Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Who Live At Leeds (1970)

j3gbFrom starling.rinet.ru

I realize it’s a common place – calling Leeds the best live rock album, but hey, what can I do? It’s stronger than me… In case you’re not competent: The Who may have been the third best studio rock band ever, but they were certainly the best live rock band ever. At least, at the time when Leeds was released. The old version included only six songs, three of them covers. The recent remastered version adds a whole eight more, thus making it a much more efficient and finished product.

The effect you get from listening to this stuff is awesome. I mean, at first it sounds like a horrible cacophony; but after a couple of listens, when your ears grow used to the sound, you’ll slowly come to realize that the murky noise generated by the band is actually just a shield under which resides some masterful riffing, fantastically fluent bass lines, steady drumming and powerful singing. And the next stage is to recognize that the ‘murky noise’ actually helps produce such a magnificent effect on the listener; namely, if Townshend weren’t drenching all of his riffs and solos in that dirty distortion, loudness and quasi-chaos, the band would have hardly been any more interesting on stage than, say, Iron Butterfly.

Most of the songs on here are old hits, but I assure you they are very hard to recognize. ‘Happy Jack’? It isn’t a lightweight, bass-dominated pop ditty any more – it’s a powerful rock tune with a roaring guitar and Daltrey sounding as if he was singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’, not ‘Happy Jack wasn’t tall, but he was a man’. ‘I’m A Boy’? Where are those sissy backing vocals and soft guitar lines (not that I have anything against these in the studio version)? They are replaced by powerful windmills!

‘Sparks’? Oh, yeah, ‘Sparks’? Where’s that classical guitar strumming? No, no, be prepared for a monstrous assault on your eardrums, like a thousand wild rhinoceros! It’s hardly possible to think that that thunderstorm on stage was being created by just two guitars and a drumset, but it is so – no overdubs.

‘Magic Bus’? The former three-minute Bo Diddley-ish single has been transformed into an 8-minute theatrical piece with Roger and Pete bartering for the right to drive the magic dingus. And Pete’s riffing at the beginning of the track, when he duels with his own echo coming off the walls, is probably the best example of his amazing guitar technique on the album… maybe even in general. Meanwhile, John sticks to his simple bass riff, distorting it so far that he almost gives the impression of steadily, calmly drilling the stage. Listening to it intently in headphones drives you crazy.

‘My Generation’? Forget it! It’s a 15-minute suite, built on loads of driving riffs, some taken from Tommy, some probably invented right on the place! Oh, that Pete! He knows how to produce a carefully placed riff now and then. More important, he knows how to make a 15-minute improvisation really interesting: unlike Cream, he doesn’t just stick to a monotonous, occasionally boring solo, but instead leads the band into a set of different grooves, all built on these captivating riffs.

Some will sneer and say that he does that only because he simply cannot solo like Clapton, but that’s all right by me. He finds the perfect substitute. Not that he can’t solo at all, mind you: the few solos he plays are no slouch, either. The opening ‘Heaven And Hell’ (an apocalyptic tune written by Entwistle) should put Jimmy Page to shame, not because it’s more perfect technically, but because it really gets your blood pumping without being too self-indulgent and show-off-ey.

The best thing about this furious rock machine, however, are the three covers (the re-mastered version adds a fourth one, ‘Fortune Teller’, but for me it’s really a letdown: it starts off slowly and boringly, and even though it kicks off in the middle, it’s too late to get interested already. The Stones made it much more efficient, I’m forced to admit). Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’ is my favourite live number by the band (although I prefer the version on Kids): menacing sharp opening riffs, Roger’s famous vocal battle with Moon’s drums, and then the furious middle passage with Pete squeezing everything out of his Gibson. To me, this is what rock’n’roll was all about: fast, angry, uncompromising and intoxicating, with a good deal of teenage angst thrown in so that the fury and anger wouldn’t seem pointless or aimless.

Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ is also reshaped beyond recognition and also turned into a hard rock fiesta, this time with all the band on parade: Pete beating out that famous eight-note riff, Roger screaming out the lines about the kid who didn’t go to work, Keith crashing his cymbals as usual and John adding incredible bass runs and the deep-voiced ‘boss lines’.

Finally, the Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’ closes off the covers with Roger overdoing himself (who could have thought it was the same guy that whined James Brown’s ‘I Don’t Mind’ on their debut LP and roared the mighty ‘SHAKIN’ ALL OUUUUUVEEEEEEEER!’ on here?) and Pete having fun with a chaotic guitar solo.

Oh, I forgot one more thing. Remember what I said ’bout that ‘A Quick One’ mini-opera on their second LP? Well, it might have sounded feeble there, but this concert version redeems it totally. It’s been slightly shortened, some of the most stupid bits have been thrown out, the rest has been speeded up and tightened, and the result is eight minutes of pure fun, powerful guitar and great harmonies. Unfortunately, the mix does not do justice to the singing; for a truly unique live version of ‘A Quick One’ check out Kids again.

There is, however, a slight sense of uncertainty and tiredness beaming through the general excitement. You won’t be able to notice it if you haven’t heard any live stuff from 1969, but if you have, you’ll be able to notice that Pete’s playing is somewhat more ‘generic’ and less improvised than it used to be. Considering the fact that he ought to have been trying hard that evening (after all, they were recording it), this is even more foreboding. And if you read the interview given on that day (included in the booklet), you’ll see that the band certainly wasn’t on cloud nine at the time. Sad, but true: Leeds was at least several months late.

They were already beginning to exhale, and playing Tommy for the billionth time wasn’t much of a consolation, too. Oh well. ‘You can’t always get what you want’, as fellow Mick once said. At least we got Leeds! And now, come to think of it, we got that other one, too… just take a look forward…

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March 6, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At Leeds | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun (1976)

aldimeolalandFrom jazzexplorer.blogspot.co.uk

Al Di Meola is undoubtedly a legendary musician, and despite the fact that I have devoted the best part of the last seven years of my life listening to heavy metal, I often came across his name, hearing and reading about how great and influential he has been, not only to jazz musicians but to musicians across the board. And when Glen Drover included a great rendition of Al Di Meola’s “Egyptian Danza” in his solo debut “Metalusion” this year, it only succeeded in further piquing my interest. Other than that cover, I had honestly never heard his music.

But now that I’ve decided to delve into the wonderful world of jazz, the first artist I’m laying focus on is none other than Di Meola. I wanted to start right from the beginning, so I paid a visit to Amoeba yesterday to pick up his debut album on vinyl. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation in me as I held that huge piece of artwork, took out the vinyl, placed it on my turntable and started listening to it.

