Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimi Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East (1999)


If A Equals B and B Equals C… No, the music of Jimi Hendrix can not be strictly called jazz. Since the guitarist’s death in 1970, many music pundits have opined that had Hendrix lived he would have ventured into the realm of fusion. Rhetorically, how far from fusion could he have been at the end of his life when compared to the electric guitar fireworks on Bitches Brew ? Like jazz, Hendrix’s music was blues based and highly improvisatory. It is with this support that I justify reviewing Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East in this jazz publication. Jazz is a melting pot with all Music at the fringes.
With the byline for Down Beat magazine being “Jazz, Blues, and Beyond”, if we cannot consider Jimi Hendrix’s music “Jazz, Blues, and Beyond”, I will eat my crushed pork-pie hat and rename my cat “Jaco”.

Pivotal Music/Pivotal Time. Band of Gypsys was the last recording to be released beneath the approval of Hendrix before his death. What a cool LP cover that was. A grainy Hendrix in a circle spotlight, head slightly, almost reverently bowed, as if he was aware of the history of the occasion. The original LP (and CD re-release) presented six songs gleaned from two shows at New York City’s Fillmore East Auditorium: the first on the evening of December 31, 1969 and the second on the morning of January 1, 1970. The songs were previously unreleased by Hendrix and provided a very clear and significant change in direction for the guitarist.

Also noteworthy was the venue. During its zenith, New York’s Fillmore East auditorium was the Village Vanguard of Rock music. Then manager Bill Graham hosted every major musical act from the Grateful Dead to Pete Seeger. Also like the Vanguard, many notable live recordings were made there, perhaps the most famous being The Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East. The re-release of this particular recording preceded this Hendrix re-release in assembling in one place a good part of the music played at these respective concerts that had previously been unreleased or available only on separate recordings.

The music on Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East was performed on the symbolic fulcrum of social and cultural change that had been taking place from the mid-’60s and mid-’70s. Prophetic and metaphorical, Hendrix’s music was changing also. With the Band of Gypsys, Hendrix shed his Caucasian Anglo band mates (Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell) in favor of the funky and intense Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Together, they defined the meaning of “Power Trio”. His music moved in a decidedly funky direction while still retaining it allegiance to the blues (check out this electric “Hear My Train A Comin'”). The performance centerpiece, “Machine Gun” is presented here twice, the performance for each of the two shows. The song still oozes pure genius almost 30 years later. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is played a bit fast for my taste, but dovetails perfectly into “We Gotta Live Together”.

Gratitude. It is simple a gift that the compact disc was invented. The availability of previously unissued or hard to find Hendrix makes this set worth having alone. Add to that it is from the Band of Gypsys show and that makes it essential.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Are You Passionate? (2002)

From The

Following the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center last September, the rock ’n‘ roll community came together in an unprecedented way, performing a series of benefit concerts and crafting new songs in a show of support for America. Some of these — like Bruce Springsteen’s My City of Ruins — were spectacular, while others — like Paul McCartney’s Freedom — were dismal. But most — like Neil Young’s Let’s Roll — tread some middle ground, not really ranking among the best or worst that the artist has to offer.

Part of the problem with Let’s Roll is its uncomfortable lyricism. While it pays tribute to those on ill-fated Flight 93 — the plane which crashed into a Pennsylvania field after its passengers struggled with hijackers — it’s also impossible not to take it as supportive of the current Administration and their poorly planned war-run-amuck. To be fair, at the time of the song’s writing, America was in shock and was more willing to concede to its leaders’ whims. But with lines like, “We’re goin’ after Satan/On the wings of a Dove,” the song now stands as an odd statement from someone like Young who long has rallied against war and unjust government policy. Then again, Young also spent a portion of the ’80s speaking in support of Ronald Reagan.

Regardless, when Let’s Roll is taken within the broader context of Young’s latest release Are You Passionate?, its flippant anger mutates into a catalyst for change. From the father-to-daughter dialogue of You’re My Girl to the recuperative power of a rock-solid relationship on She’s a Healer, Young delves deep into the notion of love as well as the need for family, friends, and faith in something bigger. And on Goin’ Home, he draws a line from America’s Wild West to today’s corporate world, painting a surreal clash of cultures that ends only when materialism fades away.

Change is the driving force behind Are You Passionate? as even the music Young lays down beneath his words is starkly different than anything he’s created before. Instead of the harsh, angst-ridden tones that he tends to infuse into his electrified outings — only Goin’ Home features Crazy Horse and contains the familiar Neil Young rock ’n‘ roll chug — Are You Passionate? retains the beauty of his more acoustic-oriented efforts. Flanked by a line-up that includes Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve “Smokey” Potts, and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Young has created the most soulful album of his career. And, by softening the edges a bit, several of the tracks wind up sounding like Motown classics, while the rest could pass as lost collaborations with Carlos Santana. As a result, Are You Passionate? resonates with a deeply rooted sense of spiritualism, making it a loosely-based concept album for the post-9/11 world — a place where quality beats quantity and solace can be found within the heart and mind, not within material possessions.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Are You Passionate? | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck: You Had It Coming (2001)


What a strange cultural event. Well, I mean, we knew we had it coming, but we never knew it would come out so quick. Who Else! was Beck’s last proper studio album in as much as ten years (the ridiculous stunt of Crazy Legs certainly doesn’t count), and now Jeff goes ahead and releases his next offering with less than a two-year interval. The last time he had such a small interval, of course, was with the sequence of Blow By Blow and Wired, and it’s no surprise: just like those two albums were basically a continuation of each other, expanding on the same vibe of jazz-fusion, Beck’s two latest albums also expand on the same topic – Jeff’s obsession with Nineties’ technologies, trip-hop and techno rhythms, which he uses as the basis for some pretty innovative guitarwork.

You can’t help feeling that You Had It Coming is still a rushed album, though. For one thing, it is almost astoundingly short – ten numbers that end in thirty-six minutes, something more suitable for an EP format today. Moreover, in comparison with the last album, this one is blatantly underarranged. Basically, the only thing that is audible here is Jeff’s guitar (sometimes with overdubs, more often not) and the loud crashing drum machines (the beat is always processed – there’s not even a single drummer in the credits). There are a few synths scattered around, but not on a single track do they appear to be prominent; the only prominent synths are those through which Beck plugs in his devilish instrument. No vocals, as usual, save for a weird cover of ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’ and a few moans and groans on other tracks, provided by a certain Imogen Heap.

Amazingly, it all works, and it works far, far better than on the preceding album. The main thing is: Jeff isn’t overshadowed by any friggin’ keyboard players. No Jan Hammer, no Tony Hymas, nobody. Just Jeff and his guitar. And he does deliver the goods – for the most part, he eschews the usual finger-flashing soloing (which still steps through in a couple of places, though) in favour of blazing, screeching, rip-roaring, metallic riffage and occasional “jazz-hop” flourishes… er, I don’t even have the proper word to describe what the heck the man is doing here. The result is – a set of energetic, furious instrumental tracks that are mostly memorable and certainly prompt you to action, plus a wild, unparalleled sound that few people have dared to explore. That dreary picture on the cover, with scorched hands and all, is very appropriate – the sound is so dry and scorching it makes me wanna haul out that bottle of Coke from the fridge.

No wonder the lead-in track is called ‘Earthquake’. The riff that introduces the number really threatens to bury you in almost a Tony Iommi-esque way, only it is even more punchy and aggressive than your average Tony Iommi riff. I do sometimes get offended at the generic drum beats, but it’s perfectly easy to just abstract oneself from the genericity and concentrate on Beck’s playing. The wah-wah stylizations on ‘Roy’s Toy’ will blow you away; but perhaps the creepiest of all are the broken dirty chords that announce ‘Dirty Mind’. Simply put, Jeff has never played like that before… both the introductory dirty chords and the main wah-wah riff of the track are so black, paranoid, soul-tearing that you can’t but admire them. Too bad they have to be accompanied by unimaginative trip-hop beats. Hey, is it possible to acquire a copy of You Had It Coming without the drumbeats? The worst fear of my life now is that one day I’ll find that ‘Dirty Mind’ is blasting from a speaker in a supermarket or used in a Jaguar commercial. Whoever pays attention to the amazing guitarwork? All they need is a good trip-hop drive.

Which is why ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’ will hardly be featured in a Jaguar commercial. The only vocal spot on the album (and that chick does a pretty good work on it, too), it’s mind-blowing. It’s not even techno or anything – the drumming is more in a ‘martial’ style than anything, and Beck’s electronic interpretation of the classic riff of Muddy Waters is unimitable. That dry, uncompromised guitar tone, combined with elements of blues, hair metal, grunge, whatever… it’s wonderful.

Describing most of the other tracks would be useless: most of the album is pretty monotonous in style, the difference is just in the particular riff (although it should be mentioned that ‘Left Hook’ has a few ear-shattering solos as well). True to his style, Beck also inserts a few ‘lighter’ numbers, like the pretty balladesque ‘Nadia’, the short atmospheric drumless interlude ‘Blackbird’ (which has nothing to do with the Beatles song), and ends the record with the minimalistic, thought-provoking ‘Suspension’ which is a good tune to relax to after the thunderstorm.

All in all, this isn’t a great album, because, face it, it could have been better. A little longer; a little more diverse; and the drumwork could have been tons more satisfying if Jeff’d bother hiring a real drummer. Yeah, I understand that’s the whole point: to prove that today’s mainstream music can be transformed into high quality art with a bit of experimentation and a bit of real talent. Alas, this is unprovable – eggs are eggs, and techno drumbeat is techno drumbeat. Techno drumbeat is by now so tightly associated with teen-pop and mindless hip-hop that I see no use in this move.

On the other hand, the guitarwork is breathtaking – and it amply demonstrates that more than thirty-five years into his career, Mr Beck still got it and isn’t going to give it up. Not just the flame, but also the will to experiment. All praise the Master, and I still hope that this album isn’t the last we’re gonna hear of him. Good as it is, it’s still essentially just a throwaway. Now where’s that real Jeff Beck masterpiece we’re waiting for?

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck You Had It Coming | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake: Made To Love Magic (2004)

From BBC Music

The announcement of the discovery of a new Nick Drake song, found at the end of a tape reel and forgotten for over 20 years, has been met with the enthusiasm normally reserved for the earthly materialisation of minor deities.

Leaving aside the merits of the rest of this new compilation of rarities, previously unreleased material and occasional picks from Drake’s small but perfectly formed canon, it’s ”Tow The Line” which will prove the most irresistible lure to his vociferous and evangelical fan base.Possibly the last song he ever recorded, it mines a similar vein to the other songs taped shortly before his death. Sparse and direct, its resigned tone is enhanced by an insistent guitar and the quiet poignancy of Drake’s vocal.

Whether its worth the price of admission alone depends on your devotion to the Cult of Drake, but certainly there’s other startling material on offer, including a version of ”Three Hours” in which Nick is accompanied by future Traffic percussionist Reebop Kwaakhu Baah and an unknown flautist. There’s also a solo rendition of ”River Man” dating from 1968 and recorded in a Cambridge college bedroom by Drake’s friend and future arranger Robert Kirby. Shorn of its string arrangement, Drake’s incredible guitar playing and effortless melodic sense are all the more apparent.

