Talk From The Rock Room: January 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

Rock Room on the Road: Richard Thompson- 'The Night We Steal Away' - Solo Acoustic January 25, 2020 Harrisburg, PA

On January 25, 2020, the ‘rock room’ was lucky enough to attend an intimate solo acoustic performance by the one and only Richard Thompson at Whitaker Center for the Arts in Harrisburg, PA.  Thompson has been moving around the Northeast for a series of winter shows and my anticipation was high for what was sure to be a varied and virtuosic concert. The Whitaker Center contains inside of its walls the quaint Sunoco Center which holds 700 patrons while no seat is more than 60 feet from the performer.

I sat 7 rows back and dead center as Thompson entered the stage lights promptly at 8:00 PM. Seated right in the sweet spot where performer and attendee meet. At some points in my amazed consciousness I met glances with Thompson only intensifying the effect of the music. The succinct and percussive introduction of ‘I Misunderstood’ initiated the proceedings. The song originates from Thompson’s 1991 LP Rumor and Sigh and was a proper opening to stretch out his vocal chords and energize cold fingers. Different from its layered studio counterpart, here light shines through the empty spaces leaving nowhere to hide for song or performer. Thompson stands stoically center stage, dressed in black and grey denim with guitar and glass of water and trademark beret planted on top of his head. The sound of the concert is enveloping, like glacier water, a special type of pristine, Thompson’s guitar notes shimmer through the collective silence of the theater taking on a tangible form. Thompson mentioned that he was surprised at the crowd attending the show seeing that it was Saturday night. He revealed that he thought folks could find something much more ‘positive’ to do than listen to his dark compositions in  his typical self-deprecating fashion.

The first ‘movement’ of the concert spotlighted a cross section of Thompson’s career with every rendition a stunning highlight. The perfection of Thompson’s playing in addition to his unparalleled songwriting left the collected crowd in stunned silence for the duration of the two hour set. A spectrally delicate ‘A Ghost of You Walks’ followed the opener, prepping for the first stunner of the evening. ‘Valerie’ from 1985’s Daring Adventures came next and left the room breathless. During the mid-song spotlight Thompson slurred strings, chicken picked and bent strings like they had been heated. Thompson played showman for a moment hitting on a pleasing lick that brought a smile across his face and caused his shoe leathers to stomp on the stage. During the songs peak and the marked scream that leads back to the verse, the crowd put their hands up for the big roller coaster dip prior to landing in major applause. Thompson remarked at the songs conclusion, ‘That was easy, the hard stuff comes later’.

Thompson always likes to throw for lack of a better term, a novelty, or slyly humorous compositions in the midst of his collected dark sarcasm and shaded honesty. The song, ‘Crocodile Tears’ fits that droll bill as a wry folk song comparing a jilted lover to that of a reptile. The crowd loved it and chuckled along to each line as Thompson flashed a grin from the corner of his mouth for some of the best lyrics.

In total and extreme contrast, one of Thompson’s most beloved songs and in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion one of the finest songs in the annals of music followed with ‘Beeswing’. A classically stunning melody and heart tugging narrative, ‘Beeswing’ when birthed sat unassumingly on Thompson’s 1994 Mirror Blue. Since it has grown into a concert standard, and this evening it was given a crystalline reading, one only to be handled by white gloved hands. Thompson, eyes tightly closed,  sang a tale he has told numerous times previous, yet here as important as any ever. Perfection, and as the song concluded Thompson stayed in trance until the last remnants of stringed sound reached the apex of the theater. 
Before I could recover emotionally from what I had just witnessed, Thompson hit me again with another stratospheric melody and classic from the deep reaches of his catalog, ‘Walking on a Wire’ from Richard and Linda Thompson’s final LP, 1982’s Shoot Out the Lights. This evening the ballad was given a more aggressive edge, the taught tight rope becoming a silvery knife blade to which Thompson used large strums and gruff vocals to keep his balance. The concert was climbing into the clouds toward a musical summit that it would not return from until the final song.