“The Wizard” gives the album a very Latin start. Di Meola’s guitar, synth and percussion combine together to create insane harmonies, as the song makes a journey through multiple tempo shifts. The tune is nothing short of mind-blowing, and makes a long-lasting impact on the listener’s mind straightaway. The sheer range of Di Meola’s musical abilities is quite evident even in these mere 6 and a half minutes.

The title song keeps a similar style going, but in the process it provides yet more delightful musical passages that vary from each other but are brilliantly arranged together to somehow make the tune sound like a cohesive unit. The bass sound is also quite a lot more prominent in this one as compared to the opening track. The song is over 9 minutes long, but I have come across countless number of songs that are of equal or longer duration, and don’t even come close to being as musically rich as this one.

A short acoustic guitar piece titled “Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor” comes next. There is nothing quite as mentally liberating as the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar, and when it’s being played by someone like Di Meola, it’s even better. So needless to say, I’m glad that the album includes an acoustic guitar piece by itself. This is followed by another soft little piece of music titled “Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea”. Besides the sounds of the acoustic guitar, electric guitar and traces of percussion and synth, for the first and only time on the album you’ll hear vocals.

Side B has just two tracks, the first being a three-part opus titled “Suite Golden Dawn”. I would say the titles of the three parts, “Morning Fire”, “Calmer Of The Tempests” and “From Ocean To The Clouds” are completely justified as the music creates images that go perfectly with their respective titles. The tune moves beautifully from part to part as they blend very smoothly into each other. Di Meola and his posse of musicians offer a whole plethora of music, creating 10 minutes that can truly be savored.

The album comes to a perfect ending, with veteran musician Chick Corea joining in with a composition of his own, titled “Short Tales Of The Black Forest”. Not only did he write the complete song, but also played the piano and marimba on it, making it quite a unique track that stands on its own when compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, this album is every bit as great as I had expected it to be, and then some. From this it’s pretty clear that the brilliance of Al Di Meola was there for everyone to see, even at such an early stage of his career, and I can imagine how this album must have provided the ideal launching pad for the rest of his career, inspiring Di Meola to keep creating music that in turn became a huge inspiration for others who were fortunate enough to be exposed to this piece of music when it was actually first released, exactly nine years before I was born.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun | | Leave a comment

Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien (1987)

surfing-with-the-alien-4ddff4092aafeFrom sputnikmusic.com

In the years leading up to the release of Surfing With The Alien, Joe Satriani spent his time working a studio repairing Blue Oyster Cult guitar tracks in the studio in exchange for recording time of his own. The result of these sessions was a masterpiece of virtuosity, musical genius and overall proficiency in every sense of the word.

Surfing With The Alien is THE ESSENTIAL Joe Satriani album. Joe poured his soul into every track, and it shows. Surfing With The Alien raised the bar for musical prowess, and this is how:

Surfing With The Alien
The album aptly named after this song, this is a true masterpiece. Joe shreds like hell and pushes the instrument to do more. If this is the first track you hear on the CD, you won’t be disappointed. 10/10

Ice 9
WARNING: BAD PUN AHEAD! This song, like its name, is pretty cool. It’s interesting the way Joe mixed up clean and distorted fills to make this song a definite keeper. 9/10

Crushing Day
By the name, I think Joe means he’s going to crush our skull with his extremely rock-ified rhythm and lead skills. This song contains some of the coolest rhythm/lead correlations on the album. 10/10

Always With Me, Always With You
This was the song that got me into Satriani. Joe spares shredding (for the most part) for a calm background rhythm with an emotionally grasping lead part making this, by far, the most emotional song on the album. 10/10

Satch Boogie
Joe could boogie all night with this track. Aptly named, Joe knocks in with a fast, boogie-woogie riff then pulls one of the most drastic whammy bar tricks on the album. From there, Joe doesn’t turn back, soloing for a straight minute on what is one of the best examples of knowledgeable shredding one could have. After a bout of two-hand tapping, Joe knocks the main riff in our heads again, and then leaves us out to dry. 10/10

Hill of the Skull
The shortest track on the album, this is a slow-paced death march-style piece. There is no shredding, it’s a good change of pace but just not enough for me 7/10

Circles
If you want to talk about a change of pace from Satch Boogie, this is it. With what I think is the best rhythm on the album, Circles starts out very mellow and relaxing, then pounds our heads against the wall with Joe’s inhuman soloing ability. 10/10

Lords of Karma
This is the most eastern-style track of the album, another example of Joe’s musical prowess and his mastery of music in general, not just Western rock. It’ll make you feel like you’re in (insert stereotypical desert country here). 10/10

Midnight
This song is just plain cool! Joe uses two-hand tapping throughout the entire song. All this song consists of is Joe’s guitar, various percussion and a barely noticeable bass rhythm. At first listen, though, one would think Joe had enlisted an entire army to record this song. 10/10

Echo
The bass rhythm takes an extreme precedence here. Again showing us that shredding is not necessary to prove virtuosity (though it sometimes helps), Joe does some excellent lead/rhythm correlation in this track. A worthy ending.

I have not a single complaint about Surfing With The Alien. Well, actually, I have one, and that is that this album proves Joe is better than me. With his unbelievable shredding ability, and his knowledge of his music, Surfing With The Alien has something for every level of player, and it shows us what can be done with six strings placed on a block of wood. Joe is a master of the instrument, and this is the proof. Overall, 5/5

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien | | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011)

MI0003236269From sequenza21.com

Guitarist Steve Hackett may be best known for his work with early Genesis in the 1970s and participation in the 80s rock super group GTR, in which he played alongside Yes guitarist Steve Howe. But for over thirty years, he has had a distinguished solo career, releasing a number of exquisitely wrought recordings with a variety of collaborators.

Those who are “in” on the existence of this impressive catalog might wish that it had less of a cult status, as that’s what would befit much of Hackett’s output from a qualitative standpoint.

However, remaining slightly below the mainstream’s radar has had had a fortunate byproduct. Hackett has been able to avoid the pressures of mainstreaming and homogenizing his records’s content, a fate that has befallen far too many prog legends once the A&R people got their way. Instead, Hackett has happily explored eclectic music-making; work that encompasses prog rock epics, synth-haloed alt pop songwriting, blues-inflected electric guitar shredding, pastoral neo-folk ballads, and crossover classical compositions played on nylon string guitar. Sometimes all of these approaches appear on the same album.

Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, Hackett’s most recent studio release, epitomizes this eclecticism. Yet, amid all this variety, it is a musically cohesive and engaging recording. The principle reason: Hackett’s singular creative vision remains crystal clear and his chops and voice are both in sterling shape.

Fans of the guitarist’s progressive rock catalog will warm to “Loch Lomond” and the twelve minute epic “Turn This Island Earth;” the latter features guest bassist Chris Squire (of Yes). Squire also provides a contrapuntal bass part on symphonic prog song “Looking for Fantasy,” and lays down a sepulchral groove on “Catwalk,” a roiling blues-rock number that showcases Hackett’s soloing at its most hot-blooded. Amanda Lehman lends nimble vocals to three songs, while John Hackett duets with Steve on the pastoral psych pop piece “Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms.” Longtime collaborator Roger King provides beautiful synth textures and keyboard playing throughout.

Hackett’s two brief acoustic guitar solo compositions, “Wanderlust” and “Summer’s Breath,” are tantalizing palette cleansers: one would love to hear them in expanded incarnations. For those wanting a concise “single-worthy” pop song, complete with Beatles-esque harmonic shifts and supple string arrangements, Hackett supplies “Til These Eyes.”

Yes, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is a stylistically omnivorous collection; but one that maintains high musical standards throughout.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young This Note’s For You (1988)

zap_young9From donignacio.com

Neil Young might have quit the Geffen label, but that doesn’t mean he knew when to quit! This Note’s For You marked yet another instance of Young extreme genre leaps. This time he found himself in the territory of ’80s cheese-blues.

That’s right. We have the ultra-polished, swinging rhythm sections, the blaring horn sections and about zero-percent originality. Yucky! But let’s be fair. While this album isn’t particularly good, it’s not particularly bad, either. At least the instrumentation sounds good, which is what keeps it a fair distance away from so many similar albums of the era.

Well, my job reviewing this album is easy, because most of you already knows what this album sounds like without hearing it! Other than switching to a new label, it’s not even an important one for Neil Young since it’s pretty clear that he’s just treading water … again. There are a few candidates for “best song” in this album, but I went along with “Sunny Inside” partly because it’s one of the few tracks here that couldn’t be described as ’80s cheese-blues.

Rather, that’s a cheesy ’80s version of ’60s sunshine pop! It’s nothing too special, but at least Young forced himself to gravitate away from those predictable chord progressions. Although the back-up band pretty much plays the same sort of thing in that track as the others, so you might not even notice that he switched genres! Very, very sneaky…

Funnily, the only other song on the album that isn’t blues turns out to be a total piece of garbage. “Twilight” seems to be an attempt at trying on Dire Straits’ atmospheric cosmic-rock underpants… except instead of Mark Knopfer’s light-fingered twinkles, we get these clumsy clomps. It’s pretty obvious the band didn’t plan anything before going to the studio with it… The track is long, boring, long and boring … and even the atmosphere is non-developed, which might have helped matters. Come to think of it, I didn’t even care for Dire Strait’s atmospheric stuff, so what was Neil Young thinking?

The title track is a fun song even though it’s a little too short. The lyrics seem to be a message to his new label that he doesn’t want to be forced into doing things. I guess they complied, which could explain why Young would soon begin to start seriously writing his sort of music.

I also enjoy the generic blues-rocker “Hey Hey” a little more than usual because it has an especially enjoyable horn section, the rhythm section swings as mightily as it ever has, and he brings in a few awesome, wobbly electric guitar licks here and there!

The album opener “Ten Men Workin’” is an OK for an opener — it’s upbeat and it also has a swing to it. Though that particular one has a disadvantage, because any listener hearing this album for the first time is bound to be disturbed at that first instance when they hear Neil Young doing this sort of music. So, I gave it a B-. Maybe it would have been a B in the middle of the album? Well, that’s not a big deal anyway.

The closing song, “One Thing,” is a massive, massive bore, though. It’s six minutes long and not interesting for even one second. Although that seems like small potatoes compared to the eighth track, “Can’t Believe Your Lyin’,” which is about as interesting as Bill Clinton giving a speech not about sex. And it’s semi-embarrassing hearing Young trying to do slow jazz like he was some sort of female sex siren. To say the least, that’s slightly disturbing since he was already getting pretty old and wrinkly.

While this album has some merits and is not as bad as it could have been, there’s really no reason for anyone to hear it. This didn’t inspire any of his disgruntled ex-fans to return to him nor did he attract a new audience. About all this album is good for is existing.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young This Note's For You | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake Five Leaves Left (1969)

04228429152From sputnikmusic.com

It’s a little belief of mine that what’s wrong with the modern world can be summed up in just one small word: cliché. No matter where we turn to in an attempt to avoid the hackneyed, overdone phrases that make up a huge amount of our lives, we hear them: a musician who’s going to be forgotten within a year is a genius, a world leader who makes a decision we disagree with is the new Hitler, and some whining singer is the spokesman for Generation X. Just out of interest, what the hell is Generation X, anyway? I gather that I’m a part of it, but I can’t say that I either know or care what it is. But anyway, I digress. My point is this. As a way of expressing our views on life, cliché is horrible, and yet it’s growing all the time, undermining things that should be expressed in strong terms. Having said all that though, I’m going to have to use a phrase here which is used in pretty much every description of Nick Drake that you’re ever going to read. Here we go.

There are few artists who have been more underrated than Nick Drake, who have then gone on to influence so many people.

There. I said it. It’s the ultimate cliché surrounding Nick Drake, and yet it’s completely impossible to mention him without using it at least once. Why? Because it is undeniably completely true. The list of artists that Nick Drake has inspired is massive, ranging from Elliott Smith to Iron & Wine, to a huge number of singer/songwriters that exist in the outer ranges of popular music. And yet this is a man that could leave the master tapes of his final album, Pink Moon on the front desk of his record label before waiting days before anyone even noticed that he’d left them there. There’s something faintly incompatible about those two statements, don’t you think?

While Pink Moon is the album that most often gets associated with Nick Drake, partially because of its softly mournful nature, and partially because of the context that its in, there’s a case for saying that either of his two previous albums are better. Bryter Later was his most complex composition, as well as having a more upbeat atmosphere throughout. This album, Drake’s debut, strikes the middle ground between Bryter Later and Pink Moon to perfection, with Drake’s compellingly plaintive singing being very much the centre of the album, but there still being room for instruments other than Drake’s acoustic guitar. Indeed, one of the most notable features of the album is Danny Thompson’s work on the bass. Although he never comes close to overshadowing Drake as such, his playing on songs such as Cello Song adds another mood to the music, making this an album that one can constantly return to, finding new sounds to enjoy every time.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me though, every time I hear this album, is how underrated a guitarist Nick Drake is. Most clearly shown on Three Hours, where Drake plays a beautifully weaving guitar line that somehow has a deep inner energy over Rocky Dzidzornu’s flat sounding drums, Drake really comes into his own as a guitarist, showing an ability on the acoustic guitar that few folk singers could match. Another thing that Three Hours adds to the album, more so than either of Drake’s other albums is a longer song that rivals his briefer musical sketches. Pink Moon is famous for its brevity at under 30 minutes, and while Five Leaves Left is still less than 40 minutes long, the six minutes of Three Hours seems to pass as if in a dream. Although that sounds as if it ought to have a negative connotation, I tend to find that music which does that can often be the best music out there. For example, take a look at Drake’s singing. The possessor of a deeply soothing voice, a lot of the time the listener can’t make out what he’s saying unless you really listen out for the lyrics. On Three Hours the only lyrics you’ll be able to make out if you’re busy doing something else are, In search of a master
In search of a slave. Wonderful, isn’t it? In those 2 brief sentences, Drake’s juxtaposed two completely opposing images, and even though you don’t know the context they’re in, he still makes it sound deeply consequential. That’s a gift. I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in a higher power beyond the human mind, but I’m at a loss to explain where that sort of musical skill comes from, as surely no training can provide it.

Where I’d say that this album stands out above Pink Moon in fact is the variety on offer here.Way To Blue may be the best example of this, as it’s an extraordinary combination of Drake singing over an absolute wall of strings, which provide the sort of backing music that you’d expect to hear at your funeral. I’ve already mentioned Drake’s ability as a lyricist and as a guitarist, but Way To Blue may be the best example on this album of his actual singing voice. In the absence of any other accompaniment beyond the drama given by a string section, Drake is forced to carry the song entirely by himself, and he does it in such an outstandingly evocative way that the question which immediately crosses the listener’s mind is how he managed to survive to make two more albums, given the inner conflict which seems so evident here. People often talk of making art as a form of self-therapy, as an alternative to seeing a psychiatrist to talk about how you remember Daddy hiding your teddy bear or something like that. Although Drake’s psychological problems got worse towards the end of his life, he had always suffered from depression. The bleakness of his outlook is reflected not only in his lyrics (although verses such as

When the day is done
Hope so much your race will be all run
Then you find you jumped the gun
Have to go back where you began
When the day is done.

make Leonard Cohen look like a delightfully well adjusted individual), but also through all of the elements to his music discussed so far, whether it’s his voice, his guitar playing, or a combination of everything. It’s not a painful listen at all, in fact it’s deeply relaxing, but there’s that unease at the heart of the album, like a man is looking forward to see his death, and just sitting back to wait for it to happen.

Although pretty much every song here could get a mention as being an album highlight, one that really stands out is Cello Song. Featuring the return of the soft drumming, Drake’s guitar work is at its best here again, creating a wistfully intimate atmosphere from the beginning, which is then carried on throughout the near 5 minutes of the song. While Cello Song is arguably the best Nick Drake song which absolutely epitomises his sound, The Thoughts Of Mary Jane is another song which stands out even on this album, largely as a consequence of a single flute, constantly present throughout the whole song, adding a layer of supernatural beauty to the song that 99% of musicians who’ve walked this planet simply couldn’t equal. Now I think of it, The Thoughts Of Mary Jane is quite possibly Drake’s best song. At less than 3 minutes, it’s small enough to be listened to again and again, and has enough elements, in the flute, string section, Drake’s voice, and stunningly oblique lyrics, to keep you listening every time.

Since I’ve set a limit for myself of less than 2 sides of paper for my reviews these days, looking at individual songs is going to have to end there. Well, apart from Man In A Shed, which you’re going to have to look at yourself (think upbeat piano meets semi-ironic love song) that is. It’s hard knowing how to rate Drake’s back catalogue though. Due to producing a mere three albums, he’s probably the only artist who I can honestly say never made anything but a 5 star album. That feels faintly ridiculous, but in all honesty, so does the whole Nick Drake story. How a talent so prodigious could be so shy as to basically never play live shows can be nothing but a cruel joke of fate, made yet worse by the fact that this Drake was dead before he was 27. That’s what annoys me most about cliché. The fact that when the truly remarkable does happen, people instinctively distrust accounts of it, putting rumours of the extraordinary down to human nature to exaggerate. Thankfully as Nick Drake’s popularity grows, it seems that we’ve finally realised what we missed during his lifetime, that he was pretty much one of a kind. As Drake himself sings on Fruit Tree,

Don’t you worry
They’ll stand and stare when you’re gone.

It would be beyond arrogance for me even to insinuate that I could summarise Drake’s life better than the man himself did, other than to point out that he managed it before he was even dead.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Nick Drake Five Leaves Left | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)

325006176_fb9ae10669_zFrom sputnikmusic.com

Jazz fusion is one of the many, many music gifts that Sputnik has bestowed upon me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve heard a myriad of bands and genres that have had an impact on me and the way I view music and those that create it.

Perhaps more than any other type of music, jazz fusion has redefined my perception of everything that I’ve listened to up to this point. The album that started this reverence, you ask? Well, that would be guitar extraordinaire Al DiMeola’s 1977 masterpiece, Elegant Gypsy.

What truly shines on this record is the varied, textured soundscapes presented with each track. There is an eclectic cohesion of styles at hand. The jaw-dropping flamenco acoustic guitar on ‘Mediterranean Sundance’ gives off an iridescent aura, one of a Greek coastal city basking in the sparse, pastel-purple light of the early evening.

On the other hand, the opening bass line to the album’s lead track ‘Flight Over Rio’ could easily have been snaked into a Tool song, its dark effect pulsating through a chaparral scene of sound.

The instrumentation, as with many other jazz fusion groups, is nothing short of phenomenally top-notch. The shredding, abrasive guitar slithering through the album’s best track and centerpiece ‘Race With Devil on Spanish Highway’ never misses a beat, never falters for a second. An interlude of faultless guitar and drum synching segues into a beautiful bass-driven groove as Al works exquisite magic with his instrument, for this track feature some of the best guitar tones you’re likely to find in any variety of music.

The entire rhythm section on ‘Midnight Tango’ are as prevalent as they are anonymous, perfectly complimenting one another, as well as with regards to DiMeola’s wildly cascading guitar lead. Beauty unmatched abounds to no limit on the short but oh-so-sweet song ‘Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil.’

The dueling acoustic guitars lull one with the strength of a child’s nursery rhyme, ultimately progressing into a relaxed, almost jam-like quality. The ambience given off by those guitars is unbelievable, as if the entire ensemble is present.

Another aspect of the album that I find pleasing is that no instrument overshadows another. Even with the production of the album, no singular player seems to be mixed louder or more prevalent than any other. An excellent example would be the final track, ‘Elegant Gypsy Suite,’ an uninhibited jam, a melting pot of numerous playing styles and genres stewed into quite the musical experience. The sound that is produced during this track is unique, with DiMeola throwing in some fabulous lead lines, alternating in speed to fit the ever-changing tempo and feel of the song. The track culminates in a final, spastic burst of sound. Somehow dissonant, this is a fitting end to an incredible album.

I, in all objective honesty, have absolutely no complaint regarding this album, music- or instrumentation-wise. Every single track is a glorious example of not only musical ability, but the knowledge of how music meshes with itself and different styles. To be quite honest, I was a little apprehensive at the fusion of my two favorite genres, rock and jazz.

Elegant Gypsy has shown me, and I hope it shows you, that it is possible to create something moving, powerful, and seminal with two vastly different elements. All that is needed is the willingness and confidence to do so. Look at what has come out of it!

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Casino (1978)

Al-Di-Meola-Casino-494875From sputnikmusic.com

Smooth, traditional, suave, passionate, exotic… These are just a few words that could sum up the guitar playing of renowned jazz guitarist Al Di Meola. Working with the likes of jazz fusion band Return to Forever made him a name stay in the jazz guitarist community and with his release of “Elegant Gypsy” he was solidified as one of the more talented acts of the 70s.

“Casino” would take the likes of his previous works and expand a bit more on his style and flair and venture off into the slots of creativity. So lets take a walk through the casino and I’ll place bets right now your sure to dig this album.

Kicking off the album with “Egyptian Danza,” Di Meola creates a very strange organ-driven atmosphere that sort of spooks you out upon first listen. As the track races on you are jolted from one odd time signature to the next. This creates a bit of tension in the listener as they have no idea what is to come.

The spooky Egyptian-like movement continues and calms a bit. What you’ll notice immediately is the entrancing nature of the song. It acts like a siren of sorts tempting you to come closer only to slap you right in the face with a fretboard attack. The creepy atmosphere to the song continues as you are dragged around the barren desert sands searching for the next song to quench that Di Meola thirst…

“Chasin’ The Voodoo” creates another strange atmosphere, opening with tribal like beats on the bongos. Soon enough, a menacing guitar lick comes in and pounding drums create a sense of insecurity. The tone of this song is really worth listening to. He mixes in a lot of the ambient background pianos/organs, and drums with some neat effects that just add so much to the overall sound. This track makes me feel really uneasy for some reason but I can’t stop listening. This really showcases Di Meolas technique as well.

With the next track “Dark Eye Tango,” you’ll immediately notice a more smooth side of Di Meolas playing style reminiscent of his future albums like “Soaring Through a Dream.” The use of inconsistency continues as you are greeted with an increase in tempos and distortion. The chimes at the beginning really set the mood for the whole piece. One thing you’ll notice is that a common theme that I always feel is in his style is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. With this number, you could just as easily layout and sit out in the sun just as well as you could grab your significant other and dance in the moonlight. Just a real treat that makes this music pretty special.

With “Senor Mouse” Di Meola shows an odd side to his sound. The drum and bass is pretty unique and the guitar playing is a lot more experimental when compared to the previous tracks. It takes on a bit of a more psychedelic approach reminiscent of his earlier works with Return to Forever. Even with the semi-trippy-ness to the piece, he still makes it easily intoxicating with the suave nature of guitar work. As with other tracks, it slowly begins to build and just when you think the the climax will rear its head- it doesn’t.

You are then swept off your feet by one of the stronger songs on the album “Fantasia Suite.” This song just completely takes you places. The fast plucking at the beginning is a superb start and the addition of the percussion is just incredible. With this piece, Di Meola steps away from the electric guitar and takes you away with a classical guitar piece.

It’s jaw-dropping to say the least and shows you that his fingers can work just as fast and effectively as his pick. What really stands out is the strong percussion on the bongos. Towards the middle of the song Di Meola switches off to acoustic and engulfs the listener with an array of exotic jazzy chords and fast shred-like licks. This is such a powerful part of not only the song but the whole album and really showcases how much of a talent he really is. Definitely worth a checkout.

The lights are shining and the twinkle in your eyes bring about a sense of intrigue as you get ready for the last song of the album. “Casino” closes the album with such a cool swagger. From the opening percussion and weird effects to the various movements throughout, you are taken away into a scene of high-dealing and glitzy slot machines. This piece is a more relaxing way to end the album and when you think about where this album has started and ended you’ll feel like Di Meola just did a complete 360. The last minute or two of this song is some of the strongest points of this album as the drums match much of his notes picked. It’s a real treat to listen to.

“Casino” definitely shows a different side of Di Meola in terms of experimentation. “Elegant Gypsy” felt like more of a raw album whereas this one is a little more refined and somewhat easier to listen to. It really is a musical adventure and an enjoyable listen. With “Casino” Di Meola shows us that he is a multi-faceted artist and likes playing around with the listener by shifting and fluctuating each piece in such a way you can feel like doing so many things at once.

If I had to place a bet on this album, I’d certainly go all-in.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Casino | | Leave a comment

Anthony Phillips The Geese And The Ghost (1977)

anthony_phillips_-_the_geese_and_the_ghost-frontFrom genesis-news.com

When I had the opportunity in May 2006 to ask Ant Phillips when exactly the long-announced remasters of The Geese & The Ghost, Wise After The Event and 1984 would finally be released, he just said “Soon, very soon.” The scheduled release date had actually passed at that time, but he seemed confident. But it was more than a year later, in July 2007, that the CDs were released – in Japan only and in the mini vinyl replica packing that is common there. The rest of the world had to wait, or buy the records at Ebay, preferably in the 8 CD box edition in a slipcase for US$ 200.

