Sunday, February 18, 2018
This recording though, finds the band in prime form, blasting through the hits and playing the jazzy extended improvised favorites with impressive panache. The quality and performance contained on this recording could easily qualify for an official live concert release. What I find most endearing about this recording it that it combines 'Chicago's noncommercial cosmic funk forays into jazz fusion, in addition to their accessible mid 1970's hit songwriting attitudes which in turn, combine into a enjoyable listening experience featuring the best the band has to offer.
'Call On Me' follows and is one of the single releases of the current 'Chicago VII', and acts in total contrast to the preceding number as far as attitude, 'Call On Me' features a more accessible vibe but also retains the quintessential 'Chicago' punch increased exponentially by the addition of percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. The song sizzles like bubblegum on black asphalt toward its conclusion with a plethora of poly-rhythmic cymbal hits and roly-poly horn lines.
Moving from a current hit to a past glory, the band begins 'Saturday In the Park' a error free version of one of the bands most endearing songs. The white boy funk that influenced a multitude of horn bands is contagious as Lamm and Cetera harmonize perfectly over the choppy groove. Cetra's bass playing on this number shines with impressive scurrying lines.
After a commercial break on the recording, the band picks up presumably still in the first set with 'Beginnings' a single of the bands debut Chicago Transit Authority LP. A delicately groovy Lamm composition, built around Kath's funky guitar strums the song increased its danceability and instrumental prowess when performed live. The established groove peculates while the horns of Pankow, Parazaider and Loughnane intertwine into a knotty aural twine. Impressively stretching, the ending of the song inflates, pushing and popping seams, before reaching its final destination.
Closing out the first half of the concert comes one of my personal favorite 'Chicago' tracks, 'Ballet For a Girl In Buchannon' a multifaceted 'Song Suite' written by James Pankow and featured on the bands second 1970 LP 'Chicago'. Made up of the song pieces, 'Make Me Smile", 'So Much To Say, So Much To Give', Anxiety's Moment', West Virginia Fantasies', 'Color My World', 'To Be Free' and 'Now More Than Ever', the song is a diverse and varied conglomerate of 'Chicago's compositional prowess and instrumental attack. 'Make Me Smile' and 'Color My World' were detached from the song cycle for release, and are popular tracks that stand sternly on their own.
More remarkable jamming occurs with the following triad, 'Italian From New York', Hanky Panky' and 'Life Saver' three tracks from the current, at the time Chicago VII and impressively played in the same order here. Lamm replies from the microphone that there will be some 'Experimentation' occurring on the stage. 'Italian From New York' talks tough with an aggressive central riff and tightly squeezed horn lines. Kath plays a strained guitar turn speaking in alternative languages with the hot breath of the horns. The core lick becomes a mantra for Kath and the horns to rebound ideas off of, Cetera gets spunky and the jams falls off of a cliff into a silent abyss that suddenly bounds into the comedic intro syncopation of 'Hanky Panky'. Just as suddenly a swinging jazz theme appears groaning through mournful trombone lines and stitching their way through the created bop. Again, the band flawlessly trace their way in and out of thematic and difficult musical topographical landscapes, perfectly tracing borders until finding the slippery and lubricated transition into 'Life Saver'. 'Life Saver' dives into the deep end without fear, more reminiscent of a 'Band' song than 'Chicago' with its dirty keys and earthy groove. Moist water logged keyboards bob on the horizon, while Kath cuts waves with scratchy scrubbing on his guitar. The horns enter again as the song increases in tempo--- landing the dive into the songs main melody with a ten from all judges voting.
As has been the case all evening the band follows this musical maelstrom with a perfectly placed safety net to make sure certain members of the crowd didn't get lost in the experimentation. 'Just You and Me' brings everyone band included back from orbit as the band slinks their way through the James Paknow composed song from Chicago VI. Highlights include Kath's cry baby guitar that gently purrs due to his well timed coaxing. Parazaider also takes a masterful and horny solo over the extended mid-section of the song that stuns my ears, before returning to the more conventional chorus changes.
The concert closes with two major 'Chicago' tracks, again representative of the groups professional duality, illustrating their ability to compose extended composites of songs both containing pop sensibilities and moving into and through amazing sunburst improvisations. The first performance is a reading of '25 or 6 to 4' which has at its juicy center a stunning Terry Kath guitar solo that almost leaves the rails as it ascends and descends steamy darkened highways of sound.
The concerts final number is the addictive Paknow/Cetera number, 'Feelin Stronger Every Day', leaving the crowd with a melody that will reverberate through their heads the rest of the evening. The perfect combination of aggressive rock riffing and slamming melodic singalong, the closer exhibits all of the strengths of the original 'Chicago' line up. The group shifts into double time and everyone extends their necks for the visible finish line. Cetera's bass pops and plunks a rock and roll rhythm, Kath shakes the bottle, Lamm and Seraphine twist the cap and the horns explode all over the walls as the increasing pressure is too much to contain. The band has hit the spot and the crowd responds in kind, the King Biscuit announcer states the concerts end while I stare at my receiver in amazement.
This perfect soundboard rendering of 'Chicago' in 1974 is an impeccable display of a band who is teetering on a pointed axis of perfection. They contain the innate on stage ability to take off and improvise, as well as return and embrace through their accessible songwriting. The band is able to take their songs to the very edges of their respective elaborate arrangements, while keeping with and returning to more familiar and contemporary thematic interests. Whether you are a 'Chicago' fan familiar with the 'live' catalog ,or new to the wealth of material available from arguably the bands finest era. You will find in this performance the successful combination of fine sound quality, incendiary performance and fantastic songs.
Dialogue I and II 1974
25 or 6 to 4-1974
Friday, February 9, 2018
The Spring of 1978 is a time in Grateful Dead history that presents a multitude of unique and exciting musical moments. When examined as a whole, its easy to discern that the tour rides the rails precariously, always close to spiraling out of control. But with this daredevil attitude the band in turn creates a number of delightfully devastating musical masterpieces. While often obscured in the shadow of the monumental 1977 tours, the Spring of 1978 finds a different and even looser band than the previous year. The band can be heard jamming nightly, all the while balanced delicately on the edge of chaos and musical magic. A number of official releases from the Dick’s Picks and Dave’s Picks series have now been culled from April and May of 1978 ( DaP 7 4-22-1978, DaP 15 4-24-1978, DP 25 5-10/11-1978) and offer the listener a glimpse into the power and still occurring nightly experimentation by the band.
Jamming today in the ‘rock room’ is the Grateful Dead’s May 14, 1978 performance from the Providence Civic Center, released as the sole representative of the year 1978 in the expansive 30 Trips Around the Sun box set covering the band’s entire career and released in 2015. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion this particular performance is the best of the May leg of the tour and was rightfully chosen by vault archivist David Lemieux for inclusion on the band’s career spanning collection.
One thing about this particular concert and similarly to the other surrounding shows on the tour is the patience, tempo and positive vibes exhibited by the band. In direct contrast to some of the measured and tentative playing during some dates in 1977, by the Spring of 78 the band was ‘going for it’ musically and vocally on a consistent basis. There was a conscious collective attitude to be bigger and badder than previously and the group was thrashing through East coast sheds as a rock and roll fire breathing beast.
The Providence concert opens with an amped crowd and the aesthetic of a warm Betty Cantor soundboard recording. The band plays with a calm focus right from the get go, Garcia is particularly sharp and Godchaux plays expressively throughout. You can tell that there is something different going on by the subtle interplay and animated vocal expressions sprinkled throughout the set.
The opening ‘1/2 Step’ is locked in and by the first solo section Godchaux and Garcia climb the framework of the song together as hearty multi limbed musical vine. They dance one another across the stage as this ‘1/2 Step’ plays itself toward perfection. ‘Cassidy’ follows and again offers the band an early chance to open things up. Continuing the first set theme thus far the group is playing inventively and crisply. Easily one of my personal favorite performances of ‘Cassidy’ follows with the only misstep being no vocal reprise upon the return from the mid song jam, but they hit it perfectly so who cares?! Garcia’s guitar is big and brassy with every note fired hitting its mark. While Lesh’s playing is understated at this point he too is placing perfect fingers.
Following this breathless beginning a buoyant ‘They Love Each Other’ plays with pluck and pop. Garcia’s vocals are emphatic and invested culminating is a well paced and excellent rendition.
There now comes a mid set space for introspection as the band takes a moment to collect themselves following the opening series of home runs. An all time version of ‘Looks Like Rain’ and a similarly expressive version of ‘It Must Have Been the Roses’ take the air out of the set slightly but are so damn good you have to shake you head at the musical quality being put forth by the band.
A typical for the era ‘Uncle and Big River’ combo comes next and stokes the crowds fire quickly with a high speed ‘River’ that percolates into a foamy rapid rather quickly. Before anyone can catch their breath two additional ‘all time’ versions close out the opening set.
First Garcia busts out a kinetic and high speed ‘Brown Eyed Women’. Weir is playing with a particular attention to detail and I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent and dynamic playing by the drummers. Bill and Mickey were playing really well in mid-1978, illustrated by the expanding drum segments that were soon to become a second set fixture. The tempo is snappy for ‘Brown Eyed Women’ and prods Garcia into taking a few rounds on his solo spot and developing a perfect melodic story between verses. A fine version.
Crowning the first set is the longest stand alone ‘Let It Grow’ the band ever performed. Quantity does not always mean quality but in this case the band has a lot to say and makes sure they pack it all into a top 5 version of the song. Patience is again exhibited by the band as each nook and cranny of the songs arrangement is explored for opportunity.
Once the songs verses are harvested Garcia sets the chugging groove with wiry rhythm strokes. He begins soloing with a heavy distorted tone but soon cleans it up and begins his exploration. Lesh keeps things in the lower register and latches on to the rolling tempo picked up by the drummers. At around 8 minutes the jam is moving by its own inertia with syncopated cowbell strikes and Godchaux’s rapping and succinct piano exclamations.
Garcia begins to wail extended one note over driven notes, Godchaux responds in kind and a unique impov develops over familiar themes. The detailed jam moves like smoke until Weir interjects some cool chord ideas around 11 minutes. Lesh continues to lather multicolored paste into the cracks and stays submerged growling in the lower registers. Garcia repeats a beautiful cadence before using it a springboard into another room and discovering there a poignant finger picking pattern. He circles around the drummers riding a circular pulse that Weir dissects and Godchaux drizzles sweet notes on top of.
At almost 15 minutes the band returns to the chorus briefly before exploding out of it with a series of ‘Caution-esque’ alternating guitar scrubs. Garcia stacks trills on top trills initiating the band into a proper peak and well timed expression of intensity that had been building throughout the set. High octane. Garcia botches the landing slightly, but all is forgiven after the preceding expression of musical prowess. Wow, one of the finest sets you could ever want to hear from the band. A highly recommended performance.
Obviously, the band has lost no momentum during the set break, returning to the stage as playful as they were for the opening set. As fans of the Dead we know that the set list in no way reflects the strength of the playing which is the case for the beginning of set 2 which begins with the oft played ‘Samson and Delilah’, ‘Ship of Fools’ duo. Here, ‘Samson’ is filled with the exaggerated and growling vocals that epitomize shows of this ilk. The groove is intricate and the interplay is top notch, Garcia, like has been previously stated is on the prowl for new expressions of well traveled melodies. ‘Ship’ is not a Persian dirge and is played with terrific energy, and is an enjoyable version which again comes from an era in which there are a number of well played renditions.
The centerpiece of the second set is a beautifully paired ‘Estimated Prophet/Eyes of the World’ pairing that spotlights measured playing and attentiveness to the muse. The ‘Estimated’ never strays far from home, but offers an extended outro jam that flows effortlessly toward a crystalline movement toward ‘Eyes’. While not ‘rolling’ like other ‘Estimated’s’ of the period the band only probes at the improvisational possibilities before Garcia signals an excursion into a high tempo ‘Eyes’. While played quite fast the music takes its time. Here the band coalesces into one unit playing a great version where all respective parts contribute equally. The song’s journey into drums is slyly understated yet musically intoxicating. Garcia and the drummers toss ideas back and forth for a bit as the rest of the guitarists leave the stage for drums.
If you are familiar with 1978 you know the drums are long, intense, tribal and crazy. This one is no different. Every implement on the stage is used to bang on something. Billy and Mickey eventually thump their way into the familiar ‘Not Fade Away’ beat.
An imposing and extended post hiatus ‘Not Fade Away’ coagulates out of the aforementioned drum madness. Keeping with the theme of the whole show the band takes their time in exploring each space in this long performed classic. The pre verse jamming finds Garcia throwing out as many different melodic variations on the Bo Diddley beat as he possibly can. Here the playing is more laid back than explosive allowing for 7 minutes of grooving before the verses are sung. Weir coaxes some gritty strumming from his ax during this segment shifting the drummers approach.
In direct opposition to a version like the one from Englishtown, NJ 8 months earlier, here the intimate interplay is critical and the musical carpet bombing of the crowd found in the aforementioned is secondary. The energy spikes when the verses are sung and the first solo segment is highlighted by Garcia’s thick Mutron licks and Lesh’s rubbery lines.
The second jam segment following the verses shows Garcia hitting on a lick that almost lands into ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ which Lesh then takes an interest in and Weir joins in on with some (tasteful!) slide playing. The jam turns bluesy and becomes a very enjoyable and uniquely sweet march that Lesh and Garcia soon twist into a somewhat rare for the era version of ‘Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad’
‘Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad’ tears out from ‘NFA’ and takes the place of a usual post drums Garcia ballad. Weir adds some slide guitar, Lesh lets go with a few detonations and the rest of the band takes the song to a higher plane. The crowd is ecstatic and the band responds in kind. ‘GDTRFB’ slams into the side of an incendiary 1978 version of ‘Around and Around’. The band basks in rock and roll glory as they stomp through the songs stops and starts and sprint through the double time conclusion. Woah.
Garcia screams his way through a celebratory ‘US Blues’ encore and just like that the band is on the bus to Chicago. In an era that sometimes fluctuated between musical epiphany and sluggish repetition (sometimes in the same set); May 14, 1978 touched upon the musical grail that the group tried to grasp on a reoccurring basis. Though this show did not take place in a vacuum, as there are a number of worthy performances to be found in the surrounding dates. This one is at the top of the list in the humble opinion of the ‘rock room’, check it out for yourself.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Following the heinous assassination attempt on Bob Marley’s life in December of 1976, he flew to London to escape the imminent threat hanging over him in Jamaica. He’d spend more than a year in Britain, developing and recording songs that would eventually make up both 1977’s Exodus album and Kaya, the subject of this ‘rock room’ rant. In addition to the overwhelming stress caused by the political ire directed at him, Marley was also to begin to battling the melanoma discovered in his foot that would lead to his eventual demise
Kaya allowed for the pressure of being a spokesman, activist, and leader to subside momentarily, while enabling Marley to mellow the mood musically. Whereas Exodus had changed Marley’s life personally and politically, Kaya would detach him from it for a time.
A record that sits in complete contrast to the politically charged and world-renowned Exodus, Kaya has a serene and stony, roots-reggae groove. Kaya is Jamaican code for marijuana, and the cover art of the original LP contains a massive smoldering rasta joint, a preview to the levitated Jah attitudes pervading the recording. For this album, Marley stepped back from his mystical preacher man and human-defender status, taking time to reflect on his new view, regain his sanity, and express his one love. This sneaky record is sometimes forgotten in the context of Marley’s larger discography, obscured and bookended by the lyrically dense collections Exodus and 1979’s Survival.
Upon its March 1978 release, Kaya was criticized as light fair, an album of beautiful songs played through a smoky blue haze. Yet, time has revealed them to be filled with deep personal insights, conveyed through expressive Marley vocals and clairvoyant instrumentation. While the attitude that permeates the record at glance may be one of ganja, praise and love, a concentrated look shows personal songs dealing with fear and faith. The Wailers were road practiced and as tight as blood brothers during this era, working in conjunction with Marley entering a prolific songwriting stage of his career due to the aforementioned inspirational and life changing events.
Kaya emanates a vibrant and contagious positivity as soon as the needle settles into the grooves, as ‘Easy Skanking’ undulates with a thumping bass drum that punctuates the elastic vocals, stretched like warm waves drawing shore sands into their depths. The ganja smoke is hearty, as Marley sings: “Excuse me while I light my spliff,” and continues through the vibrant red, yellow and green drift of the title track.
