Talk From The Rock Room: 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Grateful Dead Acoustic-April 18, 1970 'Mickey Hart and His Heartbeats'- 'Bobby Ace and His Cards from the Bottom of the Deck'

Discovered in a pile of the late great Jerry Garcia’s belongings, a Grateful Dead recording from the Family Dog hailing from April 18, 1970 is spinning today in the rock room. The concert features an ‘acoustic’ Grateful Dead billed as ‘Mickey Hart and his Heartbeats’/’Bobby Ace and His Cards From the Bottom of the Deck’ a clandestine attempt a lowering the crowds expectations for a lysergicly enhanced Grateful Dead musical meltdown. The bill was shared with Charlie Musselwhite and the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  The way laid back performance captures the band loose, giggly and constantly berating legendary sound man
 ‘Bear’ for monitor, guitar and microphone issues. The ‘rock room’ is jamming the limited edition vinyl Record Store Day 2013 edition of the performance, but it can be had in compact disc format for a limited time from the Grateful Dead website.

This show is intimate, low key and thankfully preserved on the aforementioned  hissy undiscovered reel of tape. Garcia’s wife Mountain Girl returned the discovered stash of tapes to the GD vault in May 2013 after her suprising discovery. The caveat on the back of the LP mentions that the ‘rare recording was made on a non-professional machine at low level and contains some tape hiss and other undesirable stuff’. Regardless of the sonic anomalies, the tape reveals the early acoustic Dead taking their time and their founding member Pig Pen in his natural element. One has to think that Garcia felt the performance was worth preserving and/or holding onto due to its renditions of newly composed tunes and possibly to review as a precursor to the numerous May 1970 acoustic performances. Regardless, this tape is an ace document of the groups expanding acoustic sensibilities and maturing songwriting abilities for the era.
The performance begins smelling of pot and chilled on ice as the band, with light percussion and straight acoustics vamp on a brisk ‘I Know You Rider’. Garcia sings the ‘drink muddy water’ line soulfully, a favorite of early renditions. At some points it feels as if the band is going to drift away, their only grounding the delicate brushes of the drummers and the harmonies supported by guests Dawson and/or Nelson from the New Riders of the Purple Sage. 

 The following ‘Don’t Ease Me In’ gets the tempo thumping as Garcia and Weir joyously join together in hippy hillbilly harmony. The band gently berates ‘Bear’ following the song for the monitors not working properly (yet again). This exchange in classic Grateful Dead fashion is humorous, trippy and slightly disorienting.

‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’ follows first recorded by Wanda Jackson in the mid 1950’s and spotlights beautiful honky- tonk Garcia picking and joyous Lesh high harmonies. The song becomes an intimate campfire performance with the scent of woodsmoke and fire fried food intermingled with the classic country melody. Weir becomes slightly annoyed with ‘Bear’ following this track sternly imploring ‘Bear’ to fix the monitors followed by sarcastic asides from Garcia and Lesh.

‘Friend of the Devil’ appears in its original beat the morning sun to the horizon guise and seven months before its appearance on American Beauty. Garcia sings in his fragile youthful throat, confident of the tune, chest puffed out at the satisfaction of composing such a stellar track. The songwriting team of Hunter/Garcia was reaching their songwriting peak during this time as is wonderfully illustrated throughout this show. Bonus points to Weir for his outstanding woody filigree additions to the song. A great moment follows with Lesh and Weir slyly commenting to certain audience members who are calling for ‘Dark Star’ and even ‘White Rabbit’ during the performance. I’ll let you listen for yourself for this segment of golden dialog.

‘Deep Elem Blues’ is another highlight of the recording with the band pulling out a slinky back alley version highlighting Garcia and Weir’s acoustics braiding together copacetically. The groove wobbles like an antique top while Garcia and Weir harmonize on the chorus nicely. Weir asks the audience if anyone has a tomato, presumably to throw at ‘Bear’ due to the still persisting monitor issues.

‘Wake Up Little Suzie’ is given a typically excitable 1970 reading with the drums jumping to the front of the line for the first time. This performance quickly segues into ‘Candyman’ which would not appear until November on American Beauty. Consistent to the evening’s performance thus far Garcia is vocally invested in the song and the track moves like a john boat catching a current, prior to its becoming a dirge in intervening years.
 ‘Cumberland Blues’ is the first recipient of Garcia’s electric guitar making an appearance and is announced by Garia as ‘something new’. Its debut performance had come in November of 1969 and its official release would be on June 1970’s Workingman’s Dead. This early ‘Cumberland’ churns and burns with Garcia’s ‘chicken picking’ an obvious highlight. The second solo reverberant in its elasticity as Garcia tickles the ears with twangy and pointed riffing.Weir and Lesh stand just outside the tunnel percolating with locomotive tempos.

‘New Speedway Boogie’ takes things to a different level, with Garcia coaxing silver rail tones from his ax and Weir aggressively scratching the electric washboard. Two nice jams develop bookended by decent vocals from Lesh and Garcia. It was during this time that the band was hanging out and singing with Crosby, Stills and Nash and this show illustrates that the practice has helped considerably. This song would also appear on Workingman’s Dead two months from this reading but was already reaching maturity by this point in time having been composed after the December 1969 Altamont fiasco.

