Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin The Battle Of Baton Rouge (February 1975)

battlebrFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

LSU, Baton Rouge, LA – February 28th, 1975

Disc 1: Intro, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir

Disc 2: No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 3: Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

Led Zeppelin’s Baton Rouge tape first surfaced on vinyl on Led Astray on the Artemis label. The earliest compact disc version was discs five through seven of the Mad Dogs box set and on the original Tarantura label, who issued Freeze! (T3CD-2) (named after the taper) with a picture of Jimmy Page on the cover, both in 1993. Tarantura reissued Freeze! again the following year but with a picture of Robert Plant on the cover.

The date on Tarantura was erroneously listed as from February 13th and also made the claim it was sourced from the master reel-to-reel. Silver Rarities in Europe released Led Astray (SIRA 194/195/196) in 1995 and the Immigrant label released Blaze (IM-040~42) about the same time.

Capricorn released this show except for “Dazed & Confused” on Bon Soir, Baton Rouge! (CR-2028/2029). The last release of this tape was on Hang On To Your Heads (Vol. 95) on The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin which is a box set limited to three hundred copies pressed on gold discs. It also includes a twelve-page booklet with many photos from Earl’s Court. The tape is a slightly distant but very dynamic stereo audience recording that emphasizes the bottom end but without any distortion.

It is one of the more interesting tapes in existence with some of the most massive sounds ever captured on tape. The Battle Of Baton Rouge, the new release on Empress Valley, is the same generation tape that was used by other releases which, according to Zeppelin tape experts, is no better than a second-generation copy of the master.

They worked on reducing the loudness of the bass and place the top and bottom end on a more even keel. Their work is commendable and a worthy addition to the collection but it is a matter of taste. It makes the sound more sharp and defined but I feel loses its particular character. Empress Valley utilizes their infamous cardboard cut out sleeve design for this release. It was first introduced early on in their production with such releases as Deep Striker.

With everything else about this release, it’s a matter of personal taste. Some love it, some hate it. Whatever your opinion is though, this is a good opportunity to pick up this show.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Battle Of Baton Rouge | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: San Diego Sports Arena, March 10th 1975

$T2eC16FHJGIE9nnWpr2eBQ4,3qS63!~~60_35From Underground Uprising uuweb.led-zeppelin.us

Led Zeppelin at the San Diego Sports Arena on Monday, March 10, 1975 was my second concert experience. My first was Foghat and Rod Stewart at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino , three days earlier. The Swing Auditorium was the very same venue where my older brother David and his music loving friends caught Led Zeppelin nearly three years before in 1972 (captured on the bootleg Berdu [which is San Bernardino’s nickname]). At David’s invitation, I skipped school that Monday to join him and these same party-animal/concert veteran friends in their trek down to San Diego to see Zeppelin on their Physical Graffiti tour. I knew I was in for a treat; however, what actually awaited me was the musical equivalent of an atomic explosion to my 16-yr old mind; a concert that would change my life and become the standard by which I judged all subsequent musical experiences.

As many Led Zeppelin fans know, the San Diego performance was a one-night stand with no opening act (normal, of course, for this band). The venue was sold out, and the seating format for this show was “unreserved.” In other words, first come, first served. This created frenzy outside (and inside!) the arena the day of the show, as one can imagine. When the doors to the arena opened at 3:00 on that cloudy afternoon (people had been camping on the grounds for weeks, and were now joined with newcomers in a huge line), a stampede almost took place. Several of the people in my party got pressed so tight into the crowd as it merged towards the doors, their feet were not even touching the ground as they were pushed along! The frenzy was in force. A pivotal detail (and one that had quite an affect on Zeppelin’s performance that evening) was that there were no seats on the arena floor! As the crowd entered it, folks either stood their ground or sat with their friends until the start of the show. Consequently, there was this crazy, uncontrolled atmosphere to the place. (Two years later, during Zeppelin’s 1977 concert at this arena [and with a regular, seated floor], Plant comments on how the San Diegans finally found their seats and how nice it was for the venue managers to provide seats for you people. The band remembered this gig!) With the show scheduled to begin at 8:00 that evening, what ensued was a massive, six-hour party with 16,000 people present all waiting for one thing and one thing only: the arrival of the band.

Everything about this concert event had big stamped all over it. From the 2,000 or so Frisbees (more than I’ve ever seen in one place!) to the 9-foot balloon which looked like a monstrous globe with the words, 1975 North American Tour emblazoned on it. The mammoth sphere bounced and rolled over heads, hands, and bodies which were huddled tightly together on the arena floor. The concert stage hardware was gargantuan, as well. Suspended from and flanking the sides and rear of the stage were 5 massive lighting towers upon which at least a dozen technicians worked non stop, readying them for the visual pyrotechnics that would awe the crowd later. Also, there was a large sheet of cheesecloth stretched across the rear of the stage. This was used to full advantage during the performance to create a hazy dream-like effect, as well as to reflect lights and upon which scenic effects were projected, notably during Kashmir (more on this later). Another dozen techies and roadies busied themselves around the stage floor, running wires, checking monitors, and testing the instruments themselves. On what would be Jimmy Page’s side of the stage, three guitars leaned upright on stands: A black and white Dan Electro (wielded during In My Time of Dying), the familiar cherry red double-necked Gibson (for Song Remains Rain Song, and Stairway) and the famous starburst Gibson Les Paul (which would be Jimmy’s mainstay for the evening). For what seemed like a long time, a roadie pounded on Bonham’s drum set, a clear-yellow Ludwig that was flanked by Tympanis and a huge gong. What intrigued me most about the drum set was the kick drum. Set against the 3-circle rune printed on the face of it was a huge microphone–the largest on the stage. (Always reaching for the heaviest bottom-end they could get!). Hanging from the ceiling by steel cables, were speakers that looked like mutant Altec Lansings. The tweeters alone were as big as the front of a house. And they were ridiculously loud. As the pre-concert music mix blasted forth (I distinctly remember Skynyrd’s Free Bird being one of the tunes played) I had to shout just to be heard by the person sitting next to me. I later learned that Zeppelin’s ’75 sound system was the largest ever assembled for a single act up to that time.

