiting an old bootleg favorite of mine that luckily is now available from multiple sources. Fortunately for rock fans three versions of the Doors subversive performance at the Los Angeles Forum on December 14th of 1968 circulate in collectors circles. For this review I will be listening to a first generation copy off of the audience recorded master reel. This period in Doors history is unique as they were in the midst of recording 'The Soft Parade', playing legendary shows, bigger arenas, and drawing closer to the destructive Miami performance which was only three short months away. In a way this era is a pinnacle for the group. This particular concert is a priceless document that captures Morrison's growing lament with rock stardom as well as preserving a provocative performance and set list. The band is hot and willing to go wherever Morrison's words take them.

     Playing in front of 14,000 people (a big jump for the band in 2 years), a good amount of them screaming for 'Light My Fire' for the entire show, the Doors play a set peppered with brand new songs as well as completely blowing their minds with an entire 'Celebration of the Lizard' played at the end of the performance. This show is also unique for the reason that the band featured a bass player (Harvey Brooks) for one of a handful of times in concert, as well as a small on stage orchestra that is quite faint on the recording. The capture itself sounds quite good for its age and is the 'best' of the circulating tapes. While lacking some dynamic range, Morrison's vocals are clear, Manzarek's organ is crunchy goodness with a dirty vibe, and Krieger and Densmore are up front and audible. The bass and orchestra come and go like a distant conversation caught on a passing breeze, but nonetheless do not take away from enjoyment of the show. There is some light hiss, intermittent distortion, but all in all a solid listen. The band is a tightly coiled spring, slightly tense and ready to be released at any point, which eventually culminates in a amusement park 'Light My Fire' and  exploratory and dark narrative of 'Celebration of the Lizard'.

     The concert begins with Morrison greeting the crowd with multiple hollered 'All-right's' followed by the MC's short introduction. The Doors open with 'Tell All the People' an as of yet unreleased song from the upcoming 'The Soft Parade' LP, with Morrison showing off his finest 'stoned crooner' throat. To these ears the song is actually more impressive than the studio version, with a subtle power audible on the recording that is lacking from the somewhat antiseptic studio recording. Manzarek's knife edge organ contains a funky sheen that magnifies the tune to great heights. The band sounds excited to be introducing new music to the crowd and presenting their artistic growth on the stage. Also worth mentioning is Krieger's delicious clean tone guitar on the song.

     The very end of 'Tell All the People' is clipped and runs into the slightly shaved intro of 'Love Me Two Times' that continues the trend of snug playing by the group. Morrison has loosened up already, and interjects a plethora of groans, grunts, and flashing screams after Manzarek's agitated organ flashes. This is a great version of the song. The band slithers across the sand and down the hole following Morrison's every inflection. Bringing the dynamics down to a simmer they return to the framework of the tune, then take it into a swirling and proper conclusion.

     Having just given the crowd something to chew on that they were already familiar with, the band comes back with a rare performance of the 'B' side, 'Who Scared You', the flip to 'Wishful Sinful'. I absolutely love this, and while the song stays true to the recorded version, Morrison really gets into this one striking fast and singing blue. The band is in a psychedelic syncopation, strutting through the starts and stops with reckless abandon. Krieger and Manzarek embrace during the solo section popping out from behind trees and ancient boulder,s then disappearing behind ominous licks. The volatile middle section is played 'smooth as ravens claws' as the group feels their way through the changes.  I cannot say why this one dropped out of the rotation, but Doors fans should be thankful that this powerful version is available to be enjoyed. The conclusion of the track develops nicely as all four members turn the outro into a cats cradle of roller coaster riffs with Morrison snarling the concluding vocal lines.

     Coming up next is another amazing choice in the context of the set with 'Spanish Caravan'. A major reason why this is one of my favorite Doors boots is the organic flow of the song choices. The set feels like a direct response to the tame crowd feedback regarding the new songs, with the band playing some different songs in different places. While the set features unknown tracks, deeper cuts, and tunes that the crowd must 'listen harder' to, they still keep the attention of the audience with some 'old' favorites. Following Krieger's perfectly played classical guitar opening the band coagulates into a fuzzy waltz supported by Densmore's melodic drums and the phosphorescent key strokes of Ray Manzarek. Jim is again on point, in tune and performing with passion. 'Spanish Caravan' gets a positive response from the crowd that eventually deteriorates into shouts and requests.

     Another ace choice is drawn from the deck with the following version of 'The Crystal Ship', this reading is a prismatic and colorful sail through smooth water. Manzarek's middle solo is divine, ascending above the earth in delicate tastefulness. Densmore's attentive drumming actually comes through pretty well on this, and the entire band is finding the sweet spot. Morrison invests plenty of emotion into one of the many highlights of the concert. The crowd seems appreciative, I sure am, as I replay the song for another taste. Perfect.
     The 'Doors' follow the well known 'Crystal Ship' with another new song, 'Wild Child'. Krieger dons his slide for a watery display of slick stringy licks draped over the tribal rhythm. The band thrashes forward like a desolate woodland tribe with Morrison carrying the stick, leading the pack. A few priceless Morrison's screams push the band forward with Krieger strangling the neck of his guitar as the band reaches another peak. Morrison circles the tribe, asking the crowd the lyrical question, 'Do you remember when we were in Africa?' 

     Another pause follows, and another few moments of humorous responses from the crowd take place until the band explodes into  'Touch Me'. I've heard varying feedback on this version, but I feel the band gets into it rather well. Morrison sounds somewhat lackadaisical, but the song is fresh and has an apprehensive vibe to its pulsating groove. The sound quality is able to pick up the details, and by the time the band hits the outro, Manzarek brings the group into a movin and shaking jam session. Metallic strums abound as the band stacks bricks pushing harder until the song ends with the same intensity as it began. The response seems a bit tepid by the crowd, but that all changes as they finally get what they have been shouting for since the beginning. You have to wonder what Morrsion was thinking of the assembled spectators who seemed to refuse anything but the bands number one hit. Ask and you shall receive.

