Talk From The Rock Room: June 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rolling Stones: 'The Silk Sheet of Time' - From the Vault The Marquee Club Live in 1971

The most current edition to the Rolling Stones From the Vault live series is a concert performed in the intimate confines of the London, England Marquee Club in the Spring of 1971. Filmed for American television the performance finds the Stones in stellar road shape as they had just concluded their UK tour. The small crowd numbered only in the hundreds and featured many of the band’s contemporaries including former Yardbirds Clapton and Page. The video and audio of this fine performance is rainy day jamming today in the 'rock room'.

This was an exciting time for the band spotlighting what many consider to be their finest line up and most incendiary musical moments. The band had their legendary LP Sticky Fingers in the can for a release a month after this featured March 26th performance and used the opportunity to showcase a few of those tracks for the assembled crowd of lucky fans and VIP’s.

Long available on bootleg, this new official release combines the remastered soundboard recording and newly restored footage in a nice package with a couple of added bonusus to make up for the brevity of the main performance. The band is made up the usual suspects including Nicky Hopkins joining Ian Stewart on keys and the expected combo of Jim Price and Bobby Keys making up the wailing horn section. Beside a few muffed notes and  some humorous slowing clock timing issues, this release gives the 'rock room' exactly what it wants out of the Stones. Ragged and right rock and roll always on the edge and continuously striking hard.
 The performance begins with Ian Stewart banging on the black and whites while Jim Price introduces the band over the driving opening riff of ‘Live with Me’. Richards has a couple days of growth on his mug and looks like he is in the midst of a great time. ‘Live with Me’ coagulates as all the members drop into place introducing a thrilling and definative opening song. Highlights include a swinging Bobby Keys solo and a buttery clean tone Keith Richard’s follow up. 

The great thing about this release is that it captures the legendary sound and aesthetic of Sticky Fingers  in a live setting. The guitar tones of both Taylor and Richards are chill inspiring during this show. Mick Taylor garnishes every song in tinsel and gold as his SG peels thick slabs of sound sweet as honey and cool as ice. Charlie Watts is the man per usual keeping the train on the tracks and offering structure to the flighty excursions of Richards. Wyman, the sturdy framework also assists Watts in his hog tying of Jagger and Richards numerous flights of fancy.

‘Dead Flower’s leaves mud on the floor after flinging its back country accusations. The feathery arrangement is augmented by Richards joyous harmonizing on the chorus and Taylor’s continuously artistic riffing.  Jagger’s vocals are on point and he does more singing and less shouting which is always a good thing. Jagger sets the groove with hand claps and the band plays a practiced version of the song that obviously developed its deep roots while being performed on the UK tour.
The obvious highlight of the recording is ‘I Got the Blues’ that follows, as Jagger stretches for notes and hits them, and Richards lets himself go submerging his strumming into a jambalaya of familiar blues quotes. Dual horns are moaning and groaning shadowing Jagger’s lament. Richards again sings harmony with Mick offering up inspired and soulful moments of note. Bobby Keys blows heartily on his sax what is an organ solo on the studio recording and is the cause of numerous moments of magic during the performance.

Revealing the band’s obvious affinity for Mr. Chuck Berry, the version of ‘Let It Rock’ that follows requires gloves to touch. Knifing and staccato riffing slices and dices underneath the huffing and puffing horns. Jagger spits out Berry’s lines like an prospective British MC, flaunting his tail feathers as Taylor and Richards stitched licks drive him to greater ass shakin’.'Keef' is firmly in his element here and his solo spots are ace.

Perennial highlight ‘Midnight Rambler’ leaves no room for contemplation of the previous rock display as Jagger sounds the late night harp and the band circles under the stations only street torch. Mick blows some sweet blasts throughout the song but also makes a humorous aside on the footage when he blows a sour note. Otherwise this ten minute version picks up steam nicely and contains significant contributions by everyone involved. Mid song a groovy trading of riffs takes place between Taylor, Jagger and Richards before falling into the central rap where Jagger moans, ‘Go down on me baby’. After some cool on stage interactions, the outro jam detonates just how ya want it to and  becomes a high speed runaway freight.