Garcia now looks for ‘Pig Pen’ to come out and do some tunes and is told he’s ‘in the office’. So to kill the time the boys pour themselves into a languid ‘Me and My Uncle’ that highlights sweet harmony vocals by Garcia, unique to this early version. 

‘Mama Tried’ follows in a fresh homegrown rendition; it sounds like John Dawson and David Nelson from the ‘New Riders of the Purple Sage’ make their presence felt on this tune adding vocals and some twinkling acoustic guitar. A relatively unique arrangement and fresh approach for a song many would feel quickly grew tired from its constant performances. This particular version is a joy to behold.
'Pigpen’ is finally found, recruited and takes the stage to Garcia’s announcement. ‘Pig’ then takes a seat and performs a substantial twenty minute slice of acoustic blues. 'Pig’s’ signature Lightning Hopkins cover of ‘Katie Mae’ starts things off but is unfortunately cut and faded out. Fortunately its followed by a version of ‘The Rub’ driven by ‘Pig Pen’s’ tapping boot heel and smoky vocal's.

A moaning and amazing ‘Roberta’ follows and finds ‘Pig’ in peak form. Perfectly understated blues accompaniment on acoustic guitar is dressed in McKernan’s boozy growl and bluesman time keeping. This and the following Hopkins number ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’ find ‘Pig’ in the ditch, singing a gutbucket blues. You get the feeling that there is nothing else that he would rather be doing at the moment. It may as well be the living room for ‘Pig’, this tape as such a wonderful find and lucky capture of one of the Grateful Dead’s founding members. This solo spotlight is reason enough to justify the release of this recording. 'Pig' displays under appreciated guitar skills and a nuanced understanding of the 'country blues'.

The recording concludes with a dark bottom of the bottle reading of the traditional blues ‘The Mighty Flood’ which segues into the Lightning Hopkins blues ‘Black Snake’. The heartbeat of the moan is ‘Pig’s heel on the worn stage and the scratch and pluck of his wooden frog box. Deadly serious 'Pig' tells the tale, forceably grabbing my attention through his dynamic display. Toward the end,‘Pig’ lets out a grunt and slips out the rear porch like a back door man leaving the cheering crowd with a quick ‘Thank You’.
The MC takes the microphone and thanks ‘Pig Pen’ as well as ‘Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats’ before the tape concludes. This aged recording is a wonderful find and welcome addition to the substantial Grateful Dead live music collection. This limited edition (7500) vinyl recording is unique due to the special ‘Pig Pen’ solo spot as well as the stony acoustic Dead slot that would only get better moving from April into May 1970. Other live releases such as the famed Harpur College and Fillmore East performances from May 1970 may offer better sonic quality and even better renditions, but there is something contained here that makes this recording a special anomaly. ‘Pigpen’s’ revealing solo spot as well as the intimate and easy ‘Grateful Dead’ performance make this a must have for any Grateful Dead fan.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Jingle Jangle Morning' Roger McGuinn's 1964 Rickenbacker 360-12/370-12

 It was the sound of the Rickenbacker 360-12-guitar that encapsulated the sound of the 1960’s for many. The ringing bell and sustained tone of the Rickenbacker twelve strings (and six strings) are as notable for guitar aficionados as a rare bird call for an ornithologist.  In 1964 after watching George Harrison play a similar model in the film A Hard Day’s Night, folkie and aspiring electric guitarist Roger McGuinn purchased a Maple-Glo Rickenbacker 360 twelve string guitar for his own unique brand of ‘electric folk music’. By chrome coating traditional folk melodies in electric attitudes this simple guitar purchase would turn the tides of popular music in the 1960’s. Today the ‘rock room’ takes a look at this iconic guitar and its handler.

The definitive early ‘Byrds’  tracks ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ , ‘Bells of Rhymney’ are only a few of the many recipients of McGuinn’s  chiming and resounding guitar tone. Already well familiar with performing on twelve string acoustic guitars as well as playing banjos, McGuinn immediately developed a unique signature tone on guitar, a sonic fingerprint completely unique from any other guitarist. While McGuinn was not in the class of say an Eric Clapton, his folk sensibilities and knowledge of electronics and sound enabled him to develop a unique approach to his playing while conjuring a special aural personality. The Rickenbacker 360-12, then the 370-12 assisted McGuinn while he revolutionized rock and folk music as well as the sonic expression of 1960’s electric guitars. 

In addition, the use of Rickenbacker’s by the Beatles, Who, Searchers and then McGuinn’s own Byrds’ also helped the guitar’s namesake company to become one of the biggest in the world by increasing visibility and profitability. Every garage rock lad at least dreamed of holding a Rickenbacker. The name fit soon fit comfortably with contemporaries Gibson and Fender.
The 360-12, then later the 370-12 guitars are both comprised of premium maple and rosewood and feature semi hollow body construction. The guitars weigh about 8lbs and have a 40’ length. Another special feature of the instruments is that the usual twelve string configuration of string pairs found on normal twelve string guitars was reversed to a player would strike the low string first. Rickenbacker also streamlined the head stocks on their twelve’s by mounting the tuning pegs on the back and side of the head.  There was/is four volume/tone knobs in addition to Rickenbacker’s ‘5th knob’ that usually controlled the middle or neck pickup also dependent on any custom wiring.

