Review: Mick Fleetwood & Friends, ‘Celebrate The Music of Peter Green And The Early Days of Fleetwood Mac’

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“If music be the food of love, play on.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

These days if you mention Fleetwood Mac most people think of what is now referred to as their “classic” lineup (meaning their biggest selling roster): Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), Christine McVie (vocals, keyboards), Lindsey Buckingham (vocals, guitar) and Stevie Nicks (vocals, spooky outfits). I have to admit, even if you’d have asked me about Fleetwood Mac in the late 70s/early 80s when I started listening to music and buying albums I would have thought of the Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – Tusk version of the band. Recently I wrote about that lineup’s new, expanded live LP from 1980, ‘Live.’ I was unaware until much later of their extensive, bluesier history. Rock and roll had been around a lot longer than I realized in 1978 and had a deeper, richer history than I knew about when I was 13. Spelunking into rock n roll or a certain band’s history is part of the fun of being a fan for me and Fleetwood Mac’s rich history was no exception… but not everybody is wired as obsessively as I am.

Fleetwood Mac did indeed have a history that dated back to 1968, before Lindsey and Stevie. Hell, it even pre-dated Christine (Perfect) McVie. And that early Fleetwood Mac was steeped in the blues. To really tell the story of Fleetwood Mac and their early period one must step back to blues rock legend John Mayall. I’ve posted before about John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers first few albums. Mayall’s lineup for his first studio LP included not only John McVie on bass but Eric Clapton on guitar. This was circa the “Clapton Is God” era. Clapton met Jack Bruce who had also briefly played with Mayall – the Bluesbreaker were more of a consortium than a band it seems – and they grabbed a drummer from the Graham Bond Organization named Ginger Baker to form a new band. Without Mayall, there’d have been no Cream. What do you do when you lose a legend like Clapton on guitar? Apparently Mayall had a nose for great guitarists that rivaled Ozzy Osbourne’s… he quickly had a replacement for Clapton.

When Mayall brought his band into the studio to record his second studio LP, A Hard Road, his producer fearfully asked where Clapton was? Mayall reportedly said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” That guitarist he was talking about was the 20 year old Peter Green. You don’t hear much about Peter Green, a seemingly unsung hero in rock n roll, but he was one of the foremost guitarists in the second great British Blues explosion of the late 60s. What I have always admired about him is the tone he got out of his guitar. It’s like David Gilmour, instantly recognizable to me. Even Clapton praised his playing. But the highest praise for Peter Green came from blues legend B.B. King who said of him, “He had the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” High praise, indeed.

After A Hard Road, Green like Clapton decided to leave the Bluesbreakers and form his own band. Mick Fleetwood who had also been a member of the Bluesbreakers but had been fired quickly agreed to join. Green wanted John McVie to leave Mayall and join his band so he named it Fleetwood Mac – after the drummer and bassist – but McVie waited until they were recording their first, eponymous LP to join. That name, Fleetwood Mac, was prescient as those two guys are the only mainstays of the band. Green was always a generous band leader and didn’t want to be a guitar hero like Clapton so he insisted that a second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer – an Elmore James influenced slide guitarist – join the band. Their eponymous first LP is a great blues rock classic. I love that late 60s blues rock era. Back in those days all the rock bands, when they needed material, turned to the blues. I can’t name a band – Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Jeff Beck Group – who weren’t doing Willie Dixon covers. The Mac’s debut may not have received the attention in the U.S. that it did in the U.K., but it should have. Although, admittedly, I didn’t put any tracks from the debut on my Blues Rock playlist a few weeks ago… although I did include a few early Fleetwood Mac tunes.

Sadly, Peter Green only lasted for three albums with Fleetwood Mac, the band he founded. I’ve read that he started dabbling in LSD. I’ve always heard that someone dosed him at a party in Germany and it really affected his mental health. I don’t know if he was schizophrenic or if he was an acid casualty like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Regardless his mental decline resulted in his departure from the band. And sadly, he sort of floated into obscurity in terms of the annals of rock n roll history. I know he made an uncredited cameo on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album on the Christine McVie track “Brown Eyes.” Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac led to a revolving door of musicians who came and went, even after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and then left the band… and then came back and then left…or were fired.

I started reading in 2019 that Mick Fleetwood was putting together a tribute concert for his former band leader, Peter Green. I really loved this idea, it was really a well-deserved thing. I read that Green was invited but didn’t show up. The concert took place in February of 2020 right before the dark curtain of COVID fell across the world, darkening stages and lives everywhere. The concert is structured like a blues jam. There was this bar I used to hang out in on Saturday afternoons in Kansas City named Harling’s. Every Saturday this woman, Big Mama Ray would lead a blues jam. She could have been forty or could have been seventy, you just couldn’t tell. She typically had a Marlboro 100 dangling from her lips, when she wasn’t singing, and it was hard to see her through the smoke. This tribute album for Peter Green reminds me a bit of those old Saturday blues jams – only with considerably more talented and famous musicians involved.

I know they also shot this as a movie/documentary but I haven’t seen that, I’m only speaking of the LP in this post. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V… I’ve scoured the internet and what I’ve been able to determine is that joining Mick Fleetwood (who is the Master of Ceremony and drummer here) in the “house band” at the London Palladium is: Rick Vito (guitar), one time blues wunderkind Jonny Lang (guitar), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Ricky Peterson (keyboards), Dave Bronze (bass). Mick introduces drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, who has played with both Oasis and the Who a few tracks in but I don’t know if he plays the whole time. A blues jam is structured around a core “house” band with other musicians who get up and take over guitar, vocals, bass or drums. This live LP is a great tribute to Peter Green, early Fleetwood Mac and the blues in general.

It is staggering to think about how many people have been in Fleetwood Mac and many of them show up at this show. First and foremost, it was great to hear Christine McVie sing a couple of blues tracks. I especially like her rendition of “Stop Messing Around.” Rick Vito who along with Billy Burnette replaced Buckingham in the late 80s sings a couple of tunes and really tears it up on “Love That Burns.” Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, who I almost forgot was in Fleetwood Mac to replace Buckingham (again) appears and sings “Man of the World.” The most surprising ex-Mac member to show up is original guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Spencer. Mick introduces him by stating that they hadn’t been on the same stage together in 50 years. I only wish that Peter Green could have been there to join in. Spencer actually brings ex-Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman with him to the stage. Spencer does a great take on Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” The only ex-Mac member who didn’t show up was John McVie… well nor did Lindsey or Stevie.

Speaking of Bill Wyman, he’s only the tip of the iceberg here in terms of famous cameos. By my count we hear members of : The Stones, The Who, Metallica, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Oasis during the course of the bluesy evening. Wow, those appearances really signal what a special event this was. I was thrilled to hear John Mayall who Fleetwood introduces as “our mentor” perform “All Your Love.” It brings it full circle in a way. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top shows up early and plays on the early Mac chestnut “Doctor Brown.” That took me back. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler does a great take on “Rattlesnake Shake” a track Aerosmith used to do live which can be found on Pandora’s Box. More proof of Green’s influence… Kirk Hammett comes out to provide pyrotechnic solos on “The Green Manilishi” with Gibbons… a track so rocking it was covered by Judas Priest. Noel Gallagher does a few tracks and they’re all acoustic blues based which I really dug. Pete Townshend comes out and rocks out on “Station Man.” For me the emotional highlight of the evening is when Tyler/Gibbons start off with the rocking part of “Oh Well, Pt. 1” and then Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (who probably emerges from the shadows) comes out and plays the long guitar suite “Oh Well, Pt. 2.” Gilmour also does a beautiful version of Green’s signature “Albatross.” He doesn’t sing but Gilmour’s guitar is always so recognizable.

The evening ends as many jams do, with everybody on stage joining in on the final track. In this case it’s a rollicking “Shake Your Money Maker.” Mick ends thing with the Shakespeare quote that gave one of Fleetwood Mac’s early LPs its name. And I can’t agree more, “if music be the food of love, play on.” This is a great little live album for any fan of early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green or 60s British blues rock. A truly fitting tribute to a great guitarist we don’t hear enough about. Sadly merely months after this show, Peter Green passed away in his sleep. It’s never too early to recognize a genius for we never know what’s around the corner.

