Talk From The Rock Room: April 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

David Bowie-'Something Deep Inside of Me'-'Low' 1977

      Today in the 'rock room' spins the first LP in what is regarded as David Bowie's 'Berlin Trilogy'. The album Low was released in 1977 to mixed reviews and per usual what started out as a misunderstood record has grown in stature and gained respect in the intervening years. The record is a collaboration with producer Brian Eno and contains some of Bowie's most challenging and provoking work. Recorded in France and West Berlin in the midst of Bowie's cocaine addition, the record is a conglomerate of sound experimentation, emotional turmoil and Bowie's artistic escapades.
     Always the musical changeling, Bowie developed and arranged Low into a diverse musical piece comprised of what some critics referred to as musical fragments, as well as extended ambient instrumentals. Influenced by electronic music as well as experimental and German electro-dance music, Low is a typically expansive Bowie excursion that travels through the silvery wreckage of addiction, artistic experimentation, self discovery and melody.
     The LP opens on the instrumental 'Speed of Life' which acts as a racing prologue to the collection. Streaking cartoon like motion lines disperse off the shimmering ARP synths and Moog interjections. The song elicits an animated travelogue through futuristic time villages, soaring on Alomar's twisted central guitar riff.

      'Breaking Glass' follows, driving in on a massive splash of snare drum, each hit a reverberating shattering smash. The song flies by like a car landscape passing outside a freeway window, the propulsive slippery guitars and full warm bass working in bright conjunction. Bowie's vocals during the one recitation of a chorus, multilayered and towering, otherworldly and synthetic. This track cuts deep, jagged, sharp, fast.
     'What In the World' continues side one, again beginning on large splashing harsh drums. The melody of the song is quintessentially Bowie, the backing track a multifarious display of scrubbed bubbly guitar, Iggy Pop's backing vocals, and teletype synthesizer additions. The drum sound of the LP was revolutionary at the time, to be copied and used in the future by numerous electronic and rock producers. The content of the song is dealing with a mysterious female subject who not only frightens the narrator, but elicits lust from him also.
     'Sound and Vision' was one of the singles off of the record Low, subject to an extended introduction and delicious funk based guitar riff. The song contains a minimalist and slightly dark approach lyrically, contrasting with the levitating and airy instrumentation. The rhythm is developed around a breathy percussive release of air pushing away the snare drum, Bowie's vocal approach is also a smiling sigh. Bowie seems to be revealing the moment of corroboration between he and his muse. Drifting in his solitude, 'waiting for the gift of sound and vision' to approach him. Probably the most 'conventional' song on the record, the song contains a delicious Bowie vocal melody and buoyantly addictive riff.
     'Always Crashing In the Same Car', plays like an psychedelic, sizzling wires crossed, early rock and roll vocal ballad. Lyrically the song is again minimalist, allowing the color of the music to express the flashing imagery of the words. The songs repetition of the central riff is representative of the continuous 'Groundhog's Day' effect felt by the narrator. The representation of the lyrics can be understood by everyone who has ever made the same mistake twice. One of Bowie's finest moments and a essential defining element to the makeup of the record. A perfect blend of new and unusual sound workings in conjunction with past glory and influence.
     The second single from the record and the closer on side one, 'Be My Wife' begins like a song played on a saloon uprigh,t located in a renegade valley on Mars. The song becomes a laser, guitars phased with tremoring lights contrasting the rich percussive thump of the woody piano. The song has a Lennon-esque approach, a  lyrically pleading inquiry for a lost and lonely soul, unadorned with pretense. The multilayered vocals and guitars mesh with the plump orchestrated keyboards creating a paranoid musical wash gently percolating under the melody.
     Side two of the collection opens on the cold thump of a drum machine, expanding into the all encompassing warmth of ''A New Career In A New Town'. Similarly to the opening instrumental on the albums first side, 'Speed of Life,' this following song sets the stage for the second half of music with a cautious and euphoric optimism. Wining railroad harmonica acts as a rustic contrast to the voguish drums and bass personalities.
     The next, mostly instrumental track, 'Warszawa' is a mercurial soundscape and collaboration between Bowie and Eno. Primary built on keyboards and synths, with some cavernous vocals howls and exclamations included toward its shuttering conclusion. This is visual music bordering on  the secular and a fruitful result of the Bowie and Eno collaboration. The track changes keys, reveals haunting human interludes and represents Bowie's visits to the capital city of Poland in the early 1970's.
     'Art Decade' continues in the same vein, the heartbeat of a drum machine and the inner workings of a mechanical apparatus its makeup. The second side of Low acts as a assemblage of snapshots, both pastoral and industrial, expressed through only 'Sound and Vision'. The flip side of this LP creates its own world free of the confines of words and explanation, Bowie's emotional status tied to the places and locations expressed throughout the album.