     I can tell you one thing, this is one of the finest versions of 'Light My Fire' I have ever heard. Manzarek receives multiple moments of applause from the crowd as he stokes the musical ashes into resplendent flame. His sustained and tempestuous flourishes drift like smoke across Densmore's solid groove. Morrison lets forth an unintelligible scream that acts as the bridge to Krieger's solo spot. Krieger follows Manzarek's lead and responds with a superlative guitar display. At 6:25 Krieger fingerpicks his way into a twangy and rubbery string bending extravaganza, as well as quote 'Eleanor Rigby'. By 7:25 Manzarek and Krieger have both worked their way into a disorienting and euphoric return to groove. A short call and response follows that is very impressive and eventually leads back to the body of the song. Wow. Do not pass go without checking this one out.

    The preceding jam could have sent everyone home happy, but there is much more to come. The next few minutes of the tape are worth the price of admission and are one of the great performer/audience exchanges I have enjoyed on a boot. Witnesses and reports have Morrison sitting down at the edge of the stage silent and looking into the vast arena. He then asks the crowd 'What are you guys doing here?' to scattered responses and cheers. He is silent for a bit, letting them shout continuously, getting more impatient and agitated by the second, before asking them, 'What do you really want?, You want music?, Or do you want something different, something you've never seen before?' The crowd responses near the taper are varied and intense. Some people call Morrison an 'asshole', some defend him, some want more music, some hang on the precipice of every word he offers. 

     Jim then begins to recite the opening stanza to the 133 line 'Celebration of the Lizard'. This epic would only be familiar to the crowd through its textual rendering on the inside cover of the 'Waiting For the Sun' LP.  Morrison speaks with a poets voice, his lines dripping with emotion, sarcasm, and intensity, containing great volume and range. The 'Doors' get truly weird contributing color, space, and visualizations to Morrison's narrative. They sound as if playing from a deep dream, shaded with 'liquid night', where they are the directors of the trip. They aggressively erupt into the 'Wake Up' section of the piece transforming into a thick sludge of hallucinatory sounds. Krieger coaxes noises that seem to originate from the darkest blue depths of a space ocean. His guitar prowess throughout the entire work is mind blowing, and definitive. Densmore punctuates Morrison's every move with perfectly placed exclamations, becoming a plasmatic percussionist of expanding and contracting drum hits. The 'Little Game' song segment appears from the madness and lasts only a brief moment before dropping of the edge into a melody of mystery.

     The 'Hill Dwellers' segment dances like an Indian spiritualist, using ceremony drums and shifting transparent instrumentation. Morrison is fervent, striking out with his words, causing varying degrees of astonishment throughout the crowd. Peaking, the song falls into the 'Wait, there's been a slaughter here!' line. The band slowly and hypnotically reveal the mantra of 'Not To Touch the Earth' that begins crawling on its belly, eventually gaining its legs and running at full sprint. Morrison sings like a man possessed, performing at his best, bringing the band with him. His investment in the show, drives the 'Doors' to swing open revealing a world without laws or limits, pushing them to places they never dreamed their playing could travel too. Morrison's intense diction and clear factual stating of his words is a beautiful thing to witness. This performance a concrete example of the Doors playing at their best and turning a concert hall into a sensual and magical experience. If it ever appears in soundboard quality it would be a day of celebration for this 'rock geek', but admittedly it would lose the confrontational and 'put you there' aspect of this fine field document. The 'Celebration' moves through its final stanzas and concludes with Morrison's solitary voice.

     The 'Doors' then return to the stage for a rare whiskey soaked version of 'Maggie McGill' that heavy steps with a barroom attitude. Krieger lets go with some bottleneck slide while Morrison sings (and blows a quick harp blast) with his best 'bluesman' rasp. The crowd picks up on the back porch beat and stomps and claps along. This track feels late night, shuffling along like a clandestine wino looking for sleep.  After a smoky version of the unreleased song, it would appear that the concert has concluded, as the tape cuts. The recording then picks up again and captures Morrison asking the crowd, 'What do you wanna hear next?', I can pick up a few scattered requests, and then the reel concludes.

     I have always wondered what the recording may have missed. How many songs did the crowd get? Did the 'Doors' get the plug pulled again? Regardless, this is easily one of my favorite "Doors' concerts and an enjoyable capture. Like I had previously stated, there are three versions available, so pick your poison, but this one has the complete 'Light My Fire' which is a must have. The next few months would prove pivotal for the 'Doors', Morrison would announce 'Rock is dead' on tape and then murder it in Miami, and 'The Soft Parade' would march to the beat of a different drum. This show for me signals some sort of grand summit, but also signpost to the uncertain future. The young crowds that the band was facing, similar to the one on this recording would drive the band to new heights to prove their worth, or sometimes cause them to lash out from the stage in disgust. Morrison's struggle between being the 'young lion' or the poet started to play out on stages across America. His battles were internal as well as external. Luckily the band was always there to pick up the pieces, building bridges with the remains, always leading to new musical horizons.

The Doors LA Forum 12-14-1968 Alternate Source


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Faces-'That's All You Need'- 1971 LP-'A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse'

     One of my all time favorite LP's, and in my opinion one of the best rock albums ever released is the 1971's Faces record 'A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse. Revolving on the turntable today is a copy of this definitive LP which has inspired this rant. Found smack dab in the middle of Rod Stewart's astronomical solo success, this record propelled 'Faces' to the same sort of popularity. There were few bands that had such a collection of talent and songwriting abilities as the Faces during this era. If you not heard this album I suggest that you do so, if you have, what I'm about to say should be of no surprise to you.