I realize not everybody is into the blues like I am, but I highly recommend everybody check this great live LP out. I’m hoping to actually see the video when it comes out, I think it’ll only add to the experience.

Cheers!

Review: Fleetwood Mac ‘Live (Deluxe Edition)’ – Revisiting The Expanded Double-Live 1980 LP

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*Photo of Fleetwood Mac’s original, vinyl 1980 LP ‘Live’ taken by your intrepid blogger

There was a time, believe it or not, before the internet. In those dark ages, the only places to buy a ticket to a concert was the box office of the theater/stadium or to go to an “authorized” ticket selling outlet. Usually the places that sold concert tickets were record stores which was convenient since even I knew where they were and I was pretty geographically challenged in those days. I knew where places were located, but I didn’t know street numbers. I had to give directions based on landmarks. “Drive straight on the street by the school until you see the big gnarly tree then turn right…” and so on. I was in high school, what did I know? While I had become a huge music fan in the late 70s, it wasn’t until June of 1980 that I was able to attend my first concert. Def Leppard opened (their first tour), the Scorpions were next (“The Zoo” was the only track I knew) and finally Ted Nugent in a loin cloth was the headliner. Needless to say, I was hooked on live music from that moment on, despite the hearing loss caused by Mr. Nugent… For that show, I bought the ticket from my friend Matthew who had a conflict of some sort and couldn’t attend.

Generally, that’s how I got tickets early on. I bought them from friends. It wasn’t until 1981 that I got the experience that every concert goer went through at least once back in the 70s/80s, I camped out overnight for tickets. Concert tickets generally went on sale at 8am the morning of whatever pre-chosen date they announced on the radio, usually months before the show. People would start to form a line for tickets the night before they went on sale. They’d have sleeping bags, food, lawn chairs… likely some beer and there was always weed. Once again, it was my friend Matthew and I who somehow convinced our parents that late summer of ’81 to sleep out for Van Halen tickets. We hadn’t seen them yet and when Fair Warning dropped, we knew we had to see this band. We were camped out in front of Tiger’s Records in the suburbs of KC with a nefarious looking, “unwashed and slightly dazed” crowd waiting for the record store to open so we could get our “choice” Van Halen tickets (and boy, we did). There was this old hippy in line behind us… I say old, but I was a teenager, the guy could have been 25 for all I know. He certainly looked old to my teen eyes. We started chatting over a couple of beers and I asked the codger, “What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? What band is best live?” His answer evoked quite a bit of surprise in me, when he responded without hesitation “Fleetwood Mac.” And this guy had supposedly “seen everybody.” I didn’t think to ask which tour he saw them on… The Mac may seem mellow to some ears, but my college roommate had all heavy metal albums with a couple of Fleetwood Mac LPs so they couldn’t have been that mellow.

Fleetwood Mac’s story is the thing of legend now. The Mac was formed by former members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: guitar legend Peter Green with a rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass). Green was the star – he was the singer/guitarist – but he named the band after the rhythm section… prescient as they are the only members who stayed for the entire Mac career. Green, who sadly passed away last year, eventually left and that led to a revolving door of singers and guitarists. Eventually Christine Perfect joined on keyboards and vocals… and then married John McVie. After their then current guitarist Bob Welch split to go solo, the McVies and Mick Fleetwood were left to look for yet another replacement. They discovered a little band creatively named Buckingham-Nicks with guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. Their debut album didn’t sell many copies (although I do have one on vinyl) but attracted the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac because of the album’s producer, Keith Olsen. They were not only shopping for a guitarist, they were shopping for a producer. He gave them the Buckingham-Nicks LP as a “resume” of sorts. They hired him and offered Buckingham the job of singer/guitarist… he refused to accept unless they included Nicks in the band…

That lineup: Buckingham/Nicks/Fleetwood/J. McVie/C. McVie, known as their “classic lineup” now I suppose, was an almost instant hit. The first LP, which McVie refers to as “the white Fleetwood Mac album” yielded the hits “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” and “Landslide” amongst others. They say when a band does a self-titled LP in the middle of their career it’s usually symbolic of a “rebirth” for the band… I’d say that was definitely the case here. They were bigger than they’d ever been. The success wasn’t without cost however. During the recording of the follow-up, one of the best selling LPs of all time, Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks who were a couple broke up. The McVies’ marriage also ended. All of those crazy passions and breakup recriminations found their way onto the album in songs like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and perhaps more positively on “Don’t Stop.” It was beyond a smash hit. I actually traded my brother Supertramp’s Breakfast In America for his copy of Rumours. I think we both won on that trade.

What to do next? That kind of success usually breeds a lot of pressure to repeat it and I think Buckingham decided to take a creative left turn to avoid the pressure of that success. He was also highly influenced by punk rock and that also fueled his decision to make some changes to Fleetwood Mac’s sound. The resulting LP Tusk was a surprise to a lot of people expecting Rumours 2.0. Tusk was (in my opinion) a sprawling masterpiece of a double-LP. While Nicks and Christine McVie continued to write and perform songs in the vein of the previous two albums, Buckingham went for a more experimental sound. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track. The album didn’t reach the successful sales numbers of Rumours, how could it have, and the other members of Fleetwood Mac were pretty upset with Buckingham who had helmed the project and even recorded some songs at home in his bathroom. The LP still sold 4 million copies – one to my brother who was always way ahead of everybody when it came to music – which sounds like a success to me.

The Fleetwood Mac tour for Tusk rolled through Kansas City a mere two months after my first concert (Nugent/Scorpions/Def Leppard) at the exact same place, Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms. Sadly, I did not see them on that tour. I still don’t know if the hippy outside of Tiger’s was talking about that particular show as his greatest concert. The review in the paper said they looked tired and only Buckingham and Fleetwood, who they said played off each other, were able to generate any excitement. They said it looked like Christine McVie was about to fall asleep at the piano. Cruel indeed, but let’s remember you can’t always trust the newspaper. I have to admit, I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac in concert and that pains me. The closest I ever got was seeing Stevie Nicks solo on her Wild Heart tour with no less than Joe Walsh opening. She sang “Rhiannon” as an encore and it was sensational.

But lucky for me, Fleetwood Mac like many bands who have spent a lot of time and money in the studio recording an album, decided to follow Tusk with a double live LP, creatively titled, Live. I’m on record here at B&V for loving live albums. Many people have a differing view of live LPs… I had a college friend who complained to me once, in response to hearing Springsteen’s Live 1975-85, that the live songs didn’t sound enough like the studio versions. I said, “Uh, Stew, you should be looking for a greatest hits LP, not a live LP.” Even Tom Petty said a live LP was just “your greatest hits sped up.” But for me, the 70s and even the early 80s was the golden era of the double-live LP. Not every live LP broke a band wide open like Kiss’ Alive or Frampton Comes Alive. Not every live LP made the list of “greatest live albums ever.” But there were so many great double live albums where the band could stretch out a little and it gave you the experience of seeing them live. Everybody did double live LPs in those days from Skynyrd to Neil Young. LPs like Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg or Fleetwood Mac’s Live were solid, if not occasionally spectacular live documents of a point in time in the life of a band. I never bought into the critics who dismissed live albums as merely “tour souvenirs. 

When I first bought Live in 1980, on vinyl, I was thrilled that they had some new songs on the album. “Fireflies” written by Stevie Nicks is one of their best tunes. She wrote it about the struggles and battles the five members had in creating Tusk. The band didn’t breakup because of splits in the romantic entanglements but it almost did over the writing and recording of Tusk. Buckingham resurrected a Buckingham-Nicks chestnut, the rocking, “Don’t Let Me Down Again” which sent me on a journey to find their debut LP. Christine McVie contributed the (somewhat typical for her) ballad “One More Night” which sounded like it was done in a studio. Likewise their Beach Boys’ cover “Farmer’s Daughter” also sounded like a studio outtake (turns out it was)… But I was so into Fleetwood Mac I was just happy to have those new tracks. 

