Wednesday, August 31, 2005

SMiLE Journey or A Lesson In Duality(part 1)

It was a two weeks ago tonight that I was sitting in a small theatre in Waterford, CT watching one of the most thrilling concert experiences of my life. I had driven for two hours through Connecticut to Rhode Island in a borrowed SUV to reach my destination only minutes before the show began. As I sat and listened to the angelic lotus of sound that opened before me, I thought back to Brian's performance in Philadelphia the night before and what a difference a day makes.
I had arrived in Philly mid-afternoon and quickly caught a taxi($35) to a large park(the name escapes me) just northeast of town. It was a wonderfully lush part of the city that was bordered by a not so clean part of town. I sat at a picnic table across the street from the venue and ate the lunch I had packed before the trip. Somehow I knew that there wouldn't be a great deal of nourishment to choose from near the venue. I was right. It was misting ever so lightly as I sat across from the Mann Music Center while the smell of urine and bums wondered about.
Having finished my lunch, I approached the ticket window and inquired about a bus after the show. The ticket attendant assured me that one would be leaving for downtown 15 minutes after the show from just in front of the box office. I had plenty of cash but was trying to save as much as I could having spent several hundred on the trip already and knowing that I wanted to buy an overpriced($30) "Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE" baseball cap somewhere along the way. I had seen one at the merchandise booth during the Fall Tour of the South but had opted for a t-shirt instead.
With several hours to kill I walked to a convenience store for some water and generally loitered around the venue watching the tour buses arrive and unload. There was a monument within eyeshot of the box office, so I decided I would hang around it and take care of the unpleasant business I needed to do before the show. I was planning on recording the show that evening and the only way to get the recorder in the venue I needed to put on some briefs under my boxer shorts in order to smuggle it inside. The monument shielded me from the street and it was the perfect place to take care of said business. I discovered that it was placed there during the late 1800's by the Catholic total abstinence union! Considering the amount of narcotics I planned on eating that evening, I decided I'd better not hang around too long for fear of being converted.
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The rain had let up during the course of the afternoon and I was lucky enough to be one of the few(if not the only) concert-goer to hear the soundcheck from the side of the lawn. They first ran through a nice 'Add Some Music' and then went over the chorus of 'Help Me Rhonda' several time acapella! What a treat to hear. Next, they ran through the whole song. After the band left the stage, one of the guitarists(I'm guessing Nicky Wonder) remained on stage and noodled around. Several bars of Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb" guitar solo were present in his amp check.
By this time, the rain had returned and it was beginning to mist in earnest. I retired to a nearby tennis court and shoved the digital recorder down my pants and then walked the short distance to the main gate. I was caught under an awning for the better part of an hour as the rain picked up. A few people showed up early as there was some confusion with the tickets. Not only did they have the wrong date, many had the wrong start time. I wonder if anyone was fired for that debacle?! Probably not.
I was one of the first to enter the venue and the security was more concerned about the empty water bottles in my backpack than anything else. He did ask if I had a camera and questioned why I had a change of clothes in my pack. I told him I had come straight from Texas, but I don't think he cared or even listened to my response. Once inside, they refused to let the ever growing crowd enter the covered seating area for almost an hour. What the hell that was about, I'll never know. I think they were trying to get people climb the hill and eat at one of the over priced restaurant tents. Dickheads.