McGuinn fell in love with the instrument and it became inseparable from him, acting as the perfect disseminator of his art.The Rickenbacker’s slim and sleek rosewood neck and low action allowed McGuinn to include his folk guitar techniques in an arena that not only suited his abilities but expanded the frontiers of rock music.
One development to the original Maple Glo 360-12 was McGuinn’s installation of a third pickup to the original two pick up setup. This was also a feature added to the Rickenbacker that was custom made for McGuinn after his original Maple-Glo was stolen in 1965/66 after a show.  The following 360-12 replacement guitar was updated, offered three 'Toaster Top' pickups and included some additional modifications to McGuinn’s specifications including some unique wiring configurations.
McGuinn has stated that the original 360-12 was the guitar that played the iconic openings of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. He also stated that these musical statements were played only using the treble pickup of the guitar and the tube driven compression of Columbia Studios. Compression is the key to the Rickenbacker’s sustain per McGuinn who had his later signature guitar fitted with an on board compression rig to arrive at his unique tone. In the early days McGuinn only used a Vox Treble Booster ‘jimmy-rigged’ into the instrument and a rack unit compressor for any sort of on stage compression. He also employed flat picks as well as finger picks for unique soling as can be found on the jagged guitar introduction of ‘Eight Miles High’.
The 370-12 that replaced McGunn’s stolen 360-12 was also unfortunately taken at some point and replaced with another Maple Glo 370-12 that McGuinn still owns and plays today. McGuinn currently has a signature edition guitar that is offered by Rickenbacker, a testament to his revolutionary ideas, his extraordinary talent and his prowess regarding the instrument. Both Maple Glo 370-12’s and Fire Glo 370-12’s are now synonymous with McGuinn, his tone forever echoed down the stone halls of rock. Who knows how many Rick’s he has acquired over the years? What is certain is that like Hendrix’s ‘Strat’ and Lennon’s own Rickenbacker the instrument he made popular is now as recognizable as he the musician.

The Rickenbacker 360-12/370-12’s unique construction and reverberate ‘jingle-jangle’ tone helped to create and disseminate an entire sub-genre of rock music. Roger McGuinn, after being influenced by the Beatles and Searchers, implemented his sonic ideas and dreams through the Rickenbacker and in the process created a long lasting musical identity and legacy. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Put the Boot In: David Bowie -'I Never Did Anything Out of the Blue'- May 18, 1983 Brussels-Serious Moonlight Tour

 Returning to the live stage after a layoff of five years, David Bowie and his collected group of  musicians embarked on 1983’s Serious Moonlight tour. Before the tour started proper Bowie played two nights on May 18th and 19th 1983 at the Voorst Nationaal in Brussels, Belgium. Jamming in the ‘rock room’ today is a field recording made of the premier two hour performance. What is also of note with these opening concerts is they contain tracks rarely performed on the rest of the dates while also expressing an early sense of enthusiasm and experimentation. The recording playing in the ‘rock room’ is purported to come from a master cassette and while slightly lacking bass features a well rounded sonic spread with a generally non-intrusive crowd. Bowie had reached his peak popularity during this era with the acceptance of his smashing single ‘Let’s Dance’ causing the aforementioned tour to be moved from theaters to large scare arenas. Bowie’s touring band was comprised of Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar on guitars, Carmine Rojas on bass guitar, Tony Thompson on drums, Dave Lebolt on keyboards and Steve Elson, Stan Harrison and Lenny Pickett on horns. George and Frank Simms were enlisted for backing vocals. This opening night features an early set and infectious enthusiasm.

After the MC’s introduction Bowie jive sang a line from ‘Jean Jeanie’ before streaking across the night sky with a shooting ‘Star’. The band is in peak running condition as the tight corners of the Ziggy track are negotiated with stunning accuracy. An molten opening to Bowie's reintroduction to the performing stage.

With only a brief pause Bowie again sings a few lyrics in a differing context before beginning ‘Heroes’ to great applause. One of Bowie’s most beloved songs, ‘Heroes’ is the lucky recipient of impassioned Bowie vocals, soaring Slick guitar work and bombastic playing by the band. This is a towering rendition and acts as a definitive statement announcing Bowie’s musical return. His vocals are inspiring and heartfelt, chill inducing.
A standout song and stage favorite from Bowie’s 1977 Low LP, ‘What In the World’ follows and disseminates a groovy dance vibe, before it explodes into a definitive and breathless double time conclusion. The opening tracks of the concert are well chosen and offer no respite.

The dramatic ‘Look Back In Anger’ from 1979’s Lodger is another ace set list choice, sounding like a space bound electric orchestra the band churns as Bowie froths above them. An even better set list choice is the following ‘Joe the Lion’ in one of its only two appearances on the tour. The sound on the recording dips slightly but returns quickly clearing up in the process. The song expresses a s twinkling soul and offers up a celebratory glam review. Carlos Alomar’s sudsy guitar work throughout the track is of note. A rare cut and early highlight of a breathless performance.