While Live wasn’t a live album that was going to change your life like say, the Allman Brothers Live At the Fillmore East, it was a really good live document of one of the world’s greatest bands at or near the peak of their popularity. Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar skills on this album are insane! On songs like “I’m So Afraid” the solo’ing is mad good. He stretches out a Tusk track, “Not That Funny” to 9 minutes. I also have to say Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is amazing as well. He’s really under appreciated. I don’t know if that KC Star newspaper review helped make those two performers jump out at me, but they leave an impression. I love that they do “Oh, Well” a track recorded before Lindsey and Stevie joined the band. There’s a great selection from the three previous LPs this line up had put out from “Dreams,” and “Over My Head,” to “Over and Over” and “Sara.” This lineup of the band always sounded so good and this LP is no exception. And as a bonus for me, “Over My Head” was recorded at Kemper Arena in KC… I probably know people that were in the audience. Hell my friends Bob G and Brewster were probably there and didn’t tell me. 

Today the Mac released a Deluxe Edition of Live and you know how we love our “deluxe editions” here at B&V. I’ve spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but listening to this version of the album and I really like it. For all the tracks on the original album – and the selection was great – there were so many more you could have wished for and they’re now all on this expanded version. There’s another 15 songs and there’s no overlap (save one song), these are all different songs than the original. It elevates Live from a mere double-live album to something more akin to the aforementioned Springsteen Live 1975-85 or Petty’s Live Anthology. It should be noted that there not only tracks from the 1980 tour, but a smattering of songs from as early as 1975 and as late as 1982 found here. 

The deluxe stuff starts with maniacal version of “Second Hand News” with Lindsey and Stevie doing harmonies. “The Chain” is epic here… I always wondered why it wasn’t on the original. They even go back to the early Fleetwood Mac stuff with “The Green Manalishi With The Three Pronged Crown,” a track later covered by Judas Priest. What a great nod to Peter Green. Another Tusk track that I always liked, “What Makes You Think You’re the One” sounds great live. “Gold Dust Woman,” “Angel” and “Sisters Of the Moon” rank amongst my favorite tracks from Stevie Nicks and they’re all on this expanded edition. Finally Stevie gets her “live” due. “Tusk” was always a hard track to pull off live, without a marching band, but I dig the version here even though it’s accordion driven. Maybe all those old guys at the family reunions playing polkas paid off… 

Christine McVie plays a very affecting version of “Brown Eyes.” Her 1982 performance of “Hold Me” from Mirage may seem out of place here but man, I like it. Her track, “Songbird” is as beautiful live as it was in the studio. Call me a softy but I love that song. As an added bonus there are two more tracks recorded in Kansas City… I know, I can be a geek sometimes about stuff like that… The only song that seems superfluous is an extended version of Stevie’s “Fireflies” that I’m not sure was necessary. 

If you’re a fan of live music and miss concerts or just a fan of Fleetwood Mac, you must check out this expanded edition. There’s a chance many of you haven’t heard the original so I believe this will be a treat for you. In this age of streaming, everyone should be going back and revisiting those classic, fabulous double-live LPs and this is no exception. Pour a glass of something you enjoy, turn this one up loud, close your eyes and maybe, just maybe you’ll feel like you’re at the show…and if you really feel it, hold that lighter up over your head and sing along. 

Cheers! 

 

Review: Keith Richards + The X-Pensive Winos, ‘Live At the Hollywood Palladium’ Box Set

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I’m lucky enough in these troubled times to be gainfully employed. I appreciate how fortunate I am every day. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to actually take a few extra days off during this Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. I realize a lot of folks are struggling out there and my heart goes out to all of them. What to do with this extra time off during a global pandemic? For me the answer is always, “listen to rock and roll.”

However, even in the best of times I can get bored and restless and this week has been no exception. I actually left my home and the Boo Radley (‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ if you don’t know the reference) existence I’d been living and made the bold decision to go up to the local coffee joint. I’m strictly local folks, just say “no” to corporate coffee. This particular coffee joint is near a college campus. As I was standing there waiting for my fancy coffee drink amongst the unwashed Bohemian hipsters I couldn’t help but notice, between the man-buns and piercings, my barista’s sweatshirt which read, “My Spirit Animal Is Coffee.”

I’m not sure what a “spirit animal” is? According to urbandictionary.com a spirit animal is “A person or character that represents your inner personality.” If I had to guess the Rock Chick’s spirit animal, I’d put my money on a regal but fierce lion or tiger. I could probably pick a really cool bird of prey… an eagle or a hawk as her spirit animal. Don’t cross the Rock Chick. If I had to pick my own spirit animal, well that’d be easy… it’s Keith Richards. Well, maybe without the heroin.

When I first got into the Stones, I was probably like most new fans and I fell under the charismatic spell of Mick Jagger. I’d dance around my bedroom listening to Some Girls pretending to be the lead singer. I still love Mick Jagger but the more I learned about the Stones and their history I must say, my loyalty shifted a bit to his partner in crime, Keef. I’ve described Richards as the “gypsy pirate outlaw,” Review: Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart – The Triumphant Return of Rock’s Gypsy Pirate Outlaw. Back in my old bachelor pad, I had a picture I’d clipped out of ‘Rolling Stone Magazine’ of Keith that I taped to my bedroom mirror. I wasn’t trying to look like Keith, but it was nice knowing he was looking over me. I still have that pic in a box somewhere…

The second to last thing in the world that Keith Richards wanted was to have a solo career outside of his beloved Stones. The only thing he wanted less than his own solo career was for Mick Jagger to have a solo career. Richards was dismayed when in 1985 Mick stepped out of his role as front man for the Stones and put out his first solo record, She’s The Boss. The album was, uh, a disaster. I did like the first, reggae-tinged track “Just Another Night.” The critics savaged it and the public ignored it. Richards was not shy about his disdain. He felt Jagger was trying to compete with the then leading pop acts of the day like Madonna, Michael Jackson or Prince. Keith felt the Stones transcended those acts. The Stones were, in a word, above all that. It cheapened the Stones to make such a bad solo record that was so obviously craving pop success. 

Keith was eager to put Mick’s solo wanderings behind them and move forward with the Stones. They hadn’t toured after their last album, the underrated Undercover and Keith was itching to get the Stones back on stage. But during the recording of 1986’s Dirty Work, Mick was less than “present.” Purportedly at one session Mick showed up to lay down his vocals and didn’t even take his coat off. “Take your coat off and stay awhile, Mick.” That lack of involvement showed in the writing credits for the album. Ronnie Wood was credited with more co-writer credits than at any time in his career. The Stones were at a low point… even Charlie Watts who had survived all the carnage of the sixties and seventies had finally succumbed to a heroin habit in the 80s. One-time member, pianist and sometimes road manager Ian Stewart passed away and that hit them all hard as well. When Mick declined to tour in order to finish his second solo album, 1987’s Primitive Cool Keith was… not amused. 

Primitive Cool was even worse than She’s the Boss. I still cringe when I hear “Let’s Work.” Although Jeff Beck put down some nice guitar work on “Throwaway.” At that point, still livid, seemingly against his own will, Keith decided to do a solo record. Mick had mostly used session musicians for his records and Keith felt he needed an actual “band” if he was going to do anything solo. He’s always said Charlie Watts’ drumming was the engine to the Stones and he felt if the solo thing was going to work he needed a new, kick ass engine. He chose to work with drummer Steve Jordan who also helped cowrite the record and co-produce. Jordan brought in bassist/percussionist Charlie Drayton. Ivan Neville was brought in on keyboards and Sarah Dash on backing vocals. Keith brought in an old Stones sideman Bobby Keys to play sax… All he needed was a lead guitarist. 

Richards approached L.A. session legend Waddy Wachtel to play lead. I remember Keith saying at the time, “Waddy has been playing with too many chicks, he needed to come play with the lads” or something along those lines. With Keith all men are dudes and all women are chicks…it’s why he’s my spirit animal. Waddy has played with the Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and Stevie Nicks to name a few. He was a superb choice. Waddy and Keith’s guitars gel together the same way as Keith and Ronnie. 

Armed with such a great backing band Keith recorded and released 1988’s Talk Is Cheap. It’s hard not to see the title and many of the lyrics and songs on this record as being pointed directly at Jagger. “Take It So Hard” and “Struggle,” with the lyrics, “it’s a struggle between love and hate” are hard to interpret any other way. Talk Is Cheap was an absolute triumph (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). I can still remember dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy from Chicago, Kurt. We all  had martinis in our hands and Kurt kept yelling, “this is fucking rock n’ roll man!” I have to hand it to the guy, he didn’t spill a drop. 

With a critically lauded hit on his hands, nothing else to do as the Stones had gone dormant, and a kick ass band Keith decided to take them on a short run through North America. Towards the end of the tour, Keith and the band he’d dubbed the X-Pensive Winos – after being unable to find them during a rehearsal only to find them all hidden behind the drum riser passing around a bottle of Dom Perignon – recorded a show at the Hollywood Palladium. A week or so ago Keith released a “limited edition” box set. At $150 I can’t recommend everybody go out and buy the box even though it has a bunch of cool “stuff” in it – recreations of set lists, backstage passes etc – we focus on the music here. With the three new bonus tracks included, this album certainly deserves a listen and this was an opportunity to look back at this great live album.

First and foremost, Keith certainly sounds like he’s having a great time. What a great band this is. Yes, they are sloppy like the Stones but Jordan and Drayton keep everything anchored. Richards’ and Wachtel’s guitars meld seamlessly in some major riffage. They play almost every cut from Talk Is Cheap. “Struggle,” “Take It So Hard” and “I Could Have Stood You Up” all appear in muscular versions here. This was great rock and roll and so it translated very well to the stage. They also play a handful of Stones tunes. Sarah Dash, who does a nice vocal on “Rockawhile,” also does the lead on the Stones’ “Time Is On My Side.” The band finds a nice solid groove on “Too Rude” a reggae cover that Keith insisted the Stones record for Dirty Work. It sounds more convincing here. “Happy” and “Connection,” one of Stones’ first tunes with Keith’s vocals are both here. 

On the bonus material, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a track the Beatles wrote and gave to the Stones and then later recorded with Ringo on lead vocals turns into a rollicking band sing-along, everybody joins in. “Little T&A” is a sloppy glory here. The final bonus track is “You Don’t Move Me” which is Keith’s most direct message to Mick on Talk Is Cheap. Ending the show with this track – if indeed that was the final track – at that time and place had to be an ominous portent for those of us who were hoping the Stones would get back together. 

Luckily, within a year Mick and Keith would get the band back together. Both have continued to sporadically record solo albums and managed to keep the peace. This was a great live recording of a Keith and the Winos doing a glorious job of venting Keith’s frustration. True pain in this case, truly created great art. 

Be safe and smart over the Thanksgiving holiday… I’m getting tired of hiding in the attic. Cheers! 

 

 

Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!)

*Image taken from the internet, may be subject to copyright

I like to pride myself on rarely being surprised when music gets released. I like to think I’m “in the know,” as they say. With my borderline OCD I usually know when music is coming out – new or from the vault, typically I’ve read somewhere that the new stuff is coming. Over the years I’ve gone from reading magazines to following bands on social media to searching the web to find out which bands are planning to put out albums. Too many times in my youth an album would come out, local radio would fail to play it and I didn’t realize it was out until much later. I used to hate it when that happened. Perhaps I have a problem…

While 2020 has been an awful year for everyone, at least in music it’s actually been a great year. Sure, I didn’t get that new Stones’ LP I’ve been waiting for, but acts from Ozzy to Dylan have put out new, quality albums. Bands, unable to play live, have been emptying their vaults… so many box sets, so little time/money. While I’ve been blissfully listening to Springsteen’s new album, Letter To You, and battling with Amazon to get my Tom Petty Wildflowers: All The Rest delivered (Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited), a deluge of music has come out. I just discovered an album I was anticipating coming out, Lou Reed’s deluxe edition of his brilliant 1989 album New York had already come out. What’s a poor blogger to do when the music is coming this fast and furious? My only answer is to sip some bourbon and enjoy it immensely. 

While I was out trying to get a handle on everything that’s come out, I realized that Pearl Jam has finally(!) released an LP version of their 1992 MTV Unplugged performance. I had no idea that was even in the works, and as I said, I’m rarely surprised. For you long time readers, you know two things, (a) I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan (Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts), and (b) I love the old MTV “Unplugged” series (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs). While there were literally over 100 ‘MTV Unplugged’ shows recorded and broadcast, only around 30 were actually released as albums. 

The whole “unplugged” concept, I’d always understood, was inspired by (of all people) Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performing “Wanted (Dead Or Alive)” acoustic at an MTV awards show. It wasn’t until Paul McCartney appeared on the show in 1991 that anybody noticed it or attached any import to it. McCartney released an album from the performance – and I think he was the first to do so – but originally only in a limited 500,000 copy release. I actually had a copy of that CD in my hands in a record store in Warrensburg, Missouri and I didn’t buy it, I didn’t have the cash back then. What could have been… It was Clapton’s Unplugged that made the whole enterprise a commercial juggernaut. I think that album sold 10 million copies in the states. For me, ‘MTV Unplugged’ in many cases became “appointment television.” From Rod Stewart (who reunited with fellow Faces member Ronnie Wood) to Alice In Chains to Robert Plant reunited with Jimmy Page there were some great, great performances. Some artists stick pretty close to the original blue print of their songs but some like to deconstruct or take liberties with the music. I have a version of Lenny Kravitz doing “Are You Gonna Go My Way” from his Unplugged as an acoustic blues stomper that still blows me away. 

My introduction to Pearl Jam was somewhat circuitous. When the whole grunge thing started to take over, I remained wary and skeptical (which may be the words on my tombstone). I’d seen a similar thing happen in music when punk surged in the late 70s and I wasn’t sure if this was going to resurrect music or destroy all that came before it. It ended up being the latter… but I digress. I was a big fan of a lot of the music that had come out in the 80s including “hair bands” and so I was dismayed that bands like the Cult or Motley Crue were being pushed aside for this new music. Even venerable acts like Springsteen struggled with grunge and its effect. In the 70s when the punks challenged the established order, the older rock bands absorbed the energy and survived (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s). With grunge, the established rock bands seemingly crumbled and indulged in massive self-doubt. I was always slow to accept change and remained somewhat aloof from Pearl Jam and the other new grunge bands. I will say, I had already adopted their clothing style… I’d been wearing flannel shirts and blue jeans since high school. So I had the grunge threads, anyway. 

In the early 90s, Kansas City got an “alternative rock” radio station. I think it was called 96.5 The Buzz. I had a cheap radio walkman that I would use when I went to the gym. I would bounce from the hard rock to the classic rock and finally when bored bounce down to the alternative station at 96.5. I was working out so I wasn’t terribly focused but I started to hear songs I really liked down there on the Buzz. I had no idea who the bands were I just liked the tunes. I’m usually hyper inquisitive when I hear music I like but I guess I had too much going on to figure out who these new bands were. I really liked Alice In Chain’s “Man In A Box.” That was the first grunge track I actually loved. Then I started hearing these other tracks, “Black,” “Alive,” and a track named “Jeremy.” I couldn’t help but think, not knowing these were all from the same band, “these grunge bands all sound alike.” I didn’t know who Pearl Jam was until I saw the “Jeremy” video on MTV. 