     Opening on the instantly recognizable chunky funk of Ronnie Wood's original slashing riffs, Miss Judy's Farm jumps from my speakers with a bad ass strut. Woody's riffing would soon be supporting Keith's Richards in the Stones by the end of the year 1975, but at this point he was the solitary guitarist responsible for all of the Faces timeless, head bobbing rock riffs. Running side by side with Ronnie 'Plonk' Lane's knotty bass lines, and Kenny Jones hardened groove, the Faces had a boulders weight of thick rock rhythm. Rod soon jumps in with a gritty spitting vocal that only he could pull of, edgy and seductive. During the break down of 'Miss Judy's Farm', Woody, Lane, and keyboard extraordinaire McLagan cascade, tumbling over each other as they slot into their respective places, funneling into a racing Chuck Berry modeled groove. The track slowly smolders into a thrashing, drunkin stomp that builds to a proper climax and finishes promptly.

     The naughty Lane/McLagan composition 'You're So Rude' runs in from the rain on carnival keys, like a voluptuous woman in a soaked white t-shirt looking for shelter. McLagan's spongy Wurlitzer adds to the drama, as Lane 'raps' about a tryst that seems to have gone in the wrong direction due to some unexpected intrusions. Woody solos through the entire song with a chilly melody all his own, as the rhythm see-saw's excitedly, draped with some additional harmonica and keyboard flourishes. A fun and funky two track lead off for the LP.

    The first 'ballad' of the album comes with the Stewart/Wood/Lane composition 'Love Lives Here' that begins with skipping stone snapshots by McLagan that illicit magical gardens, high times, and crisp spring air. The song lyrically is one of reflection, the deconstructed home a metaphor for the love that will continue to exist in the narrators memory, yet musically it expresses optimism through its luminous instrumentation. A beautiful and emotive track that is hidden by the strength of the songs around it, and through the passing of years. A true collaboration and expression of the wealth of musical ability held in the 'Faces'. One of those songs that remains hidden in the track listing of a great album, a surprise every time you listen to the record.

     'Last Orders Please'  opens on a 'Band' like opening guitar riff, and expresses that kind of freewheeling joyous back country vibe. Lane's honest and earthy vocals reveal a thousand differing emotions, similar to a storyteller spreading his knowledge and tall tales to people of the village. Kenny Jones stomps a brick layers beat to which McLagan sprinkles barroom acoustic piano dressing on top of the foundation. In my mind I hear clinking glasses, see long legs, dim lights, and thick smoke. When I hear 'Faces' tracks like this one, its hard for me to think of another band that plays straight 'rock and roll' as well as they do!

     The first side of the LP concludes with 'Faces' most well known song, and one of the most accomplished 'rock' songs of all time, in my humble opinion. 'Stay With Me' has got everything you could ask for in tune , jangling piano, slashing jagged guitar, thick ropy bass, and definitive vocals. Opening on the racing knife edge Woody' guitar line, Jones, then Lane, then McLagan all join in, slinking into the irresistible dragging, hip swinging, lip licking beat. Woody slithers some sneaky slide guitar echoing Lane's snapping and popping bubblegum bass line. Rod interjects some yelps, falsetto wines, and tastefully egotistical and masculine lyrical content. I think to myself, 'They don't build em like this anymore'. The song navigates through its groovy changes then hits high gear as it accelerates back into the opening figure, spotlighting a Jones drum break, and a McLagan segment played with his addictive Rhodes tone. The band slams into the wall, jumps medians and blasts through the red light to conclude the song. A timeless close to one of my favorite side A's of all time.

     Side B begins with the count off for 'Debris', a Ronnie Lane classic written for his father and an expression of why Lane will always be referred to as the 'heart and soul' of the Faces. As the song begins with Woody's angular acoustic strokes, the warm twinkling keyboard lights and Lane's sliding melodic bass line, something unusual happens, the instruments become one, and the song takes on life, breathing and sighing then soaring as an singular entity. It's a euphoric feeling, Lane's vocals have never been more true, or more soul stirring. Woody's penchant for hitting the right lick at the right time continues with the scrumptious opening statement and additional filigree's played low on the neck. Stewart joins in with Lane on the chorus for high harmony's taking the middle section to even loftier heights than the verse. When Woody glides into his solo spot with a twirling melodic decent its chill inducing, leading up to another Stewart/Lane glorious vocal intertwining.

     A proper follow up to the 'heavy duty' reading of 'Debris', the band sink their teeth into a raunchy version of Chuck Berry's 'Memphis, Tennessee'. A concert staple and a favorite of the group, this version rolls like the wheels on the bus, gaining momentum on the hills and curves. Woody pours some sugary sweet riffs using a slightly chorused tone on his ax that loans his sound a shimmery shake. Rod is his usual 'right on' self, singing the song close to the vest, but adding his own unique flavor. The conclusion of the song is a spotlight for McLagan and Woody to show of their rock and roll chops, while Kenny and Lane hold back the water from the breaking the dam plugging it with  well placed fingers.

     There is no slowing down on Side two as Mac drops the opening to 'Too Bad', another 'romp' created by the heads Rod and Woody. There is an interesting shimmery sharp metallic sound Woody coaxes out of his guitar on this one! (Strat?) The entire group joins in on the chorus with that intoxicated Faces vocal blend, often found during acappela live on stage meetings. Mac's heavy left hand keeps this one moving at an accelerated pace as Stewart 'bar shouts' the lyrics over the top.