Another rare cut making one of its four tour appearances is ‘Wild Is The Wind’, offering the concerts first cool drink of water for the evening. Bowie croons beautifully, reaching successfully skyward with strength and vibrato.

Tour standards follow next with a punky ‘Golden Years’, a gaudy ‘Fashion’ that segues using the 'Twist and Shout' bridge into tour money maker and nitrous powered ‘Let’s Dance’, the triad of tunes driving the crowd into an expected frenzy. The sound issues return here with some volume swells and static but nothing to make me toss the recording out. 

Another track from Lodger appears with ‘Red Sails’ and like the preceding ‘Look Back in Anger’ the song permeates the room with the smell of fire. The band is careening on the edge with sharp synths and slamming percussion. A relatively rare track this song appeared in roughly a quarter of the tour performances. The Lodger songs are injected with a juice not present on the studio versions, any fan of that particular LP needs to search out these renditions.
‘Breaking Glass’, a favorite from Low is given a horny introduction and is played at high velocity, the band confidently smashing out every window on the street. Slick continuously solos under Bowie’s vocals with perfect clarity. Woah, what a concrete performance.

The earliest Bowie track to be featured in the retrospective set list follows with ‘Life on Mars?’ allowing for a brief respite but also getting some of the greatest applause of the evening. The McCoy’s ‘Sorrow’ keeps the cool down period going before keeping the dramatic anticipation going with a dynamic version of ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’. A Bowie soundtrack piece properly recorded for ‘Let’s Dance’ gets the crowd clapping along in perfect time.

Iggy Pop’s ‘China Girl would appear in every concert of the tour relatively unchanged, here it is given a typically great and true reading to its 1983 studio rendition. Staying in the then current decade, Bowie follows ‘China Girl’ with ‘Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)’ from the 1980 LP of the same name. ‘Scary Monsters’ stays true to the theme of the concert, high speed, electric and kinetic. The tale of insanity and madness is given a deranged reading highlighted by Bowie’s exaggerated vocal attack.

Segued into ‘Rebel, Rebel’ through an emphasized transitional bridge, ‘Rebel’ becomes a wide eyed mantra circling the glowing central riff. Background vocals shout, the saxophone wails and Bowie acts the punk. 'China Girl' and 'Rebel Rebel' make for a rare and interesting pairing.

Staying true to the previously displayed Mod/Punk attitude Bowie pulls out the Vespa and pays tribute to his contemporaries with a swinging version of The Who’s, ‘I Can’t Explain’. The melody is halved like a fruit and slowed down, enabling the chorus to be crooned expectantly by Bowie. In total contrast a hot to the touch version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ follows and appears overflowing with undulating horns and wailing distorted guitars. ‘White Light’ may contain the highest RPM’s of the evening whining in joyous overdrive with smoke pouring from the doors. Two well picked covers settling from opposing poles.

The ‘thin white dude’s’ persona then makes an appearance, landing in the alien smoke during the ‘Musique Concrete’ introduction of ‘Station to Station’. Appearing from the rubble are the pointed darts of the duke heading straight for the heart of their musical target. Heavy stepping boots morph into a horny disco outro that bursts with scattered lights and powders.  ‘Station to Station’ provides a jaw dropping take off point for the second half of the performance.
The sucking and f@#king of ‘Cracked Actor’ follows in a hard hitting rendition. The keyboards and horns collaborate, balanced on the descending aural axis as Bowie spits the lyrics through lipstick. Kudo’s again to Earl Slick who throughout the evening does a superior job of disseminating the licks played on Bowie’s LP’s by many amazing players (Fripp, Belew, Ronson) Bowie would often don shades and hold a solitary skull while performing this song. The kind reader can visualize this eventuality while enjoying this bootleg.

A fidgety ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is revealed from under the concert’s charred remnants, Bowie referred to the song as a nursery rhyme that wrapped up the decade of 1970’s for him in compositional form. The song fittingly closed the 1970’s for Bowie while opening the doors of time to a new decade. Here, an airtight version acts as a perfect prelude to the crowd pleasing and set concluding ‘Space Oddity’.  The pairing a pleasing bow placed on top of the musical gift presented by Bowie to his adoring crowd.

Bowie expresses his love for the stage and his thankfulness in returning to performing for his fans. He then introduces the musicians on stage before beginning the end with a lovely and buoyant ‘Young Americans’. The premier concert of Bowie’s return to stage now hits a drag racing straightaway and allows the band to hit full throttle on the open road.