The Stones in full glory then unfurl into ‘Satisfaction’, a version highlighted by a unique arrangement and the discovery of an alternate vocal delivery and melody by Jagger.  Richards warm island delivery of the once fuzzy and famous lick, as well as Watts laid back banging offer a wonderfully performed and melodically pleasing rendition. Mid way the horns begin to offer their own interjections, nudging the tempo to accelerate and almost morphing the tune into its usual arrangement.  Jagger and the horns soon after enter a call and response that fans the flames and finally get Jagger the love and attention he is so desperately seeking. Very cool and inspired video and audio of an oft played classic.
‘Bitch’ follows after being firmly satisfied and offers a horny Jagger exclaiming what sounds like ‘hot dog’ after some of the heated horn blasts. Richards stays with the muted blanket covering his clean tone that he has played with all night and let’s go with a nice solo spot filled with stabbing percussive licks. An awesome performance and quintessential Stones.‘Brown Sugar’ follows quickly and sweetly acting as a part two to the pair of Sticky Fingers rockers and closes the show fittingly. The song had not yet become the huge track it is today and at this time its single release was still a month away. Richards is enthusiastic as all get out in his playing and you can tell on the video he knows he and Mick have created a great f*@kin’ song and hit it out of the park.

Included as a ‘bonus’ on both the DVD/Blue Ray as well as the CD version are two alternative takes of “Bitch’ and “I’ve Got the Blues’ which each offer their own special moments of note. Bonus video includes a worthwhile performance of the band miming to ‘Brown Sugar’ as well with Mick’s pink suit an element of special interest.

All of the familiar classics and the couple of rarities found on the new Rolling Stones From the Vault release are played with attitude and panache. Having a capture of one of their finest era’s in such quality is sure to be a welcome addition to any collection. Fans that are familiar with the famous performance may not rush to check it, but to finally have it realized in official capacity is worth the investment. The sound and video upgrades are noticeable and the price is reasonable. Dig it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Take One: The Doors - 'Load Your Head, Blow It Up' 1969 'B' Side 'Who Scared You'

In today’s edition of Take One the ‘rock room’ examines a rare non-LP ‘B’ side released by the Doors as a single in March of 1969 in support of the album The Soft Parade. The full length album release itself was met with mixed reviews, as some fans and critics did not know what to make of the golden horns that dressed up the normally cloaked psychedelic songs the group was famous for.  While the first song recorded for the LP was Morrison’s ‘Wild Child’, consistent with the Doors sound, the album soon took on a life of its own due to the fact Morrison was running out of songs after riding the cresting waves of fame for two years. Taking direction and influence from contemporaries such as The Band, Blood, Sweat and Tears and the soon to be famous Chicago Transit Authority, the Doors foray into orchestrated rock was met with varying degrees of success. Swelling strings and silvery streaks of horns softened the edges of the normally edgy lysergic mantras disseminated by the band. The focus of this rant, ‘Who Scared You’, is in my opinion is the greatest example of the group’s combination of horns and sparse Shamanistic grooves. The result is a funky Morrison composition containing all of the Doors notable instrumental hallmarks but punctuated with well placed horns and double entendre Morrison lyrics that straddle the philosophical and the sexual.

Prior to The Soft Parade’s release the band prepped their audience for their change in musical direction by releasing the Robbie Krieger composition ‘Touch Me’ which went on to become one of the band’s biggest hits. ‘Wishful Sinful’ followed, giving Krieger another ‘A’ side which in this case only enjoyed moderate success. This tectonic shift in the dynamics of the band unfortunately signaled Morrison’s slow lost of interest in the world of rock and his creative focus morphing into poetry as opposed to song lyrics. Morrison’s personal frustrations would also boil over on the live concert stage prior to the release of The Soft Parade and culminating with the famous Miami incident. While Morrison’s insane behavior and alleged exposure rightfully received most of the focus, what I also noted was his flippant attitude toward the performances of The Soft Parade material. The combination of Morrison’s addictions, his difficulty with record company politics, stardom as well as not being able to keep up with the composing prowess of Kreiger all contributed to an album light on Morrison contributions, singles with a more mainstream lean and a band staring to lose their directive. Obviously the exception to this is the LP closing opus ‘The Soft Parade’, but that needs its own focused rant to fully uncover its clandestine gifts.

‘Who Scared You’ also holds the distinction of being one of only three non-album songs that the Doors ever released. The others being ‘You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further) a Willie Dixon track placed as the flip to ‘Love Her Madly’ in 1971 and the post-Morrison song ‘Tree Trunk’ which was the ‘B’ side to 1972’s single ‘Get Up and Dance’. ‘Who Scared You’ would eventually see deserving wide spread release on the 1972 compilation LP ‘Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine’ and later on the 1999 release Essential Rarities. Examined now in the grand context of the band’s catalog ‘Who Scared You’ would have fit nicely on The Soft Parade, perhaps even to displace lighter fare such as Krieger’s ‘Running Blue’ or the  Morrison and Krieger composition ‘Do It’.
‘Who Scared You’ tumbles in on tribal tom-tom’s and Manzarek’s quintessential whistling bird of prey keys. The rhythm climbs a set of hollow steps and flops excitedly on the edge of the bed with a snare snap. Kreiger slithers in with his clean Gibson SG tone that curls like a plush spring, coiled to work against the carefully shifting groove. The song contains a deviating groove that is as specific to the Doors as a fingerprint, accentuated by breathy horns that tastefully colored specific moments of note. 

