Classic Rock Review

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David Gilmour Live In Gdansk (2008)


Review Pink Floyd fans have been on a roller coaster of emotions in the first part of the 21st Century, and this excellent document takes us back to An Island of Pink Floyd and Gilmour/Wright magic one last time.

It is the final encore for Richard Wright, one of the greatest (and humblest) musical geniuses of all time (despite being a founding member of Pink Floyd and deserving a co-billing with David Gilmour, he chose to let David Gilmour have sole billing)and the last spark of the Pink Floyd magic flame, which has sadly gone out at this time with the passing of Wright.

David Gilmour still has many great albums in him, and Roger Waters is still making new music, but without Wright, there will be no more great Floyd music.

In 2005, Floyd fans got a surprise that brought our moods up and raised our hopes when the classic line up got together one last time at Live 8. Even though it was a farewell performance, there was a chance another world changing event would bring the band back together for another brief performance.

Then the first sucker punch of Syd Barrett’s passing smashed away the mysterious character that we all hoped would at least come out one last time to play something before going into hiding again. That would never happen now. Then, David Gilmour’s On An Island hit the shelves. I bought it just because I am a fan of PF and wanted to see what Gilmour was up to. I expected it to be a decent album. It was not. It was an outstanding album that, despite not being called Pink Floyd, was more like pink Floyd’s classic sound that anything since Wish You Were Here.

It hearkened back to Pre DSOTM Floyd in a big way. It was another great peak on the roller coaster ride. There was still more to go, though, as Remember That Night came out with an excellent show and appearances, for one last time, with all four members of classic Floyd, including a heart-warming meeting of two old friends. (You have to watch the documentaries to find them all.) This was another high point.

Then another low point; At the Syd Barrett Tribute show, Roger Waters did a solo performance and the Waters-Less Floyd did a separate performance, putting doubt into the chance of any future reunion gigs, which has now turned from doubt into an ever-resounding NO with the passing of Wright. Finally, after another rise of the return of Waters to the stage and the possibility of a new Waters album, as well as the announcement of this very product, things were good again.

Then we were given a hard and violent kick in the gut by fate as the ever private Wright, who had kept his illness out of the public eye passed away from cancer, which he kindly kept hidden from the fans. The release of this set is possibly the last trip up on the roller coaster, as we get a chance to see Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Wright perform their magic along with Mr. Manzanera, Mr. DiStanislao, Mr. Carin, Mr. Pratt, Mr. Parry and an orchestra one last time, as well as have a souvenir to take with us and listen to in the car or wherever we enjoy listening to CDs. This set is a bittersweet farewell to a man, a band, and “softly spoken magic spell” that cannot be spoken ever again. Thanks to all of the band, and everyone responsible for this.

The quality of the CDs and the DVDs is excellent, and you can tell a lot of work went into this, as well as a lot of love. Yes, this is a quality product, and it is a way for us to enjoy the legacy of this great act, along with Remember That Night. We’ll remember both nights for a long time to come, and the Echoes will never fade. Now I just hope I can watch and listen to the mournful masterpiece once without breaking into a fit of tears….

Review David Gilmour, well known as the singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd, just released his new live 3-CD/2-DVD collection entitled Live in Gdansk and is a MUST for all DG and PF fans.
There’s 2-CDs which feature 23 songs from his Gdansk, Poland performance recorded at the Gdansk Shipyard on August 26, 2006. 15 of the 23 songs (marked with *) are on the third disc and the first of two DVDs in this set which also has a documentary and webpass to download 13 tracks (including “Wots…Uh the Deal (performed at the Gdansk show but left off the CDs for time constraints) on this set).

Gilmour for this last show on his On an Island tour is backed onstage by PF 1987 alum which were keyboard player Jon Carin and bass player Guy Pratt, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, drummer Steve DiStanislao and the recently deceased Pink Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright. Plus, there’s appearances by Zbigniew Preisner (who did the orchestrations and conducts the Baltic Symphony Orchestra) and Leszek Mozdzer on piano.

CD one begins with four from Dark Side of the Moon which are “Speak to Me”, “Breathe”, “Time” and “Breathe (Reprise)” (all are excellent versions). The next ten tracks are the On an Island* portion of the show this time with an orchestra. “Castellorizon” is amazing. “On An Island” is superb (even without Crosby and Nash’s harmonies). “The Blue” trumps the studio version. “Red Sky at Night” is more haunting live with orchestra and Jon Carin’s Lap Steel playing counterpointing Gilmour’s rare sax playing appearance. Next is a jazzy but rocking “This Heaven”.

We follow with “Then I Close My Eyes” (with lap steel replacing Robert Wyatt’s cornet) and an excellent version. “Smile” is superior to studio counterpart. “Take A Breath” is excellent here. “A Pocketful of Stones” is also superb. We end the first set with a great “Where We Start”.

CD 2 starts with a excellent “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (with wine glass intro). We follow with superb readings of “Astronomy Domine”* and “Fat Old Sun”. The atmospheric “High Hopes”* is next and best solo Gilmour version. Next is a 25-minute spellbinding version of “Echoes”. “Wish You Were Here” follows and is excellent. We then get a surprise out of “A Great Day For Freedom”*. We end with a jawdropping version of “Comfortably Numb”*.

The second DVD (disc four) contains more pieces from the Mermaid Theater concert from March 7, 2006. Also we have more from AOL’s Music Sessions, Live from Abbey Road Studios. Plus we have three Barn Jams included recorded at Gilmour’s home in Sussex, England. We also get On an Island in 5.1 Surround Sound. Lastly, there’s some Easter Eggs that I cannot give away and you will have to see to find out.

The five disc version (which is only available in the US at Best Buy) includes a third live CD including rare performed tracks like “Dominoes”, “Find the Cost of Freedom”, “Coming Back to Life” and “On the Turning Away”.

