Talk From The Rock Room: September 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Now Playing: Badfinger - 'We Can Make It Better' Set of Six Live 1972

Granada Goes Pop was the brain child of Granada television producer Muriel Young. The short lived show aired on British television a different popular musical artist performing their hits in front of a live studio audience. The musical series was called Set of Six, but was unfortunately cancelled after one season. Fortunately, one performance still exists and circulates in reasonable color video quality. This particular show contains a rare and fine representation of the group 'Badfinger' during arguably their greatest live era. Underrepresented by live footage, this set of music is a welcome glimpse of the band playing some of their finest compositions.

Now Playing in the 'rock room' is this aforementioned 'set of six', featuring Badfinger running though a hot to the touch serving of a few of their popular hits as well as a couple of deeper depth album cuts. The set alternates between Joey Molland and Pete Ham penned songs and closes with a roaching snippet of 'Johnny B. Goode' that only circulates as audio. The existing video is reasonably clear color footage, only slightly blurred and trailed but nonetheless a highly acceptable visual document of the troubled and highly talented group. This performance follows and supports the February 1972 LP release Straight Up, considered the bands finest recorded moment by many. Fortunately caught on celluloid this era represents the peak of the groups erratic career.
The show begins with the credits rolling and the opening bars of the bands highest charting UK single, 'Day After Day'. The song had moved toward the Top 10 shortly before the recording of this particular concert. This classic FM hit produced by George Harrison is a rock staple and should have been more than enough to cement the legacy of 'Badfinger' in the annals of rock history, but alas it was not to be. Pete Ham plays a searing slide guitar on the track, replicating the dual slide guitars played by himself and George Harrison on the studio version. Interestingly enough, Ham is playing Harrison's Gibson SG guitar, which was given to him as a gift by the former Beatle. For those gear geeks interested the guitar can be seen in the Beatles promotional videos for 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain' as well as this video. The live reading of 'Day After Day' represented here is big, bombastic and features tight group backing vocals by Evans and Molland.

Acoustic instruments are donned for the following Joey Molland track, 'Sweet Tuesday Morning' a standout song featured on Straight Up. Delicately thumped conga percussion by Mike Gibbons tickles the three acoustic guitars played by Molland, Ham and Evans that are sewn together into a shimmering web of wooden reverberated sound. The three guitarists stand stoically, a modicum of concentration. Molland sings eyes closed fully invested in the performance. A highlighted document of a underrated LP track and united band performance.

The vibe stays pensive when Pete Ham sits at the piano for an exceptional reading of 'Take It All', the opening track off of Straight Up. In the 'rock room's' humble opinion this song is one of Ham's finest officially released compositions. The song is the perfect conglomerate of melodic prowess, instrumental attitude and emotive lyrical content. Ham and Evans intimate vocal blend is stirring and poignant, their magical collaboration on the chorus chill inducing.  Also of note is Molland's clean tone recitation of the melody played within a tasteful Gibson SG solo. This live reading is sparse in comparison to the official studio reading. The clarity of just the four instruments allows for the melody to let out a breezy exhale and for all of the colors of the song to slowly bleed through, revealing a musical changing of seasons.
Following the reflectiveness of the opening three songs the band now bears down on the the throttle dispersing a plethora of sharp rock and roll riffs. A stage favorite, a song about the road, 'Suitcase' starts things off with a distorted and scratchy Molland rhythm track that is soon doused with the melting wax of Ham's syrupy slide guitar Wah-wah's runs. Ham's guitar abilities are on full display when he is not needed for vocal duties and is allowed to wail. Here Ham is a statue of virtuosity, stone still, pumping the pedal, fully enveloped in his measured guitar neck explorations. The band locks arms, igniting a wood cutting groove that is built around sturdy palm mutes and Evan's weighted bass thumps. The song stretches its legs allowing the central portion of the jam to open quickly like an anticipated package on Christmas Eve. Molland and Ham each take solos before joining together in a jam more about building the groove than showing off guitar licks. Evans restates a verse of the lyrics in his best gritty rock and roll throat before signaling a descending dual guitar riff that kicks down the door revealing the songs conclusion. Wow.