Ziggy makes a welcome and quick appearance with performances of ‘Soul Love’ and a careening ‘Hang On to Yourself’ sung like a drug fueled auctioneer from Mars. Time removed from performing has done nothing but increase Ziggy’s intensity as the dirt is removed and the grave is unearthed, revealing perfectly preserved hair and makeup. ‘Fame’ is locked into a perfect set placement and acts as the final creamy topping to the brief Ziggy appearance, its lyrical statement definitive as well as a commentary on previous Bowie musical personas.
 Before the crowd can gather themselves, Bowie and the band point the finger at the picture box with a groovy seductive dance called ‘TVC15’ from 1976’s Station to Station, followed by the mammoth funkiness of ‘Stay’ from the same LP. This one two punch is highlighted by Slick and Alomar’s funky scrubbing and the empty oil drum banging by Tony Thompson. The crowd is slack jawed and sweaty, being pushed against the wall by Bowie and band. The sound issues on the recording return here, but act as more of a slight annoyance than having a huge effect on any enjoyment of the show.

Sandwiching the show with a reprise, ‘The Jean Jeanie’ crosses her legs real high and licks her cherry red lips, showing her face for the first time since the show’s opening. Bowie scats seductively pushing his nails into flesh, the band pounds out the hammer and nails groove in which Earl Slick signs in deep dark ink. A crashing and multifarious conclusion to a diverse closing series of songs.

The recording now changes sources allowing for the final encore to be included. While a bit muffled, the encore can be enjoyed in similar sonic quality to the preceding tunes. “Modern Love’, the opening song from Bowie’s 1983 Let’s Dance LP acts as the finale for the evening here and for the majority of the tour. Thompson’s drums pound out the tribal opening of the song as the band closes out the first show of a legendary tour with a textbook reading of Bowie’s third single from Let’s Dance. Fittingly the song would gain momentum and popularity as the tour continued, Bowie aware of this eventuality placed it in the encore slot.

David Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight tour introduced a new Bowie to the world, mainstreamed by his current popularity Bowie was still an artist who refused to compromise himself or his art. The concerts of the tour were the perfect encapsulation of his career up to that point sampling pieces from all aspects of his records and performances. The arrangements are cutting edge and racing beyond Bowie's contemporaries of the same era. There are multiple recordings both official and pirated from this exciting time in Bowie’s career to review. This particular opening show from the 96 performance tour finds Bowie anxious and excitable, while offering a few songs that would not make their way through the entire tour. Historic and diverse, Bowie’s 1983 performances are a wealth of powerful return renditions. Start here, from the very beginning and witness the genesis of the tour in this premier show straight from the 'rock room'.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rolling Stones:'Wherever I Go They Treat Me the Same'-From the Vault Hampton Coliseum 1981

The debut release from the Rolling Stones new From the Vaults series has finally been given to their hungry and eager fans. From the Vaults: Hampton Coliseum 1981 captures the Stones at the conclusion of their massive 1981 tour in support of Tattoo You. This featured official release hails from the first evening (December 18) of a two night run to close the tour which also happens to be Keith Richards birthday! The Stones proceed to play one of the finest concerts of their illustrious career, playing an expansive set that surpasses two and a half hours and spotlights multiple eras.

The audio and video of the performance has been lovingly re-mastered by Bob Clearmountain resulting in a definitive and awe inspiring document of the ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’. Besides one barely noticeable edit taking place (see if you know where), the focus is on clarity and detail. Every nuance of Bill Wyman’s nimble bass playing, the string resonance of ‘Keef’s’ ringing Telecaster’s and the thump of Watt’s woody kick drum are all displayed in crystalline quality. This was a nationwide ‘Pay per View’ broadcast so the pro shot video contains every nuance available, while the re-mastered sound is multifaceted in its sonic spread. The instruments speak with sparkling tone and confidence, while Jagger sings well and does so while leaving behind his 1970's practice of shouting for the majority of the concert.

At the time, the 1981 tour was the most successful North America tour the band had ever undertaken. The coliseum sized stage set up, a standard of all Stones tours was minimized for the ‘intimate’ confines of the Hampton Coliseum.  As evidenced by the existing video, the Stones were fashionable and influential creating their own undeniable style and approach.. The vibrant color pallet and ragged chic of the era is in no way representative of the dark unbreakable rock solid grooves and bluesy guitar weaving mechanization's that take place on this evening.  

Almost every song is extended beyond its normal boundaries and every reading is energized and fire breathing. The greatest aspect of this concert is that each and every song is carefully crafted and expanded with no clock watching by the group. The concert begins and slithers in on the groovy strains of a loose ‘Under My Thumb’ that culminates in an edgy crocheting of guitars. The feeling that it’s going to be a great concert is evident as the band is revealed from the loudly bedazzled rotating stage. ‘When the Whip Comes Down’, strikes without repent followed by a thick and guitar heavy ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’. The band is hot to the touch and do not let up through the first half of the performance at all! A dangerous ‘Shattered’ and aggressive reading of ‘Neighbors’ follow in breathless fashion keeping with the evenings theme of all out hoodlum rock and blues. Woody and ‘Keef’s’ guitars nip at each other and the dual piano attack of Ian McLagan  and Ian Steward keeps the rock rolling with no chance of slowing it down

 Boot to the throat, the only respite comes in the form of ‘Just My Imagination’ which ends up turning into a jam with Saxophone player Ernie Watts blowing the blues away from the dampened outside evening streets. One of my personal favorite segments of the concert occurs next with the bang banging of Eddie Cochrane’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and a tribal nightclub reading of the Miracle’s ‘Going to a Go-Go’. The boys really hit it here, street corner tugging on a smoke after a hot night in the bar; Watts and Wyman lock it up. Quintessential Stones. A major highlight of the collection.