Sadly, this set features the last work of founding Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright who sadly passed away a week before this set’s release and is a fitting swan song to the musical soul of Pink Floyd and Gilmour’s old friend. This box set is highly recommended.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | David Gilmour Live In Gdansk | , | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)

Pink Floyd - 1987 - A Momentary Lapse Of Reason(Capa)From

Perhaps not as proverbially bad as it is often described – this record does have its redeeming moments, after all. But it’s so dull that it’s almost unlistenable – the amount of real energy is at a zero level, and the main forte of Pink Floyd is gone: the few special effects don’t have any thrill at all and mostly sound like weak parodies. The melodies are simple to the extreme, the lyrics are crap, and moreover, the band members don’t even play on the album: except for Gilmour’s obligatory guitar solos, the instruments are played by a swarm of session musicians.

So why a 5? See, there’s just no reason for this album to be necessarily weaker than all the kind of modernized progressive stuff of the era. Yes, Emerson, Lake & Powell, Asia, everybody was putting out this stuff called ‘modern prog’ that pretty much all sounded the same, and yet, even though I am sometimes tempted to write all this mess off as a profanation of the original art, I still try to sit through these heaps of potential garbage to fish out the few pearls or, at least, the stuff that could have sounded good with different arrangements an epoch ago.

In this context, A Momentary Lapse doesn’t sound particularly appalling. Take it as a product of its epoch – not as a permutation of the original Pink Floyd sound (which it was) caused by the departure of Roger Waters (actually, by the ‘departure’ of everybody but Gilmour). Oh, well. At least it’s better than Big Generator.

Funny, though, how badly Dave wanted this to sound like a genuine Pink Floyd album. To do this, he even incorporated an oddly titled instrumental (‘Signs Of Life’; they wanted to name the album likewise at first, but changed their mind after Dave remarked it would give the critics a sneering chance – what’s the matter with the actual title then, I wonder?), like I said, an oddly titled instrumental that begins with strange noises, sounding like a watermill to me, that apparently are supposed to remind you of the ominous intro to Dark Side.

And the music itself is certainly a rip-off of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, right to the closing Dave solo. Needless to say, one can only shrug one’s shoulders at the attempt, because it seems like a pigmy parody. Where the moody synth lines and heavenly solo in ‘Shine On’ meant total and immediate catharsis, these weak recreations only make me yawn. What’s the matter Dave? Where’s your talent at putting together heavenly solos? Gimme something better!

Even worse, Dave did try to replace Roger in his primary function – finding new thrilling gimmicks to plaster the record with ’em. Fortunately, he only found a few, because they don’t just suck, they’re horrendous. ‘A New Machine’, with its spoken lines over organ playing that keep fading in and fading out, is a perfect example of how to make an unsuccessful Floyd parody, and the fact that Gilmour takes it all too seriously is even more terrifying to realize. And the roaring of dogs at the beginning of ‘The Dogs Of War’ (again, a concept unprofessionally stolen from Animals) just confirms the idea that the guy was at a terrible lack of ’em.

That said, there’s maybe only about a couple really bad songs on the whole album – ‘A New Machine’ is certainly one of them, but it’s short, even if it contains two parts (the second is a very brief reprise), and ‘Yet Another Movie’ is a piece of pseudo-metallic muck that was supposed to recreate the sinister notes on The Wall but failed once again. As for ‘Dogs Of War’, it is very banal, but I don’t hate it as much as everybody else does – I mean, sometimes I do find some dorky pleasure in listening to it. Everybody needs some guilty simple pleasures in life, and anyway, it’s at least memorable and a teeny-weeny bit energetic.

The other material has only one fault – it drags. Apart from the great sky anthem ‘Learning To Fly’, the only deserving classic on the record, the other four songs just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on… somebody stop me, but it’s so. Slow, melodyless, mostly built on some presumably moody but feeble keyboard playing, then presumably picking up steam when Dave hits the chords but in reality just being totally predictable… like, you know, ‘it’s already four minutes into the song and old Gilmour hasn’t soared yet.

He’s bound to take off in a couple of seconds. Oh, there he goes. Okay, guys, lunchtime!’ This might be good background music for you to enjoy in the car if you have a long way to go, but don’t expect to get any emotional thrill out of here. At least the solos are good – I mean, there’s very little dentistry on these four songs. Perhaps a couple minutes on ‘Sorrow’, that’s all: Dave mostly sticks to normal guitar tone. But that’s no consolation, really. There was no future for the band after Roger left. Not that there would necessarily be any future for ’em had he stayed, as witnessed by The Final Cut. In an age when special effects and thriller-type gimmicks didn’t really matter much more, a band like Pink Floyd were bound to begin rolling downhill.

The only thing that could have saved them (as it briefly saved Paul McCartney, for instance) would be to begin paying more attention to melody. But when did a band as smart as Pink Floyd pay a lot of attention to a thing as trite as melody? I’ll refrain from saying ‘never’, but you know the directions of my thought…

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Pink Floyd A Momentary Lapse Of Reason | | Leave a comment

Soft Machine Softs (1976)


Softs. Kinda ironic – were the guys just trying to remind the world that they still were the Soft Machine and not just a number or a bundle? But nobody had really the right to do that, except for Ratledge, and Ratledge is gone.

The critics jeered about the fact way too much, condemning the band for not changing their name. Still, if we remember that Soft Machine rarely took revolutionary changes in their style (except for maybe the transition from Two to Third), the change in style is not as radical as with, say, Fleetwood Mac (whose music had undergone far more changes than the Softs’ even with the rhythm section always staying together). So Ratledge is gone – who cares. His presence wasn’t all that necessary on Bundles, and he just did what was supposed to be done – disappeared into the shadows, letting the completely new incarnation of Soft Machine to go on doing the work. Rest in peace, brother.

Much worse is the fact that Holdsworth is gone, too – maybe working with Jenkins was far too stiffling for him. In the two guys’ place, Jenkins, Babbington, and Etheridge have recruited Alan Wakeman on soprano and tenor sax (so there we go with a bit of brass again) and John Etheridge on guitar; Jenkins is fully settled into the role of keyboard player, and the oboes are gone forever. But the main problem is that I’ve grown to love the guitarwork on Bundles, and the guitarwork on Softs is nowhere near as distinctive.

Oh sure, John Etheridge is a skilled player. He can handle these finger-flashing jazzy chops just as well as Holdsworth – at times his soloing style is practically undistinguishable from Alan’s. And on softer, pure-jazz numbers like ‘Etka’ one gets to admire his technique in a really close-up look. But that’s just the problem – Etheridge is a conventional, formulaic jazz guitarist with not a lot of imagination or constructivity. Bundles had, well, bundles of masterful riffs and chord changes; Softs just keeps meandering, going from one short-lived, feeble groove to another and not achieving anything.

The entire second half of the album, apart from the pleasant, but forgettable ‘Etka’, is actually nothing but your average experimentalist crap – tracks like ‘Camden Tandem’ or ‘Kayoo’ may hit you over the head at first with their weirdness and loudness, but they don’t have anything resembling a real melody. Marshall does his usual drum solo stuff on ‘Kayoo’ (Lord I hate the guy – what on earth made him think every ensuing Soft Machine album needed one of those?) and ‘Camden Tandem’ is just a bunch of loud guitar phrases, very aptly played but that’s about it.

And on ‘One Over The Eight’ they really go over the eight. The dreadful murky boring fusion is back; they let in that guy Wakeman and play something that hearkens back to the good old days of Fourth. Please. Not to mention that Jenkins’ ambient schtick is painfully wearing thin – I hate ‘Second Bundle’ and I frankly had enough of these atmospheric bleeps. And Eno’s ambient albums were already on the horizon anyway.

Fortunately, the first four tracks on the album save it from utter ruin. And that’s because they never actually tackled the particular style before. ‘Aubade’, ‘The Tale Of Taliesin’ and ‘Song Of Aeolus’ aren’t even fusion; in style, they are way closer to the ‘traditional’ school of progressive rock – by which I mostly mean Genesis or Yes. They go for a more medieval stylistics, including flutes and recorders, really deep, profound layers of sound, and a certain emotionality that was only showing up a bit on Bundles in certain places. Jenkins is credited for all of these, and that makes me forgive him ‘Second Bundle’.

‘Aubade’ opens the album on a short sweet note – like an innocent sweet little pastoral tune; and then they plunge into the epic ‘Tale Of Taliesin’, with Jenkins playing gothic piano and Etheridge contributing wailing, tear-wrenching guitar parts. The fast part within the composition is more like it – a bit jazzier, but the sound is still deep enough to allow you to soak in some emotions, and Etheridge brews up a storm – you really couldn’t tell him from Holdsworth on that one. Meanwhile, all the synth layers and bass overdubs really announce a completely new type of Soft Machine: a band that wants to outgrow the weirdness and the esoteric self-isolationism and come out with something truly epochal. A composition like that might even have put them in the superstar league way back in 1972 or so. Unfortunately, the big problem with Soft Machine was always that they were either way too early or way too late.

‘Ban-Ban Caliban’ is good, too. I really don’t know what the track has to do with Shakespeare’s or some other Caliban, but who cares – who ever pays attention to the way the Machine dudes were naming their tracks? That’s not Brian Eno for you. But in any case, it’s fast and rip-roaring, and quite ‘progressive’ at the core, as well. And after the storm, the (for once) aptly titled ‘Song Of Aeolus’ retreats to the medieval atmospheres and the mystique and darkness.

No, maybe this entire ‘suite’ (and I sure call it a suite – these four differently titled tracks have more in common than the five different parts of ‘Hazard Profile’) is not an atmospheric masterpiece, but it sure comes close, and it just might as well be the best ‘progressive’ composition of the year 1976, unless you’re a Tony Banks fan and spend all your free time grooving along to ‘Mad Man Moon’. Ooh, jeez, what a beautiful perspective.

So imagine how dumb it is – to follow this minor masterpiece with all that experimental fusion dreck. Man, I was sure disappointed. Even worse, they took that dumb second half and based the entire next album around it. Okay – nearly the entire album, but should you really be nitpicking?

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Soft Machine Softs | | Leave a comment

Soft Machine Bundles (1975)


The fact is, Bundles sounds nothing like Third, and it hardly even sounds like anything from the 1971-73 period.

Two more important changes are introduced. First, guitar wizard Alan Holdsworth is joining the band which thus receives an official and professional guitar player for the first time since their earliest recorded output. This certainly makes the music more accessible for those who are tired of hearing the organ/oboe duet all the time. Second, Jenkins accepts complete domination of the band, pushing Ratledge to the very borders, and moving on to the keyboards himself.

Ratledge only gets two compositions of his own on the album (‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’ and ‘Peff’), but they aren’t all that impressive, and they’re not even different from each other, more or less like ‘French Lesson’ and ‘German Lesson’. And they’re plain obsolete: the same type of dull fusion-style ear-candy that just floats by and does nothing. Obviously, Mike was just spent by the time, or maybe he was too weak and unwilling to protest against the new directions the band’s music had taken by that point. He would quit for good soon after the recording of the album, the last Machine veteran to flee the field and leave the band with absolutely no links to its past.

This leaves Jenkins and Holdsworth as the full-fledged masters on the album (Marshall also contributes the weak ‘Four Gongs Two Drums’ with the obligatory percussion solo, but this time it’s really getting tedious). And Jenkins rules supreme, throwing out three blistering compositions – the five-part ‘Hazard Profile’, the title track, and the ambience-tinged ‘The Floating World’, all three of which are not only among the Machine’s best stuff ever, but which are really the kind of compositions that give fusion a good name.

They are energetic, expertly performed, all based around solid, interchanging riffs, plus Holdsworth is a guitar god – the kind of player one really needs for a fusion record. His finger-flashing style reminds me a little of Ritchie Blackmore, although Holdsworth definitely wins in the technical skill section (not a note missed or misplayed anywhere – almost automatic precision), but loses in the expressivity section. But, after all, ‘expressive fusion’ is an oxymoron, isn’t it? Fusion is mostly show-off, and if you’re gonna show off, you should at least deserve the right to show off. And Alan certainly deserves it.

Anyway, ‘Hazard Profile’ strikes me as the most intelligent and enthralling ‘fusion suite’ ever written, from the opening toll of the bell (very misleading – it doesn’t fit at all with the rest of that style, except, maybe, for the fact that it is supposed to announce a “grand” opening) to the closing synthesizer notes. During all of its eighteen minutes, it’s never boring at all, which is really amazing – for me, at least. After the bells, you have the great riff to which you can groove for several minutes; then it goes away and Massa Holdsworth throws in a couple of jaw-dropping solos that put Massa Blackmore to shame; Holdsworth finds it no problem to easily alternate delicate moody passages with fifty-notes-per-second thunderstorms, displaying certain playing tricks that Blackmore could only dream of.

The second part, then, throws us into a short and gentle ‘toccatina’ by Jenkins, backed by soft acoustic playing from Alan; and Part 3 makes the emphasis on ‘beautiful’ (those first few seconds of Alan playing weepy notes is the most gorgeous moment on the whole record; forget what I said about ‘expressive fusion’ being an oxymoron, if only for a couple of seconds), before throwing us into more clever riffage on the slow fourth and the fast fifth part. Wow, I’d sure love to see them perform this one live.

Then there’s the title track – seriously, could one forget the intro riffage? I can only wonder what on earth prevented these guys from writing such flawless passages two or three years before. And when Holdsworth comes up and hits you with more of these gritty solos, after which he leads you into his own menacing composition ‘Land Of The Bag Snake’, you almost begin to believe that, cut for cut, Bundles might be the Soft Machine’s best contribution to music on this planet and maybe beyond it. To this one should also add Holdsworth’s pretty, if inessential, acoustic showcase ‘Gone Sailing’, and, of course, the obligatory stab at ambient patterns in Jenkins’ ‘The Floating World’ which is just as it is – it gives the impression of a world slowly floating and floating. Kinda overlong, of course, but one gets used to ambient compositions being overlong. And you can always turn it off at any moment, too.

Funny to say, I initially wanted to only give the record an overall rating of eight, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks… I mean, I thought all of these things were just self-indulgence and meaningless boredom, but then I said: ‘Okay, if this is self-indulgence and boredom, then what the hell is Fourth?’ Which made me reconsider all the possibilities. Hey, what’s not to like here? Great riffs, great guitar playing, atmospherics and professionalism. If these guys are self-indulgent, they certainly deserve it.

I still can’t consider this the best SM album because of Ratledge’s weak spots and occasional misfires in some of the compositions, but it comes damn close, and it’s an absolute must for you if you like the Soft Machine, Alan Holdsworth, quality fusion, intelligent music, self-indulgence, finger-flashing, rock climbing, nit picking, window washing, or me. ‘Nuff said.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Soft Machine Bundles | | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)


This is Townshend’s own custom-built version of Quadrophenia: that big bloated pretentious kind of thingie that no-one but Townshend himself really can dig into, but sounds enthralling all the same.

What is really amazing about this record is the very fact that it exists. If you happen to be familiar with that bit of early Eighties’ Who history, you might probably have heard it was one of the worst moments in Pete’s life. He was torn between the Who, his own solo projects, his family, his drinking, and God knows what else. He was, in fact, a total wreck – at one point, he nearly followed Keith Moon into the grave with a heroin overdose and was saved by the hospital nurse in the nick of time (some say there’s an indirect hint at this in ‘Somebody Saved Me’).

And with all these perturbances, he made easily the most complex record of his entire career – where ‘complex’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘best’ (even if it is the best solo Townshend record), but it sure means a lot of work went into it. The lyrics on the album amount to a whole new level of artistic ambition; heck, even the liner notes open with the following lines: ‘There have always been times like these. The multi-coloured spheres crash and collide, the triangle expands and explodes; eventually there is nothing’. At times I wonder if Neil Peart had been involved in the project. There’s no use in trying to even begin deciphering all the complex imagery of these lyrics.

My personal belief is that this is definitely not a put-on and that these lyrics actually meant a lot to Pete himself; after all, he was never known for spewing out phoney pseudo-poetic bullshit in the past. And in fact, I’m actually relieved that Cowboys isn’t Empty Glass Vol. 2, neither musically nor lyrically; with a couple notable exceptions like ‘Somebody Saved Me’ (which, not coincidentally, is the album’s weakest tune), Townshend never wastes much time on whining about his personal problems – yet the album is still introspective in nature. Pete isn’t in true “confession mode” on here – he’s arranged for battle, and just a brief comparison of the album cover with the one of Empty Glass is enough to prove that.

As for the music, it ventures further and further away from the Who prototype – even if an album like Who Are You had already pretty much demolished that prototype four years ago. It actually doesn’t sound much like Empty Glass either, with a continuing reliance on synthesizers and less and less reliance on guitars. Yet Pete proves himself to be in total control over these things, and most of the melodies are pretty well concentrated and sometimes even hook-filled. One thing Cowboys does not offer is a couple or so of timeless outstanding hits like ‘A Little Is Enough’ or ‘Rough Boys’; it yields no mammoth classics to be immensely treasured by the average Who fan. Instead, it’s just consistent, diverse, and often thought- and emotion-provoking.

Not all the songs on here are equally good, but there’s nary a true misstep. And believe me, I was seriously put off by the record at first – the hooks took some time to sink in, and so did the emotional content; it’s yet another one of those albums that can be easily put down with just one move of your little finger, but before you do that, ask yourself if you really need to mock this guy in this particular situation. Because you don’t. Yes, so ‘Stop Hurting People’ is introduced by Pete speaking instead of singing, and what’s that he speaks? ‘A love born once must soon be born again’? Is this a treatise on reincarnation? But it only gets better and better with every next second, and at the present time it has reached the point where I’m nearly moved to tears at hearing the ‘people, stop hurting people’ refrain and that majestic synthesizer riff – don’t tell me it isn’t Quadrophenia-quality, because it is. Maybe the song would be better if Pete bothered to sing his lyrics. Maybe it wouldn’t. Whatever. It’s a wonderful number either way.

