Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elvis Costello 28: El Mocambo and Hollywood High

Shortly before the worldwide release of his second album, Elvis and his recently acquired Attractions performed a fast ‘n sweaty gig at the same Toronto club that had featured the Rolling Stones just a year before. Live At The El Mocambo was then released as a promo album, and promptly bootlegged.

It’s a great snapshot of the band on their second North American tour, plowing through songs familiar and unfamiliar to a rowdy club crowd. You can hear Elvis baiting the audience, demanding repeatedly that they “stand up”. The songs have been transformed from their guises on My Aim Is True into a sound all their own. “Less Than Zero” even gets a new set of lyrics to reflect the mistaken assumption that the Oswald in the song was the surname of Lee Harvey.

Some fifteen years later, it got its first official release, somewhat, as part of a box set on Rykodisc, alongside his first three albums. (Those buying the three individually could collect coupons from each and get their copy that way.) In a packaging decision sure to excite those of us who notice such things, the title was listed on the spine and the disc itself as Live At El Mocambo.

When Rhino got a hold of the catalog in 2000, the album was pointedly left out, with the exception of “Less Than Zero” being added to My Aim Is True, making the Ryko version a collector’s item. Then, at the end of the decade, Hip-O’s version of the catalog initially eschewed any kind of bonus tracks on the albums, except for the Deluxe Editions of the first two albums. Two years after those landed with a resounding thud, the label initiated a series of standalone live albums under the banner “The Costello Show”. The first release? Live At The El Mocambo, complete with the missing article restored to the spine.

Much more interesting was the second installment in the series, which arrived a few months later. Live At Hollywood High presented the full concert that had previously been a bonus EP in the original Armed Forces package. Those three tracks were included on the Ryko reissue, expanded to nine songs on the Rhino version. In the absence of a Deluxe Edition of Armed Forces, for which this would have been a strong candidate, at least they found a way to let us hear the whole thing.

Starting with a piano-and-vocal performance of the recently written “Accidents Will Happen”, the band gallops into place for “Mystery Dance”. Only three months after the El Mocambo performance, there have already been changes to the set. Working versions of “Goon Squad” and “Party Girl” are already pretty tight, and a very non-country take of “Stranger In The House” adds some more variety. And of course, it’s nice to have an Attractions version of “Alison”. Overall, the performance is tighter—and probably more sober—than in Toronto, with Elvis interacting with a giddy high school crowd.

It’s a good show, but admittedly, overkill, as it makes a total of three concert releases covering the same three-month period. It was a good start, but the “Costello Show” live series did not continue past these two.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions Live At The El Mocambo (1978)—
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Live At Hollywood High (2010)—4

Monday, June 28, 2010

George Harrison 15: Concert For George

A year to the day after George died, his “guitarist-in-law” Eric Clapton collaborated with Olivia and Dhani Harrison to put together a star-studded tribute concert. The obvious parallel would be made to the Concert For Bangla Desh, as many of the friends who’d helped out with that project were on hand to do it again here.

The first half hour—taking up all of disc one—is devoted to Indian music, mostly composed by Ravi Shankar, performed by an orchestra and choir led by Ravi’s daughter Anoushka. An interlude of “The Inner Light” sung by Jeff Lynne fits very well, while the final section includes acoustic extrapolations by Eric. It’s mesmerizing. (Not included on the CD, but presented in full on the DVD, was the intermission, featuring “Sit On My Face” and “The Lumberjack Song” performed by most of Monty Python in full singing-waiter and Mountie costumes. Without question, George would have loved it.)

The rock portion of the show provides heartfelt renditions of several George songs, mostly performed faithfully to the original recordings. Jeff, Eric, Gary Brooker and the little-known-to-Americans Joe Brown trade off on vocals before the big stars come in. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do “Taxman” and “I Need You”, and bring Dhani and Jeff up for “Handle With Care”. Billy Preston does “Isn’t It A Pity”, then Ringo comes out to sing “Honey Don’t” and “Photograph” before introducing Paul McCartney.