Less effective is the re-arrangement of ”I Was Made To Love Magic”, ditching Richard Hewson’s dire string arrangement heard on the posthumous Time of No Reply album and replacing it with Kirby’s original charts. Whatever the ethics of such posthumous tinkering, its just not a particularly great song.

The addition of strings to ”Time Of No Reply” itself is more successful, and at least benefits from the presence of Drakes intricate guitar filigree, but the effect remains slightly akin to coming home and finding someones redecorated your favourite room without asking you. That said, Kirby’s arrangements remain benchmarks of sensitivity.

More welcome are remixed versions of Drake’s other final recordings, including a previously unreleased version of ”Hanging OnA Star”. Impassioned and austere, they retain their gripping allure, although sensitive listeners may find ”Black Eyed Dog”’s creeping foreboding slightly too harrowing in the light of Drake’s subsequent fate.

One wonders what would have happened had Drake followed his own advice, overcome his demons and towed the line of contemporary record industry mores; interviews, tours, appearances on Whistle Test.This has led some critics to argue that Drake’s tragic end lends his music a gravitas it doesn’t always deserve.

Certainly, Drake’s death has frozen his reputation in aspic -the eternal youth, gilded with romantic allure; a Chatterton for our time. However, none of this should diminish the achievement of his music, which continues to retain its honest and beguiling power despite this compilation’s admittedly minor faults.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Made To Love Magic | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Sugar Mountain (2008)

From BBC Music

With Old Shakey finally opening up the vaults ahead of his huge 10-disc Archive box with the amazingly good Massey Hall and Filmore East (with Crazy Horse) concert recordings, Sugar Mountain has a lot to live up to. Luckily it easily passes muster, making up for musical shortcomings with sheer historical fascination.

With Buffalo Springfield already a fleeting halcyon dream, Young headed into the studio with Jack Nitzsche and David Briggs in the late summer of 1968 to record his debut album. This gig, recorded at The Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, captures Young a mere couple of days before its release running through new numbers as well as the cream of his Springfield songs. It’s these tapes that supplied the version of the title track that we all know and love from his Decade compilation. Written on the cusp of adulthood, Sugar Mountain (the song) is a key glimpse into the mind of a man for whom childlike innocence and hard-bitten careerism could be converse sides of the same creative coin. It’s a wide-eyed and cheery performance, only marred by one composition – the interminable last Trip To Tulsa which always kept his first solo album becoming a true classic.

For the more clued-up Young watchers it’s fascinating to hear an early version of the beautiful Birds (finally to appear on After The Goldrush, two years later) as well as what appears to be Neil actually discovering the melody to Winterlong in front of the audience! Very much of its time, the gig is peppered with rambling interludes about cars, working in bookstores (with the aid of chemicals) and open tunings.

What’s also intriguing is how Young, obviously trying to reinvent himself as an acoustic troubadour, refers to himself in the past tense as a ”lead guitarist”. Within a couple of months he’d hooked up with garage hippies, Crazy Horse, and was back at the electric coal face, turning into one of the finest guitarists of his era. Sugar Mountain is therefore both a valuable insight into the man’s early defining moments but also a chance to reappraise the material from his much-maligned first album. Essential.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Sugar Mountain | | Leave a comment

Paul McCartney – Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard (2005)

From BBC Music

This is the first time since, ooh, 1978’s London Town that a Paul McCartney album been genuinely awaited. That’s not to say the listener hasn’t been surprised and delighted by the contents of many of his records since then. When they have been good (Flaming Pie, Flowers In The Dirt), they have bordered on exemplary; when they have been less good (Press To Play, Off The Ground) they have bordered on the execrable. But, throughout, there is always something there to remind us of Pauly’s shimmering majesty. Now, we all know McCartney doesn’t need to work, but his endless drive to be cutting edge makes him all the more endearing. He’s Paul bloody McCartney, after all.

2001’s Driving Rain was a fine rock album despite it’s awful sleeve. What truly killed it was mixing eulogies to his recently deceased wife with ones to his new partner. It felt a little, er, hasty. And he’d forgot, in the main, to pack the tunes. Oh, and 9/11 happened on its release date too. No wonder it only spent a solitary week in the chart.

Since then, McCartney has reconnected with his live audience and has gone back to playing virtually everything himself in the studio. In working with Radiohead/Beck producer Nigel Godrich, McCartney actually sounds somewhat stretched.

So what does it sound like? Very, very good. He still finds it essential to play the chart game hence opener “Fine Line”, the weakest track on the 14-track collection. But “Riding To Vanity Fair”, “Too Much Rain”, “Anyway” and “How Kind Of You” are full of subtle nuances, killer hooks and sweet surprises. They really do rank among his very best work. And “Jenny Wren” nods to “Blackbird” too.

Chaos and Creation In The Backyard is a better album than anyone could reasonably expect from a 63-year-old who helped remould not just world popular music but world popular culture, as well. He’s Paul bloody McCartney, after all.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Paul McCartney Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard | | Leave a comment

Who Else But Jeff Beck? (1999)

jeff_beck_whoelseFrom Experience Hendrix

IN 1985, WITH A NEW single, “People Get Ready,” reuniting him with vocalist Rod Stewart for the first time since 1969, Jeff Beck was lined up to be interviewed by one of the British music weeklies of the time.

A writer was assigned, a date was set, and then the guitarist’s office started moving the goalposts. He wanted the cover of the magazine. He wanted lots of pictures taken of his collection of vintage cars. And finally, that was all he wanted to talk about, the vintage car collection which he’d been painstakingly assembling his whole career long.

The interview never happened.

Reminded of all this, close to fifteen years later, Beck laughs, sighs and apologizes all in the same movement. And then he explains.