     The side and the LP close with one final Wood/Stewart song, 'That's All You Need'. The song reminds me of the groups first 1970 'First Step' LP excursions, 'Around the Plynth', and 'Pineapple and the Monkey'. A solitary kick drum supports a vocal and guitar duet with Woody and Rod, that is a prelude the tribal verse that develops. The song transitions into a Ronnie Wood slide guitar spotlight and eventually a full on extravaganza of musical prowess by all of the band members. I wish Ronnie Wood was offered the same opportunities to shine when he joined up with the 'Stones', but they already had their 'stars'. Anyways, lyrically the song asks the philosophical question, 'Don't it make you happy?' Well then, I guess, 'That's all you need'. The aforementioned is repeated as a mantra during the ending of the song, as steel drums ring out the melody line and the group is hypnotized by their rolling jam. Thus concludes the record.

     Faces 1971 LP, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink' is not a hidden jewel, it is considered by many to be their best LP, and is certainly their most well known. Released in an era when Lennon's 'Imagine' LP, the Stones 'Sticky Fingers' album, and 'Who's Next' among others were in the charts, the Faces studio creation offers just as much quality music as the aforementioned. I also assert that it also stays true to the basic fundamentals of rock music, it makes you feel good, wanna shake your ass, and wanna have a good time. No heavy preaching here, no secret messages, just solid grooves, true emotion, and well made music.

Faces-A Nod Is As Good As A Wink....(Full LP)

Monday, July 15, 2013

'Magical Mystery Record'-Rare Beatles Album Ready For Auction


     Throughout the history and surrounding mystery of the Beatles, there has developed a plethora of legend and lore surrounding the group. These legends coalesce from various sources such as, sprouting from gossip about the band, messages contained within their music, unique instruments the band used, 'Paul is Dead' rumors, to ultra rare pressings of their vinyl records. There is an encyclopedia of 'Beatle' myth to delve into and search out for those with the wherewithal, the ambition, and time. This weeks blog entry is regarding a mythical and almost fictional 'Beatle' product, and its unbelievable discovery.
     Just recently an Indiana antique hunter (Chad Pagel), and an area record store owner (Tony Gillespie) happened to exhume one of the rarest Beatles records. What makes this discovery unique is that the record just happens to be a special edition of the Beatles most universally famous LP, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. Finding this particular album is the equivalent to seeing a unicorn in the forest, and on August 10th this record will be making its public debut and hitting the auction block. Unlike the famed rare 'butcher cover' featuring 'stoned Beatles with meat' on its jacket, this record is the complete opposite, an alteration on a theme, and a change that makes the record a highly sought after piece. The idea behind the LP is different to say the least, and its sillyness is part of its charm.
      The instantly recognizable Peter Blake montage on the 'Pepper' cover had already become iconic only a few months after the albums release. By late in 1967 the folks at Capitol records decided to make their own special edition of the LP to celebrate a successful year, and some of the employees that worked for the label. A version of the 1967 stereo edition of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' was designed specifically for Capitol Records sales executives in time for a meeting in Florida late that year. Replacing the faces of the Beatles, as well as a portion of the crowd were the cheerful mugs of many of the record label 'big wigs' and employees! Interesting indeed, and an idea that one can imagine John Lennon getting a real kick out of. Sources say there were forty to one hundred of these precious jewels made, with three to five known to exist in the hands of collectors, and zero ever hitting the open market. The value of the record is unknown being that there is no other sales to compare it to, but being a 'rock geek' myself, I know there is someone licking their chops and counting their change, waiting to pounce on this record. The value has been estimated in various publications to be up to and possibly surpassing 115,000 dollars! Even if the cover is a bunch of bureaucrats pasted over the "B's" on the most famous LP cover of all time, the scarceness and uniqueness of the record make it a skyrocketing specialty! The odd design of the sleeve, combined with its limited availability make this one of the most unique of Beatles collectables on vinyl to appear. 'Beatles' scholar Perry Cox ranks it as one of the top ten most collectible 'Beatles' items in the world!
     This record is the real deal and bound to gain interest as Beatlemaniacs 'gear up' for the day it revolves in the spotlight. The Beatles continue to soar in popularity, their music refuses to age, and their collectables become harder to find. This record looks primed to surpass even Fab Four autographs to become THE 'Beatles' collectable this year! Save your change rock fans! Now if I can just find my copy of a 'Butcher Cover' at one of these hot dusty flea markets, I'll be a happy little rock fan. It can be done! These guys in Indiana proved that vinyl treasure still lay in wait for the eager hunter, and dividends await with every new discovery.

The Beatles-Money (That's What I Want)

Beatles-Magical Mystery Tour (Mono)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Put The Boot In: Bob Dylan-'Truth Is A Fixed Star'-June 30th 1988 Jones Beach


Today I have decided to dive into an era in Bob Dylan history where his bombastic live shows set the table for the 'never ending tour' that continues to this very day. The year 1988 is where the very roots of the so called 'never ending tour' can be traced. A year of redefining and rediscovery for Dylan, regarding both his deep catalog and himself. Performances from this era are known for the ragged knife edge electric sets, and the intimate soul stirring acoustic sets featuring just Dylan and G.E Smith.

The show I am enjoying is from the second leg of the first group of performances and hails from the opening night of a two night stand at Jones Beach Amphitheater. The band that Dylan assembled for this tour is one of his most stripped down line ups, but also the most in your face, including drummer Christopher Parker, bass player Kenny Aaronsson, guitar player of Saturday Night Live fame G.E. Smith, and of course Dylan on rhythm guitar and vocals. The band is a gritty R and B group with a punk attitude injecting intensity and strut to even the most placid of Dylan compositions. The same is true for the acoustic sets, with each set from the tour feeling like newly discovered ancient scroll. The performances are somewhat truncated, in relation to previous and even later Dylan shows, but this trade off is worth the deep investment that Dylan and band illustrate almost nightly. Dylan's vocals are much improved from the 1986-87 tours and there is a confident punch and delicate touch to his delivery. The 'never ending tour' is littered with great shows to be discovered, but these early 'NET' concerts emit an air of newly found confidence, renewal and a regal demeanor.

