Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge (1971)

jimi-hendrix-rainbow-bridge-161231From amazon.com

This second posthumous Jimi Hendrix release may be viewed as hastily-stitched, spanning two years of mostly not-quite-completed recordings in various studios plus a lengthy live extrapolation. But incredibly, no other Hendrix platter, excepting perhaps “Electric Ladyland”, offers a more comprehensive representation of Jimi’s virtuosity. Moreover, this doesn’t even feel slapdash.

Sonically, “Rainbow Bridge” is fuller than anything he had released in his lifetime, again possibly not including “Electric Ladyland”. And therein lied his artistry. Hot guitar licks and riffs are in abundance here and every one of them coheres. Even the imperfect endings on a few numbers, which Hendrix would have dubbed over before official release, work. Unlike “The Cry of Love”, lyrics are primarily kept as subtext here. The concentration is Hendrix’s electric guitar.

The two opening cuts, the single “Dolly Dagger” and “Earth Blues” are both powerful funk and blues workouts. Backing vocals, courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters and the Ronettes respectively, give these songs added dimension to Hendrix’s voice. Both tracks offer personal overtones. He knew that Dolly Dagger real well.

Instrumentals were not prevalent in the Hendrix canon, but here we’re blessed with two great ones. On “Pali Gap”, Hendrix plays sensuously suffused with warmth and it proves to be gorgeous. His studio rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is radically different than his Woodstock performance. Here its presence is much more august with little of the anger that permeated that classic live cut. Astonishly, this version has his guitar(s) sounding more like Garth Hudson whipping out synthesizers and horns. What an extraordinary feat!

Hendrix’s bottleneck playing comes to the fore on “Room Full of Mirrors” and he somehow manages to approximate the paranoia of this track. The origin of this wry rumination stems from his May 1969 Toronto drug bust. The sound is actually quite frightening as it seems to blurt out this situation to the public. And Hendrix was more a private man offstage.

Side two begins with that explosion of guitars that greets “Look Over Yonder”, this album’s oldest cut circa 1968. It’s a blues performed as adrenaline rush. As with “Electric Ladyland”, he seems to be opening up another world. The falsetto vocalizing, incidentally, provides extra fire.

The closer is “Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun)”, one of his most beautiful soundscapes. More than almost any song in his ouevre, this could have worked in the symphonic setting that he often discussed for his future. It’s that lovely. The structure of the song builds up with minor chords and switches to major in the body of the track. It’s so effectively simple. Lyrically, he dabbles in science-fiction and the imagery dissects escape. That female alien takes him worlds away from earth. And his falsetto towards the end adds to the spiritual desperation of chancing it elsewhere.

And then there’s that live cut sandwiched in between. It’s singularly his most perfect live performance from May 1970 at Berkeley. I, for one, regard this as the most stunning achievement of rock improvisation. In this eleven minute-plus blues epic, there’s not a second that doesn’t belong. By this time in his career, he was playing with Billy Cox on bass and drummer Mitch Mitchell (his greatest support). It’s virtuosity played with dynamic passion, a real rare combination in rock. Mark my words, we’re very fortunate to have this piece of music.

Heaven knows what additional editing that Hendrix, a renowned perfectionist, would have planned. Just like on “The Cry of Love”, he was breaking away from psychedelia and transitioning to more earthbound territory combined with spiritual awakening. And his musical changes seemed to mirror his expanding consciousness. As always, Hendrix was a complete master of his instrument and he established his imprint on all of these songs. His musicianship is an unflawed listening of blues, funk and jazz. But I suspect that it was mostly the blues that remained in his veins until his death. This package is just further confirmation that his passing was perhaps the greatest loss to shaken up the rock world. For the record, so to speak, the Motion Picture that bears the same name stinks.

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April 16, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin In The Field (Knebworth, August 1979)

ledzep-inthefieldFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Knebworth Park, Stevenage, England – August 11th, 1979

Disc 1: Intro., The Song Remains The Same, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 2: No Quarter, Hot Dog, The Rain Song, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achillies Last Stand, guitar solo, In The Evening

Regarding Zeppelin’s two Knebworth concerts, the first show on August 4th has at least five separate audience audio recordings (one of which is used for early bootlegs) and the second on August 11th has at least six. On top of that there are almost complete soundboard recordings for both concerts, both audience and professional films, plus generous selections on the DVD released four years ago which makes Led Zeppelin’s final two concerts in England among their best documented.

In The Field on Reel Masters offers a seventh, previously uncirculated audience recording for the second night. Made by a Japanese record company executive, this source is distant, muffled and thin sounding.

The beginning and end of the tape are worse than the majority and it becomes boomy at various points like during “Over The Hills And Far Away”. There are cuts in the tape between “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “No Quarter” and before “Trampled Underfoot”. After the latter cut the sound quality drops and teeters dangerously close to being an inaudible sludge of sound until the tape ends at the conclusion of “In The Evening”. Audience comments by the recorder can be heard between songs including the taper speaking in Japanese.

While it is true that the Knebworth concerts have aged very well in twenty five years, the August 11th show is still not as good as the second Copenhagen and first Knebworth concerts. Robert Plant says “It rained on us from a few sources during the week. We’re gonna stick it right where the sun don’t shine” before “Black Dog” and their resentment is apparent and the emotional response to their first performance is not present on this night.

Technical problems during “Over The Hills And Far Away” also do not help and it is easy to see why Jimmy Page used more footage from the first Knebworth show for the official Led Zeppelin DVD. Despite that the concert does hit a reasonable groove with a very good version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, a song which is obvious is a band favorite and there are so few bad versions. “No Quarter” has a different introduction and is a scaled down and fun version.

The Physical Graffiti section of the show is quite strong and the band delivers an effective version of “In The Evening”. Since there is already an excellent sounding audience source plus the complete soundboard in many editions it is hard to see how In The Field really fits except for those who want to hear the show from every conceivable angle and quality.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin In The Field | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Physical Explosion (Seattle, March 1975)

zeppelin_physicalexplosionFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA – March 17th, 1975

Disc 1 (52:27): The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir, No Quarter

Disc 2 (67:29): Trampled Under Foot, Moby Dick, Dazed And Confused

Disc 3 (32:33): Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

All previous releases of the March 17th show on a silver are a two source mix. The earliest ones include The Hammer Of The Gods (T3CD-1~3) on Tarantura and its clone Two Days In Seattle on Whole Lotta Live (WLL013/014/015) which used the first five tracks were from the second Seattle show on March 21st.

The first attempt to present the whole show with a combination of two audience sources was Seattle Won’t You Listen (TDOLZ 0022/23/24) followed by Gallery of Soldiers (Powerchord PC-0002-01/2/3) and finally the first three discs of Dinosaur In Motion on Empress Valley (EVSD-172-178).

The editing is similar between all three titles with the second source used for the first four numbers with the excellent source picking up at “The Song Remains The Same.” Physical Explosion, manufactured by the same people who made Blow Away, use the excellent sounding but incomplete source exclusively. This is the first silver pressed edition with only one tape source.

The first night is very good and is sometimes neglected in comparison to the more well known second night. Plant’s voice, which had been quite weak at the beginning of the tour is very strong and he’s able to unleash some impressive vocal dynamics in “The Song Remains The Same” and “The Rain Song”.

“No Quarter” reaches twenty-five minutes and is very uneven. Jones doodles around on the keyboards until he finds a nice melody before Bonham and Page come in with their contributions and deliver a fantastic improvisation. ”Dazed & Confused” reaches more than a half hour and is brilliant.

Before “Stairway To Heaven” Plant praises the “energy”. “Whole Lotta Love” includes a long reference to “Licking Stick” before going into “Black Dog” and the close of the show. Overall, the sound is very nice and the package is excellent. If they followed the way of the previous releases and used the second source for the opening, this would be a standard edition of the March 17th Seattle performance.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Physical Explosion | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Live In Brisbane 1972 (February 1972)

zep_brisbaneFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Festival Hall, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia – February 29th, 1972

Disc 1 (69:25): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Celebration Day, Stairway to Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp

Disc 2 (72:31): Dazed And Confused, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love

Led Zeppelin concluded their only tour of Australia in Brisbane on February 29th. It was the only show held indoors and, with the Brisbane Festival Hall’s capacity of 4,000, was the smallest. Three incomplete tape sources exist. The first to surface is also the shortest, clocking in at just over one hundred minutes. It is distant, muddy and difficult to enjoy and was released on silver as Australian Tour 1972 Part 2 (Black Cat BC-34) in 1992, one of the earliest Australian bootlegs.

A better sounding tape surfaced in the late nineties. It is longer and better sounding than the first, although it is still distant and somewhat muddy. It is cut between some tracks and the encores are missing. This is the tape Equinox used for Live In Brisbane 1972 released in the summer of 2000. The better sounding tape is used as a base and the first tape is used to fill in some of the holes. The sound is bright until “That’s The Way” where it becomes more dull with what sounds like vinyl surface noise. There are cuts in “Dazed And Confused” at 7:26 and in “Whole Lotta Love” at 4:26. It was first issued as part of the Thunder Downunder boxset and then later released as a separate title. A third, excellent sounding tape surfaced subsequent to this and has yet to be pressed.

The audience are extremely enthusiastic and create havoc throughout the performance. Even before they start Plant has to tell them “We don’t want you to get jumping on the stage, otherwise we’re gonna be in trouble with the people who brought us here.” Zeppelin’s enthusiasm from the big Sydney gig two days before seems to carry over into the opening songs “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker.”

“Celebration Day” is played for the first time in Australia. It is introduced as being about New York which is “really not all that nice a place to be really. There’s a lot of things going on, and it’s about all the social strife. They always say, have you got a message with your music, and we always saw no cause we all know what it’s about.” It would only be played two more times this year.

Before the acoustic set Plant mentions the show in Sydney, “There was twenty six thousand people on Sunday in Sydney, and even though two of them said good evening, it sounded a thousand times louder, and this was in the afternoon too. Right now this is where we desire even more silence because we’re gonna try and play very quietly.” It is a characteristic of shows in late 1971 to early 1972 to have feature very long versions of “Going To California.” Brisbane reaches almost six minutes long with additional solos by Page on the acoustic guitar.

During “That’s The Way” people in the audience grow restless enough for Plant to stop singing and yell at them. “If you’re gonna make a noise like that there’s no point in anybody coming to play so for God’s sake shut up. Right now will you shut and sit down so they can see. For goodness sakes try to be as quiet as you can. One more thing. Can we guarantee that we can play some acoustic stuff without too much noise?”

Things continue throughout the acoustic set, so much so that Plant again remarks about them before “Dazed And Confused” saying, “You must realize that the people you meet in the street tomorrow are the people who have been shouting and making this a bit of a nauseating time. Right, I don’t care whether you sit down or stand up. We’re just gonna play from now on. This is one from thirty-five years ago.” The epic reaches twenty-five minutes and Page plays some riffs in the end common to the renditions from early 1971.

The finale is a twenty-six medley in “Whole Lotta Love.” Included are the standard oldies for the time such as “Hello Mary Lou,” “Let’s Have A Party” and “Going Down Slow.” But Plant leads them also into the old Dion hit “The Wanderer” for the only known time. Plant also includes a reference to “Cocaine Blues” in “Boogie Chillun’.” The tape cuts out at the end eliminating any encore performed. As far as silver pressings go this is perhaps the definitive version. However, given the better sounding source available there ought to be a better version available someday.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Live In Brisbane 1972 | , | Leave a comment

Oasis FamiliarTo Millions DVD (2001)

familiar_to_millions_blue_dvdFrom blogcritics.org

Surprisingly, Oasis has been knocking around for over ten years now, since the release of their first album, Definitely Maybe, back in 1994. They became worldwide superstars after the release of their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, which reached #4 on the American Billboard charts, and also spawned two #1 singles. The band has managed to remain in the public eye, thanks to their infamous off-stage antics, involving feuds between the Gallagher brothers, as well as their much publicized drug and alcohol abuse. The band managed to stay out of the public eye for the next few years, amid rumors of a break-up, but resurfaced again in 1997, on the heals of their third album Be Here Now.

Familiar To Millions was recorded during the first night, of a two night stop, at London’s Wembley Stadium, during Oasis’ 2000 world tour, in support of their latest album, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. It is a wonder that the band ever completed the 2000 tour, as the Oasis train was nearly derailed by personal problems – the most obvious being Noel Gallagher’s decision to skip many of the European dates, and Liam Gallagher being dumped by his wife, actress Patsy Kensit, only a few days before the Wembley shows. Liam was a drunken mess during this performance, stumbling around the stage, tossing F-bombs at the crowd between every song, and just being his usual annoying self. It is no wonder his brother Noel has contemplated giving it all up, out of frustration with his brother. I may be way off here, since I don’t closely follow the Oasis soap opera, but from what little I’ve seen, this guy Liam comes across as one of the most pretentious, egotistical, assholes I have ever seen. “Sir, I have met John Lennon, and you sir, are no John Lennon!”. Do these guys really think they are the next coming of The Beatles? Have another lager there Liam.

As little regard I have for these egomaniacal, imbeciles (Noel may not fall into that category), I have enjoyed a lot of their music. Oasis definitely-maybe had tons of potential until they practically imploded due to Liam’s hooliganism. Definitely Maybe certainly had a couple of good songs, and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? is outstanding. These Gallagher brothers certainly know how to write some interesting melodies and very catchy hooks, but it looks like they might have shot their entire load already, considering the rather weak material they have put out since. I did love the hell out of that song “You Know What I Mean” though. I played that thing every night on the jukebox, back in ’97, when as I was throwing darts at my favourite Spanish pub. Too bad the rest of the album, Be Here Now, was so terrible.

This spectacular looking Wembley stadium concert begins with “F***in’ in the Bushes” blaring over the PA system as the band takes the stage. It was still light out through the first half of the concert, so you did not really get the full magnitude of their stage show just yet. The band launches into “Go Let It Out”, to get things started and wisely stick to songs mostly from their first two albums for the rest of the show. Liam is obviously a drunken, mess during this show, and he barely manages to slur and stumble his was through a half-assed performance. His between song banter with the audience consists primarily of “fookin” this, and “fookin” that – you know, the usual charming small talk. Who knows, he could have been giving some brilliant anti-war speech, or providing the formula for the cure for cancer, but you would never have known, because it sure is hell wasn’t English this bloke was speaking. Holy shit, them Gallagher boys have one thick accent. And I even spent three years in the Scotland! Talk about your unintelligible accents.

Anyways, the overall performance was a huge disappointment for me. Liam’s vocals were horrendous sounding throughout most of the concert, and he looked like he didn’t even want to be up there. He’s got this “I’m so cool” style of leaning into the microphone with his hands held behind his back, the whole time he sings. Noel made a valiant attempt to keep things from falling apart, and put on a good show for the 70,000 rabid fans in attendance, but his annoyance with his brother seemed overwhelming at times. There were a few notably good performances, that even weak vocals couldn’t ruin. “Hey Hey My My”, featured Noel handling the lead vocals on this Neil Young classic, and was played back to back with “Champaign Supernova”, their psychedelic, powerhouse anthem, which featured some of Noel’s tastiest guitar work. Too bad this was all at the end of the concert.

To make matters worse, the Dolby 5.0 surround audio track sounded absolutely terrible. The volume level was extremely low, there was virtually no instrument separation, and everything was drenched in tons of echo and reverb. It literally sounded as if you were listening to the concert from the stadium parking lot. Using the PCM stereo option provided a slight improvement in the overall sound, but then you totally lost any type of stadium concert vibe, which ruined it. The video quality was decent, but the picture was not very sharp. The Oasis stage show was mammoth, and provided a very exciting and magnificent looking experience for those in attendance. This was captured brilliantly by the camera crew using wide-angle shots from above the stadium, and swooping down in front of the stage. The camera angle changes came way too quick though, as the director tried too hard to capture everything that was going on in the stadium, at the same time. The director often used various blurry, colourful, psychedelic effects, during many of the songs, which were handled well enough as not to be too distracting. Those who were tripping on acid probably didn’t appreciate it too much though.

I haven’t yet witnessed the other DVD’s that Oasis have released, and after this, I don’t know if I want to. Hopefully for all of the die-hard Oasis fans out there, they are better than this “fookin” dog.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Familiar To Millions DVD | , | Leave a comment

David Bowie Hunky Dory (1971)

cover_18261919112009From sputnikmusic.com

When notorious hype-machine NME conducted its poll among contemporary musicians time (Radiohead, Placebo, U2, Suede and Marilyn Manson among others) to discover the most influential musician of our time, guess who came in first? David Robert Jones, sometimes known as The Thin White Duke, sometimes by his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, but far most commonly as David Bowie. From the time when he released his self-titled debut in 1967 to his 60th birthday two days ago, he has practically invented glam rock, jumpstarted Iggy Pop and Lou Reed’s career, collaborated with master of ambience Brian Eno, and thus created the famous Berlin trilogy (“Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”), dabbled in folk, heavy rock, pop, electronica and soul, and created a myriad of great albums in the process. Despite the fact that his career spans almost forty years, most fans, critics and greatest hits compilations look to the seventies, the decade of glam rock, the Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie’s blue-eyed soul music, and the aforementioned “Berlin” trilogy; the decade where Bowie was at the cutting edge of popular music. Truly these were Bowie’s golden years, in which he released classic upon classic, with creativity more or less unmatched by any musician of 20th century. Having tackled both folk and rock on his first three albums, Bowie sought a different approach for his fourth. He told pianist Rick Wakeman that he wanted to make a more piano-oriented album, played him the songs that would come to make up “Hunky Dory” and asked him to play them on the piano, allowing him to write his own arrangements. The result was a catchy, beautiful, accessible and above all genius record, that many Bowie fans still cite as their favourite.

The album encompasses several moods and sounds, while still being rooted in a piano pop sound. Many tracks here find their way to various compilations (Bowie has a lot of those), but none became immediate hits. “Life on Mars” only became a hit after the following album “Ziggy Stardust” was released and Bowie garnered increased attention. It soon became popular, and for good reason. The verses are driven by a beautiful piano, complimented by a dramatic classic arrangement as the unbelievably catchy chorus comes crashing in. The lyrics are completely nonsensical: “It’s on Amerika’s (sic) tortured brow / Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow”. I don’t think anyone, even Bowie himself can make any sense of them, but somehow it means something with Bowie’s passionate delivery. The song manages to be incredibly epic, but still brief at 3:54. A fitting, dramatic conclusion follows, as a descending violin run leads to a glorious crescendo of instruments and a gentle piano line trails off until the song finishes. “Life on Mars” is the best song Bowie ever wrote, and as such it can’t be considered anything but one of the greatest songs ever written.

The fact that the album has such a monumental song doesn’t detract from the rest of the songs though. The dramatic tension built up by “Life on Mars” is released by the vivacious “Kooks”, which is conversely followed by “Quicksand”, the albums melancholic highlight. It is perfectly placed, in between too unabashedly bubbly songs like “Fill Your Heart” (by Biff Rose and Paul Williams, the only non-original here”) and “Kooks” (a song for Bowie’s newborn son, known to the world as Zowie Bowie, poor thing), and in the middle of the album too, acting as a centrepiece for the album. This demonstrates the albums perfect balance. Admittedly, most of the “hits” seem to be placed on the albums A side, but there is almost as much to be found on the second half.

Lyrically, it seems that Bowie is drawing inspiration Bob Dylan, with his often seemingly nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. These are most evident on album closer “The Bewlay Brothers”. While no coherent meaning can be drawn from the lyrics, the words and themes always compliment the sound. It’s not meant to be dissected, but rather enjoyed. His lyrics are vividly descriptive though, as on the tribute song to his inspiration Bob Dylan, whose voice he likens to sand and glue. It is in the second verse, however, that he has written his most accurate description of Dylan’s genius: “You sat behind a million pair of eyes and told them how they saw”. While Dylan has always been reluctant to be labelled the voice of a generation, he has definitely been a spokesman of sorts, writing about subjects that many could relate to. The song is a poignant ode to one of modern music’s greatest song writers and one of the best songs on the album. “Queen Bitch”, the album’s only real rocker, foreshadows Bowie’s next album, glam rock masterpiece “Ziggy Stardust”. The song has been dedicated to the Velvet Underground, who must have been an inspiration as Bowie moved into the glam rock territory. Pop artist Andy Warhol also gets a nod, with the song of the same name, featuring Bowie’s trademark baffling lyrics: “Andy Warhol looks a scream / Hang him on my wall / Andy Warhol, silver screen / Can’t tell them apart at all”.

“Hunky Dory” is the album where Bowie cemented his position as a truly gifted song writer. A few songs don’t compare to highlights such as “Life on Mars” and “Quicksand” but that says more about the highlights than the rest. Every song is great in its own right, about half of them are completely essential and “Life on Mars” stands as the greatest song I have ever heard in my life. David Bowie, in his constant exploration of new musical territory never attempted to make another album like this. He went on to create other, different masterpieces, but he never surpassed ”Hunky Dory”.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Hunky Dory | | Leave a comment