“What happened was, I got on the cover of Auto Week magazine, and I was the first rock’n’roller ever to do that. It was a bizarre thing, it was one of those magazines which had drag racing stars on, and all the Formula Whatever drivers, and all of a sudden, because I have this collection, and people know about it, I was put the cover of that. And I got more bizarre questions and coverage with that than you would imagine, which was great, because I was going through this very anti period, when I didn’t want to talk about music or guitars. In a way they’re pretty boring things anyway, so unless you’ve got some hilarious new angle on it, let’s not talk about it. I didn’t want to be asked about string gauges or flame maple necks and how many fingers I use and stuff. Cars were just more interesting to me at the time. But it was not intended to be in any way flash, I can assure you.”

Although Flash was the name of your album at the time, wasn’t it?

“Yeah… oh, Christ. Freudian slip.”

That story is told to illustrate one point. That Jeff Beck has always been a contrary devil.

In the late 1960s, while he and Rod Stewart led the first, greatest, incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group to proto-metal bluesbreaking glory, Beck alone doubled as a teenybop pop idol, taking the likes of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and ‘Love Is Blue’ to the toppermost of the British chart poppermost.

Through the 1970s, when the world was crying out for the raw rock electrics which he, alone, was capable of wringing out of a guitar, he meandered off into jazz fusion territory.

And today, when peers as venerable as Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton have come proper croppers with their toothless attempts to embrace modern electronica, Beck has turned the whole debate on its head by coming up with a new album which makes the Prodigy sound like they’re queuing for their pensions, and leaves Underworld in the undergrowth. He calls it Who Else!, and being as there’s probably no-one else who could have pulled it off so well, it’s very aptly named. Who else indeed?

“I wanted to make an album that would salute everything that I’ve absorbed from people like Bjork and the Prodigy,” Beck admits. “That was the starting point. There’s a lot going on in the techno field, a lot of great stuff, but a lot of it… I was hearing some fantastic rhythm tracks, but that’s all a lot of it was, great rhythm tracks with nothing on top. So I decided to do something about it.”

Recorded with keyboard player Tony Hymas, one of Beck’s most faithful contributors for twenty years now, guitarist Jennifer Batten (best known for her onstage stint with Michael Jackson), bassist Randy Hope Taylor and sometimes Duran Duran drummer Steve Alexander, Who Else! was born out of a single question which has haunted Beck for most of the past twenty years – and underlines many of his more bizarre career moves as well. “What the hell do you do to impress anybody these days? That’s what kept Tony and I going in a way, trying to come up with something fresh and exciting, which would make people go ‘wow,’ but which wouldn’t just appeal because it was clever, or because no-one had done it before. It had to be alive.”

Who Else! is certainly that. Film-maker Peter Richardson heard it, then told Beck that he thought it was precisely the kind of record which Hendrix would be making, if he were alive today. And an overjoyed Beck admits, “I thought that was the ultimate compliment, because when Hendrix first came along….”

When Hendrix first came along, in London in 1966, Beck was the king of the hill. Up there with Eric Clapton, his predecessor in the Yardbirds, and Jimmy Page – his successor! – Beck was the proverbial cat’s pajamas, the fastest, the flashest, the greatest thing on six strings in the country. In fact, one night at the Saville Theatre in London, he came onstage with 12 strings, a Telecaster tuned to the unplumbed depths of D, “and afterwards, Pete Townshend came back and said ‘the best thing about tonight was the sound of your 12 string Tele.’ No-one had ever done that, it was very low and gritty, a real fuck off sound. It was like a bloody ten piece orchestra, it was so powerful, and so absolutely happening. Townshend was watching, and he was wetting himself!”

But when Hendrix turned up, “for someone like me, he was a bloody disaster, for no other reason than he took over the guitar, lock, stock and barrel, and ‘you lot can all piss off, I’m doing this gig now.’ And for me, it was my gig he took away! I couldn’t do any fancy stuff on guitar, for fear of being called a rip off of him, and that had to be considered big time.

“But when he and I became sort of drinking partners in New York, and playing together a lot, I realized that if he could say he enjoyed what I did, that was enough for me. So it was kind of with his blessing that I carried on. Which is why when Peter said that about the new album, it meant so much.”

It has, of course, been an absurdly long time since Beck’s last “proper” album – all three of the records he’s released in the past decade have been either soundtrack (1993’s Frankie’s House), tribute (the same year’s Gene Vincent inspired Crazy Legs) or odd co-operatives (1989’s Guitar Shop). And Beck will be the first to admit it’s been far too long.

“I get recognized, infrequently, when I’m out in London… I go ‘oh yeah, I’m Jeff Beck. I’d better go home and do something about it.’ There were many reasons for doing this album, and it was no mean feat to get it done, I can tell you that. But I think the main thing was, I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, it would be too late. They say it’s never too late to play, but in this game, once you lose your grip, you lose it. I don’t think you can scrabble back.”

At the same time, though, he acknowledges that sometimes, the very motivation to play is away on vacation. “I do get fed up with playing, sometimes, although I try not to let it get me down, because if that goes, I’ve got nothing. I can’t make money doing anything else! And I do get depressed when I see hundreds of guitar magazines, and I’m not in them. The office has a habit of leaving them lying around when I’m there, and I’ll flick through them and… ‘this bastard’s got no right to be on the front cover!’ It’s just one of those funny things.”

Work on Who Else! was completed, fittingly enough, on Christmas Eve last year. “Unbelievable! What a Christmas present! I actually got the first pressing back on Christmas Eve.” But Beck actually began thinking about it, in some form at least, long before that.

“If you want to take it all the way back,” Beck explains, “I started… restarted… the momentum in 1989 with Terry Bozzio, and the Guitar Shop album, which got a lot of response. But we missed the boat with the album a little bit, and even more sinful was not following through with another one sooner, which meant that we had to go out in 1995, 1996, without a bloody album, on a monstrous long tour with Santana.”