Finally, I was able to sit in my box seat a little less than half way back in the seating area. I was soon joined by a couple who I had seen just as I was walking inside. We sparked up a conversation and they informed me that they knew Probyn Gregory, one of the very talented members in the band and multi instrumentalists, and had spent the earlier part of the evening backstage with him. I was quite intrigued and questioned them about their backstage adventures. Probyn, they informed me, was a genuinely nice fellow and had gone out of his way to make sure they were introduced to the rest of the band including Brian himself! This made the concert experience that much more exciting. I wasn't able to meet him, but got to live vicariously through them and share in their joy. Probyn had given them a tour of the stage and even asked if they wanted to play his Theremin. They refused, thinking that it would be just their luck to break it prior to the show. I knew how they felt. They had gotten to meet the man himself, and probably didn't want to push their luck any further. Smart choice.
We talked quite a bit before the show and during the set break. I was very surprised at how much of a fanatical fan the husband was. He had quite a knowledge of Beach Boys history and had spent years, prior to Brain's completion, searching for SMiLE compilations in local stores. He was a huge music fan and it was fun picking his brain and swapping stories. They really made my experience in Philly a delight and I feel lucky to have shared the show with them.
Brain and band entered the stage and Brian quickly stepped to his mike and thanked two individuals he called "friends". I had learned earlier in the evening from my conversation with the couple that a concert promoters convention was in town and had chosen Brian's performance as entertainment for the evening(and purchased 300 tickets in the process). I didn't make the connection until later.
The inside of the seating area, and the whole venue for that matter, was constructed of beautiful planks of wood. This made for a very nice sound mix. As expected the bass and drums were a bit boomy, but nothing that took away from the performance. The crowd was very considerate and sat through the majority of the performance. The seating area was about 2/3 filled, leaving the hill empty. This was probably for the best as it continued to rain for the whole of the performance. The show was very good, with Brian being in MUCH better voice than the previous shows I had seen in the fall. There were a few lyrical flubs during the course of the show by Brian, but nothing too bad. The band was in fine form and turned out a very solid performance. I was very pleased. Very pleased indeed. Little did I know that the following evening would shine even brighter.
As I hurried out of the venue, I said goodbye to the couple and scampered to the front gate. Outside I found a number a trolley- like buses lined up front and asked if there was still room in the first one. The driver said yes, so I hopped right on taking a seat about 3 rows back. Everyone kinda gave me a strange look, but I gave it no mind. Shortly after I sat down, the guy sitting to my left asked the woman across the aisle how she had gotten Brian to say "thank you" to her at the beginning of the performance. She said she hadn't been inside the seating area yet, but had heard what he had said. It was then that I realized I was on the trolley for the concert promoters convention. By this time the trolley had pulled out in to traffic but still had it's door open. Without saying a thing, I jumped out of the moving vehicle and on to the curb. I wonder what they all thought? At that moment, I saw what was clearly the public transportation bus sitting further down the driveway. I jumped in and was headed downtown. Geez, that was close. Who knows where I would have ended up if I had stayed on the trolley. Whew!
Once downtown, I tried to figure out the train system but had to ask for help. The attendant told me the final train for the airport was leaving in 5 minutes and to not miss it. I reached the ticket dispenser, but the fucking machine only took dollar bills and I was shit out of luck. Needless to say, I had to hail a cab to the airport($25).
Arriving at the airport, I had a good 7 hour wait before my plane left for Connecticut the next morning. I wandered around and found a reasonably priced snack machine and sat down to listen to that evenings performance. The digital recorder only had a capacity of 90 minutes, so I had decided to record all of the first set and with the remaining time caught what I could of the SMiLE performance. It cut off just as 'Surf's Up' came to an end. While not perfect(several instances of distortion during the louder first set songs), it was very satisfying to re-live the show so quickly following the performance. I slowly drifted off to asleep in the luggage retrieval area while being awakened every 30 minutes or so by an announcement or pervert.
Knowing that the following evenings performance was being held in a much more intimate theatre setting, I made the hard decision to delete that nights recording in hopes that the show in Connecticut would have more in store. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what was waiting for me there.