This pre-concert preparation continued from the time I entered the arena (at approximately 3:30) until nearly 8:00 when the show was scheduled to begin. However, as the arena floor filled up to standing room capacity, the pressure in the very front grew more and more intense. As the crowd pushed forward, the yellow-shirted bouncers (it appeared as though the entire San Diego State University football team was there) pushed backwards against the crushing human tide. As this went on, bouncers on the stage itself were leaning over, pulling fainted victims out of the crush. Since pleas to the crowd to stop pushing were ignored, the announcement to postpone the show for an hour went forth at 8:00. This was met with a boo! so deafening I thought a riot was about to break loose. Fearing the same, the announcer immediately added (in a semi-panicked tone), The show won’t be shortened in any way! Still, this did not pacify the rowdy patrons, who flipped the guy off with over 15,000 birds. (These middle fingers would be replaced by as many matches and Bic lighters later in the evening). For one hour (which seemed endless in duration), the crowd waited in unbearable anticipation. It had been a year and a half since Zeppelin had last been in town. The stage was prepared. The crowd was waiting. As each piped-in song ended, the angst-ridden mass became more boisterous and impatient.

ticketFinally, at around 9:00, 6 hours after the arena doors opened the house lights went out abruptly and were replaced by the blinding flashes of a couple hundred flash bulbs. The audience’s roar of approval shook the building. Everybody was standing. All eyes were fixed on the darkness of the stage. A few loud notes from a bass and electric guitar were heard, as well as a few loud chops from Bonham’s Ludwig. The announcement was now made introducing the band. The cymbal crashes of Rock and Roll began and what happened next was utterly unexpected and brutal: When the sound blasted forth for the first time with the band in action, it was so loud, everyone in the seated sections sat down! This was Zeppelin’s “hammer of the gods their answer to the frantic eagerness of the southern California crowd was to flatten it with the fury of their musical assault. It was an unprecedented display of force. (The band would mellow the volume out considerably after about 3 songs. This at least allowed for the audience to know what was being played but it was still incredibly loud. Long before I heard anyone else use the term, I told my friends that Zeppelin’s live music wasn’t hard rock but thunder rock or earthquake rock. I’m not at all surprised therefore that someone titled a bootleg Thunder Rock or that an article appeared in a magazine that year entitled, Led Zeppelin Stages A Rock And Roll Earthquake With Physical Graffiti!). Bathed in radiant spotlights, Robert Plant threw back his mane and stomped his feet pompously while Jimmy Page, as animated as I have ever seen him, bent over and furiously picked at the strings of his Les Paul which was swung low as he strutted in a wild and uncoordinated fashion. Looking more like a music teacher than a player in the world’s biggest rock band, John Paul Jones stood coolly in his corner, steadily sending out earthquake-like vibrations from his Fender bass, and John Bonham, wearing a white jumpsuit and sporting a derby hat (a Clockwork Orange-like getup), leaned forward over his snare drum and thundered out the first Zeppelin number of the evening. Their music was so loud, that it was almost impossible to tell what was being played! Plant’s voice cracked out of the speakers as it wailed above the din of a veritable assault of beat and tone changes. Whatever song it was, it was an onslaught from note one. When the 2-song medley of Rock and Roll and Sick Again ended, Plant was already pleading with the crowd to shut right up and to step back since people were now being pulled from the crowd right and left, in what appeared to be unconscious states. It was barely controlled pandemonium. However, this electricity only propelled the band to greater heights of intensity resulting in the most incredible audience/band interaction I have ever witnessed. As I will mention later, by the end of the first encore, even the band was taken aback!

The stage production on this tour was the zenith of Zeppelin’s 12-year career. The lighting effects for this tour were astounding (and much more intricate and bombastic than the toned down [but tastefully executed] ’77 shows). I disagree with critics who claim that these 1975 visual pyrotechnics “covered” for the band’s physical inadequacies on this tour (e.g., Page’s broken finger; Plant’s flu-stricken voice). Not distracting an iota from the music, they actually accentuated the full force of the dynamics of Zeppelin’s music. As the third song, “Over the Hills and Far Away” began, there were dim blue lights on Jimmy and Robert as the intro was sung. When the rest of the instruments blasted forth with that great riff, huge yellow spotlights (resembling the kind of searchlights used during store “grand openings”) on each side of the stage floor lit up and spiralled upward. We were being hammered unmercifully. But the show was still young! In My Time of Dying followed with a tumultuous cheer of approval when Robert announced the release of Physical Graffiti. Jimmy bent, and crouched, and basically went berserk as his steel bar slid all over the strings of his Dan Electro. In the middle of the song, when the guitar, bass, and drums culminate in those synchronized, staccato blasts, multi-coloured light bulbs went off like strobes under each band member and perfectly to each note. Screams of amazement filled the moments in between. It was breath taking. The Song Remains the Same followed with the same unrelenting blast, until finally, The Rain Song, brought the audience to the band, so to speak. It was as if the arena had been momentarily transformed into a massive nightclub. Emanating from the crowd, dense clouds of smoke billowed through the bright yellow spotlight that illuminated Robert as he leaned against the mike stand and sang the lyrics. When the song came to its rousing end, Plant cried, Welcome back to San Diego! After five whoop-ass songs in a row, The Rain Song was our first chance to breathe!

One statement that stuck in my head was when Plant introduced the next song in the set. He said, Even if you’ve just been to San Bernardino, you can still go where we go Kashmir. This is too much, I thought, Led Zeppelin remembers San Bernardino?! Then “Kashmir” thundered forth. Zeppelin’s mysticism had matured to this powerful and majestic epic. As spacey red and purple lights lit up the stage, desert “clouds” drifted across the cheesecloth screen behind the band, creating the dream-like Shangri-la “sky” depicted in the lyrics while Bonham’s drums cracked and thudded thru the sound system like Godzilla stomping thru Tokyo. The song was a triumph and was my immediate favourite from the Graffiti album. Nothing, however, prepared me for “No Quarter.” As dry ice fog rolled off of the stage, Jones’ hands floated over the organ keys. As the song drew to its end with Plant’s wails and Page’s wah-wah’s growing to full intensity, four white spotlights hit an afore-unnoticed gigantic mirrored ball hanging from the centre of the ceiling, creating a dizzying effect. Plant threw up his arms as if to say, behold this is for you! Bathed in the scattered reflections, the entire arena appeared to be spinning! During Trampled Underfoot, Jimmy’s wah-wah riffs were so loud, it was as if the sound just sprayed from the speakers when he lifted his foot off of the pedal. There was absolutely nothing subtle about this song!