Before the assembled crowd can take a respite the band blasts into a high tempo version of the 'B' side single, 'Better Days'. Another Molland penned track, 'Better Days' is perhaps the highpoint of this particular performance finding the band deftly weaving their way through the song at an extreme tempo. In comparison to the studio version this is a raucous high speed romp with Gibbons rattling chains behind the kit. Ham solo's endlessly under the verses fully amped, in a fashion that would make any of the 1970's guitar gods blush. The guitar work here is worthy of inspection and amazement. Visually you can tell that the band is getting off as well, wearing looks of enthusiastic satisfaction. The preceding jam that took place in 'Suitcase' lubed up the gears for this nimble and torrid rendition. Off microphone asides and sizzling licks abound before the song ends as quickly as it started. Again, Mike Evans enthusiastic backing harmonies are an absolute pleasure to behold.

The televised concert performance now comes to a conclusion with Badfinger's first and most recognized hit up to this point, the 'A' side to 'Better Days, 'No Matter What'. The band, still feeling it, tears through another high tempo and note perfect rendition of this power pop classic. A humorous moment is when Molland gets caught by the camera and lends a funny look of surprise and raised eyebrows to the approaching cameraman. The reading of the song is solid and filling, closings the concert with a crisply executed version of an enduring rock classic.

45 seconds of audio for the post performance 'Johnny B Goode' exists, but only as a teaser, as the song was only played on top of the closing credits. No video exists for this, but as previously mentioned there is a quick audio snippet available to help to complete the performance. It's a shame as it sounds like a smoker!

This classic footage of Badfinger is an excellent primer for those just getting introduced to the band's catalog, as well a being a welcome addition to the collections of well versed fans. Even in the sterile environment of a television sound stage, the talent and musical abilities of the band illuminate the performance with perfect power pop. The tragic stories contained within the group can be temporarily forgotten and their legacy remembered through this multifaceted performance.

Day After Day-Set of Six

Sweet Tuesday Morning-Set of Six

Take It All-Set of Six

Suitcase-Set of Six

Better Days-Set of Six

No Matter What-Set of Six

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Pictures of Lily' Keith Moon's Custom Premier Drum Kit

As recognizable as the flamboyant drummer himself, Who drummer Keith Moon's custom Premier drum kit, often referred to as the 'Pictures of Lily' kit is the focus of 'Tools of the Trade'  today in the 'rock room'. Moon's drum set ups and specifications were as particular and peculiar as Moon himself. He was often as interested in the aesthetics and destructive capabilities of the drums as well as their ability to disseminate his unique brand of playing. Premier Drums were the manufacturer and the company that Moon often returned to for his kits. The 'Lily' drum set was used by Moon from mid 1967 through the end of 1968. The Who's performance in December of 1968 at the Rolling Stones 'Rock and Roll Circus' show Moon no longer using the drums so I will use that performance as a cut off point.

It's been reported that the first appearance of the drums came in July of 1967 when Moon first received them during the Who's US tour. The drums took six months to create to Moon's specifications and contained many unique features. Who lighting manger and friend John Wofff helped to design the drums and bring Moon's imagery to reality. Everything down to the smallest piece of hardware was developed and ruminated upon by Moon.
The first interesting detail about the kit is that it was completely hooked together as one unit. Each individual drum was attached and the double kick drums were outfitted with the ability to be attached to the stage floor due to Moon's hyperactive rudiments and penchant for destruction. Unfortunately and reportedly none of the originally created kits exist in their complete form due to Moon's explosive stage antics. Although many of Moon's acquaintances report Moon's drum detonations were well planned out and never really destroyed anything but hardware. Reportedly four kits were originally developed by the company for Moon.