to be continued...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Stones Boots 69-81

I can remember being in Bookstop 10 or more years ago and reading through Relix(or some other magazine like that) and found an article on Rolling Stones bootlegs from their '69 Tour. It listed the set lists for the shows and the quality of the recordings. I realized then that I should start seeking out some of their shows. Understand that as far as I'm concerned, anything the Stones did after '82 is pretty much shit(excluding Undercover Of The Night). So, that would put limitations on shows I would be searching for. I didn't really find a whole lot until I got on the internet, but since then it's been a virtual flood of Stones in my ear hole. I'm gonna list(from memory) some of my favorite shows. Take in mind that some of these shows circulate under MANY different names and I'm gonna go for quality rather than quantity.

7.5.69 London, England: I actually have this as a bootleg DVD that is more of a psuedo documentary of their performance in Hyde Park from Granada Television. A pro-shot performance with Mick Taylor replacing Brian Jones for the first time, who had died just 2 days earlier. With Brian's death there was some question as to whether or not the show should go on as planned. But since he had been kicked out of the band a few months earlier, I guess they decided they should press on and turned the show in to a tribute to his memory(complete with Jagger reading a eulogy for Jones). Excellent performance footage(though a little tentative at times) spliced in with interviews from the band and fans alike. A very sedate crowd(most of the 250,000 are seated) despite the fact that the Hells Angels were doing security detail as they would at Altamont later in the year. But I guess that's the difference between English and American Angels. The biggest problem that days seems to be people climbing up in to the trees to get a better vantage point of the stage. This is where the idea for the Angels to do security in California stemmed from. Mistake #1!

11.9.69 Oakland, CA(2nd show): I have this as a boot called Live'r Than You'll Ever Be. There is also a 30th anniversary edition that I assume has been remastered. An excellent soundboard recording. A little less than a month before their horrific experience at Altamont, also in Northern California. A very nice document of the '69 American Tour, their first with Mick Taylor. The first show circulates on a bootleg called Pot Boiler and is from an audience source with little to no audience noise, but is a bit distant and muffled. Still a nice listen, though.

12.6.69 Altamont Speedway: This is the exception I'll make to quality. I have this as a bootleg called The Killer Festival(yikes!). Even on this sub-par audience recording you get the sense that death was hanging in the air that day. Very spooky. Lots of crowd noise and distant sounding. When the Grateful Dead refused to play(Mistake #2) because the Hells Angels(Mistake #3) were getting out of control(including punching Marty Balin from the Jefferson Airplane in the face and knocking him out cold), the crowd sat around for a few hours while the Stones waited for the sun to go down because they wanted their lightshow in the movie they were filming(Gimme Shelter). Mistake #4. In the Phil Lesh autobiography "Searching For The Sound", he states that perhaps it would have been better for the Grateful Dead to have played that day because it would have placated the audience and Angles. But hindsight is of course 20/20.

3.13.71 Leeds, England: Bootleg title Get Your Leeds Lungs Out. There is also a version with "Revisited" in the title that has been digitally remastered from the original tapes. I've seen this listed as a sbd and FM broadcast, either way it's a fantastic performance and recording. One that should be in every Stones lovers collection. My favorite version of 'Stray Cat Blues' is on this cd. To be honest, all the tracks on this disc are phenomenal. Get it!

6.24.72 Fort Worth, TX(evening show): Ahmet Ertegun, Thank You Kindly is the name of the boot. A fantastic soundboard from their legendary '72 American Tour. Get it! There's a great scene in the movie "Cocksuckers Blues" where the cameras catch a bit of duality in the backstage area of a Stones concert. The cameraman is in the hallway and has the view of two locker rooms, one has Jagger and Ahmet(famous record executive) talking business as Jagger paces back and forth. As the camera pans over to the other room we can see Keith Richards in the arms of an anonymous groupie slowly fading away in a heroin stupor. The camera goes back and forth between Jaggers feverish pacing and Keith nodding off more and more until finally his head is in the lap of the groupie chick. The Glimmer Twins, indeed!

2.24.73/2.26.73 Perth & Sydney, Australia: 2 disc bootleg named Happy Birthday, Nicky. The title refers to the song being sung for piano player Nicky Hopkins during the Perth show band introductions. Great soundboard recordings. However, only a portion of each show is present on these discs. Not too disappointing, though. Both have a nice running time and plenty of great material is played. Band seems to be in a good mood despite the fact that they were refused entrance visas in to Japan and had to cancel all the Japanese shows scheduled for this tour. As a result, they would not play in Japan until 1990. Replacement shows were booked in Hawaii instead(that's a hell of a compromise!). The Perth portion of these recordings also exists on a bootleg called Exiles Afternoon Revisited. The following night 2.27 exists on a recording called Welcome To Australia, but I have never seen or heard the disc. It was also the first complete Mick Taylor era soundboard recording to surface.