     The particular recording that I am grooving to in the 'rock room' is a master audience recording from 'legendary taper D' that sounds like a line recording with a perfect balance of all instruments, and minimal crowd noise. There is a circulating soundboard recording that is available from this show, but in reviewing both the audience recording and the soundboard this document has a warmer 'be there' feeling. It is absent of any of the sterility that narrow line recordings can sometimes exhibit.

Opening with the sounds of a typically rowdy NY crowd, Dylan swings into a jagged rockabilly version of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'. Smith's guitar licks elicit the mid 1960's excursions of Robbie Robertson with the kinetic and electric strings shooting across the aggressive rhythm section. The band gets 'down in the groove' as Dylan spits his lyrics into winding tempos. A flashbulb quick version, the band then promptly plays a tour premier of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' that moves at a breezy tempo tracing chalky Mexican landscapes. The song is crisply executed for a first timer, and the band rides tit like a familiar old horse.

     The version of 'Your A Big Girl Now' that follows is a highlight of the show for me. It's  a dynamic version that includes syncopated and emotive Dylan vocals that he rings the emotion out of like a soaked washcloth. The series of lines beginning with, 'I'm just like that bird, singing just for you', is a wonderful example of the experimental poetic tempo Dylan applies throughout these 1988 performances. Lyrics are stretched, growled, and cadenced so they are not only sung, but they act as a melodic instruments and ornate modifiers to the music. Draped across antique chairs and hung over pale windows Dylan's vocal timbre envelops the songs. The attentive instrumentation magnifying and framing his voice.  The vocal technique applied by Dylan coincides with his new found and practiced guitar approach, both being responsible for his energetic rebirth. Smith's screaming and strained guitar lines are the perfect accompaniment to this re-energized and reborn Dylan. Must hear.

     The 'Tangled Up In Blue' that comes next excels from this band line up, the song moving deliberately with the able accompaniment of Parker and Aaronsson. A clenched in the pocket version is put on display, with ringing guitar its most prominent feature. Dylan puts a 'hip hop' spin on this version of 'Tangled' with every beat and punctuation given a flavorful twist.

     Following the speedy 'Tangled' comes a hypnotic and chunky 'Masters of War' performed in its electric guise. This is an ominous version full of drama and intrigue based on a metallic call and response riff that works in conjunction with Dylan's vocal lines. Smith gets to let loose with a couple of sustained and war worn guitar solo segments that increase the intensity. After a stirring version of such a heavy song, Dylan follows with a sparse and airy 'I Shall Be Released'. Sung with an stern but tender care Dylan is completely invested in this performance. Built around a rock solid beat, this is one of the better version's of the Dylan classic via the Band that I have ever heard. At the conclusion of the song Dylan can be heard replying, 'How'd I do baby?' I can assume that this song was a either a request or special performance for a lady friend of Dylan's backstage or in the audience. Good stuff.
 Surprisingly the version of 'Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again' that follows is breathtaking! The only reason I say surprising is because there are many versions of this song available for those who search, and it is a track that Dylan can sometimes 'mail in', in my opinion. Here, Dylan is on fire with a emphatic vocal delivery that harkens to his 1966 live vocal displays. What starts as a normal textbook version soon develops into a thrilling race through the songs changes with Smith taking over for the second guitar solo with a thrilling 'chicken picking' segment that is followed by a  stunning series of bends, trills, and stops. The delivery, solo segments, and tight bass and drums add up to a definitive version, and one of my all time favorites.

     The time has now come for Dylan and G.E. Smith to don their acoustic guitars for the highly anticipated acoustic segment. This tour was full of surprises during the 'unplugged' section, and this concert is no different. The first song played is a heart thumping version of the traditional 'Lakes of Pontchartrain'. This is the kind of 19th century ballad that runs through Dylan's veins and fuels his muse. The song sways as a flower caught on a gentle breeze, moving organically on the twin acoustics, and Dylan singing as if from far at sea, and from another time and place. A beautiful moment captured for posterity by a enterprising taper. The crowd reciprocates in kind, realizing they have witnessed a special performance.

Dylan continues the acoustic spotlight with a version of 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' played to its true arrangement for the most part. Dylan injects a new life into every lyric, with the crowd hanging on every poetic word. Similar to any poet, Dylan's pauses, breath, and enunciation make the song what it is, he improvises lyrical dances from inside, like a jazz musician would with nimble fingers, or measured breaths. The conclusion of the song includes an short epilogue of intertwining and twinkling acoustic guitars, again stating the melody, to which a shout from the audience screams, 'Beautiful!'. I couldn't agree more.

     Another rare performance comes next with Dylan breaking out the traditional Irish folk ballad 'Eileen Aroon'. Performed almost solo by Dylan, (light accompaniment from Smith) like he was standing in a dim smoke filled club in the East Village fresh from a train coming in from the Midwest. This is the kind of performance that encourages introspection, silence, and emotional searching. This performance is enough to seal the deal for the entire concert. Listening to this I realize why these 1988 acoustic segments are so highly though of, and will proceed to dig into the entire tour to enjoy lost performances that I may have missed. Such is the life of a 'rock geek'. The closing of the acoustic portion of the show comes with 'Boots of Spanish Leather'. Played at a tempo more accustomed to say 'Don't Think Twice', 'Boots' moves through smoke like a campfire singalong, but loses none of its emotional strength in this slightly different arrangement. Not to be redundant, but this is another radiant acoustic number, giving even greater prominence to Dylan's troubadour status, and reintroducing the crowd to these historical numbers.

     The home stretch of the concert begins with the second electric set opening with the Robert Hunter and Dylan penned 'Silvio'. A song that in my experience you either love or hate. I personally like it, and feel that slots in perfectly as the kick off song for the second half of the show. Mostly unremarkable, but a cooking little rock number nonetheless.

