Talk From The Rock Room: December 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Put the Boot In: Grateful Dead – Winterland- December 30, 1977 – ‘Shotgun Ragtime Band’

One day removed from one of the most famed Grateful Dead performances in history, December 30, 1977 contains a mysterious grace all of its own. The Grateful Dead were known for legendary New Year’s runs throughout their history and the year 1977 was one of the best. As previously stated, the concert from December the 29th is legendary in ‘Deadhead’ circles not only of the return of ‘China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider’, but for the amazing musical conversations that took place on the stage that evening. That concert was a must have in original tapers circles and was later immortalized officially on Dick’s Picks Volume 10.  As a special bonus, Dick included a chunk of the next night, December 30th as filler. That particular evening is the focus of this Talk from the Rock Room review.

I am listening to the circulating Charlie Miller soundboard which can be streamed at the Grateful Dead archive here. I will refer to the official release of Dick’s Picks Volume 10 for the second set jam. The opening set is long and languid, opening with a typically substantial Fall 1977 version of ‘Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo’ and culminating with a hyper vegetating ‘Let It Grow’. Beginning with the September 3, 1977 reading, the Fall 77 ‘1/2 Step’s’ just get better and better through to the end of the year.  This one is no exception.

There are also crystalline versions of long slow Jerry classics like ‘Row Jimmy’ and ‘Peggy O’ to be enjoyed here. Typical to this era both of these songs are highlighted by nuanced Garcia vocals and attentive playing. One hesitates to say, ‘typical of the era’, but during the Fall of 1977 the Grateful Dead’s standard of playing was so strong even the most basic set list can stun even the most practiced and jaded listener.  Lesh is creative, Garcia positively sings through his strings and the two drummers play as one. Weir and Godchaux are peaking for one final golden era with the famed 1970’s line up.

Highlights of the first set include the aforementioned as well as a shit kicking ‘Dire Wolf’ with a lyrical Garcia solo and a very aggressive ‘Passenger’. The drummers are epically feisty on this Winterland evening. The jittery set closing “Let It Grow’ reaches full bloom only to be cut off by Weir just a bit early. The final closing jam, while not quite October 11, 1977 does have a flood of Garcia’s scrubbing bubbles. The set rises to reach a well-timed conclusion.

The jamming in the second set is wonderfully West coast, patient and beautifully played. The big musical segment is of enough note that as previously stated, it was included as bonus audio on the aforementioned Dick’s Picks Volume 10. The set begins with a sturdy ‘Samson’ and a cool down ‘Ship of Fools’ before the musical suite of the evening commences. A typically well played ‘Estimated Prophet’ begins the journey. By the winter 78 tour ‘Estimated’ will have really started to go some crazy places, and this version is the start of the song revealing new avenues of improv for the band. The outro jam here starts off plodding, then probing but by the last minute Garcia begins to discover a sweet dissonance. Both he, Weir and Lesh begin to feel something worth chasing for the final minute with unique heavy playing. Slurpy and sticky Garcia Mutron playing is the obvious highlight. Weir chunks out with off beat chording, Jerry misses steps on purpose running hot on Weir's tail. While not picture perfect, the segue into ‘Eyes’ is beautifully developed.  ‘Eyes of the World’ is a long narcotic version with some of the most delectable Garcia vocals of the era. A+

You can feel the mist of inspiration descend upon the stage as ‘Eyes’ begins to dissipate following the ‘fade out’ riffing. Lesh growls some gentle feedback blasts while signaling a syncopated groove which begins to develop around Garcia’s circular runs. The drummers click out an excitable groove using rims shots and cymbal clicks, meshing into an improvised teletype. A busy and floral jam now surfaces as Lesh and Garcia propel the major key groove forward. Weir plucks out an answer and he and Godchaux join the drummers in creating an engaging rhythm. Garcia reveals the axis and begins to weave his brassy tone with perfectly placed fretwork. Everyone circles the fire encouraging the flames.

The band has achieved lift off and the crowd has jumped on the back for the ride. At around the fourteen minute mark, Garcia and Godchaux are in perfect simpatico. Lesh is pulsing, pushing and pulling with Hart’s bass drum churning the groove. Around fifteen minutes, Kreutzmann starts to increase the heat with some snare drum snaps before Garcia gently pumps the breaks and lands the intro into ‘St. Stephen’. A fine piece of improv and one of the best jams of the Fall.