‘The Sea Refuses No River’ is one of Pete’s best ballads, and this one really brings out all the vulnerable beauty of his voice. I guess it’s the sharp contrast between the pretentious lyrics and the thin, pleading, humble voice that neutralizes the worst sides of both and brings out the best – because the melody itself isn’t all that memorable, it’s the unique power of the whole combo that drives the song forward. But somehow I still end up preferring Townshend’s ‘poppier’ material, like the unstoppable groove of ‘Face Dances Part Two’, a song that’s better than at least a good half of the actual Face Dances album combined. There’s an aura of mystery and romance to this technically ‘ordinary’ synth-and-guitar-driven upbeat pop composition that can’t be beat, and both the ‘face dances tonight, fate chances moonlight’ chorus and the ‘I can only stare, you make me feel like I don’t care’ “post-chorus” bit just won’t leave my head.

Maybe it takes time to really dig into this whole shenanigan, well, I had all this time, and now I keep spotting groovy little bits everywhere – the nervous insecure acoustic picking at the beginning of ‘Exquisitely Bored’ is a perfect match for the song’s depressed, pessimistic chorus; the little “rappy” bit in ‘Communication’ (the one that goes ‘comma comma comma commi commi commi… communicate!’) is hilarious and does a lot to push away the depression induced by ‘Exquisitely Bored’; ‘Stardom In Action’ is not a highlight, but the chorus is unforgettable anyway; ‘Uniforms’ is endearingly “boppy”; the inclusion of the traditional folk song ‘North Country Girl’ is a pleasantly shocking surprise; ‘Somebody Saved Me’ is kind of a boring go-nowhere ballad but is at least hardly worse than your average confessional song on Empty Glass; and only a complete Townshend-hating idiot will remain unmoved by ‘Slit Skirts’, a song that’s said to be inspired by Pete’s sister-in-law’s Virginia Astley’s disdain for said thing – except that the main lyrical message here is having to gracefully accept the new realities of middle-age, hence ‘I don’t ever wear no ripped shirts, can’t pretend that growing older never hurts’. Boy is that chorus ever beautiful.

All in all, I think in the end it all depends on whether you’re willing to accept Pete’s charisma or not; Cowboys is very dependent on that. Yes, it’s ambitious and overblown, but it never sounds like Pete is forcing that ambition and pretention on you. Maybe it’s just because he wasn’t “blessed” with a Greg Lake type of voice, and so in his hands even something like ‘Epitaph’ would have sounded unpretentious. Maybe it’s the fact that for the most part, he is able to evade obvious cliches and truisms even in the most puffed-up locations. Add to this the bunch of really catchy melodies (about half of the songs), and there you have it – an album that’s actually deeper than Empty Glass, if less accessible. And miles and miles ahead of the unlucky It’s Hard, which really gives the impression of a vastly inferior outtakes collection from Cowboys.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin III (1970)


This record came as quite a surprise in 1970, and though it confounded both critics and fans alike at the time it holds up immaculately well today.

After the success of Led Zeppelin II, Page and Plant took some time off, retreating to a remote cottage in the Wales countryside called Bron yr aur. Much of the album was written by the duo in that relaxed setting, and as a result the mellower music is less reliant on Page’s heavy riffing and is more eclectic as Plant’s hippie idealism flowered. Largely shedding their overblown reputation as blues copycats, many of these songs are acoustic-based, as the band displays a dazzling versatility and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of various musical forms.

Not for the first time, “Immigrant Song” started the album off with a classic short rocker, one that’s highlighted by Plant’s memorable siren calls and Viking-inspired lyrics (Zep could transport you within their songs like few others). The exotic, atmospheric, string-flavored “Friends,” beautifully arranged by Jones and featuring impressive acoustic fingerpicking from Page, then showed the ever-increasing influence of Eastern music in Led Zeppelin’s songs, while “Celebration Day” and “Out On The Tiles” are simple but extremely effective straight ahead riff rockers that were more in line with what fans expected.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that Plant’s voice on these songs (and “Gallows Pole”) seems more shrill and high-pitched than in the past, which takes some getting used to, though it fits these songs. Anyway, this album’s centerpiece song comes in the form of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” a slowly smoldering, at times explosive blues epic that’s highlighted by one of Page’s most expressive guitar solos, moody organ from Jones, and a wonderfully weary vocal from Plant. Actually, the whole band shines on what is arguably the band’s greatest slow blues, though again lyrical similarities between this song and Moby Grape’s “Never” led to more charges of thievery (though again I’d argue that the song’s greatness had very little to do with Moby Grape).

Elsewhere, “Gallows Pole” offers a brilliantly frenzied take on a traditional folk tune originally popularized by Leadbelly. This version is altogether different, as it is totally transformed by the alchemic magic of this superior foursome; the song features a wonderfully exciting buildup as various instruments (including banjo and mandolin) enter the fray for its exciting, jam-packed finish. Arguably even better are “Tangerine” and “That’s The Way,” a pair of lovely acoustic ballads which proved once and for all that Led Zeppelin were about far more than pure power.

The short former song had its genesis from back in Page’s Yardbirds days and is perhaps most notable for Plant’s multi-tracked vocals, while the long-ish latter track, the third in a row to feature pedal steel guitar, has no drums at all and features one of Plant’s finest lyrics. Next up is “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (apparently the band forgot the “r” in “Yr”), a playful showcase for Page’s vigorous acoustic guitar strumming that’s representative of the album’s rural, homespun charm, even if it is a minor track in the grand scheme of things.

Still, that one’s a masterpiece compared to “Hats Off To Roy Harper,” which meekly ends the album with one of the band’s weakest efforts. Based on Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” and named in tribute to the cult musician who they admired and befriended, the band should have instead closed the album with the great “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” which was released in the U.S. as a b-side to “Immigrant Song” at around the same time.

Oh well, it’s hard to complain too much about one duff track among ten, even though many did complain about the album at the time despite the fact that it was the band’s most consistent effort yet, though on the whole its peaks don’t rise quite as high as its predecessors. Still, time has only been kind to Led Zeppelin III, whose stature has steadily grown over the years.

In fact, many of these songs were featured prominently during the Page and Plant reunion tour of 1994, and this often-overlooked gem is especially enjoyable because these songs aren’t played constantly on classic rock radio.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin III | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden, June 8th 1977


06/08/77 – Madison Square Garden, NY, NY – Bill McCue
Ah, memories. I saw Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 8, 1977 – the second of six sold-out nights for the boys. My seat was in a corner slightly behind the stage on JPJ’s side. Section 315 in the green section, to be precise.

Zeppelin’s run of shows was a family affair for the McCues. My brother Kevin went on opening night, my brother Larry accompanied me. It was my first concert in NYC. I was 13 years old. Quite an experience for a young lad.

My most distinct memories are of the volume – extremely loud, almost painfully so – and the “heavy” crowd. Lots of bikers and pyromaniacs. Fireworks were set off indiscriminately throughout the evening, despite Robert’s constant pleas for sanity. The opening numbers were incredible but the sound was a big mush. Things crawled to a halt early on with JPJ’s extended solo during No Quarter. My brother fell asleep, folks ran to the concession stands and lingered in the hallways outside the main arena.

I remember going for a pee during Moby Dick and being struck by how “Night of the Living Dead” everyone appeared. People got really stoned back in those days, smoking bushels of pot and drinking lots of cheap wine. There was a big cloud of smoke hanging over the orchestra during Zeppelin’s set.

My favorite song of the night was Ten Years Gone. Quick sidenote: I’m sure you remember that details like set lists weren’t well known back in those days. I only knew they were going to do TYG because my brother had been to the show the night before. I also loved SIBLY and IMTOD. The acoustic set was cool, too, but the fireworks ruined most of it. The crowd perked up for Kashmir, but after the acoustic set, everyone seemed worn out. Three hours is a long show, especially when a fair amount of the show involves really long solo passages.

JPJ tinkered during NQ for about 10 minutes, WS/BMS was about 10 minutes, Moby Dick/Over the Top was about 15 minutes, Jimmy’s violin bow/theramin/box of tricks schtick prior to ALS was about 10 minutes. That’s a lot of noodling to sit through. Even today I skip around a lot and rarely listen to anything beyond Kashmir when I play a bootleg from that tour. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a boot from the show I went to. I would imagine it was a decent show by 1977 tour standards. I don’t remember any major screw ups or “cringe inducing” moments that were all too frequent during the post 73 tour years.

lz19770607-14_01The visual effects were very impressive, particularly the spinning mirror ball during Kashmir. As I mentioned earlier, the volume was L-O-U-D loud. Volume covers up a variety of audio “blemishes,” I guess.

I remember walking out of the Garden at around 12:30 or so. I believe they came on at around 9:20. Hotel California was playing when the lights went out. I also remember hearing Life in the Fast Lane from the same album.

I had on a red Led Zeppelin shirt over a white long sleeved thermal shirt. Purple high top Converse and a huge Afro. Levi Jeans. I was pretty groovy for a 13-year old. Didnt smoke any pot, but I’m pretty sure I got a nice contact high from the cats sitting next to me. People in the crowd were very nice to me. Everyone seemed pleased to see someone so young at the show. I guess I stood out. Very small for my age, which probably made me look even younger.

I got my tickets by cutting out a coupon from a full page ad in the New York Times and sending in a money order for $21 for two tickets. I think they were $9.50 a piece plus a $2 handling charge. A far cry from today’s T-master thievery. The whole event was exotic – even the concept of getting a money order was a new and exciting thing for me at the time. And think about it – six sold out nights! Not sure any of today’s acts could duplicate that feat.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden June 8th 1977 | , | 1 Comment

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


Lord bless the BBC! For years now they’ve been putting out these cute little compilations, and they all range from amusing to great. This one’s one of the most recent, devoted to unveiling before us the grandiose live powers of what was formerly known as ‘the ultimate hard rock band’.

Needless to say, this is a must for everybody with even a passing interest in Led Zep. Whatever complaints I may hold towards separate original albums, there’s little to complain about as for what regards this package. The songs are all from the early years – they don’t go any further than IV, and so much the better (even though I would dearly love to see a live version of ‘No Quarter’ here as well).

The one major flaw is that several of the songs are repeated in two, sometimes even three versions – personally, I don’t see why I should patiently tolerate three similar takes on ‘Communication Breakdown’ (even if, strictly speaking, they’re all fabulous) or two nearly similar takes on ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ (even if, frankly speaking, they’re just as fabulous – brilliant use of pauses!). This makes me ditch a point – sorry, guys, even if there was nothing else interesting left, you’d have done better to eliminate some of these versions.

After all, nobody asks you to increase the running time to seventy plus minutes if there’s nothing substantial to increase it with. However, some of the doublets do seem motivated – there is, for instance, an early version of ‘Dazed And Confused’ and a later version of the same, so that one can compare the original tight, relatively short hard rock number with the grandiose twenty-minute metal symphony it evolved into later. So the problem is not really as serious as one could have supposed.

But never mind the problems! Why don’t we enjoy the good sides instead? From the early days, there are two kick-ass versions of ‘You Shook Me’ the first one of which comes close to surpassing the original in what concerns the level of ‘hardness’ and sparkling energy – if this dates from the band’s first recording sessions on the BBC, I really suppose Jimmy made a solemn vow to make a non-forgettable introduction of the band to the radio-loving public. There are also some interesting blues numbers you won’t find on any other official release, like the riff-fest ‘The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair’ whose main riff later got re-worked (that’s another synonym for ‘stolen’, of course) into ‘Moby Dick’, or the fast, jammy ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’.

The playing is nearly always exceptional, except that Plant often gets as obnoxious as ever, with endless wailings and insertions of the line ‘squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg’ in every possible place – whenever the line could be expected or whenever it couldn’t. But I guess that is no big surprise for those who are at least vaguely familiar with Mr Robert’s style, and the true fans should concentrate on Mr Page anyway, because Mr Page obviously liked the BBC studio environment.

Apart from that, on the first disc you also get your ‘How Many More Times’ (good, but a little bit too long) and ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ (cool! The guys on the BBC have guessed my taste! They knew exactly how to please me! To think they could have put on ‘Rambling On’ instead!)