Next, a unique arrangement of 'Gates of Eden' bordering on the edge of dread, bursts forth on thunderous and clattering drums. One of Bob's most beloved melodies stays intact through the percussion filled performance, and is actually magnified through the looking glass of this penetrating musical display. Dylan's stinging delivery fits with the moody attitude of the group, and the crowd can be heard pushing Dylan's vocals to greater heights. A fist shaking full band electric version, and one of the most intense moments of the concert.

      The concert continues with big versions of big songs, and signals the race toward the finish line with some of Dylan's most respected numbers. Without a pause, Parker's snare hit ushers in 'Like a Rolling Stone', we all know the importance and power of this song, so I will save my breath, but I will say the song stays true to the standards set during this entire performance. The acoustics come out one more time for a tender always relevant 'The Times They Are A Changin'. Sung with great care by Dylan, this is one of those nights where it seems like Dylan is on a journey of self discovery with every line that leaves his lips.

     The show ends like a detonation with the closing duo of 'All Along the Watchtower', and the concluding 'Maggie's Farm. 'Watchtower' sounds slightly tired at first, but ignites with a first chorused Smith guitar solo, that gets the tinder blazing, and a second solo that bursts into flames. Rough and ready, I have to say that this groups versions of 'Maggie's Farm' are always funky fun, and this rendition is no different. It reminds me of the 1974 versions of 'Hollis Brown' with the Band because of its country lilt channeled into an amphetamine vibe (if that makes sense). The groove plays the perfect foil to Dylan's hiccuped and soulful delivery. The track gains a thicker swing as it progresses, with the band really feeling it, and finally slamming into the songs conclusion. The crowd explodes appreciatively for a few seconds, and then the recording ends.

     This show is a perfect snapshot of one of Dylan's finest performing era's and the genesis of a tour that continues right up to this very day. An artist in constant flux, Dylan is a slippery slope who flashes inspirations quickly before moving on to his next project, band, movie, etc. This show is a definite peak for this era of his career. Dylan got his attitude back, brought along a stripped down band as well as a renewed interest in his own back catalog. It's such a blessing to have captures like the aforementioned, coming from the tapers who's awareness and selflessness made them want to savor and immortalize kick ass performances. Digging out and enjoying this show has encouraged me to jump deeper into this fine Dylan era for things I may have missed and I hope it does the same for you. 

Lakes Of Ponchartrain-Jones Beach 1988 SBD Version

Saturday, July 6, 2013

'Dancin In the Streets'-The Grateful Dead May 1977 Box-Part II-5-15-1977 5-17-1977

     Greetings fellow sonic travelers, welcome to part II of my in depth review of the Grateful Dead's 14 CD May 1977 box. Part I can be found here. In this edition we will pick up with the May 15, 1977 St. Louis performance in full swing and conclude with the box set's final performance from Tuscaloosa, Al on 5-17-1977. Don't forget to search out the shows that follow these performances, as they continue the trend of towering legendary concerts. 5-18 has another stellar 'Other One', as well as a nicely developed 'Eyes'. After the 18th, five of the next six shows (except 5-26) can be found on official releases for your review! Enjoy the wealth of material available from this unparallelled run! Following 2 days off for travel and rest after the Chicago shows, the caravan pulls into St. Louis to continue the monstrous stomp through the month of May.

     The 15th opens with a blood pumping 'Bertha->Good Lovin' that gets fingers warmed up and the crowd primed. The band samples the diverse pallet that has been set up for the opening sets during this tour, including big solid versions of 'Row Jimmy' and 'Minglewood' that set the stage for the beautifully played sequence that leads to the definitive set closing 'Dancin'. Another levitating 'Lazy Lightning/Supplication' pairing leads to the second version of 'Jack A Roe', and then on to the first of two premiers on the evening. 'Passenger' roars from its freshly painted gates with steamy Garcia slide work and finds the guitarists in Lesh's words, playing with a bit more 'raunch'. A fine premier and a welcome addition to the Dead's repertoire.

     While the entire set is well played it is the concluding and stand alone 'Dancin In the Streets' that really takes the performance to the next level. Surpassing 18 minutes this version contains quality as well as quantity. From the outset its obvious that this one is going to be special, with Lesh especially playful, and some excitable drums. Jerry wastes no time as the lyrics are disposed of laying down a series of charged mirror ball runs up and down the fretboard. Staying close to the theme, at around six minutes Garcia descends for some funked up low register notes on his guitar that encourages the band into a smooth peak. Garcia then outruns the group as he solos aggressively and beautifully, channeling some unknown force. At a bit past seven minutes the band spirals down the wormhole and appears out the other side with Weir taking the wheel with a series of shaky chords and distinct hammer-ons. As we approach nine minutes there is a fresh and delicious run of improvisation that initiates another Garcia run of gold, that culminates in some climatic Garcia strums that again take the jam to another level. This segment illustrates an endless run of Garcia melodic ideas while the rhythm section stays surprisingly 'in the pocket'. The band soon reaches their glittery destination into the descending, stop-start landing point of the expansive jam. Following their return to the song proper, the drummers keep everything moving as Garcia, Weir, and Donna embark on an extended exciting vocal free form. Filled with Weir asides, Jerry interjections, and Donna cooing, this set closer finds the band excited and in peak form. Bobby introduces the set break but is drowned out by the still grooving band, so he attempts again after the song reaches a rattling conclusion. Wow. Even if 'disco' 'Dancin's aren't your thing, this one will do ya right.

