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Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Concert Review: Virginia Beach Ampitheatre, July 8, 1998


Robert Plant and Jimmy Page came here, to the Virginia Beach Amphitheater on July 8. It was the most fun I have ever had.
For impatient people who just want to see what was played, here’s the setlist. I’ll go into more detail, I promise. In fact, I can hardly wait.

The setlist was:
The Wanton Song
Bring It On Home
Ramble On
Walking Into Clarksdale
No Quarter
Shining In The Light
Going To California
Gallows Pole
Heart In Your Hand
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
How Many More Times/That’s The Way/How Many More Times
Most High
Whole Lotta Love
Black Dog
Rock And Roll

And now to go into detail…
I went to the concert with my entire family, but only my father and I had actual seats. My mom and brother had lawn seats that my mom won in a radio contest. I was in Section 203, Row W, Seat 9. Sure, I would have liked front row seats, but these were excellent. When we first got there, I made the ritual stop to get a tour shirt. After waiting for half an hour in line, we went to sit down. The show was supposed to begin at 8:00. At about five to eight, the opening band started to play; the Lili Haydn Band. They played about six songs, and I wasn’t incredibly impressed. Impatient was more the word. The band consisted of the norm for a rock band — guitars and drums, but this band had a violin and a cello. It was interesting, that’s all I can say. After 15 minutes of it I got up and bought another shirt. In truth, I was more interested in helping knock the beach ball around the stadium than I was in watching the Lili Haydn Band. I just wanted Jimmy and Robert to start. At 15 to nine, the roadies started coming out to set up equipment, and of course everyone got excited. There was nothing to be excited about, though, except for a really lame Best Buy commercial.

At ten to nine, the lights went out, and everyone went wild, even though it was a couple of minutes before the show started. There was no announcement. Jimmy just came out with his Les Paul and the band tore into The Wanton Song. All I could hear was the guitar. We were all clapping and screaming so loudly that Robert’s voice was totally drowned out. On screen, I could see his lips moving, but all I heard was screaming. Jimmy sounded great. After finishing The Wanton Song, they dove right into Bring it on Home, no pause or anything. By then the crowd had at least quieted enough that you could tell Robert was singing. The two songs just sort of ran together, and I really think I was too caught up in the excitement of everything that I didn’t quite take in the first two songs. I remember them, but nothing in particular about them…how odd.

The third song was Heartbreaker, and the opening chords brought wild applause. Jimmy’s solo was excellent. It was almost exactly like the one off of BBC Sessions — the normal concert solo.

Everyone, of course, also cheered enthusiastically when the opening bars of Ramble On started. Every time they broke into the chorus, the lights would flare up and the stage got really bright. It was so fitting…it seemed so right. In the chorus, all Robert sang was “Ramble on”, “Sing my song”, “On my way”, and then again “Ramble on”. This was the first point at which you could tell there were a lot of people in the audience joining in the singing.

I never really cared for Walking into Clarksdale, and it was extremely obvious that I wasn’t alone. I got really annoyed at the same ten or twelve people that would walk past to get more beer every time they played something off of the new album. They didn’t care how annoying they were, though. No one knew the words to Clarksdale…there was a lot of applause when they were done, though. Whether it was out of politeness, sincerity, or relief, I don’t know. It was a lot better than on the album. I liked it, and I think I was in a minority on that point.

I believe that I used the term “sacrilegious” when I found out that they were playing No Quarter without John Paul Jones, but my opinion changed quickly. They had a visiting pianist, whose name I can’t remember and forgot to write down. Anyway, he was excellent. He did the solo perfectly. There was a cameo appearance by Jimmy’s theramin to represent “the dogs of doom”. It was odd about the pianist, though, because on the cameras, it would only show his hands. They never showed his face, and the lights were arranged in such a way that you couldn’t see his face, even if you were in the front. They didn’t say who it was until the song was done, and for some reason, I was expecting the anonymity of the guy to be because John Paul Jones was there as a surprise. To my disappointment, it wasn’t him. He played the song so flawlessly that I thought it may have been him. It would have been cool.

Everybody fretted again when Robert said that they were playing another song from the new album, Shining in the Light. The song’s one of my favorites (from the album), though, so I was happy. It sounded just like it did on the album, except that Jimmy had a long solo in the middle. Hey, the song may not be adrenaline like the later songs they played, but it was good. You gotta have a mix, right???

It’s impossible to describe how wild the crowd went when they played the opening chords of Going to California. We were all singing every word, and I don’t think that Robert realized it until he got to the last line. All he sang were the lines “tellin’ myself it’s not as hard”, then he stopped, and we finished the line. His reaction was funny; his eyes got wide, then he threw his head down towards the ground and didn’t lift it up for a minute. I can’t think of a word to describe his reaction.

Tangerine…I never expected it to be in the setlist. It was, though. I liked it better than the album version because they ditched the slide guitar. Instead, a guy other than Page (Robert never said his name) was playing what I think was a mandolin. It was different, but I liked it. We were all singing the words again.

Although Gallows Pole has an almost lethargic (probably not a good word, but that describes my feelings accurately) feel to it, I like it on the album. When they played it, I expected Jimmy to be playing an acoustic, but instead he kept right on playing the electric. This version of Gallows Pole was a lot better than the one off of III. I could compare it to the one on No Quarter, only this one was even more electric and faster. I liked it.

The cheering was less than inspired when Robert announced that once again, this song was off the new album. No one liked Heart in Your Hand. For the third time, everybody went down to get more beer. Not much else can be said about this song.

There was a lot of cheering when Jimmy started into Babe I’m Gonna Leave You. The song had a guitar solo in the middle that lasted five or ten minutes, then they just jumped right back into it. I love the nonchalant attitude — ‘let’s just go right back into the song like we didn’t go off on a ten minute tangent.’ I love everything about Jimmy…not least of all his style.

How Many More Times got the most cheering of anything yet. Everybody loved the song. In the middle of Jimmy’s guitar solo, Robert started singing the opening lines of That’s the Way. Of course, I assumed that the song had ended with the solo and now we were listening to That’s the Way. Two lines later, the chords of How Many More Times are being played again. At least you don’t know what exactly to expect. The guitar bow was, of course, included here. The product was, naturally, more wild cheering on our part. It sounded eerie, and a lot better in person than on any bootleg tapes I’ve ever heard.

I think Most High was the only song off of the new album that everybody liked. People were singing again, but mostly only “so high, most high, so high”. The unknown pianist was playing again, and Robert said his name a couple times…I still don’t remember what it was. Most High sounded exactly like it did on the album, only they repeated the first verse at the end.

Right before breaking into Whole Lotta Love, Robert said that they would be leaving after this. No one heard, though, I think, because there was no real reaction. Of course, though, once they started playing it, everybody again cheered like mad. The cheering was even more inspired when Jimmy broke out the theramin. Of course, it sounded nothing like the album cut…it was better. It rocked, I was cheering the whole time.

At this point, the band left the stage. For five minutes we all screamed for them to come back and clapped and held up lighters. It almost looked magical — the lighters in particular. It makes me wonder what it looks like on stage. Finally, though, they came back out to immense cheering and a lot of ecstatic fans (myself included).

Black Dog didn’t start out as Black Dog. Jimmy played the opening to Out on the Tiles. For a minute I thought maybe they were going to play it, but then Robert started singing the words to Black Dog. This was even better, though. By the time they started playing, we’d been up and screaming our lungs out for five minutes, so of course nobody sat down during the entire encore. We were already psyched, and Black Dog has relatively simple lyrics, so we were singing all the words and you could tell. Robert let us do two or three different parts of the song, and it rocked. A lot.

After a little hesitation, Robert and Jimmy decided to stay and play another song. Before the guitar even started, everyone recognized Rock and Roll, and it was probably the most cheered song all night. Appropriate, since it was the last. Again, we sang all the words, and Robert let us sing “lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time”, and he looked amazed every time he heard how clear it was. Jimmy’s solo was more than perfect. I’ve never heard him so good as he was that night. Never.

They’d done one encore part, why not another? We cheered for five more minutes, and then the amphitheater people turned the lights back on. Damn. People started to leave, and it took about fifteen minutes to get out.

In case anyone is wondering about the non-musical details of the concert, I can fill in a little bit. It was really humid and the air didn’t start to circulate until we were about twenty minutes into the concert. Robert and Jimmy were both wearing long sleeves and pants; I don’t know how they did it, honestly. Robert was wearing a light blue shirt, loose but long-sleeved, and loose silver pants. Jimmy wore all black. Black pants and a black shirt that wasn’t tight, but wasn’t loose either. I know they were hot. I saw Jimmy mopping the sweat off of his forehead with a towel after How Many More Times. Robert’s shirt was drenched with sweat by the end.

A few interesting things that I couldn’t fit anywhere else…one was the pianist. I can’t remember which song this was in, but I think it was Most High. Robert said, “here’s our guest pianist” then the spotlight went over and there was a cardboard cutout of a kangaroo sitting in front of the keyboard. Robert got a really good kick out of it.

The other thing that was incredibly interesting to me was at the end of one of the songs. It was one of them in the middle. At the end of the song, Jimmy played the opening bars of Stairway to Heaven. I thought I was hearing things, but my dad and my brother said they both heard it too. My brother said that Robert mumbled, “She’s buying a stairway to heaven”, but I didn’t hear that. I found that very strange.

In short (although I realize that this is nothing but short) I enjoyed myself more at the concert than I think I ever have anywhere. If Page and Plant come again, I’m definitely going. Even if I didn’t like the music (which is anything but true), I would go because I had such a good time. I screamed my lungs out and clapped so hard my hands were sore for half an hour aftereward, but I enjoyed myself so much. It was so much fun!

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Virgina Beach 1998 | | Leave a comment

The Who Quadrophenia (1973)


Quadrophenia completed the mega-creative trifecta for The Who, which peaked with Who’s Next in 1971 but was bookended by the two greatest rock operas ever – Tommy in 1969 and this album in 1973, both double albums. The term “Quadrophenia” was coined by the band’s sole composer Pete Townshend, as a play on the word “schizophrenia” with a specific meaning of someone with four distinct personalities. On a deeper level, the title was meant as a nod to the new quadrophonic sound (the earliest form of “surround sound” which never quite caught on in its day) and is also a representation of the four band members themselves. The linear story that runs through the album comes from the psychological perspective of an English teenager in the early 1960s, making the album also a loose tribute to the group’s earliest fans.

Townshend has stated that the idea for Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for an autobiographical concept album titled “Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!” in 1972 with songs such as “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” along with the first compositions that ended up on the album. Townshend instead decided to create a character named Jimmy with four personalities that reflected those of the band members, each associated with a “theme” which recurs throughout the album.

While not as cohesive or focused as Who’s Next and not as popular as Tommy, this may be the ultimate Who album due to its sheer breadth and ambition Townshend expanded fully from his traditional guitar-centric approach to include pianos and keyboards as prominent lead instruments. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Roger Daltry is in top form, carrying many of the songs while delicately working through the multiple character parts reflected in several of the extended songs. Further, Townshend considers this the best produced Who album ever, due in part to the professional techniques of Kit Lambert along with the innovative ones done by himself.

The instrumental “I Am the Sea” acts as overture with snippets of vocals of future songs over ocean and rain sounds, Townshend went out and recorded these sounds personally at various locations in England. “The Real Me” is the first “real” song, driven by a guitar riff and an impressive bass performance by John Entwistle, which was recorded in one take. Lyrically, this song acts as an introduction to Jimmy Cooper, his four personalities, his visits to a psychiatrist, and his domestic situation. Another long instrumental follows with the title track “Quadrophenia”, which kind of distracts the listener by having another instrumental so close to the intro, especially since this one is so theatrical.

The first side finishes with two very strong tunes. “Cut My Hair” is the first song to introduce a historical perspective, as the lyric details the Mod fashion and a radio broadcast near the end speaks of an actual riot in Brighton between Mods and Rockers. Sung by Townshend, this is a real good theatrical tune and contains great synth effects. “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is a pure climatic rock with great sound and lyrics and the first of several great performances on the album by drummer Keith Moon. In fact, this song may be “Exhibit A” that The Who can never really be The Who without Entwistle and Moon.

“I’m One” begins the original second side with a country-ish acoustic ballad with great ethereal guitar tone in the background, before it breaks into a much more upbeat tune. The introspective lyrics contemplate how the protagonist has not much going for him except for the Mod lifestyle. “The Dirty Jobs” is one of the great unheralded songs on Quadrophenia, led by a fantastic vocal performance by Daltry and innovative, melodic synths throughout, which pretty much replace guitars as the lead instrument on this song.

“Helpless Dancer” is the oddest song on first two sides, a march-like approach with horns, piano, and a short acoustic part in the middle. All four members have a theme song relating to one of Jimmy’s personalities, and this one is Daltry’s theme as the “Tough Guy”. The song ends with a short snippet of one of the band’s earliest hits, “The Kids Are Alright”. “Is It in My Head?” is a moderate and catchy acoustic song, which leads to “I’ve Had Enough”. Going through several phases, like some of the extended pieces on Tommy, “I’ve Had Enough” morphs from from a driving rock verse to the string infused “Love Reign O’er Me” part to the banjo-led hook part. Daltry carries the tune vocally, aptly setting the differing moods of the song.

5:15 single by The WhoOne of the only “hits” on the album, “5:15″ goes through a melodic journey telling a story that mainly observes the outside environment while traveling on a train. The song contains great horns, beautiful vocals, and especially great piano by guest Chris Stainton. The dramatic ending contains intense drums and thumping piano notes. The scene moves to Brighton with “Sea and Sand”, which alternates between folk-ish acoustic and pure, Who-style rock with lyrics that portray Jimmy’s affinity for the beach as an escape from the unpleasant realities of home and life in London.

The narrative continues with “Drowned”, a philosophical theme about losing one’s self in the ocean, in a suicidal attempt to become one with God. Set to upbeat music with great rotating piano, guitar licks, and more great drums. In fact, this may Moon’s best performance on the album, and that is saying something. “Drowned” is also the oldest song on Quadrophenia, initially written as an ode to Meher Baba in early 1970. Moon’s theme, “Bellboy” completes side three. It starts as a standard rocker with Daltry at vocals before the song gets taken over by Moon’s comical yet effective vocals. Lyrically it tells of a former Mod hero of Jimmy’s who has “sold out” and become a pathetic bellboy at a Brighton resort.

Entwistle’s theme is the “Is It Me?” part of “Doctor Jimmy” (which also shows up at various points of the album). With synthesized fiddle effects, horns, and great bass, this ambiguous loose reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” speaks again of the multiple personalities running through the story, but with alcohol being catalyst for the change. The longest song on the album, Daltry effectively plays both roles vocally. “The Rock” acts as both a long intro to final song and recap of much of the previous material, much like “Underture” from Tommy. In truth, “The Rock” is a bit of over-indulgent filler. The final song “Love, Reign O’er Me” is Townshend’s theme on the album, which again delves into the philosophy of Meher Baba as Jimmy finds his “true self” while on a stolen boat, during a storm in the sea. The song begins with some classical piano and orchestral instrumentations, later giving way to great synth effects and lead guitars, all by Townshend. But it is Daltry’s vocal performance which has gained the best critical response, with many considering this song the finest performance of his career.

Quadrophenia reached #2 on the U.S. album charts, the highest ever for The Who, kept from the top spot by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1979, the film Quadrophenia was released but focused more on the story than the music, which was relegated to mere background during certain scenes. Although the band viewed the original tour in support of the album as disastrous due to ineffective techniques of including synthesizers live in 1973, they revisited Quadrophenia in the future with a dedicated tour in 1996, and most recently this past November (2012), where the album was played in its entirety along with a few selected hits during the encore.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | The Who Quadrophenia | | Leave a comment

Steely Dan Aja (1977)


Aja was the best album produced by the Steely Dan. With the sixth album by the group, driven primarily by keyboardist and vocalist Donald Fagen and bassist Walter Becker, the songs became more sophisticated and oriented towards the individual songwriters. In fact, Fagen and Becker never really intended to have a band at all, just a songwriting team for ABC Records and producer Gary Katz. But when it became apparent that the duo’s songs were too complex for the average ABC artist, they enlisted four more musicians and formed Steely Dan (named after a sex toy in William Burrough’s poem “Naked Lunch”) in 1972. Although Katz and engineer Roger Nichols would produce all their classic albums in the seventies, the musicians surrounding Fagen and Becker would change rapidly. In fact, by 1974 the band had ceased touring and concentrated on studio work.

For Aja, Fagen and Becker decided to utilize the vast amount of session musicians available in the Los Angeles area, especially top-notch jazz and rock musicians. In all, nearly forty musicians would perform on the seven-song album, including six different drummers, seven different guitarists, and eight to ten vocalists. Fagen and Becker were sonic perfectionists, not compromising on their envisioned sound. With the musicians, they obsessively employed a two step process that involved first perfecting their part and then getting beyond to where it sounds improvised and natural. For most of Aja they accomplished this well.

The album became the group’s best-selling album and their first to go platinum. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording in 1978 and has become regarded by most as Steely Dan’s finest work. Last April (2011), the album was added to the United States National Recording Registry and deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”.

The album crashes in with the simple bass and key groove of “Black Cow”, modern sound by 1977 standards. But with the introduction of the fine chorus made of multiple voices, it is clear this is Steely Dan. The song gradually builds through a vibraphone lead by Victor Feldman, later swelling into some fine brass which adds a much more jazzy touch to the already upbeat tune. Although the writers claim a “black cow” is simply a milkshake from their childhood days around New York City, it may be a jazz metaphor on 1970s nightlife. The main riff of the song was reused for the hip hop “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)” by Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz.

The title song “Aja” follows as a progressive jazz suite that hops skips and jumps all around the musical palette. It incorporates elements of Caribbean music, progressive rock, and swing within the eight minute epic, which incorporates pieces of older, unreleased songs. The song is the longest and most musically complex song that Becker and Fagen ever attempted and it features several virtuoso performances, including those by drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Denny Dias, and tenor sax by Wayne Shorter that is the purest jazz Steely Dan ever recorded.

“Deacon Blues” is the absolute pinnacle of the Steely Dan sound. It is built of complex piano chord patterns that never really seem to repeat and flavored with just the right amount of brass, laid back at some intervals, forceful and pulling at others. There great vocals throughout, starting with the perfectly delivered lead by Fagen and the ensemble of backing vocals during the choruses. The drum beat by legend Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is perfect, a guide rail along the tour that keeps all moving at a constant pace despite the ever changing sonic surprises throughout the song’s duration. Becker described the lyrics as “close to autobiography”, about suburban kids looking for some king of alternative culture, imagining what it is like to be a jazz musician or beat poet in the city. The song contains the memorable lyric;

“They’ve got a name for the winners in the world, I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues…”

Here they use the analogy of college football success (Alabama Crimson Tide) and failure (Wake Forest Demon Deacons) in the 1970s, stressing their desire to be with the losers, the outsiders, the alternative. “Deacon Blues” was also a rarity in being a complex and extended piece which also became a popular hit, peaking at #19 on the Top 40 charts.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1977The biggest pop hit from Aja is “Peg”, which contains a funky guitar riff, lead horns, slap bass, and layers of jazzy vocal harmonies led by Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Even this relatively simple song, has a jazz oriented edge and an uncanny melody. Ever the perfectionists, the song’s guitar solo was attempted by seven different session guitarists before Fagen and Becker agreed that Jay Graydon‘s version was the best. Still, Graydon worked on it for about six hours before they were satisfied.

“Home At Last” is a nostalgic look back at New York after Fagen and Becker relocated to California. The song once again features Purdie on drums (doing his famous “Purdie Shuffle”) as well as Chicago blues-man Larry Carlton on guitar. “I Got the News” follows as a typical mid seventies Steely Dan tune, perhaps the most uninspired on this album.

The album concludes with “Josie”, the most rock-oriented song on the album, albeit heavily funk oriented. In fact, the album’s liner notes refers to the song as “punkadelia”, a fusion of funk with a more sardonic lyric. The recording features several more studio innovations ranging from the incorporation of synthesizers to the inclusion of a garbage can lid by drummer Jim Keltner.

Aja is a measured and textured album, filled with subtle melodies and lush instrumental backdrops. On this album Steely Dan would reach heights that they could not replicate in the future, as they would release only one album (1980′s Gaucho) over the following two decades. Aja was Donald Fagen and Walter Becker at their finest.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Steely Dan Aja | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Coda (1982)


Coda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)

The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975′s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.

With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.

“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant’s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.

Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.

“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.

Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin’”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.

“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.

Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.

The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Coda | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Ragged Glory (1990)


If there were one word to describe the twists and turns that have comprised Neil Young’s career, that word would have to be unapologetic. There is no other way to define the discography of a man who flouted conventional wisdom at every turn and defied commercial success for damn near a decade, simply because that was what he felt like doing.

In the 1970’s, Neil became a household name through albums like Harvest and Comes A Time, before closing out the decade with the critically-acclaimed Rust Never Sleeps. ‘80s Neil, meanwhile, dropped off the face of the earth, releasing bewildering experimental records in Vocoder technology (Trans) and rockabilly (Everybody’s Rockin’). If not for the streamlined, commercial power of “Rockin’ In The Free World,” Young would have exited the Reagan era as a footnote.

With a measure of a hit on his hands, Young re-charted course and revived his successful partnership with Crazy Horse, the backing band to end all backing band debates. Thus, Ragged Glory was born, a fitting title for a man and a group who had been through so much throughout the years. After the quirky output Young had released during the ‘80s, bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Ragged Glory comes as a breath of fresh air, and reminder of Young’s rocking prowess.

The highest praise I can offer this album is that one could place it anywhere amongst the finest Neil Young & Crazy Horse records of the 1970’s and it would fit in perfectly with its brethren. When Young & Co. get together, the formula rarely changes; it is just a question of how strong the material is. With this album, though, there is no doubt that Young was at the top of his game, utilizing Crazy Horse perfectly once more.

As if to directly remind people of the good ol’ days, Young saw fit to leadoff Ragged Glory with two tracks that had been performed since the early ‘70s, floating around in the ether before finally being put down on tape. “Country Home” and “White Line” are both built around incredibly catchy central riffs that continue on throughout the song while allowing, of course, the requisite time for Young and Crazy Horse to build off them. In the age of grunge, it must have been nice to hear two songs with such a timeless quality to them.

Truth be told, there are legitimate reasons why Neil Young is considered the godfather of grunge. There are the obvious Cobain connections that have been discussed to death, but when one actually listens to the heavier Young material, the similarities begin to grow. Young’s material was always more firmly planted in the classic rock era, but the relatively basic riffing and bare bones production are merely a few shades different than say, Nevermind. A track like “Fuckin’ Up” shares an attitude with the best of what grunge had to offer (which admittedly, in this reviewer’s opinion, was not much).

Ironically, despite the raw, heavy sound that Ragged Glory has to offer, there are some rather tender, sweet moments here. Lest we forget, Neil Young came to prominence in the 1960’s, and rest assured, his hippie tendencies have not dissipated over the years. You have Young reminding us that “Love and only love will endure,” while not forgetting to close out the proceedings with a genuinely beautiful ode to “Mother Earth.” It’s not Chaucer or Keats, but the sentiment is what we have come to expect from Young.

Ragged Glory would be followed by Harvest Moon, a return to a different form for Neil Young. But the combination of these two records served notice that Young was far from done being heard by the ‘90s, and would continue to keep on doing things his way. Twenty years later, that is still the case.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Ragged Glory | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Eternal Magic (Berlin, July 1980)


A popular band’s final show can be taken to be their definitive statement. The final word on what was a brilliant and creative career. As such, one can look at great final shows by Cream in 1968 and The Band in 1976. (Although both bands did play again in the subsequent years, they were more of a nostalgic trip than any display of creativity.

Led Zeppelin were not given an opportunity to prepare for their last show. The final show in Berlin on July 7th wasn’t even supposed to be the final show of the European tour, but a show in Berlin on July 8th that was on the original itinerary was cancelled.

July 7th serves as the final statement of Led Zeppelin only because of the tragic death of drummer John Bonham. It is in realty a mediocre gig. This is the final show of their first tour in three years and they sound tired, even to the point of dropping the one epic number in the show “Achilles Last Stand.”

Given its historic significance, bootlegs have been in circulation since shortly after the show documenting the event. An audience tape was booted on vinyl on Bonzo’s Last Ever Gig In Berlin July 1980 (Z 8077). The soundboard was used for the popular vinyl boots Bonzo’s Last Ever Gig (Amazing Stork 7780 A-F) and Last Stand (Toasted Recordworks TRW 1999). Two songs from the soundboard, “Rock And Roll” and “Whole Lotta Love,” appear as bonus tracks on Live In Zurich (Toasted Recordworks TRW 1951).

Almost all of the compact disc releases utilize the soundboard recording with the first Final Touch (Condor 1998) and Last Stand (Condor 1999) in 1989. These two are don’t have the complete show and the set list is messed up.

Better versions were issued on Complete Berlin (SIRA 111/112), Bonzo At Last (Seagull CD027/2) with three songs from Bremen, The Last (Immigrant IM-010~2) with some of the audience recording, The Final Tour European Daze 1980 (PATRIOT003-1/2), The Complete Last Concert (Baby Face BF29/30) with “Achilles Last Stand” from Rotterdam, Heineken (Tarantura LAST 1,2) which is considered THE rarest Tarantura titles ever produced and one of the rarest bootleg CDs in the world, and Berlin 1980 (Tarantura 1980-25, 26) part of Tarantura’s massive 1980 tour set.

The encores are on Spare Parts 1980 (POT-003), “Black Dog,” “In The Evening,” “Rain Song,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and “Rock And Roll” appear on the final disc of the boxset Cabala (OSOZ 001/8), and some material are on the two box sets Through The Years (Big Music BIG 4001~4005) in 1993 and Another Trip (Big Music BIG 4023~4027) in 1994.

In 2008 Godfather Records released A Memory Frozen Forever (Godfather Records GR265/266) which uses the soundboard recording with the audience source used as filler. The audience is used at the very beginning before “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” for fifteen seconds between 5:51 to 6:06 after “All My Love” of Plant saying “that was one of the more recent things” and for the audience anticipation before “Rock And Roll.”

But the ultimate release for Berlin was issued by Empress Valley in 2002. Eternal Magic comes packaged in a four-fold cardboard sleeve which fits into a deluxe box along with a 3″ bonus disc with radio reports and a miniature reproduction of the concert poster. The soundboard recording is found on discs one and two and sound as good as the best sounding releases. EV also use the audience tape to fill in the gap after “All My Love.”

On discs three and four EV use an excellent sounding audience tape which is much better at picking up the atmosphere of the gig. It is close to the stage, very clear and is one of the best sounding tapes from the tour. While the soundboard recording is very good, Eternal Magic fills a considerable need because it is the only title to feature a complete audience tape from this show and is essential for those of us who prefer audience tapes to soundboards.

Eissporthalle, Berlin, Germany – July 7th, 1980


Disc 1 (67:43): Train Kept a Rollin’, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Black Dog, In The Evening, Rain Song, Hot Dog, All My Love, Trampled Underfoot, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 2 (67:44): White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love


Disc 3 (68:43): Train Kept a Rollin’, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Black Dog, In The Evening, Rain Song, Hot Dog, All My Love, Trampled Underfoot, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 4 (73:39): White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love

After the opening show in Dortmund the tour peaked with the shows in Zurich and Frankfurt and hit its nadir with the two concerts in Mannheim. Munich was a solid tour and the final in Berlin draws mixed assessments from Zeppelin collectors. Some love it and others hate it, but in reality it is a solid show with some slow parts.

It is the result of their on stage experimenting in preparation for their return to the U.S. in the fall. What the set list would have been isn’t known, but one imagines that the numbers from In Through The Out Door would have been kept, “Carouselambra” was rumored to be included, and “The Rain Song” and “White Summer” might have been dropped. “Train Kept A Rollin’” sounds very frantic in this show and there is a pause afterwards instead of a clean segue into the next song “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Jimmy Page says, “Good evening all. It’s nice to see you, and it’s nice to be seen I can tell you. We got a number from the annals of rock history. It’s not called ‘Black Dog Jimmy’ but called ‘Schwartz Hund.’” Again “Black Dog” is very strong with a fluid solo by Page in the song. Plant’s first words are: “As Jimmy already said, good evening. What he didn’t say was, I know how he feels because he loves this town very much. Well, we’re back. We managed to get an album together eighteen months two years ago called In Through The Out Door. This is a track from that called ‘In The Evening.’” This is one of their strongest latter day numbers. At Knebworth it was played late in the set with Page’s guitar solo and a Bonham tympani solo serving as a long introduction. But on the final tour it was moved up earlier in the set without the bombast. The song really didn’t need it since it has plenty of bite on its own.

“This is from one of the very very formative parts of it all…” Plant says before the next song. Someone shouts out “Rock And Roll!” ”No, that was another formative part. This is called ‘The Rain Song.’” Plant gives a long introduction to “Hot Dog” again referencing the Showco staff, and “All My Love” is played with no introduction as it is on all the stops on the tour.

On most dates Jones begins the keyboard solo too fast but in Berlin he plays it perfect. “Trampled Underfoot” is dedicated to the roadies and this twelve minute version is one of the better ones on tape. Page and Jones change tempos throughout the solo lending a heaviness the studio version only hinted at, and Page plays a dense, expressionistic solo in the middle.

“Achilles Last Stand” is dropped for the only time on this tour. Page calls it a “readjustment of the program” but no explanation was ever given. The low point of the show is the incoherent mess Page makes of “White Summer.” It isn’t all his fault since, as he explains at the beginning, his Danelectro wasn’t tuned properly and it sounds like he is fighting the guitar throughout the piece. However, he gets lost in the middle and it takes him about ten minutes to find his way out.

This is one of his classic numbers and it is a shame that the final performance of the piece is so poor. The final song of the set “Stairway To Heaven” reaches fourteen minutes and is the longest ever performance of the classic. Page in particular attempts never before heard riffs and produces a solo of astounding beauty. Godfather includes a full six minute track of audience cheering afterwards before the first encore “Rock And Roll.”

The final encore of “Whole Lotta Love” is one of the most intriging tracks in the latter days of Zeppelin. This represents yet another recasting of the song and unlike the “Whole Lotta Love” / “Heartbreaker” experiment in Dortmund this one works. This eighteen minute wonder has been dubbed the “industrial” version but such an appellation is really unfair. Industrial music as an art-form wasn’t invented until several years later. What distinguishes this track is that Jone Paul Jones, for the only time, plays the lead on bass guitar. With the distorted treble he sounds like John Entwistle and this recalls the way The Who would jam in concert.

Disc 5 (3:52): The Radio Report

The bonus disc is very short, just under four minutes long. It contains several snippets from the radio with the news reports of his death and from December 4th, 1980 when Zeppelin issued their break up press release. The djs and promoters spend some time speculating on the wording of the release, whether “continue as we were” means they are breaking up or if they reforming under a different name. Subsequent history confirms it is indeed a break up and all the other talk was merely wishful thinking.

Overall, Eternal Magic is the ultimate release covering Led Zeppelin’s final concert. Some have said that the front cover, showing John Bonham’s tombstone, is creepy or morbid. However, the point of having tombstones is to remember the person who is buried and recall his contributions in life. That is indeed the spirit of Bonham’s tombstone and the intention of Empress Valley by placing it on the front cover. It serves as an appropriate memorial for Bonham.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Eternal Magic | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Casino Royale (Montreux, August 1971 & Milan, July 1971)


Montreux Casino, Montreux, Switzerland – August 7, 1971

Velodromo Vigorelli, Milano, Italy – July 5, 1971 (Disc 2 tracks 5-7)

Disc 1: Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Going to California, That’s The Way

Disc 2: Celebration Day, What Is and What Should Never Be, Whole Lotta Love Medley, Weekend, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed and Confused

The first of two shows in Montreux, this is a very good audience recording with slight background hum only noticeable in the quieter moments. The mix varies throughout the night but for the most part all instruments are audible with Plant’s vocals way out front and the bass a bit overshadowed at times. Some portions of the recording sound slightly distant while others sound very close to the speakers. This tape is rumored to have been recorded in front of speakers outside the venue placed there to accommodate all the people that showed up and could not get in. A very nice gesture by Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin.

From the start of “Immigrant Song” it is apparent that the band is on and Jimmy’s playing is fluent and precise with the “Heartbreaker” solos a standout. Great version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and a superb “Black Dog” sounds very similar to the studio version tonight.

Just after “Dazed” the tape starts to sounds gurgled, almost as if under water and the hum becomes more noticeable. Robert’s vocal performance is outstanding at the end of “Stairway to Heaven”, hitting all the high notes, but unfortunately, there is a tape flaw and a cut in the solo. The quiver in the sound is also noticeable throughout the acoustic set. The band gets lost for a moment in “Celebration Day” and the beginning of the slide solo in “What Is” has Page searching for the notes, but these things hardly detract from such an overall exceptional show. This may be the first live performance of “Celebration Day”, not inside a medley.

There is a slight increase in tape speed about two minutes into “Whole Lotta Love” but nothing too distracting. The medley here treats us to an unexpected, although short, version of “Ramble On”. This being played like the version on Led Zeppelin II and not with the “For What It’s Worth” arrangement as was used at the Boston Garden almost one year earlier. Eddie Cochran’s “Weekend” is the encore tonight. This predates the August 21 version at The Forum.

This recording is a nice surprise after all these years and a very welcome addition to the live Zeppelin catalog. Definitely Led Zeppelin at their best. It will be interesting to see what Tarantura does with this tape as their release, Peter’s PA, was scheduled shortly after Casino Royale.

The bonus tracks here are from July 5 in Milan and are an upgrade from the previous IQ release, Short Cuts. The recording is good with the vocals being very distorted. EV runs at the proper speed and is louder and clearer sounding, however, there is tape bleed on Empress’ version. Other music can be heard in the background most notably in the bow section of “Dazed”. This may be from boosting the levels but there are some tape flutters on IQ that aren’t on EV. Empress has a few extra seconds at the start of the tape and “Dazed and Confused” is five minutes longer than on Short Cuts.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Casino Royale | , | Leave a comment

Genesis A Trick Of The Tail (1976)


Exit Peter Gabriel, enter … actually, nobody. Upon his departure, the band auditioned scores of possible replacements for Pete, but something tells me they weren’t going to choose a new person anyways. After all, no matter how good the replacement might turn out to be, chances are that he would always be looked upon as an inferior ‘outsider’ by the fanbase, and the band would certainly have problems if that occurred. So the band did the only logical thing – they promoted from within the organization. Hence, Phil rose from his drumkit (well, at least in live performances – the studio drumming still is the same wonderful Collins work as ever) and into the position of singer and frontman for the group.

Now, in a lot of ways, this choice seemingly made sense, and not just because he was already a group member. At the most basic level, Phil’s voice isn’t all that different from Peter’s, and so there wouldn’t be as huge of a shock for the listener’s ears upon hearing a new album. Plus, Phil had had the opportunity to sing lead on a couple of songs in the past, and while the efforts weren’t spectacular or anything like that, they certainly weren’t bad. Add in that his backing vocals were often just as important for the vocal harmonies as Peter’s were, and you had yourself an almost textbook choice for a replacement. Right? Right?

Er … sort of, but in a lot of ways, no. The main problem with Phil the lead singer, at least at this point, is that he’s just not that creative in his singing approach. Oh sure, he sounds fine when he’s belting full power, but when the compositions and lyrics call for subtle nuances and variations from line to line, he really comes up short. His singing tone isn’t usually bad mind you, but it’s very monotonous and does little to help draw your attention to the material. Not to mention that traditional Genesis compositions rely heavily on the singer’s ability to hook the listener in, as the arrangments are never chaotic enough a la Yes to be able to get by with just a straightforward vocal “covering,” like what Phil mostly provides here. I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say Phil’s vocals on this album are a weakness, but I would say that this album took what was once one of the band’s greatest strengths and turned it into a relative non-factor.

Then there’s the songs themselves. Best as I can tell, the band members didn’t really wish to try and gallump about for an altogether new stylistic approach like they had on The Lamb. After all, the fans had already undergone one major catastrophic change in Gabriel’s departure, and the last thing they would want would be a total break from the Genesis they had grown to know and love. Hence, while there are certainly some significant changes (not all of them for the better, mind you) from the “classic” style, this album is certainly much more in line with England than with Lamb. But really, that ends up hurting the album a bit – they try to capture the old vibe, but with Peter away, it was gone forever, and trying to recapture it without the requisite parts was ultimately a futile effort. They could now be nothing more than a Genesis imitation (albeit still a really good imitation), and that meant that, however good the album could be, it would have to be the last in that style. Of course, where they ended up was a disaster, but I digress …

There is one really really huge difference between England and Trick, and that is the arrangements. England boasted a perfect balance and meeting point between Tony and Steve, whereas this album continues the Lamb path of tipping the balance well into Tony’s favor. However, while Lamb found Tony’s keys creating ghostly black-and-white paintings of the netherworld, Trick finds Tony’s synths getting just a little too obnoxious in tone for me in places. Steve isn’t invisible, as there are a few parts where he’s clearly in the front of the mix (though it should be noted that his guitar sound on this album, for the most part, is nowhere near as satisfying as on England or on his solo album from a year earlier, Voyage of the Acolyte), but for the most part he’s back to being a featured supporting player (providing good texture as best as he can), and not a lot more. The best example is what happens during his solo in Ripples, as mentioned in the page introduction; of all the moments when Tony should have just scooted into the background, this was it, but instead we get the marring of what should have been one of the all-time beautiful moments in prog rock (for proof of how good this track could be when the guitar was given full emphasis, see Archive 2).

So, after all that complaining, I still give the album an overall B because the actual songs are very good. The only one I’m not especially thrilled about is the rambling Banks “ballad” Mad Man Moon. Granted, it represents a definite break in style and form from Gabriel Genesis, which is an “advancement” I suppose, but I liked that style and form, dang it. The song has some moments that almost leave me thinking they’re beautiful (until I wonder what exactly would distinguish them from plenty of other keyboard-based prog bands), and the song takes a nice turn during the piano breaks and the “hey man, I’m the sand man part,” but the lyrics are unremarkable on the whole, and the song tries too hard for a beauty that just isn’t really there.

But the rest is mostly fabulous – at least, the songs are. As an example, the opening Dance on a Volcano is stricken with annoying *squeak* noises coming from Steve’s guitar in the beginning and some ridiculous tones from Tony’s synths throughout … on the other hand, the synth riff underpinning the vocal melody is absolutely genial, and the main melody itself is nothing to sneeze at either. And of course, there’s later the gorgeous Rutherford ballad Ripples, with Phil’s best vocal performance of the album, an incredibly beautiful chorus to go with the nice verses, and of course the pretty Steve solo.

My favorite, though, has to be the cute Mike/Tony composition Squonk, about a hunted creature who cries himself to non-existence when finally captured by the “narrator.” The song incorporates a good chunk of 12-string guitars, Phil’s powerhouse drumming grooves things along well, and the organ riff in the chorus is fabulous! It also features a vocal melody that’s pretty complex but still very memorable, and the vocal parts are sometimes even moving! It also doesn’t hurt that it’s poppy at its core.

The other four songs are very good as well. Entangled is a nice Hackett/Banks (!) collaboration, with a pretty melody, lots of acoustic guitar and appropriate touches of mellotron here and there. And the slow winding synth part at the end is remarkable – Banks does a good enough job of building up the tension and volume such that the piece doesn’t really seem as overlong as it probably is.

Two of the other tracks also have heavy input from Banks, as one is a collaboration with Collins and the other is a solo composition. Strangely enough, the solo composition, the title track, turns out to be the second best song on the album, which means it’s really really good. It’s actually poppy in its essence, which is a surprise given the source, and both the verse and choral melodies are incredibly memorable. Plus, the lyrics are actually entertaining for once, as they tell the story of a runaway devil who discovers that life among humans isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But the poppiness also extends to the other track on here, the Harold-the-Barrel-inspired Robbery, Assault and Battery. On this track, Phil comes the closest he ever would to fufilling his calling as Gabriel’s heir of funny characterizations, and while it’s certainly no Battle of Epping Forest, it’s certainly not the “worst Genesis song ever” like some fans apparently say it is. Some of the mid-song synth soloing sounds a little amateurish, but I don’t mind it horribly.

Finally, capping off the album (and possibly making up for lack of other inspiration), we have an instrumental reprise of some ot the various themes found throughout in Los Endos. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, though – there are bits and pieces of new music in there, and the way they interweave the parts from Volcano and Squonk is quite fascinating. Why Phil sings a quote from Supper’s Ready near the end continues to elude me, but no matter – the melodies mostly rule, and while the arrangement isn’t perfect, parts of it are fantastic (my favorite part is that brief “teasing” guitar line near the very end). It would get much better live, anyway.

So all in all, this is a pretty great album … but that’s because it’s rooted in a very great style, even if there have been some small changes here and there. For the first time in the development of this style, there is no track that tops the best effort of the previous album (remember, I’m not counting Lamb in this sequence, as it really doesn’t fit), and the weaknesses are beginning to rear their ugly heads again. But the songs are still great, and that’s what matters.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Genesis A Trick Of The Tail | | Leave a comment

The Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds Of Fire (1973)


It’s tough to bottle lightning once, and this band did it twice. Dispensing more otherworldly magic, Birds Of Fire doesn’t build on its predecessor so much as it continues their dazzling group interplay. Perhaps it lacks the freshness of Inner Mounting Flame, but that’s primarily because that album came first, and this one in fact is probably a better example of the “fusion” term that the band is so closely identified with.

Indeed, there are more sections that could be called “jazz” and less fretboard frying hard rock on this one (perhaps that’s why I slightly prefer the debut), as McLaughlin (who again wrote every song) even dedicates a song (“Miles Beyond”) to mentor Miles Davis. Other differences between the two albums are that the songs here (aside from the ten minute long “One Word”) are generally shorter, while Hammer has a more pronounced role as he adds more modern electric keyboards and synthesizer sounds (check out his trombone impersonation on “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters”!).

As for the songs, the title track begins the proceedings and is almost as mind blowing as “Meeting Of The Spirits.” One listen to this and it’s easy to see why this band was so influential back in their day, and why they were so popular among rock audiences. Elsewhere, “Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love” (is it me, or are some of these song titles sorta silly?) shows McLaughlin to be an amazing acoustic guitar player as well, in case you had any doubts, while “Hope” is a short, mellower piece that nevertheless showcases the band’s tightly controlled rhythm section.

The album’s centerpiece song, “One Word,” then follows, and it’s arguably the most important song of the original band’s brief but bright career together. A largely improvised epic, the rhythm section quickly settles into a low-key groove before Rick Laird takes control with a rare bass solo. Each player eventually chimes in, at times interrupting each other as they all go for broke, before Cobham is spotlighted for a 2-minute drum solo (that’s actually not boring), after which they all join in again at the end. A well thought through follow up after that exhausting exercise, “Sanctuary” continues onward with a slow, mournful melody, led along by Goodman’s moody violin.

Finally, “Open Country Joy” takes a minute to get going but again brings forth plenty of guitar flash from McLaughlin, before the band smartly comes down again with “Resolution,” which provides a short, low-key conclusion to another classic album. Alas, they couldn’t keep it up, as ego clashes and “musical differences” splintered the band apart soon after the release of this second milestone offering, though they released another less impressive live album (Between Nothingness and Eternity) in 1973 and a belated third studio album would surface in 1999 (The Lost Trident Sessions).

Though McLaughlin would recruit new members and continue to do good work under the Mahavishnu name (while also pursuing a solo career), it is the original lineup that deserves to be long remembered, because for two albums they were the best fusion band ever.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds Of Fire | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


A great idea that unfortunately was not carried out ideally. It is indeed hard to imagine a more blistering pair than Carlos and the inimitable “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin, one of the most renowned jazz/jazz-rock guitarists of all time. And a lot of the stuff on their common project is awesome beyond words. But I feel that the resulting product does not entirely do justice to the talents of both. With a little more elaboration, a little more diversity, and a little less pretention, it could have been one of the greatest guitar albums of all time; as such, it is just a “technically immaculate” record.

It is still quite good, though. The backing band on here is mixed, with organ player Khalid Yasin being the only prominent member apart from the two string-bending dudes, and he’s excellent at his job, contributing worthy instrumental passages that are far less trivial and generally more polished technically than those of Gregg Rolie. All the other time, it’s just Santana and McLaughlin fighting off each other.

The songs on here are credited either to Coltrane or McLaughlin, but it really doesn’t matter because there are no “melodies” as such – just endless jamming on three lengthy marathons (‘A Love Supreme’, ‘The Life Divine’, ‘Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord’) which all sound basically the same. The sound that the guitarists achieve is indeed stellar: miriads of blistering arpeggios laid on each other at lightning speed, finger-flashing battles with the guitars soaring into the sky, falling down from an enormous height, swimming undewater, emerging and rising out again – ‘The Life Divine’ sounds like something absolutely impossible first time around.

I can’t even tell who exactly is playing – both guitars play more or less in the same style, and since both Carlos and John were tremendously well-practiced, it’s up to the real expert to tell. But that’s not a problem, and who cares anyway? The problem is, apart from those flashy duels, they hardly do anything else that would be interesting. With ten and fifteen-minute jams, you’d expect at least a careful approach to their structuring, with grappling build-ups and diverse approaches to playing.

But there are no build-ups at all: the guitarists just crash into whatever groove they find appropriate from the very beginning, and instead of steady climactic “rises” you get sloppy anti-climactic “falls” – after stunning you for two minutes or so with lightning-speed passages, they proceed to bore you for a couple more minutes with clearly inferior pieces. And when they skip the boring parts and proceed to a ‘never-ending cathartic groove’ on ‘Let Us Go…’, it’s actually worse: one can only experience a musical orgasm for so long, and when two guitar professionals challenge us with their inhumane skills and heavenly guitar workouts for ten years on end, the initial feeling of amazement and awe finally melts down to boredom.

I mean, it’s terrific to witness a juggler juggle his balls for two or three minutes without stopping, but when he goes on juggling until the tenth or fifteenth minute and you already understand very well that it is within his possibilities not to stop juggling until he drops dead, the novelty factor wears away and the rotten eggs make their appearance. Same here.

Some brief relief is being provided with short acoustic ‘interludes’ (‘Naima’, ‘Meditation’) which are pretty, but little else, and don’t really amount to much; McLaughlin fans probably won’t find anything new in them, and Santana fans will probably twirl their nose at such an untypical style.

It almost seems as if the duo were intentionally concentrating on just one type of sound, completely shrouded in their ‘cosmical conscience’ – this coincides with the peak of Santana’s spiritual period, and as for Mahavishnu, well, he’d always been a freaky kind of guy. So this album is not just a mindless jam session; no, it is obviously intended as some sort of ardent spiritual declaration for both (although the only lyrics on the album are the chantings of ‘a love supreme’ and ‘the life divine’, so some might not understand that). This means that some might actually tune their own soul up to the project and even find some deep religious meaning within.

Me, I just think there is a lot of beauty in these tunes, but an overabundance of beauty isn’t necessarily a good thing.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment