Classic Rock Review

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The Who Little Billy Relaxes At The Fillmore (Fillmore East, April 1968)


Disc 1 (79:01) Fillmore East, New York City, April 5, 1968: Summertime Blues, Fortune Teller, Tattoo, Little Billy, Can’t Explain, Happy Jack, Relax, A Quick One, My Way, Shakin’ All Over, Boris The Spider, My Generation. Capital Theater, Ottawa October 15, 1969 (1st Set): Heaven And Hell, Can’t Explain, Fortune Teller, Tattoo, Young Man Blues

Disc 2 (66:04) Fillmore East, New York City, October 22, 1969: Bill Graham Introduction, Heaven And Hell, Can’t Explain, Fortune Teller, Speech, Young Man Blues, Speech, Overture, It’s A Boy, 1921, Amazing Journey (cuts within), Sparks, Eyesight To The Blind, Christmas (fragment only cuts off) See Me Feel Me (fragment only cuts in), Summertime Blues, Shakin’ All Over. State University of New York, Long Island (Stonybrook) October 18, 1969: Overture, It’s A Boy, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks (fade out)

Godfather’s second Who release is like a companion piece to their first title, The Dutch Seduction (Godfather Records GR 820/821) the brilliant Amsterdam Soundboard from 1969. This new title is from a similar period in history and collects together four recordings, three of which have been released prior and are now gathered together, in superb quality for all to enjoy.

The first disc has the Fillmore East show, often attributed as April 6 1968, the quality is superb soundboard recording and has seen many releases over the years, beginning with vinyl on Fillmore East (TMOQ 71071), and the various vinyl permutations such as Fillmore East (K&S RECORDS 014), Fillmore East (Koine V880805), Fillmore East 1968 (LXXXIV SERIES 40), Fillmore East 1968 (TMQ 71071), Furious Prelude (WPOCM 0888B008-1) and Live At Fillmore East (EXIL LP-EX-002), ultimately on CD under such titles as Live Over 20 Years (Live At The Fillmore East) (Koine K880805), Fillmore East 1968 (Back Trax CD 04-88007), Furious Prelude (WPOCM 0888B008-2), Live At Fillmore East, 1968 (Living Legend LLRCD 010), Live In New York (Black Panther BPCD 034), Who Were These Masked Men? and Shakin’ All Over (Gold Standard), and most recently as Fillmore East 6 April 1968 (Sunrise SR-0012).

There is no new tape as the cuts in “Relax”, “A Quick One”, and “My Generation” are still present but the band’s performance more than makes up for any short comings. What makes the performance so intriguing is that the band melds their early pop sensibilities (“Can’t Explain”, “Happy Jack”) with stage favorites that give them the ability to improvise (“Summertime Blues”, “Shakin All Over”, “My Generation”) plus a couple new songs from the Sell Out record. The version of “Tattoo” is particularly enjoyable, the trading of lyrics between Townshend and Daltrey is perfect and the lyrical content is funny yet disturbing. As most already know, this is an essential tape to have.

The remainder of the disc is a 20 minute fragment of the first five songs from the bands set at the Capital Theatre in Ottawa Canada. It has seen previous releases as Pure Rock Theatre (Hiwatt ZA59), Roulette Rock and Tangled In Tommy. The quality is excellent soundboard and well balanced but has a small amount of top end distortion and it is most unfortunate that the tape is so short as it seems that the band is playing with gusto. They hit the stage with “Heaven And Hell”, Entwistle’s song that was the B-side to “Summertime Blues”, it makes a good opener and features some great bass runs from The Ox.

After a quick “Can’t Explain” Roger introduces “Fortune Teller” as something from Benny Spellman, the song seems to be a 60′s favorite amongst bands and one The Who would most certainly make their own. The version here simply swings with swagger and fierce playing, it segues into another strong version of “Tattoo”, the lines about the Dad beating Mom who beats the brother is stunning. Pete’s introduction to “Young Man Blues” is quite quiet and he gives the history of the song originating from Jazz musicians. I remember getting my first taste of this song from The Kids Are Alright record and being amazed by the playing, certainly a vehicle for improvisation, Pete’s guitar has a great fuzzy and nasty tone to it that give a real thick sound.