The Geese & The Ghost in a bonsai LP cover is quite a sight, though the colours could have been a bit stronger. The insider cover with its explanations to Henry and the lyrics, which had been missing in the German Vertigo LP version, is present here and even cut in the same peculiar manner as the original. There is, however, no English translation of the apparently extensive liner notes that is usually included in Japanese releases. The liner notes by the boss of the project and main archivar Jonathan Dann stayed unread due to the reviewer’s non-command of Japanese language and writing. Though it was announced as a double CD there was no space in the sturdy cover for the bonus track CD. It was added in an independent second cardboard cover that has the same format as the lovingly reproduced cover of the main CD. This one, too, has only minimal information about the individual songs.

The European version, released in April 2008, makes more of an effort. The booklet in the 2CD jewel case is 20 pages strong and very informative. The goose in armor (from the rear cover) hails from the labels. The attempt to take up the Gothic type from the title by using a similar font on the rear is a bit unfortunate. Still, there is not much fault to be taken with the design, apart from the fact that Peter Cross’s artwork is much too large for the CD format – or the other way round, the loving painted little details are way too small. You will probably only recognize the tiny knight riding a snail (bottom right) when you have seen it before in original size. It seems the publisher was quite aware of this problem: A couple of striking examples (but alas not the knight) are repeated in the booklet and the inside of the tray in an enlarged form.

The album begins with a brief instrumental introduction called Wind – Tales. It is basically just a fade-in and fade-out. And it is nothing else but a one-minute cut from the orchestral finale of Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West played backwards.

Which Way The Wind Blows is the first proper song of the album. In his extensive liner notes in the booklet Jonathan Dann explains that, like all songs on the first side of the LP, the instrumental Henry: Portrait From Tudor Times and the ballad God If I Saw Her Now, it was written within the first ten days after Ant left Genesis in July 1970. (As far as God If I Saw Her Now is concerned this cannot be true because there is a demo of this song dated 1969 in Ant’s excellent sampler Archive Collection vol.1). Which Way The Wind Blows is a slow, romantic twelve-string guitar ballad with a longish instrumental part. It is sung by Phil Collins, who also sings the second voice. His vocals are as restrained as on the first Genesis albums when he was the lead singer. Phil had just completed work on Steve Hackett’s debut album, where he sang lead vocals and played the drums when he came to the Geese sessions. Though they were never members of Genesis at the same time, Phil and Ant had worked together for a couple of times: in 1973 for a demo of Take This Heart, a choral for the Charisma sampler Beyond An Empty Dream (this version is not identical with the one on Archive Collection vol.1 and hence remains unreleased), for the single Silver Song / Only Your Love the same year and finally for the demo sessions with Peter Gabriel and Martin Hall in the summer of 1974.

An alternate version of Which Way The Wind Blows that was recorded in 1974 with Ant singing can be found on Archive Collection vol.1.

Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times, a joint composition by Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford, is one of the central instrumentals on the album. It is a suite of several sections following motives from the life of Henry VII, hence the intentionally medieval harmonics and arrangement. A fanfare introduces and ends the opus. Between them there are exciting guitar duels on misty French battlefields, dying knights, victorious fights full of dramatic solos on the electric guitar and finally the triumphant return of the king with booming salute shots and the final choir in the chapel royal.
The individual parts – the original has six of them, while a seventh has been added on this release – have separate titles and are illustrated with miniatures by Peter Cross as well as brief descriptions. When the album was to be released in 1977 after long disputes with the record companies, Henry’s 14 minutes playtime seemed a little too long, and so three bits were cut out, two reprises of brief phrases and the Lute’s Chorus Reprise (01:17), nearly two minutes all in all. Unfortunately the cuts were not done very well and careful listeners would notice them. Listening to the master tapes Jonathan Dann came across these pieces that were later cut out and so they decided to release the long, uncut version of Henry. It may be doubted whether the piece benefits from that. The bits that were cut out do not offer anything new, they are merely variations of existing elements. What is more, at one point a very dynamic and dramatic effect achieved by the cut is weakened. In the shortened version the staccato guitar forte with which Henry Goes To War begins follows straight from the very quiet end of Misty Battlements. Even if one was familiar with the piece the considerable jump in volume achieved by the cut is still surprising. Now that the Lutes’ Chorus Reprise has been spliced back in again at exactly this point Henry Goes To War still begins suddenly, but in a much louder passage. No wincing here, the effect is lost. In the original Virgin CD release the individual parts of the Henry suite were separate tracks; fortunately this has been abandoned. For this release index markers were used, a feature that is rarely used these days. Few CD players show them, even fewer permit you to jump to an index mark. But the index marks are not needed here because the suite is a complete unity.

God If I Saw Her Now is a duet between Phil Collins and the largely unknown late Vivienne McAuliffe, whose surname is, alas, spelt wrong again the booklet. The song follows a very simple but beautiful folk picking on the electric guitar which turns into a fabulous flute solo by Steve Hackett’s brother John. Both vocalists perform unobtrusively. This lends a calm if fragile tenor to the piece that goes well with the slightly tragic lyrics. Viv McAuliffe has the complete first verse and the final lines of the second and third verses. Phil Collins sings the rest, including the final verse where his voice is doubled. God If I Saw Her Now is the thoughtful summary of the song, and that is why it ends, rather abruptly, with this line. This is also the end of side 1 of the album.

Side 2 begins similarly to side 1 with a brief instrumental piece called Chinese Mushroom Cloud. It is actually just a snippet from the main theme of the title track played at half speed.
Though little more than a small joke it still sets a dark, apt mood for the following The Geese & The Ghost, the second main instrumental on the album. This two-part song was composed by Rutherford and Phillips back when both of them were in Genesis. The working title was D Instrumental, and the original demo version from 1969 was published under that title on the Archive Collection vol.1 in 1996. It offers everything Genesis fans could ask for: long passages with acoustic 12-string guitars, complex rhythms, odd beats and mellotron sounds (Ant borrowed the instrument from Tony Banks especially for these recordings) as well as a string quartet that contributes to the soundtrack character of the piece. The two guitars together sound fantastic, excellent – it is impossible to tell who is playing what, the instruments play so close to each other. The instrumental certainly is an early peak in Philipp’s oeuvre and a real classic.

Collections is the only piece with vocals on side 2. Ant wrote this ballad back in 1969, and he sings it himself in his introverted voice that sounds a bit unsure and brittle in the higher registers. The song begins calmly with a piano but and develops into an orchestral, almost a bit schmaltzy finale. The transition to Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West is fluent as if both pieces formed a unit. Sleepfall is basically a single eight bar melody played on the piano in the beginning, picked up by other instruments and repeated several times. The orchestral arrangement becomes bigger and bigger before it vanished in the far west together with the geese and soft flute sounds. A wonderful end for a wonderful album.