10.17.73 w/ 9.9.73 Brussels, Belgium & London, England: The Rolling Stones in one of their finest hours. Many different versions of this combo of shows circulate because it has been aired via the radio(notably King Biscuit Flower Hour) in many different forms. Too many to denote here. Do a Google search and you'll find at least one very in depth description of the songs and versions aired. The most popular bootleg I've found this to exist on is titled Bedspring Symphony. Again a version with "Revisited" in the title circulates with 20-bit digital remastering performed on the original tapes(I assume). This also circulates under the title Brussels Affair. A fantastic collection of songs played masterfully from each concert in pristine quality. The instruments jump out at you and grab a hold of your nuts, making you squirm about like Jagger himself. Mick Taylor is at his tastiest form here. Unfortunately, this European Tour would be the last for Mick Taylor, but thank goodness we have such a wonderful document of it to remember this line-up by.

7.13.75 Los Angeles, CA: This venue(the LA Forum) is the only set of recordings I have from this year, although I've read that they toured quite a bit during 1975. I have an audience recording(somewhere in the pile) of 7.11.75 and don't remember being that impressed with its quality. However, I do have a pro-shot DVD of this nights performance playing on the set right now. Looks like it might be a generation from the source, but still very good sound and video. With the new line-up(Ronnie Wood replacing Mick Taylor), the birth of the mammoth Stones stage, props, and shows came to life. They did have a bridge riser that went behind Charlie's drum set during the '73 tour, but what evolved in '75(and onward) dwarfs all that petty stage dressing. Before they even set foot on stage there are men running with 20' long Chinese Dragons through the audience to the sound of firecrackers exploding all around them. The boys come on stage to the sounds of 'Fanfare For The Common Man' and never look back. During this tour they were performing an excellent version of 'If You Can't Rock Me' that segued in to a rockin' version of "Get Off Of My Cloud' that is much faster than the recorded version. Very nice energy from the band at this show. Also showcased during this tour was a great version of 'You Got To Move' that found Keith, Ronnie, and Mick flanked by Billy Preston(piano & child molester) and Ollie Brown at the foot of the stage all singing together in to one mike as soulfully as they could. Keith looks really unhealthy and skinning during this show. Way to beat the odds, Keith!

6.28.78 Memphis, TN: This FM broadcast is titled Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. Great quality, but a little short on songs. Only 10 of the 14 songs performed that evening are present here. It's nice to hear Mick cussing on the radio, if nothing else.

7.18.78 Ft. Worth, TX (and various other dates): Handsome Girls chronicles the best of this sometimes sloppy, but still magical tour of America in wonderful soundboard quality. This comprehensive 4 disc set has the Ft. Worth show in its entirety, complete with alternate mixes of 8 songs on the 2nd disc. The 3rd & 4th disc have a variety of songs from many different stops along the way including Houston, Lexington, Detroit, and Memphis. The Memphis show has a very rare version(only performed twice) of Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog'. While The Ft. Worth show has a wonderful rendition of 'Faraway Eyes' with Doug Kershaw on violin. One of my all time favorite collections! Get it now!

12.13.81 Phoenix, AZ: I can't seem to find this 2 disc recording amongst all my cd's, but I know I have it because I was really impressed with the performance when I listened to it some time back. I did a check and it apparently circulates under the titles Satisfaction Guaranteed & Welcome To Phoenix. This is last great era of the Stones live shows as far as my ears can tell. Sloppy at times, but not during this show that's for sure. Although, I don't have it within my reach at the moment, it does stick out in my mind as a very fine show in excellent soundboard quality.