A rare reading of Emotional Rescue’s ‘Let Me Go’ follows and finds Jagger making his way along ramps and catwalks to frolic amongst the crowd. The Stones tear away from their pursuant and adoring followers as they disseminate another definitive version of a jagged and rarely performed classic.

A true cool down period follows with the triad of ‘Time Is On My Side’, ‘Beast of Burden’, and ‘Waiting On A Friend’.  Keith Richard's pours on whiskey soaked backing vocals and strangles out an inspired solo on an ace version of ‘Time Is On My Side’.  Mick dons his beach hat and acoustic for a sunset version of ‘Waiting On A Friend’ that is reason enough for this release. The guitars shimmer in the narrator’s hopeful anticipation, the saxophone elicits knots in the listener’s stomach from its blinding beauty. This may be me waxing poetic, but every damn time I play this track it elicits the same emotions from me.  Richards stands stout, cigarette hanging from his lips, every lick a stitch into the blending instrumental tapestry. 
 “Let It Bleed’ and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ follow and lend the crowd two of the bands beloved classic tracks, with Jagger staying on acoustic for the former. ‘Let It Bleed’ is played by the ‘Country Honks’ with shit kicking boots, spotlighting Woody on his  blue slippery slide and culminating in a fantastic conclusion.  ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ gets an extended performance and a new funky life is injected into this Stones standard.

Richards’ birthday is given its due notice as Jagger introduces the band and drinks are brought out in celebration. A welcome performance of Richards, ‘Little T and A’ is another concert highlight with Woody and Richards going Barbarian and grabbing both cheeks authoritatively on this fiery rendition.

A celebratory ‘Tumblin Dice’ follows with Jagger returning dressed in an American football Eagles jersey inexplicably adorned with tassels. The band knows they got us now and proceed to prove their proclamation of being the world’s greatest rock and roll band. Stratocaster and Telecaster chime in a sexy coalition, leaving the card table behind and leaving with the clandestine lady by the door.

In a performance full of strikes and counter strikes, ‘She’s So Cold’ and ‘Hang Fire’ add an additional 1-2 punky punch before the concluding ‘hits’ run. Both songs run with the RPM’s jacked, Woody swings around the stage euphorically unable to contain himself as Richards’ is down to a shredded T-shirt, eyes closed, metallic riffs sparking from his hands. This segment is also ‘must see’ Stones and lends a great anticipation to what lies in the recesses of the Rolling Stones vault.
                                          Photo John Gellman

The following red light ‘Miss You’ signals the approaching  musical pillars visible on the horizon that comprise the supports of the substantial catalog of the Rolling Stones. The band tslams through ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ and ‘Satisfaction’ with authority, determination and attitude. Textbook live versions of recognizable standards of rock played with investment and verve. The crowd is ignited; the band sets it in cruise control and release the rocks down the hill. ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Honky Tonk’ see the addition of Stones veteran Bobby Keys’ to the stage and his simpatico with Richards is obvious as the jams lift off of the earth. Mick threatens to get naked through his dress and sprints around the arena in jaw dropping endurance. The concert threatens to tear the venue from its mounts and to rip apart at the seams. 'Jumpin Jack Flash' sounds like the turntable may need a belt adjustment it is so kinetic, finally stretching out to allow for Jagger to play around on a skyline cherry picker.

The following ‘Satisfaction’ features a moment of note and rock myth when midway through the song a fan who can no longer contain their brewing excitement runs on the stage toward Jagger. What follows the epitome of rock and roll cool as Richards’ removes his black Telecaster and takes a home run swing connecting with the crazed fan and allowing security to escort him from the stage. ‘Keef’ places the strap back on his shoulder and keeps playing, in tune and in time.  Richards was later quoted as saying that this was a great advertisement for Fender as the guitar stayed perfectly in tune after striking the rogue fan. This moment is a fitting conclusion to a concert brimming with ‘cool’. Whatever your definition, in the world of rock it does not get any better than this. Description is pointless, go get this video and enjoy it in your own rock room!

Look soon for a review of the second installment of the Rolling Stones From the Vault series containing audio and video from the Stones 1975 L.A. Forum run. This first edition has set the standard high with one of the finest examples of the Rolling Stones live on stage a fan can find. No matter the environment or the era what can be guaranteed is that the Stones will play rock at 100 miles an hour. In an era of slick production and sometimes questionable values the Stones remained relevant by creating their own style and always staying true to their roots. The Hampton 1981 release finds the band at the peak of their second era of popularity, features a diverse set formed from all walks of their early career and performed with a vehemence and attitude. Start here if you are probing the live catalog of the Stones and start here if you’ve been with them all along, because this is one of the best nights with the Stones that you can find.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bob Dylan and the Band 'Bunch of Basement Noise' - The Bootleg Series Volume 11-The Basement Tapes Complete

Years of hyperbole, conjecture, rumor and myth surround the sessions that took place in the smoky hills of Woodstock in the Spring of 1967. The excitement stirred by the recordings made by Bob Dylan and the Hawks (soon to be the Band) has developed decades of bootlegs, inferior collections and multi-generational pressings of many of the songs cut during these historic sessions. A quick background for those unfamiliar with the tale: About to collapse from the pressure of drugs, touring, fame and the illusion of being a musical martyr, Dylan retreated to Woodstock, NY for a period of contemplation and reflection. After a motorcycle accent the self imposed exile became extended and Dylan was soon joined by his pals in the Hawks who were on retainer from his 1966 world tour.

