Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Santana Caravanserai (1972)

886978775023From starling.rinet.ru

This strikes me as tons more interesting than any of Santana’s two earlier records (not to mention later ones) and even more engaging than Santana III – I’d go as far, indeed, as to call this Santana’s masterpiece, and the most wonderful and convincing emotional tour-de-force you’ll ever get out of this band. Granted, its commercial life was rather short, and it marked the beginning of the band’s drastic decline in sales, although they didn’t really begin to flop until a couple years later.

But this has to do not with a drop in quality, but rather with a radical change of direction. Basically, at this point Carlos had enough of being a Latin hit supplier for the dance-ready public and decided to get more experimental, artsy and complex. And it was a brilliant move: Carlos’ talents as guitar player fully allowed him to sound ‘artsy’ without getting way too overblown, while the backing band was at least skillful enough to, well, serve as good backing band.

This is actually the second point for which I like the record: it not only brings Carlos into the spotlight, continuing the trend of III, but also makes an obvious emphasis on his guitar playing instead of Rolie’s pointless organ noodling or instead of the band’s jamming power in general. On Caravanserai, you are going to find some of the most wonderfully crafted, amazingly well-performed lead guitar work ever put on any album, and when I first heard Santana stretch out on these instrumentals I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he was doing all this time.

Not that the backing band is completely defunct, of course – there are some organ solos here, and it’s not that the record is just a showcase for Carlos; but they are able to find a perfect balance between the axeman and the sidemen, where the latter never overshadow the former, and the former allows the latter to be clearly audible and add some more ‘feeling’ to the whole experience.

The album is in some way a concept one, like a hippiesque journey through your subconscious and the ‘cosmic mind’, and all that crap, and it comes off far better than, well, some Yes albums I could mention. The songs all flow into each other with no breaks, which doesn’t exactly make for an easy listen, but I already warned you – it’s one artsy album. Nevertheless, the first five or six numbers are all masterpieces.

What a better way to kick off a record than with ‘Eternal Caravan Of Reincarnation’, for instance? With its chirping of crickets, vague echoey organ notes, and background atmospheric noises, it sets a perfect scene for the ensuing performances – a feeling of night, dense, but not terrifying, darkness, and stately majesty of the Cosmic Powers (heh). And then…

…then in comes the guitar, and the real fun starts. ‘Waves Within’ is a breathtaking number, with a beautiful organ background and Carlos literally soaring up unto the edge of the sky; at times he plays such amazing, lightning-speed, emotional flurrys of notes that… heck, just listen to the guitarwork at the beginning of the third minute. It sounds like he’s taking an enormous leap into the sky, halts there for a moment to contemplate the heavenly beauty, and then leaps down again. Literally so. Then ‘Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down)’ takes us into more realistic territory with a strong funky workout (magnificent wah-wah rhythm work throughout), the short ‘vocal interlude’ ‘Just In Time To See The Sun’ serves as a moody breather in between the epics, and ‘Song Of The Wind’ is pure ecstasy.

A six-minute-long musical paradise with Carlos as its only angel – for my money, this could be the best instrumental he ever recorded, at least, the best instrumental that features him and not the entire band (which leaves out ‘Soul Sacrifice’ as the best band instrumental). That guitar tone is impossible to describe; I’m pretty sure Clapton spent ages learning something from the dude, as he’s the only European guitar guy I know to have achieved similar levels of spirituality. Finally, ‘All The Love Of The Universe’ sounds pretty hippiesque, too, and somewhat dated on release, but is again completely redeemed by stunning lead work.

Unfortunately, the second side is a slight letdown – all of a sudden, Carlos seems to have remembered that he is a popular hero, after all, and includes some generic stuff like ‘La Fuente Del Ritmo’ that is probably a blessing for fans of his older style but is definitely not so for me. Likewise, I don’t see what’s so spectacular about the band’s version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Stone Flower’; it takes me ages to guess the melody, and the vocals are so low-key and inaudible that they actually spoil the picture – maybe the tune would be better off as an instrumental.

Yet once again, there is good lead work throughout, and the big spiritual breakthrough occurs with the lengthy suite ‘Every Step Of The Way’ that closes the album – a moody, complex workout that goes through lots of stages and different atmospheres (starts off real dark, but ends in an uplifting, cathartic passage with some strings cleverly woven into Santana’s leads).

Yeah, Caravanserai couldn’t have hoped to compete with the ‘progressive mainstream’ of the era – the overall hippiesque concept was far too lightweight, the musicianship too ‘unprogressive’, and the songs were too short, but in retrospect it easily beats some of the better progressive albums of its era.

This is a piece of undeniable beauty, and a relatively accessible and understandable beauty as well; I have no problem trying to identify with this stuff.

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March 7, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment

Robert Plant Manic Nirvana (1990)

Robert-Plant-Manic-Nirvana-421005From starling.rinet.ru

Well, well, well… Somebody must have walked over to Robbie Plant after a show, lightly tapped him on the shoulder and said: ‘Hey! That was a great show, but I thought you were once a member of that great metal band, Led Zeppelin? Or maybe it was some other Robert Plant?’ And Robbie got all sick and depressed and finally said, ‘Right! I’ll make a Led Zeppelin album if they want me to!’. And Manic Nirvana rocks hard as a result.

All the songs just RIP out of their shells, with bashing crashing drums, fat distorted guitars all over the place, fast tempos, occasionally screeching vocals, overexaggerated choruses… all of this never falling on even a single half-creative, half-innovative idea. For the most part, this record just screams COCK ROCK at you from every corner. Smutty lyrics, even – ‘Big Love’ is as far removed from ‘Big Log’ as possible.

But dang it, I love this album. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I love this album. Then again, why should I ever feel ashamed? On the contrary, I must praise Robert for taking that wretched genre (further massacred by late Eighties generic production) and coming up with interesting songs where others would have probably never really bothered to find hooks and impressive melody resolutions when the penis waggling alone would count.

True, there are some embarrassments along the way, and Robert’s strange tendency to ‘sample’ sounds of the past is not a thing I really approve of, as when he incorporates excerpts from the Woodstock stage banter (‘Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast and bed for four hundred thousand…’) into ‘Tie Dye On The Highway’.

But most songs, co-written with guitarist Chris Blackwell and other band members, definitely have their moments. If this really was Plant’s idea of a rocking comeback, he succeeded! As amazing it is – I, for one, would never have expected him to be able to successfully pull off a cock rock album thus late in his career.

I mean, take that controversial song, ‘Big Love’, with lyrical matters akin to the ones you’ll be encountering on Kiss records. However stupid it sounds, it’s a pretty driving funk number at any case, with a real catchy, if repetitive and ‘dinky’ chorus. And a messy, but powerful chaotic coda. And a generic, but effective guitar solo. It’s sleazy and offensive, but it’s also memorable, and not for a single second do I really get the feeling that Plant is just exposing his fading sexuality on this song. He doesn’t even overscream! What happened?

Of course, ‘Big Love’ isn’t the best number on the record. But there are many worthy candidates. What about the opening rocker, ‘Hurting Kind’? Am I the only one to think that Plant was going for a very ‘Black Dog’-ish opener on here, only less bluesy than its predecessor? Am I the only one to think that the ‘all right, all right, all right I got my eyes on you’ chorus is sheer genius? Am I the only one to think that Plant sounds more convincing on that thing than he sounds on ‘Stairway To Heaven’? (Hey, the boy’s always been a friggin’ horrid mystical poseur, but he’s always been one darn find cock rocker!).

Then there’s ‘She Said’, with a strange mess of Eastern influences, Sabbath-esque wah-wah riffage, and shrill, ear-blasting guitar trills that seem to be telling us: “Yes, mister, this album is overproduced, but listen to us, we’re guitars and we’re fresh and we’re human played! Refresh yourself!” There’s also the retroish ‘Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night’, replete with record hiss which doesn’t really go anywhere because the production is unmistakably Eighties/Nineties, still, the song’s cool.

The primary effect, like I think I already let you know, was to bang the listeners over the ears with the great wall of rockin’ sound – which doesn’t mean there aren’t a few lighter songs. The power ballad ‘Anniversary’, for instance, is saved from the usual power ballad fate because it’s more pessimistic in nature than the usual ’emotional’, ‘optimistic’ call-to-arms that most of the power ballads. It boasts a supercool solo from Doug Boyle, martial rhythms, unintelligible lyrics and everything that goes along with that stuff.

But maybe my favourites are actually the tearful acoustic ballad ‘Liars Dance’ and the moody shivery folksy shuffle/Goth send-up ‘I Cried’. The clear acoustic shuffle, the dreadful distorted wail in the background, the medievalistic backing vocals, and, of course, the mystery-shrouded ‘this is why I cried’ chorus all combine to make the song a masterpiece, really worthy of Led Zep… why couldn’t Plant have been writing songs like that at the time of Physical Graffiti? But maybe I shouldn’t ask.

But maybe instead of that I should ask why the hell is the song ‘Nirvana’ arranged as a powerful arena-rocker? And why does it seem to me that Robert is using the word ‘Nirvana’ as the name of his gal rather than a particular state of further non-existence in the material world? What I immediately suggest is that the Dalai-lama start immediately suing Mr Plant for mocking the cause of Buddhism. If he’s successful, he may just gain the financial support that’s necessary in order to arm the Tibetan monks to win their independence. But don’t tell anybody this advice stems from me, I wouldn’t want to make enemies with the Chinese government.

I’m just a poor innocent reviewer who happened to like Robert Plant’s fifth solo release even if he was expecting a pile of shit. Come now, would you be expecting anything but a pile of shit from a record with such a dreadfully provocative cover?

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Robert Plant Manic Nirvana | | Leave a comment

The Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)

Mahavishnu Orchestra-Inner Mountain FlameFrom sfloman.com

After co-starring in some of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking late ‘60s albums and playing in Tony Williams’ Lifetime, guitarist John McLaughlin hooked up with some of the finest fusion players around (Billy Cobham; drums, Rick Laird; bass, Jan Hammer; organ, Jerry Goodman; violin) and formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Though somewhat forgotten by the masses, this band remains legendary to anyone with even a passing interest in jazz-based improvisation or guitar-based rock music.

Though each virtuoso player forcefully shines in creating a tapestry of otherworldly intensity, McLaughlin’s amazing chops can’t help but dominate, as he unleashes bursts of Hendrix-based guitar fury during a series of sizzling solos.

Whether shredding away or letting loose with blasts of soaring melodicism, McLaughlin’s jaw dropping technique is consistently astonishing. Each of these eight instrumentals are extended pieces (averaging 6 minutes in length) that often rock furiously, but whose improvisational essence is equally rooted in jazz idioms; for two albums The Mahavishnu Orchestra worked this uneasy balance as good as anybody ever has.

Actually, Indian and classical music influences are also in evidence, as the band’s melting pot of styles (which in truth will appeal more to fans of prog rock bands like Yes and King Crimson – both of whom Mahavishnu inspired – than to hardcore jazz buffs) was truly unique and hard to categorize.

Complex and challenging, hard rocking and raw yet also beautiful and imbued with a deep spirituality, it is the band’s superior musicianship that makes the biggest impression. Not that McLaughlin (the sole songwriter) didn’t write some fine songs, mind you, nor did the band sacrifice soul for flash. However, the atmospheric songs merely provided the framework for the band’s brilliant playing.

