Talk From The Rock Room: March 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Put the Boot In: The Doors Danbury High School October 11, 1967 - 'Is Everybody In?'

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am enjoying one of the few and rare recorded live documents of The Doors to circulate from their first year of major popularity, 1967.  Early recorded performances are at a premium in the case of the Doors with the recently released 1966 London Fog fragment and the famed Matrix recordings from 1967 being the foundational recordings available to fans. The Peter Abram’s recorded 1967 Matrix recordings deserve an entire chapter of their own to tell the story; but know that the dialog regarding the prior and future release of these tapes continues to this day.
In 1967, prior to legal issues, drugs, alcohol, women, money and the trappings of fame destroying the spirit of Jim Morrison and the successful internal dynamics of the Doors as a band, the group was ascending rapidly due to the stratospheric popularity of ‘Light My Fire’. The concert field recording I am listening to today comes from this era of extreme popularity and immortalizes the band in a perfect moment of discovery, companionship and musical power.

Touring in support of their second album Strange Days, this had been released the previous month, the October 11, 1967 performance features focused playing by the Doors and a eager and enthusiastic Jim Morrison. The concert was originally scheduled to take place at Western Connecticut State College but due to repairs taking place at the arena on site the concert was moved to the Danbury High School Auditorium. This is quite an auspicious venue for such a group of dark musical vagrants like the Doors. Reports are that the ‘gymnasium’ had 2,000 people in attendance for the one hour concert taking place for the aforementioned college’s ‘Fall Weekend’.

Lucky for us an enterprising member of the faculty decided to record the concert via 2 on stage microphones, the result being a well balanced and ambient capture of the Doors at their early musical peak. Morrison is notably sedate when compared to the upcoming December appearance in New Haven which would result in his arrest, but the focus on this particular night results in a powerful Doors musical expression.

The tape begins with a slightly ornery principal sternly telling the assembled crowd that there will be a 15 minute intermission, no smoking, and no one can leave their seats or you will be ‘escorted to the door’.  After this buzz kill introduction the tape captures Morrison compadre Tom Baker stating, ‘The Doors, ok?’ as the band enters into a buoyant and bubbly ‘Moonlight Drive’.

The ‘B’ side to the August 1967 ‘Love Me Two Times’ single ‘Moonlight Drive’ slithers silvery on Krieger’s blue slide guitar lines and Manzarek’s  groove setting organ. The Doors distinctive instrumental aesthetic captures the crowd immediately while Morrison sings confidently and in seductive throat. The tape elicits some sonic anomalies that come and go but soon sort themselves out. There is a nice balance some slight hiss, but a wonderful eyes closed ambiance that encourages headphone lights out concentration.

‘Moonlight Drive ‘percolates through its lunar changes before turning stormy for Morrison’s atmospheric reading of the poetry verses of Horse Latitudes. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek militarize the groove of the song underneath Morrison, while he theatrically croons the verses. The band climaxes fittingly before reprising the verse of ‘Moonlight Drive’ and reaching the songs finale.
Morrison lets out a substantial ‘yeah’ that segues to the inquisitive introduction to ‘Money’. Krieger remains on slide and he and Ray cash in as they both take a solo swing around the verse melody. The band is sunk deep into a rich jangling pocket from which emerges a call and response between Morrison and Krieger during the outro. 

Morrison plays with the girls in the crowd as Densmore clicks out the boss nova beat of ‘Break on Through’. What follows is a textbook reading with heated and frayed edges from the rising from the lust of the live performance. Morrison lets out a ‘come on baby’, ‘you’re my girl’ amidst a series of sensual asides. Manzarek’s organ bass is picked up loud and clear on the recording pulsing underneath Krieger’s thick rope guitar lines. Mid song Morrison leads the band through the unique to live performance ‘There You Sit’ segment. The dynamics drop and the groove intensifies. Ray and Jim get together joining forces while breaking down musical walls revealing the ‘other side’ and initiating the group to a thrilling conclusion.
An early stand alone ‘Back Door Man’ comes next and is ushered in with a conglomerate of Morrison grunts, chuckled, squeals and groans. The Doors concert standard is played with a menacing gusto with the band locked into a blues groove. Morrison sings about ‘having the right’ during the ‘pork and beans’ section of the track before screaming the backing trio back into the song proper.

Drawing cries of appreciation from the audience a rare performance of the current September 1967 single ‘People are Strange’ follows. The song allows for a mid concert respite and offers a picture perfect studio rendition spotlighting the instrumentation and songwriting that made the band a unique commodity for the time.

An always welcome ‘Crystal Ship’ continues in a mellow and mysterious vein. The recording reveals Densmore’s careful and lucent cymbal work in addition to Manzarek’s special organ work during the solo interlude.  Without his usual sustain Manzarek’s solo offers a cool uniqueness to the performance. While the vocals are somewhat distant, as typical to this performance Morrison is fully into putting on a show for the assembled patrons.

One of the excellent aspects of this recording is how Morrison peppers the show with fragments from his famous opus, The Celebration of the Lizard, which was in its formative state. Morrison invites the crowd to ‘Wake Up!’ and in what would later become usual practice, prefaces an expansive version of ‘Light My Fire’ with a dramatic poetry prelude. Krieger uses a shimmering and multi dimensional tone during Morrison’s reading often spotlighted during this era and it lends a ethereal and spooky air to the proceedings.

‘Light My Fire’ ignites from the hallucinatory ashes of ‘Wake Up’ and spotlights a beautifully constructed version before the complacency of later years set in. Again, Ray plays with minimal sustain and lays clean and crisp quotes over the churning Densmore and Krieger groove. Morrison is getting off with shouts in between solos. Krieger then follows suit with an exploratory solo spot that highlights his melodic sensibilities. The tape contains an organic ambiance that really shines here and allows for timely inspection of the instrumentalists of the Doors.

Setting the stage for the big conclusion of the concert, the remnants of crowd noise is joined by the sparse twinkling of Manzarek’s organ and the fearful wash of Densmore’s cymbals. An extended cool dusk introduction soon coagulates into a sonic alien introduction to ‘The End’. Krieger’s tangled licks defy categorization as the snake across the tribal melodies reverberating from Densmore’s taught skins. Approaching twenty minutes the band plies the song's arrangement which remains in constant flux like a soft warmed putty.

Morrison begins normally enough singing the intro of the song, but soon enters into the ‘Names of the Kingdom’ fragment from the Celebration of the Lizard. He tests the swirling band waters for a melody line which he can use. Morrison soon hits on one that works for the cadence of his poetry. Flying free, Krieger starts to prod Densmore and assists in winding the groove into a pressurized spring. Classic Doors.

The music morphs organically before Morrison signals to ‘stop the car’ to which the band responds in kind. Morrison takes the opportunity to quote ‘I see your rider’, which in turn becomes lyrics from the yet to be released, ‘Who Scared You’. The music gets shaded and its dark blues becomes psychedelicized as the group ushers in the famous, ‘Killer awoke’ segment of the song.
Patient and dramatic Morrison recites the section deadly serious to which Krieger responds with ominous and controlled feedback. The band shifts with every word, responding while slithering across rocks and keeping away from the light. The ‘Mother, I want to…’ lyric is reached and the ancient door is cracked revealing a stunning full band detonation. Morrison lets out a ‘yeah’ as the ‘blue bus’ jam enters and soon becomes an excited Indian swirl’. The band is now under deep hypnosis and the four members become a reptilian ghost, a single monster, with Morrison controlling the breath and movements.

The band continues to swell, Densmore keeper of the ceremonial tempo understands that Morrison is peaking and pounds for his life. Morrison verbalizes the conjured beast and moans in dramatic sympatico. Krieger finger picks a supernatural chime that leads him to ascend and descend his guitar neck increasing the tension. The music reveals its cracks and speeds uncontrolled until a head on conclusion is the only reality. Stopping one inch away from certain demise and impact the band takes soft pause then proceeds to destroy itself in a sonic explosion. 

Reports are the Morrison smashed the microphone stand into the floor of the splintering stage at the climax of ‘The End’ and hearing the aural document it’s easy to visualize. The scars of Morrison’s battle ax remained for years as a reminder and imprint of the amazing musical exorcism that took place in a New Haven high school gymnasium in 1967. Amidst the sonic chaos and debris Manzarek brushes ample organ whitewashes that intertwine with Krieger’s typically demented guitar drones until a full circle is reached and connected.

The band finishes in glorious fashion, obviously having spent their musical savings. The crowd responds in excitement and awe. The MC from the introduction of the concert has obviously been moved by this performance as his return to the stage is underlined with the simple comment, ‘wonderful show’. While an obvious understatement, there is really nothing else to add as what has taken me numerous overblown lines to express; he hit firmly on the head.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Joni Mitchell - 1971 LP 'Blue' - 'Songs are like Tattoos'

Spinning in the navy of the early evening tonight in the ‘rock room’, is one of the finest and most famous of the revealing ‘singer songwriter’ records to emerge from the 1970’s.  Joni Mitchell’s Blue illustrates through its honest human expression and translucent melodies the exposed wires that comprise the complicated circuitry of the human heart. Mitchell was quoted as saying about the LP, ‘there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals’. There is hardly a wasted note in the delicate instrumentation as well, with lacy acoustic guitars and woody dulcimers creating bucolic and personalized aural scenes.

Released on June 22, 1971 Blue is a serious album that communicates openly about the diluted schematics of relationships specifically Mitchell’s own scattered diary pages which find themselves lying weightless across the records cutting grooves. Mitchell’s recordings following 1971’s Blue would continue to examine the same personal themes but not in the same reflective perfection as Blue. Mitchell’s influence is drawn from her first husband, her relationship with Graham Nash as well as James Taylor, her lost child, unrequited love, love lost, love found and if love even exists. The aforementioned themes packaged in a exquisite blue and set to sail on thoughts of endless horizons and flowing waters.

The albums rich hue is revealed with the opening ‘All I Want’, briskly strummed on an Appalachian dulcimer and woody acoustic guitar chords. Joni’s introductory vocal lines are held by the syncopated scrubbing of the collaborative strings and a soft percussion. Mitchell’s singing is drizzled in longing, the songs content drawn from the gray area between leaving one relationship while entering another. A spectacular opening.

‘My Old Man’ follows and begins with stately piano chords soon joined by Joni’s ‘bel canto’. Her falsetto is stunning adding to the emotional draw of the song. Contentment rings from the keys while Joni shares her unabashed dependence on the unnamed significant other a continuation from the wishful opening of ‘All I Want’.

‘Little Green’ is one of the songs from Blue that was mined from Joni’s past catalog for inclusion on Blue. Originally composed in 1967 the song was written for the daughter that Mitchell put up for adoption in 1965. While the actual story would remain private for a number of years, Mitchell must have felt that the personal expression warranted inclusion on such a personal folio of songs as Blue. A crisp finger picked acoustic births a contrasting ‘green’ melody. The song delicately balances regret and hopefulness like a china tea cup on a saucer. Mitchell’s voice pours out hopefulness for her green child ‘when the Spring is born’ while internalizing the ‘blue’ weariness of the father leaving. When performing the song live in the late 1960’s Mitchell introduced the song by adding, ‘This is about a child who was born in Cancer and I hope that’s good’.

‘Carey’ picks up the tempo a bit, while again featuring dulcimer in addition to Stephen Stills making a special appearance on bass and acoustic guitar. ‘Carey’ moves with an organic pulse and a underlying joy. Mitchell herself has said the song is inspired by her traveling times, specifically people encountered when she lived in a hippie community in Crete. This is probably the most ‘grooving’ song on the collection, a great cut.

The album’s title track ‘Blue’ closes side one fittingly with the opening line expressing that ‘songs are like tattoos’ over a solitary piano. The song is impressionistic in its intent while also carrying a commentary on the unfathomable waves of loss and despair washing over our narrator. Imagery of the sea and of the piercing of flesh intermingle, permanency and its eventual erosion also play out through the churning piano and Joni’s rippling voice which diversely dips, flits, bobs and weaves. Joni has been out to sea and nothing has been washed away. It's nice to be able to take a breath while flipping this record, it's needed.

One of Joni’s most beloved songs, ‘California’ opens the amazing side two with a warm optimism and sunny admiration for her home. Sung from overseas with a delicious optimism, Joni’s voice melts over well timed pedal steel and a groovy airy melody. James Taylor makes an appearance on the song lending some country funky acoustic guitar. One of the finest songs on the LP because of Mitchell’s revealing sentimentality and expressive siren voice. Like another paean to California, ‘L.A. Woman’, the song is a nationalistic anthem for the lost and hopeful hippies of the time, the feeling that still exists today.

The uptempo feel of side two continues with, ‘The Flight Tonight’, a churning acoustic number with a darker feeling than the preceding songs. Rock band ‘Nazareth’ would increase the popularity of this Mitchell ‘B’ side with their own hard rock version in 1973. Content wise the song slots into side two by expressing the immediate regret of leaving someone behind as a flight takes off into the sky.

The ‘rock room’s personal favorite of the album comes next with ‘River’. Performed by Joni solo on piano, the ‘ant-holiday’ song beautifully quotes ‘Jingle Bells’ in its opening melody. The song deftly revels the receded feelings that the holiday times can pull from inside. The imagery of the frozen water, cut trees and no snow contrast with the memories of dusty Polaroid’s on the mantle. Mitchell’s admission that she ‘made my baby cry’ increases the intensity of the icy notes from her piano from which the songs of the holiday’s bob their recognizable melodies before submerging again under the ice flows. The ‘river’ is Mitchell’s only escape from her created regret, selfishness and sadness.
The song is awash with perfection from its melody right down to Mitchell’s icicle vocals hanging crystalline from her winter eves. The acknowledgement of regret is so strong that it becomes beauty and Joni’s piano only affirms this reality. Wow.

The dulcimer strums another famed Mitchell composition with ‘A Case of You’. This is an additional Mitchell song that has been covered a number of times by a plethora of artists.  This song is supposedly influenced by Graham Nash and spotlights a bird’s eye view of a lovers conversation in addition to scattered remembrances of her lover brought to the surface by the narrator in differing scenes. The buzz of alcohol is compared to the drunkenness of love by Mitchell with desire running through her veins; as even an entire 'case of you’ would still allow Joni to remain on her feet. 
The album closes with the anticipatory extended piano introduction of ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’. The song is all raw exposure and the uncomfortable reality of a love between two people reaching its inevitable conclusion. The song is purported to be based on Joni’s first marriage to ex Chuck Mitchell. In the song the male half of the relationship acts as the ‘old guard’ and what must be left behind. ‘Richard’ takes the opportunity to deflate our narrator’s optimism by stepping on the ‘moon in her eyes’ and pulling her head from the clouds. The song exhibits a tremendous sense of place which character portraits of ‘the dreamer’ and the ‘the realist’.  The truth is in the details, the waitress, every light being on in the house, all representative of the influence of dying love.
Like, ‘Blue’ which closes side one, ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ epitomizes the whirlpool of emotions explored on the entirety of the record. Both songs bookend one of the most probing and truthful explorations and expressions of the human spirit and relationships ever committed to record.

The 1971 album Blue consolidates the human condition into a relatable and transportational collection. The music contained within is what takes the message into the crevasses of understanding. It’s art like Blue that allows us to adhere to the music and its creator and use their expressions as reflecting pools into our own lives for deeper understanding. Mitchell’s gift for observation and dissemination as well as composition and instrumentation is critical for delivering her beautiful musical analyses.