That tour, across America through the summer of 1995, was generally regarded as an absolute triumph – the New York Daily News review, which Beck’s record company probably still has pinned to the wall, insisted that Beck’s solos, “at one moment glistening and sweet, at another ruthless and fleet… communicated the fullness of a human voice.” Beck, however, has less than fond memories of the excursion.

“It went down really well, but if it hadn’t have gone great, I think I’d probably have packed it all in then. From my point of view, it was very pedestrian, the whole thing. We were double headlining – headlining one night and opening the next – and in all of those 46 gigs, no-one came across with a single new riff.

“And then, after the tour finished, everybody disappeared into the woods. Tony [Hymas] was so sick of hearing me bellyaching about new material that he went off and did some jazz thing, and when I nailed him about two years after that, I said ‘come on, let’s have some tunes,’ he wrote some fantastic things and some junk, but there was not an album there. I just couldn’t see going into the studio on day one with a gameplan, so we still have a load of stuff lying on the floor that will never be used.

“The other thing was, my tastes were changing rapidly. In the last year even, they’ve changed a lot, they focus more on what I can get away with in outrage. I’m fed up with mediocrity. I don’t care if I use great chunks of grooves from some other records in samples, if it drives me to play more, in a different way or in a special way, then that’s the way it’s done.”

In fact, there is only one outside sample to be found anywhere on Who Else!, a snatch of dialogue from the It’s A Mad Mad… World movie, incorporated into the opening ‘What Mama Said’. But the overall feel of the album is indeed of electronics gone mad, a driving techno frenzy smashing itself against the walls of Steve Alexander’s live drumming, and Beck’s paint-blistering guitar. “Technology is the gauntlet which the last few years have thrown down to musicians,” Beck believes. “But really, it’s the same as it’s always been. Get past the gimmicks, get past the funny noises which everyone knows you can make, and find the core sound. Once you’ve got that, you can do anything.”

That, of course, is the theory behind all of Beck’s greatest albums, from the jazz-rock virtuosity of Blow By Blow and Wired in the mid-1970s, through the below-the-belt rock’n’roll assault of Crazy Legs, and all the way back to the savage blues-busting of Truth, the Jeff Beck Group’s 1968 debut, and the blueprint for every hard rock album of the next five years, from Led Zeppelin on down…

“The thing with Truth was, it was never really developed,” Beck agrees. “We had a sound, and it turned out to be a colossally influential one, but we weren’t interested in just making the same record again and again. Which means I’ve had to sit back here for the past 30 years, watching people perfect it.

“When Led Zeppelin started doing huge concerts, I was sitting in my garage listening to the radio, and going ‘what’s going on? I started this shit, and look at me!'” And he laughs aloud, because though he knows that without Truth, a lot of great music might never have happened, he also knows that a lot of really ghastly stuff might never have been perpetrated, either.

“If I’m in any way responsible for Heavy Metal,” he winces, “then I apologize. But I get vibes from people like Joe Perry and Slash, the really great rockers, the people I like to believe when they tell me things. I know they must have been impressed by that album because I can hear it in their performances. It seems to me, that record played a very large part in what’s going on today. And that’s fine, because I would never have stayed playing that same stuff over anyway.”

That, too, is a creed which Beck has, for the most part, remained true too throughout his career; if Truth was a fiery blues beast, its successor, Cosa Nostra Beck Ola, launched itself unerringly into the heart of the rock’n’roll revival which was sweeping the scene in the late 1960s. The Who were out there playing old Eddie Cochran songs, Lennon was jamming ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ at the Toronto Peace Festival, the Stones had rediscovered Chuck Berry… and the Jeff Beck Group resurrected Elvis Presley, to stunningly effective ends.

That incarnation of the Beck Group, fronted by vocalist Rod Stewart, with Ronnie Wood a less than willing bassist alongside him, imploded just two weeks before it was scheduled to appear at the Woodstock Festival. Had they stayed together to play the show, popular history insists, the Jeff Beck Group would probably have stolen the show. But Beck himself doubts it. “It just wouldn’t have worked. Things in the band had deteriorated to the point of almost disappearing up their own bum. There was such a bad vibe, and I knew that if we played Woodstock and it failed, then I’d never be able to live with myself. But if we didn’t do it, we could always just guess.”

The other thing which persuaded him, he continues, was the presence of the film cameras. “I did not want to be preserved on film. If that thing hadn’t been filmed, I’d probably have said ‘okay let’s do it.’ But I knew it was going to be a big time film, and if we fucked up and we were on film, forget it. I wasn’t strong enough to do it at that time.”

Beck broke up the band, and while a car accident kept him out of commission for the next couple of years, by 1971 he was back fronting a new Jeff Beck Group, built around drummer Cozy Powell and vocalist Bob Tench. Less supercharged than its predecessor, more prone to locking into lumpen rock/soul grooves, this line-up, too, cut two albums (1971’s Rough And Ready, 1972’s Jeff Beck Group), before shattering when Beck went off to form a group he’d first talked about three years earlier, with Vanilla Fudge mainstays Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice.

Beck Bogart And Appice survived one album (and a fairly excruciating live set, available only on Japanese import); then, in 1975, Beck finally got to work on the album which his supporters had been demanding all along, an instrumental set which would showcase his abilities, and his alone. Produced by George Martin, Blow By Blow arrived in March, 1975, and it ripped the formbook to shreds.