Often it is Goodman’s violin that provides the album’s otherworldly ambiance, while Cobham’s oddly metered rhythms charge forward with a relentless intensity and an assured attention to detail. Hammer and especially Laird are more support players, but each added essential contributions as well (indeed, Hammer would become something of a fusion star outside of Mahavishnu).

Motifs and melodies are repeated throughout the album, giving it a cohesiveness that is only revealed gradually through repeat listens. Whether on the monumental leadoff track, “The Meeting Of The Spririts,” where McLaughlin’s wailing guitar battles waves of layered violins amid a chaotic rhythmic clatter, or on the lovely “A Lotus On Irish Streams,” a pastoral piano/violin/guitar piece, the album is always impressively well rounded. Be forewarned, however, that this is not easy listening by any means.

Even the relatively mellow “You Know You Know” (the album’s weakest song) has some jagged bursts of atonality, while the frentic “Vital Transformation,” on which Cobham shines, and the surprisingly bluesy “The Dance Of Maya,” are dissonant jam sessions.

Elsewhere, “Dawn” is a soulful softer number that still shreds at times, “The Noonward Race” races forward on a fiery Goodman-led groove, and “Awakening” likewise hurtles ahead with a reckless abandon. Some of these songs may leave you gasping for air, but they’ll likely leave you feeling thrilled as well, for this band can still shock and awe forty years after this incendiary debut first dropped.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame | , | Leave a comment

Ten Years After Undead (1968)

ten_years_after-undead(nova)From starling.rinet.ru

I originally gave it a lower rating because I was so completely under the spell of their second live album (I still think it’s superior, but not as highly superior as before), but I’ve changed my mind. This live album’s great and groovy! Its only flaw is that there are too few songs, plus ‘Summertime’ (which really has little to do with Gershwin’s original) features a completely unnecessary drum solo (Ric Lee is a good drummer, but not a best choice for a soloist). On the other hand, perhaps extending such records would result in them losing a lot of their ‘primal’ charm. Recorded in a small club (Marquee?), it really captures the great, compact, groovy atmosphere of the evening, and you won’t have no screaming little girlies; hey, you can actually listen to the music all the way through. Ain’t it great? I’ve just finished reviewing the Kinks’ Live At Kelvin Hall which came out the same year and it’s so different in that respect…

If anything, this record shows the band as mostly cool jazz players, playing with due respect to their ‘elders’ but in their own self-taught and prejudice-free way; there’s not really too much ‘rock’ on here, and Alvin demonstrates a clear tendency towards playing everything in a funny bebop style. Besides the already mentioned ‘Summertime’, there are two more hardcore jazz tracks which totally constitute Side A: the ‘original’ ‘I May Be Wrong, But I Won’t Be Wrong Always’ and Bishop/Herman’s ‘At The Woodchoppers’ Ball’. The first one is a nine-minute generic jazz tune, the second one – a seven-minute extravaganza. Alvin is the hero everywhere: he sometimes shows enough generosity to let Chick and Leo have a couple of organ or bass solos, but they’re nothing but ordinary professional jazz solos. Good, but definitely unspectacular.

The guitar rules, however – especially on ‘Woodchoppers’ Ball’ where he dazzles you with thunderflashing waves of snappy licks coming at lightning speed. Play this at full volume and you’ll find yourself gasping for breath in no time. Gimmickry? P’raps. But I’ve never seen any single guitarist reproduce these attacks. At least, no rock guitarist. These are great solos! They’re exciting, driving and technically perfect: one of the rare cases where finger-flashing isn’t just meant for the listener to be taking his hat off and bowing down in silent respect, but is also meant for the listener to be grooving to and finding full delight in. It’s dance music, after all, not Yngwie Malmsteem. The final two or three minutes of ‘Woodchoppers’ Ball’ are especially climactic, when Alvin just sticks to a simple chord and keeps on blowing it through at an incredible speed for what is actually just about thirty seconds but seems like an eternity. That’s the climax of this sweaty record. Why evidence like this always keeps escaping guitar-raters who always miss Alvin in the best guitarists lists is way beyond me. For once, a really swell guy demonstrated that outstanding guitar technique and ‘simple’ audience-pleasing can be easily combined, and nobody gives a damn. Beats me.

But, so as not to give the not thoroughly true impression of being hardcore jazz musicians, they add a generic blues number (‘Spider In My Web’) which isn’t just as entertaining mainly because it’s so slow; slowness is this band’s main enemy – when they play a moody slow number, they sound just like every other generic blues band in the business. Even here, though, Alvin actually saves the day by adding a bit more distortion to his guitar and playing a menacing and – gasp – fast solo. So the only place where he doesn’t save the day is ‘Summertime’, completely given to Ric Lee. What a waste of vinyl.

But then again, this is also where you’ll find an early version of their bestseller – ‘I’m Goin’ Home’. This early version would be a letdown to all you fans of the Woodstock version, though: it’s only six minutes long, slower and not as rip-roaring as the Woodstock one (or the one on Recorded Live). But it still kicks ass, and its unpolished character really comes as a pleasant surprise for me. It’s always fascinating to see a good stage number grow, you know; and at least at this period there’s still enough improvisation, and the song hasn’t yet metamorphosed into a frigid eleven-minute monster with every millionth note well thought out in advance and all the solos and interludes being completely predictable. So I don’t exclude that hardcore fans of Alvin might even prefer this early version because the later one can finally get to them – especially if you realise that the way Alvin played these chords in Woodstock in 1969 and in Germany in 1973 (as captured on Recorded Live) had no differences at all. He sure played them differently in 1968. He sure ‘grew up’ since then, be it in the positive or negative sense.