So, if you don’t count the excessive live versions of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ (one should be enough) and ‘Communication Breakdown’ (one should be too much), the first disc is totally glorious. The second one does have a couple misfires, though. First, what the heck is ‘Thank You’ doing on here as the closing song? That’s one of the lamest ballads they ever did! Anyway, I don’t care much – it being the last song, I can simply stop the CD earlier than needed. Second, why choose such an unsatisfying version of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’? Mind you, I loved the song on III, but the performance on this disc is simply sloppy – Plant doesn’t bother to sing at all, and Jimmy doesn’t seem to notice that Plant doesn’t sing and instead of compensating it with great guitarwork, gets loose himself. I wonder if they were drunk in the recording studio or what? Yuck! And finally, I never liked ‘That’s The Way’.

But, the rest is a totally different matter: ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (this time going into a medley of old blues numbers and coming out again) are as polished as ever, ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is actually better than the live version on Song Remains The Same, and the generic cock rock just does what it is supposed to do – get you in a groove and make you forget all your troubles (‘Black Dog’, ‘Heartbreaker’).

So, simply beautiful. Indeed, I heartily recommend this album as the place to start with Led Zep – forget all these hit packages, they’re just for navel-gazing jerks! Real music lovers should only get hit packages after getting all the original albums, I say! Instead, invest your hard-earned pay into this little 2-CD package and witness the world’s greatest heavy metal band (yup, you heard right; the world’s greatest hard rock band is The Who) at their very, very, very best, before they just turned into a hit-making hair metal machine.

Long live the BBC! Especially since officially released live Led Zep stuff is so hard to come by – which is a shame, because judging by the vast amounts of bootlegs out there, a lot of Led Zep facets really turn out to be missed. God only knows what they used to perform live in those lengthy medleys – all kinds of rock’n’roll, blues, country, whatever, even Beatles covers, I guess.

By the way, if you listen closely to the first version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, you’ll hear Plant do a little tidbit from ‘Mystery Train’ on the ‘orgasmic’ part. Pay attention next time!

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant No Quarter (1994)


Review Originally released in 1994 `No Quarter’ contains 14 musical pieces, mostly intelligent and imaginative re-works of songs written jointly by Page and Plant and recorded by Led Zeppelin in the 1970s. Most buyers interested in this collection will be Zeppelin fans and very familiar with all the `originals’ from Zep’s back catalogue.

One of the reasons Page and Plant hit it off when they met in 1968 was that they shared wide-ranging musical interests, and their subsequent joint-compositions incorporated ideas from North African and Indian music (check out Page’s frequently unconventional guitar tunings) as well as Mississippi Delta blues, Appalachian mountain music and the folk traditions of the British Isles.

On this album the duo perform some of their best songs with new arrangements backed by 7 musicians playing variously banjo, mandolin, bodhran and hurdy-gurdy as well as bass and percussion. To add further spice to the mix, a traditional Egyptian 11-piece musical ensemble is deployed on many of the tracks, and – on those recorded in Marrakech – 4 Moroccan musicians. To top it all off, the entire string section from The London Metropolitan Orchestra (violins, violas and cellos) guest on a brand new interpretation of the Zep classic `Kashmir’ to close the album.

Some of the songs on the album are performed in front of a live audience and some are studio recordings; some recorded in Marrakech in the open air and some at a cottage in Snowdonia. Overall the result is a very rich musical experience, more complex and varied than any one of Zeppelin’s glorious albums to which this collection will inevitably be compared. One or two songs – `Since I’ve been loving you’, `That’s the way’ and `Battle of Evermore’ – don’t really get the full exotic treatment but are re-worked in a more conventional manner, and improved on nevertheless.

Overall this is a truly excellent and mature piece of work which will appeal to any Zeppelin fan, and also to any open-minded listener with wider musical horizons who wants to hear something a bit different. Production values are exemplary, giving a rich and satisfying sound where no instrument or voice dominates the action, but where everything is in fine balance.

Review Calling this album by the video title of “Unledded,” as a takeoff on “Unplugged,” sorely misses the point of why “No Quarter” is not just Jimmy Page and Robert Plant doing acoustic versions of Led Zeppelin songs.

The primary attraction of this album is the infusion of Eastern rhythms and sounds into their old songs. The Egyptian Ensemble’s percussion section uses instruments you just do not hear on rock ‘n’ roll albums: Dobolla, Duf, Bendir, Reque, Merwas, Nay and Finger Cymbals (for good measure the back up band includes a Bodhran and Hurdy Gurdy). As soon as you hearing the opening of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” you know that there is an exotic twist to these songs this time around. “No Quarter,” “Friends,” “The Battle for Evermore,” “Gallows Pole” and “Four Sticks” all benefit from this fresh approach.

Then, just to make things really interesting, we get the string section of the London Metropolitan Orchestra to come in on the awesome version of “Kashmir” that ends the album. Consequently, the songs were we do not really get the full flavor of this exotic twist, such as “Thank You,” That’s the Way” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” seem a bit out of place. It would be hard to argue that Plant’s voice is everything it once was, but ultimately he is just another instrument on this mix.

I have always appreciated the mixing of musical styles, whether it is Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel using South African influences or Loreena McKennitt blending Celtic and Eastern music together, so I certainly consider “No Quarter” to be in that successful vein. The fact that these are Led Zeppelin songs just makes this album that much better.

Review This album contains a superb and ambitious re-working of some classic Zep songs such as Kashmir, No Quarter and Four Sticks. This is a more mature and refined sound than the original Led Zeppelin songs while retaining the tightness and intensity of the originals.

In the Zep days, the dynamic duo were influenced by Arabic and Indian music to the extent that Page frequently used unconventional guitar tunings in some of his songs. But in this album they have brought their Eastern influences to the forefront by incorporating an Egyptian orchestra. This works exceptionally well with several tracks, which they have taken to new heights and directions.

While remaining grounded in their Blues roots, they also pay homage to their eastern influences by recording informal sessions with Egyptian musicians which adds a touch of simplicity and mysticism.

Plant’s voice is as strong and bluesy as ever (check out Nobody’s Fault But Mine) and Page’s guitar solos are inspired and played from a place “deep down inside” (check out Thank You).

We’re not talking about your average rock-stars here – never content with resting on their laurels, the album bursts with creativity, originality and ambition. From the haunting and vibrant No Quarter to the East-West fusion of Kashmir, P&P inspire, delight and take their classic songs to parts very few rock bands have reached, and beyond.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page & Robert Plant No Quarter | | 1 Comment

No Quarter – Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded DVD (1994)


Review Ex-Led Zeppelin vocalist and lyricist Robert Plant always said that the true spirit of Led Zeppelin as represented within a single song was more evident in “Kashmir” than it was in AOR standby classic tracks like “Rock & Roll” and “Black Dog”; the notion that a hard rock blues-based band of English white boys who practically invented the heavy metal music genre could in fact be considered the godfathers of “World Beat” music a full generation before Peter Gabriel came along is conveniently overlooked by Western rock music fans, as is the notion that the principles of Eastern music (in terms of Indian and Arabic theories and applications) were far more prevalent within Led Zeppelin’s work than that of the Beatles, typically more associated with Indian music thanks to George Harrison’s association with Ravi Shankar.

This outstanding live performance recorded 10 years ago as of this writing is a fantastic example of Plant’s opinion and the Led Zeppelin vision of musical exploration gloriously realized. As detailed within the interview included with this DVD’s bonus features, Plant and guitarist/co-songwriter Jimmy Page chose a set that lent itself well to a broad interpretation and that reflected less the brute force of the riff-driven heavy metal classic tracks that permeate albums such as “Led Zeppelin II” and their self-titled 4th album (although “Four Sticks” and a wild reinterpretation of “When The Levee Breaks” are included) and more of the songs crafted as introspective compositions from “Led Zeppelin III” and “Houses Of The Holy”.

This is not Led Zeppelin in their prime; that would be “How The West Was Won”. And in truth John Paul Jones’ absence is much lamented by this listener as he may well have been the best musician in the band and was the unifying force keeping them together during their last years…but the musicians filling in for him and the late John Bonham are certainly competent and their absence tugs at the sentiment of the heart rather than the sensitivity of the ear.

But for me the accompanying musicians are what really makes this set go. This is not a case of adding an extra guitarist (i.e., Pat Smear from the “Nirvana: MTV Unplugged” concert); the musicians added to this performance play every thing from banjo to hurdy-gurdy to native Arabic lutes, in addition to both Western and Eastern string sections as well as Arabic percussion specialists. The culmination of the meshing of musical talents and the melding of musical sensibilities is no better realized than in the epic performance of “Kashmir”, my personal favourite Led Zeppelin song (and perhaps my favourite song by any performer). The song is hardly recognizable as the 8-plus minute classic rock radio staple; it has instead become the living embodiment of the spirit of the band and with its new energy surpasses the original studio recording whose orchestral sounds were generated from an early synthesizer (by John Paul Jones); the energy and the determination exhibited by the lead and supporting musicians during its performance is thoroughly inspiring and worthy of one of the finest performances in contemporary rock history.

This is a tremendous sampling of a band broken down to its most musical elements. Not specifically rock, folk, or even acoustic. Just evidence of the work of one of the finest bands to ever record. All the elements are there; you owe it to yourself to partake of them.

Review Well, Sir Robert and James Page have done it again!

This time, in a re-release of MTV’s 1994 Special UnLedded Page and Plant video, the full beauty of Robert’s voice, and Jimmy Page and his mastery of guitar legend abound.

It is replete with wonderful moments, such as Gallows Pole, featuring Jimmy playing one of his own Black Mountainside Brand custom acoustic guitars, Friends, a fabulous, exotic song from Zep III, and a heavy version of THE song, Kashmir, replete with cello phenom Caroline Dale, her entire ensemble of British cellists, Giles, Milne, et al, an Egyptian string ensemble, (with monstrously talented Egyptian violin soloist Wael Abu Bakr) doing lead violin solo, and Jimmy playing the 50,000$, multi computerized Gibson Les Paul Transperformance guitar – capable of instantaneously moving and retuning to nearly 100 different modal tunings real time- with relish. Jimmy has that device down to a science. Kashmir is simply still astonishing and brings tears to the eyes delivered like this. Power and glory abound here.

There is EVEN Page/Plant/Jones and Lee, doing a parody of Dred Zeppelins’ (Nobody’s Fault) doing a parody of Led Zep. How about that for turnabout? All in good fun of course. It’s even dumbed down to Dreds level for extra gusto.

The other piece de resistance’ is No Quarter, the beginning song, filmed outdoors, in the woods, in Wales, with Jimmy doing a totally re-worked No quarter in modal 12 string, acoustic, and Robert handling his own array of black boxes (on his lap) through which he does misty mountain hopping special FX for his voice, in real time. THIS is priceless.

There are a few (very few) weak spots here and there, but after all, these guys are middle aged fellows, like many of us, here, and none of us are what we were when we were 25. And Bonham’s presence is noticeable at times. Thank You could have been a better take.

But on the whole, this is thrilling music, with enormous scope, big time arrangements, TOP talent doing backup roles. The hurdy gurdy, rich mandolins, and violas and Bodhran add especially flavourful ethnic mixes to the final product. It is exciting, fresh, and full of new twists. I loved the jam with the musicians in Morrocco. And in Marrackech, that anthem, with Pagey doing the moonwalk, is just plain loud fun.

Where Pagey gets these special effects is anyone’s guess. He never runs out of new ideas, or new gear. No one, save perhaps Gilmour, knows more about the technical end of guitar, electronics, FX, cutting edge tech, and the like. These two fellows have pushed the state of the guitar ahead 100 years… if only there were people behind them picking up where they left off. As long as that is not the case, WE need JP showing us the way..

SIBLY is again, great. If you liked Led Zep, I dare say you will probably love this video. It is worth watching and keeping. You won’t find another live rock band like this for another hundred years or more. And with this high calibre of musicians backing them up, you won’t see a show like this again. That much is assured. Guaranteed.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | No Quarter - Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded | , | Leave a comment