Paul’s choices are intriguing, as they mostly come from the Get Back period. His ukulele arrangement of “Something” dovetails not seamlessly into the standard version, led by a Clapton solo. And his heartfelt rendition of “All Things Must Pass” is a stunner, considering how many times George tried to get the Beatles to learn it, only to be met with indifference. He sits at the piano to back up Eric on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, before letting Billy take over with “My Sweet Lord”. Everyone crowds onstage for “Wah-Wah” (with Klaus Voormann on bass!) and then Joe Brown brings his ukulele out one last time.

While a straight tribute album, George’s voice comes through every moment of this concert. The choice of songs also shows how much his lesser-known tracks meant to his friends. To get the full experience, watch the DVD—the love all these people had for the guy permeates every shot. There are several angles taken of drummers Jim Keltner, Henry Spinetti and Ringo working as one. And with handsome Dhani strumming away on an acoustic throughout, it’s not easy to be unmoved.

Concert For George (2003)—4

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bob Dylan 41: Time Out Of Mind

Seven whole years had passed since the last real Dylan album. In contemporary interviews, Bob said that for the longest time he just didn’t feel like writing songs, then was suddenly able to come up with a batch while being snowed in. Then he was hesitant to play them on tour for fear of having them bootlegged, and wanted to do them justice in the studio as well. So he spent a few weeks in Miami recording with some of his then-current touring band, a few session hotshots including the stalwart Jim Keltner, and Daniel Lanois, who produced Oh Mercy, and the album was in the can.

Naturally, there was a certain amount of anticipation and absolute fear upon the announcement that something new was finally on the way; meanwhile, the news of a potentially fatal heart ailment between recording and release brought decent PR to the event. Anyway, we needn’t have worried.

Of the eleven phenomenal tracks that make up Time Out Of Mind, half are based around the 12-bar blues form. Most deal with some unnamed woman (or women) who broke Bob’s heart in a big way, and boy, is he miffed about it. The production is pretty swampy, slapping a lot of echo over his voice, which was pretty shot anyway; he doesn’t try to hit any high notes, which in the past resulted in a lot of yelling on his part.

A quiet stomp and a bleating Vox organ opens “Love Sick”, taken very slow and sounding like he’s transmitting from Mars. A little more upbeat, “Dirt Road Blues” effectively emulates an old 78 but still maintains the spooky vibe. The album’s first masterpiece is “Standing In The Doorway”, another slow, slow song with wonderful imagery, each verse more heartbreaking than the last. “Million Miles” continues the blues theme, his voice a perfect match for the words, and we start to hear some of the dad jokes that will begin to pepper his lyrics (“gonna find me a janitor to sweep me off my feet”). “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” provides a nice break in the form of a major key and a memorable melody that belies the fatalistic words; there’s even a harmonica solo. “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” doesn’t take hold as easily, but there’s some incredible imagery here. “Not Dark Yet” could be taken as another rumination on his own mortality, played in a style that links well to the better songs on Oh Mercy.

That’s practically a full album right there, but we’ve got a ways to go. The trip to hell continues on the downright scary “Cold Irons Bound”—that’s meant as praise, by the way—with the atmosphere dominated by Augie Myers on the Vox organ, to which the extra-gentle “Make You Feel My Love” provides welcome calm. While beaten to the charts in versions by both Billy Joel and Garth Brooks, this one, with Bob up front on piano, is still the template. “Can’t Wait” is another blues taken at a funereal pace, but keep an ear out for a killer two-line bridge. That’s a mere setup for the fascinating 17-minute journey of “Highlands”, which closes the album. The first few verses could be a song on their own, but he throws in a shout-out to Neil Young, then ends up in a restaurant sparring with a waitress over art and literature. (And really, how could it be that any eatery “ain’t got any” hard boiled eggs?) The final set of verses could qualify as a separate song too.