      The songs making up side two of Low, could act as one movement, their titles act as dividers of their respective scene breaks and moods. 'Weeping Wall' features Bowie on every instrument, a pulsating synth loop provides the blood of the track. The song sounds like a ancient folk ballad reinterpreted two hundred years in the future. Layers of pensive keyboard strata elicit hope and despair as the pieces of 'Weeping Wall' fall away revealing the real human emotion at the concrete core.
     The closing movement of the record is the extraordinary and bizarre, 'Subterraneans'. The singular rock bottom bass guitar the only instrument keeping the song from drifting way. Fluttering illustrious keyboard swells interlace and combing like drifting clouds. The earthly appearance of saxophone is surprising in the context of the ethereal wash. The song is an odd choice to conclude the record, but a perfect fit in the context of side two of Low. Bowie's most indecipherable lyrics chant illumenscent from behind a lacy veil, visible yet slightly obscured.
     David Bowie's 1977 LP Low was developed from the remnants of his unused musical work for the 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, as well as his collected mind journals of travels to France and Berlin; in addition to his cleaning up the broken glass of his cocaine addition. The collaboration with Brian Eno while the aforementioned factors played out on the white screen of Bowie's life combined to express an artful, erratic and yet beautiful new artistic expression. One musical LP side of verbal communication, contemporary, yet dressed in new clothes, another side verbally distorted and expressed in sonic shapes and imagined moods.
David Bowie-Low

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Put The Boot In: Big Brother and the Holding Company w/ Janis Joplin-Avalon Ballroom 1966 'Hall of the Mountain King'