'Kaya’ is a squishy sweet number, containing colorful keyboards and fruitful vocal exclamations and is an appropriate groove for the title track. Another lidded expression of love for Ganja. The major radio hit of the album follows, with the popular “Is This Love,” a song rooted in its addictive melody line. A hearty sleek dual guitar line becoming the centerpiece. Once the tune makes winds way to your ears, it’s soaked into your head for the duration. A fine Marley classic, the Wailers sound like an island orchestra, while Marley and the I-Three’s commune vocally in stirring fashion.
The Wailers were every bit the mirror reflecting Marley’s muse, the interpreters of his dreams, and relaters of his attitudes and they have never sounded better in a studio setting than on the crisp representation of Kaya.
‘Sun Is Shining’ slithers out to a new dawn, bringing the vibe down slightly, slinking with a sexy one-drop groove. This track features some of the finest Marley vocals on the recording, fluctuating between smooth grooving and rough pleading, coupled here with a dynamic and clean guitar accompaniment by Junior Marvin.
‘Satisfy My Soul’ closes side one of the original LP, with the swelling horn section shouldering the songs watery melody line. Marley is again hopelessly optimistic lyrically (“I am happy inside, all, all of the time”), pledging his love to the song’s subject — if she can, indeed, ‘satisfy his soul.’
Side two of the record opens with a slightly different vibe. Similar to the way a wispy veil of clouds moves past and rests in front of the sun on a clear day, the songs of the flip side shade the buoyant attitude of side one with slight shadow. As ‘She’s Gone’ begins, its radiant melody disguises a hazy air of regret and sadness lying underneath the surface. The vocal relationship between the I-Threes and Marley is again a highlight; their call and response, playful echoes, and soul accents are a joy to behold.
‘Misty Morning’ is a personal favorite of the album: Its dramatic delivery is a wade through choppy waters, operating on a saw-sharp acoustic guitar and twine-tight rhythmic interplay by the Barrett brothers, on bass and drums respectively. Marley lets it go vocally and, while the backing singers and horns intermingle, his voice soars, floating above and sinking below the churning Wailers. His wordless exclamations throughout the track are proof of his investment in this song.
The thematic thread connecting this album’s final three songs is one of turning inward for moments of introspection and realization. The first, ‘Crisis,’ begins with Marley singing in his full island dialect and diction, the band snapping the spring with a riff that echoes the introduction to ‘Is This Love.’ Marley directly points to his Rastafarian religion, with the belief that “no matter what the crisis is,” Jah will carry him through.
‘Running Away,’ which follows, is a umbrageous track that would become one of the few from this album to be consistently played in concert. Often paired with ‘Crazy Baldheads’ on stage, ‘Running Away’ is a moody mantra that contains lyrics designed to comfort Marley himself, as he shares a response to people who question his motives in leaving Jamaica. The classic, meaty ‘One Drop’ rhythm supports Marley’s diverse and free-form vocal approach, in addition to supporting the tune’s flashy keyboard accents.
Kaya closes with the magnificent ‘Time Will Tell.’ Acoustic in its sensibilities, and containing such pure and soulful vocals by Marley, it’s hard to not be moved. The tribal song rolls forward on the organic cadence created by the thick, woody bass line, and skin on drum thump. More electric instruments peak their heads into the song’s framework as the tune develops. The momentum gained by ‘Time Will Tell’ is built by the hand-driven groove and outlined by the thick penmanship of the bass. The pastoral quality of the track closes the album perfectly, leaving the listener to ponder the statement: ‘Time alone, oh, time will tell; think you’re in heaven, but you living in hell.;
Kaya is a record that finds Bob Marley learning how to pull away from what he had been pressing toward for so long. The album not only celebrates his love of life, ganja and women, it also offers glimpses of his vulnerability, apprehension, and faith. Even the deepest Marley fan can forget the virtues of the album that was created between two definitive, militant and amazing records in Exodus and Survival. Kaya is doors-open and windows-down music, made for times both good and bad, a soundtrack for when life needs a just a little bit of a lift.