Ignoring this completely the first Virgin CD pressing tacked on the Master Of Time demo as a bonus track. Though it was recorded only in 1973 it was written during the Trespass period. It was supposed to be on the album, but due to time restraints it could not be recorded during the album sessions. The songs never develops past the demo stage as far as sound quality, instrumentation and interpretation are concerned. Its length (07:38!), Ant’s brittle voice and the simple arrangement soon bore the listener and turned the song into a kind of nuisance. Master Of Time has rightly been moved to the bonus CD where it cannot do any more damage.

We may thank Anthony Phillips’ bad conscience for the second CD. He found it inappropriate to just remaster the album and sell it to his fans without any additional bonus. Thus what we find here is not only Master Of Time but whole string of interesting well-sorted bonus tracks. Title Inspiration is a brief solo presentation of both ARP Pro-soloist synthesizer sounds (“Geese” and “Ghost”) that lent their name to the album. They can also be heard in the title song at around 04:40. Then there are a series of basic track versions of the album pieces that were recorded in October 1974 on Ant’s four-track-TEACs in his own studio in Send. These were completed and transferred onto 16-track in July 1975 in Tom Newman’s floating Argonaut studio. First we hear the first part of the title piece reduced to two twelve-string guitars. The melody and the cooperation between the instruments can be heard here free from all the rest of the arrangement.

Collections Link is a brief piece on the piano which was to be the transition between the first part of the song, recorded 1974 in Send, while the second, orchestral part was finished only together with Sleepfall in October 1976 at Olympic Studios.
The basic track of Which Way The Wind Blows contains only the two twelve-strings with a closing section that is slightly different from the final version, but no vocals.
Silver Song has the same instruments, but it is a real surprise because this is a new recording – almost a year after the (unreleased) version with Phil Collins – which was made during the basic sessions for the Geese album. There is also a early version of the Henry suite, consisting of only four separately recorded parts with a total length of 05:37. Contrary to what it says in the booklet there are no twelve-string guitars in the beginning, but a duet between an electric guitar that sounds almost like a classical guitar and a real nylon guitar. It is only the last part, Misty Battlements, that is played on two acoustic twelve-string guitars.

After that there is a demo of Collections that is a bit older. It was recorded together with Autumnal, which would later appear on Private Parts & Pieces, in the spring of 1974 for Tony Stratton-Smith, the boss of Charisma Records. It may be noted that Ant’s lamenting voice is almost identical with the final version. The piece after that is the second part of the title song, recorded at the four-track sessions. Many instruments that have the melody are missing here, so that there seem to be gaps. But it is interesting to hear what both guitarist play as “background” and what’s more, how great they play together. The basic track for God If I Saw Her Now was recorded by Phillips along in late November or early December 1974 while Rutherford was away on the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour in North America. Ant plays what was to become John Hackett’s flute solo on his Fender Stratocaster. Sleepfall is the final in the series of basic tracks. This was recorded about two years after the other basic tracks when Ant had finally found a record company that wanted to publish the album and the album had to be finished. Here it is just him on the piano and his brother Robin playing the oboe.

The real sensation of this album is the first ever release of Silver Song in the version with Phil Collins at the end of this bonus CD. Phillips and Rutherford wrote this song back in Genesis as a sort of farewell for Genesis’ second drummer John Silver. At the time the song was considered the A-side for a putative Phil Collins solo single. Charisma paid for the studio session in November 1973, but did not do anything with it. BBC Radio One played the finished tape of Silver Song after an interview they conducted with Phil in June 1974 – apparently they still thought it would be published soon. The release did not happen for reasons unknown. Generations of Genesis fans had to rely on mediocre bootlegs that at first only had the BBC recording. Later tapes from the recording session with a couple of work-in-progress versions surfaced along with Only Your Love, the Rutherford / Phillips song that would have been the B-side.

In 1990 Virgin re-released Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces on CD. The album featured an extended demo version of the Silver Song as a bonus track Phillips had recorded four years previously. In the booklet Phillips said there was no chance of the Phil Collins version ever being published. The current release fulfills a dream many fans have had for 35 years, though it is hard to understand that Only Your Love is missing here. In a recent interview with Dave Negrin Anthony Phillips explained that that song had remained rather raw and unfinished because it had been recorded in a rush. Therefore he had decided not to ask Phil Collins for permission to release this song, too, after he had permitted release of Silver Song for the first time. Phillips would not rule out, though, that Only Your Love would be released in due time somewhere else, perhaps in an Archive #3 compilation.

The Geese & The Ghost was released only in March 1977, two and a half years after the first recording sessions in Send Barns. Anthony Phillips describes in this epilogue how difficult it was to interest a record company in this album. Not even Charisma wanted to release the album. Tony Smith, hoewever, liked the album, and when the deal with the American company Passport Records was struck he founded the label Hit & Run Records to publish it in the UK. The album had the catalogue number HIT001; the label logo that was specifically designed can be seen on page 2 of the booklet; it featured two figures from the artwork of A Trick Of The Tail. The Geese & The Ghost was the only release on the Hit & Run label.

Like most ensuing records by Anthony Phillips The Geese & The Ghost did not become a hit. Not even various stickers that pointed out the collaboration of his Genesis colleagues could change that, and many faithful Genesis fans ignored the album – quite a surprise what with all the Genesis references. Most of the song were written while Anthony Phillips was still in Genesis or shortly thereafter, so their concepts and music pick up where Trespass left off. Had it been released two years earlier it would perhaps have gotten the attention it merits. But in 1977 punk and new wave had changed the music scene that the album sounded remarkable old-fashioned.

The sound of the LP pressings war usually very mediocre: The dynamics in the music were far too big to fit this much music (almost 48 minutes) adequately onto one vinyl record. When there is more than 18 minutes per side the overall volume has to be reduced because the grooves have to be cut closer, and volume and groove deflection are proportional. This proved fatal for the extremely quiet passages particularly in Henry – they drowned almost completely in the basic groove noise.

In 1990, Virgin Records bought the rights for all Anthony Phillips records and released them on CD for the first time (the Geese album, however, had been released on CD by Passport two years previously). They used an unknown generation master tape from Trident Studios which was definitely not the original master. The basic noise was quite annoying and disappointed everybody who had hoped for an improvement in dynamics on the CD.