In the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion, this is the best ‘Stephen’ of the year and one of the finest of the post retirement Dead era. Thunder drums and sprawling Garcia strumming are only part of the madness of the reading. A heavy stepping rendition, after disposing with the lyrics at close to six minutes the band cracks the egg with percussive piano and ringing Garcia notes. Per their usual practice the mid-section of the song rolls and boils with dynamic intensity. Weir signals the drummers to pick up the pace and the band gaining their footing, begin to crest the musical wave. The group is now delicately balanced on the precipice in their preparation to return to the main Stephen riff. The tension increases with each Garcia strum until Hart signals a full band return to the ‘Stephen’ theme. Success.

Photo By Bob Minkin

A small stumble during the return verse is forgiven as the band has just presented the New Year’s eve,  crowd with a gift that will last forever. The concluding ‘Stephen’ leads into a slam banging version of ‘Sugar Magnolia’. Garcia bends strings of the neck while the band constructs a joyous and buoyant version of the oft-played show closer. Like the rest of the music preceding it, this one is a good un. Rock star Bobby goads the band into an epic all night reading. The band obviously knew they knocked it out of the park as they give Winterland a double encore of ‘U.S. Blues’ followed by ‘Good Lovin’. The band is just not running on inertia from the December 29th blow out, but creating a brand new musical experience. On Winterland this particular evening, ‘something new was waiting to be born’ and the group answered the clarion call.

December 30, 1977 is another unique chapter in a huge volume of stellar playing maintained by the Grateful Dead in the late 1970’s. Enjoy the entire evening as you would study a text or watch a film. Dig right into the second set magic if you choose. Regardless of how you listen there is a vast soundscape of Grateful Dead to enjoy, just point at a calendar and spin. Just make sure you don't forget late 1977 when the Dead were once again reaching and surpassing a musical peak.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Take One: The Monkees - 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere', 1967 B Side –'Bound Down In a Whirl'

The famed prefabricated four. ‘The Monkees’, as you know if you are perusing this article were a made for television band developed by producers in the mid 1960’s. The 'Monkees' grew quickly in stature and fame to eventually become referred to as the ‘American Beatles’. The only issue was that none of the principals of the band played instruments on any their first two original recordings. While the original intent was to have a television show about a rock band, what eventually took place was the television show became a rock band. While both Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz originated from acting and show biz backgrounds, both Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith came from musical stock. Nesmith had actually already released some singles under the moniker Michael Blessing and was a budding songwriter as we will soon find out.

By the conclusion of 1966 Nesmith was eager to pitch his own original music to the group’s producers and he did with unsuccessful results. But, when Don Kirshner (producer) released a Monkees single in early 1967 without approval from the show or the band he was then removed from the Monkees project. The band and Nesmith got their way and a Nesmith penned song and band recorded track was placed on the flip side of the upcoming single. These sessions would in turn morph into the sessions for Headquarters, which would be the Monkees third full length record. It would also be the LP with the claim to feature the members playing all of the instruments on the album. Ironically, the Nesmith song recorded, ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ never appeared on Headquarters, or a proper LP until 1976. It remained tucked away on the flip side of a 45. Since then it appears on almost every post Monkees greatest hits package or anthology. A killer start for the band and a great sound!

The song, as I alluded to above was originally planned to be part of a single release, but when it was undermined by Don Kirshner for an unfinished version of ‘She Hangs Out’, that plan was nixed. Following Kirshner's departure, he first version that the band recorded was over a series of dates in January of 1967 and featured Nesmith as the lead singer. These were the group’s first sessions as a ‘real group’ and the song ‘All of Your Toys’ was also attempted at the session. The backing track consisted of Micky Dolenz on drums and vocals, Peter Tork on acoustic guitar and harpsicord, John London (non band member) on bass, Davy Jones on tambourine and Nesmith on his electric twelve string Gretsch and lead vocals. This track was unreleased for a number of years before turning up as a bonus track on the 1995 Rhino reissue of Headquarters where it was included as a bonus cut. The alternate version is loose and soars with Nesmith crooning the vocal lines but alas, was not to be featured on a 45.

After deciding that Micky Dolenz vocals would have a more ‘commercial’ appeal the band reconvened in February to cut a ‘single’ version for release. Instead of Kirshner’s ‘She Hangs Out’, a shiny new version of ‘Somewhere’ would end up being the flip side of ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ released in March of 1967. Davy was not on the single version as he was in England when the song was redone. A testament to Nesmith’s superior writing skills played out as ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ landed at number 39 on the charts as a flip side! The focus of this particular ‘Take One’ is the mono single version, but you can also enjoy the original Mike Nesmith vocal and alternate mono mix here.