 The second fascinating detail about the drums and their defining characteristic are the specially commissioned pop art panels requested by Moon that decorate the kits shells. Psychedelically painted 'Pictures of Lily' as well as 'Who' emblems adorn the outside of the kit. The finest and greatest of these panels contain the moniker, 'Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer' in typical Moon self promoting fashion! The skins covering both bass drums featured the 'Who' logo flying in three dimensional glory and emanating from a head shot of Moon.
The kit was of course subject to change depending on Moon's needs but its original format contained (2) 22' Bass drums, (3) Floor Toms, (3) mounted Toms and a snare drum. As Moon grew older and his demands greater his drums would grow to extravagant sizes, but this set, his most recognizable offered him a fluid movement as well as a flashy instrument to fully compete with his guitar player's on stage antics. Moon's crash cymbals were situated on either side of him in performance with a single ride cymbal sitting at twelve o'clock. His high hat would nestle to the right of the kit in contrast to other drummers (if he used it). In the heat of battle Moon would alternate between the crash cymbals at three and nine o'clock while eliciting a stampeding herd of beasts with his double bass drum feet.

Included at the bottom of this 'rock room' rant is the complete footage of the Who on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, that features Moon miming with the Lilly set as well as detonating it with a bass drum packed with explosives at the conclusion of the performance. This act has long been rumored to be part of the impetus for Townsend's hearing loss. The incident also imbedded a rogue piece of cymbal shrapnel into Moon's arm. 
 Mirroring the personality and abilities of its owner and creator, Keith Moon's 'Pictures of Lily' drum set is not only one of the most recognizable in rock history but an instrument completely representative of its manipulator. Moon was a drummer who hated solos but who's playing could often be interpreted as a 'lead' instrument. The 'Lily' kit offered Moon a spotlight piece to not only illuminate his talent but express his artfulness and aggression. 

 Smothers Brothers 1967 Complete

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Put the Boot In: Faces- 'Wicked Messengers' - Boston Tea Party 1970

 Playing in the 'rock room' today is a rough and ready soundboard recording of 'Faces', hailing from their first US tour in 1970. The band's debut LP First Step had just been released on March 21, 1970, read about that record here and to support the album the band undertook a 28 date tour still sometimes billed as the 'Small Faces'. This master soundboard recording circulated in 2005 and finds the band in early form playing with fire and attitude. There are a few tunes that quickly disappeared from the repertoire that are featured on this recording that add to the performances relevance. The soundboard has an acceptable balance of instruments, but does suffer from some level fluctuations, hiss and distortion at times. These minor anomalies are minor when compared to the rarity and demonstrated power of the concert capture. With the exception of 'Looking Out the Window' and 'Three Button Hand Me Down' the band plays the entirety of the first album in addition to a down right ornery version of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'.

The band played three nights at the famed 'Boston Tea Party' over March 26, 27, 28, the recording spotlighted here purportedly hails from the 27th, but has circulated under other dates. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the band on this recording is admirable. They play with dynamics, attitude and bank vault tight collaborations. The band would be playing stadiums before they would realize and the popularity of the band (especially their singer) would rocket through the roof within the following 4 years. This capture finds the band young, hungry and with an intimate group of admirers standing witness to their growth. The band was actually second billing to the Lee Michaels Group for these performances, but due to the aptitude and explosiveness of concerts like this one they would soon be filling their pockets with the headlining slots. The band is feeling good and playing well with the slight scent of alcohol permeating the recording.

After a vibe setting ambient view from the stage and introduction by Boston Tea Party MC Charlie Daniels the group detonates Bob Dylan's 'Wicked Messenger'. The opening track of their debut LP, this threatening version holds a knife to the listeners throat with slicing slide guitar by Ronnie Wood and string rattling Ronnie Lane bass runs. The song cascades over its descending riff, thumping over a rocky road to a clandestine hell of its own design. McLagan's organ lends a secular fog over the proceedings, contrasting the fist through the wall percussion and stone sharpened guitars.

With barley a pause except for an off mic 'Yeah' by Stewart, Woody plays the opening riff to 'Shake, Shutter and Shiver' a Lane/Wood composition that would have limited on stage exposure. Similarly to the opening track, Woody's guitar is exemplary driving the band into a steel toed stomp. Lane and Stewart share vocal duties and Kenny Jones deserves mention for his heavy handed firecracker percussion.