I started dating a woman in early 1992 who had an out-of-town boyfriend who I thought had she’d broken up with. We started hanging out… those records are now sealed until twenty-five years after I’m dead. She brought over Pearl Jam’s landmark debut CD, Ten and just left it over at my place. I can remember listening to that brilliant disc for the first time and a light bulb went off in my head. All of these brilliant songs I’d been hearing were on Ten. Grunge bands don’t sound alike, I’d been listening to the same band. When the affair ended, she left the Pearl Jam CD at my place… it was a sad day when she showed up and demanded I return it. I had hoped it was a parting gift, but oh, well. 

In March of 1992 Pearl Jam entered the MTV studios and recorded their version of ‘Unplugged.’ I don’t remember when they finally broadcast the show, but I was simply mesmerized. Other than the “Jeremy” video I hadn’t really seen these guys. I had heard they were amazing in concert and Vedder was often unhinged, more like a shaman than a front man, physically willing the crowd to elevate. Despite the fact that the suits at MTV edited the order of the songs, the show blew my mind. Vedder seemed like he was barely containing himself, like he was about to physically explode. At one point he stood on his stool and wrote “Pro Life” in black magic marker on his arm. I couldn’t help but think, this is the birth of a legend. He was that charismatic. I was also thinking, I hope that wasn’t a permanent Sharpie, that stuff never comes off. Even acoustic, these guys had an intensity that told me they were an important band. 

While some bands lose that intensity when they go “unplugged” or acoustic, not so for Pearl Jam. Stripped of the loud, squalling guitars their songs emerged seemingly stronger. The melodies really came out, much like when Nirvana did their Unplugged In New York City. Vedder’s vocals were deep and resonant. I have to give props to the drummer at the time, Dave Krusen, his insistent beat keeps pushing this music. Jeff Ament’s driving bass cements the great rhythm section. Guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitars, though muted, deliver on each track. McCready’s solo’s in particular are great here. The sheer energy emanating from this band is palpable over the speakers and simply infectious. I find myself up and moving around the room when I turn this album up. 

While the performance was, to me, legendary, they never released it as an album. Maybe because it was only seven songs (actually, eight) they kept it in the can but I still think this would have been a great EP. The first album was so popular so fast they probably didn’t want to look like they were cashing in. Grunge bands were all very earnest back then… no big cash, no rock star act, no groupies… they might have wanted to rethink that last part but hey, no judgement. When they did an anniversary release of their debut album Ten Redux, it included the DVD of the ‘Unplugged’ performance but they didn’t release an LP or CD version of the show. I remember telling the Rock Chick, “I wish they’d put out the ‘Unplugged’ show on vinyl.” Apparently a year ago, November 2019, they did put out a vinyl version of the MTV Unplugged for Record Store Day, in a limited release. Record Store Day is always a mirage for me with great releases I can never get my hands on. RSD is just like driving down a two-lane country road in summer…you see what looks like water on the road up ahead but it’s just an optical illusion. Anyway, as I just discovered last week by sheer accident, PJ put out the show on a broader basis just last Friday. In a fit of excited amazement I bought the MP3 version but now, finding this on vinyl is my new “white whale.” 

Listening to this concert all these years hence, it’s still an awesome performance. They open with the muted, “Oceans” which Vedder describes as “a love song for his surf board.” After, they launch into “State of Love And Trust” from the ‘Singles’ movie soundtrack and it rocks, even acoustic. “Alive” seems all the more moving in this setting. “Black,” always my favorite track, soars here. At the end of “Black,” Vedder sings “we belong together” repeatedly, you feel it man. They round it out with “Even Flow,” “Jeremy” and “Porch” all of which deliver in this acoustic setting. This was a band becoming superstars right before our very eyes and ears. They did record an acoustic version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World” at the performance but alas, its’ not on this release. It remains locked in the Pearl Jam vault. 

With 2020 being, for me, the worst year of my life, Pearl Jam releasing this album after 28 years is the perfect tonic I need. I urge everyone to check this delightful surprise of an album out. It is really something to behold, a full on aural acoustic assault all these years later… 

Stay Safe out there… Cheers! 

 

Movie Review: ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia On Broadway’

In junior high when I started listening to rock and roll music, the Talking Heads were not in high rotation. At least they weren’t in Kansas City. This is the heartland where Foghat, Styx and Journey ruled the day. I’m sure the radio moguls in town considered the Talking Heads music to be… well, “subversive.” That said, I’ve often stated that music evokes very powerful memories in me and vice versa. I woke up every morning to my clock radio which was tuned to the local station KY/102. I would leave it on while I drug myself zombie-like out of bed and into the shower. Music would be playing in the background while I got dressed and feathered my hair (oh yes, it was glorious). Because of the evocative effect of music on my memory, I can still remember the first time I heard the Heads’ version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.” I was sitting on the edge of my bed, pulling my socks on… if I close my eyes I can see the old garish green shag carpeting and striped wall paper (my room was decorated in a manner that makes me suspect my mother was mad at me). Those drums, that voice. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. It made me realize that maybe the world was a little bigger than we’d all realized… there was something that cool out there, somewhere. There was such a lack of Talking Heads on the radio, I was convinced “Take Me To the River” was from their debut album until I was in college. Their debut, Talking Heads: 77 got no love from Kansas City radio. “Take Me To The River” was from their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which still sort of surprises me. 

It’s still astounding to me that music as important as the Talking Heads first two albums were all but ignored in my home town. Perhaps that’s why lead singer/guitarist/songwriter David Byrne wrote a song like “Heaven” where he sang, “The band in Heaven, they play my favorite song, they play it once again, they play it all night long.” That sounds an awful lot like the place I grew up. It wasn’t until college that the Talking Heads pierced my consciousness again. MTV had taken over the world and when Speaking In Tongues came out the Heads were all over it with the video for “Burning Down the House.” In one scene Byrne stands in front of a video tape of a crowd. I dug the song but I remember a roommate of mine saying, “They had to use a videotape because the Talking Heads can’t draw a crowd.” There’s one in every group of friends… I will say the Talking Heads were made for MTV. Their videos are iconic. 

All that said, I didn’t buy my first Talking Heads LP until the live album, Stop Making Sense came out. A friend of mine who I’ll call Rambert had that album and played it once when I was at his place. That album and the movie it came from were in my mind as iconic as their music videos. The film version, directed by the late, brilliant Jonathan Demme, was truly ground breaking. The show starts with just David Byrne, dressed in his big suit, singing over a boom box and slowly builds as they add instruments for each song… they roll out the drummer, next track here comes the bass player. By the end, there’s nine people on stage. I just watched it again in the early stages of lock down… the Rock Chick had never seen it. 

When Little Creatures came out, I was ripe for a Talking Heads takeover. I heard “Road To Nowhere” and it immediately resonated for me. After hearing “And She Was” that was it, I was hooked. It took me a long time but I finally purchased every single Talking Heads LP. They rank amongst my all-time favorite bands. The band broke up rather acrimoniously a long time ago and I don’t think that rupture will ever be repaired. David Byrne is more of an “artiste” really. I can’t imagine he wants to go backwards. This is the guy who at the height of their popularity pulled Brian Eno in to produce the Talking Heads. When you’re at that stage of your career where you collaborate with Eno (Bowie, U2, Roxy Music)  you’ve reached the next level in artistry. 

Byrne’s solo career has been much less visible than his work with the Talking Heads. Much like Robert Plant (who also won’t reunite with his band) Byrne follows his muse where it takes him. His first solo LP, a collaboration with Eno, was My Life In the Bush of Ghosts. Likely not an album a lot of you have heard. His first “proper” solo album was the Latin-flavored Rei Momo that I just love. Check out the track “Dirty Old Town.” I will say that I am familiar with a number of the albums Byrne released as a solo artist but I’m like most people, I haven’t followed them as religiously as I should have. A few years ago, he put out a great LP, that we loved here at B&V, LP Review: David Byrne, ‘American Utopia,’ A Surprise Gem. It had come as a surprise to me because I wasn’t paying attention. 