The single opens with a funky and chorused palm muted guitar riff as the band jumps into verse one. Dolenz’s drums while simplistic, bash with a garage band attitude and an endearing amateur syncopation. Dolenz’s lofty vocals are exactly what was assumed by the re cutting of the track, the sound of a ‘hit’. With the second verse comes Tork’s well timed harpsicord running side by side with the vocal melody. Tork’s tickling pulls the track together perfectly. John London plays bass on the single, like he did the unreleased version lending a professional foundation to the proceedings. When the middle eight comes round it is the chilling jump off point into Tork’s bountiful harpsichord solo spot. 

When the band returns to the verses Nesmith sings a beautiful open prairie counter vocal under Dolenz lead that to the ‘rock room’ is the song’s highlight. Nesmith sounds if he is off in the middle distance of the horizon responding to his internal fears. Again, in hindsight it’s a wonder that Nesmith’s song was not placed on the ‘A’ side, as the sounds just reach out of the hi-fi and grab you. Perfection in three minutes, everything you could want in a FM radio cut. There is also a remixed stereo version of the single available (on the OOP Rhino Headquarters box) where Nesmith’s acoustic overdub is much more prominent in addition to the popping of the backing vocals. The song presents a wider soundstage, but I still assert that the banging mono version is where it’s at.

While often eliciting a chuckle or shrug when commiserating with fellow ‘rock geeks’; the ‘Monkees’ have in hindsight received some long overdue plaudits from both listeners and critics. The band, using the gifts bestowed on them, while not always musical, combined to make a unique artistic expression of music and film. Undeterred by criticism, the 'Monkees' cultivated their own fame and with ample self-awareness and unique abilities that allowed them to become a long lasting musical and cultural signpost. Proof of what they band could accomplish when given the opportunity can be witnessed in stellar tracks like ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Paul McCartney – McCartney III - ‘It's Still Alright To Be Nice'

Paul McCartney’s announcement of a new album recorded in ‘rock down’ sent excitement tremors through rock fans around the globe. In the spirit of 1970’s McCartney I and 1980’s McCartney II Paul used his allotted free time due to coronavirus restrictions to record a new album with all instrumentation, vocals, and production done by himself. The thematic connections between McCartney III and the other previous records are time, family, and creativity. I still need time to soak up the lyrical content, but will say I discern Macca’s usual optimism, but touched with an tension felt in the music as well. What makes this release even more thrilling is that this album wasn't planned. It's free and creative and there is no preconceived standard to adhere to for McCartney. The ‘rock room’ has listened to Macca’s new record and assert that once again McCartney has used an opportunity to create on his own terms and has come up in spades. Or in the case of McCartney III …. ‘Snake eyes’.

The album takes flight with the opening track ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ which is one bookend to the record with the closing track ‘Winter Bird (When Winter Comes) enveloping the other half. The opener focuses on a brisk acoustic riff which develops the songs internal melody. Displayed on acoustic guitar with rhythmic palm mutes, the song brings to mind lush mountainous highlands. The main lick midway becomes electrified while surrounded by drums and Mellotron wings. In what will be a theme for the recording McCartney uses stacked guitars and multi tracked vocals which call out from here and there to greet his avian companion. An airy opener and fine encapsulation of the rest of the record. 

Things stay up-tempo with ‘Find My Way’, a song that opens with a fuzzy keyboard and gated drums and that doesn’t take long to seep into your pores. Dual Macca guitars and dizzying overlapping waves of horns keep the alternating chord changes exciting. The middle eight of the song with Paul’s falsetto is an absolute joy. The song lands in a false ending and then restarts with some trippy cloud guitars before concluding. This one could and should be the single.

McCartney’s hallmark melodies have become more poignant over the years and with ‘Pretty Boys’ as well as ‘Woman and Wives’ he pulls from the well another sparkling plethora of unique twists on ageless McCartney lines. ‘Pretty Boys’ makes the ‘rock room’ think the songs inspiration possibly came from McCartney’s visit to one of daughter Stella’s shows. Acoustic based with a tapping percussion, McCartney’s well-worn breathy voice slips into the melody with a perfect fit. On second and third listen the song really started to take shape with nuance and detail revealing itself.

‘Woman and Wives’ follows, a piano based mid tempo shuffle grabs me by the collar immediately. While constructed with a churning snare there is a clandestine atmospheric sadness underneath the songs moving foundation. Macca acts as the town crier issuing advice and warning.  I can discern the famous reverberation of Bill Black’s standup bass on this song and like all of McCartney’s best tunes, I am left with a feeling of wonder when the song concludes. His vocals are hearty and rich, a matured ‘Lady Madonna’ vibe, singing with the back of the throat.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

‘Lavatory Lil’ is a quick and fun character assassination with a funky instrumentation reminiscent of the best McCartney I instrumentals. The track is a guitar driven syncopated thump with some stinky descending basslines. Additionally, in my opinion it contains some of the finest ‘Mod Macca’ vocals this side of 2010. Paul sounds like he’s playing loose, singing free and enjoying himself, and that is really all that matters. Great song, content and attitude.

‘Slidin’ closes side one and you know it! A bombastic and crushing central riff complete with 1966 sounding bass, thick fuzzed lead guitar and rock and roll Paul. This icy cut is stellar, featuring a thumping instrumental break with slippery lead guitar lines and the aforementioned big bass. Definitely one of the weightiest tracks Paul has made, and a hefty rocker for a 78 year old man! Would love to see this one come alive on a concert stage. Actually, blast this one on the hi fi and get the neighbors going if you can.

‘Deep Deep Feeling’ opens side two and whereas ‘Lavatory Lil’ remembered McCartney I, ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ reflects the heady experimentation undertaken on McCartney II. ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ is extended, complex and very cool. Multiple variations on a theme are delivered in multifarious packages. Macca begins the song vocally with only drum accompaniment. Then throughout the track he stratifies vocals, guitars, and all of the instruments at his disposal. The song stays in flux with tension while the foundation remains steady. Compartments are opened and shut, layers are peeled back and then returned. A Mellotron pulses over the rhythmic diversity as choruses of Paul weave deftly in and out of the creation. A centerpiece of the record and a definite highlight as it defies adequate description. The song is of its own creation and adheres to previous McCartney I and II aesthetics.

Perfection follows with ‘Kiss of Venus’ an acoustic song cut from the same historical quilt as ‘Jenny Wren’ and ‘Blackbird’. Lyrically mature, crystalline picking contrasts with Paul’s wrinkly inspired falsetto. The conclusion of the song highlights a surprising and resplendent harpsicord spot. Otherwise, just Paul and an acoustic here, that’s just enough.

‘Seize the Day’ immediately felt anthemic to the ‘rock room’. The verses reminded me of ‘People Want Peace’ from 2018’s Egypt Station. Dual guitars line the chorus which is as moving and catchy that only Paul McCartney could have birthed it. In addition, the middle eight spotlights some classic Macca vocals (imo), as I know this has been a bone of contention for many Paul fans.

The penultimate song on the eleven track LP is ‘Deep Down’. Beginning with an extended falsetto note, the song falls in around the vocal. The groove is reminiscent of ‘Spinning on an Axis’ off of Driving Rain, with a Fender Rhodes and a splashy snare. Soon the horns and guitar grab onto a slick line as a diversion from the song proper. This is the one song on the LP that may be lacking lyrically and may slightly overstay its welcome. I feel the reason is that the song is more about a groove than anything ‘deeper down’. It's not a bad track. It may grow on me more, that being said, it does feature some great Macca vocals at the end.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

The record closes with ‘Winter Bird/When Winter Comes’ bringing the collection full circle. During promotion for the record McCartney stated that the impetus for McCartney III was of the song ‘Winter Bird’. McCartney had recorded the track during sessions for Flaming Pie and the song was left to languish in the vaults. When revisiting his tapes for the Flaming Pie deluxe edition Paul decided to use the original song and develop it for an animated feature he was working on. Suddenly he was inspired and the idea of recording a McCartney III album fell in around it. George Martin produced the original session and what you will hear on McCartney III is a hybrid of the original recording and Paul’s new theme used for the opener. 'When Winter Comes' is a lost classic and its obvious why Paul wanted to use it and how it inspired the rest of the record.(Note his 1997 vocals)

While any news of a new Paul McCartney record elicits the usual cheers from his long time admirers and stoic acknowledgement from music fans in general; the usual flurry of interpretations and criticisms will be soon to follow. Your humble ‘rock room’ is included in part of this chaos. In the end, all that can be said is that one of the finest musicians of any genre has released a collection of song at 78 years of age. He is playing and producing it all and in the midst of a pandemic. If that is not cause for celebration I do not know what is. The bonus? The music is wonderful and the creativity is muffin topping out of the package. I don’t have to tell you to check out Paul McCartney, if you dig him, you know what to expect, and it’s gonna be good. Just like 2020's Dylan release, there's still plenty to be thankful for in the world of rock. McCartney III will be released on December 18.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders: Garcia Live Volume 15 – Live at Keystone Korner May 21, 1971

The archival release series Garcia Live has been consistently releasing classic Jerry Garcia performances since 2012. The estate has been touching on a wide array of Jerry Garcia’s various band’s and musical excursions. For the current release, Garcia Live Volume 15, the Garcia family has offered a rare previously uncirculating performance, as well a unique on stage line up and performing venue. The date of this concert, May 21st, 1971 finds Jerry Garcia in between Spring and Summer Grateful Dead tours, where the group had just closed the Fillmore East and would soon be travelling to France for a one of show in a haunted castle. Garcia is a master of his instrument and arguably reaching his first peak as a player.

The ambiance of the recording elicits intimacy as the on stage chatter as well as a comfortable musical simpatico is discernable from the tape. The source of the concert according to the release is from a four track soundboard recording. All instruments are balanced and the recording is a joy to hear. Only the intermittent buzz of a funky monitor causes any minor distraction. This miniscule annoyance is noted on the caveat emptor on the back of the release. Featuring Garcia alum, Ron Vitt on drums, and Merl Saunders on organ respectively, there is no bass player on the recording. But we are treated to saxophonist Martin Fierro who makes a guest appearance mid-way through the first set. A spectacular multifarious jam develops of the course of the evening, jazzy in its sensibilities, psychedelic in its approach and free in its attitude. A gumbo of delectable grooves swing from funk to space blues.

There is an early sweetness and directness to Garcia’s playing. These are the days when Jerry couldn’t stop, when shows like this one were what he used to expand his aural pallet. The ‘rock room’ believes Garcia to be armed with his famed Fender Stratocaster ‘Alligator’ on this particular evening. Saunders handles the bass duties on keyboard like Ray Manzarek. If the ‘rock room’ were to devise a label, this is a psychedelic jazz trio. There is no pressure, no deadlines, the band showed up and played for the pure joy of getting it on.

The concert begins with an expansive jam on the Saunders track ‘Man Child’ witch settles on a theme for the evening, open improvisation. The band drifts into an immediately groovy mid-tempo swing. Garcia lays some tentative licks over Saunders quivering Hammond splays. Music slices through gray heavy aired club jazz as a number of tempo changes leave and then return. Around 11 minutes there is a caesura where Saunders and Garcia weave a few notes before returning to the song proper. A ‘mini melt’ down is birthed as the song reaches the seventeen minute mark and Saunders lands the shuttle while Garcia probes for new life. Now that is a way to open a show.

What is listed as ‘One Kind Favor’ is a reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See that My Grave is Kept Clean”, a favorite of most if not all of the bay area folkies come psychedelic messengers. Ron Vitt uses a breeze scat groove and the song pulls right into Garcia’s wheelhouse. The stellar brassy squonk of Garcia’s guitar features bluegrass bends over a brisk walking bass line by Saunders. Garcia notes to get ‘more highs on the organ’ in between numbers.

An additional blues follows with ‘I Know It’s a Sin’, a Jimmy Reed song played by the Grateful Dead on more than one occasion in their early years, the first version being on May 19, 1966. This song remains true to form, with Garcia singing in his sweet early 70’s quivering voice. A beautifully poignant solo is taken by Garcia, returned and reflected in kind by Saunders who lays in on oh so thick and with an extra coat.

Next, a ten minute instrumental reading of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made to Love Her’ foreshadows later Jerry Garcia Band set list deep dive’s into the Motown Tamla songbook. A major highlight of the set, the band digs deep and comes up with an overflowing well of crystal clear spring water. Vitt keeps things busy with a series of thoughtful rhythms. Garcia quotes the melody line with honky string bends held up to glisten by Saunders lustrous Hammond swells. At about three minutes in Fierro jumps in with both feet and slays it with a taffy pulled sax solo. For those who don’t know Garcia has some of the funkiest rhythm playing on the planet and here it is on full display! Following Fierro, Garcia pulls the rip cord and enters into his own glistening solo spot. Easy highlight of the opening set and rare!

A unique to the performance jam referred to on the release as ‘Keystone Korner Jam’ follows next and is exactly that, a jam.  Garcia starts thing off with an ethnic sounding rhythm to which Vitt adds cymbal bell hits. Immediately Saunders and Fierro jump in to what becomes a flashing red light of a groove. Once the three principals of the band twist the ends of their respective wires together the jam immediately elevates. Reminding the ‘rock room’ of 1979’s ‘Reconstruction’ excursions this jam straddles the fence between earth and space and definitely encourages ass shaking.  Around five to six minutes Garcia hits on melody everyone jumps eagerly on before steering the ship quickly into a hallucinatory melt down. Garcia and Fierro get strange before Vitt and Saunders ignite a jittery groove out of the chaos. Post eight minutes Fierro takes the wheel and directs the foursome into a high tempo screaming improv. This time Fierro encourages a deep meltdown as the band dynamically falls into a weightless twinkling evening. The band rises again and Jerry deflates then gently into a perfect landing. The ball handling by the group here is wonderful, you can really feel the band listening to one another.

A song that would soon become a staple of ‘Jerry Garcia Band’ concert follows with a spacious performance of ‘The Band’s, ‘The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down’. Garcia sings endearingly and the band responds in kind reaching an emotional ending. Jerry announces the band is going to take a ‘break for a while’ and so will we.

The second set and disc two begin with the longest jam of the night and instrumental version of the song ‘Save Mother Earth’ from Merl Saunders 1972 LP Heavy Turbulence which both Garcia and Vitt play on. A slightly sinister prelude, leads to a sneaky arrangement. Garcia’s guitar has a serrated edge, contrasting Saunders smooth recitation of the lick. By five minutes the song has started rolling toward the horizon with Fierro wailing and at one point quoting ‘It’s Your Thing’. At eight minutes Garcia enters ready to duel with Saunders. Immediately the song morphs, rhythms rebound, Garcia deconstructs the inside and the song becomes reborn……..yet again. A syrupy floor slows the song and at ten minutes something odd is developing. Diversions and short cuts aside, by sixteen minutes Fierro keeps his endless faucet of melodies on full flow, soon the song sprouts flowers. By nineteen minutes the crown can be heard cheering the band along. The group has found it, the mysterious, gestalt linkage, and the crowd is along for the ride.

Garcia then unravels with a stirring solo that starts low around twenty minutes on the neck and stays there. Lending a muddy funk to the brightly developing groove. Saunders throws out some pitch bending swells to segue into his solo location. A groove similar to Chicago’s “It Better End Soon’ begins during the home stretch, but per usual gets very shifty before concluding another expansive series of jams! Yea.

A super rare cover of Jimmy Rodgers ‘That’s All Right’ follows as a resigned boozy sway, with Garcia singing blue and lonesome. The first break moves into a sturdy march with a crisply overdriven Garcia Strat exploring the songs changes. Fierro peeks through the shades here and there until he takes a spin around the block as well. A couple songs on this release I wish would have stuck around the Garcia sets as they fit the JGB template splendidly. Merl gets involved with some melody swells and distorted pitch playing, before all three melody makers collaborate into a fitting conclusion. Perfect, the makeup of this jam matches the vibe of the performance which is smoky bar light, sunglasses at night cool.

A major rarity and highlight of the release is the group’s attempt at David Crosby’s ‘The Wall Song’ hailing from his If I Could Only Remember My Name album which had been released in February of 1971. On the studio recording Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann backs Crosby with Jerry’s main lick central to the cut. This version surpasses twelve minutes and bears witness to the improvisational possibilities Garcia saw inside the song’s framework. While tentative in places, when the band picks a compass point the jam begins to reveal its secrets. The song begins as a pulse in syncopated time, and brick by brick begins to reach skyward. Garcia’s vocals are breathy and his approach uniquely his own.

Following the first three verses the collective uses the outro space to breech the wall.  Around five minutes Fierro blares a number a screeches and glissando’s down the rhythmic bricks. Garcia skates in at seven minutes on a current of feedback, using it to develop an edgy improv. Garcia’s tone here is reminiscent of the ‘David and the Dorks’ shows from December of 1970. Fierro returns close to nine minutes and hits on a beautiful play on the theme which gets Vitt excited. The jam soon transmutes into a dramatic and kinetic experiment, with Fierro and Garcia initiating a quivering freak out. Garcia lays a hand on the bricks making sure the structure remains before the band joins back in, concluding their journey with a smashing of the wall. The crowd responds in kind.

The concert and recording concludes with another song that would become a ‘Garcia Band’ staple, the Sun classic ‘Mystery Train’. Even missing Garcia’s partner in crime John Kahn on bass this one tears down the tracks leaving a trailing black cloud behind. A bit shorter than others, this early reading still shakes like Presley’s leg with a plethora of JG’s honky tonk string bending. Garcia bids the crowd farewell, introduces the band and says, ‘that’s it!’

With the unbelievably large amount of archival material that Jerry Garcia created over his extensive career there will always be music to be studied. Each performance date, a signpost to a new and unusual path and an obvious connector to Garcia’s past as well as the future. Every note Garcia played a topographical peak or ridge line leading to an even higher summit or new discovery of creativity. With Garcia Live Volume 15, we as listeners are privy to a previously unknown performance and are offered a glimpse into a path never traveled, pulled from historic air and fed into our hi fi’s. We are thankful.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Now Playing: 'Suprise Partie' New Years 1968 Paris, France - Who, Small Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Booker T

Now Playing in the ‘rock room’ is one of the finest substantial slabs of the 1960’s rock revolution to be captured on celluloid. Paris, France in 1968 was a city and country in upheaval. In May 1968 the French Revolution was ignited. A revolution in all sense of the word, the working man, artists and government were all turned upside down by the social upheaval forcing France into the modern world. Women’s rights, gay rights, student and musical freedoms were also on the docket. Concluding this important and chaotic year was a huge New Year’s Eve celebration with some of Europe’s most respected and forward thinking musicians. Now days, New Year’s Eve celebrations are nothing unusual, but here rock music was still considered to be subversive and was not taken seriously or as entertainment for the whole family unit.

‘Surprise-Partie’ was broadcast on French television on December 31, 1968 from ORTF studios in Paris and included a remarkable line up of artists. ‘The Who, Small Faces, Booker T and the MG’s, Pink Floyd, The Equals, Les Variations, The Troggs, Joe Cocker and Fleetwood Mac. Similarly to New Year’s Eve celebrations of modern times, some of the performances were taped on site and some come from various venues around Paris. Most of the bands performed live, but both the Small Faces and Who lip- synced their spots. This puzzles me somewhat at these two acts are obviously the most incendiary of the line up and famous for their live shows, but for reasons unknown they played along to backing tracks. There was a number of bands that played but did not make the television broadcast including but not limited to: PP Arnold, Francoise Hardy and Johnny Halliday.

Flickering today in the ‘rock room’ is the available circulating pro shot hour and a half broadcast. Unfortunately the original broadcast ran for three and a half, so we are missing much. What I am enjoying is also available on line for your review here. The film is quintessentially 60’s with a plethora of rock and a substantial amount of beautiful groovy ‘birds’. A paisley time capsule with a stellar captured soundtrack.

The show begins with ‘The Who’ playing along to a prerecorded track of three of their songs against the back drop of a aluminum foil dazzled stage. This particular era finds the in the grey area between their ‘psychedelic Mod’ era and Tommy. The footage is welcome for that single fact alone. ‘I’m a Boy, I Can See for Miles’, and ‘Magic Bus’ comprise the set. The band gives it their all but seems slightly uncomfortable with their surroundings. Moon and Townsend in particular seem to be feeling no pain. This mimed segment does offer a complete contrast to the Who’s devastating live performance of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ that took place on a few weeks prior on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

The ‘Small Faces’ take the stage for their segment which is also mimed. The band looks like a group of bad asses in this clip with all eyes locked firmly on the simply decorated stage. Fascinatingly, the band opens with the title track of their latest LP, Odgens Nut Gone Flake. The band is in an odd configuration with Marriott on Hammond organ. This is also a rare and unique look at the band as very early in the next year Marriott would leave the band to begin ‘Humble Pie’ with Peter Frampton. The next two songs also feature from Odgens with Ronnie Lane’s ‘Song of a Baker’ and the horny ‘Rollin Over’. A fine and funny moment occurs when Marriott leaves the Hammond to grab his guitar in time for ‘Song of a Baker’ causing him to miss the beginning of the cut. Moon and Townsend laugh and Moon gives Marriott a joking punch as he grabs his instrument. Both Townsend and Moon sit on the stage like the surrounding dancers and band around enthusiastically to the Small Faces.

The show cuts to an offsite club where ‘Booker T and the MG’s’ play live at ‘Bibelot’. The band is as taut as a drawn bow with Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Al Jackson in particularly fine form locking down the groove. First up a swinging version of the famed ‘Green Onions’ with Cropper and Booker taking tasteful and crisp solo spots. Following next is the 1966 B side, ‘Booker Loo’. Washed with Booker’s breezy organ lines and the intimate venue quivers with the MG’s perfect shady rhythms.

The camera’s move to an additional off site club where the celluloid grasps another famous rock band during a time of flux. Next is ‘Pink Floyd’ live at ‘Bilboquet’ hailing from September 7, 1968 (I believe the band recorded a segment at the ORTF Studios the day before).  Founder, guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett had left the band in April 1968 and was replaced by David Gilmour who is seen in this footage for one of the first times. This bit of footage is a real treat as I feel this particular era of Pink Floyd is stellar. Here the band performs ‘Let There Be More Light’ the lead off track from 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets. Of special note to ‘rock geek’s, is that this song is the first to feature a David Gilmour guitar solo and a stunning on at that. Set up on a minimalist stage, the song revolves around Roger Water’s weighty bass line. The psychedelia pulsates with a lysergic march to which a number of swirling and twirling girls and boys gyrate. The band is heavy and this particular performance sets something of a high water mark for what was to come for this definitive line up of the group.

‘The Equals’, a UK R and B band follow playing a short fiery three song live set. The band is known for their big hit, ‘Baby, Come Back’ (which closed this set), but also as one of the first racially mixed bands of the time.  The crowd is pumped with everyone on their feet and shakin’ asses. ‘Equality’ cooks with a soulful Eddy Grant guitar solo complete with some Hendrix style theatrics including playing with his mouth and buns! There is some serious sonic shoveling going on. The finishes bombastically with their big aforementioned single, ‘Baby Come Back’.

Popular French musicians, ‘Les Variations’ join the stage to play a set thematically connected by all being performed by the ‘Stones’ except for the closing ‘We’re Going Wrong’ (via Cream) which emerged from an ‘world music interlude’ during the set closing ‘Satisfaction’. ‘Les Variations’ set is charged rock and roll brought to life by a fully invested crowd who loves their hometown boys! Take note of the snappers in the front row who initiate the party atmosphere and get on stage during the gritty dynamic and improvised vamp on ‘Around and Around’. ‘Les Variations’ rips it up! A similarly high energy ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ gets the assembled crowd even more crazed with some early crowd surfing. These are the kind of sick moments that the ‘rock room’ lives for!! I will say that my assumption that the circulating video is out of order may be confirmed during the ‘Les Variations’ set as the credits are run during the concluding number.

‘The Troggs’ live set though maybe more well-known artists, pales in comparison to ‘Les variations’ freak out. Well known for the smash, ‘Wild Thing’ the US forerunners of ‘garage rock’ play a well-received set but one that lacks in the power of the previous groups. Nonetheless, the band is brisk and disseminates a chunky set of grooving pop psych. A strangely placed cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’ is nestled mid set before the band closes with a singalong version ‘Somewhere My Girl Is Waiting’ from the bands 1967 LP Cellophane and the high tempo sudsy stomp of ‘Hip Hip Hurray’.

The cameras move yet again to join Joe Cocker and the Grease Band live at the ‘Tour de Nesle’ in Paris. A two song set comprised of the ‘Dylan/Band’s’, ‘I Shall Be Released’ and Cocker’s famous rendition of the ‘Beatles’, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. This segment may be the most intimate venue view yet as Cocker and his band are ‘elbows to ass*h*oles’ on the dimly lit and cramped stage. Cocker is his usual invested self and the footage joins with the small club crowd slow swaying and dancing. When ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ begins it gets the girls right up and dancing near the lip of the stage. Fresh faced Cocker gyrates and moves with the downbeat and reaches for each note while making the purely Beatles song his own only a bit over a year since its release. The footage of the stage from over the top of the minimal crowd really give listener a sense of time and space. Cocker directs the band charismatically during the ‘Friends’ conclusion with his body punctuation's and growling vocals driving one of the highlights of the broadcast to a substantial and explosive finish.

Closing the available footage is a three song blues set by the original ‘Fleetwood Mac’. Peter Green takes lead vocal for the track ‘Homework’ which is turned in on time and features a delicious shuffle. Peter Green steps back to let Jeremy Spencer come forward for two slide guitar focused numbers which the Mac appropriately kick their way through. The band closes with Elmore James, ‘Dust My Broom’ which gets the crowd swinging, but honestly we all know that 'Fleeetwood Mac' could have taken the show down in flames if they chose to.

The circulating footage of ‘New Years Eve 1968, ‘Surprise Partie’ is a time capsule of a unique musical and social period in our history. The pro shot color footage appropriates the era through sound, sight and aesthetic. Such an amazing visual experience to become part of an epoch that we can only read about and analyze through the foggy lens of history.

Suprise-Partie 1968