Bringing the vibe down to delicate and beautiful the band begins the 'Mayfield' influenced 'Devotion'. Lots of off mic asides and interjections increase the soulfulness of this rendition which culminates in a screeching and stretching Ronnie Wood guitar solo. Bonus point to the always poignant middle section spotlighting Lane and Stewart swapping gentle vocal lines.

My personal favorite highlight of the recording and performance follows with a menacing reading of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'. The song was one of the first tracks ever played by the band as illustrated by the rehearsal take from Summer 1969 included on the band's box set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar. This version tears through the band's start/stop arrangement, by using dramatic and scratching guitar mutes that interchange with washes of cymbal swells and McLagan's R and B rips. At 3:25 all band members disappear as the entire group melds into one player, a rolling musical maelstrom that deftly drops into a bedtime recitation of the verses. Stewart spits the vocals in inspiring fashion, syncopated and abrasive, so rock and roll. The second instrumental excursion follows and fires the song arrow straight through to its conclusion, but with some unfortunate mix issues appearing on the recording. Regardless, another imposing climax is reached with Lane's bass providing the darkened bedrock before the band ends perfectly united.
Following some on stage diddling Stewart announces the the band is going to play 'Flying'. One of the greatest songs in the 'Faces' catalog, this reading is studio perfect, while still containing some raw Stewart vocal approaches. The concluding jam is triad of musical intercourse, with Lane, McLagan and Wood intertwining their respective melody lines into a tangible object of soaring musical joy.

Mellowing the mood, the rarely played 'Nobody Knows' begins with electric piano, tasteful slide and stirring Lane and Stewart collaborative vocals. The Lane/Wood penned song drifts on an unmistakeable Lane melody line, blissfully ending before it even feels like it begins. The song is representative of the brotherhood of the band during these early concerts and is one of the most underrated of Faces songs.

The Ronnie Wood instrumental 'Pineapple and Monkey' follows after some on stage discussion of how long left the group has to play. A slightly smart ass introduction by Stewart precedes the multifaceted and funky instrumental. Wood takes a couple of crispy solos in addition to his statements of the songs thematic basis, beautifully echoed by McLagan. It amazes me how many solid and virtuous solos Wood takes, knowing that he would not be allowed the same freedoms after joining the Stones in a few years.

Often the groups' basis for improvisation, 'Around the Plynth' follows next, a slippery and undulating slide guitar groove the extends past six minutes and is a Ronnie Wood as well as a Kenney Jones showcase. Jones thumps out a kick drum clinic in which Wood and McLagan drape their sweeping statements. This version is still in its formative stages but spotlights some steely sleek playing by Wood. As has been the trend for the entire show Stewart is posing as rocks greatest vocalist, disseminating a flurry of melodic and edgy vocal lines with glamorous attitude and with no worry for slight pitch variations. The mid point jam of the number peculates with frothing energy, encouraged by Lane and Jones.
Stewart announces the closing track, 'It's All Over Now' as a song from his new solo record, a small sign of divisions to come in the future. The band hits this one over the green wall at Fenway, although the recording cuts off before its conclusion, most of the jam is captured. A fitting and crashing rock and roll conclusion and a swaggering introduction of the Faces to a US audience. Rod sounds slightly fuzzy at this point, but I'm sure the communal bottle was close by. A number of groups such as the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Neil Young and Crazy Horse earned their keep in front of the tough Boston crowds, only to emerge better bands. This particular soundboard recording captures the Faces doing the same thing, only coming in as outsiders and foreigners and proving their musical worth to skeptical strangers.

Fans of the Faces owe it to themselves to seek out this soundboard recording and compare it to the other circulating recordings from the bands heyday. In the 'rock room's' opinion this concert compares favorably and only enhances the bands mythology and influence. Take a trip, join the crowd and witness unadulterated rock and roll hailing from a legendary venue in rocks greatest era.

Nobody Knows 1970

Flying BBC 1970

Faces Documentary 1970