Afterwards, much like Springsteen, he took his show to Broadway. When did musical theater get to be so cool? I’ve never been a fan of musical theater. Early in my marriage the Rock Chick took me to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where I promptly fell asleep which is still a point of contention in my marriage. I won an award at the corporation where I work and they flew me to New York. My flight was delayed and by the time I got to the hospitality suite they only had tickets to ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ all the ‘Spamalot’ tickets had been snapped up. It was enjoyable but its hard for me to get my head around a scene where there’s action happening and suddenly everyone breaks into song… “the Jets are gonna winnnnnn.” Recently over Christmas, I saw ‘The Book of Mormon’ and I may be turning around on the whole musical theater thing but I digress. 

Springsteen and now Byrne are putting some rock and roll into the “Great White Way.” After a wildly successful run on Broadway, Byrne invited director Spike Lee into film the performance. Spike does a really great job with this. It’s clear that ‘American Utopia’ is the spiritual descendent of the Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense.’ The stage is bare, very spartan. Byrne, and the rest of his backing band, are all in identical grey suits. At least the suit fits him this time. Lee does a great job of capturing close-up shots juxtaposed with wider shots to capture the movement and energy on the stage. There is no drum kit, there is no keyboard set up. The instruments are all carried by Byrne’s on-stage band so everyone is mobile, all the time. There are a few overhead shots, straight down on the stage that I felt were very effective. Despite the monochromatic stage and outfits, I found this movie very enticing to the eye. There was something very striking visually to the look and all the choreography and Spike Lee captured it perfectly. It was also certainly fun to see Broadway fans on their feet, rocking out in a venerable old theater. 

The songs Byrne selected to play are a mix of Talking Heads songs and solo tracks. It’s not the entire American Utopia album although there are a generous number of tracks from that record. Byrne pulls tracks from all over his catalog and yet, they cohere into a story. There’s a socially conscious message Byrne is conveying through this selection of songs and it comes across without being preachy. I was actually truly blown away by this show. He has brief spoken word intervals between a number of the songs where he covers a range of subjects: Dadaism, fascism, racism, television and the human brain, just to name a few. If I was going to suggest an overarching theme, it’s simply, connection. We are all connected. We all need to come together to make this world a better place. When Byrne, “a white man of a certain age” and his band perform a Janelle Monae cover, “Hell You Talmabout” it hits with the force of a blow. 

Other highlights for me were “Lazy,” because, well, I am. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” has always been a favorite of both mine and the Rock Chick. The speech leading up to “I Should Watch TV” is just fabulous as is the performance. The Talking Heads’ chestnut “Blind” was also a personal favorite. Byrne is charismatic and at turns serious and funny. He can be self-effacing which I would not have expected. There is so much to love in this film and on this sound track. I haven’t bought the album of the cast-performance yet but I’m planning on it. This is a great performance but what makes its exceptional in to me, was it was also a very thought-provoking performance. 

When the show is over, Byrne, after exchanging a few awkward hugs with his bandmates, gets on his bicycle and rides off into the New York city night time, headed for home like the true citizen of the world he is… I urge everyone to check this movie out. If you can’t see it, give the live-LP from the soundtrack a spin. It’s time well spent. 

Be careful out there… be safe. Stay connected. Open your minds and you’ll find that “every day is a miracle.” 

 

 

Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)’ – Unplugged Redemption?

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Relationships can be very complicated. The most complicated relationship, in my opinion, has to got be marriage – the intermingling of two, non-gender-specific souls for (maybe) life. Love is love here at B&V. I mean, if it lasts any amount of time marriage is certainly going to be complicated. As I’ve stated here before, I’ve always viewed marriage (and all relationships, really) as the classic Venn Diagram. If you remember from grade school, a Venn Diagram is two overlapping circles. The two circles each represent individuals in the relationship. The overlapping part is what they share – common interests, goals and likes/dislikes. The non-overlapping part is that part of ourselves that sustains itself outside of the relationship or better put, it’s the extra stuff we bring to the table.

Really, any aspect of your relationship – and this could be any relationship not just marriage – could be represented by the Venn Diagram. This is never more true than when we talk about music. When I met the Rock Chick, luckily we had a ton of shared, loved music. But there was a lot of great music she turned me onto that I had missed. She turned me onto the Cult, Motley Crue, and helped me rediscover Green Day, amongst many other bands. I like to think I turned her onto some music, but other than expanding her interest in the Stones, I can’t really say what that might be. Now, if I may continue the whole weird Venn Diagram thing, there was music that was…”outside” the overlapping part, if you follow me. No band represents the Rock Chick and my musical divergence more than Oasis. My God, she loves Oasis. And I was, well, lukewarm at best.

Speaking of difficult relationships, Oasis was founded by two siblings, Noel and Liam Gallagher in Manchester, England. If ever there was a poster child for brothers not forming a band, it’s Oasis (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands). These guys made the Robinson brothers in the Black Crowes look like the Walton family. Any time they were on MTV being interviewed they had to use subtitles. The brothers Gallagher argued so much they imploded any goodwill and momentum they had in the States. Despite that, their late career albums were kick ass – especially Don’t Believe The Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. In the early ’00s, whenever we had a party I’d labor over playlists, mixing and weaving all these great tunes together to play for the bash and mesmerize my friends. Invariably 30 minutes into it my wife’s friend, who I’ll call Rich because that’s his name, would sidle up to me and say, “Say dude, can we put on the new Oasis’ album?” Apparently the Rock Chick was not the only fan of Oasis in my new reality of being married. So much for my playlist, crank “Lyla.”

It didn’t help that the Rock Chick and I trekked all the way out to Denver to see Oasis live at Red Rocks. I will admit they were amazing that night – it helped that we were in the front row, which really makes you feel like you’re part of the show and its a majestic venue. Unfortunately, the evening took a sour turn when Liam caught me air-guitaring to one track and mocked me shamelessly… he put up one hand, strummed the other and sort of shimmied his hips. I laughed, but clearly I was wounded. I keep promising the Rock Chick I’ll get over it… and I will admit the whole “air-guitar” thing wasn’t exactly cool. I’ve sort of stopped doing that… every time I did the Rock Chick would do that same Liam imitation with the feminine hip shimmy. It took the joy out of it but I’m getting off point here.

Oasis finally broke up. I read somewhere that Liam had gone so far as to question the paternity of one of Noel’s daughters. Really ugly stuff there. And while I’ll always begrudge Liam ruining my air guitar jones, Noel is no saint. I’ll probably never forgive him for calling Michael Hutchence of INXS a has-been at that European awards show (Review: Documentary, ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’). Karma did catch up with Noel and Oasis is no more. I know a lot of fans clamor for Oasis to reunite – especially in the UK and well, in my house – but to me, the farther Liam has gotten away from Noel, the better I think he gets.

When Liam and the rest of the gang from Oasis split with Noel they formed Beady Eye. While the second album never saw release here in the U.S., and I may be crazy but I thought Different Gear, Still Speeding was a great record. When Beady Eye imploded I read somewhere, in response to Liam suggesting Oasis reunite, Noel said that Liam needed to go solo and “put it out there.” Apparently Liam was listening because he released a solo album shortly after that, his first. Now, I have to admit, of my own volition I would not have followed Liam into his solo career but I am still married to the Rock Chick, thank God, and she bought his first LP As You Were and to my surprise that album delivered the goods (LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man). Then, he did it again on the follow up Why Me? Why Not. (LP Review: Liam Gallagher’s ‘Why Me? Why Not.’). Again, the farther away from Noel he gets, the better his music gets. Even I have to admit, the guy was one of the best vocalists to come up in the 90s. And his “angry young man” thing has turned into a sneering curmudgeon-y thing that I can sort of relate to. “You kids rock but get off of my lawn.”

Just a few months ago (in June), Liam released a new live album, MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall). Many of you may remember in August of 1996 that Oasis performed on MTV Unplugged and it was an unmitigated disaster. At the last minute the band announced that Liam “wasn’t feeling well” and that Noel would sing all the songs. “Wasn’t feeling well” was a euphemism for Liam being drunk… utterly shit-faced. While Noel gamely tried to sing all the big Oasis tracks he just was, well, not Liam. For his part, Liam sat in the balcony, drinking, throwing limes at the band and heckling them. And people wonder why I couldn’t get into Oasis? Kind of a dick move, Liam.