The second disc begins with the Fillmore East soundboard fragment from October 22, 1969, the recording has seen previous releases as Accept No Substitute on Big Music (Big 011), Sparks On The Bay on Oil Well (RSC CD 044), The Who Live (Mojo 058), and Live At The Fillmore 1969 (Rockmasters RMC-009). The quality is excellent, well balanced and most enjoyable recording and has the best bottom end of all the recordings on this set. What can be debatable is the introduction, it is attributed to Bill Graham but to my ear does not sound like his voice but certainly has his catch fraises, I love the “Mad master of the skins” intro.
The band easily creates an intimate feeling at the 2,700 seat venue, during Pete’s introduction to the speech prior to “Young Man Blues” the tale of stage gremlins has the crowd chuckling. While the band’s playing is tight and professional it is certainly not as spirited as the Capital Theatre gig on the previous disc.

Tommy is unfortunately the most fragmented part of the tape, Pete gives a fine introduction to the piece and you are immediately swept in as they kick into the “Overture” and by the time the are in an incredibly heavy “Sparks” you can really appreciate Entwistle’s amazing playing. Sadly a large portion of Tommy is missing but the music seems to invigorate the band and by the time the music fades back with the closing moments of “See Me, Feel Me” the group is in full swing and “Summertime Blues” is full of energy and the band finish with an epic “Shakin’ All Over” with snatches of “The Seeker” and “Spoonful” for good measure.

The final fragment of tape is attributed to the State University of New York October 19, 1969; the sound is most similar to the other soundboard on this tape and is very clear and powerful with virtually no hiss or other tape issues. Clocking in at just over 15 minutes the recording contains the first few pieces of Tommy, all songs are complete save for “Sparks” that has a tape cut at 22 seconds and fades out at the 3:50 mark. A nice tape but frustratingly short.

The tri gatefold is beautifully adorned with live shots of the band and artwork based upon graphic from a Fillmore East program, there is also a 4 page booklet with liner notes from Ian Iachimoe. While this material has seen many prior releases it is certainly nice to have it all collected in one volume and the excellent sound quality make this a very worthwhile release, I for one am looking forward to more Who releases from The Don.

December 23, 2013 Posted by | The Who Little Billy Relaxes At The Fillmore | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live At The Cellar Door (2013)


Review This is a great reminder (if we needed one) of just what a fine songwriter Neil Young is. The album is a recording of some solo sets he did in 1970 and they are very good indeed. I had the great good fortune to receive an advance copy of this album, I have played it a lot and the more I play it, the better it gets.

This is the young (sorry) Neil Young with just his guitar and a piano performing some great material like After The Goldrush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Old Man and others. They are really good, heartfelt performances which in these stripped-down versions often have tremendous emotional power. Don’t Let It Bring You Down, for example, really packs an emotional punch for me – perhaps even more than the studio version does. The wonderful chord structures combined with Young’s distinctive, ætherial, almost falsetto vocal give it a fabulous, spare beauty and the same is true of many of the other songs here.

The sound quality is excellent and the choice of material is very well balanced, I think. It’s hard to get the balance right on a live album between failing to capture enough of the live atmosphere and having so much chat that it becomes tedious on repeated listening, but the producers here have judged it impeccably. There is very little of Neil Young speaking throughout most of the album – generally just a brief introduction to each song, which is exactly enough to give a feel of the live performance without interfering with the music. (And as an aside, although I know this is from 1970, it still brought me up short to hear Only Love Can Break Your Heart introduced as “a song from my new album”.) The one exception is a longish, good humoured chat before the last track, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong, and here it is good to get a flavour of the man himself. It is excellently done.

I’m delighted to be able to give this album a rave review. It deserves it, which – let’s face it – cannot be said of all Neil Young’s work. This, though is among his best which means that it is very good indeed. Don’t look for the Crazy-Horse-driven power which made Psychedelic Pill so brilliant last year, for example; this is no less powerful but in that more quietly thoughtful, contemplative Neil Young way. It’s an excellent album of great songs, beautifully performed and recorded. Warmly recommended.

Review This is an wonderfully beautiful live offering from Neil Young – an early offering from the After The Gold Rush days live at The Cellar Door in Washington D.C in late 1970 – it’s a solo performance – just Neil with his guitar and piano.. I live in the area and used to go to The Cellar Door years ago…and it was always one of my favorite venues for a performance – small, intimate and very personal…and that’s what this CD offers – an intimate and very personal concert with Neil doing some of his finest solo work and some real gems from his Buffalo Springfield days – boy, I wish I had seen this show, it would’ve been one for the ages……….

There are several tracks on this – like Expecting To Fly, Birds, Don’t Let It Bring You Down, and I Am a Child – that will send shivers up your back – If there wasn’t the polite and subdued applause at the end of each track, this could easily pass for a studio recording. The folks in attendance here got a very special treat from Neil. I really like the version of Old Man on this as well – there’s just a lot to like on this. This is one of those CD’s that when you’ve finished listening to it…you queue it up again because there’s nothing else that can follow that fits….

I’m usually reluctant to buy Neil’s live stuff – he can tend to get a little sloppy, but that’s Neil and it’s not been a problem for most Neil Young fans – this is NOT one bit sloppy, Neil’s voice is strong and clear….lush, rich and beautifully mixed and edited, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a better live performance by Neil. I am wonderfully glad I bought this CD.

The only tracks that I wish had either been done differently or just replaced with different tracks would be Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River – the originals were pretty rocking cuts, but here he tones it down and does a pure acoustic version of each – and I prefer the more rocking version – but that’s just my opinion and you may find it suits your tastes well.

If you are a Neil Young fan, this will not disappoint….boy, I wish I had seen this one….

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Cellar Door | | Leave a comment

The Who ‘Live at Hull’- Monday 16th February 1970 By Malcolm Holt


tommyI know that it has taken a long time to write a gig review from over 38 years ago, but rest assured that the memories are just as vivid now as they were back then. I was a young 17 year old and I spent 15s (that’s 75p in real money) to see The Who perform Tommy live at Hull City Hall on 15 February 1970.

The Who had released the double album in May 1969. It was the story of a ‘deaf, dumb, and blind boy’ and was the first piece of work to be called a rock opera.
The band featured the classic line-up of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. Tommy was of course sold on vinyl in those days and being a double album, it featured four playable sides.

2The Who had embarked on a world tour to promote the album and during August 1969 they performed at the Woodstock music festival. This was not without controversy, with the band allegedly only agreeing to appear after being paid. Their set was interrupted by activist Abbie Hoffman trying to give an impromptu speech before being persuaded to leave the stage by Townshend.
The set ended with Townshend throwing his battered Gibson SG into the crowd where it was caught by a guy called Kurt Pfeiffer. Apparently the guitar was later retrieved by a roadie for salvage. Townshend’s guitars were regularly retrieved and repaired for future use.

When the band returned to England at the end of 1969, they wanted to release a live album from the tour. They had no desire to sift through endless hours of recordings to find the best bits and it was rumoured that Townshend actually destroyed the tapes to prevent bootleggers making a fortune. However, Roger Daltrey later stated that this was not true. Instead the band decided to record two specific gigs for the planned live album and these were Leeds University and Hull City Hall.

3The gig at Hull City Hall was absolutely awesome, with Daltrey swinging his microphone with venom, Townshend showing off his windmill style of guitar playing, Entwistle looking as cool as ever, and Moon drumming like a man possessed. The noise was the loudest I had ever experienced.

They took us through the drama that was Tommy and threw in the classics Substitute, Summertime Blues, My Generation, and Magic Bus.
Photograph by Chris McCourt
For those younger readers, you will not find Who tracks called See me, feel me and Listening to you, they are parts of the song We’re Not Gonna Take It.

To the subsequent dismay of everyone living in Hull, it was later reported that there had been ‘technical problems’ with the recording at the City Hall. It was announced that the bass playing had not been recorded, due to some wiring slip-up, so the Leeds gig would be used for the live album instead

The band members themselves had agreed that the acoustics in the City Hall were superior, but they had no choice but to use the Leeds recording.

4The Who’s Live At Leeds album was released in May 1970 and became an instant success and the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not quite. Since the album’s release, the conspiracy theorists have been busy trying to find evidence of a cover-up.

It was widely rumoured that some of the album did actually feature material recorded at the Hull gig and some believe that the album was in reality all recorded there, with the record company thinking that ‘Live At Leeds’ would be more marketable than ‘Live At Hull’.
To add insult to injury, The Who returned to Leeds University in June 2006 to replicate that famous night.

5The Who’s band career has always been more of a soap opera at times and sadly two of the original line-up were casualties of their own success. Keith Moon died in 1978 from an accidental overdose of medication prescribed to prevent seizures brought on by his withdrawal from alcohol. John Entwistle died of an alleged drug-induced heart attack on the eve of the band’s US tour in 2002 in his room at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.

There is little doubt in the minds of all those who were at Hull City Hall on that February night in 1970 that they were robbed of the opportunity to have been part of a great milestone being achieved in the recording industry.

6The album was a huge success and received critical acclaim. It helped to put Leeds on the music map and left Hull out on a limb, which was not unusual at that time.

For The Who the year 2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Tommy and a year later Live At Leeds will reach the same milestone. It has been well-documented that the Hull City Hall gig was considered to be the better of the two used for recording the live album and only a ‘technical hitch’ deprived the city of its place in musical history.

7Well, a lot of water has flowed past the city in the Humber since 1970, but to the fans who were there at the City Hall that night, Live At Leeds should always have been Live At Hull.

However, like the thousands of other fans who turned out that night, on 16th February 1970, to see The Who, I can proudly say ‘I was there’.

As for the true story behind the making of the Live At Leeds album, I guess if you asked Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend about it today, the obvious response would be ‘I can’t explain’.

December 23, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At Hull 1970 | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti (1975)



Some consider this the pinnacle of Zeppelinism – a double album that sends to hell all these funk/reggae tendences of Houses in favour of Page/Plant’s more traditional hallmarks: heavy riffs and devilish screaming abound on this record, Bonham pounds as if his life depends on the effort he puts in his drums, and Jones mostly sticks to bass if you don’t count an occasional organ solo now and then (which, by the way, he used to do since the very beginning).

Everybody’s in top form, in short. But in the end, maybe it’s just that fact that makes the record unlistenable to a large extent. Now I’m not willing to lower this record in the eyes of the fans: everybody who worships Page more than Budda will get his load of kicks from this record. But for me, who likes Led Zeppelin just like ‘one more great Seventies band’, this is a real pain in the neck, I mean, c’mon people, how can you really sit through the entire record?

That said, Physical Graffiti has always been a critical favourite, and one of the trendiest things to do is to include it in numerous ‘Top 100’ or even ‘Top 10’ rock records of the last four thousand years (which, by the way, is an occupation comparable to defining the ‘Top 10 Writers of the Western Hemisphere’, i.e. fun, but with a zero percent intellectual value.) It’s easy to see why: it’s a double album, it has a wide range of styles, and it sounds acceptable. Double albums have always suffered that fate – when released by a notorious artist, they were either complete failures, or else they were halfway decent, in which case the critics raved up and proclaimed them ‘encyclopaedic masterpieces’.

Such is the case with the Stones’ Exile On Main Street; absolutely the same case is with Physical Graffiti. Except that Led Zeppelin were a less talented band than the Stones (ah, come on all you fans and throttle me – I’m ready for that!), so, naturally, Physical Graffiti is an even worse album. Encyclopaedic it may be, but it is also regressive, limited in its superficially ‘wide’ scope, and, yeah, right, boring. To some extent.

First of all, I’m not at all satisfied with the way they begin to sound from now on. In my humble opinion, Graffiti initiates the ‘late Zeppelin’ period when their hard rock (aka heavy metal) songs suddenly lost all traces of freshness and began sounding totally generic. Maybe it’s the low production value that’s responsible (although I couldn’t accuse Jimmy of not paying attention to production). Maybe it’s because of the overall ‘jamming’ atmosphere of the album: most of the songs sound raw and totally unpolished. But most probably it’s because Jimmy overabuses distortion and power chords, sounding from time to time like a bad parody on Pete Townshend.

Maybe there’s some other kind of reason. But when I hear ‘Custard Pie’, the by now familiar cock rocker that opens the album, I just can’t help saying: yup, the magic is gone. This is just your average heavy metal band that thinks of itself as sitting on top of the world while in fact what it does is rehashing the elder classic standards with all the diligency expected from a piece of used carbon paper. The witty Mark Prindle once remarked that some of these songs sound more like Grand Funk Railroad than Led Zeppelin, and to me, that’s definitely not a compliment – GFR are one of the most conservative and unimaginative hard rock bands to have ever existed. And the mighty Led Zep, once the kings of scary, jerky tension, have now degenerated to Mark Farner level? Come on now! And I’m not even mentioning their age!

Not that it ain’t really enjoyable, this ‘Custard Pie’: it’s a good piece of heavy boogie, and you can play air guitar and sing along and tap your foot and do everything. But what the heck – it doesn’t even have the power of ‘Black Dog’! It has the crunch, but it doesn’t have the angst and it doesn’t have the menace of that song – ‘Custard Pie’ is nothing to scare your parents with. More examples of the same include the ridiculous closing number ‘Sick Again’ with its hideous jam at the end; and even the more or less classic ‘Wanton Song’ that could have been inserted into ‘Custard Pie’ without anyone noticing the substitution, since the riffs are nearly identical (not that Page is plagiarizing himself for the first time, but never before was it so obvious).

Decent songs, all of them, but not even a little bit better than the contemporary efforts of Aerosmith or AC/DC or whoever. Or Grand Funk, yeah. The Led Zep chemistry that made the early albums so groovy, even if they were still patchy, is gone – almost entirely.

Of course, not all is lost, because on certain other numbers Jimmy tries steering the band into different directions and introducing new gimmicks to the sound – I’m ready to admit that. In doing so, he produces two of the weirdest tracks the band ever did. ‘In My Time Of Dying’ opens with a terrific slide guitar melody, and when Plant comes in with his lyrics it seems for a couple of moments that they almost succeed in recreating the fascinating guitar/vocals battle of old, especially on the oddly-sung line ‘…so I can die eaaaa-a-a-asy…’ And ‘Kashmir’, with its famous Eastern-tinged melody, is deservedly a fan favourite.

Are these violins that play throughout the song, or synthesizers? I’m not too sure, but that majestic ascending line is really something. On the other hand, not even good ideas can save Jimmy from fuckin’ up – ‘In My Time Of Dying’ exceeds all limits of decency by turning into a stupid jam just after four minutes and refusing to shut up for what seems like ages (moreover, at the very end some voice says ‘this is gonna be a long ending’, did they reprise it once again?), and ‘Kashmir’ soon turns out to be just a background setting for that violin line; it certainly does not deserve to be more than eight minutes long. And did I mention such laughable monsters as ‘Ten Years Gone’ or ‘In The Light’?

The first one easily defines ‘filler’, as the riff it is based upon is moderately good, but nothing is ever done to properly unveil the song’s potential – too soft and feeble for a rocker, but too cold and restrained for a ballad. What the hell? And ‘In The Light’… okay, I give: the intro to the song is moody and effective, with J. P. Jones drawing on a mighty fine and scary ‘kozmik’ synth line. The rest I could easily live without.

Did I mention ‘The Rover’ yet? Sounds nice until you realize that its most ’emotional’ parts are almost directly copied from the ‘heavier’ parts of ‘Stairway To Heaven’, with that descending riff near the solo section.

Other ‘novelty’ moments include outtakes from earlier albums, such as the blatantly-pop-disguised-as-heavy-rock ‘Houses Of The Holy’, or the pretty short acoustic instrumental ‘Bron-Y-Aur’ (not to be confounded with ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’!!). There’s a funny boogie-woogie piano shuffle with Ian Stewart, the ‘sixth Rolling Stone’, at the piano (‘Boogie With Stu’), and a totally out of place country rocker (‘Black Country Woman’). But these are more or less tiny curious islands amidst a sea of pedestrian heavy riffage and mind-boggling jamming.

Track after track goes on and on and on, until you’re really beginning to wonder if these guys planned a double album simply because of lack of dough. And mind you, I said I really don’t dislike Page’s solos by pumping up the rating of The Song Remains The Same. But the fact is, he’s not really soloing: most of the time, he just delivers crunchy guitar lines that don’t suit his classic style at all. Compare Jimmy the guitarist in 1968 and Jimmy the guitarist in 1975 and you’ll see that he’s vilified his own techniques. Even worse, the kind of sound he developed on here serves mostly to mask the lack of truly creative musical ideas. The album really looks like an anthemic chef-d’aeuvre on the outside, but upon opening the nut one can easily ascertain that it’s almost hollow. Isn’t it? Sure is!

I originally gave it a 6, but it has grown on me enough to guarantee a relatively high seven, just because I’m rarely offended by those songs from this album that do not exceed six minutes (plus, I have finally gotten the point of ‘Trampled Underfoot’, which is indeed one of the band’s best attempts at a high-volume, high-energy funk rocker). Still, I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life listening to ‘Down By The Seaside’ or ‘The Wanton Song’. I just see no point, thanks.

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti | | Leave a comment