     Jamming today in the 'rock room' is a newly circulating mono audience recording of Janis Joplin and Big Brother hailing from the Avalon Ballroom in late 1966. Janis debuted with Big Brother in June of 1966, speculation says that this recording hails from later (possibly Fall) in the year. The band line up includes Janis Lyn "Pearl" Joplin - vocals, Sam Houston Andrew III - electric guitar, "Saint" James Gurley - electric guitar, Peter Albin - electric bass and David Getz on drums. This performance is a beautiful document of the early San Fransisco ballroom scene in both ambiance and musical prowess. The source of this performance is a low generation audience recorded cassette that contains new and never heard before performances.
     While the recording is in mono and the performance is slightly muddy vocally, it remains  relatively clear musically. The energy emanating from the tape is addictive and listened to in the right state of mind, the recording can put you there historically and mentally. The potency of the performance emanates from the magnetic tape, you can smell the smoke, see the light show, and experience the power and grace of the concert.
      After a brief MC introduction the band rolls into a funky 'I Know You Rider', a favorite cover of San Fransisco bands during this era, eventually becoming a standard for the Grateful Dead. The song twinkles in on a shimmery lysergic opening that then lays into the trademark groovy swing of Big Brother. Joplin voice is staggering as she immediately bounces melodic ideas off of the knotted dual guitars of Gurley and Andrew. Joplin is already stealing the show from her musical compatriots at this early stage as her vocal range acts as another lead instrument, digging deep for notes and then soaring into raspy heart fluttering falsettos. The groove is extremely psychedelic, luminescent, with shimmering instrumentation, contrasting with Jopin's earthy throat.
    Big Brother was already well practiced in the art of musical exploration well before Joplin's joining of the band. With Joplin's bluesy sensibilities tugging the elevated Big Brother back to earthy realms, the result became a unique psychedelic blues machine, much like fellow San Fransisco band the Grateful Dead and Joplin pal Pigpen.
     'It's a Deal,' a contender for bands debut album speeds along at amphetamine rates, quaking kinetically with a punky attitude. Janis lets loose with perfectly timed interjections as the band moves like a comic colored flip book through the songs changes.
     The Sam Andrew penned, 'Call On Me' follows, a hidden jewel in Big Brother's discography. The perfect soul glove slipping perfectly onto Joplin's outstretched hand. The band stoically brings the vibe down, displaying a soulful review. Slightly distorted on the recording, Joplin cuts through the top end distortion with stomach churning vocals. Perfect.
     'Combination of the Two' races off of the runway, a streaking runaway rocket disseminating love, detonating into distorted feedback blasts, just before slipping comfortably into the sunny celebratory verse. The second musical guitar excursion convulses with hallucinatory guitar by Houston and Gurley that euphorically spins your head before again dropping into the verse just in time.
     Joplin again captures the spotlight in a jar with 'Farewell Song', another sample of a soulful Stax groove, becoming a tribal crawl midway through the song before emerging back into the framework of the tune. Janis spits and screams her way aggressively through the changes using the band as a springboard in which to bounce her fervent preaching.
     The Peter Albin penned, almost instrumental jam 'Coo Coo', released as a 1968 single dashes like a tripping surfer racing through transparent walls of sea and foam on their uncontrolled journey to the distant shore. The track bubbles on heavy tom-tom rhythms and excited off mic retorts by band members. Albin's puffy bass drives the plush jam into a freaky peak.The core of the San Fransisco sound can be felt through this captured moment on magnetic tape. The band draped in day- glo, expand and retract as an amoebic image commonplace on the light show stage screens during this era.
     A musical juxtaposition occurs as the band follows 'Coo Coo' with the honky-tonk chunky chug of 'Easy Rider,' found on the groups debut LP. Gurley takes on lead vocal duties with support from Joplin through the chunky saddle ride. The band cant help but split open the traditional framework of the song with a exploratory interlude highlighted by a huge fuzzy caterpillar guitar solo by Gurley. This is good time, boogie down music, the epitome of the 'San Fransisco scene', conglomeration of traditional and exploratory music.
     The career expanding and concert favorite 'Down On Me' comes next, the traditional tune rearranged by Joplin into a snap crackle and pop tour de force. This song is played with the same psychotropic explosiveness as the previous numbers.
     The closing number of the groups debut LP, 'All Is Loneliness' is given a shadowy reading here, with twisted rope vocals climbing like vines into cracks and crevasses of the created ancient musical stonework. The song dissolves into a jazzy drum interlude by Getz and then traverses a bass heavy breakdown where Janis lets looses with numerous variations on her vocal ideas.The crowd can be heard encouraging the group as they undulate beneath Joplin's vocal directives. Unfortunately the song cuts off after about 7 minutes, it is unknown how much time may be missing.
     The recording picks up with 'Hall of the Mountain King' a highlight of the concert, already slightly in progress, missing its thematic opening. This interpretation of Edvard Greig's classical piece turns into an expansive puddling meltdown of immaculate proportions. Andrews and Gurley reflect contemporary's, Bloomfield and Alvin Bishop from the Butterfield Blues Band with aggressive and cussing guitar duels. Gurley trumpets massive feedback silver explosions from his strings, while Andrews channels obscure and slippery foreign melodies in reply. At three minutes the song starts to swallow everything in its wake, a black hole of blended sounds, almost collapsing on itself, Getz driving, Albin pushing, the guitarists reaching a vast open area, peaking, staying at the peak. Tension continues to build, finally the swell abates at five minutes. The band cruises at an acceptable level while Andrews explores every nuance of the groove. A bit past eight minutes another disorientating location is reached, explored and left behind. The band increases their motion, again sun-bursting into another psychedelic wash, covering the assembled crowd in a warm multicolored symphonic shower. The classical theme reappears from the sonic debris, dissolving and concluding this massively epic performance.
     Following the previous musical maelstrom Janis can be heard remarking that the next tune, 'makes you want to get up and dance'. The band slams into the rowdy 'Blow My Mind', with Albin and Joplin sharing vocal duties. During this song Albin jumped to guitar while Gurley switched up to bass guitar. The mid section of the song expands like it has been dosed with Owsley's finest, cracked open like an egg, revealing its soft vulnerable center. Big Brother's practiced stage improvisations are on full display.
     The 42 second song 'Henry' comes next and is a jerky, acid jazz, fast car with failing breaks that tilts on two wheels around San Fransisco corners. Completely original and oh, so unique as you will hear on the recording, should you search it out. This one was a special treat for the people flying 'trans-love airways' in the assembled crowd.
     The band closes the show with a heavy and clanking 'Ball and Chain'. At this point in time Big Brother was already entrenched as a well known band in San Fransisco. It's performances like  this one of 'Ball and Chain' that pushed Janis to the top of the pile, not only surpassing the band she joined, but making her a superstar surpassing almost everyone. Her gritty attack, her sensual living of the lyrics, and her portrayal of everything that the decade of the 1960's stood for, combined to make Joplin unique bluesy wail, cutting through the psychedelia surrounding her. Her mastery of vocal timber and dynamics is unparallelled and will probably never be equaled. This is no diva singing for show, this is a blues singer singing for dear life, screaming from the deepest depths of her soul. From the sweetest whispers to the hardest most cutting wails. A perfect show closer, and a fitting example of Joplin s uncontainable power and eventual stardom.
     This recently circulating gift of a performance by Janis Joplin and Big Brother is an impeccable capture of a revolutionary time in rock music history. Historically, politically, musically and throughout all of the arts, things were exploding in technicolor fashion. The recording of this evening in 1966 acts as an aural document capturing all of these elements disseminated through the lens of the forebearers of the 'San Fransisco Sound'. The field recording also finds Joplin in the infancy of her career and popularity, backed by a powerhouse of practiced and virtuosic musicians. Don't miss out, hunt down this recording and get your ticket to a musical time machine.

Hall of the Mountain King

Blow My Mind

Coo Coo