Jonathan Dann could now access the original master for the first time. His remaster sounds much more brilliant and lively than all previous recordings. A comparison of frequency curves reveals that higher frequency from 2kHz upwards drop. The difference is 3dB at 4 kHz and grows to 6dB in the 10kHz range – which just about halves the volume. The bass is stronger, too, on the remaster. There is a definite raise near 40 Hz, the Virgin CD’s low at 65 Hz was levelled as well as a small peak at 650 Hz. A back to back comparison makes the Virgin CD sound muffled and unprecise, while the remaster sounds fresh and strong with considerably less background noise. Getting to work at this one after all these years has definitely been worth the while.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Anthony Phillips The Geese And The Ghost | , | Leave a comment

The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

Live+at+The+Isle+of+Wight+Festival+1970+TheWhoLiveAtIsleOfWightLPDEFFrom starling.rinet.ru

This is actually an archive release: certainly, it would be quite stupid to release this stuff as soon as it was recorded, what with Live At Leeds having just come out and all. Recently, though, there’s been a lot of uproar concerning the lack of officially released early Who-candy, so some tweaky record company hastily reconstructed this totally embarrassing piece of shitty sounding old crap and….

No, no! What am I talking about? The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl? This is a great archive document! Believe me, even if you have already emptied your purse on the Leeds hotcake, you won’t regret indulging yourself once more. Pete Townshend himself said that this was one of their best nights, and there may be a grain of truth in this saying. What distinguishes this album from Leeds is primarily the fact that it’s longer (more expensive, too, though), and particularly impressive is the inclusion of the entire Tommy chestnut (except for ‘Welcome’, which was practically never played live, and ‘Sally Simpson’, ‘Sensation’, and ‘Cousin Kevin’, which were probably not played on that particular gig), instead of the short ‘Amazing Journey/Sparks’ bit on Leeds. Besides that, we have an interesting cover selection (an unedited version of the ‘Shakin’ All Over’ medley, including a magnificent ‘Spoonful’ and – believe it or not – a ‘Twist And Shout’!!), and two cuts from the already beginning to develop Lifehouse project.

Oh, yeah. The sound. The sound is completely different from the Leeds sound. Leeds was somewhat, err, ‘restrained’, if the word ‘restrained’ is appliable to The Who. This is perfectly understandable: the hall was small, the audience was intelligent and polite, and moreover, they were recording it for the official release, and Pete was feeling slightly depressed, which is always a serious influence on his playing. The Isle of Wight gathering, if you’re not too familiar with the environment, was a gang of bloodthirsty, stone-heavy, braindead motherfuckers inherited directly from Woodstock and numbering in hundreds of thousands. And good old Pete always felt somewhat enraged about such massive swarms of idiots, which results in his using the guitar more like a machine-gun than a musical instrument. In fact, if I might be permitted to use this metaphor, he practically executes the audience with his playing. Which, by the way, is often sloppy and out of tune. But hey, play a couple of windmills on your guitar and I’ll be damned if it don’t go out of tune forever…

Seriously, now, this sloppiness and Pete’s frequent abandon of diligent melody in favour of making more noise is what turns a lot of people away from this album. I know this because I originally shared the same feeling: there was a bit too much noise even for me, who’s a rabid Who freak. But put yourself in the background, picture the excitement generated by this kind of sound, the romanticism and sincerity of the performance, turn up the volume and you’re bound to be carried away with the very first notes of ‘Heaven And Hell’. And on ‘Young Man Blues’ Pete practically goes out of control totally, crashing and bashing around with ten times more zest than Jagger could ever muster on stage. (He had to change guitar after the song, as pictured in the video). Hey, did you know Pete has got more than a hundred seams on his right hand? I didn’t! You might think a windmill is something easy and stupid – it’s not, I assure you. Just go ahead and try.

So I just suppose you forgive Pete his multiple mistakes on this album (I’m the first to admit there are many of these), because his peak energy more than makes up for it. The best way is to listen to this album in headphones with the volume turned up as loud as possible – you’ll know what I mean.

But there’s not just Pete’s frustration on this album. Keith is in great form as usual, and John – well, John is always good. You can’t go wrong with John. What surprises me most of all, though, is Roger’s voice – I have never heard him sing better than on here. Tommy goes off like a hydrogen bomb, and not in the least due to his humble efforts; however, the cover versions are what distinguish him most of all (oh, that ‘LIIIES ABOUT IT!’ line on ‘Spoonful’), plus Pete’s ‘Water’ on which Robert Plant is put to shame. Shame on you, Robert Plant! Go sulk in the corner.

So I’m really not at all bothered with the overlaps with Leeds. Who cares? Good old Pete always had enough improvisation power in him to make a single song sound in several entirely different ways. ‘Summertime Blues’ is probably inferior to the Leeds version, since the solo is a bit shabby (it almost sounds as if Pete was caught off-guard when he started throwing out the lead lines), and he misses that tremendous power chord that ends the song and segues immediately into ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But that one is far more impressive than the Leeds version, on the other hand – Roger yells like a demon, and the energy is tremendous.

As for the ‘newer’ cuts, ‘Water’ is an incredible song. At about nine minutes long, it slowly unfurls itself into a bombastic, unprecedented epic where ‘water’ stands as a metaphor for life energy and artistic inspiration, and Roger’s screams of ‘WE NEED WATER!’ coming from the very depths of the band’s collective soul. Along the way, Pete creates a couple more thunderstorms, cleverly alternating passages of utter chaos with crystal clear lead lines and catchy riffs created simply out of nowhere, before bringing it down with a bang on the hilarious accapella ending. And ‘I Don’t Know Myself’ is a beautiful, confessional song featuring Keith happily tapping away on his favourite little wooden block (you should have watched his face on the accompanying video). Oh yeah, the band also does a short excerpt of ‘Naked Eye’ in the medley section… which is excellent.

Buy this album, now. And try to get the accompanying video, too: it has its flaws (see my review at the bottom of the page), but it’s an absolutely essential purchase for all Who fans, young and old. This is a ten, a damn solid ten, and a solid fifteen on the overall rating scale. Thanks Goodness the band isn’t planning on any more official releases of live shows from that era – I probably wouldn’t have any other choice but to award tens to all of them. Whew. Judging by their form on Woodstock and at the London Coliseum in 1969, for instance, these two potential albums would also be worthy candidates for tens.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight | | Leave a comment