The resultant recordings made from the Spring of 1967 and into early 1968 find the collaborative effort between the men creating some of the most organic, spring water music that has ever been poured over rock. Dylan reached into his back pages to introduce his band to the substantial roots folk, country, haunted Appalachia, sea chanties and field hollers of his consciousness. Likewise, his Canadian friends would continue to school Dylan in the funky navigation of R and B and blues played with electric boozy swagger. Many of the original tracks cut during this time were given to other artists, many songs were practiced cover versions played for the joy of musical exploration and dissemination.Countless songs were lost to the passage of time and to undiscriminating hands of band hanger on's. What cannot be denied is that the music created in Dylan's home, Danko's home and in the basement 'Big Pink' is magical and mystical and worthy of further and continuous inspection. The music developed offers ancient melody lines discovered only to be discarded, tales of murder, hookers and theft, songs of salvation hope and foundation, creation distilled to its individual elements. Quirky instrumentation, comic book characters and barroom gossip only a few of the ingredients that make up the diverse landscape of developed and collaborative art. A cornucopia of influence, tradition and inspiration and multifaceted talents running parallel yet still opposing  contemporary influence.

Dylan's ongoing archival release series The Bootleg Series has finally, with the help of Band keyboardist and Basement Tape engeneer Garth Hudson compiled all of the existing recordings from Hudson's own collection as well as other sources into the definitive statement of Basement Tapes. Released in a two disc version labeled 'raw' and the six disc 'Complete' version reviewed here the final word can be stated on these historic and mysterious sessions. In most cases the recordings hail from Hudson's source tapes, there is a detailed explanation in the liner notes about the schematics of sources, tapes, labeling methods and restoration processes. Plainly put this collection puts any of the previously circulating bootlegs or official releases to shame. Even the official 1975 release was subject to sonic tampering and overdubs, while Hudson's original 'wide-Stereo' recordings were often crushed into a dull mono. This collection is definitive, sonically satisfying and very well one of the finest archival released to ever become realized.

Now with these updated recordings, the ringing of Manuel's acoustic piano reverberates against the cement walls of the Stoll Road basement, Danko's voice soars in support of Dylan, the wood burns and the grooves churn. Detailed ambiance reveals the performances to be even more enigmatic than once thought. The set follows the arc of a circle chronologically due to Hudson's foresight of a detailed labeling system. By midway through the set the listener can feel the groups confidence grow, the originals blossom into poignant statements and The Hawks start to leave the nest ready to soar with Dylan's encouragements. Laid back and chewing on a sliver of straw the band feels no rush nor any reason to disturb the neighbors with silver daggers of guitar lightning. It's a campfire singalong with the Salvation Army band, a group of close knit comrades who have been to war and back and now relive the past and contextualize the future through song.

Sixteen reels of tape were filled with the sounds of Woodstock, most of that sound stuck using the adhesive of magnetic tape and thankfully collected, organized and now ready to be discovered again in a new context and with a fresh sonic landscape that only increases its power and grace. While Dylan's contemporaries were painting their guitars, hating parents and melting wax, Dylan and the Band were donning overalls, taking family portraits and reaching into the midst of yesteryear for inspiration and direction.
Disc one begins in Dylan's 'red room' at his home in Byrdcliff in the painted artist hills just out of Woodstock. The tentative beginnings drift through stoned recitations of Dylan's multifarious influences. Those familiar with the bootleg snapshots of these recordings will immediately stand back in shock when faced with the improved quality and separation of the instruments. Johnny Cash gets a name check when the group explores their love for his catalog through dusty and funky readings of 'Belshazzar', 'Big River', and a steamy 'Folsom Prison Blues'. Dylan's metamorphosis from  screaming electric prophet to mellowed country troubadour is on full display in the series of wonderful clips captured by 'Spanish Is the Loving Tongue', 'Cool Water' and Po' Lazarus' The sound quality improves over the course of the first two discs, probably due to the fact of the musicians becoming comfortable with their gear and environment.

Disc two continues with the exploration of numerous songbooks, though according to the liner notes the proceedings move to 'Big Pink' with the takes of 'I'm a 'Fool For You' that conclude disc 1. Finally, after years of fighting sonic artifacts and residue the true air of the Summer basement can be felt through the existing tapes. Sonically transparent takes of 'Kicking My Dog Around' and 'See You Later Allen Ginsberg' let the band work up their chops as well as let loose with some high times. Songs of note are the bounding cover of Ian an Silvia's 'Song for Canada', a nod by by Dylan to his group and the irresistible Band snap, crackle and pop of 'Baby, Wont You Be My Baby.

By disc three of the set a distinct change in the musical seas can be felt as Dylan's new originals start to appear on the tapes and often contain numerous attempts at perfecting an arrangement. Recognized takes from previous releases now appear brand new, crystalline and antiqued wavy glass now offering a perfect view after years of inclement weather and particles are removed to reveal a greater beauty than once thought. Spectral acoustic guitar strums once textural are now acknowledged, while Garth Hudson's hide and seek Lowrey keys become whirling and swirling  swells, turning from Sepia portraits to technicolor dreams.
The band switches instrumental seats throughout the collection, Manuel often acting a defacto drummer in the absence of Levon Helm who returns to the band in October of 1967. On this box Helm's appearance and return can be noted on the three swinging but differing takes of 'Nothing Was Delivered'. Legendary and poignant Dylan composition 'Sign on the Cross' can also be found on disc four in amazing clarity in addition to a series of feisty an fun performances. The stomping versions of 'Odds and Ends', the stringy 'Clothes Line Saga' and the sweet running nectar of 'Apple Suckling Tree' capture not only amazing performances, but good time expressions by all participants involved. See the swampy pie eyed versions of 'Don't Ya Tell Henry' and 'Bourbon Street' that close the disc for an staggering example of the impromptu Band horn section in action.
Revelations abound with disc five, a disc that contains music unknown and unheard until now. Music that was discovered, found on the flip side of brittle two sided tape stored in Upstate New York for decades. Helm is back in the fold as the group plays astonishing electric concert arrangements of 'Blowin In the Wind', 'One To Many Mornings' (with a Manuel verse) and 'It Ain't Me Babe'. The fantastically groovy 'Mary Lou, I Love You Too' is a lost Dylan composition that foreshadows the musical flavor to be mined much later on Desire. The 'Band' are at their best here, with Helm back on drums the music smiles and the rhythms screw down tight, allowing each member to do what they do best. Danko is especially active and playing with a buoyant enthusiasm as with Helm back on the stool he is no longer the responsible metronome for the band. 'Silent Weekend' is highlighted by creaky Danko vocals and is a recipient of the reunited and joyus rhythm section. Other highlights are a soulful 'One Kind Favor' sung by Dylan straight from a Nashville juke and featuring either Manuel or Helm on moaning train harp. I believe that all of these particular recordings hail from Danko's home on Wittenberg and obviously follow Helm's return to the fold

The sound quality drops slightly for the reveal of 'Wild Wolf'' a long rumored Dylan track which in this reviewers opinion lives up to the question and hype regarding its existence. The twilight melody is shaded with exquisite Danko bass and a perfect Hudson breeze. I still need to absorb all of the lyrics, but I know the song is a weighty slab of Dylan perfectly framed by dramatic instrumentation and foreboding drumming. Followed by 'Goin To Acapulco' this two song series is inspired, amazing and truly stirring. The improved sound on the aforementioned 'Acapulco' is stunning. Not much more can be said, it is representative of the eye bugging nature of the entire set.  Also of note is the percussive and stoic cover of Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter' featuring Danko and Dylan sharing vocal duties. Classic. The existing tapes and fifth disc conclude with two takes of the slick soul groove of Dylan's 'All You Have To Do Is Dream', a song right up the Hawk's backstreet musical alley.
The sixth and final disc of the collection is compiled of tracks that did not quite live up to the sonic standards of the other songs of the set. The surprises and reveals are still there to be enjoyed. The notes offer that they are historically important but questionable in their aural qualities. The culprit on the first five tracks seems to be a severely hot keyboard and/or vocal microphone. 'Hallelujah, I've Just Been Moved' is a celebratory gospel romp with group vocals that really capture the spirit of these special recordings. 'She's On My Mind Again' finds Dylan unable to control his laughter during the lyrics and the piano heavy rendition of 'Goin Down the Road Feeling Band' is slightly strange and oh so enjoyable. Two versions of a possibly alcohol influenced 'Spanish Song' close the collection amidst twinkling pianos, rattling tambourines and slighty demonic whoops and hollers. A fitting reminder to not take the myths and mystery of the Basement Tapes too seriously..... The additional sixth 'bonus' disc of this set is a welcome reminder of what was available previously to us sonically through bootlegs as well as what the true intentions behind the original sessions was. Companionship, music, laughter and discovery.

The new Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Volume 11 is a collection that soaks into your skin, a collection of timeless music revealed and reimagined through revolutionary musicianship and recently uncovered sonic surprises. The music retains its freshness and warrants numerous listens to enjoy the clandestine nuance and detail.  The instruments are allowed to express their distinct personalities and colorful expressive tones through the uncovered stereo image. Robertson's delicate swells no longer reside under sonic grit, nor do the bountiful rhythms existing in the cracks between piano keys and bass licks. These vital and historic recordings not only increase the mystique of Dylan and the Band but also polish their importance to music while offering a panoramic view of a pivotal moment in rock and in each individual artists' life.

I'm Not There

Robbie Robertson on the Basement Tapes

Odds and Ends Take 1

Bootleg Series 11