And nobody was as surprised as Beck. “I had no idea I was going to be a solo guitarist,” he confesses. “I always thought I had to have a singer, a frontman, and many people over the years have asked me where was the new Rod Stewart – after Rod left – ‘why didn’t you?’ Well, it was simply because there ain’t another Rod Stewart, and to be seen to be looking for one by choosing somebody similar was just silly. Had there been someone else with their own thing going, in the way that Rod had, that would have been different.

“But once I got on the stage, and started to play lots of instrumental stuff, I found I really enjoyed it. To have people clapping me – in the past, well, were they clapping Rod or Bob [Tench] or Timmy [Bogart]? Or were they clapping me? When you have a lead singer, you don’t know that. Unless you get a roar of approval during a guitar solo, you really don’t know who they’re clapping for. And of course, we all wanted to be Billy Big Bananas back then.”

The tours which followed through the mid-1970s did more than feed Beck’s ego, however. They also pinpointed a musical direction he had never seriously considered, one in which the instrumentation was the star, and the istrumentalists were simply the vehicles which carried it to the stage. And once he was joined by Dutch percussion genius Jan Hammer, early into the Wired sessions, suddenly the sky was the limit. Credited to Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group, a 1977 live album (the adventurously titled Live) remains one of those albums which one either loves with scientific passion… or loathes with the hatred normally reserved for watching a couple of computer geeks discussing the best way to upgrade their operating system. Technically it’s brilliant. But it ain’t rock’n’roll.

Beck acknowledges this, but only gently. “The 70s were the perfectionist times, where everybody did spend months and months of time doing ridiculous amounts of tweaking and preening the record, and it didn’t really appeal to me, that stuff. We made Truth in two weeks, Beck Ola in four days, and I do miss that kind of schedule now. I loved it, because the hysterical pressure is what’s lacking nowadays. Everybody’s in slippers and pipes and they can take five years over one guitar solo and that’s not my cup of tea at all. If Little Richard had done that with ‘Lucille,’ ‘Lucille’ wouldn’t have existed. Or ‘Hound Dog.’ I know Elvis used to do 25 takes, but it was 25 takes all in one day, not spread out over six months. I like the danger and excitement elements, and that’s very hard to get.”

Three new albums over the next ten years saw him inching back towards that kind of ideal, and the Gene Vincent tribute, Crazy Legs, at least gave the impression of manic spontaneity. But Beck is convinced that Who Else! – despite its decade-long gestation – is the album which truly returns him to basics.

“There’s more of me on Who Else! than on any other album I’ve ever made,” he insists. “There was more decision making, more packing and slicing, more saying yes and no than I’ve ever done before. In the past, you see, I was playing with great players, and…” and with the specter of the Jan Hammer era again looming over his shoulder… “I was letting them have the run of the show. There’s a certain code within me – I can’t just turn around and tell them to shut up and do what I want them to. But now I can. This time around, it’s my turn to run things, and I’m making the most of it.”

It was Beck who thought of adding a vacuum cleaner to the intro of ‘Psycho Sam’; Beck who came up with the 7/8 time signature which powers ‘Blast From The East’; and Beck who will finally decide whether or not Jennifer Batten’s dream of completely, and dramatically, rearranging his 60s signature theme, ‘Beck’s Bolero’, will finally escape from the rehearsal room.

Bt his incentives are not wholly musical. In an unguarded moment, he admits that money isn’t quite as plentiful as it might be; that a succession of dodgy contracts during his youth have ensured he sees very little from the succession of hits (and subsequently, hit compilations) he enjoyed with the Yardbirds and in the first flush of solo success. Indeed, one early contract was so lopsided that Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant actually had it hanging on his office wall, “framed as a joke… he’s dead now, but it’s probably still lurking around somewhere, as a warnng to other aspiring young musicians.”

Peter Frampton, one of Beck’s 60s/70s superstar contemporaries, once explained, “when you’re young, someone wants to give you money to make music – of course you’re going to say yes. You’re not thinking of this as a career, you’re not thinking ‘ooh, will I get paid for these records when I’m old and gray,’ and neither were the people you were signing with. It was something which was happening at the time, in the moment; nobody knew that in 30, 40, years time, people would be reissuing all those records on CD, and if you’d told them, they wouldn’t have believed you. Now, of course, it’s happening, and people are making money of those records, and it can be galling. But you have to put it behind you, and get on with what you’re doing now, making money in the present, rather than trying to live off your past.”

Wise words, and – peering out from behind a mountain of Yardbirds compilations, repackaging and recycling three years worth of devastating creativity, with very little reward for its builders – Beck not only agrees with them, he’s living them. “A lot of people think of me as being something from the ’60s, but I haven’t played with the Yardbirds for 32 years, and I doubt I’d even remember how to, anymore. I’ve moved on so many times since then…” and Who Else! sees him moving on even further.

It is an astonishingly contemporary record, the kind of disc which, had it come spinning out at us from amongst the wunderkind godheads of modern techno – the Prodigy, Underworld, Orbital, whoever – would be held up as one of THE sonic achievements of the year. As it is, media reaction to the record has already been surprisingly strong, overwhelmingly positive, and as Beck prepares to tour America this summer, he is adamant that the ball will only keep on rolling.

“We’ve been trying to work out, in my new band, some sort of presentation which is not twee or naff, but which looks good and enables me to get the point across visually and musically. Really, I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in the back row of some huge auditorium, hearing this big noise coming out of the speakers, which is totally out of scale with the size of the guy on stage. It must get very boring after a while.”

It must. It does. But somehow, Jeff Beck has never, ever, fallen into that trap. Even while the paint was drying on the Jan Hammer live album, there was a sublime ‘She’s A Woman’ to blast all the cobwebs into oblivion; even during the screeching sub-Creamisms of the Beck Bogart and Appice shows, there’d be a ‘Morning Dew’ or ‘I’m So Proud’ to remind you why you bothered going in the first place. And across the already phenomenal Who Else!, there are moments when the mood changes so abruptly, so completely, that you wonder whether you’ll ever become accustomed to everything that’s going on on the record.

Two live recordings, from Beck’s German tour last year, interrupt the savagery with all the style, grace and solo-ing beauty you’ve ever expected the guitarist to unleash; two closing, prettily pastoral, pieces take the edge off the outrage like a cigarette after sex.

It’s the brain battering, rhythm rocking, techno-tinged screamers which will take your senses the furthest, though, and leave you gasping for breath as you reel from their assault. But when visitors look agape at the album sleeve, and ask if it really is THAT Jeff Beck, at least you’ll know what to tell them.

“Who else?”

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Who Else! | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix – Live At Woodstock (1999)


Flamboyant performer and extraordinary guitarist Jimi Hendrix was one of the headliners of the three-day Woodstock Festival in August 1969, as well as the event’s highest-paid performer. Plans were for Hendrix and his new band to close out the festival on Sunday night with a bang, but bad weather and scheduling delays pushed back Hendrix’s set to early Monday morning, unexpectedly extending the Woodstock Festival by half a day.

Hendrix and his band climbed on stage to a cursory introduction, “ladies and gentlemen, the Jimi Hendrix Experience,” which the guitarist quickly corrected to “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows,” or just “Band of Gypsies.” Accompanied by Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and his old Army buddy and early-1960s bandmate, bassist Billy Cox, Hendrix added a second guitarist in his friend Larry Lee, as well as Latin-styled percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez.

Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock
The core of this new six-piece band had spent weeks at a house rented by Hendrix’s management not far from Woodstock. Many believe that the addition of new players, including guitarist Lee – another chitlin’ circuit survivor like Jimi and Billy – was the guitarist’s attempt to get back to the R&B and blues music that he cut his teeth on. There is no doubt that the ‘Gypsy Sun’ line-up brought a different, and more soulful dimension to Hendrix’s typical psychedelic rock sound.

No where is this more apparent than on “Hear My Train A Comin’,” an incendiary six-string work out featuring some of Hendrix’s best blues-rock licks and a concrete-hard rhythm courtesy of Cox and Mitchell. An amped-up, electricity-charged Delta blues song on steroids, Hendrix’s often-explosive and sometimes death-defying guitar pyrotechnics here would forever write the blues-rock blueprint that would subsequently be followed by Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others.

Something Old, Something New…
Hendrix had put together his new band in order to jam with some musicians that he enjoyed playing with, and the lengthy Woodstock set – some 140 minutes by all accounts, including false starts, sound problems, and Jimi’s apologies to the crowd – was dominated by lengthy, phenomenal jams on familiar songs. From the chattering machine-gun into of “Spanish Castle Magic” to the song’s breakneck solos and loping, funky groove, Hendrix and his gypsies stretch the song to better than twice its length on Axis: Bold As Love. Cox’s bass lines and Mitchell’s aggressive drumwork stand out on what can only be considered an urgent performance.

Ditto for the Woodstock version of the classic “Foxey Lady,” the song afforded a chaotic, TNT-strength opening before jumping headfirst into its familiar groove, Hendrix’s wiry guitar unwinding at unexpected moments while the band lays down a fragmented, stormy rhythm beneath his screaming six-string. The bluesy “Red House” is played reasonably straight, and significantly shorter than the aforementioned jams, but it retains Hendrix’s brilliant guitarplay and deliberate, note-by-note delivery.

Jam Back At The House
Built on Mitchell’s rapidfire, jazz-fusion rhythmic foundation, “Jam Back At The House” is an ambitious and rewarding performance that melds rock, jazz, and blues influences into a brand new sound. “Izabella,” which would be released posthumously on Hendrix’s Cry Of Love album, was the only real new tune that Hendrix had prepared for Woodstock, and it comes off pretty well.

After a brief into, the band hits an instant groove behind Jimi’s energetic riff, the notes from his guitar swirling around in a hypnotic morass as the band struggles to keep up with his rough-around-the-edges accompaniment. With the rhythm guitar handled by Lee, Hendrix uses the opportunity to embroider a slashing lead across the backing soundtrack.

Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner
Hendrix’s performance of the “Star Spangled Banner,” featured in the film and its accompanying soundtrack album, is often considered one of the guitarist’s legendary moments. This wasn’t the first time that he’d cranked it out, however, and you really have to hear the moments before and after to appreciate the seamless work of art that was the closing 35-40 minutes of Hendrix’s set. Starting with a breathtaking thirteen minute rendition of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” where Hendrix winds up his axe and lets it fly, “Star Spangled Banner” is just the climax.

Jimi and the band immediately jump into “Purple Haze” with the enthusiasm of a band of barbarians beating on the gates of civilization with bloody battle axes. Hendrix’s fretwork here is blistering, tonal, shredding, powerful, and so delightfully over the top that you’d think that the term “guitar hero” was coined for just this moment. After a short improvisation piece that takes Hendrix and the band into an entirely different, albeit invigorating musical direction, along with the instrumental “Villanova Junction,” they end the show with the song that launched Hendrix’s star, the garage-rock classic “Hey Joe.”

Blues-rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix
Photo courtesy Experience HendrixThe Reverend’s Bottom Line
Although this set has been on the street for better than a decade, Hendrix’s Live At Woodstock is worth revisiting for a myriad of reasons. Not the least of these is that the fifteen performances included here on two CDs present a much more comprehensive picture of Hendrix’s landmark performance at the festival that that provided by either of the two Woodstock soundtrack albums. The complete show isn’t included, as a few clunkers have been ignored, and the between-song interludes have largely been cut out, but there is still over an hour and a half of music for the listener to devour.