As many regular readers know, I’m a big fan of the Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. And, in conjunction to that, I’m a huge fan of live albums, period (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). Who doesn’t love a good live album? And folks, this is a really good live album. Liam has returned to MTV Unplugged and has yes, redeemed himself this time. He even asks, “Who gets to do MTV twice?” – the answer Liam is R.E.M. and Neil Young – before mumbling “Actually, once.” His great voice, which only seems to get better with age, paired with acoustic guitar and strings (the orchestra is really top notch here and would make classic Elton John jealous) is just fantastic. As a bonus for the Oasis fans, Paul Arthurs aka Bonehead (a rather unfortunate nickname), a founding member of Oasis shows up on four of the songs. Maybe not the Oasis reunion we want, but perhaps the Oasis reunion we deserve? (I just can’t resist a Batman reference, can I?).

The tracks are an even mix of Liam solo tracks (5) and Oasis tunes (5). After starting with the great As You Were opening track “Wall of Glass” Liam jumps into the Oasis catalog with “Some Might Say.” I have to say, the audience is adoring. Between tracks they yell “Liam, Liam” lustily. After a couple of Why Me? Why Not. tracks Liam does the Be Here Now track “Stand By Me” to the delight of the crowd. Then in a cheeky move, he sings “Sad Song” a Noel-sung bonus track from the deluxe version of What’s the Story Morning Glory. Great deep track and yes, much better with Liam on lead vocals, sorry Noel.

He weaves from solo to Oasis tracks seamlessly until the inevitable, yet still beautiful closer “Champagne Supernova.” It was a really great ending. The first time the Rock Chick played this for me, I thought, man that’s good. But I never dreamed I’d go back to it. However, whenever I decide to go musically exploring out on Spotify, to hear things I haven’t listened to in a while or haven’t ever heard at all – I find myself returning to MTV Unplugged Live At Hull City Hall. This isn’t Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous or the Allman Brothers Band Live At the Fillmore East, no this is nothing that epic. But it is a great, solid live album with fantastic vocals. It’s an addictive listen and I recommend any fans of Oasis or Liam to check this one out. I think you’ll be rewarded.

Be safe out there! Cheers!

 

B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

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I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

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As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!

 

LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?

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Some of us out here just love live albums. The first live album I ever got was Frampton Comes Alive. Admittedly, my Sainted Grandmother bought it for me… My friend Drummer Blake on several occasions has cited Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore as a favorite. Dr. Rock once told me that the J. Geils Band’s Blow Your Face Out was essential listening (he was, as usual, correct). Now, I realize that not everybody feels that way. Here at B&V, the Rock Chick does not like live albums and usually says something like, “Something sounds wrong with this song,” when I play a live track. Matrimony, sigh. Tom Petty once famously drawled, “Live albums are just your greatest hits played faster,” which was a pretty snarky thing to say from a performer whose live music is just phenomenal.

Naysayers aside, there are a lot of us who used to huddle around the radio if the local station was broadcasting a concert. There were some of us who stayed up late on Sunday night (at least here in KC), to listen to the King Biscuit Flower Hour to hear our favorite bands live. I remember hearing April Wine one night. I think every band was on that show at some point. I didn’t have money for concert tickets, hell, let’s listen to a live broadcast. Although I will admit, hearing those concerts on the radio usually had me so jacked up I was a wreck on Monday morning from lack of sleep. The sacrifices we make for rock and roll.

Every great band can bring it live. Every great band usually has a great live album. The Who have Live At Leeds, The Stones have Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, and the Allman Brothers Band has Live At the Fillmore East. When playing live, bands can stretch out, jam a little bit. It’s always fun to hear a great energetic crowd and how the band feeds off of that – I can’t help but cite B.B. King’s Live At the Regal here as an example. Sometimes it’s just hard for a band to capture the energy of their live performances in a studio. A song that may have been a dud in its studio incarnation becomes an international hit, like say, “Turn The Page” from Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. This post is for all of you who are like me who love a good live album.

I consider Paul McCartney to be one of the greatest artists in rock and roll, ever. Some might say that he’s never really put out a great live album. I would argue that point. McCartney (& Wings, no less) released a 3-LP live album in 1976 from their tour in support of Wings At the Speed of Sound, entitled Wings Over America that I would argue is a great live album. It’s often dismissed as his stab at “arena rock” or a “concert souvenir”… and I say, what’s wrong with that? Arena rock, yes please. I think there was still critical backlash for McCartney with the rock press because he was the one who announced the Beatles had broken up. Move on, people. Anyway, Wings Over America is a sprawling trip through his solo hits, Beatles tracks, and a few odd covers. He even lets other band members sing a few tracks. He even does an acoustic set that takes up one whole side of the album. Very cool, indeed.

Since then, though, the story isn’t as great. Other than his fabulous Unplugged album – which I had in my hands back in 1991 in a record store in Warrensburg and didn’t buy (it was a limited release and I blew it) – his live albums have been spotty. The Stones are in the habit of releasing a live album after every tour. There are some of those live albums I’ve enjoyed but they feel like contract obligations after a while. McCartney of late has followed the same album, tour, live album cycle. Live LPs like Tripping The Live Fantastic or Paul Is Live weren’t great examples of what Paul could do live. Good Evening New York was a little better but none of these improved on Wings Over America. 

A short while ago, Paul finally released the full length recording of a show he did in a record store, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, CA. He’d released Amoeba Secret a 4-song EP excerpt from the show back in 2007 when they recorded the show, I believe as a Record Store Day special. I don’t know why they sat on the entire recording for over a decade, but Rock Stars, what are you going to do? I can’t believe this performance wasn’t more widely bootlegged… The new release is entitled Amoeba Gig (Live) and despite my low expectations it’s a very pleasant surprise.

McCartney was on tour for his then current LP, Memory Almost Full, which is probably my favorite of his late period albums. I’ll be the first to admit that McCartney hit a creative lull in the 80s and early 90s. I have to wonder if the death of John Lennon in 1980 didn’t affect Paul more deeply than anybody realized. It wasn’t until 1997’s Flaming Pie that Paul found his groove again. Every record he’s put out since then has been compelling. Chaos and Creation In the Backyard was a bit downbeat and took a few listens to get into, but even it is a brilliant record. Memory Almost Full is chock full of great songs. As part of the promotion, McCartney and his backing band set up in this big record store and played for a small crowd. Even Ringo showed up for it. Although this must be a pretty big record store, it sounds like a bigger crowd than I’d have expected.

Playing in such an intimate setting, which McCartney describes as “the most surreal gig,” seems to really ignite McCartney and his backing band. I like to call his backing band, the Haircuts, mostly because of Rusty Anderson (lead guitar) and Brian Ray (guitar/bass). Those guys use more product in their hair than Motley Crue. They look like hot soccer moms from my old neighborhood. Although that moniker, the Haircuts is probably unfair as drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr is bald. David Arch on keyboards rounds out the outfit. McCartney plays bass, guitar, keyboards, and I think, ukulele.

McCartney and the backing band tear through a bunch of Beatles tracks and solo hits. They open up with one of my all time favorite Beatles’ tracks, a rollicking “Drive My Car.” What I like about this performance so much is they play a broad selection of songs from Memory Almost Full, including “Dance Tonight,” “Nod  Your Head,” “Only Mama Knows,” and “That Was Me.” The then-new material really stands up well. He also digs a little deeper into his solo catalog for this show. He plays “Calico Skies” a deep track from Flaming Pie. McCartney chokes up during “Here Today” from Tug of War, a song he wrote for John, and dedicates it to him, George and Linda. Its rare you see that kind of emotion from a rock star on stage. It’s a beautiful moment. He does the reggae-tinged “C-Moon” which I just loved.

What translates most here was that on this day in L.A., McCartney was having a great time performing. When the Stones play a big arena or stadium, Keith always wants to dig deeper into the catalog and Mick wants to play the well-known tracks as he feels people expect it. Personally, I prefer the deep tracks… McCartney, I think, gets stuck in that Mick-style thinking too. It’s great to hear him kind of play what he wants to.

That said there are great Beatles tracks here. He plays “The Long and Winding Road.” That songs lead to “I’ll Follow The Sun” which was always kind of a sad song, but so exuberant is McCartney it almost sounds happy here. The song I was most thrilled too see on the track list was “I’ve Got A Feeling,” although I’ll be the first to admit you really miss Lennon’s vocal part, taken by the Haircuts here. He does a rocking version of the Carl Perkins’ tune “Matchbox” that almost sounds punky, except for the horns. The show ends on a great version of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Call me crazy, but the intimate setting, the great album he was touring on, and the excitement in that room all combine to make this a great live album. Its certainly easy to say this is his best live album since Wings Over America. Well, except maybe that Unplugged album, which was also a smaller show in an intimate setting. In these small shows, it’s clear he feels less pressure to please and more freedom to do “his thing,” which paradoxically pleases the crowd more. If you dig McCartney and you like live stuff, this is definitely worth your while to check out.

Cheers!

 

LP Review: Foreigner, ‘Live At the Rainbow ’78’

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“ARENA…….ROCK…….GODS!!!” – Text response from a friend re: Live At the Rainbow ’78

We’re going to be digging deep on this post. Admittedly, we may lose some of you on this one… However, there are those of us of a certain age, who can still look back fondly on the early work of Foreigner. It probably isn’t very fashionable to admit that now. Hell, it probably wasn’t very fashionable to admit liking Foreigner in ’77, but we were all in junior high school. We didn’t know what fashionable was. Punk rock may have been ruling supreme in the late 70s, but it didn’t quite reach us out here in the American mid-west. Well, not in Kansas City anyway. For us out here in “Fly-over Country” it was all about classic, arena rock.

Through the gimlet eye of history, it’s easy now to dismiss Foreigner. And sadly, after their late 70s/early 80s heyday they represent a lot of what went wrong with rock and roll. They fired a bunch of original members. The lead singer Lou Gramm left and came back. They went mellow with awful ballads like “I Want To Know What Love Is.” God, I hate that song. They got hit with the worst of tags, “Corporate Rock.” I’m not sure what that is… but I imagine a bunch of suits saying, “turn off the guitar and lets get a choir in here, this could be a hit.” Then they reformed with only lead guitarist Mick Jones and no other original members. They barely let Lou Gramm participate in their 40th anniversary tour. With each succeeding year they tarnish their legacy more.

When I think about that description, “Corporate Rock” I can’t help but think of a lot of the bands who came up as genuine rockers in that late 70s/early 80s era. Bands like Journey – who all met and started as an offshoot of Santana which I would think would make them credible, at least at the start – or Styx or REO Speedwagon, who at least started as middle American rockers. But all of those bands lost the fire. They kicked original members out of the band. Or they let one person or a small sub group take over the band. Styx fell prey to Dennis DeYoung, oh he of the bad toupee and the horror of Mr. Roboto. REO should have thrown out Kevin Cronin instead of let him take over. Steve Perry drove original keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rollie out of the band and they went limp. Suddenly all of those bands went from genuine rockers to pop musicians striving for “hits.” Foreigner went from a six piece to a four piece right before releasing their fourth album, the creatively titled 4. Thomas Dolby of “She Blinded Me With Science” fame came in and played keyboards on that album. Chemistry in a band is just something you shouldn’t fuck with.

It wasn’t always like that for Foreigner. Guitarist Mick Jones from the UK, formed the band in New York with two other Brits, Ian McDonald (keyboards/guitar/sax) and drummer Dennis Elliott. Jones pulled in former King Crimson keyboardist Al Greenwood. They rounded out the group with two other Americans, Lou Gramm on vocals and Ed Gagliardi on bass. They changed their name to Foreigner, as wherever they toured at least half the band would be on foreign soil. With members with backgrounds from Spooky Tooth and King Crimson, one has to think they had some rock credibility. They were pretty far from that Corporate Rock title…

When, in 1977, they released their eponymous debut album it hit all of us like a ton of bricks. “Cold As Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time” were blasting out of the t-tops of Camaro’s and Firebirds from Chicago to Dallas. Those were the “hits” or the tracks rock radio was playing on high rotation but there were great deep tracks on that record. “Long Long Way From Home” is a track that still gets me up and moving. “Headknocker” was another big arena rocker. Even when they did ballads, there was sufficient rock and roll menace there – “The Damage Is Done” was a huge kiss off track. “Fool For You Any Way” is an example of a great ballad and believe me, there’s no fucking choir on that song and it hits with more emotional force than “I Want To Know What Love Is.” “Starrider” was a trippy, almost psychedelic thing that Mick Jones took lead vocals on. Even the deepest of the deep tracks rock, like “I’m At War With the World” (which contains my favorite lyric, “I’ve never had the need for any military aid”), or “I Need You.” In the midwest that album hit the spot. Hell, it sold 4 million copies.

Naturally, they toured the world. Finally, in the spring of 1978 they convened in London to record the follow up album, Double Vision, which sold even better than the debut. Even while recording that second album, they continued to play live. Luckily they recorded a concert in London at the famous Rainbow Theater. And apparently, high on their success they just put the tape of that show in the vaults. Here we are 41 years later and at last this concert document has been revealed. And, as a fan of releases from the vaults, let me say, this is some revelation.

First, let me say a word about live recordings. In the 70s, many bands broke through to the mainstream after years of toiling on studio albums by releasing live albums. Bob Seger’s Live Bullet, Kiss’ Alive and Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all spring to mind. One could cite Frampton on this list as well, but I’m going on and on. Almost all of those albums have some “touch up” work on them. The band went into the studio and re did some vocals, or maybe cleared up a guitar solo. When a band is on stage, sometimes a microphone doesn’t catch something or there’s some distortion. Even the Stones are thought to have done something similar way back on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. It’s a pretty common practice. What makes Live At the Rainbow ’78 so remarkable to me, is this pretty much sounds like a raw tape of the recording. There are a few moments of feedback, Lou Gramm yells out at odd times. Nothing was cleaned up here and I love it all the more for that. Some people dig live recordings, and others like the Rock Chick, do not. This album is like listening to a radio broadcast, warts and all… not that there are many warts.

On this live recording Foreigner sound like a band at the top of the world. They play with a swagger that I just love. This album just rocks. They open with one of my favs, the track that opened side 2 of the debut album, “Long Long Way From Home.” It’s a bit sloppy but it kicks. It sets the tone for the whole performance. They blow deep track “I Need You” up to a 6 minute hard rock gem. “Starrider” gets a 12-plus minute treatment. The guitar solo is awesome. “Headknocker” which ends the show is almost 12 minutes and is complete with drum solo and guitar solo. They were indeed having fun.

They basically come out and do the entire first album. But what also makes this live album special is they play, probably for the first time live, two tracks from their upcoming second album. “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision” both get muscular rocking versions here. The album was six weeks from coming out and they’re playing the two biggest tracks off of it already. This was a confident band. Even the ballads here, “Fool For You Anyway” and “The Damage Is Done” hit with a force I wouldn’t have expected.

For those of us who love that first album, or any early Foreigner, this wonderful live album is a must hear. I’ve been cranking Live At the Rainbow ’78 for a couple of weeks now and it always puts a smile on my face. Foreigner is probably a band you wouldn’t expect to hear about here on B&V, but as this album clearly documents, before they were Corporate Rockers, they were just a genuinely great rock band. How can anybody dislike a band who sings, “there have been rumors that my sense of humor, is lacking in some ways…” God, I love that song. Turn this one up, hold a lighter over your head and shotgun a beer… just for old times (and I mean junior high school times, my friends).

Cheers!