Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin In The Wake Of Zeppelin (Hampton Beach, September 1971)

zep_wakeFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Hampton Roads Coliseum, Hampton Beach, VA – September 9th, 1971

Disc 1 (49:20): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed & Confused

Disc 2 (46:42): Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

The excellent mono soundboard recording from Zeppelin’s show in Hampton, Virginia on their seventh tour has many great releases in the past. One More Daze (DS92D046) on Dynamite contains “Immigrant Song” to “That’s The Way”, along with “Moby Dick” from Long Beach, “White Summer” from the Julie Felix show and “Dancing Days” from Detroit.

In 1996 Tarantura released Jim’s Picks (HAMP-1,2) which was followed by their rival at the time Antrabata on Inspired (ARM020971) limited to 325 copies with certificate of authenticity.

The excess discs in Antrabata’s production run were issued as Hampton 1971 on the Theramin label and Jim’s Picks were reissued on Dead Battery by the mysterious Flagge label. The American label House Of Elrond released this tape on Hampton Kicks (MG 6741/2) with two 1969 soundboard fragments as filler.

Two years ago the Cannonball label issued Hampton 1971 (CA-2004019/20/21) which was the latest release of the tape. In The Wake Of Zeppelin is the latest release of the well-traveled tape and, since both Akashic and Flagge are offshoots of Tarantura, is essentially the third release by these people.

The sound quality between all these titles is so similar that to single out one release as “definitive” really borders on being too pedantic. However, Akashic seem to have increased the volume a bit over the others so there is more clarity. Unfortunately there is no new tape so the same, some very painful, cuts exist on this release as there are on the others.

The first verse of “Immigrant Song” is missing, there is a cut in the middle of “Dazed & Confused” eliminating the second verse, some minor cuts between songs, and ”Whole Lotta Love” with the encores are all missing totaling about forty-five minutes of music. It is a shame since this is a great show in the middle of one of Zeppelin’s greatest tours. Robert Plant introduces “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as “something a little cooler.”

“Dazed & Confused” is referred to as “a little ditty from way back.” The versions of the piece in late 1971 contained several interesting variations from others. It was about this time where Page began to introduce the Bouree into the violin bow section as well as the descending drone over which Plant sang a high pitched moan. (A motif that is very effective in the first Tokyo show on September 23rd, 1971).

This tape has one of the better-recorded versions of “Celebration Day” (a song that is very hard to find a clean version) and acoustic set. The playing is so relaxed it makes one wonder exactly how the concert ends. Hopefully someday the rest of the tape will surface and we can enjoy it in its entirety.

In The Wake Of Zeppelin is packaged in a cardboard gatefold sleeve with a clever parody of the second King Crimson LP In The Wake Of Poseidon.

The “12 archetypes” on the original are replaced by the “12 bootleggers” in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. Exactly who they are to represent is unclear but most of them have the features of pigs and the one on the upper right hand corner of the front resembles Jimmy Page. Just like with the Orlando tape on You Really Got Me (AKA 33-1/2), it is the absurdity of the matter that catches the eye.

There is nothing on the tape or in Zeppelin’s music to suggest any kind of link to Robert Fripp, King Crimson, Greg Lake, Gordon Haskell, “Cat Food” or “Cadence & Cascade”. Perhaps the next release will be the Toronto soundboard fragment packaged in the style of Lizard? While nothing is gained with this release, it is very good and worth having if this tape is missing from your collection.

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March 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin In The Wake Of Zeppelin | , | Leave a comment

Jeff Buckley Grace (1994)

grace1From slantmagazine.com

I first heard of Jeff Buckley via a friend who was attending NYU in the early ’90s, the same girl who turned me on to the Velvets, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and basically anything else that oozed smoky, black-clad cool. She would send me cassettes with photocopied covers, one every couple of months. A Richard Hell bootleg here, a Modern Lovers rarity there. Great stuff, but all of it belonged to a bygone era, a time that we missed by being born a decade too late, a world that would only exist via scratchy hand-me-down vinyl and rock crit tomes. But then one month she sent me a cassette of a live radio recording from WNYU featuring a young kid playing a handful of originals, in addition to an eclectic array of covers—everything from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” (played on harmonium, no less). The kid’s taste was impeccable, but the obvious center of attention was that voice, a breathtaking instrument that could transform itself from melodious coo to strangled yelp to guttural howl as if it were negotiating some unseen hairpin turns in the air.

That tape would occupy a special place in my collection—not only did it contain within its fragile shell the sweet whiff of discovery, it was also a shining, beautiful moment plucked from the here and now. This lad, Jeff Buckley, son of folk-rock icon Tim Buckley, seemed to pledge no allegiance to the flannel-clad Nirvana wannabes of the day. Not only could the dude sing, he was also, according to my tape-making friend who’d now begun camping out at local club/closet Sin-é for his performances, “hot as fuck.” He was, for all we knew, a Man Out of Time, a creature who could probably sing you an Arthurian madrigal or some such shit back to back with “Pale Blue Eyes.” A Man Out of Time. Little did we know the imminent double meaning of that phrase.

Fast forward a couple of years to 1994, and the release of Buckley’s full-length debut album Grace. My friend and I are now part of a larger fanbase, many of whom had been turned on to Jeff via the Live At Sin-é EP. For those of us expecting to hear that voice floating on more gossamer light musings, it’s apparent with the album cover that Buckley is becoming a different beast, or at least tapping into other elements of his character. The evolution is hammered home with the opening track: The first few seconds of “Mojo Pin” are feathery and faint—that is until the second chorus lets the band (Buckley, bassist Mick Grondahl, drummer Matt Johnson, and, on that track, guest guitarist and old friend Gary Lucas) pound the hell out of it with Zeppelinesque fury and finesse. Quite an opening, and indeed quite a statement of intent. It’s as if Jeff is saying, “You’ve heard one side of me—now you’re going to get it all.” And over the course of 10 songs, we more or less do.

We hear in the title track the sheer scope of Buckley’s range, married to one of the album’s better melodies, and a subdued, sympathetic performance from the band. With “Last Goodbye” and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” two of the album’s highlights, we get bittersweet ruminations of love lost drenched in sweet romantic melancholy, suggesting an old soul hiding within well-worn jeans and a leather jacket. And then there are the covers: his hauntingly reverent take on “Lilac Wine”; the spectacular guitar-and-voice treatment of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in which Buckley warbles, coos, and whispers the words of the bard with all the tenderness and fragility of a first kiss. There’s his version of the “Corpus Christi Carol,” recorded at the insistence of producer Andy Wallace, a man renowned for getting some of the heaviest sounds known to man in the studio, but who can recognize an otherworldly performance when he hears it. And there are many such performances on Grace. Sinuous and smooth, sharp and serrated, Grace is possibly the most sensuous album to have emerged in the aftermath of grunge, without doubt the least sexy of all musical sub-genres.

But Grace, like its creator, is imperfect. Some of the lyrics resemble art college bathroom stall scrawling (“What is life?/What is happiness?/Where is peace?”), and, as with many singer-songwriters who possess truly outstanding pipes, there are times when the gift overtakes the song. Still, the only true misstep is “So Real,” a track so slight it resembles an afterthought, complete with mumbled verses and a noisy, atonal middle-eight. But by the time the ethereal “Dream Brother” stretches languidly into silence, all is forgiven. With an eerie couplet as a sign-off (“Asleep in the sand/With the ocean washing over”), Grace comes to a close, a perplexing, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding deeper glimpse into a singular talent.

As fate would have it, Buckley’s life would echo that ghostly last couplet from “Dream Brother,” and the young man who seemed to have it all would drown in a tributary of the Mississippi, with the true follow-up to Grace never to come. One could drift into all sorts of flowery nonsense here, and indeed many have—about how the promise that Jeff carried might’ve proved to be an albatross, dragging him down to an untimely end, much as it did his father. Perhaps the angelic beauty of his gift prompts people to wax rhapsodic and think of such heady notions as “fate” and “destiny.” Truth be told, it’s tempting to end this review with such a tone, because when Jeff died, it was important. It was a huge loss. But in the end I can’t help but think that if he were here, he’d be telling us all to lighten up a bit. Maybe it’s that back tray photo, with Buckley looking like a cross between Paul Westerberg and Dean Martin. Maybe it’s the wise-cracking on that old tape. Or maybe it’s just the sting of the hard truth: A promise, no matter how enticing, is seldom kept forever.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Buckley Grace | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Sleeps With Angels (1994)

zap_young16From starling.rinet.ru

Neil was certainly on a roll this time. You know, there’s this breed of guys who can be seriously entertaining or seriously annoying depending on which part of their image they prefer to emphasize on a given album. Bruce Springsteen is one o’ them guys, Neil Young is the other one. You can catch him in a whiny confessional heart-on-a-sleeve mood, when the endless self-pitying can really get to you; you can catch him in a preachy universalist mood like on ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’, when it’s pretty hard to draw a difference between Neil and, uh, John Cougar; or you can catch him in a puffed-up metaphysical mood, like on ‘After The Gold Rush’, where you just don’t know what the hell is going on.

But you can also capture him somewhere in between all these, which is exactly what Sleeps With Angels is. The album itself is dedicated to Kurt Cobain (it’s him that sleeps with angels, see?), and Neil again teams up with Crazy Horse on here to deliver some more grungy rockers in the memory of the Nirvana founder; however, Kurt’s suicide is merely one of the elements that lie in the basis of the record. What are the others is hard to tell – there’s a little bit of everything, I guess, but really nothing that would hit you like a hammer and make you develop a violent counter-reaction. There’s a feeling of disturbance, discomfort, doubt and even torment, mixed with vague traces of optimism and good will, throughout the album, but Neil doesn’t concentrate on any particular emotion long enough. If anything, it’s just a mighty confused record, with no definite conclusions to it, which actually throws some people off the track – but really, if you’re talking about me, that’s the way I like my Neil Young best. What would you like to hear instead, ‘Let’s Roll’? Eh??

Since it’s so confused, it’s also pretty diverse musically, though, of course, not in a White Album way. The rockers all seem pretty similar, same sludgy mid-tempo riffless grooves with the classic Neil Young guitar tones and the classic Neil Young syncopation. The ballads can be poppy, or they can be more country-western like those on Harvest Moon, but they’re still ballads. Yet just about every song on here seems well thought out, never really a throwaway or filler piece, with lyrics that’ll keep you thinkin’ and melodies that’ll keep you groovin’. It sure is long, though, and maybe taking advantage of the CD format to extend the running length over an hour wasn’t such a good idea.

Although I certainly wouldn’t want to cut the length down through the most obvious choice – the fourteen-minute long album centerpiece, ‘Change Your Mind’. It’s essentially a ‘rocking ballad’, and a bit too preachy for me (‘when you get weak and you need to test your will… distracting you from this must be the one you love’, oh thank you doctor, I had no idea), despite the catchy chorus and the pretty ‘change your mind, change your mind’ backing harmonies. But it’s stretched out to this “hideous” length by including a couple ominous distorted jamming interludes a la ‘Cortez The Killer’, which seems like a great idea to me. Optimistic preachiness constantly interrupted by moody, doom-laden guitar grumbles kinda undermines the generic effect of the former – so that the two main “moods” of the track can’t really exist without one another. That’s good.

Out of the rocking stuff, two more obvious highlights come to mind. The blues jam ‘Blue Eden’ is a three-headed dragon (granted, a little bit overweight from consuming too many gentlemen, so that he can only move very slowly) breathing fire and spitting ash – funny that the ’embracing, distorting, supporting, comforting… all over you’ lines are actually reprised from the preceding ‘Change Your Mind’, although the two songs are directly opposed to each other in mood. And the sliding bassline in ‘Safeway Cart’ might just be the moodiest element ever (at least, out of the easily identifiable ones) to be found on a Neil Young record. Actually, that’s the second bassline – there’s a regular bass pattern there, plus this second sliding bass note repeated over and over. Very spooky and disturbing. Oh yeah, there’s also the title track, of course. I’d say the dissonant screeching guitars on there pave the way for the Dead Man soundtrack, but of course, more important is that it’s Neil Young’s take on “the story of Kurt and Courtney”. It’s short, inspired, and dangerous-sounding – as supposed.

The ballads aren’t really the strong part of Sleeps With Angels; some, like ‘My Heart’, seem slightly underwritten and underarranged. Even so, it has the pretty ‘Driveby’ and the funny country-‘Western Hero’ (which has the exact same melody as the Stones’ ‘Indian Girl’ and probably as a whole bunch of Neil Young’s own songs; actually, I’m not raising the question of self-repeating here, even if I do get an intuitive feeling that at least half of the melodies on this album had been used before, but whatever the case, here they’re used in a different context, so let’s just leave it at that). But my attention still prefers to go to the terrific ‘Piece Of Crap’ rocker at the very end of the album. The only song on here that really KICKS ASS! It’s faster, it’s more energetic, it has Neil Young condemning the consumer industry (‘I tried to plug it in/I tried to turn it on/When I got it home/It was a piece of crap’) and other things along the way and it has Crazy Horse members yelling ‘PIECE OF CRAP!’ at the end of each verse. It’s so goddamn at odds with all the rest of the album, yet I’m so glad it’s on there. Might just be my favourite Neil Young song after all these years. Heh.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Sleeps With Angels | | Leave a comment

Ten Years After A Space In Time (1971)

zap_tenyears3From starling.rinet.ru

Despite all the hype, Ten Years After could never have earned the title of a “prog-rock” band: sometimes they are mistakenly lumped in with the movement, but Alvin and Co.’s ambitions never really amounted that high – for the most part, they were just hardcore blues rockers with a slight experimental edge, to distinguish them from colleagues like early Fleetwood Mac or Free. Still, if there ever was a period in which they were real close to embodying some “progressive” tendencies, it was this fall of 1971, with this extremely strange, un-Ten Years After-like album, and this really great bunch of songs, with hardly a major stinker in among all the melodies. Unarguably the band’s strongest and most consistent effort since the Ssssh days, A Space In Time continues the line of Watt in its heavy use of synthesizers and special effects, but this time the members probably took out some time to make these thingamajigs actually work. Alvin’s guitar is not idle either; and his songwriting reached a peak at this time – never to be surpassed again.

One thing strikes you immediately as you let all the tracks flow through your mind, one by one – where’s the fingerflashing? This sounds nothing like what we’ve grown to expect from the band because the main trademark element of the sound, Alvin’s blazing speedy chops, are completely missing. An intentional move, of course; whereas I wouldn’t want to accuse Alvin of sharing the famous “guitar hero complex” that managed to overtake such six-string greats as Clapton and Jeff Beck in the early Seventies, it’s at least clear that on A Space In Time the man was keen on cutting out the crap and fully concentrating on the melodies and real musical substance. He wanted to be able to finally make a record that would feature him as a real solid composer, that would not just keep repeating the same lightning-speed licks over and over again. And while it’s rather hard to believe without having heard the record, he did succeed. On here, you’ll find the best batch of melodies ever created by the band – many of them acoustic, showing Alvin’s developing passion for the unplugged atmosphere, but some electric as well. Alvin’s lyrics rarely match the melodies in skillfulness or deepness, but as usual, he manages to walk the thin line between cliches/banality and pretentiousness just fine. And while his take on the ‘we gotta get out of this place’ schtick on ‘I’d Love To Change The World’ is nothing particularly special, it comes along as sincere and never too overblown. Just a guy lamenting over post-Woodstock disillusionment.

The opening track, ‘One Of These Days’ (not to be confounded with the famous Pink Floyd instrumental, or, for that matter, with the ninety thousand other songs by other composers with the same name), kicks in with such a staggering might that it makes you go wow. It’s essentially just a slow blues rocker, but produced like they never tried before – with a deep and elaborate sound, echoey guitars, moody swirling organs, and tremendously atmospheric. My guess is that it probably inspired the Stones for “Ventilator Blues” (which is a weaker song). It does end in a slightly overlong speedy jam that tends to get a wee bit tedious due to Alvin’s self-restriction on the guitar, but never mind – it is all compensated further on.

On no other Ten Years After album will you find, for instance, two tracks as moody and “place-taking” as ‘Here They Come’ and ‘Let The Sky Fall’. Sure, Alvin and the boys did try their hand at ‘mystical acoustic shuffles’ earlier, particularly on Stonedhenge, but there was basically no melody-creating back then. ‘Here They Come’, on the other hand, is based on a slow, entrancing acoustic riff with a slight medieval influence; it’s dark and a little bit creepy. ‘Let The Sky Fall’, on the other hand, features a reworking of the ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ riff, but with an entirely different purpose: the song is supposed not to let you rock your ass, but to contemplate some vivid psychedelic associations, what with all the backwards guitars and special synth effects… I love that mood.

More acoustic shuffles follow, with pretty folkish melodies that are charming in their naivety and amazing in their professional delivery. Isn’t ‘Over The Hill’ gorgeous? The way the steady acoustic riff and the moderate strings section interact with each other certainly is, and on top of that Alvin delivers a pretty catchy vocal melody. ‘Hard Monkeys’ is equally good, with a nice alternation of soft/hard parts and some of Alvin’s most delightful singing ever – the way he chants ‘got no monkey on my back’ almost manages to bring me to tears, so don’t you dare laugh at the song.

All of this stuff is pretty serious, of course, for the boys, and it’s only natural that sometimes they break loose and swap the grim, introspective mood of the songs for a few ‘have-at-it’ fun novelty numbers: ‘Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock’n’Roll You’ is a groovy Fifties sendup that doesn’t sound one second too strained as the band rips it up for two minutes, ‘ Uncle Jam’ is an unnecessary, but short jazz jam, and ‘Once There Was A Time’ is a sharp-edged country-rock number with the traditional ‘da-guitah-z-me-life-boy’ message delivered with vivid imagery: ‘Once there was a time/I robbed my mama/For a good meal and a smoke/Once there was a time/I’d sell my brother/For a dollar when I was broke/But I’d never sell my guitar, etc…’.

And over all of this rules supreme ‘I’d Love To Change The World’ – Alvin’s epoch-defining tune which is still the band’s best known self-penned composition. It’s so well-balanced, in fact, and so immaculately written and performed, that I wouldn’t know where to start to complain. Astute acoustic riff, masterfully created paranoid style on the fast parts, moody echoey vocals in the chorus, adrenaline-raising electric guitar, terrific hard-rocking climax: if you ask me, this song does in three minutes everything that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was doing in seven and maybe more. Of course, lyrics like ‘I’d love to change the world/But I don’t know what to do/So I’ll leave it up to you’ and most of Alvin’s social commentaries are pretty straightforward, but I’d still take them over Zeppelin’s cheap mysticism any time of day, particularly since there are not any less old-time cliches in the ‘Stairway’ lyrics than there are in ‘I’d Love To Change The World’. This is just to show you how much of an underrated band Ten Years After are, so there.

It’s absolutely incredible that a band as ambitionless and tour-busy as Ten Years After found the time and will to record such an album; but it’s also a shame that the band never preferred to follow this chosen route further, as their last two studio albums show them descending into mediocrity once again, leaving A Space In Time as the band’s undisputed songwriting masterpiece and a true, if minor, rock’n’roll classic that’s been overshadowed by time but will hopefully rise out of the depths of oblivion some day. Maybe with your help, oh ye gentle reader?

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After A Space In Time | | Leave a comment

Genesis Three Sides Live (1982)

imagesCAUZLNXSFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

The rating for this album may not be that much higher than the one for Seconds’ Out, but this is a case where numbers can be deceptive. This is a far superior live album to its predecessor – the song selection may not be as theoretically strong, as it relies heavily on the pop-oriented material of the last few albums rather than the classic Gabriel-era material, but the performances are far better as a whole. Rather than butcher classic songs because Phil and Co. felt an obligation to play them (even though Phil just couldn’t handle many of those tracks), the band was able to work with material it had come up with itself and as such felt comfortable performing.

As expected, the first portion draws completely from the last three albums. Moreover, as though the band knew themselves that Three wasn’t so hot, the band relies mostly on Duke (Turn it on Again, Behind the Lines, Duchess, Misunderstanding) and Abacab (Dodo/Lurker, Abacab, Me and Sarah Jane – good boys!). As a result, this portion functions decently as a best-of collection of the recent material. For the most part everything is done equivalently and thus equally well as before, with only Turn it on Again as a little worse (thanks to Phil’s blubbering) and Abacab as a little better (an even more convincing coda). This makes this portion a bit superfluous, sure, but it’s ok.

Ah ha, but just when you thought you’d be in the land of early 80’s pop forever, the band goes back to its prog roots, and in the process creates one of its greatest live calling cards. For whatever reason, In the Cage seems PERFECTLY suited to Phil’s vocal style here, as he gives a heated delivery that retains all the firey emotion of the original and then some. The band then expands the song into a medley, bringing out the ending portion of Cinema Show (which sounds much less annoying here than on Second’s Out) mixed with parts of THE COLONY OF SLIPPERMEN, and even with a quote from Riding the Scree. And then it all ends with a fine rendition of Afterglow, which is far better than the studio version, thanks to a vocal workout that actually shows some real passion. It sounds so good here, honestly, that my mind has settled on the idea that the rightful place for Afterglow was always at the end of this medley, and not as the Wind closer.

After the fadeout from Afterglow, the album splits in two, between the American and British releases. The American version was true to the title – the first three sides of the album are live, while the fourth contains five studio tracks. The British version, on the other hand, eschews the studio numbers for two live tracks from a ’78 show and even one from the ’76 tour (with Hackett on guitar! Alright!). The British version made it onto CD, but that doesn’t matter here – thanks to the miracle of mp3’s, I’m able to have BOTH fourth sides at my disposal. Hence both sides will get some thoughts.

The live side is of mixed quality. On the one hand, it opens with the full ten minutes of One for the Vine, which sickens me as I imagine all sorts of idiotic people who think they’re intelligent and deep swaying back and forth in a psuedo-meditative fashion as if they’ve been somehow been touched by this grand performance. Kinda like all the hicks I saw around when Kansas opened for Yes at a show I saw in 2000 … But anyway. The other two live tracks rule something fierce. Simply based on clarity of production, one could easily argue that this runthrough of Fountain of Salmacis surpasses the original – the mix isn’t so annoyingly bass-heavy, after all. And again, SHOCKINGLY good vocals from Phil – I guess he had worked hard at making himself not so unbearable on the older stuff.

The absolute peak of it all, though, comes at the end. it is done fabulously, at a faster clip than originally and Hackett obviously enjoying his slight release from studio bondage. But then as you expect the song to just fade out normally with Phil improvising over the “it’s only knock and know all” coda, out of nowhere comes the majestic organs of Watcher of the Skies and some cries of Hackett guitar. The applause that pops up from this is fully justified, I think – the effect is amazingly seamless, and it’s just so nice to hear the ending chunk of Watcher again.

The studio side, on the other hand, is kinda mediocre. Paperlate is in the vein of No Reply at All (mostly because of the horns), and while it’s nowhere near as idiosyncratic, it has some clear power, and overall it’s a good song. You Might Recall shows a BIT of promise here and there, but doesn’t fulfill it, Me and Virgil is just clumsy as hell, and Open Door is another in Rutherford’s row of guitar-based ballads, but not one that suggests his gift was still there. Evidence of Autumn, however, is AWESOME, though I overlooked it at first. I initially thought it had a pleasant enough atmosphere but no hooks, but I wouldn’t dream of it: the hooks are definitely there, just a little hard to dig up, and in addition to the gorgeous atmosphere it also has a totally unexpected upbeat piano part in the middle as a contrast.

But again, the studio side is irrelevant to today’s consumer, as the only available version is the one with the fourth live side. And that version is a good little album – not one you really need, and certainly not worth the more than $20 charged for it, but a good album nonetheless.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Three Sides Live | | Leave a comment

Genesis Genesis (1983)

w10976_FullFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Genesis’ absolute pop peak. Whereas Abacab was largely an experimental laboratory, Genesis finds the group taking all of the lessons and discoveries of before and synthesizing them into a shiny, beautiful pop masterpiece. If you’ve come to believe that nothing good could come from the mouth or mind of Phil, THIS is the place to go to wean yourself off of that idea. Whereas on previous albums, Phil’s vocals were quite often a liability, his singing throughout is quite possibly the most impressive technical feature of the album. Also, the band’s use of drum machines has finally reached a point where its incessant use can be fully justified – not once on the whole album do they become annoying, and in several places, they are positively genial. And finally, these melodies mostly RULE – only one or two of the songs sag at all, and the rest will get stuck in your head for hours on end (and even better, you’ll WANT these songs stuck in your head!).

First of all – Collins-era Genesis doesn’t get any better than Mama. I know I said in the previous review that Abacab was probably the finest synth pop number ever written, but Mama I can’t even necessarily classify as pop – it’s far too angry and heated throughout for me to feel comfortable calling it synth-pop (though maybe I should, in which case, Mama wins the synth-pop dominance competition). But whatever may be, one listen to Mama could single-handedly remove all predjudices with regard to pop Genesis. For one thing, the drum machine programming is absolutely incredible – it’s a menacing little shuffle, a combination of what almost sound like maracas and some rhythmic pounding, not to mention some omnious sounds from Tony’s keys in the background to build up the tension. And then there’s Phil, who demonstrates quite aptly that almost NOBODY can beat him when it comes to singing pissed-off songs of love and lust (too bad he so rarely writes songs like that …). From his scary “ha-ha’s” to the way he’s able to scream out his desperation for the woman in question, this is by far the best vocal performance that Collins would ever give as lead vocalist for the band, and in and of itself would make the song a classic. But the way it all combines … damn. Damn.

Of course, the rest of the album can’t really hope to live up to such an amazing beginning, but it nearly does nevertheless. Only one of the songs I would count as definite filler, the closing It’s Gonna Get Better. The verses have some interesting stuff going on in them, with a bizarre keyboard-strings pattern underpinning parts of it, but there’s a large stretch in the middle that’s way too obviously influenced by Collins and that has the audacity to feature him going into falsetto. To a lesser extent, though, I could say the same thing about Taking it All Too Hard – it’s not bad, and is fairly well developed, but … well, the best way I can put it is that, by this point, when Collins is singing a song that doesn’t have a good amount of drive or energy or bounce, it’s hard to avoid the stench of banality. It could be a lot worse than it is in this case, but again, it could be better.

Fortunately, I have virtually no complaints about the rest of the album. EVERY one of the other songs is a stone-cold Genesis classic, pop or no pop. That’s All was the biggest hit of the album, and deservedly so, as the melody is probably the catchiest in the batch from start to finish (though I must note that the “head down to my toes” hook reminds me a bit too much of a hook from a track off of Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog, I forget which song at the moment). But egads, Silver Rainbow sure isn’t any worse, and might be better. The cute little piano riff that drives forward the song rules, the vocal melody is ingenious, and the chorus soars!! It is easily my second favorite on the album, and I consider it a shame they didn’t end the album on this note.

There’s also a pair of more up-tempo numbers, and they’re just as fun. Illegal Alien may have a somewhat dippy topic (and the accompanying picture of the band in the sleeve is atrocious), but Phil’s vocal delivery is hilarious throughout, and you just have to admit that chorus is fun to sing along to. And, of course, there’s Just a Job To Do, which I absolutely adore and so should you. I don’t like synth horns anymore than the next man, but they’re completely appropriate in the way Tony uses them, and the melody is, per usual, positively incredible. The lyrics also rule mightily here, looking into the mind of a hired hitman who knows that his future victims are scared out of their wits since they know he’s around.

Now, what puts off many fans with regard to this album is the centerpiece of the album, and arguably the only trace of “progressive” to be found throughout, the Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea suite. Now, what obviously bothers most people of the suite is the Second chunk, where Tony and Mike decide to putter around a bit over a drum loop. The thing is, I know that from a technical standpoint, there’s almost nothing to it, but I have absolutely no problems with this instrumental passage – it’s very engaging in its simplicity, moving through some perfectly enjoyable and memorable passages with no problem. Ironic, isn’t it? As soon as Genesis stopped trying to make their jamming pointlessly complex (since they were theoretically required to do so by the ‘tenents’ of progressive), I suddenly learned to enjoy their lengthy instrumental parts! But whatever – the main melody is fairly complex, sure, but it rules. So there.

This is a great album. If you’re only a fan of the prog Genesis, you’ll probably hate it, but I hope so very much that you can overcome any “anti-pop” bias and enjoy this collection of great pop. Enjoy it – it’s also the last good album Genesis would ever make.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Genesis | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Pittsburgh Steelers (July 1973)

zep_pittburghsteelersFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA – July 24th, 1973

Disc 1: Rock And Roll, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed & Confused (including San Francisco), Stairway To Heaven

Disc 3: Moby Dick, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean

Thinking about Zeppelin’s show in Pittsburgh is depressing both for what is and what might never be. For the past fifteen years there have been two tape sources circulating. The first appeared in 1989 and the second in 1990. Both are incomplete as we have them and the complete versions of both are in the hands of hoarders. All of the previous bootleg releases use these tapes.

The earliest is Early Days, Latter Days which uses the first source exclusively. Both Hello Pittsburgh on Image Quality (IQ-057/58) and The Resurrection on Electric Magic (EMC-013A/B) edit the two tapes together to form as complete a version as possible but missing “Stairway To Heaven” and “Moby Dick”. The sound quality of both these releases is distant and thin sounding due to the venue but clear enough to get an idea of the show and to be enjoyable on some level.

A new source surfaced but is incomplete. It does contain material that isn’t present in the others, namely the pre-concert announcements and the two missing songs “Stairway To Heaven” and “Moby Dick”.

This is a second generation at best and is noticeably more distorted and worse sounding than the other two. Pittsburgh Steelers is Empress Valley’s attempt to edit the sources together to give as complete a version as possible utilizing all of the available tape. They use as much of the third tape source as possible beginning with the announcements and the first three songs “Rock And Roll”, “Celebration Day” and “Black Dog”.

Source two comes in for Plant’s opening speech and “Over The Hills And Far Away” and goes to source three again for “Misty Mountain Hop” through to the end of “Moby Dick”. The first source is used again for the finale “Heartbreaker” to the encore “The Ocean”. The edits are poorly handled and there is the occasional digital click in the music that shouldn’t be there.

The Resurrection on Electric Magic sounds much better. It is interesting hearing the announcements before the show with that woman chastising the audience to get off of the dugouts and the threat of no Allman Brothers if they don’t behave. It’s a shame the tapes are not better recorded because this is one of the better nights from the tour. The previous night in Baltimore was an energetic performance and that carried over to this show as well.

What is really pathetic about this whole mess is this show was both filmed and professionally recorded and if any show screams for a soundboard source this is it. Two one second long fragments from Massot’s film appear in the credits of the official DVD (at about fifty seconds and one minute twenty seconds in). Both fragments looks deep in the show so it’s a fair assumption the whole concert was filmed and taped.

Also rumored to exist is a fourth audience source that is supposed to be complete. This too is in the hands of hoarders and is probably as bad as the other audience sources but we might never know. Empress Valley is capable of some of the best Zeppelin releases on the market. Pittsburgh Steelers is definitely not one of them. The tapes are listenable and the right remastering could really make them sounding great, but this release is a big disappointment and should be avoided.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Pittsburgh Steelers | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Double Shot 1 (Landover, May 1977)

zeppelin_double_shot_From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Capitol Centre, Landover, MD – May 25th, 1977

Disc 1 (67:12): The Song Remains The Same, The Rover / Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, In My Time Of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (48:16): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, White Summer, Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

Disc 3 (60:41): Out On The Tiles / Moby Dick, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll

Led Zeppelin began a series of four shows in Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC in Prince George’s County, on May 25th. Until now only a very poor audience has been in circulation of the event. It was pressed in two twelve disc collections, first in The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin’s Maryland Deluxe box as Your Teenage Dream (TDOLZ Vol. 22) in 1997 and several years later on Return Of The Crusaders (EMC-002A/B/C), the first show in Electric Magic’s Landover box.

Double Shot 1 contains the almost complete soundboard tape. John Paul Jones’ bass at the very beginning of the tape dominates the other instruments, but a good balance is achieved for the rest of the show. The poor audience tape is used to fill in gaps between 4:16 to 4:40 in “No Quarter” and for the second half of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (two common cutting points in these 1977 board tapes).

The tape was first pressed by Empress Valley in both a six disc edition with the May 30th soundboard and a twelve disc set with the complete Maryland set of shows. Eelgrass copied the recordings to offer a more affordable edition in more sturdy and durable packaging.

Like most of the shows on Zeppelin’s eleventh tour this is a uneven performance. It seems to get off on a good start with a spirited “The Song Remains The Same,” but “Sick Again” has a weak guitar break in the middle.

Robert Plant apologizes for being a bit late, “ one of the cars broke down.” He tells Landover that “it’s really good to be back in this area again after two years of not doing too” and “we don’t intend to do too much talking just a lot of playing.” The first song off of the new album Presence is “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” which starts off a bit out of tune and continues with Jimmy Page hitting bum notes in the solo. Afterwards Plant says “that was ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine.’ Which is quite true actually,” almost as an apology.

“In My Time Of Dying” is much better as is “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The latter, which Plant says is “a blues about loosing your brain. Something that never happens on the road,” contains the beautiful “Tea For One” melody in the middle.

“No Quarter” is a compact twenty-minutes. Afterwards, while introducing ”Ten Years Gone” Plant says, ”Well during the two years that we were unable to fly our kites you might say. The two years we were physically incapable of touring around and having a good time. When time came that we sat down and said ok I think we can do it now we looked back at material in the past that we had to ignore because we couldn’t play because we’re only four people … the first features John Paul Jones on a mystery three necked instrument…the first love the first climax the first wonderful moment that never ever fades” and dedicated it to John Bindon who has the biggest plonker in the world. They play a nice and tight version of the piece.

The acoustic set makes Plant thing about the first time they played in the states “In 1968 on December 26th” and how they used to play the acoustic numbers The audience, just like in 1970, becomes a bit impatient with this part of the show and start to throw firecrackers during “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.”

The “White Summer,” “Black Mountainside” and “Kashmir” segment works very well with no mistakes. ”Moby Dick” is kept on the short side, ending after Bonham’s synthesized drum interlude.

Page plays a bit of “Yankee Doodle” as well as the “Star Spangled Banner” in the noise solo leading into a tight and inspiring version of “Achilles Last Stand.” As Bonham propels the song along, Page comes close to replicating the profundity of the studio recording. The closing chimes make the hair stand on the neck! Plant even comments on the lyrics, saying, “Where the mighty arms of Atlas / hold the heavens from the earth. We should try to find that spot. It’s a nice place to go.”

He continues by dedicating “Stairway To Heaven” to “everything that is good and wholesome that we can come across in life… and that we also can make.” Like the previous song they deliver an impeccable version of the piece, building to an dramatic crescendo by the end. In the end Plant bids Maryland a good evening (pronouncing it MARY-Land).

After a cut in the recording the band return to the stage for the encores. Plant again greets Maryland (and giving it the proper Maryland accent this time) before they play the “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock And Roll” pairing.

Double Shot 1 is a release that truly allows Zeppelin collectors to reassess this show. The poor audience recording didn’t give any indication of the effectiveness of this show. It starts off a bit slow, but the intensity builds nicely. This turns out to be a very good opening night at the Capitol Centre. Eelgrass utilize a standard fatboy jewel case with artwork decorated with many very common photos from the tour. They could have used a bit more imagination for the art (there are many photos from the actual gigs they could have used). But that’s a minor complaint. This is an excellent and affordable way to obtain this show.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Double Shot 1 | , | Leave a comment

Jimmy Page Outrider (1988)

0000047590_500From sputnikmusic.com

After leaving The Firm, Jimmy decides to do his first “real” solo album, “Outrider”. For the drums, he calls Jason Bonham, son of John, who’s playing would make his father proud. Being a guitarist solo album, it has numerous instrumentals, one third of the songs, plus variety of vocalists, including Chris Farlowe that also sang in Death Wish II soundtrack, and also bassists, like Tony Franklin also an ex-member of The Firm.

Instrumentals “Writers of Winter” and “Liquid Mercury” both have the same characteristic of heaving heavy riffs and good guitar solos. Sure, some people will feel like they were wasted as just instrumentals, and think that they should have vocals, but when hearing “Wanna Make Love” or “Wasting My Time”, both sang by so-so singer John Miles, it may make people doubt it would be really that better.

“Emerald Eyes” is still the best instrumental here. In fact, there is no reason to believe that any of his older ones, like “White Summer” or – “Bron-Yr-Aur” are technically better than this. Truly amazing melody played also with electric guitar, unlike most of the Led Zeppelin’s ones, this instrumental will sure please the ears of any fan.

An almost Led Zeppelin song, “The Only One” is the best track in “Outrider”. Robert Plant’s guest appearance is the only example of what this album could actually be if handled only with great singers. The killer chorus and amazing guitar riff in this hard rocking number really feels like something that could’ve been in LZ II

“Prison Blues” was Jimmy’s noble attempt to make a bluesy epic such as “Since I Been Loving You”, “In My Time of Dying” and “Tea for One”. And, it musical sense, he does it pretty well. Chris Farlowe’s voice also sounds good with the song. But, when he (Chris) finally have a chance to do it right, he also have to ruin it somehow. In this song, he presents us with perhaps the worst lyrics in the whole record. While the beginning already sounds generic “I’ve been a bad boy all night long…” the further comparisons and metaphors are just laughable. Yet, it’s still his best performance in the album.

The cover of “Hummingbird” and “Blues Anthem” don’t really get any better than this. The first one seems uninspired and the second doesn’t match with his grave voice, making the fine guitar work by Page the only real reason to hear this fine ballad.

To sum up, this album has a great guitar work by page and a lot of potential, but, the lack of a good singer in it, only 2-3 tracks fulfill it. Yet, it’s still shows improvement of his writing compared to The Firm’s albums, that later would be used to create the best album is his career sans Led Zeppelin, “Coverdale Page”.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page Outrider | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock (1999)

JimiHendrix-LiveAtWoodstock-FrontFrom sfloman.com

Originally released as Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock in 1994, this expanded 2-cd edition figures to be the last word on Hendrix’s famous Woodstock performance since it contains all but two songs performed that day, both of which were sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee. Still, though it may very well be the single greatest Hendrix live album with regards to his guitar playing, Live At Woodstock is not without its problems.

For one thing, Jimi was a highly visual artist (starting with the fact that he was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar upside down), so obviously you don’t get quite the whole effect when merely hearing him play live (but surely you’ve seen the Woodstock movie, right?). Secondly, for all his plaudits as a live musician, he was actually a pretty erratic live performer, especially in his somewhat confused last year, and this concert has its highs and lows.

The biggest problem is his backing band, consisting of Mitchell (great as always), Cox (a supporting player at best), the aforementioned Lee, and two conga players. Dubbed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, these guys were a far cry from the original Experience. In fact, the percussionists sucked and the band hadn’t practiced enough and lacked cohesion, which engineer Eddie Kramer realized and rectified by wiping out their parts from this album, thereby presenting the new version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a hard-hitting power trio.

Simply put, what was heard on stage August 18, 1969 is not what is heard on this cd, and the inauthentic nature of this release is likely to offend purists, especially given the historical importance of this performance. After all, is what Kramer did here so different than what Alan Douglas was so severely criticized for doing over the years? If Kramer was willing to remove things, surely it’s possible that he added things as well, no? The whole thing makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but with that rant out of the way let me say that what’s here sounds fantastic for the most part. Sure, some of these jams are a bit long and monotonous, his stage patter is often incomprehensible and quite goofy, and I wish that there was more material from Axis and Electric Ladyland (only one song apiece), but despite battling fatigue and less than ideal conditions (a 9 a.m. Monday morning start time), Jimi puts his heart and soul into this justifiably legendary performance. Disc one features probably my favorite rendition of “Message Of Love” (we have Mitchell instead of Miles and Jimi is on fire), plus fierce jams mark “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Lover Man.”

Again, as with Live At Winterland the band can get bogged down a bit when they try the bluesier stuff, and the improvised jam “Jam Back At The House” takes awhile to get going, but once it does boy does it ever, as does “Hear My Train A’ Comin” come to think of it. But disc one is merely a warm-up for disc two, which starts with my favorite version of “Izabella” but really gets going with a nearly 14-minute version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Simply put, this version is jaw-dropping, mind-melting, relentlessly awe-inspiring; feel free to add your own adjectives, because guitar-based jamming simply doesn’t get any better. Next up is Jimi’s monumental shredding of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which may be his signature guitar solo (he pulls out all the stops) and which evokes that war torn era like few songs. It sounds better than ever placed within its proper context here, too, and sandwiched around a couple of short, punchy, and flat-out ass kicking early Experience classics (“Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe”) are two other “songs” that showcase Jimi’s improvisational genius, and which can’t be heard on any other release. The aptly titled “Woodstock Improvisation” is basically Jimi just strutting his stuff as arguably the greatest guitar player the rock world has ever known, while the subdued “Villanova Junction” delivers the calm after the hurricane hits.

This sequence of songs on side two is Jimi Hendrix the live musician at his absolute best, and Mitch Mitchell too on the songs where Jimi also lets him let loose. They were playing like men possessed, like they wanted to steal the entire damn festival, and though the reality of the band performance on that morning was in actuality far less than what’s presented here, that shouldn’t stop your enjoyment when listening to this album. What may curb your enjoyment somewhat is the sheer exhausting nature of these long, jam-heavy songs, which likely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea even though it is mine. Note: There are plenty of other releases that have appeared over the years, many of which have been pulled by Jimi’s estate.

The two most necessary purchases that don’t appear on this page I suppose are Live At Monterey (better seen and heard on DVD) and the 4-cd box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which is a real treasure trove for Hendrix fanatics. That said, most of the alternate versions on the box set don’t sound all that different, some of the live tracks were previously available (the contents of the long out of print Hendrix In The West basically appears in its entirety), and some of the recordings sound like demos that should’ve remained unreleased. In short, the songs are usually good to great but on the whole it should’ve been better.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock | | Leave a comment