We knew he could do it again, and we’re glad he did. Basically, he waited until he had something to say, then said it. It went on to win a few Grammys, and even staunch Dylan haters were overheard saying it’s not that bad an album. Time Out Of Mind heralded a new era for a man who insisted he hadn’t gone away in the slightest. He’d had an actual near-death experience, and he was still out there—just a simple song and dance man.

While some of the outtakes were featured on the eighth Bootleg Series volume, the album eventually got its own installment in the series, kinda sorta in honor of its 25th anniversary. One disc of Fragments was devoted to a new mix of the album that stripped away some of the sonics Lanois took credit for to bring out more of the room, while another offered outtakes and alternates, starting with a lovely take on “The Water Is Wide” and the sadly shelved “Red River Shore”. “Can’t Wait” has a more melodic guitar part and different lyrics, and the spontaneous applause at the end of “Make You Feel My Love” is just charming. There’s yet another version of “Mississippi” that comes closest to the version he’d finally nail, and other songs with more upbeat arrangements than what was released.

That was fine, but a deluxe version added three more discs. One devoted to live versions—some from actual audience tapes, as befits a “bootleg series”—presented each of the album’s songs, mostly in the original track order, with “Can’t Wait” used twice because “Dirt Road Blues” has apparently never made it to the stage and “Mississippi” included just because. Further outtakes and alternates included an intriguing but still inferior “Dreamin’ Of You”, another “Marchin’ To The City”, “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” played as a samba, and “Can’t Wait” notable for a surprising Dylan yelp before the first verse. Most controversially, a fifth disc repeated the session outtakes and two live versions already included on that earlier Bootleg Series set. This wasn’t even done covertly—it was highlighted on the sticker on the shrinkwrap. Still, they fill in the bigger picture, even with multiple takes stacked together. (Also, each disc was packed nearly to capacity, each exceeding 70 minutes.)

Bob Dylan Time Out Of Mind (1997)—5
Bob Dylan
Fragments: Time Out Of Mind Sessions (1996-1997)/The Bootleg Series Vol. 17 (2023)—4

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 8: Globe Of Frogs

His buzz was growing, so when Robyn signed with A&M Records, he was able to capitalize on their college marketing approach. Globe Of Frogs is where a lot of fans came in, thanks to the radio exposure of “Balloon Man”—possibly his greatest hit, if he had one.

“Tropical Flesh Mandala” stumbles in, with a loopy riff, nearly spoken vocals and a decent chorus, going out on a chaotic piano solo. It’s immediately improved upon by “Vibrating”, proof that sometimes three chords are all you need. To this day “Balloon Man” is still lots of fun, a trippy walk around New York City encountering not just hummus but whole chickpeas as well. “Luminous Rose” inspires more Syd Barrett comparisons, built around what seems to be a harmonium and a story of dead sailors, flesh and fish. “Sleeping With Your Devil Mask” is another three-chord wonder, and a good stomping singalong.

“Unsettled” starts side two and gets pretty annoying after a while, but you can just hear a snippet of “Ghost Ship” at the end of it. The first of many appearances by Peter Buck, “Chinese Bones” is slathered in his 12-string guitar. Syd returns on “A Globe Of Frogs”, with the parlor piano and whispered double vocals. “The Shapes Between Us Turn Into Animals” is about as grating as the opening tracks on both sides, but all is redeemed by “Flesh Number One”. Subtitled “Beatle Dennis”, and for good reason, it’s such a happy tune about burning houses and crashing planes, framed by 12-strings and harmonies by Glenn Tilbrook. (Andy Metcalfe was moonlighting in Squeeze around this time, and as they were labelmates, the connection made sense.)

Globe Of Frogs is a very good effort, and gave him a sound he could settle into. (He’s also begun to talk about fish and flesh an awful lot, so if you’re going to keep going, get used to it.) Unfortunately, like the rest of the A&M catalog, it’s fallen out of print.

Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians Globe Of Frogs (1988)—4
Current CD availability: none

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rolling Stones 24: Love You Live

Another pattern developed with the Stones at this juncture of their career as superstars. From here on out, it would be a rare occasion where a studio album would be followed by another. Instead, they kept record racks filled with either a hits collection or a souvenir from their latest tour, the scope of which had almost certainly eclipsed its predecessor. The live album approach made sense, since most of their concerts got bootlegged anyway.

Love You Live was only their third official live album, culled mostly from a couple of dates over a long trek. It’s a double album, so they at least try to deliver. So what gives this album such a positive rating? Is it the Andy Warhol cover art, which depicts various Stones biting each other? (Saucy!) Is it the sound of fireworks bookending the performance? Could it be the grandeur of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man”, used to herald the conquering heroes to the stage? Is it the selection of songs from their entire career to date, from “Get Off My Cloud” to “Fingerprint File”? Is it the meticulous way the tracks were overdubbed in the studio to rob them of their spontaneity? Is it Mick’s twixt-song patter in French, to the delight of the mostly Parisian audiences yelling along? No, what makes it special is side three.

Recorded at Toronto’s El Mocambo club the same week the law finally caught up with Keith, these four tracks present the Stones in an ideal setting: on a tiny stage pounding out old R&B favorites. Even the vocal encouragement of Billy Preston can’t dilute the energy in “Mannish Boy”, “Little Red Rooster”, “Around And Around” or the slightly reggaefied “Crackin’ Up”. It makes one wish they could play more shows like that, and then they could release more live albums like it.

Only 45 years later common sense prevailed, and El Mocambo 1977 presented a full show plus three songs from the night before on two CDs (or four LPs, your choice of black or multicolor vinyl, plus tie-in merch). From newer Black And Blue songs to old blues numbers from the Crawdaddy Club, the band is hot, and Keith is spot-on. Credit is due to Bob Clearmountain’s mix—Billy’s still there but not overpowering—and we find the overall sound superior to the cavernous atmosphere of Love You Live. Even the familiar songs are well-performed, though “Honky Tonk Women” and “Tumbling Dice” are a little slow. Surprises include a faithful “Fool To Cry”, “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, the old chestnut “Worried Life Blues”, a different “Red Rooster” from side three, a terrific “Rip This Joint”, “Melody” (not noted as “inspiration by Billy Preston”, and shame on them), a slightly draggy “Luxury”, and best of all, a preview of “Worried About You” four years before its eventual release on Tattoo You. (One maddening thing about the package—besides being yet another iteration of the tongue logo, there is not a single photo of Bill Wyman to be found.)

Meanwhile, back in 1977 the Stones were undoubtedly a big act, and were worthy of big productions. On that score, Love You Live served its purpose. The times, however, were starting to dictate otherwise.

The Rolling Stones Love You Live (1977)—3
The Rolling Stones
El Mocambo 1977 (2022)—

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rolling Stones 23: Black And Blue

We might as well get this out of the way up front: Black And Blue shouldn’t be as good as it is. This transitional album took over a year to record, with a tour stuck in the middle. After all that time and drama, the album consists of eight songs of varying effectiveness that at least break the forty-minute mark. Part of this is due to the revolving cast. While Ron Wood is on the cover—one of the ugliest portraits of any band ever—he only plays on three songs; the others feature the work of American guitarists Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. The track sheets reproduced on the inner sleeve spell out exactly who does what and where.

“Hot Stuff” turns a James Brown riff inside out while Mick tries to figure out if he wants to disco or reggae. “Hand Of Fate” is a more straightforward rocker in the Stones tradition with a fantastic solo played by—you guessed it—Wayne Perkins. Keith’s love of reggae takes over on “Cherry Oh Baby”; it would take a few more tries before he got the groove down and told Mick to stay out of the way. The pinnacle comes with “Memory Motel”, one of the band’s best songs. Based on pianos played by Mick and Keith, this tale of loneliness on the road never fails to pull a heartstring. They didn’t often duet, but Keith’s counterpoint on the verses and after each chorus establishes it as a favorite.

Things are just as schizophrenic on side two. After all the credits Mick Taylor got cheated out of, it must have irritated him no end to see “Hey Negrita”, a plodding Jagger/Richard composition, annotated with “inspiration by Ron Wood”. Ditto “Melody”, which gives a similar nod to Billy Preston, who probably did write the song. “Fool To Cry” was the single, anchored by more phased electric piano and driven by Mick’s ill-advised falsetto and lyrics lamenting his station in life between wives, children and mistresses. They hadn’t done a ballad in a while anyway. “Crazy Mama”—which sadly, has nothing to do with the Cloris Leachman film—ends the album with another blueprint rocker.

As transitional Stones albums go, Black And Blue is no Let It Bleed. But starting here, Ron Wood achieved a lifelong dream to become Keith’s shadow, and to Keith’s discredit, he went along with it. (Think about it: whenever Woody’s around Rod Stewart, he thinks he’s Rod Stewart, and when he’s around Keith, he thinks he’s Keith.) While we’re happy Keith had someone to hang out with, we don’t listen to Stones albums for Ron Wood, we listen for Keith. Nonetheless, he’s here to stay. And then some.

The Rolling Stones Black And Blue (1976)—

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tom Petty 19: Mojo

Obviously invigorated by both the Mudcrutch experience and his recent trip through the vaults, Tom decided to take a direct approach for only the second Heartbreakers album since the turn of the century. Mojo sounds like nothing else in his catalog, and that can be taken any way you want.

Right off the bat “Jefferson Jericho Blues” sports a heavy harmonica riff over fairly standard changes. Then “First Flash Of Freedom” delivers chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Allman Brothers album, taken to the extreme on the solo section with dueling guitars and organ swells. The soul groove continues on “Running Man’s Bible”, with a classic Petty chorus sure to please concertgoers. “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” (sadly, not a Hardy Boys homage) is a little more gentle, but still tries to add some mystery early on in the proceedings. Unfortunately, “Candy” isn’t very exciting, with stereotypical blues sentiments repeated over a fairly staid rhythm. “No Reason To Cry” is a definite step up, and a very gentle change of pace.

The volume goes up again on “I Should Have Known It”, an excellent rocker with a snaky riff, pounding drums, a wonderfully snotty vocal and a double-time section. It barely fades away before “U.S. 41” comes in with more country blues. “Takin’ My Time” is pretty plodding until Mike Campbell takes his first solo, and the tightness of the band reveals itself. “Let Yourself Go” borrows the feel of “Spike” from Southern Accents, speeds it up a bit, and throws some different dirt on it.

“Don’t Pull Me Over” has something of a reggae beat, and a fairly direct plea to highway patrolmen, but we wonder when was the last time he would have had to deal with highway patrolmen directly. “Lover’s Touch” brings back something of an Allman vibe, and more of a ‘70s sound frames “High In The Morning”. “Something Good Coming” is quiet, but sounds more like typical Petty. And they end with a bang on “Good Enough”, a minor key waltz anchored by a dramatic guitar and a story about a girl.

Petty said Mojo was written under the influence of old blues records, and for the most part, it shows. The liner notes helpfully detail when each song was recorded and with which instruments. The three heaviest (read: best) tracks are co-written by Mike Campbell, who spends most of the album playing a vintage Les Paul, and it still sounds just like him. The snare doesn’t quite pop enough for our taste; perhaps the vinyl edition has more bite. Ultimately, the album’s a little long, and he’s just not that convincing as a blues man.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Mojo (2010)—

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rolling Stones 22: Made In The Shade and Metamorphosis

Brought out to coincide with a tour—wherein the other guitarist was one Ron Wood, most recently from the Faces, replacing the departed and bitter Mick Taylor—Made In The Shade continued the Stones tradition of marking time with a hits collection. It includes tracks from each of the four albums they’d recorded since starting their own label, complete with the third LP appearances of “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. Most of the tracks were hit singles or B-sides, and just about everything is uptempo, yet interspersed with such surprising selections as “Dance Little Sister” and “Rip This Joint”. In other words, nothing rare, and nothing the self-respecting Stones fan wouldn’t have already. (The cover was suitably atrocious, combining a desert motif with a dozing transsexual.)

The album’s appearance made more sense when it turned out to have been released the exact same day as another compilation, and one they hadn’t endorsed. Metamorphosis was a shot from the bow of Allen Klein, consisting of outtakes from the sixties. This was not an Odds & Sods collection of should’ve-beens, but a true scraping of long-forgotten barrels. (Indeed, Bill Wyman supposedly compiled an album worth of outtakes that was rejected because there wasn’t enough in the publishing.)

Most of side one consists of demos for other artists—Jagger-Richards compositions they would never record for their own albums, but featuring Mick’s guide vocals nonetheless with minimal backing from any other Stones. Unlike the songs Lennon and McCartney gave other people, these weren’t hits, nor should they have been. The opening alternate of “Out Of Time” sets the tone with its loud orchestra and awful female backing vocals; likewise a take of “Heart Of Stone” with Jimmy Page on guitar doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. A cover of “Don’t Lie To Me” is half-decent, but we challenge anyone to defend “I’d Much Rather Be With The Boys”.

Things improve a lot on side two, with tracks from the latter half of the decade when the boys were true studio rats and mostly out from under manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s promotional thumb. “If You Let Me” is a Between The Buttons outtake that would have fit on Flowers, and appears oddly after a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why”, allegedly recorded the night Brian Jones died. There are some refugees from the Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed sessions, such as the decadent “Family”, Bill Wyman’s “Downtown Suzie”, and an alternate band take of “Memo From Turner”—not the version that was a Mick solo single. “Jiving Sister Fanny” and “I’m Going Down” may not have been classics, but they weren’t any worse than some of the Stones’ more recent work.

The album cover for Metamorphosis was about as awful as its shelfmate; it’s unknown whether anyone sent away for the matching T-shirt offered on the inner sleeve. The Stones did their best to ignore it, and it eventually went out of print. But when the ABKCO catalog was re-rolled out in 2002, Metamorphosis was included, complete with the two songs that were on the UK version left off the US copies. Mighty generous of them.

Here’s an odd footnote to the crazy saga: not content to sit out on the fun, Decca compiled the two-record Rolled Gold compilation for the UK by year’s end, covering most of the popular material from the Hot Rocks albums. For no apparent reason, an upgraded version (called Rolled Gold +) was released worldwide in 2007, with another twelve tracks from the same era crammed on.

The Rolling Stones Made In The Shade (1975)—
The Rolling Stones
Metamorphosis (1975)—3
2003 SACD: same as 1975, plus 2 extra tracks

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paul McCartney 27: Back In The U.S.

Following the fun he had making Driving Rain, plus the excellent response from the Concert for New York, Paul took his new band of boys on the road what would be various legs of an expensive tour. And since it had only been about ten years since his last go-round, we got a double album (and a DVD) out of it.

Back In The U.S. succeeds where Paul Is Live fails in that it’s more representative of the average setlist from the first leg of the tour. Plus, this band is so hot you don’t mind the third live appearances of “Jet”, “Let Me Roll It”, “My Love”, “Band On The Run”, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “The Long And Winding Road” and “Yesterday”, or even the fourth “Live And Let Die”. The ‘90s and most of the ‘80s are ignored, but he does include four of the better selections from Driving Rain, plus “Vanilla Sky” from the same sessions. (Used as the title song from the Tom Cruise movie, it’s not unlike “Biker Like An Icon”, only not as good.)

He always made a big deal of performing certain Beatle tunes for the first time onstage ever, and this time it’s “Getting Better” and “Mother Nature’s Son”. (On the next leg he even added “She’s Leaving Home”, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) “Carry That Weight” includes most of “You Never Give Me Your Money”, plus “the bit” where he forgot the words. The “Sgt. Pepper” reprise goes neatly into “The End”, but the best portion occurs at the end of the first disc: “Here Today” on acoustic for John, followed by “Something” on ukulele for George.

Another in a string of very satisfying listens, Back In The U.S. continued to establish Paul’s hold on the public consciousness as the ambassador Beatle and keeper of the flame. Any doubt as his right to the title is dispelled by the sound of the crowd singing along with every word and the photos of their adoring, misty eyes. (Just because he’s Paul, he decided to release a modified version of this collection called Back In The World everywhere else but the Western Hemisphere, with some differences: “Every Night”, “Vanilla Sky”, “C Moon” and “Freedom” were replaced with “Calico Skies”, “Michelle”, “Let ‘Em In” and “She’s Leaving Home”. A new recording of “Hey Jude”, recorded in Mexico, was also used in place of the U.S. version.)

Paul McCartney Back In The U.S. (2002)—4

Monday, June 7, 2010

Neil Young 38: Fillmore East and Massey Hall

At the end of a busy year, Neil finally made headway on his threat to open his fabled Archives with the release of Live At The Fillmore East, a 1970 electric set with Crazy Horse culled from two out of four shows in two days. At only 43 minutes, it was a mere taster for everything else he’d been sitting on. Still, it’s a great souvenir, including a positively stellar take of “Winterlong” seven years before any official release and even the original arrangement of “Wonderin’”, thirteen years before its eventual recorded debut. This stint was also the source for “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”, edited and released on Tonight’s The Night, and included here as originally performed.

The band is tight—well, as tight as it would ever be—with Danny Whitten singing and playing guitar, and Jack Nitzsche supporting on electric piano. We daresay these renditions rival any other in the canon, and certainly up the versions on the album they were supporting. (The album was also available paired with a DVD that included various Joel Bernstein photos from the shows nicely presented montage-style.) While “Cinnamon Girl” from the same show was only available later as a download, it still gave fans hope that more like this, and of this high quality, was truly on the way.

Sure enough, not four months later Live At Massey Hall 1971 presented another fabled bootleg in pristine condition. Running over an hour, this certainly offered more value to those still miffed about missing the rest of the Fillmore show. It’s a pretty special set, with a highly appreciative Toronto audience showing their enthusiasm. Having been performed before the first Harvest sessions, nine (ten if you count “A Man Is A Maid/Heart Of Gold Suite” as two songs) of the 17 tracks hadn’t appeared on albums yet. “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” and “Dance Dance Dance” got their first spots in the official canon, and this made the first official appearances of “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind” on CD, given the continued absence of Time Fades Away.

On the DVD version paired with some CDs, the audio was synced to footage captured a few days later from two shows at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Connecticut. The audio and the matching restored video were eventually released as Young Shakespeare, making the third gig released from the same general period. It’s not a complete show; the dozen songs are shuffled from the Massey Hall program, with “Sugar Mountain” as the only song not included on the earlier disc.

And if that wasn’t enough for you, two of the first installments of his Official Bootleg Series were dedicated to nearly identical shows from earlier in the month. One features a snippet that would turn into “You And Me” twenty years later, and the other was the night that begat the official versions of “The Needle And The Damage Done” and “Love In Mind”. While the albums replicated the original bootlegs and were edited to fit on vinyl, he was kind enough to host the complete shows on his site, with extra chatter and audience response.

But rewinding to 2007, Fillmore East and Massey Hall were denoted as the second and third installments of the projected Neil Young Archives Performance Series. They were and still are essential for Neil fans, providing an excellent balance of his electric and acoustic personas. This was a very fruitful period, smack dab in the middle of his first go-round with CSNY. Looking back, Neil said he should have released them as is when the shows were still fresh. Better late than never.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore East (2006)—4
Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971 (2007)—4
Neil Young
Young Shakespeare (2021)—
Neil Young
Royce Hall (2022)—
Neil Young
“I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down” (2022)—

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rolling Stones 21: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll

If there was any doubt that the Stones (or at the very least, Mick) had begun to overestimate their importance in the grand scheme of things, a glance at the cover of It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll should dispel that. Here are the conquering heroes greeted by a bevy of young lovelies throwing flowers at them (or at the very least, Mick).

The record itself intends to deliver good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, and for the most part, it does. The opening “If You Can’t Rock Me” is all guitars, with a nasty bass solo (!) and near-disco drumming. “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” is a rarity in itself, a cover of a Motown song that betters the original. The title track is probably playing on the radio somewhere, and portends the imminent arrival of Ron Wood, as the song grew out of a jam at his house. (Nonetheless, the band mimed to the recording in a promotional video, which is notable for the hideous sailor suits, Mick Taylor smiling for the last time in his life and Charlie nearly being asphyxiated by soap bubbles.) Things slow down for “Till The Next Goodbye”, a mildly forgettable ballad with forced country vocals on the way to the side’s finale. “Time Waits For No One” is an absolute tour de force for Mick Taylor, who plays the solo of his life after each chorus and over the last half of the song, under Nicky’s swirling piano and Charlie’s steady beat. The lyrics ain’t bad either.

That track notwithstanding, side two is even weaker. “Luxury” finally includes some of the reggae influences they might have picked up on the previous album. “Dance Little Sister” provides the album’s requisite Chuck Berry pastiche, before the attempted centerpiece of “If You Really Want To Be My Friend”, which offers a nasty Leslied guitar and soulful backing vocals, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Likewise, the intended punchline in “Short And Curlies” misses widely. The album ends with another experiment in “Fingerprint File”, touching on more disco, with synthesizers and inscrutable lyrics about the FBI.

The band was coasting, and the self-review in the title It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll proves it. But they didn’t care. They were the best band in the world, their records sold and their concerts sold out, no matter what the critics said.

The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (1974)—3

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 7: Invisible Hitchcock

Not too far into his short solo career Robyn had already amassed a cache of rarities, and perhaps to capitalize on what for him constituted success, decided to issue them. Invisible Hitchcock is a mop-up collection, most of which was previously unreleased. Some of it is fun, some is tedious, and unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—none of it comes from the “lost” years. At least it’s mostly chronological, and it’s sequenced pretty well.

We begin with five tracks from the Black Snake sessions. “All I Wanna Do Is Fall In Love” has potential, but “Give Me A Spanner, Ralph” and “A Skull, A Suitcase, And A Long Red Bottle Of Wine” don’t live up to promise of their titles. “It’s A Mystic Trip” attempts to do just that with a lot of backwards guitar, and a demo of “My Favourite Buildings” rounds things out. “Falling Leaves” is an absolute gem, a sax-heavy track that shows what Groovy Decay could have been had he only cared. The chaotic “Eaten By Her Own Dinner” was the title track of two different EPs released four years apart, and is pretty much where he stopped for a while.

A set of very keyboard/synth-heavy tunes make things more interesting, although certainly derivative of Bowie’s Berlin period. “The Pit Of Souls” is half the length of the version on the Fegmania! reissues. “Trash” gets points just for mentioning Charlie Watts. “Mr. Deadly” and “Messages Of Dark” are all claustrophobic in that good ol’ Eno vein. “Star Of Hairs” is pretty catchy, as are the post-Trains demos “Vegetable Friend”, “I Got A Message For You”, and “Point It At Gran”.

Completists will love Invisible Hitchcock, but its appearance in the chronology derails the momentum of the Egyptians. Mathematically it should probably rate about two stars, but the truly good songs—and really, we can’t say enough about “Falling Leaves”—make the album worth a listen. Rhino dutifully included it in their reissue campaign, complete with two additional rarities. Today it’s out of print, all but six of the tracks having been parsed out on various Yep Roc reissues.

Robyn Hitchcock Invisible Hitchcock (1986)—3
1987 CD: same as 1986, plus 4 extra tracks
1995 Rhino reissue: same as 1986 CD, plus 2 extra tracks
Current CD equivalent: none