And oh how they grew. This sounds totally unlike their later concert sound captured on Recorded Live. That one would be hard-rockin’, technically excellent and politically conscious. This one is just four guys having fun with their instruments and trying to lighten up the audience. Plain fun. Nothin’ more. Put this on whenever you’re in a bad mood – it can show you there’s always a good side to life.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After Undead | | Leave a comment

Santana III (1971)

allcdcovers_santana_santana_iii_199From Rolling Stone

Santana goes back deep into the roots of today’s music, not only just to the time when the Family Dog was at the Avalon, but back further into the heavy dosages of Latin and African rhythms that have been part of American music for a long time.

For it’s surely true that for all their Fender basses and fuzz tones, Santana is more deeply committed to the music defined and still played by Tito Puente, Machito, Mongo Santamaria, and all the glorious combinations of brass and rhythm that made the old Sunday afternoon dances such a delight, than to the Rolling Stones. Santana’s music is contemporary, but it comes from a tradition and part of what has provoked a curious reluctance on the part of some hard rock fans to accept Santana is that tradition.

This is music to dance to, but it is music that shrieks for more advanced, dexterous and imaginative dancing than some of the freeform body motion that rock dancing has accepted. It is also music that asks for a certain kind of emotional abandon for maximum enjoyment. You don’t just listen to Santana; you get inside the rhythm, play it in your head or your body and participate.

The first time I heard this band properly was at one of the Family Dog dances at the Avalon and they were tremendously exciting. That’s a hallmark of Santana, it’s continual high level of excitement. When the band drops down from that high tension wire for a number or for a movement, it usually enters into one of those romantic lyric passages that Anglos have come to associate with syrupy sentimentality. But one man’s sentimentality is another’s pure emotion and Santana really is an emotional band.

Basically, they demonstrate to what incredible transports of ecstasy one can be taken by complex, insinuating rhythms, especially when they are played against one another not only in their patterns but also in the timbres of the sounds and the ranges wherein they are played. A full Santana rhythmic onslaught, as in “Tous-saint L’Overture” (who, contrary to one DJ I heard is no relation to the singer/producer, but rather was a military genius who has remained a hero to blacks and to many others because of the Haitian independence struggle more than 100 years ago) is one of the most complex assemblies of rhythmic patterns you can hear.

The delight of the tensions brought into play when one rhythm is set against another with all the artful shifts in the beat and utilization of alternate timbres of sound is amazing. Against these rhythmic turbulances, the singing, wailing guitar of Carlos Santana is usually set and it provides a contrast that can sweep you up in its momentum immediately and carry you along. And above all, the band swings.

Lyrics are almost secondary to instrumental virtuosity with Santana and so are vocals. Frequently the lyrics are utilized as single lines for a unison shout or chant that in itself evolves into a rhythmic pattern played against the sounds the band is producing. Thus the band actually becomes an extended essay in rhythm.

Their new album goes right along with their previous ones in its content except that, for me anyway, it is more consistent. Prior Santana albums have had amazing things for me but also some downers. This LP stays there all the way. The work of the Tower of Power horn section and of Luis Gasca (ex-Woody Herman trumpeter and leader of his own group on a fine LP last year) helps, of course, by giving that punching brass sound that fits so well with this kind of music, The songs are all by the group except for Gene Ammons’ now classic “Jungle Strut” and Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos” (which has Carlos Santana’s name substituted in the last chorus of the vocal for a nice bit).

Sometime I would like to see an analysis of the rhythms and patterns used by Santana done by some ethno-musicologist who could relate them to traditional Cuban, African and Haitian music and styles. I suspect it would be quite revealing.

I am convinced that this band, which is really a city band bringing us the hot pavement and the cool nights as well as the rumble and the roar of the city, is solidly linked back to the hill country, the savannahs and the inland plains music of Africa and Cuba and the other sources of that magic rhythmic power of which they are such compelling examples.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Santana III | | Leave a comment

Santana Live At The Fillmore 68

santana-live-fillmore-1968From blogcritics.org

After their legendary performance at Woodstock in the late summer of 1969, and their blistering self titled debut album, Santana would skyrocket to much deserved stardom and cement a place in rock history. But here, in the warm sounding Fillmore West in December of 1968, we get a very young and hungry Santana trying to find their way. The results couldn’t be more spectacular.

The first thing that knocks me over about this set is the sound, which is absolutely superb. Rich and warm, the sound captured that night in the Fillmore West is immaculately recorded and the stereo separation between the instruments, the percussion in particular, is stunning. Any early Santana fan should thank the stars that someone, somewhere, had the good sense to hit the record button as this is going to be one fantastic night of music (it sounds especially nice in headphones).

First out of the gate is a pulsating version of “Jingo” that seems to contain even more liquid fire than the later studio version found on their debut album. You can hear the percussion trickle in as the bass picks up the back beat and lays a solid foundation for Carlos to soar in with his psychedelic leads. The band grooves along and swings nicely without a care in the world and the polite West coast crowd is highly appreciative.

“Jingo,” with its constant pulsing rhythm, really sets the tone for the rest of the set which focuses mostly on hypnotic grooves and almost meditative song structures. The songs are all stretched as far as they can go and the band gets deep into the cut whenever they can. This usually leads to some excellent percussion breaks with congas and bass throwing the stage afire amidst the swashing leads of organist and pianist Greg Rolie. The band’s ability to alter all perception of what music is supposed to be, especially back in 1968, is astounding.

Speaking of Rolie, he is on fire throughout and, as I mentioned in my review of Tanglewood 1970, he almost steals the entire show away from Carlos. Where some of Carlos’ solos sound restrained and somewhat safe, Rolie is completely unhinged, setting his Hammond B3 organ ablaze with a fury. Not that Carlos isn’t bringing some amazing leads to the table, he is, it’s just that whenever Rolie comes on my ears prick up and I find myself studying the playing just a little more. Of course I have been on a B3 kick lately. Special mention needs to be made here of both Rolie’s and Carlos’ spectacular performances on “Treat,” the two musicians locking together beautifully in the late night atmosphere of the jam.

One of the truly exciting things about hearing these ’68 sets are all the great early and rare gems the band throws out. Throughout the discs we are treated to rarities such as the always mysterious, late night jazz tinged “Fried Neckbones,” the San Francisco styled funk of “Chunk A Funk,” and the great instrumental “Conquistadore Rides Again,” where Rolie and Carlos again mesh musically as if they had been playing together for decades. There is also an early version of “Persuasion” that features a blistering intro played in the San Francisco acid rock style but with a nice touch of Santana styled flavor.

We are also treated to a very rare 30 minute version of “Freeway” which may just be the most hypnotic song on here full of long drum solos, bass solos, and any other solo you can think of (I will admit that the actual drum solo is a bit tame, but remember that spastic drummer Michael Shrieve, featured in the 1969 Woodstock performance of “Soul Sacrifice,” has yet to join the band). Still, it is one amazing performance by all with Carlos bringing some particularly fiery guitar leads into the mix throughout the duration of the jam.

Santana Live at the Fillmore ’68 has been a favorite of mine for years and is highly recommended for any Santana fan. I can also recommend it for any fan of percussion heavy music in general as it is wholly satisfying and far from the watered down Santana of later years. The hypnotic, mesmerizing grooves and pulsing rhythms are sure to keep anyone grooving along throughout the night and there is much to be found deep within the musical layers.

Highly recommended.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Santana Live At The Fillmore 68 | | Leave a comment

The Who Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition) (2001)

9626861e_The_Who-Live_At_Leeds_Deluxe_Edition-FrontalFrom sputnikmusic.com

February 14th, 1970 was one of the most important days in rock and roll history. Why you ask? Well, because of one concert, performed by The “Horrible” Who, “Live At Leeds”. “Live At Leeds” is said by some, including myself, that it is the best live concert album ever. The sound is great, the quality is excellent, and the band’s playing is exceptional. Now, I’m not trying to give a rundown on how the performance sounded, but it was pretty damn good.

But I’m not here to talk about the bass dominated Heaven and Hell, Magic Bus, or even the 15:00 minute My Generation rendition. I’m here to talk about the side of Live At Leeds that only some people know, the epic second disc to the concert, the disc they do a rendition of Tommy. The second disc of “Live At Leeds” is what makes this album the best live album ever. The Who played the rock opera Tommy between A Quick One, While He’s Away and Summertime Blues. Now on to the review……..

The Story of Tommy
I’m going to give a brief summary of what Tommy is about. Tommy is about a boy who is deaf, dumb and blind. At the beginning of the story, Tommy’s father, Captain Walker, was supposed to be lost. While Captain Walker is supposedly lost, Tommy’s mother finds a new boyfriend. One day, Captain Walker comes home while Mrs. Walker’s boyfriend is there. Captain Walker kills him, which leads to Tommy becoming deaf dumb and blind.

Even though Tommy is deaf dumb and blind, he learns the game of pinball, and instantly becomes a pinball wizard. While Tommy is kicking peoples assess at pinball, Tommy’s parents try to find a cure for the boy, but nothing helps cure his problem. After seeing numerous people, Tommy’s parents get fed up, and they break a mirror. Because of this, Tommy somehow becomes free. He is instantly becomes a star. He soon throws away his stardom, and realizes his love for his family.

Quote:
By the New York Times”the best live rock album ever made.”

The second disc starts with the applause and talking of Townshend that is very common in the first disc. After a bit of talking and fooling around from the band, the music starts with the beginning of Tommy, Overture. Overture is a musical intro to get the album started, combining parts from 1921, See Me, Feel Me, Go to the Mirror, Christmas, and We’re Not Gonna Take It. Towards the end of Overture, a guitar solo takes over the song. Pete eventually shouts out “Captain Walker didn’t come home, his unborn child will never know him. Believe him missing with a number of men, don’t expect to see him again.” Pete quickly wraps up the solo, as the band goes into It’s A Boy. The Ox (John Entwistle, for those of you who don’t know.) starts off 1921 where the piano would start it on the studio Tommy disc.

Roger takes the helm at vocals, booming strong lyrics through the microphone. Amazing Journey comes next, and is by far one of the best on the album, mainly because it sounds more free flowing than on the album. Pete pulls out some great riffs, and John has the thunderous bass sound going as well. Roger sounds great, singing: “Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go. Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know.” Amazing Journey leads into the monstrous instrumental Sparks. The layering of the guitar and the bass is exceptional, as each have stellar parts. Sparks is probably the darkest track thus far on the album, but is still exceptional. Eyesight to the Blind is filler, as well as my least favorite on the second disc. The lyrics are annoying, even though Roger does a good job with them. Once again the guitar and bass is great, as it makes up for a crappy song.

Christmas is up next. It is about Tommy’s worried parents, and how they want to find a cure for him as soon as possible. Christmas has one of the most upbeat tunes on the album, even though it goes in and out of darker parts. Roger’s emotions grow more intense as the song goes on, leading to an abrupt ending. There is an odd transition from one of the most upbeat songs on the album, Christmas, to one of the most solemn and depressing sounding songs, the Acid Queen. It starts with a mysterious sounding guitar part, as the bass and drums soon follow. The lyrics are haunting, adding another aspect to the song. “I’m the Gypsy the acid queen. I’ll tear your soul apart. Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam. Just as the Gypsy Queen must do, You’re gonna hit the road.”

At this point in the story, Tommy’s parents are taking him to a gypsy to see if she can cure him using drugs. Next is the classic off Tommy, Pinball Wizard. Everybody knows the guitar part to this song. Keith does some excellent drumming, and John’s bass is stellar throughout, making Pinball Wizard one of the best sounding songs on the second disc.

The next two songs, Do You Think It’s Alright, and Fiddle About, deal with Tommy’s uncle, Uncle Ernie. Tommy Can You Hear Me follows, as the band sings. “Tommy can you hear me, can you feel me near you? Tommy can you see me, can I help to cheer you? Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.” Pete sings the next song, There’s A Doctor. The husband finds a doctor that can supposedly cure Tommy. The results follow in Go To The Mirror, as the doctor finds that Tommy is “incurable”. Roger’s vocals are strong, and Pete’s guitar part as well as John’s bass part blends nicely together to create another solemn sounding song. Smash The Mirror follows, with smooth vocals, and a bass driven part. At this point in the story, Tommy’s parents are fed up with Tommy, and throw him at the mirror, where he becomes free.

Miracle Cure is a simple song where Pete is singing “Extra, extra read all about it, pinball wizard, in a miracle cure. Extra, extra read all about it, extra.” Sally Simpson is a four minute filler that is mostly guitar driven. That leads into one of the best songs on the album, I’m Free. I’m Free is a lot faster than the Tommy version. Pete’s guitar goes well with Roger’s vocals, making a nice mix. Tommy is singing about how he has become free.

Tommy’s Holiday Camp is a one minute filler that Uncle Ernie (a.k.a. Pete) sings. The last song on the second disc is by far my favorite of the album, We’re Not Gonna Take It. Its got the same tune from the opening of the album. Roger vocals are fitting in the first part of the song, as Pete and John rock out. After the first part of the song, the song becomes darker, as it goes into See Me, Feel Me.

Roger sings “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me” four times at the beginning, then goes into a more sophisticated part, where Roger sings “Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountains. I get excitement at your feet. Right behind you, I see the millions. On you, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story.” Everybody intensifies as the song grows more and more, until it slows down when Roger sings the last verse, and the other guys play the last notes of the opera, which then brings Tommy and the second disc of “Live At Leeds” to an end.

Only two words can describe the awesomeness of the second disc of “Live At Leeds”: mind blowing. As I said earlier, the sound is excellent, and the band’s playing is exceptional. If you don’t already have “Live At Leeds”, I would suggest getting this, the deluxe edition, because aside from getting the first disc, you get this one as well.

Even though the first disc of “Live At Leeds” is a classic, you really can’t judge Live At Leeds as the best live album ever until you’ve heard the second disc of “Live At Leeds”.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At Leeds | | Leave a comment

Robert Plant The Principle Of Moments (1983)

PlantPrincipleFrom starling.rinet.ru

If the last album was mood music, then this one is triple and quadruple mood music. Maybe that’s why the only song on it that I really like is called ‘In The Mood’! It’s an innocent little danceable shuffle with well-placed funk bass and somewhat unannoying synth backgrounds.

Of course, Robert lies through his teeth when he chants ‘I’m in the mood for melody, I’m in the mood for melody’, because we all know “Robert Plant” and “melody” stand at two different ends of the cognoscentia spectrum, but let’s just assume he’s chanting ‘I’m in the mood’ and everything falls back in the proper place. Right away! I really like the way he sounds on this track, and Blunt’s little guitar arpeggios in the instrumental section are quite tasteful as well.

But really, the song’s an exception. Most of the rest is just the same – endless murky sticky drones which are probably intended to suppress your psyche, and they do, but not because it’s all so deep and emotionally rich, rather because it’s so badly executed. Come now, the biggest song on here was ‘Big Log’.

Does it even have anything like a melody? It’s typical Eighties adult pop, moody and a little dark, with drum machines, soft guitars that say nothing, heavenly synth backgrounds and vocals that could care less about whether they’re hook-oriented or not. Of course, when Robert Plant uses his most majestic sounding tone to begin a song with the glorious line ‘My love is in league with the freeway!’, that’s supposed to rule, right? That’s coolness epitomized, isn’t it? Let’s see how I can top this, hmm… ‘My love has a way with angels!’ ‘My love does not care about flowing!’ ‘My love lays its rules with a blessing!’ ‘My love is in touch with the North wind!’ See?

Now go ahead and tell me who of us is more poetically gifted. Oh, okay, I admit that according to these rules, it is possible to mock every single line ever written by anybody, but fact is, if there’s anything that catches your attention on ‘Big Log’, it’s this pompous start, and that’s totally ready-dick-ulous.

Out of the rockers, the only two that somehow manage to stand out (half an inch each, no more) are ‘Other Arms’ and, I think, yeah, it’s the one called ‘Horizontal Departure’. ‘Other Arms’ has a bunch of gritty metallic descending riffs in between the verses, and the ‘lay down your arms!’ call that Plant howls out from time to time until it becomes repetitive ad nauseam for some reason reminds me of ‘lay down your arms and surrender to me…’. Remember that silly tune covered by the Beatles on the Live At The BBC album? Boy, one sure picks up odd associations when listening to Robert Plant.

Although come to think of it, the melody’s mainly just been ripped off of Ray Charles’ ‘Unchain My Heart’ (a MUCH better song). As for ‘Horizontal Departure’, it’s very tedious in the verses section, but at least it has this fast semi-catchy chorus that’s oh so stingy Eighties-pop it hurts, but hey, for a drop of catchiness! For a little piece o’ rock stickin’ out from under the dirty water! Spoiled, polluted by generic production values and total lack of musical ideas! And a Phil Collins on drums on top! And God only knows on what else!

It’s kinda hard for me to say at least anything about the other four songs. I remember for sure that I didn’t vomit while they were on – although, frankly speaking, I’m not so certain about the capacity of my memory at the moment, and it could well be that I have simply spent all the contents of my stomach on the preceding album. But I sure as hell can’t really remember even if they were rockers or ballads, although I did give it the required three listens. I suppose it was some kind of ‘average’ between the two – ballad-resembling rockers, or rockin’-potential ballads. And the length, the length, it just kills… five minutes is normal for a song on here, but when each song has one or two different ideas at best, it HURTS. It saws through your brain, spoils your mood, sucks out all the life energy, I won’t even mention what these songs have done to my AURA. Suffice it to say that about 50% of that stuff is further untalented ‘Kashmir’ rip-offs, and the other 50% is weather channel music.

I sure wouldn’t object from having Robbie Blunt play in my band if I had one… some of his guitar parts are very tastefully done, but I would certainly want him to play something different. Oh, and did I say ‘Kashmir’ rip-offs? Not necessarily so. On ‘Thru’ With The Two Step’, for instance, I think I hear obvious ‘I’m Gonna Crawl’ references in tone and mood. But that’s more a pure and dry statement of fact than an actual endorsement of any kind.

So it’s an eight, and a rather weak one at that – and frankly speaking, I REALLY don’t understand how the hell a song as jello-like as ‘Big Log’ could ever become a hit single. Due to the ambiguous title? ‘In The Mood’, that’s a different matter. It has some potential. Whatever.

Final delirious note: the most obnoxious thing on the album is the final section to ‘Stranger Here… Than Over There’, where the band goes for a stupid imitation of the ‘orgasmic’ section on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Plant even stoops to whining ‘push… push…’ a couple of times. Jimmy must have wanted to get an overdose upon hearing that.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Robert Plant The Principle Of Moments | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhereFrom starling.rinet.ru

Yep, Neil Young as I love him and as I seriously don’t just about totally arrives on this record. It’s also the first of his numerous collaborations with whippin’ boys Crazy Horse (oops, I meant “backing” boys, actually), and thus, quite heavy in its own way. In fact, while the debut did have a few hints at what was lying in store for us guitar-lovers, mainly in the shape of these poorly heard guitar assaults in the background, it’s this album that fully establishes the classic “Angry Neil Young” style.

Mean, distorted, crunchy guitars, played as unprofessionally as possible yet as emotionally as possible – which even leads to some people calling this the first ever grunge album. Maybe not quite, though; these guitars are nowhere near as aggressive and ass-kickin’ as your typical grunge assault. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they don’t really “kick ass” at all, but wait up on that.

The album is more or less equally divided here between “heavy” numbers and “light” countryish/folksy numbers, similar to the ones on the previous album (and even more similar to the ones on virtually every following Neil Young album he did in the Seventies).

And I hate to say it, but essentially it’s also what draws the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for me on this record. Okay, so I don’t have anything in particular against the mild country-rock of the title track; it’s short, it’s upbeat, it’s catchy in its own way, and the hickey ‘la-la-la’ backing vocals are actually hilarious. Besides, the guitar interplay between Neil and Danny Whitten on that song actually reminds of the better moments in the ‘heavy’ half.

But nothing in the world will ever make me like stuff like ‘Round And Round (It Won’t Be Long)’. Granted, it’s not so annoyingly self-pitying as Neil’s mid-Seventies acoustic material, but it’s equally melodyless, and no, I’m not dragging out the lyrics sheets to try and analyze the guy’s feelings on that one. I could just as well skip this material and listen to introspective Russian “bards” as well – you know, put three chords together, get a battered acoustic, and sing something really really “deep” and “philosophical”, looking as serious as possible, as if it’s God who’s singing through you. Don’t forget the cliches, of course. Blah.

At least ‘The Losing End’ has some kind of rhythm to it, which doesn’t make it a particularly good country-rock song either, and ‘Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)’ has that plaintive violin and all – for Heaven’s sake, they look gorgeous compared to ‘Round And Round’, because if you’re just picking up an acoustic to play your song, you’d better be goddamn good at that acoustic. Otherwise, just write a poetry book or something. (Not that anybody will ever buy that poetry book, which is why guys like Neil always take care to put their most boring creations right next to the most involving ones.)

But anyway, let’s just concentrate on the good side, like the crocodile said to the lichen-struck little lamb. For us, that’ll be one short song and two very long ones. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is probably the best-known number from the record, and it packs the “proto-grunge tension” into a brief three minutes in a very special way indeed. Two hoarse roaring guitars, one in each speaker, each of them slowly playing the same simplistic “clumsy” riff – that’s the Neil Young guitar paradise for you. And then, after a couple verses, come the whacky solos that are so goshdarn “untrained” you can’t even call them adrenaline-raising. They’re something else. Garage rock as high art, if you wish. Just because nobody else thought of this before.

As for ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, they’re pretty much interchangeable, except the second one is a little more “rough”, so I like it better. They have amazingly catchy melodies, no mean feat for Mr Young; but truth be told, it’s not the main melodies, it’s the instrumental passages that make them classics of the genre. Simply put, Young and Whitten invent a whole new type of jamming here; double-guitar interplay that’s not based on professional skill, but is all mired in “expressivity”. On ‘Down By The River’, it seems like the two guitars are holding a dialogue with each other; on ‘Cowgirl’, it looks like they’re punching each other in the fretboard.

One place where you’re sure to encounter that kind of playing is on the Who’s live records; essentially put, Pete Townshend was among the first rock players to pioneer that kind of soloing – isolated, ‘gargling’ phrases that don’t require that much technique but do require a hell of an artistic, emotional soul to be actually played.

But Townshend had just one guitar, and he never really dared to include these lengthy improvisational outbursts to be captured in the studio, saving them for live shows. Neil was probably the first guy to include that kind of guitar playing as an essential part of the composition itself.

Not that it’s a spectacular achievement in the pure musical sense, but the exact solos themselves certainly are. It’s a damn pleasure to follow Young and Whitten unwrap parts of their improvisations, so you never know where the hell they are going to turn next. Actually, the “meeker” guitar interplay on ‘Down By The River’ is probably unique… never to be met again. The guitar soloing on ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, though, establishes a firm base for all the subsequent Young guitar jams, from ‘Cortez The Killer’ to ‘Like A Hurricane’ to ‘Change Your Mind’.

It’s only too mysterious why this kind of song was pretty much abandoned by Neil for almost half a decade after this record, though.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere | | Leave a comment

Robin Trower Bridge Of Sighs (1974)

untitledFrom starling.rinet.ru

This is still widely regarded as Trower’s masterpiece. Actually, I fail to see why – I mean, I, too, believe that it’s among his best albums, but it’s somehow put on a very high pedestal, far higher than anything that surrounds it, and this is strange, because the songs sound exactly like they sounded a year earlier on Twice Removed and exactly like they would sound a year later on For Earth Below. Same band lineup, same guitar sound, same raw R&B edge, same stately majesty. Oh, yeah, there’s one exception: the tunes are generally far more solid and well-written than on the 1973 and 1975 albums. But since when do diehard fans take into account the actual melodies when it’s the guitar tone and the finger-flashing they’re mostly worrying about? No, I truly don’t understand why Bridge Of Sighs is given such unjustifiable honours.

So let’s give it some justifiable honours instead. Eight songs on here, all written according to the formula worked out the previous year. Gargantuan majestic epics alternating with funky rip-roaring rockers alternating with dreamy atmospheric ballads, all of them based on the damn same guitar tone. But from the very first number, ‘Day Of The Eagle’, something goes into a more right and true direction than previously. ‘Day Of The Eagle’ is a steady and well-calculated rave-up, with a complex multi-chord riff and a pretty catchy vocal melody; it also changes tempo near the end of the song in order to give Robin the opportunity to play some slow sly ‘restrained’ licks as a graceful outro to the song. It’s the same style as Twice Removed, and yet, not the same style – there’s a certain precision in the playing and a certain self-demanding approach to songwriting that’s been lacking before.

The title track, as has been said before, recycles the riff of ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’, not for the last time, but it also improves on that song, with cleverly placed effects and Dewar’s impressive vocal delivery as he recites the depressing, dark lyrics that fit the song’s mood perfectly (for comparison, the simplistic love lyrics to ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ never really fit the song’s ‘royal stature’). The combination of Trower’s moody playing with the howling of the wind and Dewar’s sad, angry intonations makes up for a truly atmospheric listening – and was deservedly a stage favourite.

And that’s just the first two tracks. But most of the rockers on the record are equally deserving as well, being really catchy – this is one rare Trower record that breaks the basic rule of R&B (never write a memorable melody, just howl as much as needed and more). Could one say that ‘The Fool And Me’ is not catchy, for instance? That’s hardly possible. It’s catchy as hell, indeed, at some points I’m becoming afraid that the main melody is way too simplistic for Trower and almost nursery-rhymish in structure… hah hah. Isn’t it a nursery trick when you end every line with the phrase ‘the fool and me’? It’s fun.

Of course, this is the album that features the ‘quintessential’ Trower song – the anthemic ‘Too Rolling Stoned’. Quintessential or not, this is one great number, worth it for the opening bass line alone: thousands of hard and soft rock bands alike would kill, steal and borrow for such a magnificent bass riff that drives the track along like a ‘stone keeps on rollin’, well, more like a couple choo-choo trains than just some stupid stone. Then there’s the slow part – actually, the fast part may be regarded as just an intro for the slow boogie that follows, over which Robin is intent on displaying all of his playing techniques. Funny thing, I’ve never bought much into that second part… and shame on me, pr’aps, but I recognize quite a lot of lines that go back to as far as ‘Whiskey Train’ off Procol Harum’s Home. Okay, enough dirtying up Robin’s reputation coming from the impure mouth of a ‘wannabe rock star’ like somebody gently christened me after I’d unintentionally offended Tales From Topographic Oceans or something like that.

‘Lady Love’ and ‘Little Bit Of Sympathy’ are also solid slabs of boogie, though a wee bit inferior to the other rockers on here, but there’s one more track that could be raved about: the wonderful ballad ‘About To Begin’. It sounds very personal, with Trower using only a moderate amount of echo and drawing the listener somewhat closer into the actual experience than he usually is. Dreamy, gorgeous and short – three and a half minutes, with just a very economic amount of soloing. The other ballad, ‘In This Place’, is just okay.

I’m not really sure if the sudden rise in song quality has anything to do with the fact that Trower is mostly credited as sole author to all of the songs on here; I think that Dewar was primarily the ‘lyrics man’, although I could be wrong. More probably, the band was just solidifying its sound and tightening up all the bolts, because despite all the professionalism, Twice Removed still sounded too loose. Here the band is just an unstoppable monster, and in tightening up the sound, they also manage to improve song structure and ‘catchify’ their chord progressions. Thus, Bridge Of Sighs captures “Robin Trower” (the band!) at a relative peak – with the band in a state of perfect balance. Naturally, this peak couldn’t last long; by the time of their third album, they’d already fallen back on formula.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Robin Trower Bridge Of Sighs | | Leave a comment