Lyrically the song sets the scene, Morrison and woman satisfied with their exploration of each other’s body’s and minds. Morrison questions not only the primal aspects of the relationship but deeper collaborative questioning of not only how they got there but why they are even there at all. The biggest question still remains in the title of the track, ‘Who Scared You’ and why? Is the subject there with Morrison, ‘to freak out, or just to be beautiful?’

Mid-song the band breaks down into a syncopated carnival beat increased Morrison’s slightly of mic ‘Ugh’s ‘ that punctuate the sexuality of the song in perfect time with Manzarek’s cascading runs down the black and whites of his organ. Following the musical representation of consummation, the song returns to the glissading arrangement as Morrison asks the subject not to leave because he knows that they have both been satisfied. Typical of Morrison’s compositions the content lounges in both sun and shade while straddling the line between truth and illusion. As the song reaches its conclusion Morrison pulls his blues man persona from the sack of silver and gold on his waist noting he sees the unidentified ‘rider’ coming down the dusty road, carrying his heavy load. The track concludes and the listener feels satisfied due to the inclusion of every element you would want to hear in a Doors track; mystery, lust, rhythm, light and shade.
‘Who Scared You’ would also make it to the concert stage for a couple of rare appearances, once in December of 1968 at the L.A. Forum and also at the band’s famed January 1969 appearance at Madison Square Garden where they were joined by horns and a string quartet. According to these available recordings the song translated well to the stage.While there may be other versions that were performed and that exist they are still lost to time as of the writing of this article.
 ‘Who Scared You’ in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion is the most successful song from The Soft Parade era to combine the essential organic Doors elements with lush string and horn orchestrated brush strokes. While certain tracks may get more critical acclaim, ‘Who Scared You’ may be the track that deserves the notice. While the song’s release as a ‘B’ side illustrates the band was aware of the song’s strengths, its inclusion on a single left it off of the album while also insuring the track would eventually reach ‘rarity’ status. While there are no secrets left in the Doors catalog to be discovered, thankfully there are still a few tracks left that still classify as ‘deep’ cuts for fans new and old to enjoy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Grateful Dead - 'Wings a Mile Long' March 29, 1990 Wake Up to Find Out

 Culled from a tour now represented by two box sets and a number of official releases, the most recent Grateful Dead vault release, Wake Up to Find Out captures the most famous and arguably the most powerful performance of the famed Spring 1990 tour taking place on March 29, 1990. This concert occurred during the middle night of a legendary three night stand at Nassau Coliseum, the site of many memorable Dead Head convergences. In Dead Head circles this particular tour is mentioned in the same breath and held to the same standard as the mighty Europe 1972 and Spring 1977 excursions---well-known era’s containing musical alchemy that would occur on a nightly basis.

The influencing factor that contributes to making this particular concert even more unique is the addition of jazz saxophonist extraordinaire Branford Marsalis joining the band for one song in the first set and the entirety of the second set. As is usual for the Grateful Dead, when guest artists sit in it often drives the band members to new and unusual heights in their improvisations. In the case of Marsalis who was no stranger to jamming, he was indeed a virgin to Grateful Dead music, making his instant assimilation and dissemination of their music even more impressive. Wake Up to find Out captures the Grateful Dead in a late era peak, prior to their slow decent and enjoying their final musical pinnacle. Following Garcia’s 1986 coma and 1987’s gigantic resurgence with the hit LP In the Dark, the Spring of 1990 is witness to a culmination of the group’s career finally coming to a head in a flurry of all-star performances.

Taken from the original multi-track recordings, the sonic clarity and definition on this release is unsurpassed. As this particular run of shows was being recorded for the eventual live release, Without a Net, all of the shows were being captured for posterity in a professional manner. This ain’t no bootleg. The high musical standard set during the playing of the tour was equaled by the recording method of the shows.

The concert and recording begin with the high tempo on-two punch of a “Jack Straw”/”Bertha” opener. Rough but ready and extremely high energy the band comes out swinging with a stinging duo of opening songs. The entire first set is typical of the era, which is to say played to an extremely high standard. The set is somewhat short but in this case quality outweighs quantity. After reaching an early summit with a fragrant and fat “Ramble on Rose” the first highlight of the set lifts off of the earth with a breezy and all time version of “Bird Song”.
 Marsalis joins the band for an extended and delicately constructed version of the song in which his saxophone blends in with the band like a permanent fixture. Immediately Garcia and Marsalis trade feathery licks while Lesh and the drummers navigate the winds aloft, rising and falling with the altitude. It doesn’t take long for the band to generate a blustery convalescence of sound. Garcia switches to rhythm causing the jam to collect and disperse momentum. Once the tempo has been stated Mydland, Garcia and Marsalis weave their scaled discoveries into a slithering melodic dance. The song is driven by the inquisitive breezes of inspiration, moving by their own accord. Lesh the main driving impetus, constantly shifting the directive and allowing for the soloists to create on an ever changing canvas. “Bird Song” soon gently returns to earth, headed toward the “Promised Land” and a rip snortin’ rock n roll conclusion to the first set. The rendition of “Bird Song” obviously got everyone off because as Marsalis prepared to leave after his appearance, he was notified by Lesh and other band members that he would be invited to join the band for the entirety of the second set. What a set it would turn out to be.

The second half begins with a patient and jazzy “Eyes of the World” built like the old days, this is actually the version that would end up being represented on the official release Without a Net. Finding the perfect tempo, this “Eyes” feels like the band has discovered the version they have been waiting their entire career to perform. Billy and Mickey tumble like rolling thunder and Lesh swings like a nimble club musician. Marsalis streaks across the landscape with transcendent melodic statements that not only play against Garcia’s statements but draw them in intimately before shooting across the bands percolating groove. Garcia uses his new-found MIDI capabilities to join Marsalis not only on guitar but on a breathy oboe.

 In contrast to normal procedure the band segues into “Estimated Prophet” after a wonderfully strange wah-wah’d outro jam. Again, this “Estimated Prophet” is one of the better versions you will hear and an ace choice for Marsalis to play on because of its 7/4 time signature and jazz aesthetics. This is solid electric blue 1990’s Grateful Dead, containing tasteful true ensemble playing where the band interplay drives the jams, not individual soloing. This is what has and will always separate the Dead from other improv ‘Jam’ bands, their ability to listen and respond to the minutest musical detail and grow it into a stately sonic statement.

“Estimated” stretches like warm taffy, Marsalis drops out, Garcia starts to get strange and the jam has nowhere to go except for its natural resting place, “Dark Star”. The obvious choice to go after the delicious jamming that has preceded it, this “Dark Star” makes up the central meat of the set encompassing a pre-drums first verse, drums/space and a post space verse two. The band skips around the theme for a while making glorious statements. After the first verse is sung a kinetic ambiance settles on the band and they enter a sideways fusion flavored groove. A strange brew develops with the drummers getting especially excited by the proceedings by laying down a three dimensional dissonant rhythm. The central orbit of “Dark Star” is reached and the highlight of the concert is created with all members locked into an unseen influence. The jam takes on a tangible form, a pinwheel tumbling through a star filled transparent box that lacks gravity. Garcia thumbs through his diverse MIDI index hitting on multiple tones and even a “Close Encounters” vibe at one point while Lesh slides across wooden floors in his sock feet. Marsalis joyfully syncopates with Garcia tumbling into a multicolored ball of experimental scales, converging to dance before drifting away. The jam gets thick and heavy with quirky additions by Mydland and Weir before tumbling into a trippy drums segment and a spacious space horizon of bells, clinks, dings and other playful ‘noises’ by the drummers. One of the finest post-retirement 'Dark Star' segments the band ever performed has just taken place and was thankfully captured for eternity by this recording.
 In all honesty, I feel the band had busted their proverbial nut at this point as they move out of a foggy space and into verse two of “Dark Star” then into the joyousness of the “Wheel’. This is not negative in any way, I just feel had reached the end of their journey of discovery and now locked it into cruise control to rock the assembled crowd home. The band continues to blast  through a “Throwing Stones” >”Lovelight” combo and the poignant encore of “Knockin on Heavens Door” –  all played extremely well and find the band exhibiting the same enthusiasm in place since the opening numbers. Marsalis illuminates “Lovelight” with his sexy horn blasts, making the familiar brand spanking new as he has consistently done for the entire evening. The crowd walks dazed to the exits after the gentle rendition of “Knockin On Heavens Door”.

Wake Up to Find Out is a wonderful document of a band getting a second and even third wind after an extended and influential touring career. The concert is possibly the finest of an era saturated with evenings always perched on the edges of musical genius. The addition of Branford Marsalis only increases the bands penchant for improvisation and originality. This 1990 concert can lock into any era of Grateful Dead music and compete with the finest nights the band ever played. The quality of performance, recording capture and song selection combine for a perfect and proper listening experience.