12.18.81 Hampton, VA: Another great show from this tour in excellent quality. Taken from a nationwide(?) FM broadcast, this show is nice and long as were most of the shows on this tour. The Stones trying to give the fans their moneys worth(25 songs in the set list). There's also a 2 disc dvd set that circulates from a pay per view broadcast of this show, produced by none other than Bill Graham himself. I have it and it's great. It opens with Bill Graham and Bill or Charlie(I can't recall) playing a game of ping pong backstage while George Thorogood opens the show. It's got Jagger playing guitar which was a bit of a poser move on his part, but to his credit he was doing back as early as '75. I think he was the original lead singer to pick up and start playing just to show everyone he could. Eddie Vedder and many others would follow his lead(lame!). The notoriety of this show is that when the band began the encore, "Satisfaction", thousands of balloons were released and a fan, taking advantage of the confusion, ran past security and onto the stage, directly at Keith Richards, who proved that they don't call guitars "Axes" for nothing! The best part is that Keith nails the guy with a Telecaster, then puts it back on and keeps playing! Here's a screen grab of the moment.

So, there you have it. Some of the best Rolling Stones recordings out there. It's a shame that more fine audience recordings of the Stones don't exist. I'd like to hear the crowds reaction as long as it doesn't interfere with the sound, that is. But those that I have heard(mostly from the early 70's were lacking is fidelity and overall quality). Not to mention that Stones fans are a rowdy drunken lot!

Monday, August 08, 2005

I heart Macca...sometimes

Although George is my favorite Beatle by far, I am a sucker for a good pop song. Therefore, I'm a big fan of certain Paul McCartney albums and songs. I'll do my best to lead you down the right path and help you avoid all the crapolla he's put out over the last 35 years.
First off is his second solo album called Ram. This was his response to the critics who had panned his first lo-fi solo effort simply called McCartney, which was literally recorded in his living room(I'll get to it later). Here, Paul went in to a real studio and turned out a whimsically produced album of ear-candy. Granted most of the songs on the album are fluff, they are an enjoyable lot with plenty of marshmallow filled center. While most have heard the mini suite 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey on classic rock stations over the years, some of the most outstanding tracks have rarely, if ever, graced the airwaves. The opening track 'Too Many People' is a nice little jab at his old bandmates dressed up inside a sweet pop wrapper. 'Smile Away' is a very pleasant blues rocker with its memorable(and hysterical) line, "Boy, I can smell your feet a mile away!" The closing track 'Backseat Of My Car' is another mini suite that also manages to throw in a backing vocal barb aimed at his estranged fiancées. I'm also a big fan of the segue tracks called 'Ram On'. Very simple in their message and delivered nicely on a strummed ukulele. A great road trip album. Just push play and soon you'll too have that white line fever.
Next up is probably his biggest selling solo album entitled Band On The Run. The recording of this album nearly cost Paul and lovely Linda their lives while in Lagos, Nigeria. They arrived to find that the studios construction was far from being complete and were held up at knife point by locals who were not exactly thrilled to have a pop star flaunting his wealth in the third world country. The attack had him screaming to the thieves, "I'm Beatle Paul!", which obviously made no impression on them. The title track has become the world wide hit we've all known it to be, while others such as 'Jet', 'Let Me Roll It'(a response to Lennon's venomous 'How Do You Sleep'), and 'Helen Wheels(one of my all time favorites) never did get as much airplay as they deserved. The last two songs of the album have a similar feel to the suite on the second side of Abbey Road. While falling a bit short of that high water mark, the production and grand scope of the songs give them both a feel of epic proportions and are sure to put a smile on your puss.
The last great album to come from the pen of Macca was released shortly after John's assassination. Tug Of War showcases Paul in a variety of different styles and moods. Reuniting with producer George Martin, Paul turns out one of his strongest efforts to date. There are terrific pop songs 'Take It Away' and 'Ballroom Dancing', playful folk tunes 'Tug Of War' ,'Get It'(a duet with Carl Perkins) and 'The Pound Is Sinking', blockbuster piano tunes in 'Ebony & Ivory' and 'Wanderlust', and a hauntingly beautiful tribute to John with 'Here Today'. The production is majestic, even if sometimes dated. Even psuedo disco songs like 'What's That You're Doing'(w/ Stevie Wonder) and 'Dress Me Up As A Robber' are sure to grow on you with multiple listenings.
Other singles/songs of note through the years include, 'Maybe I'm Amazed'(McCartney), 'Wild Life'(Wild Life), 'Let 'em In' & 'Silly Love Songs'(Speed Of sound), 'Arrow Through Me' & 'Getting Closer'(Back To The Egg), 'Mull Of Kintyre'(single), 'Wonderful Christmastime'(single), 'Waterfalls'(McCartney II), 'No More Lonely Nights'(Give My Regards To Broad St.), and finally 2001's 'From A Lover To A Friend'(Driving Rain). Drop any or all of these in to your iPod's shuffle mode and you'll be well on your way to cotton candy bliss.