ledzep-conspiracyMoby Dick followed from the already legendary second album. It should be mentioned that by 1975, Led Zeppelin II was considered a bone fide classic, a must-have milestone in rock music. I had heard this record countless times. But live, Moby Dick was an altogether new experience for me. The opening and closing riffs by Jimmy Page came across as being so massive and powerful, I was utterly blown away. Sheer classic Zeppelin. What a riff! Bonzo soloed for nearly half an hour with female cries of Go Bonzo! making him grin throughout. Multi-coloured lights stationed in and around his drum kit created kaleidoscopic visual effects which were matched by the auditory “hallucinations” of his synthesized drum rolls. As the tympani solo rescinded into Bonzo’s “gong smash,” it sounded as if five hundred trains were pulling into a station. With my mind reeling under the still shimmering sound waves, Jimmy Page (now absent for a good twenty minutes) ran out just in time to close the marathon with that classic, powerful riff. A far cry from hearing vinyl spun on a home stereo turntable (or 8-track!), the sound and sight of Page and Bonzo laying down that amazing riff live before my ears and eyes provoked me to jump up as another uproarious ovation ensued. Studio recorded Zeppelin would NEVER sound the same. (In fact, during the 2-hour drive home from the show that night, a Led Zep II 8-track was playing continuously on the van’s stereo how abysmally crude and outdated that studio production sounded after 3 hours of live Zeppelin! Indeed, even the recorded songs themselves came across as mere stick-figure sketches compared to the 3-dimensional masterpieces performed that evening.) By now thoroughly overwhelmed and stunned by the proceedings, I had all but forgotten about what was then my favourite Zeppelin tune, Dazed and Confused. So when the opening bass notes shook the arena floor underneath my feet, I let out an astonished yell. As the rest of the audience roared in approval, literal flames shot up from the stage as Plant sang of women created “below.” I was now in for the most intense musical voyage of the evening. Jimmy Page, the brain behind Led Zeppelin, was now to be showcased for over 30 minutes of guitar histrionics. During the bow segment, the audience gasped when three Krypton laser beams (2 blue, 1 green in the middle) shot out of nowhere just over Page’s head, through the eerie smoke rising from the stage floor and across the entire expanse of the arena. In a technologically induced display of psychedelic sensory-melding, sight and sound became one as Jimmy struck his guitar with the bow and pointed, “making” the sound and the lasers do his bidding and travel to that very point in the arena. Smiling broadly at his new bag of tricks and his audience’s obvious appreciation of them, Page treated each segment of the crowd to the effect, including the people seated behind the stage. Equally mesmerizing was the effect produced by what appeared to be glitter or confetti, which continuously fluttered down onto the stage throughout this song. The overall result was mystical and breath taking. Dazed and Confused was the centre piece of the set. It was the Led Zeppelin at its most amazing.

Having journeyed to the gloomy world below, the audience was now ready to go back up (where the path runs straight and high). Crouched over his double necked Gibson, and bathed in heavenly blue lights, Jimmy picked out the opening notes of Stairway to Heaven and was nearly blanketed by lingerie which floated over the edge of the stage and onto Page and his Gibson. As Robert began with, There’s a lady a yellow ray of light illumined just his head as screams shot forth from the crowd. This, I thought, is the ultimate rock and roll band. The first encore was Whole Lotta Love with a sound phaser used in full force. This device (utilized earlier in Page’s laser-throwing light show) pushes the sound around the arena and was used in conjunction with the Theremin segment of Whole except that it was “left on” after the first encore making (I swear) the audience’s noise itself propel around and around the arena. For 3 weeks afterwards, my hearing went up and down like this effect! Whole went into Black Dog which crescendo with massive flash pots and explosions which triggered the borders of the lighting towers to light upward from the stage on both sides which in turn lit up a huge neon LED ZEPPELIN sign behind the band. It was too much! As the smoke on the stage cleared, this glowing billboard spelled out the name of the rock group that just kicked 16,000 asses for the past 3 hours! The audience roared in approval with a massive and deafening ovation. Even Zeppelin was visibly blown away by the response (no kidding!).

After Black Dog, the band exited for a good ten minutes. More Bic lighters and matches than I’ve ever seen at a concert lit up the arena floor and perimeter. This ocean of flickering lights made the massive concert hall look like a sparkling universe as the audience relentlessly whistled, yelled, screamed, and stomped. Finally (and not captured on the bootleg of this show, Symphony in A Thousand Parts), Jimmy Page emerged with a huge grin and strutted out from the rear of the stage with the opening notes of “Heartbreaker.” The audience responded with yet another deafening roar! As the song progressed many memorable moments ensued. I’ll mention three of them: First, Zeppelin’s playful side was in full force. Robert and Jimmy (now bathed in sweat) interplayed throughout this song with uninhibited abandon. At one point, Robert hung his arm around Page’s neck and kissed the back of his head. When Jimmy turned around and grinned, Robert winked at the crowd and planted a couple of more kisses on Jimmy’s face. They were playing up the “sexual” side of their musical personas to the hilt. At another point, when Page was bent over in his trademark stance wailing away at his Les Paul, Robert turned his back on Page and skipping backwards, pressed his butt up against Page’s! Jimmy threw his head around and laughed. Finally, a young woman on the arena floor about five rows back and dead centre of the stage got up on some guy’s shoulders and pulled off her blouse and her bra. As the broad yellow spotlight that engulfed Plant was now aimed at the girl (so the whole arena could see what was up), the lead singer seized the opportunity to play up his sexual bravado. As the song climaxed with Plant wailing “heartbreaker,” the lead singer rubbed his crotch and pointed at the woman in playful accusation. The young lady’s response was to heave her breasts in abandon holding her arms up towards the band in total surrender to its potent sexual/musical assault. Over to the right of Page and Plant, at the rear of the stage, John Paul Jones shook his head and laughed at his crazy comrades. And the audience roared again.

In point of fact, the audience roared in the final ovation of the night. As the band put down their instruments, Bonham threw his drumsticks and then flung his derby hat into the audience. Joining his band mates at the edge of the stage, Bonzo laughed and, playing off of the naked woman’s antics, motioned with his hands to his chest as if he were bouncing his own breasts! The place was in a state of such tumultuous approval of the band, roaring continuously with arms outstretched from every quarter of the arena, even the pompous Plant appeared to be humbled! As the band locked arms and did their bows the floor of the arena shook under the roar! Robert picked up the mike once more and, exasperated, shouted, “Sssannn Diiiieeeegooooo!!!” It was a mind-bending triumph with the band as blown away as the audience! At one point, Robert looked at Jimmy and the rest of the band and threw up his arms as if to say, “My God really???”. Begging for yet another encore, the audience lit their Bics and stomped again. This time however, the house lights came up for the first time in 3 hours. A rude awakening to a dazed audience! The lights were met with a thunderous “BOO!” as the roadies slowly appeared out of the back stage darkness and began their post-performance duties. The show was over.

As we exited the arena, dazed and confused, I followed one of my brother’s friends to our van. Dodging bumper-to-bumper traffic and blinking raindrops out of our eyes, he kept muttering, “They were so hot ! Forget Rod Stewart, none of those bands even compare to them!” I was too muted by the experience to verbally agree. But I did agree. Hell, I was pulverized! What can I add except that this was a stunning and amazing experience? The next day at school, I was unable to even say a word about the show except that, “words can’t describe it” In fact, I was at a loss for words for weeks. But gradually and with greater detail, I began to recollect moments of the show to my high school buddies. Funny thing is, 30 years later I am still in awe and still unable to really communicate my remembrances the way I would like to. Guess that’s why us Zeppelin junkies seek after bootlegged CDs and Video Tapes to relive our experiences through sight and sound (the way Zeppelin intended), and not merely via words. But hopefully, some of mine have painted a picture, however vague and inadequate, for you.

At the LIVE AID reunion, Plant reported that people on the sides of the stage were weeping when the surviving Zeppelin members began playing. He remarked that he was amazed that people were still that impacted by what he dubbed “the Zeppelin experience.” I recall hearing that reunion on the radio as it happened. When the announcer shouted, “Jimmy Page just walked onstage!” I totally rushed out! Hell yes we were impacted by “the Zeppelin experience”! Nobody else came close to delivering the goods like what was the most amazing and talented hard rock band of all time. The Zeppelin experience is multi-layered, as well. There are so many sides to that band. So much subtlety and craft in their studio productions; so much mysticism and magic coupled with raw, street-level sexuality in their live performances. They employed so broad a vision and delivered so complete an experience. They were simply amazing.

Although I caught Led Zeppelin twice more during their ’77 L.A. Forum gigs, 3/10/75 marks the best concert I ever had the privilege of attending. As a magazine devoted to the ’75 shows put it, “Cities Zeppelin played were frenzied in anticipation, stunned in performance, and dazed in aftermath.” This was just part of the Zeppelin experience.

Chuck Heck

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: San Diego Sports Arena March 10th 1975 | , | Leave a comment

Hammer Of The Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis (1985)

9780061473081_custom-8ea5fd7ed0f8417516c24c277d59184e4b46f944-s6-c30From amazon.co.uk

Review Notorious for being the book that neither Robert Plant or Jimmy Page have read, let alone endorsed, most of the ‘sordid’ tales don’t seem that shocking, in light of the standard behaviour now required of modern rock stars.

What does come across very strongly, though, is the general madness that the lifestyle created for the band, which then trapped them, and which made some of the excesses inevitable: the impossible stress of touring and the constantly building pressures to deliver better and better material, without the protective corporate shield of modern management, and above all a deep rooting in the kind of hard blues where sex and drugs and alcohol were standard routes to creativity – no wonder they went off the rails by the end.

Yes, they were selfish and indulgent, and no, Jimmy Page probably shouldn’t have dumped little Lori Maddox like that, but they created a timeless and genuinely thrilling sound. And a myth that fans lap up as much as the music. This book walks through the whole lot, with plenty of gossip, much of which is sourced from Richard Cole and probably true-ish, and it does give you the story behind ‘Royal Orleans’ on Presence, which you wouldn’t ever work out from Plant’s garbled lyrics. Most of all, it makes you realise that when all this madness was going on, they were in their early twenties – and also that it was a very, very different world.

Fans who still long for a note-faithful reunion probably won’t after reading this: it couldn’t ever be the same.

Review The image of Led Zeppelin was carefully crafted by their larger than life manager Peter Grant and overseer Jimmy Page. Not everything you hear about them is true so read this and beware. But do read it.

This book gives you insight into their lives and characters and how what began in innocence spiralled into something even they could not control. The band became far bigger than any of them or their scary manager and those people who surrounded them did not always have their best interests at heart. Zeppelin was powerful, magical, mystical and sometimes frightening. The 4 of them were all multi talented in their own way and the combination awe inspiring. I don’t think any other band has reached as many people as they did. But this too has to be taken with caution because although millions did hear, it is not sure whether they actually listened or understood.

This book is far better than the one written by Richard Cole their Road Manager, do not waste your money on that one unless you are a diehard fan and just want to see what he says. What this book does not really do though, is capture any of the magic of their music or their immense stage presence. I feel priviledged to have seen them many times.

It is a great title, perfect really. Throughout their existence and even when Page and Plant re-united you had a feeling that this was Destiny.

Such great days, get the video of The Song Remains the Same and relive them, or better still buy the remixed albums.

Don’t ask too many questions – it is better not to know.

Review This is widely regarded as the best book about Zeppelin though there have been comparatively few others and the band themselves have never gone into print to set the record straight.

When it was published Page and Plant were reportedly annoyed because of some factual inaccuracies and because Davis’s accounts of the band’s wilder exploits were largely based on conversations with Richard Cole, their roughneck tour manager (who went on to write an even more lurid account entitled “Stairway to Heaven”). As a fan of the band I think Davis is quite good on their music and the sheer impact of the band, especially in the US.

The book is well structured too, each chapter devoted to Zep’s albums and successive tours. Leaving aside whether or not Cole embellished some of his stories about Zep’s behaviour on tour (which he seemed to instigate most of the time) it is now a matter of record that Peter Grant, their quasi gangster manager, presided over a fearsome operation that involved every rock in roll cliche: groupie gang bangs, business conducted through intimidation and violence, heavy usage of hard drugs and flirtation with cod philosophies and mysticism (in Page’s case, Satanism).

For Plant and Page to claim in later years that they were all misrepresented a bit (as if they drank lemon tea and went to bed early every night after the show was over) is partly what makes the book such an entertaining and plausible read.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Book Hammer Of The Gods The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Freedom (1989)

zap_young13From starling.rinet.ru

A man can’t live on perspective-less experiments forever. So what does a man do? “Say”, the man says, “it’s been a long time since I got all those rave reviews from the press and stuff. I wanna be a critical darling once more, and if possible, save the world in the process”. And what does it take? Why, make a long long record with all kinds of introspective acoustic songs and anthemic electric songs on it. You need to have a few condemnations of the cruel industrialized society. You have to put in a few words about how taking drugs isn’t really cool. You have to throw in a couple really sensitive love ballads so as not to get scolded for lack of diverse ideas. And, of course, you shouldn’t forget the feedback. Preferrably make it really distinctive.

In all seriousness, Freedom is an album that screams: “Look at me! I’m specially pre-packaged for five-star reviews!”. Just about every insightful person at the time, and many people nowadays as well take this as Young’s masterful comeback, and in a certain sense they’re right – one thing at least is obvious, on Freedom Neil returns to the things he does best, and makes perhaps the quintessential Young album to own, showcasing every side of his classic persona in a way that even Rust Never Sleeps never could demonstrate. But Freedom also marks Young’s conservation and sterilization as the ‘elder statesman’ (not in the good sense of the word), and if you ask me, there’s but one tiny step from an album like this to Neil’s rather, um, pathetic reaction to the WTC bombings. Here, Neil is still raving and ranting, but he’s also wonderfully stable, calm, collected, conservative, inoffensive and commercial. It is his Born In The USA, to be sure, and with but a little twitch here and there and a bit of ‘muscular attachment’ you could picture Bruce on the front cover instead.

Granted, I overreacted a bit at the beginning – it’s not a bad record. In fact, as far as pure melodic skill goes, these songs are decent, almost all of them. Hooks? You got ’em. Dedicated guitar playing? Definitely. Passionate singing? Yes, he does seem like he actually cares. The thing is, there’s nothing spectacular about these melodies. Now you go ahead and bet your life he actually spent more time writing them than when he did universally panned “crap” like Landing On Water. I personally won’t give a toss. It’s typical Young material, not better or worse, but way too socially-and-critically-oriented this time. Even Neil’s classic cruel and savage treatment of the guitar is pretty obnoxious in places. Usually he just makes his songs hard and dirty, here they are all essentially clean and polished, and the feedback sounds like it’s been consciously overdubbed where it was needed in the general context. Like in Eldorado, where that verse about the bullfighter goes steady and calm with an acoustic rhythm, and then BLAM! BLAM! you get several grungey explosions which smash your ears to dust and then go away as quickly as they appeared. Once feedback used to be a way of soulful expression, now it is a gimmick. Ha!

I thoroughly despise the main ideas behind ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ – Neil’s main anthem of the album, naturally telling about how bad the world is with the singalong chorus ringing out in all of its sarcasm, keep on rockin’ in the free world. (Again, direct associations with the double entendre of ‘Born In The USA’… you still followin’ me?). That is, I don’t exactly despise the ideas (there’s hardly anything despisable about ’em on their own), I just doubt the man’s sincerity and intelligence when he does that stuff, and even if he is sincere, there’s still something revoltingly fake about that stuff. At least the second version, the rocking one, has some punchy riffage to it; the acoustic can go to hell for as long as I care.

I do, however, like it when Young drops the populist anthemization and turns to more intricate stuff like the nine-minute long ‘Crime In The City’ with its mystically tinged acoustic rhythmic pattern and lyrics that kick the shit out of the straightforward ‘that’s one more kid never go to school’ crap (at least, in places). I don’t actually understand what helps that song go on for a friggin’ nine minutes, but at least there are lots of verses out there… duh… Other highlights include ‘Don’t Cry’, a love ballad where the feedback is actually very wittily meshed in with the basic rhythm for once, making the tune some sort of a weird cross between a ballad and an industrial noisefest; and Neil’s cover of ‘On Broadway’ is good dirty fun. ‘No More’ has perhaps the best vocal hooks on the album, even if they’re no great shakes (and why does the song sound so similar to ‘Eldorado’ musically?).

But even so, there’s some barely listenable schlock like ‘Wrecking Ball’ ruining the flow of the record, and the bolero tempo on the ballad ‘The Ways Of Love’, I suppose, has something to do with the ‘experimental leftovers’ or something. Actually, as far as I know, Freedom was pieced together from at least several scrapped projects of Neil’s, including a monolithic hard rock album and a monolithic ballad album, so if it doesn’t exactly seem to flow like a cohesive album would be supposed, keep that in mind. For me, it’s not the flow that’s really important here.

In any case, despite the generally solid rating of the record, I’m sad to say it has only managed to disappoint me – I expect more from ‘comebacks’ than simply a well-polished, rather lifeless nostalgic recreation of the past with a bunch of anthemic and populist gimmicks thrown in. Maybe I’m being too hard on Neil here, but you gotta understand me: I was expecting a revelation, and all I got was… nothing I didn’t hear before in much better quality.

Okay, so it’s not bad for a comeback record, but geez, man, can’t you feel the sell out in here?

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Freedom | | Leave a comment

Oasis The Masterplan (1998)

61PoouHjD7LFrom amazon.com

Review Everybody’s wondering why songs like “Underneath The Sky” and (especially) “Acquiesce” weren’t on an actual Oasis album. Everybody’s thinking it’s a coincidence of some sort that so many great songs can be disregarded and doomed to merely be: b-sides. Stop and think about the title of this collection though… it’s called ‘The Masterplan’, which could mean a predetermined ‘plan’ that is meant to be ‘masterful’. Is it not conceivable to think that Noel and the gang had this deviant scheme to hide away a bunch of choice tracks on singles (nobody buys singles in the USA) in order to later release the greatest b-side collection ever? Even now, over six years since The Masterplan came out, it still has to be one of, if not thee most talked-about b-side compilation on the planet. So, yeah, I think The Masterplan was a set-up. But that’s enough of that; take what you will from my speculations and opinions. What’s really important here is the music.

Yes, “Acquiesce” is an astonishing song–my personal favorite Oasis track, as I’m sure it is many other’s. The other track here I was equally taken aback by was “Headshrinker”, which boasts smidgens of a punk-rock feeling and an almost irritated sound in Noel’s voice that can’t be ignored when he’s shouting ‘I hope you don’t regret today/for the rest of your lives’. But the sleeper track here has to be “Half The World Away”, which is as relaxed as I recall Oasis ever being in a song. It’s beautiful, it’s smart (‘my body feels young but my mind is very old’) and possesses the single greatest handclapping performance in the history of music. I clap along every time I hear it; and I get the chills every time I hear it. “Underneath The Sky” seems to be another favorite. That makes sense considering it’s short, sweet and has that infamous part about the suitcase. That makes me chuckle every time. “Rockin’ Chair” takes a lot of the same ideas and tones as “Half The World Away”, which is why it’s not as impressive (though still great).

It’s said in the booklet that The Beatles never performed “Walrus” live; so it makes perfect sense that Oasis would cover it–and they do a superb job. Goo goo g’joob, indeed. “Talk Tonight” draws more comparisons to “Half The World Away”. It’s very, very good but again falls just short of the top slow track. “Stay Young” and “Listen Up” sound most like they came from actual albums, and the fact they didn’t make the cut seems unapparent. “(It’s Good) To Be Free”, sadly, is one I tend to skip. We all know it’s good to be free, anyway. I’m never a huge fan of instrumental tracks unless they blow me away. And “The Swamp Song” didn’t blow me anywhere. “Going Nowhere” is genius, pure genius. The way Noel rolls the word ‘Jaguar’ off his tongue is most notable. “Fade Away” is my least favorite track on The Masterplan. It comes off as a second-rate “Headshrinker” with comparable lyrics but poor sound quality. Finally, “The Masterplan”… seems to be in a league of its own. Either you love it or you don’t. It’s dazzling–the perfect closer for such an album. Oh, I mean… for such a ‘compilation’. Whatever. If this were an album, it would easily be Oasis’ best album. But I guess we instead have to call it, simply, their best CD.

Review Finally, we’re saved. After the over-the-top drug-fuelled mess that was Be Here Now, comes this heroic CD of redemption from that Manchester band, faith in whom we all seem to have lost. Here we have B-sides. No, don’t ignore it on the strength of that – Oasis are well known for putting care into B-sides. I guarantee, if you heard Acquiese or the title track, you’d never in a million years guess they played second fiddle to their respective singles.

Acquiese is fantastic. In about 4 minutes of soaring, harmonious rock, we’ve forgotten that Be Here Now ever happened. Suddenly we’re listening to Definitely Maybe again… they’re proving that they can and will really do it. And we believe them.

Underneath the Sky is a little odd, but I like it. Then Talk Tonight, which isn’t bad, but I would have prefered to have Sad Song or D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman take it’s place. Going Nowhere is the second classic here after Acquiese – sophisticated and Bacharac-like, with Noel singing worried words from before the band were signed. It’s fantastic stuff.

Fade Away is amazing. Ditched in favour of Slide Away on Definitely Maybe, it would have proved the spark of life for a lesser album… there again, boasting Columbia, Supersonic and Cigarettes & Alcohol, DM needed anything but more livening. So here it is, finally achieving album status. “While we’re living, the dreams we have as children fade away.” A harsh truth, belted out with such energy we don’t care.
Then the Swamp Song. The strange little instrumental that probably mystified folks in it’s respective slots on …Morning Glory, it’s a riotous party-starter. Guitars and harmonica’s link to perfection. For those few minutes, you feel like you’re in the front row listening to Oasis wow-ing the crowd. This is them at their most raw and un-diluted.

The I Am The Walrus cover is the only one I don’t think much of, purely because it sounds a little out of place – probably because it’s not an Oasis song anyway. Still, it’s entertaining enough, and sufficient padding until Listen Up, which begins with a Supersonic-sounding intro, but developing into it’s own song. Then Rockin’ Chair, “I’m older than I wish to be, this town holds no more for me.” Odd how most of Noel’s more reflective lyrics ended up in B-Sides… and a pity, too.

Half The World Away is the next classic after Going Nowhere. Cruelly never released, it got it’s fame by becoming the Royle Family theme. Still, I’d rather have seen this calm little acoustic achieve single status. Next, depressing (It’s Good) To Be Free… written in turbulent times for the band, performed well. Still, can’t hold a candle to Stay Young. There’s one the band hate, yet the fans love. It’s upbeat, if somewhat irrelevant (well they’re not young are they). Headshrinker is raw live material, and the show stops with the Masterplan. Easily one of the finest Oasis songs, it is sophisticated in Whatever style. Truly beautiful, perfect sounding… and the mind boggles as to why it’s a B-Side. I’d easily prefer it to Wonderwall.

All in all, Oasis are redeemed. This is what they’re all about, how they started and why they’re here, all in 14 tracks. These songs have as much right to be here as any, despite their status. The album stands second only to Definitely Maybe. It’s not a careless mistake, like Be Here Now. And it’s not good but not quite perfect, like …Morning Glory. Frankly anyone who doesn’t consider it an official album probably hasn’t listened properly enough. If it weren’t for this one, I doubt anyone would care about Oasis anymore. 5 Stars? Damned right.

Review Oasis were untouchable in the mid 1990’s. At a time when Britpop was at its creative peak, bands like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, Radiohead and the Verve dominated the UK charts while achieving some moderate success in the USA. Yet Oasis stood head and shoulders above the rest at the time because of their ability to craft gorgeous pop melodies that recalled the Beatles and ferocious rockers that were just as thrilling as the Sex Pistols and T.Rex. No doubt Oasis’ legacy is cemented with Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. With those two albums, the band merged the best of British rock into two stellar, comprehensive packages, wielding out brutal rockers (“Rock N Roll Star”, “Cigarettes and Alcohol”, “Some Might Say”, “Morning Glory”), lovely ballads (“Slide Away”, “Wonderwall”, “Cast No Shadow”), life-affirming anthems (“Live Forever”, “Supersonic”, “Don’t Look Back at Anger”) and masterful epics with virtuoso guitar solos (“Columbia”, “Champagne Supernova”).

Yet many fans fail to notice that they had an even greater selection of brilliant songs that went unheard of, most which were relegated to B-sides to a single. Like their idols the Smiths and the Stone Roses, Oasis released songs on B-sides that wound up surpassing the material from their two albums. Fewer songs rocked as viciously “Fade Away”, “Headshrinker”, “(It’s Good) to be Free” and the Noel/Liam duet “Acquiesce”; fewer songs were as melodic as “Stay Young” and “Rockin’ Chair”; and fewer ballads were as gentle, sweet and beautiful as “Talk Tonight” and “Half the World Away” (both sang by Noel).

All these songs can be found in THE MASTERPLAN, which collects most of the B-sides that were released during the band’s early years, plus a whopping live cover version of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”. All these songs are so intoxicating to listen to that it is frustrating that Noel did not consider releasing them on the actual studio albums. With the exception of “Swamp Song”, which is a muddle instrumental, there is not a weak track on the album and any of them could have been used for an upcoming third album.

Unfortunately, Oasis opted to release a single-disc compilation of the B-sides, thus negating some of their more essential tracks off the list. Many of these songs including “I Will Believe”, “Cloudburst”, “Do You Wanna Be a Spaceman?”, “Take Me Away”, “It’s Better People”, “Step Out”, “Round Are Way”, “(I’ve) Got a Fever”, “My Sister Lover”, “Flashbax” and the cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel the Noize” and the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” are greatly missed. Indeed, a two-disc compilation would have truly some these problems.

Still, for all its flaws, The masterplan is a great purchase and a must-have, not only for Oasis fans but for music fans who crave for the best that 90’s rock had to offer. Indeed, 90’s hard rock does not get any better or more thrilling than this.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Oasis The Masterplan | | Leave a comment

Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

DennisWilson_PacificOceanBlueFrom starling.rinet.ru

If you ever nurtured any naive theories about the Artist’s Art reflecting the Artist’s Personality, forget about it with this album. In real life, Dennis – at least that’s the way he’s always depicted – was a pissin’ nightmare, and by the time he had his infamous drowning, bankrupt, thrown out of his home, unable to deal with his booze problem in any way, and having lost most of his friends, you almost cease to have any pity for the swine: he deserved this, pure and simple.

But then you take a listen to this album and you find another Dennis: a loving, gentle, immeasurably subtle and touchin’ artistic being, spilling his heart out on record in a way the Beach Boys would already never be able to do collectively since the sterilization of their image with 15 Big Ones. How could such a disgusting person make such a beautiful album? The one true answer, of course, is that it’s one thing to elevate yourself to the level of abstract beauty and Love, and another thing to practice the same on your everyday level. But you knew that, didn’t you?

In any case, Pacific Ocean Blue is indeed a weird, crazy, and beautiful album. I would personally place it together with these “crazy-o” half-confession, half-delirium albums by artists like Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, or Alex Chilton in his Third/Sister Lovers period; meaning it has a very unusual, rather inaccessible charm of its own, no or next to no instantly memorable tunes, atmosphere a-plenty, and unique playing or instrumentation by somebody who either doesn’t know how to play his instruments, or has forgotten how to play them due to extreme mental conditions, but still wants to play them passionately and sincerely. That’s Pacific Ocean Blue all right.

Most of the songs sound like home recorded demos with a few special effects splurged randomly as an afterthought – with Dennis himself responsible for all of the keyboard parts and a large part of the drumming. although, to be honest, there was quite a bunch of other musicians helping him to get along (no Beach Boys, though: apparently, Dennis’ contract prevented any other Wilsons from assisting the guy, and knowing Dennis, I’d warrant he wouldn’t let Mike Love within ten miles of his studio – not that Mike ever felt the urge himself).

If you are well familiar with Sunflower, the one album where Dennis almost came close to having total creative control over the band, you will notice the overall style hasn’t changed much since then: Dennis still likes bleepin’ robotic synths poppin’ in in all the wrong places (which then later on turn out to be all the right ones), simple, but pretty piano melodies, and still sings in the same rough, but sincere and loveable voice. Only you have to multiply all this by ten, because on Pacific Ocean Blue Dennis runs wild with this stuff – add to this the ever growing booze problem, the ever growing woman problem, the death of a friend or two, and constant bickerings with the band, and you start vaguely getting the idea. It’s a strong, hard-hitting album, and that’s important to realize, considering that not a single song on here is truly memorable.

There are a couple “brighter” numbers, where it seems as if Dennis wants to pull out something in the ‘don’t worry be happy’ manner of contemporary Beach Boys, but even these turn astray, considering Dennis’ misuse of major chords and inability to sing cheerfully, like Mike does. ‘What’s Wrong’ has him chanting ‘I believe in rock’n’roll’ to a merry accompaniment of slow boogie piano and exuberant saxes and trombones, yet the results are rather confused than uplifting – as if the song were performed by a disillusioned druggie (well, Dennis pretty much was one) instead of a light-headed saturday-night-rocker. ‘Rainbows’ shines in a whole sea of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and pianos, but once again, for some reason I see Dennis delivering the song from out of the nearest gutter, a bottle of brandy still clutched in hand.

So you can see: if even the “happier” songs tend to confuse you, then the “unhappier” songs will be more depressing than contemplating the entire area of XXth century global politics. ‘Dreamer’ rolls along with so much struggle and so much pain… not a single other Beach Boy, not ever, has expressed so much pain on record. Which reminds me – all of the Beach Boys had their ups and downs, but only Dennis ever had the gall (or the madness?) to take some of the actual pain and suffering and put it on record; even brother Brian used to wrap his pain up in a glossy package and deliver it as a gift of religious beauty, regardless of what was actually hidden deep inside. But when the insane brass section explodes at the climactic moments of ‘Dreamer’, it’s painful – and really cathartic in a way Brian never ever dared to try. Or listen to the “psychedelic” midsection in ‘Thoughts Of You’, with Dennis’ tortured voice sort of rising out of the depths of Hell to drag you back there with him.

The funky title track, with all of its cosmic synth bleeps, disjointed backing vocals, and another magnificent vocal delivery, is a major highlight as well; but arguably the guy is at his very, very best when toning down and doing stuff like ‘Farewell My Friend’ – a dirge for a real departed friend of his, so achingly sincere it’s impossible not to sympathise. It’s a classic case of a song where a professional, well-attuned, flawless vocal delivery would kill off ninety per cent of the excitement; only Dennis’ hoarse, stuttering, heartfelt voice feels right at home here (although I’d bet you anything Dylan would do the song justice). And for closers, let’s not forget the opener – ‘River Song’ is a country-western-meets-gospel-and-soul number that kicks the shit out of The Band even, not to mention lesser candidates; it’s so good Brian even “sampled” the ‘rolling, rolling, rolling on’ motive later for his ‘Rio Grande’ suite.

In short, this is not a must for Beach Boys fans: the record is way too out-of-tune with what we usually think of the Beach Boys, and I’m not just speaking of the surf image. But the open-minded Beach Boys fan will certainly look past that, and learn to treasure this kind of musical approach. It’s fun to know the record was released the same year that Love You came out – both are similar in that they’re honest, rough, and somewhat crazy confessions of the heart, one by Dennis, and one by Brian.

But Dennis’ album is undoubtedly the darker and more depressing one, in fact, the darkest album to ever come out of the whole Beach Boys environment, and deserves attention for that alone.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young On The Beach (1974)

on-the-beachFrom sfloman.com

Amazingly, this album wasn’t released on cd until 2003 (whatever his reasons, be they dismay at the cd medium or whatever, Neil should do right by his fans and make all of his albums readily available), which is a damn shame considering that it’s undoubtedly one of his best albums.

Filled with quotable sound bites (the most famous being “you’re all just pissing in the wind”) and consistently memorable music, this studio creation, the second of Neil’s commercially disastrous yet critically acclaimed “Ditch Trilogy,” has a serious, stoned vibe that beautifully conveys Neil’s depressed state at the time. A diverse mix of rockers and ballads, several with a decidedly bluesy feel (it’s no coincidence that the word “blues” appears in the title of three songs), makes the music as fascinating as some of Neil’s finest lyrics, starting with “Walk On,” the album’s most musically upbeat song which features beautifully melodic riffs and lyrics that take a swipe at his critics while lamenting the loss of innocence that inevitably accompanies growing up (“sooner or later it all gets real”).

“See The Sky About To Rain” is one of Neil’s loveliest ballads, with keyboard (as opposed to the usual piano) being the primary instrument, while mournful pedal steel guitar and the song’s title itself perfectly encapsulate this album’s worn out mood. Neil gets spooky on “Revolution Blues,” an appropriately sinister and intense take on Charles Manson, who Neil had known personally (even suggesting that his record company sign Manson, an aspiring musical artist who Neil ultimately distanced himself from because he was “too intense”).

What’s really interesting about this song, aside from its bluesy, rocking guitar-based groove, is the way Neil presents both sides, the victim and the predator, which makes for an unforgettably unsettling experience. “For The Turnstiles” has a charming campfire sing along-type vibe to it (helped along by the banjo playing of Rusty Kershaw), but as is often the case on this album the lyrics are filled with gravity, as Neil questions his career and the age old dilemma of art versus commerce.

The album’s weakest song from a musical standpoint is probably “Vampire Blues,” an overly repetitive and forgettable piece which compares Neil’s beloved industry (snicker, snicker) with shark-like oil barons (choice lyric: “good times are coming but they sure are coming slow”). Much better are the three long songs that close this album and constitute possibly the single finest stretch on any Neil Young album. The 7-minute title track is loose and bluesy, with obviously autobiographical (“I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day”), image-filled lyrics that wonder about his place in the world (“the world is turning, I hope it don’t turn away”), while “Motion Pictures” (actually not that long at 4:16) is a sparse acoustic ballad addressing his second marriage (to Snodgress), which was on the rocks.

The nearly 9-minute “Ambulance Blues” is a true tour-de-force, with stream-of-consciousness lyrics (“it’s hard to know the meaning of this song”), at times alternately about Patti Hearst and Richard Nixon (“I never knew a man who could tell so many lies”), and laid-back musical accompaniment that’s led by Neil’s mournful harmonica and Kershaw’s fiddle. Really, I could listen to this wonderful song all day long, and it perfectly wraps up a decidedly imperfect yet deeply moving album.

Sometimes Neil comes across as whiny (“On The Beach”), other times arrogant (“Ambulance Blues”), but he’s always worth listening to, and this incredibly rich album – both lyrically and musically – reveals previously hidden depths upon repeat listens. It’s not one of Neil’s more rocking albums, and neither is it mellow and pretty a la Harvest, it’s just uniquely its own thing, and though some lament how “depressing” the album is, some upbeat moments do offer the possibility of hope.

After all, how bad can a world be that brings us such magical masterpieces as On The Beach, now finally available and at long last ready to takes its rightful place among rock n’ roll’s all-time classic albums.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young On The Beach | | Leave a comment

The Who The Kids Are Alright DVD (Deluxe Edition) (2008)

TheKidsAreAlrightFrom amazon.com

Review After having seen several other major DVD opportunities get squandered (The Beatles’s Hard Days Night leaps to mind), it is an utter delight to watch/listen to this DVD. It is great on several levels: the original film was one of the best collections of live performances in the history of rock, the reissue has dramatically improved the look and sound of the film, and the Special Edition extra disc includes some truly wonderful features. This ought to be the model for all future reissues, such as when/if they reissue the Rolling Stones’s Twenty-Five By Five.

Only a couple of years ago I was trying to explain to my daughter that in the sixties and seventies, the Who were full-fledged members of the rock Pantheon, as revolutionary and crucial as the Stones, the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin. For some reason, they went into a bit of a decline in the general musical consciousness (I found kids my daughter’s age might not know of them at all, whereas they knew the other aforementioned bands quite well). Thanks to some timely re-released and a tragic tour that saw the death of John Entwhistle, their star truly seems to be on the ascendant again. This album is crucial for proving what all of us at the time knew: the Who was without question one of the very greatest live bands of all time.

The Who was an amazing band, full of paradoxes. Roger Daltrey was one of the great front men in the history of rock, and Pete Townshend a crack songwriter and arguably the most entertaining to watch guitarist of all time. Yet, the lead instruments in the band, almost unique in rock, were Keith Moon and his maniacally abused drum kit and John Entwhistle’s bass, both of them among the top two or three of all time on their instruments, if not the best. They were a great rhythm section, but they jointly tended to take over the songs musically, unlike Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman for the Stones, who were content to stay rock solid in the background.

Live, they were amazing, with Daltrey marching in place, swinging the mike around like David about to use his sling against Goliath; Pete Townshend dancing disjointedly around while doing his famous helicopter chording of the guitar; Keith Moon playing as if he were on eight different drugs, tossing his drumsticks ten and twenty feet in the air; and amid it all, like the quiet in the eye of the hurricane, John Entwhistle standing stock still, motionless except for his hands moving up and down his bass, playing the instrument better than anyone else ever had, or perhaps has since.

The film begins with a bang, with a famous appearance on The Smothers Brothers Show (an awesome show because it was so amazingly subversive, with Tom and Dick acting like total squares, but in reality leftists who loved exposing the public to acts like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, and bands like The Who and Cream). Unlike Ed Sullivan, Tom and Dick truly loved these bands, and the opening number/skit, a rollicking version of “My Generation” (with Roger Daltrey suffering so badly from a faux upper-induced stammer that was a badge of their identification with the amphetamine-crazed Mods that one isn’t certain he is going to be able to finish each line). Each number brings new revelations or refreshes old memories. For instance, in “I Can’t Explain” from SHINDIG! Keith Moon is sporting a T-shirt with a bull’s eye on it, a full decade before Richard Hell would achieve notoriety in New York for wearing one when he was still with Television.

The numbers included in the film are both wide-ranging and representative. I suppose any Who fan will find many of their own favorites missing, but no one can complain that the numbers focus too much on one phase of their career. The selections are extraordinarily well balanced. One of the more poignant features is the fact that the performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which was performed specifically for the film so that they could have one really good performance on film of one of their most famous numbers, was the last time the Who ever performed in their original line up; Keith Moon would die only three months later.

The extras disc is truly worth having, with a feature on the restoration of the movie, and nice items like a tour of the Who’s London, an interview with Roger Daltrey, and, my favorite bit, interesting versions of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” that features only John Entwhistle’s bass and visuals. There is no question about it: the guy could play bass.

All in all, one is going to come across very few music DVDs quite this good. I highly recommend it.

Review Having never seen this film before, I was in no position to be impressed by the improved sound or video quality. And having read many of the reviews I was in a sweat of anticipation to finally see this film. Sometimes reading such positive reviews can create over-expectation, and this is what I was most concerned about. I’ve had that with Roger Waters’ In the Flesh and also Pink Floyd’s Pulse. This expectation was all the greater as I rate Who’s Next as the single greatest album of all time. There is not a note in the wrong place. How can you better that?

So it was with some trepidation I shoved in disk 1. This was made even worse by my 9-year old daughter occasionally coming into the room to laugh at the ‘gay guy’ singing. This standing joke began with them seeing Mick Jagger in Rock ‘n Roll Circus and my kids now routinely mock every 60s band I watch – but it doesn’t stop them watching in fascination.

In the end I wasn’t disappointed. Quite the contrary. Usually, no matter how good a performance is I rarely watch it all the way through at one sitting – there’s just too much else to do. This time I did, and even more rarely it left me wanting much more by The Who.

I’ve always been very selective about The Who – I don’t have much of their pre-Tommy stuff, except a compilation, or their post-Quadrophenia.

But this film demonstrated that they are not a by-numbers band. I hadn’t expected them to be an improvisational band, but this DVD has several renditions of the same song and each was worth watching, and were better than the studio version. I’ve already seen 30 Years of Maximum R&B, and was really divided as to which one to buy. Now I see I need both, as well as Live at the Isle of Wight and maybe even the Royal Albert Hall.

My philosophy with other bands is just to have one DVD to see what they’re like live. But The Kids Are Alright shows the evolution of the band – as only 60s bands seemed to evolve. Their early 60s music is quite different to late 60s, and their early 70s music is similarly quite different. Only the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Traffic and Pink Floyd evolved quite as much.

The film also clarified another thing for me – the praise heaped on John Entwhistle. You cannot appreciate his talent unless you see him play.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | The Who The Kids Are Alright DVD | , | Leave a comment