     The second set begins with 'Estimated Prophet' a representation of its growing status in the set frame work. This is also the first time that the song would be joined with 'Eyes of the World' which would become a common second set occurrence appearing over 180 times over the next 18 years. 'Estimated' stretches its legs nicely, never straying to far from the theme until at ten minutes Garcia starts some scatter shot riffing trying to roll it into one. The appearance of 'Eyes',while not as long as the one on the 18th, has a different and unique energy. The two solo segments are joyous and tight with the band obviously locked in tight. At twelve minutes as the outro jam blossoms Garcia climbs the latter with Lesh as the drummers mirror his every move. This sweet movement develops into a sparkling exhale that gently blows into drums. The drums segment is a low key affair, but contains numerous moments of clairvoyance.

     Leading out of drums is a 'Samson' that screams, its hard to pick a version that tops them all because the song was played almost every night, but this one has to be in the running. A cool moment is a off mic Garcia holler, following the 'paws' line. Pausing briefly after 'Samson', Weir announces the celebration of Mickey Hart's birthday to the assembled crowd, who cheer excitedly. (Mickey's Birthday is is September) After some goofing the band begins an uptempo and welcome 'St. Stephen' that navigates its multiple changes crisply.

     Unfortunately after the 'Lady Fingers' verse the band screws up the jam sequence and instead slips directly into the 'Not Fade Away' groove. The band makes up for the slight mess up by riffing on and entering the first version of 'Iko Iko' ever played. Lesh slides low on the neck for a series of guttural bass statements that keep the rhythm popping. After two minutes of riffing Garcia sings one verse of 'Iko Iko' and then seamlessly slides into the matching 'Not Fade Away' pulse. At a bit after two minutes Garcia uses his 'Turtle Tone' and starts to ride the cresting wave set up by his band mates. Lesh follows Garcia's lead throughout the jam echoing, repeating, and accentuating all of his statements. The 'NFA' chewing gum groove stretches in multiple directions and sticks to some as the tempo increases and Hart punctuates with well times cowbell hits. Much of the improvised magic of 1977 can be found by cracking open the many versions of 'Not Fade Away', eventually culminating in gigantic fire breathing versions on September 3 and October 11th, 1977 respectively. At seven minutes Garcia starts to explore with an over driven tone, whipping the band into another direction that starts to swirl, like water rushing down the drain. At almost nine minutes the band meets in the middle and slowly melts into a rainbow of sound, Godchaux spreading a layer of piano trills over the shifting landscape, Garcia flashing like evening stars over the horizon, as Weir slips in the introduction to 'Sugar Magnolia' like a letter under a door.

     'Sugar Magnolia' is a solid rocking version with all hands on deck, and closes the show in proper fashion. Garcia solos the crowd into a tizzy, and scrubs the band into a dizzying peak approaching the 'Sunshine Daydream' reprise. While not as much 'jamming' is contained within this the confines of this performance as the 13th and 17th, there are many hidden moments that deserve time and inspection. The 'Dancin' is an obvious peak that must be explored and revisited. Following the 'Sugar Magnolia' the group then returns for a laid back and meaningful encore of 'Uncle John's Band' that feels 'just exactly perfect'.

     The final show included in the box and this review could be the best of all, but that's why we listen and debate! With a day off after the St Louis concert the band got 'on the road again' to Tuscaloosa to share the gargantuan musical display that follows. The first set features many 'big' songs, and right from the get go the band is fired up and ready to blow away the assembled crowd. Opening with the first 'Minglewood' since Cornell the band fires the first shot with a peculating version full of hot band interplay. 'Half Step' follows is typical 1977 fashion and overflows with expression, featuring Garcia and Lesh trading rolls of melody encapsulated in the crystalline runs up their fretboards. There are some beautiful start/stops as well as perfectly placed caesura's. At a bit past six minutes there are some glistening tradeoffs between Garcia and Godchaux that are shiver inducing. The exit jamming soars, building one of the best 'Half Steps' of the month with Godchaux playing especially well. Garcia scrubs the band into a slightly awkward landing that eventually slips into 'El Paso'.

    Following a syrupy slow 'TLEO', a huge 'Jack Straw' cruises with the windows down to tempo setting fanning by Jerry Garcia that encourages the band to develop and display another definitive version. Next up comes the third 'Jack A Roe' on the box, and also the one featured on the release 'Fallout From the Phil Zone' and is the tightest and most expressive, but in my opinion they all spotlight something special. After slowing the tempo down with an atmospheric 'Looks Like Rain', the next 'big' song to appear in this long first set is a tender 'High Time'. 'High Time' was only played three times in 1977 (17, 18, 26) and all of those versions are from May, it would not reappear again until February of 1979. This is a transparent and fragile version that equals or surpasses the strength of  all of the Garcia ballads plated during this month. Shivering guitar by Garcia elicits as much emotion as his still young and vibrant 'storyteller' vocals.

     The band then gets the crowd cooking with a sizzling 'Big River', brings them back to earth with a Donna spotlight version of 'Sunrise', and then blows them away with another expansive and set closing 'Scarlet/Fire'. The longest version of the tour thus far surpassing twenty six minutes, this pairing is a twisty and turning version that has a well thought out grey area that becomes a seamless segue. During the song portion Garcia takes more than a couple laps around the melody line, soloing up to the summit, gaining expansive views all around. 'Scarlet's' jam starts out with some exploratory soloing by Garcia and some smeared Lesh bass excursions. After some pensive probing things start to pick up. At around nine minutes Garcia starts to pick the band into circles, momentum is surely being gained, and like popcorn jumping in a pan Garcia starts to hit bouncing low notes that encourage the drummers to pick up the tempo and push the jam forward. You can feel the music start to breath and take on a tangible form. The music is playing the band, as musical statements are being tossed back and forth between the principles endlessly. Garcia then hits slapped wah-wah hints of 'Fire' as Weir tweaks tiny filigrees that twist the tempo, eventually Lesh hits the recognizable bass figure under this combination of colorful musical expression, sliding the band into 'Fire'. Maybe as good as Cornell? It doesn't really matter as this is a well constructed version that stands with all of the best from the tour. 'Fire' is a long version with important and relevant melodic statements occurring often, very unlike later years where in my opinion 'Fire' could become slightly redundant, a song for practicing stock riffs. Punctuated with chunky Garcia guitar during the introduction, this 'Fire' is worth your time, and an explosive prelude to the jamming to occur during set two.

     Set two screams out of the gates with the trifecta of 'Samson/Bertha/Good Lovin' that only lets up to settle into the ultra groovy tempo of 'Bertha'. The entire fire breathing beast awakes for a sample of this danceable and delectable electric dessert. The charge in the air is tangible on the soundboard recording, again Betty Cantor's recording techniques have blessed us with a flawless document over thirty years later. After stirring the crowd into a rock and roll tizzy, the band prepares for the evenings musical journey, unsure where it will lead. The nightly version of 'Estimated' comes first and is expanding slightly with each and every performance. Still not straying from the theme quite yet, by fall the song will be traveling into different realms and locations, and become a key instrument for the band's improvisation.

     Next up 'Terrapin' signals that the train is leaving the station and that 'the whistle is screaming'. 'Terrapin' trickles in on fat Lesh chords and delicate strums. This version again, like many played during this tour is almost note perfect, with expressive vocals from Garcia, attentive drumming, and amazing coloring between the lines by Godchaux and Weir. 'Terrapin' is the song that signals the new direction of the Grateful Dead, 'Terrapin' is the gate that swings open to reveal the secrets that band will reveal on this evenings excursion. After the perfectly orchestrated and climatic ending opus, the band falls into the introduction of the upcoming circular 'Playin In the Band' development. Similar to other versions of the month, once the band disposes of the lyrics the jam begins with pensive and searching Lesh notes. A major contrast to pre-retirement versions, the band quietly and sneakily feels around in the dark for anything they may recognize. Stick hits, cowbell strikes and other percussive accents start to snap, crackle and pop as the exploration away from recognizable ground starts to happen at five minutes. The musical amoeba starts to lose gravity and I catch a glimpse of Godchaux peeking around a darkened corner, playing hide and go seek with his piano. Garcia is using his 'underwater' tone and the music is dripping with psychedelic juices. In between six and seven minutes the jam comes to a Lesh created plateau that collects itself like water pooling after a heavy rain, and the disperses in multiple directions, running down walls and walkways, scurrying across windows. The music becomes a water soaked sponge, developing into a squishy melt, that leads to and then enters another portal and level of instrumentation. Having left the 'Playin' theme behind the tempo begins to rise and like a predatory bird making a swirl to the earth after nine minutes. Jerry deconstructs the jam, Lesh rumbles underneath and chasing each others tails, they float into a shifty interlude that is one of the most involved and unique on the collection. Garcia moans spectral whispers from his Travis Bean guitar that are visual as well as aural. They have found the special location, the place where time stands still, and music leads the way.

     This unique moment runs into a drums that is very tribal and very attentive to its surroundings. The drummers actually create a rumbling and quaking segue into 'Wharf Rat' that Garcia uses as his entrance to the tune. This wondrous and seamless entrance to the song is unique and a wonder to behold. 'Wharf Rat' becomes a gently orchestrated version with crisply executed vocals and tasteful additions by the group. Garcia sings a mournful yet enthusiastic series of melodic expressions from his guitar during the first solo break. During his second solo spot at around half past nine minutes Garcia sounds his extraterrestrial horn into a more developed solo that is shortened because of its seamless decent back into the purple and dark blue 'Playin' theme. The return to 'Playin' gets 'ethnic' with some 'pot and pan' sounding drums. While the 'Wharf Rat' outro jam is shortened, we get a well developed and well thought out return to 'Playing' through a slightly funky and multidimensional excursion that pushes and pulls in multiple directions while always returning to some hanging thread. Garcia starts to reveal flashes of 'Playin' through the chimes and wash of cymbals as the dynamics get very quiet. I can tell you that I have discovered through my journey of May 1977, that there is gold to be mined from these spacy returns to 'Playin' throughout the month. Similar to post verse 'Other One' and 'Dark Star' explorations, these free form developments hold many magical and melodically unique moments.

     The band grabs hold and gallops into a full blast 'Playin' reprise that brings the journey to a proper conclusion. Garcia chicken picks and twangs his way to an explosive ending with the drummers punctuating his every move. Weir makes the comment after 'Playin' that 'We didn't think you lit hardly enough matches, but we are gonna do an encore anyway'. Weir also continues the Mickey Hart birthday jokes with the crowd to great amusement. The band follows this up with a heavy duty 'Sugar Magnolia' that lumbers with big feet, and continues to pick up energy, finally exploding into a glorious warm and breezy 'Sunshine Daydream'. Rock and Roll chops are on full display for this huge version! After this incendiary conclusion Lesh steps to the mic to say "Thank You' and let the crowd know they will be back in the future.

     A fitting conclusion to the show, and to the May 1977 box set. Like I previously stated, it does not end here, there are many more performances from this pinnacle year to dive into. The warm recordings, the camaraderie of the band, the instruments, the crowds, the new songs, the drugs, all combine to make this era in Grateful Dead history a special one. We are fortunate to have the documentation of these performances to keep enjoying and to keep turning new fans on to! Everyone has an opinion on the Grateful Dead, on what is the best show, what is the best era, instruments, keyboard player, etc, etc. But one thing is for certain, there can be no debate that during the Spring 1977 tour the band was hitting the note almost nightly. The performances remain fresh, well played, and still can induce chills and take you places if you let them. Thank you for joining me on my journey through these few shows from this definitive year in Grateful Dead history. I hope these reviews have inspired you to check out and/or revisit the era when anything was possible when the Grateful Dead took the stage.

  Eyes of the World-5-15-1977
  Scarlet->Fire 5-17-1977
  Jack A Roe-5-17-1977