iPod Song of the Day: 'Someone Who Is Cool' from The Odds album Nest

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Mother Ship Has Landed

Now I've seen some crazy-ass shit on stage in my day, but what I've just witnessed on dvd tops 'em all. I've recently acquired a pro-shot video of the Parliament/Funkadelic 3.21.78 performance of the "Flash Light Tour" at the Summit in Houston, TX. These motherfuckers are rockstar HIGH!
The evening begins with a groovy little cartoon that explains how Dr. Funkenstein has returned to the planet to discover that Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk has removed all the Funkentelechy with assistance from the Placebo Syndrome. Uhhhhhhh, ok. That's when the "j" drops and the band kicks in on the down beat.
The 'Funkentelechy Medley' is up first. The bank of horns and back up singers start it off with a groove so fat that you've got to check your blood pressure before you go any further. What looks to be a silver fabric covered pimp mobile then rolls out on stage and none other that George Clinton himself pops out as if from a trap door on the stage. Dressed in a blood red beret, black silk scarf, and a silver flame covered fringe outfit that has a vampire collar as high as he is(and this is probably his most conservative outfit of the evening!). Did I mention that he also has on what appears to be a pair of giant lime green novelty sunglasses? Well, he does.
Throughout the show there are never less that a dozen people on stage funkin' so hard I have to believe The Summit was actually sliding on its foundation farther and farther down Highway 59 South. The entire audience has 3 foot long illuminated "light sabers", but I suppose they had to call them "flash lights" to keep from getting sued and also to maintain their street cred. Nearly everyone in the band has some sort of silver or gold lame cape on as well.
And this band if funkin' tight as a schoolgirl. With the simple wave of a hand, they shift gears from funk to super funk and then back again. The funk they brought to the house is so nasty, no amount of remodeling by the "Oasis of Love" is gonna scrape it all off. And the grooves go on forever! How anyone this high can remember an arrangement this crazy is beyond me. The nickname "Dr. Funkenstein" is right on the money. Clinton leads and cheers his band on for the entire 2 hour funkfest without losing an ounce of enthusiasm(but probably going through an ounce of white powder in the process!)
Never fear, George ain't the only star of the show. Garry Shider, diaper-clad-guitarist-extraordinaire, flies down from the rafters with a strobe light ray gun shooting the funk to the back of the house for those in the cheap seats. A six foot tall flash light and the infamous Sir Nose even make an appearance. But, hands down, the climax of the show is when the gigantic flashing, smoke shooting, tin foil covered Mothership makes its landing on stage. As the door opens, out steps Clinton clad in a flowing navel length white wig and dressed head to toe in a fur-lined pimpish white suit that would make Elvis crawl back in to Graceland crying like a baby. This is some serious funk here folks.
Like I said, these guys are wild, weird and funkin' high as kites. Nevertheless, they put on one hell of a theatrical rock show oozing with so much funk that a dunk in Buffalo Bayou ain't got nothin' on these mofo's. The music is amazing, but the visual experience is what really shoots this performance off in to the psychedelic funk-filled stratosphere. Alls I can say is, good-god-damn!

BTW, has anyone seen where I put my funkentelechy?