‘Walking the Long Miles Home’ followed and returned the concert attendees and myself to firmer ground. Richard introduced the song by saying he wished he had composed it as a youth to help him with the miles he had to traverse to school as a child. Supported by a delectable and danceable jaunt of finger picking, the song provided a brief respite from the ‘heavier’ aspects of Thompson’s performance.

Following a discussion/introduction about Thompson’s former band mate and friend Sandy Denny, Thompson poured himself into a timeless tribute to both Denny and his Fairport Convention band mates, with a towering version of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. In contrast to Denny’s original vocals, Thompson sings with a deep amber, dotted with precious lacy filigrees of acoustic guitar. Rare is the concert I attend where there is complete silence by the assembled crowd. This evening there was nary a labored breath or squirm in the seat. Again, before I could soak in what I witnessed, Thompson throttled into what could be his most famous number, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’.The crowd yelled its approval as Thompson Travis picked out the songs well known opening. Speeding through the narrative, cruising around hairpin musical corners and enunciating each syllable, Thompson played a quintessential version (which probably happens every night!). When Red Molly finally received the keys to her lovers Vincent the crowd responded with a standing ovation (which would happen on more than a few occasions over the evening).

With its reference to dancing on a Saturday night, we were next treated to a somewhat rare reading of ‘The Night They Tore the Hippodrome Down’. The tale of an older man who is stunned by the changes to the things that have dotted and effected his life is the perfect bring down following ‘Vincent’. Here, Thompson shows off his ‘jazz’ chops during the verses and then changes to waltz time when the protagonist remembers his lost love.

Hot on the ‘Hippodrome’s’ heels follows the high speed ‘Cooksferry Queen’ which opened RT’s Mock Tudor LP. Normally a burning electric number, in Harrisburg Thompson blew on collected woody embers until a blazing hot to the touch acoustic version brought the house down. Dynamic strumming patterns brought the tune from soft folk to big brash triplet strums. Richard growled, howled, and stomped his way through this ‘rock room’ favorite! Closing what I referred to as the ‘first movement’ of the show (prior to RT’s partner joining the proceedings) was the song, ‘If I Could Live My Life Again’. Now admittedly I am embarrassed to say I am not familiar with this song. Please feel free to drop the knowledge on me if have info about this tune. It was introspective and typically wonderful and could be a new song? Hmmm.

It was at this time Richard invited his partner and a wonderful singer in her own right, Zara Phillips to join him on a series of songs from Thompson’s more current releases. But before diving into the recent catalog the duo played a stunning version of the Richard and Linda Thompson classic, ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ from 1975’s Pour Down Like Silver. This was a cut that the ‘rock room’ had hoped for and I was not disappointed. Zara and Richard’s vocals nestled closely together and their enjoyment was palpable. They soared the friendly melodic skies of the chorus and settled down easy for the verses. A personal concert highlight for me, because I love the song so much.
Like the entire set list, Thompson was deftly and successfully maneuvering his way through 50 years of songwriting. He had used a beloved deep cut to set the stage for this next collection of his current work while also letting Zara lend her welcome voice to the proceedings. ‘Dry My Tears and Move On’ was a welcome appearance and a second song from 1999’s Mock Tudor. Played with a gentle back porch sway and delicate resignation, Zara joined on the repeated title lyric lending the track an early rock and roll doo-wop feel. The main body of the concert then concluded properly with the trifecta of ‘The Storm Won’t Come’, The Rattle Within’, and ‘My Enemy’ all hailing from Thompson’s most current album, 2018’s 13 Rivers.

It’s a testament to Thompson’s longevity and talent that these following three songs were in my opinion as strong as the compositions covering the 50 years previous. While 'The Storm Won't Come' was better in my opinion than the studio reading, ‘The Rattle Within’ was particularly menacing with a deep musical warning and daring self-analysis. Containing an undulating primal thump the song chugged aggressively under Thompson’s percussive vocal lines.

The crowd reacted rapturously as ‘My Enemy’ concluded and Thompson quickly waved to the darkened venue before heading off stage. The expected encore followed the anticipatory silence as Thompson returned solo and coaxed out the introductory notes to ‘Persuasion’. What a deft choice for an excited crowd I thought. Master of the stage. The song was composed by Thompson and Tim Finn and was used as an instrumental in the film Street Walker. Later, Richard recorded a version with his son Teddy who appeared on vocals. Tonight, Richard stands alone and plays a chill inducing and flawless version.

Keeping the vibe mellow and the emotion serious Thompson then sings the introduction to ‘Dimming of the Day’. Covered by a plethora of artists including David Gilmour and Bonnie Raitt, ‘Dimming’ is one of those special songs that defies description’ its music box picking and sensual verses expressing the deep internal longing we feel for those we love. In typical fashion Thompson, disseminates human emotion in ways not yet figured by ‘normal’ artists. Seated at the show, the melody drew tears from my eyes and unfurled the strings of my heart. Stunning.

Following the introspective portion of the encore Thompson returned to the stage with Zara to send us on our way appropriately for a Saturday evening. The somewhat expected ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’ comes first with the crowd mouthing the words of the Richard and Linda classic and clapping to RT’s syncopated and celebratory riffing. Then for a proper surprise, Thompson then gifts the crowd with a yet to be unreleased song (hopefully from an upcoming LP) called ‘When the Saints Rise out of Their Graves’. The high tempo track was a unique but typical Thompson commentary on our current times (both politically and personally) with the lyrics flying buy in teletype fashion. Both Zara and Richard moved around the stage joyously as the song reached a rolling conclusion.

And…..just like that it was over. Two hours of the most soul inspiring, intellectually stimulating and musically stunning concert experiences I have ever had in over 300 concerts. I cannot believe it took me so long to experience the live magic that is Richard Thompson. The performance left me wanting more and I cannot wait to go again. A purer and more honest evening of diverse musical alchemy  will be hard to find. In addition, its a pleasure to witness a spectacular fifty year career that seems to just be hitting yet another peak, don’t miss it.

Richard Thompson Acoustic Classics

RT Live In Studio 13 Rivers Songs

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Put The Boot In: Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen - The Typewriter Tape 1964 - "Candy When I'm Good"

Today in the ‘rock room’ plays a legendary and unique recording, famed in the ‘bootleg’ world for both its rarity and performance. On July 25th 1964, smack dab in the middle of the turbulent musical madness sweeping across the United States two folkies from different worlds met in an apartment in Santa Clara, California for a practice/jam session prior to both of their respective performances at San Francisco’s ‘Coffee Gallery. That afternoon Jorma Kaukonen turned on his tape recorder to capture both his and fellow vocalist from Port Arthur, Texas Janis Joplin’s 20 plus minute rehearsal capturing in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion one of the most important aural rock documents to ever circulate. The ‘Typewriter Tape’ as it would become known, found these two giants of the San Francisco scene and rock history exploring their influences, abilities in the privacy of Jorma’s apartment. In the close background Jorma’s Swedish wife Margareta types a percussive letter home in the electric ambiance. Six songs circulate on the recording Kaukonen made that summer day, Jorma has stated that there were other songs taped, but they have not made it out to the general listening public as of the writing of this rant. 

San Francisco in 1964 was home to a number of traveling musicians and wayward youth like Jorma and Janis, looking for direction and driven by their art. Names like Jerry Garcia, who was a well-known banjo player and guitar teacher and Paul Kantner (who would soon meet and team up with Jorma in Jefferson Airplane) were filling the folk clubs and playing jug band melodies. Within a year from the aforementioned “Typewriter Tape”, the folkies mentioned previously, in addition to groups like the ‘Byrds’ and Bob Dylan himself would plug in electric instruments and the sepia toned folk musical landscape would be decorated with a sunrise of a thousand colors and visions only previously witnessed in dreams.