Fronting a band with little chemistry and no time to develop it, suffering from sound issues and poor microphone set-ups (especially of the percussionists, whom you can barely hear), Hendrix delivered a stunning display of six-string virtuosity. Cranking out a fiery set of psychedelic rock and blues, Hendrix left behind what many consider to be the defining moment of his too-brief career.

Less than thirteen months after the triumph of Woodstock, Hendrix would accidently overdose, leaving behind a world of music uncreated. Live At Woodstock is one of the artist’s most memorable moments, and a “must have” recording for any blues-rock fan. (Experience Hendrix/MCA Records, released July 6, 1999)

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck: ‘Jeff’ (2003)

From BBC Music

Something strange has been happening to Jeff Beck. Rock’s aristocracy, unlike jazzers or classical dudes, tend to be stuck in a cycle of diminishing returns. The older they get, the less challenging or groundbreaking their music becomes; rock guitarists doubly so. A look at Jeff Beck’s contemporaries (Page, Clapton, Green et al) reveals either minimal activity or a willingness to hide in twelve-bar mediocrity. Not Jeff. Following a virtually albumless 90s he gives us his third album of high-wire virtuosity and electronic shenanigans in four years. What’s more, he’s never sounded more vital.

Whereas it’s now common currency to team up with younger, hipper names to make the album appeal to a more fresh-faced demographic, Jeff has, seemingly, bothered to try something genuinely new with this release. Bringing in techno monkeys Apollo 440 as producers on two tracks (”Grease Monkey”, ”Hot Rod Honeymoon”), and experimentalist (and no mean fusion guitarist himself) David Torn on two more (”Plan B”, ”Line Dancing With Monkeys”), he’s signalling that the forward-looking embrace of technological hard-edged grooves evinced on 1999’s Who Else and the follow-up You Had It Coming was no simple flirtation with the modern. Jeff himself says he’s: ”trying to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to stop playing”. How he’s done this is by finally finding a simpler template, mainly shorn of vocals, that allows him to shred the fretboard in 100 different ways in the space of one tune and, at the same time, make those noises count for something.

Jeff’s other true love, the automobile, gets its customary look in with titles (the aforementioned tracks with Apollo 440) and voice samples (partly provided by Mrs Vic Reeves -Nancy Sorrell) and some of the speedier cuts on offer really do convey the spirit of hurtling metal along a race track. Strings squeal like tyres on blacktop. At other times Beck’s sensitivity and tone brings tears to the eyes. ”JB’s Blues” is a lesson in taste while the closing ”Why Lord Oh Why” (written by Tony Hymas) is a string-laden wonder. Most importantly this never ever sounds like a man who’s desperately trying to keep up. These sheets of electronic noise at times aren’t a million miles away from the so-called nu-jazz that’s made Scandinavia such a hotbed of new talent.

A whole generation of axe-maulers have used Beck’s flashy template as an excuse to disappear up their own flange pedals (we’re talking Steve Vai, Joe Satriani etc. here), but most forget that Beck himself, even in his most self-indulgent fusion moments, always strove for something different. A true psychedelicist until the last, his youthful joy in making an unholy racket is only matched by his unimpeachable expertise. There’s plenty of life in this old dog…

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Jeff | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won (2003)

From BBC Music

At a time when the term ‘rock’ is becoming utterly outmoded and approachable only from an ‘ironic’ standpoint, these four horsemen of the musical apocalypse come back and remind us why it wasn’t always this way. Those of a sensitive nature can leave now. They came from the land of the ice and snow…well, actually they came from the Black Country and Surrey, but this 3 CD set proves once and for all that Led Zeppelin’s spiritual home was definitely way out West.

Unlike the accompanying live DVD, which takes a behemoth 5 hour journey through their entire career, How The West Was Won is taken from two LA concerts in 1972. Jimmy Page’s amusingly curt sleeve notes state that this constitutes proof of how Zeppelin won the hearts of American teenagers everywhere, but in truth the battle was over. From their inception in 1968 the ex-Yardbird (Page), seasoned sessioneer (Jones) and two young whippersnappers (Plant and Bonham) had made the other side of the Atlantic their playground, and a diet of constant touring (and scene-stealing) meant that by this time they really were a well-honed juggernaut of a band. The fourth album (containing THAT track) had conquered the charts and a typical show could last well into three hours.

How this occurred is amply demonstrated on some of the album’s key tracks. ”Dazed And Confused” -with its violin bow showcase – weighs in at nearly 26 minutes, taking in a whole James Brown-inspired jam. ”Whole Lotta Love” slides from theremin madness into rockin’ classics (”Let’s Have A Party”, ”Hello Mary Lou” etc.) and only comes up for air after another 23 minutes. Even Bonham’s scary drum showcase, ”Moby Dick”, hangs around for nearly 20 minutes. Yet throughout, the band’s obvious chemistry and interplay NEVER falters. Despite fluffed lines and frankly awful vocal extemporising this really is guitar-based music at its most thrilling.

Yet the real treats in these oft-bootlegged shows are the deft switch to the acoustic section of their repertoire – all playful mandolins and, gasp, sensitive singing from Percy -and the unveiling of as yet unheard tracks from their next album, Houses Of The Holy. Songs such as ”The Ocean” and ”Dancing Days” stand as hard rockers good enough to be played next to ”Heartbreaker”, while ”Over The Hills And Far Away” demonstrates again how they could easily switch from folk to metal without any sense of incongruity.

With their bluesy origins represented by the lolloping ”Since I’ve Been Loving You”, this is a set that really encompasses a band at their absolute peak. Such wild diversity would be an embarrassment of riches for any modern combo. Luckily for us, Zep never knew the meaning of embarrassment or restraint. Time to bring it on home again…

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment