Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Concert Review: US Air Arena, Washington, March 1995

SignPage can still play; Plant can’t sing like he used to, is the conclusion I had after seeing Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on March 23 (my golden birthday) at the U.S. Air Arena in DC. The first part of the set was done in with standard rock versions of their songs. For a moment I wondered what happened to all the innovativeness present on No Quarter, but I needn’t have feared—it was just late in coming.

They opened with some sort of a poem—I think it was recited by someone who didn’t have a English or American accent. Then the introduction to Immigrant Song followed by the Wanton song was played. They followed it up with Celebration Day, Thank You, and Dancin’ Days. The first surprise of the show came when they played Shake my Tree which was originally done by the Coverdale/Page duo. Plant has made fun of Coverdale in various interviews, but I preferred Coverdale’s singing to Plant’s attempt at it. However, they could’ve picked other songs from C/P that would’ve gone over a lot better. Page was on the Theremin for this one.

Yet another surprise followed when they played Lullaby (originally performed by the Cure) accompanied by guitarist Porl Thompson who played a few more songs with them. Then it was No Quarter and Gallows Pole. Things really started to liven up when they introduced Nigel Eaton on the Hurdy Gurdy. It was interesting to hear my first Hurdy Gurdy live solo ever. They then went on to Nobody’s Fault but Mine, The Song Remains the same, Since I’ve been Loving You (which was when the strings orchestra joined in), and Friends (introducing the Egyptian orchestra). This was then followed by a medley of Calling to You, Light my Fire (by the Doors—which surprised me a bit), and a bit of Dazed and Confused. The last two songs before the encore were Four Sticks and In the Evening. Page’s guitar working on Black Dog during the encore was excellent, particularly the solo part. They toppped the whole set with Kashmir.

The set list choice was indeed excellent. The guitar playing was somewhat, rather typically, sloppy but still excellent. Plant’s vocals were never upto mark. This was most evident in their encore when they did Black Dog. But this shouldn’t be a surprise since Plant doesn’t do the high notes on The Battle of Evermore (which was a notable absence in this set list along with Stairway to Heaven. I don’t think Plant could’ve sung the high (and my favourite) part anyway). It’s not to say that Plant is a bad singer, but that he can’t do the vocal gymnastics he used to do before. In terms of a show however, it was quite well done—there was a lot of psychedelic projection to keep the audience engaged.

Rusted Root opened. I like this band a lot, especially the popular tune Send me on My Way, which I missed because we arrived late at the show. But I thought they performed the two songs I saw rather well, even though it wasn’t as polished and tight as the studio versions—there was some spontaneity that resulted because of this and I thought this was good. They remind me a lot of Jethro Tull, and I figure opening for Page and Plant, they should’ve gained some notoriety.

Plant asked “Can you feel it?” The DJ at DC101 didn’t seem to have a clue as to what he was talking about, but I have a suspicion it was about haze of pot that hung over the audience. Maybe my experience would’ve been better if I had smoked a joint, but I think of all the dinosaurs that are crawling out of the woodwork (oxymoron), Page and Plant are definitely on the bottom half of my list as far as playing live is concerned, but definitely on the upper end in terms of album release. I do think all the versions of songs on No Quarter are extremely well done and fresh-sounding, but they do not hold up well when played live, especially at a big arena.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Washington 1995 | | Leave a comment

Van Der Graaf Generator The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome (1977)

1238775159_1977-the-quiet-zone-the-pleasure-dome-600x600From starling.rinet.ru

Aaaaaarrrggh! Bands don’t get more inconsistent than this. Just when you thought Hammill had finally managed to balance the weirdness of his lyrics with the weirdness of his music, making the former more comprehensible and meaningful and the latter more groovy and memorable, the hammer of the gods strike again. Maybe Peter thought that with World Record he started getting more commercial or something; whatever the circumstances, in between 1976 and 1977 the band went through a number of radical transformations. Banton quit, and old pal Nic Potter returned on bass; and one more member was added to the lineup in Graham Smith, whose violin is supposed to form some kind of ‘sonic opposition’ to Jackson’s saxophone. With all this, it was decided to change the band’s name, and it was shortened to Van der Graaf, with the ‘generator’ left off for good.

So far so good. This lineup’s one and only studio record was again ‘conceptual’ in character, and even if it was just one LP, it actually came out as if it were two separate albums, The Quiet Zone on one side and The Pleasure Dome on the other. It even featured two separate album covers – two “front sleeves” instead of a front one and a back one. I actually prefer the back one, but that’s not the problem with the album. The songs are also significantly shorter: so short, in fact, that it becomes possible to fit in four of them on each side (plus a mini-reprise of ‘Sphinx In The Face’ at the end). So, with all the lineup changes, the band name change, the new concept principle, and the shortened tracks, where do we head off?

In Pawn Hearts direction again, that’s where. I can’t stand this record and, like with Pawn Hearts, I only give it a six out of respect for the guy and some interesting bits and pieces that crop up occasionally. First of all, the lyrics are whacko once again – yeah, sure, it was pretty hard for Peter to keep contained, and apparently, after dropping ‘generator’, he felt free to leave the limited imagery circle of Godbluff, Still Life, and World Record and started once more revelling in an endless sea of useless graphomany.

At times I can still see the misanthropic, ‘claustrophobic’ imagery, but most of the time, he just rambles about nothing. Is this poetry? Could be, but I sense no magic in these words; Hammill can be a really clever guy when he wants to, but he’s not a crafted word-wielder like Dylan, and when he begins spouting nonsense, it only makes me puke. That said, it’s not exactly random nonsense, like the one found in ‘Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers’; nearly each of these songs seems to be telling a story, but goddammit if I can figure out the idea in any of them.

And the music? Broken and rambling. Over the last three records, we all had a fair chance to witness Hammill and company in action, as they slowly progressed in their jazzy sound, learning how to build up interesting, involving grooves, based on competent riffage and smooth, well-flowing vocal harmonies. Their songs even offended the diehard proghead so as to feature memorable melodies – something you could actually hum to yourself when the record was over. Well, thanks to the Great God of All Things Progressive, that obstacle has been safely overcome, and neither in the quiet zone nor within the pleasure dome you won’t find even a single memorable melody. The level of dissonance is dangerously high, the riffs make way for psychedelic violin solos and broken up, wimpy sax passages, and what’s even more disgusting, the guitar is out of question again (and this, after the wonderful solos on World Record).

It’s really hard for me to discuss the individual tunes, since I’m used to discussing what kind of melody and what kind of instrumentation produce what kind of emotional resonance within me – but since there are no discernible melodies, the instrumentation is bland and uniform, and the emotional resonance is universally at a zero level, I’m kinda stuck. Okay, I’m gonna make a try: ‘Lizard Play’ is pretty tolerable, due to a particularly angry, sardonic delivery from Peter, and, well, it’s the first tune on the album, after all: I admit that their sound here is rather unique, so it’s interesting to hear what they do with it for the first four minutes. But ‘The Habit Of The Broken Heart’ dissipates into rambling dust one minute after it starts, and after that it’s just disaster after disaster. The chorus harmonies in ‘The Sphinx In The Face’ (and its reprise, ‘The Sphinx Returns’) are an interesting, atmospheric idea, and ‘Chemical World’ is pretty energetic too (no it’s not eco-rock – do you think a guy as smart as Hammill would ever resort to eco-rock?). That’s about it.

For some reason, though, the record seems to be favoured by the fans and critics alike – even the All-Music Guide favoured it. Well, forget all the above – I’m probably a dumbhead who doesn’t recognize good avantgarde when he sees it. But hey, I’d say that if you wanna try out a weird record, why not concentrate on Trout Mask Replica instead? Captain Beefheart could really show this guy a trick or two (well, he probably did).

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Van Der Graaf Generator The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Texas Blues (Lewisville, August 1969)

gr400From collectorsmusicreviews.com

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

(65:04): Opening announcements, Train Kept a Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin’s hour long set at the Texas International Pop Festival routinely makes collectors’ top five lists for all time best Led Zeppelin concerts. Before an estimated 120,000 they deliver their standard festival set (minus “White Summer”). The common tape in circulation has been called a soundboard recording because of its clarity, but this is really an excellent quality audience recording taped on the stage. The second common tape is another great sounding audience tape that first appeared as Plays Pure Bob.

Empress Valley released several years ago Texas International Pop Festival(Empress Valley EVSDVD-A 004 & EVSD-439) which is an edit of those two tapes for a complete show. Godfather follow a similar tactic in editing together the two tapes. The disc begins with the second tape before the first tape cuts in. The second tape is also used to plug a hole in “Dazed And Confused” from 11:05 to 11:51. Compared to the Empress Valley, Godfather reduced the hiss and made the tape sound much more clear and powerful.

Also the stereo panning has been centred nicely. The only problem with this release, and what prevents Texas Blues to attaining definitive status, is the presence of diginoise beginning at 11:36 in “How Many More Times,” lasting through the song’s duration and also being present in “Communication Breakdown.”

The flaw is unfortunate because this comes so very close to being definitive. The disc begins with the audience recording picking up the band getting ready. The soundboard picks up with the announcer introducing the band, “Please welcome, the Led Zeppelin”. The “Train Kept A-Rollin” and “I Can’t Get You” are employed for the final time as the set opener.

Plant mentions problems the last time they visited Texas, saying: “It’s very nice to be back in Texas. Last time we were here it was a near disaster when we said we weren’t doing the festival and everything. We’d like to , this is the last date before we go back to England. So we really want it to be, have a nice time. So you can help us as well, right?” “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. Before their encore Plant says: “we’re going home tomorrow, and we got about two hours sleep, and we, despite, we’d like to say thanks for being a great audience, and we’d like to do one more. But, yeah I know, but we know what we’re gonna do.” “Communication Breakdown,” with a short bass, solo closes the event.

Texas Blues is packaged in a tri fold gatefold sleeve with several pictures from the era on the artwork. There are many versions of this show to choose from and Godfather, while having some problems, isn’t bad either and would be worth picking up if you don’t already own this show in some form.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Texas Blues | , | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get (1973)

220px-Joe_Walsh_-_The_Smoker_You_Drink,_the_Player_You_GetFrom amazon.com

I rarely do this, but the review that states this album has ‘stinkers’ on it, hasn’t bought the same album I have. I’m not sure what album they have, but it’s not the one I have. The album I have is a pretty wonderful collection of songs, played by great musicians, and made with the decision that Joe Walsh does not have to play a guitar solo for every song he writes. And to me that’s refreshing. I’m glad he thought so too.

I’ve always thought that The Eagles needed Joe Walsh more than he needed them. Songs like ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ Walsh could have written on his own, in his sleep, while making Pot Noodles. The best thing that comes from his association with The Eagles is his work with Don Felder, and on ‘You Bought It, You Name It’, this ‘team’ comes up with one of the best Joe Walsh tunes of his career. But that’s on another album. I’m just stating the simple fact that Joe Walsh is an immensely talented musician, who’s experimentation with everything, not just guitar, makes him quite a talented man indeed. And this album is full of experimenation. So there are no stinkers.

Second point is this. In 1973, a Grammy went to the engineering work done by Geoff Emerick on Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run. It’s pretty obvious that the Grammy’s are decidedly ‘fixed’, because I swear Alan Parson’s engineering on Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ puts BOTR to shame. And many albums I’ve heard from that year put BOTR to shame. Steely Dan’s ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’, 10cc’s debut album, Frank Zappa’s ‘Overnite Sensation’, ELO’s ‘Eldorado’, George Harrison’s ‘Living in the Material Word’ to name only a few on a large list. The Grammy went to the wrong person for the wrong album.

And I have to say, and I own ”The Smoker . . . . ‘ on vinyl, that this album is in fact, one of the best sounding albums from that year, if not the best, that I currently own. It literally sounds so modern that I was very hard-pressed to remind myself that this was 1973 I was listening to. It is an incredibly engineered & recorded album, and this alone makes songs that are so called ‘stinkers’, truly worth hearing for the amount of hard work and patience that went into mixing and making this album. I have many albums from 1973, and this one is just about the best one I’ve ever heard. Sorry Pink Floyd!

What I also love about this album is the contributions by all of Walsh’s band at the time, Joe Vitale on Drums, Flute, and Keyboards, Rocke Grace on Keyboards, and Ken Passarelli on Bass. Each of these musicians contributes songs to what is called a ”Joe Walsh” album, and I just like the fact that if you were in Joe Walsh’s band, he had no problem with you writing songs for ‘his’ album. I also like the fact that Walsh so rarely chooses to guitar solo on this album. He pratcically doesn’t do one at all, barring ‘Rocky Mountain Way’. That I find incredibly interesting, and it actually removes that expectation of ”well, I’ll get through the song til the guitar solo comes up, then I’ll just move on to the next one”. It forces you to accept that there is no guitar solo coming to ”redeem” the song in any way, so you might as well listen to what Walsh thought was more important, and that’s the song itself.

There are some beautiful songs on this album, and songs that truly ‘rock’. Most Best Of collections take from this album ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, ‘Bookends’ and ‘Meadows’. But they miss the other songs, which would mean making the whole album a best of collection. And I do believe every song on this album is as good as anything Walsh has ever worked on. The material his band comes up with, and those he wrote. Passarelli’s ‘Happy Ways’ is a great bit of Pop, where Grace’s ‘Midnite Moodies’ is an instrumental with great playing from everyone. Particularly Vitale’s Flute. When it appeared in the song, I had to look at the credits once or twice to see who was playing Flute! Discovering it was the drummer, just made me say, that guy is pretty talented. He’s not just ‘a drummer’, like that’s a bad thing ‘just to be’. His whole band was full of talent, and Walsh lets that shine through on every song here. The title of the album may be confusing, but what happens on it sounds cohesive, artistic, and just a pleasure to listen to.

Need you buy this album? That’s not up to me, but I wish that you would. Just to hear what Walsh was capable of as a solo artist, and that The Eagles were lucky to have him.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy (1973)

18afa7ad743a2b03e57e301a50a67f318de1192eFrom classicrockreview.com

Led Zeppelin took stock of their phenomenal fame with Houses of the Holy, with deep contributions from each member of the rock quartet. This fifth album was released in 1973, nearly a full year after it was recorded in the Spring of 1972 at Stargroves, an English country estate owned by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. The major reason for the album’s delay was trouble with designing and printing the unique album cover by the artistic company Hipgnosis, with the band completely rejecting the initial artwork and the first prints of the final artwork accidentally coming out with a strong purple tint. When they finally got the artwork correct, the album was banned from sale in many locations because of the naked children on the cover who pay homage to the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End.

Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page (like all Zeppelin albums), the album featured sophisticated layered guitars, the addition of obscure instrumentation, and other rich production techniques. Beyond the Stargroves recordings, the album contains recordings from Headley Grange (site of recordings of their previous album Led Zeppelin IV) with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, along with Olympic Studios in London and Electric Lady Studios in New York. There were also several recorded songs not included on Houses of the Holy but released on later albums such as Physical Graffiti and Coda.

The album featured styles and sub-genres not heard on previous Led Zeppelin albums, such as funk, reggae, and doo-wop. The album is an indirect tribute to their fan base, who were showing up in record numbers to their live shows. It perfectly straddles the band’s early, more blues-based period from their later work, which consisted of more richly produced studio albums that tilted more towards pop and modern rock. Bass player and keyboardist John Paul Jones temporarily left the band for a few days during this album’s recording but soon returned and stayed with the band until the end.

The fact that this album features different sounds is evident right from the top with “The Song Remains the Same”. This song is odd on several fronts, from the pitch-effect vocals of Robert Plant to the extremely bright multi-tracked guitars of Page. Still, the song is great and is set up as a sort of journey, not a rotation. The song is a jam that feels loose yet does not get lost for one second, due mainly to the steady and strong drumming of John Bonham. The song was originally an instrumental which was given the working title “The Overture”, before Plant added lyrics and the title to it. It was originally going to be an intro for “The Rain Song”, and these songs were often coupled together in concert. “The Rain Song” Is an extended piece with eloquent acoustic and electric guitars weaved together. The song also features a long mellotron section (some would say too long) played by Jones, adding a surreal orchestral effect above Page’s guitar before returned to the climatic final verses and soft and excellent guitar outro.

Parts of “Over the Hills and Far Away” written by Page and Plant during the 1970 sessions at the Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur for the album Led Zeppelin. The song is mostly acoustic throughout but works into a harder rock section during the middle, making it one of the most dynamic Led Zeppelin songs ever. Jones and Bonham add a tight rhythm to Page and Plant’s ethereal dynamics. The song was released as a US single, but failed to reach the “Top 40″, faring much better on classic rock radio through the decades. Over the Hills and Far Away single “The Crunge” is a funk tribute to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown and evolved out of a jam session built around Bonham’s off-beat drums and a bass riff by Jones. This song features an overdubbed VCS3 synthesizer to replicated the funk “horn” section, which gives it a totally unique sound of its own. During the jam Plant calls for a “bridge” (imitating Brown’s habit of shouting instructions to his band during live recordings). When no such section materialises, the song (and first side) uniquely ends with the spoken “Where’s that Confounded Bridge?”

The closest Led Zeppelin ever came to writing a pure pop song, “Dancing Days” was actually inspired by an Indian tune that Page and Plant heard while traveling in Mumbai. The guitar overdubs are simply masterful in this upbeat song about summer nights and young love. It was played live as early as November 1971 and, although not officially released as a single, it received heavy radio play in the UK. “D’Yer Ma’ker” was released as a single and became the band’s final Top 40 hit (although they didn’t have many of those). The song has a unique sound with Bonham’s exaggerated drum pounding backing a reggae-inspired riff by Page and Jones and Plant’s bubblegum pop vocals. The distinctive drum sound was created by placing three microphones a good distance away from Bonham’s drums, giving him much natural reverb to make the banging sound more majestic. The name of the song is derived from an old joke about Jamaica, and was often mispronounced as “Dire Maker” by those not privvy to the joke.

John Paul Jones centrepiece “No Quarter” provides a great contrast with a much darker piece about viking conquest, with the title derived from the military practice of showing no mercy to a vanquished opponent. The song features a distinct, heavily treated electric piano throughout with an acoustic piano solo by Jones in the long mid-section. Page doubles up with electric guitars and a theremin for effect, while Plant’s voice is deep and distorted. The album concludes with the upbeat rocker “The Ocean”, which refers to the “sea of fans” at the band’s concerts. Launching from a voice intro by Bonham, the song returns to the heavy riff-driven anthems that were popular on their earlier albums. But this song does contain its own unique parts, including an overdubbed vocal chorus, performed a Capella, by Plant in the middle and a doo-wop outro section that contains a boogie bass with strong guitar overdubs, bringing the album to a climatic end.

Houses of the Holy has been certified eleven times platinum and is often included on “greatest albums” lists. It is an odd but brilliant album by Led Zeppelin which finds a balance uncommon by hard rock bands of any era.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy | | Leave a comment

Trampled Under Foot: The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns (2012)

Barney-Hoskyns-Trampled-Under-FootFrom amazon.co.uk

It’s a real page-turner (no pun intended). Barney Hoskyns has cultivated impeccable connections during his many years writing about music, and particularly about California, Los Angeles and the musicians and others who together made up the whole ‘scene’, if that’s what we could call it. This comes in particularly useful here, as there is a substantial focus on Zeppelin’s US home-from-home, Los Angeles.

Unusually it is an oral history, so aside from a page or so of author contextualizing, which occurs at the beginning of each section, it is all the written equivalent of talking heads. For the most part, this works extremely well and it really helps the book to draw you in as a reader – that’s maybe why, although the book is 500-odd pages long, I was able to read it in about three sittings over 2-3 days.

I have some minor gripes, though, which is why I gave it only 4 stars.

There are a great many very interesting and never before seen pictures in the book, not all of which appear in the glossy colour sections. Sometimes thet are not reproduced that well, because the paper used is really not up to the job of reproducing images. It’s a pity.

The book also seems, at times, to be beset by quite a few repetitions – especially in relation to the tales of the misdeeds of the likes of Richard Cole and Peter Grant, or the stinginess of Jimmy Page – which seem to reappear chapter after chapter without much sense of chronological anchoring. Often, in other words, it is not clear if comments by witnesses relating to certain behavioural traits, or incidents, are connected to specific events. One minute you think the events that are being retold must be happening around ’74 or ’75, then all of a sudden it is 1977.

I think that for all that it is a compelling read, what the book lacks is a strong sense of chronology.

From amazon.com

Led Zeppelin bestrode the 70s rock world like a colossus and perhaps it is right that any book about them should have equally epic proportions. This latest “reveal” by Barney Hoskyns sometimes borders on the obsessional yet for Zeppelin aficionados it is a hugely welcome addition to the bands colorful history from a first class rock journalist who has previously taken on such luminaries as The Band and Tom Waits.

In another setting he also charts the rise of fall of the cocaine cowboys of Laurel Canyon scene in “Hotel California”. His new book “Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin” does revisit some of the themes of the latter book since it is the city of Los Angeles which casts a huge shadow over proceedings as the “default” base for Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham during their all conquering American Tours.

This witnessed them take residency in the legendary “Riot House” (Continental Hyatt House) on Sunset Strip where they occupied the top floor of the hotel and created a modern day bacchanalia. Their infamous and lurid excesses has formed the basis for previous books not least Stephen Davis “Hammer of the Gods” a tale of a band “drenched in sex, drugs and psychic abuse”. In truth Davis relied much on the wild and often-unreliable recollections of tour manager Richard Cole whose later “Stairway to Heaven” repeated much of what had already been published.

Clearly while Cole was an untrustworthy witness he was at the heart of the Zeppelin juggernaut particularly with his friendship to the brilliant but often brutish Jon Bonham. Hence the protestations of Jimmy Page and other band members about his “ridiculously false” account may fall into the “me thinks they doth protest to much” category. Whatever the case it evident that the more mature ex Led Zep members have been keen to put considerable distance between their former hellraiser exploits and current status as Grammy winning wizened old bluesmen.

Hoskyns book draws on a much wider evidential base and attempts to get to the heart of the matter by extensive interviews of over 200 people producing what is the definitive oral history of the band. Hoskyns stated purpose was to peel away the myths and legends. As he states most existing books “recycle tales of groupies and mudsharks and chucking TV sets out of windows. For me, this is terribly boring. I wanted to demystify the band”. And yet the reality does not allow a complete revision for as he states “at the same time, I uncovered stuff that’s even more shocking”.

These include the fact that the Zeppelin machine constructed by Peter Grant was so big and powerful that it was virtually above the the law” and could “pay our way out of any trouble, any scandal’. In the last analysis however is this a great shock to any Led Zeppelin fan? They came at a time when the a new and aggressive breed of British managers fought tooth and nail for their artists including through physical violence.

They were an “albums” band in a pre internet/download area when record sales were stratospheric and money almost unlimited. They conquered the US at the time in terms of tours and album sales which the Beatles could only dream of. But most of all they were the most exciting thing on the planet in terms of rock music, despite the derision of nearly every rock critic at the time including Hoskyns house magazine the NME.

In the last analysis if you love Zeppelin you will adore “Trampled Underfoot”. It is brilliantly written (if a tad long) and charts the story of a singularly unique band of brilliant young musicians with the world at their feet, woman on every arm and unassailable repertoire of hard rock and metallic funk. In short if you own “Physical Graffiti” buy it.

I tend to think this is an editorial issue. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this book and Barney Hoskyns’s previous, on Tom Waits, were published by Faber and Faber, whose stock-in-trade as far – as writing about music goes – is the 600-page tome. If you’ve read Simon Reynolds’ (Faber book) ‘Retromania’ and felt it was at least 200 pages TOO LONG, then you’ll know what I mean about missing editors.

Who knows, Faber may have a special deal on paper, or an agreement with a printer who has said: ‘hey, guys, it is cheaper if you just make it over 500 pages’.

But, in the end, it is a great story, and Hoskyns has interviewed far and wide to make it as much of a compelling read as possible.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Book Trampled Under Foot The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin By Barney Hoskyns | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Are Not Prefabricated (1969)

led-zeppelin-1By Keith Altham

When is a hit single unnecessary? Apparently when it is a group like Led Zeppelin who have never released a single but have reached super group proportions in America when they packed the 10,000 capacity Pavilion in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Largely responsible for the creation of this musical monster has been ex-session guitarist, ex-Yardbird Jimmy Page who last Thursday was back in London from America with the news that Jim Morrison now looks like the chief Rabbi of Brixton and Elvis Presley still looks like Elvis Presley.

“Things have happened so quickly it is unbelievable,” said Jimmy. “Our group will only have been formed a year this October and already some critics are giving us rave reports over Blind Faith. Mind you the only reason for that is that they had one or two bad gigs and everything has gone right for us.

Sales

“It impossible to convey just how big Zeppelin are now in the States but if I tell you that our album sold 20,000 copies in three days last week and is still pounding along it might give you some idea. You can turn on the radio and hear a Zeppelin track played three or four times a day.”

One of the criticisms levelled against the Zeppelin has been that they were a prefabricated group formed by four highly competent musicians to cash in on the American progressive pop scene.

Proportions

“No one can tell just how a group like ours would be received,” said Jimmy. “No one really expected for it to reach the proportions that it has.

“We were only prefabricated in as much as we deliberately set out to form a group. What happened after that was up to the public and you cannot foist something on the Americans now because you happen to be English. The last thing to happen in America which was English was Joe Cocker and that was last July.

Risks

“In many ways we took more risks than groups like Blind Faith and Humble Pie who carefully prepared their music before making public appearances. Our album was cut within three weeks of the groups formation and we began work almost at once so it could hardly be accused of being contrived or pre-packed in that sense.

“We’ve not managed to establish ourselves so heavily in Britain simply because most of our energies have been directed towards America. The mass media in this country is still not reflective of what the majority of young people want to listen to but in the States it is.

Discerning

“Audiences in Britain are more discerning than America – almost hyper-critical – because they get so many good groups, but we have been able to hold our own on the major concerts that we have played here. Contrary to popular opinion it is not the money that is so important to big groups in America – it is the venues and the number of people you can communicate to which is so pleasing. There are very few halls in England which can accommodate more than a few thousand people. This means it is only worthwhile playing the major cities say once every six months at those places.”

In spite of the fact that Jimmy feels an English group is no longer instantly acceptable in view of their nationality, there is obviously a very strong bias towards our groups in the album and heavy pop department, in America. Are English groups musically superior to their American counterparts?

Trends

“I think it is more a case of differing trends,” said Jimmy, “although we do have an incredible number of very talented musicians. In America now, they are veering towards a softer country and western approach, so any English group that steams in with heavy, earthy sounds are almost overwhelming to the audiences.

“There is a tendency to return to some of the early rock and roll songs now almost as a reaction against the heavy, intellectual and analytical forms it has been taking. It’s very understandable to me – we play it when the mood takes us. It’s the perfect balance – so simple. You can’t read anything but what there is into songs like ‘I’ve Gotta Woman’. Some music has just got a little too complicated for the public.”

Dominating

The guitar is still, of course, the dominating instrument on the popular music scene and as one of the more talented exponents of that instrument, I asked Jimmy if he could see the day when another instrument might take its place, and whether he felt as guitarists become more adept, it would find its own limitation.

“No to both questions,” said Jimmy. “Firstly the guitar is the logical replacement for the piano which everyone had in their home during the Victorian era. It has become more refined and is of course, easier to carry about. Where you once saw a piano standing in the corner of a room, now you find a guitar.

Limitations

“The only limitations you can put on the guitar are those you impose yourself. If you set out to be a blues guitarist, then probably the best you can get is BB King but most guitarists now are fusing all the influences of classical, jazz and blues into one style which is limitless.

“Even the unknown group guitarist round the corner has an original phrase or something which he could show to impress Hendrix.”

Strangely enough although the Zeppelin have never released a single they are now considering one and Jimmy revealed they will go into the studio after a months holiday to do just that. Will it be a deliberate effort to make a hit single?

“Everyone says that they will not do that, but I suppose that is what we will be doing, but I don’t see that we have to compromise our own standards. Jethro Tull managed to make a good quality single!”

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Are Not Prefabricated | | Leave a comment

The Who Summertime Mods (Brussels, August 1972)

who-modsFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Forest National, Brussels, Belgium – August 16th, 1972

Disc 1 (62:18): I Can’t Explain, Shakin’ All Over, My Wife, Summertime Blues, Baba O’Riley, Behind Blue Eyes, Bargain, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Magic Bus

Disc 2 (39:33): Relay, Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, My Generation, Sparks, Naked Eye, Long Live Rock

Compared to the previous year, when Who’s Next was released followed by many tours of the US, The Who in 1972 were relatively inactive. Pete Townshend and John Entwistle worked on solo albums, and the band themselves released only two singles “Join Together” (with the b-side “Baby Don’t You Do It”) and “Relay” (with the b-side “Wasp Man”).

Their only live appearances that year were a month long tour of Europe, beginning on August 11th, 1972 at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, Germany and ending on September 14th, 1972 at the Palasport in Rome, Italy. The 1972 set lists here did not differ much from those of the previous year, except for “Substitute” and “Amazing Journey” being dropped, the Tommy suite being shortened to two songs, ”Long Live Rock” and “Relay” being added, and “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Sparks” only appearing very few times.

For the sound quality, Brussels is one of the best tapes from this short tour. It’s a fantastic stereo audience tape which, except for a bit of distortion in the higher frequencies, could have been one of the all time best Who tapes in circulation. There is a cut 1:43 in “Naked Eye” missing some music, and a small cut 5:35 in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” but otherwise it presents the complete concert.

“I Can’t Explain” opens the show. But instead of “Substitute” they play a short, compact version of “Shakin’ All Over.” It sounds out of place since it normally finds itself later in the show, but they give it a good effort.

Roger Daltrey gives a short “My Wife” introduction to the next song, but Pete Townshend has to have a bit of silliness. “Watch this foot. Thisfoot here” he jokes as Keith Moon accompanies him with an aggressive beat. With no visuals it’s hard know what he’s doing, probably indicating the boot John’s wife is going to give him.

Many songs from Who’s Next are played including “Behind Blue Eyes.” Townshend gives the introduction, telling Brussels “we haven’t been here since 1966. It’s still boring. The last time we were here we played in a tent. Was anybody here with us when we played in a tent. You?? Of course you were there” he jokes to someone in the front row.

“Bargain” retains its pristine power. It is a shame they removed it from the set soon after this tour. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is “about the revolution.”

“Magic Bus” goes on forever with Townshend giving a schizophrenic performance in the middle. He goes from refined subtle country picking to noisy heavy metal riffage at the drop of a hat.

Moon starts to introduce “Relay,” saying it is “played by synthesizer, played by the cheapest member of the band. The tape recorder. He doesn’t drink…A song from our fourth album. Which means you haven’t heard it yet. It’s called ‘The Relay.’” Their latest single is a bold move forward in their sound. The unusual but bombastic melody over the pounding rhythms makes it a superb live piece.

“Pinball Wizard” segues into “See Me, Feel Me” for the shortest incarnation of Tommy yet. “My Generation,” which Townshend calls and “old decrepit, caveman rock and roll song” starts off the finale of the show.

They get into the rarely played (for this tour) “Sparks,” sounding as if they need a bit more Tommy in the show. The band also get into a rare live rendition of “Wasp Man,” the b-side to “Relay.” A song written by Moon, Townshend plays the melody as Daltrey shouts out the lyrics.

“Naked Eye” eventually segues into “Long Live Rock.” It serves as the set closer for these dates, but would eventually be dropped and brought back when the single would be re-released seven years later. They don’t extend the song past the studio recording, but Daltrey handles more of the singing than Townshend.

Killing Floor package this release in a double slimline jewel case, not a single pocket sleeve like their other Who titles. Summertime Mods is an excellent release for Who collectors, despite the slight concerns with the sound. Brussels certainly sounds better than the Rome and Berlin tapes which were also pressed.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | The Who Summertime Mods | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Evergreen (Seattle, June 1972)

zep_evergreenFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA – June 19th, 1972

Disc 1 (64:41): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, The Ocean, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, Black Country Woman, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp

Disc 2 (56:20): Dazed and Confused, What Is And What Should Never Be, Dancing Days, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (62:16): Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, Organ Solo/Thank You, Money, Over The Hills And Far Away, Dancing Days

The Evergreen on The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin was the second pressed version of the show issued very early on in the label’s production. For a while it was one of the better versions, sounding superior to Lemon Song’s Sizzles In Seattle. It does have a very natural sound. But subsequent versions have been an improvement in listenability. This is packaged in the TDOLZ cardboard gatefold sleeve which they utilized for many of their releases. It does look gorgeous.

Everything you have heard about this concert is absolutely true. This show may rank number one, or at least in the top three. They play with ferocity, professionalism and looseness that is rare even for them. This show is so good that Robert Plant was still talking about it five years later at their stop in Seattle on the 1977 tour.

Unfortunately this classic show is cursed with one of the worst sounding tapes available. Some have said it is THE worst. I wouldn’t go that far. Even though it is plagued with a loud audience and numerous cuts, it is listenable and enjoyable once you give it a chance. It is almost impossible over the three hours to not be swept up in the party atmosphere. The surprises begin after the third number with the premier of “The Ocean” and the fun never stops.

“Black Country Woman” from Physical Graffiti is premiered in the acoustic set, and ironically is the longest live version played by the band. “Whole Lotta Love” includes the Roy Orison classic “Only The Lonely”, and the encores include more previews from Houses Of The Holy with “Over The Hills” (the beginning is unfortunately cut), and the second version of “Dancing Days” this evening.

What makes this show legendary isn’t necessarily all of the previews (“The Ocean”, “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “Black Country Woman” and “Dancing Days” played two times), but is the loose attitude of the band that enables them to do so. They play as if they are all alone in a room with no distractions and no pressure. There isn’t a hint of self-consciousness in the entire performance and the light and shade ethos really shines. Despite the poor sound quality this is an essential show to own.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Evergreen | , | Leave a comment

The Who Forest Hills 1971 (Flushing Meadows, July 1971)

110712003459From collectorsmusicreviews.com

The story of The Who’s sessions in late 1970 to the middle of 1971 is one of the most fascinating in the history of 20th century pop music. Under much pressure to provide a follow up to the masterpiece Tommy (mostly from himself), Pete Townshend conceived and wrote the music for the next project to be called Lifehouse. The theme, the liberation of one’s true identity through the power of music and technology, was so complicated and advanced that Townshend’s vision included music, film, and (what boarders on) performance art.

The project proceeded throughout the early months of 1971 with live sessions at the Young Vic Theatre in London including a recorded concert on April 26th and studio sessions at the Record Plant in New York in March and at Stargroves in May.

After innumerable obstacles to the project, it was finally abandoned during the studio sessions at Olympic Studios in London in late May and early June. Instead, a single LP called Who’s Next was recorded, mixed, and scheduled for release on August 14th. A tour of the US was also scheduled to begin in late July at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York.

Forest Hills 1971 is a four disc set covering the two New York shows from this interesting era. These are the first two shows from the tour and come right before the album was released. Although the album would receive rave reviews and would become one of the greatest albums ever released, the songs were virtually unknown to the New York audiences that night. Only a single edit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was played on the radio at the time, so the new songs are really new.

Several low key gigs were played in the UK before these shows including one on July 3rd in Sheffield. Some of the newer songs that were played like “Time Is Passing,” “Going Mobile” and “Too Much Of Anything” were dropped in favour of other new songs and several well known stage numbers.

Important as they are, both shows are making their silver pressed debut in this collection. One has been released on vinyl before in the past, but they’ve both been overlooked in the past for better sounding shows.

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Flushing Meadows, NY – July 29th, 1971

Disc 1 (41:05): Love Ain’t For Keeping, Pure And Easy, My Wife, I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Won’t Get Fooled Again

Disc 2 (49:23): mc, I Don’t Even Know Myself, Baby Don’t You Do It, Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Water, My Generation, Magic Bus

One of the reasons why this show was never released is because the old tape source was horrible sounding. Muffled and fragmented, the recorder was hiding under a tarp for protection from the rain. This new recording surfaced several years ago and is good to very good and enjoyable. It’s a major upgrade over the old tape. The very beginning of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” is missing, and there are small cuts in “Behind Blue Eyes” at 3:01 and “See Me, Feel Me” at 1:28.

The tour originally was scheduled to start at the Civic Centre in Baltimore, but was rescheduled when the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium became available. It was a muggy night and it rained throughout the performance. Organized by Ron Delsner for the “Forest Hills Music Festival,” Labelle opened the show with a half hour performance.

Mike Jahn reviewed the show for the New York Times stating that “The Who tied rubber blocks to their shoes to avoid electrocution and played a long concert in a steady rain Thursday at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens.” He also stated that “most of the words were indecipherable, lost in the notorious volume that characteristics The Who … Peter Townshend and Roger Daltrey maintained an insult match with their equipment handlers all evening.”

The set begins with two new songs, “Love Ain’t For Keeping” from the new album and “Pure And Easy,” which wasn’t and would only be released three years later on Odds & Sodds.

“We’d like to enjoy the rain with you, but unfortunately our equipment doesn’t like it” Roger Daltrey says afterwards. A girl, probably the taper referring to her tape recorder, laughs “neither does ours!” Daltrey then introduces “My Wife” by John Entwistle. It would be one of the band’s most popular live numbers, but this is the first time they play it on stage. It segues directly into the older numbers “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” (which is inadvertently shortened to barely over a minute here).

After “Substitute” Keith Moon introduces the next song “from the new album that’s going to be released this week. It’s called The Who Sings Gene Kelly. ‘I’m singing in the rain…’” he sings, poking fun at the steady rain. After more banter Townshend stomps on a cockroach shouting “I HATE COCKROACHES!” After a pause Moon shouts, “he ain’t dead yet.”

“Bargain” follows and is faithful to the studio version except Townshend hums the synthesizer part. The guitarist gets into a long speech about the new song “Behind Blue Eyes,” telling them “the next song we’re gonna do was recorded firstly in New York City a place called The Record Plant which is where your heavy American groups record all their heavy things. But we come over here and we did something completely upside down, it’s about the lightest number we’ve ever done. It never came out as a single and maybe when you hear it you’ll understand why. It’s an album track from our latest album called Who’s Next called ‘Behind Blue Eyes.’” Moon then shouts “And it’s crap.” Townshend replies “And you’ll see why. Just watch him.”

It’s obvious the band are pushing the limits of the crowd’s patience with all the new material. There is scant applause and, while Townshend is talking, people are shouting for “Magic Bus” and carrying on their own conversations.

The audience give “Behind Blue Eyes” a reaction of silence mixed with shouts of obscenities. It’s not clear exactly what is going on, but there are some loud shouts of expletives heard from the audience while it’s being sought out.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” perhaps since it was released as a single, gets a bigger response. It was used as the set-closer earlier in the year, it’s now moved to the seventh number in the act and won’t return to show-closing status for a few years.

Before “Baby Don’t You Do It” Daltrey says “It’s a song we used to play in a club in London…equally damp … the Marquee.” After a blistering version of “Water,” the show finishes with “My Generation” moving into “Magic Bus” and what was reportedly a Townshend smash-up of not one, but two guitars.

John Swenson describes the ending of the show in his book The Who, published in 1979. “At the end of ‘Magic Bus,’ Townshend broke the neck off his guitar and flung it into the photographer’s pit. When a jittery roadie scuttled out to retrieve the body, Townshend threatened him with menacing gestures to stand aside (Who roadies always turn out to be Townshend’s straight men during a Who performance). Townshend then took a second guitar and, grabbing it like a paddle, picked up the body of the broken first guitar, tossed it into the air, and slammed it with the second guitar as it came down. Both guitars broke into pieces at Townshend’s feet. He then picked up a microphone stand and beat the mangled guitar bodies into splinters.”

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Flushing Meadows, NY – July 31st, 1971

Disc 3 (43:00): Introduction, Love Ain’t For Keeping, Pure And Easy, My Wife, I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Won’t Get Fooled Again

Disc 4 (63:18): mc, I Don’t Even Know Myself, Baby Don’t You Do It, Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Water, My Generation, Magic Bus, Naked Eye / improvisation, Roadrunner

The Friday July 31st show has been out before on the old vinyl title Such A Knight (WK23). The sound quality of the vinyl is described as abominable. The tape used for this release is very good. The taper was relatively close to the stage and pointed his microphone towards the speakers, ensuring a clean and uncluttered sound.

July 31st was played on a hot and muggy night with no rain, in contrast with the Thursday show. It’s much more polished as a result with only a bit of equipment problems at the beginning. The setlist remains basically the same, starting off with “Love Ain’t For Keeping.”

“Pure And Easy” follows but with some problems in the middle when Townshend’s guitar cuts out in the middle. Daltrey sings a verse for a smooth transition acapella and it sounds really nice and unique. It is a great song, but this would be excised from the set after the Dayton show on August 13th.

“My Wife” and two golden oldies “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” follow in devastating succession. Afterwards, with Townshend still have problems, Daltrey jokes “Big T. Gone very quiet tonight. Got a few problems with his guitars.”

Pete jokes back “No trouble with the guitar. I don’t like guitars and they don’t like me” before starting “Bargain.” More excitement on stage afterward when, while getting ready for “Behind Blue Eyes,” Mooney shouts “ANOTHER COCKROACH!!” Townshend jokes, “When you find a cockroach in your cutlery drawer, this is what you do” with a loud thump punctuating his demonstration.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” received the biggest reaction of the night from the audience. There is a false start when the tape begins too early, but overall it’s a powerful performance to an expectant crowd. Daltrey’s shriek at the end seems to shake the foundations of the stadium. “Our latest single” Townshend humbly says afterwards.

The show picks up much momentum from there. Before “Baby Don’t You Do It” Townshend says how they “used to play it at a club in London and we were very chic because we played Tamla Motown songs. This is a song we play today, we still feel very chic. We still dig it.” This was one of their improvisational pieces during this time and tonight goes on for about seven minutes.

“Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me” are well received but are curtly played, as if the band wanted to give the audience a minimum of Tommy. Afterwards Townshend refers to the rainy first show, saying “it’s a long way from Thursday. And any of you that were here on Thursday will remember how wet it was. Today it’s dry and it’s hot and sticky. We would like to sing a song about hot and sticky weather…’New York, New York.” and this one’s called ‘Water’ and it’s about a man trudging across the desert with footsteps like this…killing cockroaches!!

The unreleased song revives much of their improvisational prowess, leading into a syncopated blues melody before segueing into “Magic Bus.” Ostensibly the set closer, they track goes on until, when slowing down, Townshend plays the “Naked Eye” melody prompting the rest of the band to follow.

The long improvisation leads into an impromptu “Roadrunner” to close a very long and exhausting evening.

Many titles are available which document The Who during this important time. The sound of the live recordings are not all great, but they do reveal the virtues which made them such a potent live band. Forest Hills 1971 is a stunning release which every Who collector has to have.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | The Who Forest Hills 1971 | , | Leave a comment