Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)

noel_gallagher_high_flying_birds_album_cover_location_beverly_hillsFrom pitchfork.com

Oasis perpetually faced accusations of over-borrowing from rock history, unapologetically nicking words and melodies from the biggest groups of all time. But the band were also skilled samplers of rock’n’roll storylines, arriving in the early 1990s pre-equipped with that classic intra-band conflict, the singer vs. the songwriter.

The tension between Noel and Liam Gallagher arrived with Oasis in the early 90s as a fully-formed rock drama worthy of Keith-Mick, Robert-Jimmy, and Rog-Pete, given added juice by shared genetics. With Chekhov’s gun inevitability, their squabbles blew Oasis apart in 2009, with the final indignity of forcing Noel, the band’s master architect, to quit his own masterpiece project via blog post.

So here begins the familiar second act of the rock’n’roll story arc, the competitive-solo-record period. While Liam and the rest of Oasis got in the first punch (reforming and flicking Vs at their former bandleader as Beady Eye), Noel has launched his High Flying Birds “collective” with a premise that’s also rock canon: who needs a frontman, anyway? Oasis history already gives Noel some credibility on that front– by their second album, the guitarist was already taking lead vox duties on a hit single (“Don’t Look Back in Anger”), and the notorious MTV Unplugged episode proved he could do just fine without his brother on the band’s other material, thank you very much.

But for a declaration of independence, the self-titled High Flying Birds LP sounds awfully nostalgic for the good old days. Through most of the mercifully brief 10 tracks, Gallagher passes on the opportunity to use this new career chapter for either an Albarn-like experimental exploration or something stripped-down and personal.

Of course, nothing in his career to date would suggest “stripped-down” is in Noel’s vocabulary. His new band goes straight back to the widescreen aesthetic, with choirs, string sections, horn sections, and choruses aiming for the universal. Noel is still writing for the stadium– it’s the only audience he knows.

Keeping that in mind, a listener can forgive a lot of corniness, even as Noel tests the limits. At this point, it’s almost endearing that he earnestly sees no problem starting a song with the lyric, “Hot time/ Summer in the city,” and thinks the clunky “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” is an acceptable song title and hook. But the latter track also shows Gallagher can still tickle anyone who once took the kind of soaring-orchestra-and-guitar-solo bridge (think Slash emerging from a pool of water in the rain) seriously. If the emotional power of anthemic rock is quickly draining, Gallagher remains among the best conductors of the fumes.

Still, there are some intriguing ideas buried under the maudlin arrangements and verse-chorus-verses. Often, the most interesting parts of the songs float frustratingly on the periphery of the mix, as with the lap steel of “If I Had a Gun…” or the musical saw that eerily haunts both “The Death of You and Me” and “AKA… Broken Arrow”. One place where that formula reverses promisingly is “AKA… What a Life!”, which is built upon a stormy piano loop, filtered drums, and Noel’s melancholic take on 20 years of stardom.

The song is a reminder that Gallagher might have found a more exciting solo path by revisiting “Setting Sun”, the Oasis-related moment that sounds most vital in 2011 (and perhaps the inspiration for his upcoming collab with Future Sound of London side project the Amorphous Androgynous). But instead he chooses to make another MTV Unplugged statement that’s equal parts self-sufficient and self-conscious, all but writing in Liam and the rest of Beady Eye drunkenly heckling from the balcony.

Founding High Flying Birds on pretty much the same musical territory as his old band, where Liam’s snide yowl will always win out over Noel’s passable but pedestrian voice, is the album’s critical flaw. Forever a slave to rock history, Gallagher feels like he’s biding his time for the third act reunion rather than breaking from the well-trod path.

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April 1, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Whole Lotta Led (Uniondale, June 1972)

whole_lotta_led_fFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY – June 14th, & 15th, 1972

Disc 1, Nassau Coliseum, NY – June 15th, 1972: Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Disc 2: Dazed & Confused, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love (includes Boogie Chillun’, Slow Down, Hello Mary Lou, Money Honey, Heartbreak Hotel, Cumberland Gap, Going Down Slow). Nassau Coliseum, NY – June 14th, 1972: Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog
Disc 3: Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Dazed & Confused
Disc 4: What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love (includes Boogie Chillun’, Cumberland Gap, Hello Mary Lou, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Going Down Slow), Rock And Roll, Communication Breakdown, Weekend, Bring It On Home

Whole Lotta Led, despite the trite title, presents two very hot shows from the middle of Zeppelin’s eight US tour in 1972. The common assumption concerning this time is that the band were playing very good concerts and yet received very little recognition for their efforts because the Rolling Stones were touring the US at the same time. Because of that they played in the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale on Long Island instead of Madison Square Garden in the city. This really doesn’t make too much sense since the Stones played New York five weeks later and it seems Zeppelin received some big write ups, especially for these two shows.

The most important was by Roy Hollingworth who reviewed the first Nassau Coliseum show for Melody Maker. Zeppelin’s main beef has more to do with the cultural significance of the STP. It was the Stones’ first US tour since the Altamont tragedy and there were two movies filmed and a book published following their exploits. This is the kind of attention Zeppelin avoided anyway. Whatever the case may be this tour is one of their very best with all of the tapes documenting inspired performances and amazing creativity.

The Badgeholders label chose to place the second show on June 15th first in this set since it is the better recorded of the two. The sound quality is very loud and clear. The biggest distraction are the tapers themselves, a group of Long Island Zep fans who taped many shows in the metropolitan area and their insane comments have been pressed onto silver discs for all to enjoy. There are constant discussions about how great Jimmy Page is and how everything is “THE BEST”. Tensions are also raised during the quiet beginning of “Stairway To Heaven” about seating arrangements. There are cuts in “Tangerine”, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, the drum solo to “Moby Dick”, the very ending of “Whole Lotta Love” and the encores. What is clear is the ungodly playing by the band.

The show begins with the “LA drone” (this was the first show on the tour where they employed that beginning) and the show never lets up. ”Dazed & Confused” must rank among the very top in their entire career. The playing is so intense that even the tapers shut up for a minute! This is an essential tape to have. Pervious releases include Tangerine on Mud Dogs, Welcome Back on Tarantura and Long Island Line on IQ. Badgeholders increased the volume over the Tarantura and also cut out, for some inexplicable reason, half of “Tangerine”. It cuts out after a minute, whereas it is complete on Welcome Back.

Whole Lotta Led pairs this tape with the June 14th show from the previous evening. It is a mediocre sounding tape but is very listenable and not as bad as some say. The content is actually better than the June 15th and makes me wish it were better recorded. This is the first time Plant drops the famous “Does anybody remember laughter?” ad lib in “Stairway To Heaven” and the band play four encores. The only other complete release is on Sometime In New York City on the old Image Quality label and sounds comparable.

Badgeholders boosts the volume (as usual), but does make it sound a bit more enjoyable. This comes packaged in a fatboy jewel case with some 72 tour photos on the front and back and an insert with two common pictures of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. If the June 15th show didn’t have the inexcusable cut in “Tangerine” I’d say this would be worth seeking out. I’m dumbfounded why a label would make such a mistake as this since there are so many versions of the tape floating around.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Whole Lotta Led | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Eyes Big Crowd (Lewisville, August 1969)

zep_dallas_tarantura011From collectorsmusicreviews.com

International Speedway, Lewisville, TX – August 31st, 1969

(62:23) Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin’s set at the Texas International Pop Festival on Labor Day weekend is one of the most popular recordings. It is one of the hottest performances, but has one of the best soundings tapes to exists from their 1969 tours and can be found on many releases. It is commonly called a soundboard, but in reality is an excellent audience tape recorded in the photographer’s pit.

There are two other audience recordings in circulation. The Plays Pure Bob tape, so named for the Tarantura release in the mid nineties, is an excellent stereo recording and another, poor to fair recording called the ”Reggie The Bullet” after the taper which Tarantura uses for this release. It was taped a distance from the stage and has many audience comments throughout the show and with some distortion by the end of the tape.

Tarantura did an amazing job in making an otherwise difficult sounding tape listanable by increasing the volume without increasing the distortion or hiss to achieve a high degree of clarity. It is interesting as an alternative view of a well known show and the quality of the tape is such that, if it were the only one, is perfectly acceptable.

This concert routinely makes collectors’ top five lists for all time best Led Zeppelin concerts. Even though it was very hot there that evening they deliver their standard set (minus “White Summer”) to the 120,000 in attendance. The very beginning of the tape is very distorted but clears up during the opening song.

The “Train Kept A-Rollin” and “I Can’t Get You” are employed for the final time as the set opener. “Dazed & Confused” reaches some intense creepiness and a peculiarity about this version is the inclusion, between 9:25 and 9:40 of the heavy majestic riff usually found as an introduction to “How Many More Times” (most notably on the Royal Albert Hall version found on the DVD).

“How Many More Times” reaches more than twenty minutes and contains some interaction between Plant and the audience after someone throws something at him (what exactly was thrown isn’t clear). The lyrics to “Eyesight To The Blind” are sung in the “Boogie Chillun’” style and “Communication Breakdown” with a short bass solo closes the event. Eyes Big Crowd is packaged in a single pocket cardboard sleeve with a collage of photos, press clippings and posters of the event.

This is an interesting release by Tarantura whose actual mastering of the tape is very good.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Eyes Big Crowd | , | Leave a comment

Beady Eye: Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011)

beady_eye_album_sleeveFrom The Telegraph

After Noel Gallagher finally quit Oasis in August 2009, who’d have guessed that the rest of the band would side with his younger brother? Liam, after all, was the liability, the loose cannon, whose chief contribution was an edginess which constantly destabilised the ship. Noel, the songwriter, who made the whole world sing (in the early days, at least), surely would have been the more reliable meal ticket.

From day one, however, Noel ran Oasis on a “captain and crew” basis, keeping his charges on a tight, Beatles-embossed leash. At crunch time, the hirelings whom Noel himself had gradually cherry-picked from British indie-rock’s upper echelons to replace the original line‑up, doubtless shared the unreliable Gallagher’s thirst for liberty and stuck by him instead.

So it was that Beady Eye formed, and ever since this debut has been awaited with a rare mixture of car-crash voyeurism and cautious optimism. Wouldn’t Liam make a twit of himself, without big brother’s guidance? But then, wasn’t it really him, the beautiful nutcase, who always set Oasis’s vital energy a‑crackling?

The good news is that, from its amusingly headlong title down, Different Gear, Still Speeding feels a good deal less lumpy than the last few Oasis albums. The teaser track, Bring the Light, is everything one might have hoped for from Beady Eye – a piano-pounding rush of vintage rock & roll, which sets the listener’s fevered brain fizzing with thoughts of Little Richard and the Velvet Underground, rather than the same old Beatles references.

In interviews, Liam, Gem Archer (guitarist; ex-Heavy Stereo), Andy Bell (guitarist/bassist; ex-Ride) and Chris Sharrock (drummer, ex-La’s) have talked excitedly about the joys of collaborative writing, and there is an all-pervasive vibe of freshness, upbeat melody and commitment. Gallagher, throughout, sings like a man possessed.

Aside from another full-blooded, filth-and-fury rocker, Standing on the Edge of the Noise, the highlights are Millionaire and For Anyone, each recalling the breezy, skiffly Merseybeat of Sharrock’s erstwhile accomplices, the La’s. These stand out, for the simple reason that there was seldom room for prettiness within the Oasis brand.

Elsewhere, though, it is, disappointingly, business as usual – particularly on Four Letter Word, the trundling opener, which was presumably put there so as not to frighten the horses and Oasis’s staunch fan base.

It doesn’t take long for Beatles nods to pile up: The Roller so resembles John Lennon’s Instant Karma, one can almost picture Liam with long hair and little round specs singing it. There’s even a song called Beatles and Stones, although, with merciful perversity, it rips off the Who’s My Generation.

Fans will trawl the lyrics for veiled messages to Noel – “Life’s too short not to forgive/ I’m here if you wanna call”, from Kill For a Dream, should set the message boards chattering – but there is enough here to suggest that Beady Eye might take on a life of its own, especially with live gigs lined-up this month.

For now, though, the nagging feeling is that Different Gear isn’t quite different enough.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Beady Eye Different Gear Still Speeding | , | Leave a comment

The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight DVD (1996)

Live_Isle_WightFrom blogcritics.org

Throughout the ages, humanity has struggled to find the answers to great philosophical questions in the hopes of making sense of the universe. Although there are no absolute truths, many take a firm position in their beliefs to create order and meaning in the universe, which serves a dual purpose of providing comfort and keeping the abyss at bay.

Responses to three of the most important define who a person is. They are: What is the meaning of life? Is there a supreme being? Who’s the greatest rock and roll band of all time? This DVD may make a case for all three.

On August 30, 1970 at 2 am, The Who played a very compelling set in front of 600,000 people at the third, and what was the last for over 30 years, Isle of Wight Festival. The legendary quartet was at the peak of its powers and all four contributed to the band’s greatness.

The focal point was Pete Townsend, guitarist and main songwriter, whose tales of teenage strife have struck a chord with many a young man over the decades. He is a talented musician who, even with all the accolades bestowed on him, doesn’t get his full due. While not as flashy a player as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen or as proficient as Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, very few equaled the number of popular rock guitar riffs he created.

The stories of angst and anger Townsend detailed were given voice by Roger Daltrey, who belted out the tunes that evening through a lion’s mane of curly blond locks. Bassist John Entwistle, who was dressed in a skeleton costume, stood almost motionless. His fingers delivered surprisingly strong bass lines considering how lightly he tickled the strings. Keith Moon was such a force that he played lead drums. He was a sight to see as he played with such reckless abandon. It’s surprising when he doesn’t lose his way within a song. His wild antics are an obvious model for the Muppet, Animal. From this performance alone you can see the influence The Who had on heavy metal and punk rock.

The band played their first hit single, “I Can’t Explain.” Then, Roger introduced “I Don’t Even Know Myself” as a new number off an upcoming album that never materialized. It was so new he got the title wrong. “Water,” a motif Townsend used often, was also a new one, but it could have been an old blues number with its lyrics about down-on-their-luck characters and the salacious need for somebody’s daughter. They played some covers and a few hits before concluding with an abbreviated version of Tommy. “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” is played over the credits as the band leaves the stage and Moon hams it up earlier in the day backstage.

The performance is absolutely brilliant and a pleasure to behold. Purists may rightly complain about the songs being presented out of order and some being incomplete; however, the concert works as director Murray Lerner presents it. Only someone aware and looking for jump cuts would notice them. The CD soundtrack presents the show in its entirety and proper running order.

Live at The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 has previously been released on VHS in 1996 and on DVD in 1998 and 2004. The packaging for this edition is misleading because it states the film was restored and remixed and includes a “brand new exclusive” interview of Townsend.

These are the same claims made on the 2004 edition, and fans are posting online that they don’t notice a difference. Upon further review, the packaging still has a 2004 copyright. What is definitely new on the 2006 edition is the inclusion of two previously unseen tracks, “Substitute” and “Naked Eye.” However, it makes no sense why they weren’t inserted into the film instead of making the viewer access them separately.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight DVD | , | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street (1972)

albexhileonmainstFrom donignacio.com

It’s been said this is The Rolling Stones’ White Album; they had already created a handful of masterful statements, and they figured that it was time to pull together a sloppily assembled double album of more scattershot quality. That wasn’t a bad idea for The Beatles, and that wasn’t a bad idea for The Stones. In fact, this gave them a valued opportunity to return to their roots, since they started out as a sloppy and imperfect R&B band!

But of course Exile on Main St. is a mile away from earliest incarnation; these guys are cockier than ever. Well, they had a lot to feel cocky about; they were the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet, and they bloody well knew it!

On the other hand, I really miss the organized precision of their previous albums. The production also suffers a lot, since many of these songs are mixed rather poorly. At times, I can hardly hear Mick Jagger’s vocal lyrics! … But honestly, he’s singing so cockily that I probably wouldn’t be able to make them out anyhow! The main reason I think this album pales is the songwriting. As a whole, these songs just don’t strike me as an endless string of classics as I’ve gotten in their other albums.

That’s an unfortunate consequence of creating a White Album, I suppose. But anyway, since this is indeed a Rolling Stones album from 1968-1972, then you know it’s got to be great. So, let us concentrate on the “greatness” aspect of this album.

If “Tumbling Dice” and “Ventilator Blues” aren’t among The Stones’ finest songs ever, then I’ll be hornswaggled. (I don’t even know what “hornswaggling” entails, so you know I’ve got to be serious when I say that.) They are both terrific slower blues rockers with catchy riffs, bold instrumentals and good vocal melodies! Perhaps they’re not as splendid as certain blues songs on their previous albums, but they’re very, very close. They not only turn in some great blues songs, but they give country-western music a few more gems that it deserves. “Sweet Virginia” is just as engaging and pretty as its song title cracks it up to be, and “Torn and Frayed” isn’t so much an original masterpiece as it is simply enjoyable!

“Rocks Off” is a rollicking and catchy riff-rocker and a great way to get the album off with a bang. It’s very rough and wild sounding to begin with, and the horn section they bring in for the final half makes it even more wild! In fact, the horn or a saxophone makes frequent appearance throughout this album, and they only do good things. “Rip this Joint,” the second track, is more old-timey, giving us an indication right away that The Stones wanted to return to their deep roots. You’ve got to get a load of Jagger’s extremely excitable vocal performance on that one… It sounds like he should be splashed with cold water!… The Jerry-Lee-Lewis styled piano playing around also helps make the song exciting… and that piano is a major highlight through many of these other songs.

Another major highlight is “Stop Breaking Down” with its mean sounding blues riff, and the anthemic gospel number “Shine a Light” is a brilliantly engaging piece with some beautiful back-up singers. Although the back-up singers aren’t always good news; I thought they sounded pretty out-of-whack throughout the ballad “Let it Loose.”

I liked that ballad, overall, but it’s absolutely nothing compared to their previous ballads like “Wild Horses.” I’m not even complaining about the production; it just doesn’t have the melody, unfortunately.

Most of the rockers in Exile are fun to listen to, but “Casino Boogie” is one that just doesn’t catch fire. Likewise, “Loving Cup” has a good beat you can dance to, but it’s missing that special ‘something’ that The Stones had seemed to effortlessly be able to extract out of their previous songs. “Sweet Black Angel” is an OK ballad, but it’s a bit on the dull side, which is something that I don’t remember thinking about any Rolling Stones song since Their Satanic Majesties Request.

When it’s all said and done, though, there’s only one track on here that I’d call a misfire, and that’s “I Just Want to See His Face,” consisting only of a bizarre, subdued groove. The texture is interesting, I suppose, but it’s not engaging in the slightest. It’s a shame they wasted a three-minute track on something like that instead of something else that woulda blown me away!

I don’t think anyone can deny that Exile on Main St. is a huge rock ‘n’ roll classic, and I really love listening to about 3/4ths of it. Even though I already said that I preferred their more meticulous arrangements, I’ll admit that it’s novel to hear The Rolling Stones throwing everything aside and simply rocking out like a rock ‘n’ roll band ought to. They succeed wildly here for the most part, but I just wish that their songwriting was more up-to-par.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street | | Leave a comment