Back to the recording at hand, at this time both Jorma and Janis as well as a host of other musicians made their way to the ‘left coast’ for a way out of the straight edged expectations of the ‘American Dream’. These talented musicians had made the decision that they were not going to live the life of their parents. Janis left her deeply conservative live in Texas where here separatist vibe made here an obvious candidate for defection. Jorma, moved many times as a youth as a child in a military family, and learned a appreciation for the blues early in life. By the time he attended college out west he was quite the purist in the ways of folk and country blues. Both musicians had acquired a deep understanding of the blues aesthetic even during their formative times, but what is more than obvious from the vibe of the tape is that it is clear that both are destined for greatness.

Kaukonen plays what sounds like a hollow bodied electric guitar and Janis sings the shit out of the five covers and one original on the tape. The recording plays like an Alan Lomax field recording from a back porch in the South. The attitude is so substantial and the talent so undeniable, this is one of those tapes that is so good I feel guilty listening to it. The quality is more than reasonable with the guitar and voice audible as well as the typewriter and Jorma’s boots on the hardwood floor.

The cassette/reel opens with the blues vaudeville standard, “Trouble In Mind” (this song was officially released on the 1993 boxset Janis) following some tuning and Jorma mentioning to Janis that the typewriter may be going while they play and maybe it will keep time. Kaukonen pops the opening licks in serpentine fashion as Janis enters with the first verse in stunningly. Joplin, just 21 sings with a husky jubilance. Influenced by Etta James, Tina Turner and Big Mama Thorton Joplin even at this early age howls with a bawdy throat. Kaukonen is also stunning in his already exceptional guitar abilities after quite a bit of practice during his college days. The music has already seeped between their floorboards into their bones. It’s the only explanation for such a deep internalization and dissemination of a timeless music created well before each respective musician’s time.

A 12 bar blues, “Long Black Train” follows and spotlights a malleable Kaukonen solo spot that features a series of dark blue elastic string bends. Again, Janis illustrates her stunning understanding of the blues idiom and a deft ability to sink herself into the lyrics. Jorma, shifts his picking and strumming approach throughout to keep things interesting with Janis close behind at every corner. At the song’s conclusion Jorma and Janis meet on vocals and guitar for the concluding lick which elicits a giggle from Janis.

Another blues/rag starts,  hailing from 1927 comes next with “Kansas City Blues”. Janis and Jorma had met in 1962 so it’s a fascinating look into their musical relationship by deciphering their repertoire through songs like this. Their bonding and eventual musical ‘freakness’ was rooted in these early sessions. Kaukonen starts the “Kansas City” opening lick with a practice run through before stomping out the tempo and jumping in with both feet. For a fan of these musicians this may be one of the greatest things you will ever here. Jorma picks out a groove that jumps like a cricket in a pricker patch, his signature guitar work instantly recognizable. Janis scats matter of factly, and when she says she’s going to Kansas City, you believe her, she aint never coming back. Kaukonen is a well spring of ideas, his string work constantly moving while Joplin keeps the melody grounded like a fence post in gravel. For the ‘rock room’ this reading of ‘Kansas City’ foreshadows what is yet to come for both Jorma and Janis while also encapsulating their deep running respect for influences of the past.
Jorma comments about the typewriter again before lobbing some riffs about and beginning the traditional cut, “Hesitation Blues” (Also featured on the 1993 box set Janis ). In just a few years the song would be a favorite of ‘Hot Tuna’ fans as it would feature on their debut LP, as it continues to be a favorite for Jorma and Jack of  right through today. Here, Kaukonen’s guitar parts twist and knot their way around his thumping boot heel while Janis leans waaaaaaaaay into the verses. This is one of the moments where the typewriter moves in and out of tempo lending a surreal alternative percussion to the jam. Kaukonen’s guitar has a snug and cozy softness in its tone and slips delicately through the rhythmic changes. The ease in which Joplin sings her part is comforting and menacing at the same time. She has already mastered her gruff sensuality, and it’s just not playing a part for her. “Hesitation Blues”, like “Uncle Sam Blues” would be co-pted and become a career song for Jorma and the cause of that just may be the way Janis sung it back in 1964.

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is another 1920’s blues classic that was made popular by Joplin idol Bessie Smith. Classic rock fans are well familiar with Eric Clapton’s cover of the song on 1970’s: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Here, years prior Kaukonen and Joplin stay tight to Bessie Smith’s reading with Jorma finger picking out the brassy melody of the indigo horns of the Smith recording. Joplin mirrors Smith's asthetic in some ways, but leaves her unique and substantial stamp all over the recording. Airy and spacious, Jorma will exhale a stringy lick and Joplin will undulate her voice in kind. Crisp as a Golden Gate morning Joplin’s perfect dictation pulls emotions out of the blues that make you wonder how someone so young could sing as if they have lived it. She croons so effortlessly, whenever her voice raises slightly the ambiance of the room amplifies it to a stunning effect. There is one small stumble toward the end where both Jorma and Janis’s understanding of the ending of the song differs, to which Jorma agrees he like Janis’s way better and they conclude the song together.
The final song available on the circulating recording is an original Janis Joplin composition and the only one available from this session. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” is a 12 bar blues that begins with some straight and exciting rock riffing by Kaukonen. This early Janis original uses the theme of the ‘Daddy’ figure and how the protagonist does not want her “Daddy” whether of the sugar variety or biological kind to be taken away, while the subject states what she can do to keep him happy. While basic in its construction, Jorma lets an aggressive solo out of the bag in the songs framework to which Janis can be heard digging on. Again, to the point of redundancy, Janis is blues vocal perfection.

The cassette ends there and what we are left with is a brief yet exceptional capture of two rock legends learning, playing, practicing and honing their craft in a laid back and natural environment. At the time of this sonic document neither knew what the future would hold for their abilities. The magic contained on the “Typewriter Tape” is a small glimpse of the impetus that would soon start a multicolored and hallucinatory journey to the stars for Jorma and Janis via their stunning musical talents. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Take One: Howlin' Wolf - 1951 Single ‘How Many More Years’ – If Anybody Ask About Me

Revolving in the ‘rock room’ today is what many folks including myself refer to as the first ‘rock and roll’ cut. Obviously this is a highly debatable statement, but in the case of Howlin' Wolf’s September 1951 single, ‘How Many More Years’ it may be true. Recorded in July of 1951, the song is a frightful, distorted and cutting slab of blues that does everything a good rock cut should do including menace the listener. The Wolf blew deep train whistle harp and moaned the dangerous vocals while being supported musically by (not confirmed)  Ike Turner on piano, Willie Steele on drums and Willie Johnson on the revolutionary electric guitar. Yes, that is the Ike Turner you think it is, he was actually instrumental in getting Mr. Chester Burnett to record his songs after his departure from the military. Now as an aside, it has been stated that Billy ‘Red’ Love is the piano player on this recording as well. Unfortunately with a number of formative blues recordings like this it is often difficult to confirm or deny the musicians involved.

Released by Chess Records, the September 1951 single featured ‘Moanin At Midnight’ as the ‘A’ side with ‘How Many More Years’ as the flip. Following its release, ‘How Many More Year’s caught the ears of listeners and became the more track that received more spins. Eventually ‘How Many More Years’ began its ascent up the R and B charts and eventually landed at number 4. Both sides of the record were composed by Chester Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf. You may ask why copies of the original 45 say ‘Carl Germany’ as the composer? This has since been changed, but originally songwriting was a funny business and as favors to the DJ’s who played the songs they were thanked with credits!
Years before the accepted ‘birth’ of rock, Howlin' Wolf was laying down a weighty blues groove with bricklayers hands. Taken in conjunction with the able production efforts of Sam Phillips, ‘How Many More Year’s was a stunning slice of electric blues and a heavy duty recording that blues players in modern times can only look at with glazed eyes and stunned amazement.

The needle drops and the song begins with series of heavy knocking on a woody piano and a hard left hand. Soon, the first fuzzy edged guitar lick by Willie Johnson begins and just kicks down the damn door. Right away there is something going on with the ambiance of these monstrous instrumentalists. Presumably, Johnson's guitar tone was born from an overdriven tube amp and Johnson’s introductory licks send a graveyard shiver up the listener’s spine. When Wolf’s voice enters it contains the same serrated quality. What sounds like a voice coming from under muck dirt over a fresh grave Wolf asks, actually demands of his woman, ‘How many more years have I got to let you dog me around’, I’d soon rather be dead, sleeping six feet in the ground’. With a vocal as substantial as Wolf’s 6’6 frame, the band enters the break with a melodic Wolf harmonica break while the rhythm section chugs along while wielding rhythmic blades.

At the turnaround Johnson dices up a descending lick to which Wolf again gusts his blues horn. Turner/Red dances around the black and whites while Johnson answers by playing perfectly timed sliding 9th chords. The back beat is stomping work boots on a wooden floor hoping for an evening of hip shaking. It’s no wonder that these early blues recordings were looked at with a side eye. This stuff cooks with liquid white heat and I can witness how easily it would have got the juke's hopping and initiated the listeners into getting it on! Wolf returns for the final verse where he goes upstairs to pack his clothes and leaves with a concluding warning that ‘If anybody ask about me, just tell em I walked out that door’. While the verses descend the rickety staircase to the front stoop, the music swings with just a touch more aggressiveness led by Johnson’s shadowy licks. In under 3 minutes the track concludes, but offers a lifetime of wonder and influence.

‘How Many More Years’ importance cannot be understated, The song would be dissected by a number of aspiring musicians over the years, from all walks of life and corners of the globe, with its individual elements influencing composition, aesthetic, attitude, and abilities. Musicians aspired to tap into the deeply rutted roots of this formative music. This song represents a hearty well spring that many future ‘rock’ musicians tried to emulate and replicate but could only hope to touch. Like anything, it would eventually be co-opted and homogenized with a gentler and admittedly ‘whiter’ presentation.

In the 1950’s the blues would be pressed into the mainstream by artists like Elvis and in the mid-60’s by the Stones and Butterfield Blues Band. By the late 1960’s bands like Led Zeppelin and the ‘heavy’ blues bands were unabashedly borrowing and covering songs from the musical giants like Howlin’ Wolf, (see ‘How Many More Times’ from Zeppelin's 1969 debut) But we know the truth. Thankfully the musical magic is documented,the topography can be traced and its bloodlines confirmed. The later rock bands who followed the original blues masters must be thanked, as without their deep archaeology, the giants may have become instinct. In 2018 famed purveyor of blues, Jack White reissued Wolf’s 1951 single on his own Third Man Records label confirming  not only his own influences but insuring a new generation of blues fans can listen for the reverberating call of the Howlin’ Wolf.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Put the Boot In: The High Numbers/The Who - October 20, 1964 - No Tellin' What We Might Do

Are you a Mod or a Rocker? That is the question posed by the the ‘rock room’ today. Now playing, I have a recording that started to circulate in 2005 on a CD called The High Numbers –Live 1964 by famous Japanese bootleg label ‘Yellow Dog’. The performance featured on this silver disc is by none other than ‘The Who’, at the Railway Hotel and Lounge located in Wealdstone, UK on October 20, 1964. The Railway was run by Pete's college roommate Richard Barnes and was nothing more than a basement pub. Less than a couple of weeks from this evening the band would become the ‘Who’ but for this concert they were still known as the ‘High Numbers’, an exciting Mod cover band. Earlier in the month the band would audition at Abbey Road Studios for EMI but walk away with the knowledge that they required more original numbers in order to stir up interest. In November, ‘The Who’ would record the Pete Townsend original “I Can’t Explain” and in January of 1965, the song about an amphetamine teen trying to properly express his love would start a large career ascent for the newly christened ‘Who’. This recording is a welcome window into the formative days of one of the world’s greatest rock and roll bands.

Back to the recording the ‘rock room’ is focused on, the Railway Hotel featured a number of early Who performances like the one here, as well as some stunning black and white footage which was recently unearthed and shot just a couple of months before the performance on October 20th.The eleven tracks available on the Yellow Dog boot are from a more than adequate soundboard recording (or possibly a close audience document), with what sounds like some brief losses of fidelity and unfortunate cuts and missing music to the original source. But for the most part all of the levels are balanced and the band is audible. Moon and Entwistle are giants. The rhythm section is the focus on this tape as both Ox and Moon slam around triumphantly like a bunch of furniture dropped down a flight of steps. Daltrey has yet to find his voice, and still uses his best blues man aesthetic, eliciting guttural growls and moans that sometimes border on the comedic. Townsend blends in at some points in time, but by the conclusion you can feel the exploration in his fingers and the land mines in his mind. Only a month prior to this show is reportedly when PT first demolished his guitar (on accident) at the Railway, but by the conclusion of this show, I feel that his Rickenbacker was probably lying in a smoldering heap. The band’s eventual world domination is tangible on this recording.
The tape begins with the first of three versions (all cut) of “I Got Dance to Keep from Crying”, a groovy soul number by the “Miracles”. Moon begins things with a rotund drum introduction to which the band falls in behind. A swinging cover, the band grooves triumphantly featuring collaborative vocals and brisk playing. The band’s feels like a dance hall band here, but as the recording escalates the hallmarks of the ‘Who’ begin to surface.
What follows next is an explosive instrumental snippet of the ‘Kinks’, “You Really Got Me” which had been released in the UK as a single in August. While only a short clip, shades of the later ‘Who’ appear in this sludgy cover version. Moon and Entwistle join in giant lock step as the band plays with the syncopation of the famous rock lick. Moon sprays volatile ordnance from his kit in between the riffs which the boys slow down for musical effectiveness.

A major highlight of later Who performances and especially from the Live at Leeds era is the Mose Allison tune, “Young Man Blues”. Here, in its infantile state, Townsend uses a crisp Rickenbacker tone and Moon plays a calypso groove while tapping on the bell of his ride cymbal. While the intent remains the same, later Who readings would soak the song in petrol, whereas here it simmers with a danceable groove. Yet to be cracked open, the song stays true to Allison’s vision.
While listening to this concert, I am reminded of early ‘Levon and the Hawks’ concerts where in spite of their later metamorphosis, in their formative stages they were more or less a dance band, cutting their teeth on the music they loved. All the while leaving their future finger prints on the musical glass. No more is this relevant than the band’s destructive rendition of the famed Booker T and the MG’s single “Green Onions”.  While only another short reading, here the band lay big thick brush stroke of power chords and fuzz. Townsend plays some strangled notes buried in earthy distortion while also lending a formative expression of his famous serrated tremolo. In October of 1964, the power of the early ‘Who’ was definitely an alien thing to the music world.

On the Yellow Dog bootleg there are a few repeats with the next song being another rendition of the opening “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying”. This one begins with a stage whistle and some dialog.  I will make the assumption that there were multiple sets played on this evening hence the blended tracks and missing music. Again, an additional instrumental of “You Really Got Me” follows, this one has Daltrey blowing some mean harp while the band slams the Davies lick repeatedly and dynamically against the wall. Another unfortunate cut places us in the middle of a third performance of “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying”. This time Moon does circles around his tom-tom’s while Daltrey groans in bluesy colors. An additional cut places us further in the song and finds Daltrey and Entwistle doing a call and response of, ‘a little bit higher’ while Moon cooks behind them.

A delicious “Long Tall Shorty” follows closely on the tape, another song picked up from the ‘Kinks” who covered the song on their first album. Moon again sets the tempo with a heavy thumping on the ‘High Number’s’ musical chamber door seeing “Who” will answer. Daltrey does his best blues man with a superior gritty and throaty vocal. So much so that you may be hard pressed to believe the singer is Roger! Entwistle holds it all down with a busy bottom end that even at this early stage shifts the foundation of the song. Then you have Townsend aggressively coaxing perfectly timed and over driven licks. The solo break is a house on fire as Townsend’s slashing riffs are picked up by Moon and Entwistle and held up for the small assembled crown to stand in rapt amazement. Pete takes a second solo break that circular saws through the recording leaving the 'rock room' slack jawed at this early display of stringed aggression!

An atmospheric taste of the vibe of the crowd precedes the next cut “Pretty Thing”, which like the aforementioned “Long Tall Shorty” spotlights Daltrey groaning the Willie Dixon classic in between harmonica blasts. Following an introductory wall of sound, Moon lays town a thunderous ‘Bo Diddley” beat to which Townsend and Entwistle join in. Pete lays down a disorienting solo that wraps around Rog's harp who gets the crowd going with off beat, 'Hey's'! Flashing waves of Townsend's guitar downpour over the band as the tribal thump drives the crowd into a high octane trance. As things really start to coagulate, the tape cuts. Pfffffft.

‘Smokestack Lightning’ comes next and is already in progress and features a substantial helping of heavy early ‘Who’ improv. Daltrey weaves in lyrics from ‘Money (That’s What I Want) while they band kicks holes in the song proper. A number of roller coaster ‘rave up’s’ dot the landscape. Entwistle jumps into some slippery chrome neck work, alternating with Moon in keeping a stuttering metallic groove. Roger sings with a whisky and cigarettes throat while alternating harp moans. While keeping it all together Townsend quotes the central ‘Smokestack’ lick. Once Roger quotes lyrics from ‘Money’ the band begins to increase the tension.  Daltrey then dynamically brings the band down and sings, ‘My needle in ya, feels so good’, to which the group gallantly responds and erupts in rapture.

Glass breaks, colorful buttons fall from coats and a thick wave of feedback Washes over the crowd. A specter of a fully mature ‘Who’ silhouettes against the stage curtain ads Townsend begins to shovel large chunks of sound into the musical kiln. Smoke rises as the band deconstructs the scene, this is for real. Townsend scrapes silvery scrubs from his guitar breaking the song apart which only prods Moon and Entwistle into greater chaos. These heavy footed hipsters stomp around the hotel causing everyone to go mad. The final three minutes before ‘Smokestack’s” untimely cut contain the remains of a battlefield.  Sizzling feedback pours from the amps while Moon slams stuttering snare hits. The only connection to an earthly realm are Daltrey’s still puffing harmonica wails. The jams begins to level off before the listener is placed right at the beginning of the concluding song, “Here Tis”. Wow.

“Here Tis”, a Bo Diddley track (actually recorded by the High Numbers when they recorded their first single) concludes the available recording. The beginning is chopped as we enter a version already in progress. The band like is usual for the performance is cooking, Moon’s drums again in the forefront. Townsend and Entwistle share the backing vocals and Daltrey takes over harp duties again. Pete plays clean tone while strumming the chord changes and the band plays a compact tight reading of a Bo Diddley classic.

It’s rare field recordings/bootlegs like this ‘High Numbers’ tape that make rock and roll archaeology such a fantastic way to invest your time. Especially if you are a geek like the ‘rock room’. What’s amazing about this particular document is that it finds the famed ‘Who’ in their formative days. Unfortunately there are a number of cuts and missing music, but we can consider ourselves lucky that what we do have is so amazing and vital. All of the essential elements that would prompt their worldwide popularity exist here and are gaining a thin knife edge by constant musical sharpening. Each bit of their influences can also be discerned by a unique recording like this. Weather the mutual respect and influence shared between the ‘High Numbers’ and the ‘Kinks’, the hearty blues and soul backdrop of their music, or the development of a bombastic and unique stage show are all on display. Throw this one in one and transport yourself to pre-swinging London where pop, art, blues, pills, birds and rock and roll were the ingredients mixed and developed into a primordial rock and roll stew.

Who Live at the Railway Hotel 1964