Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, ‘Live At the Fillmore, 1997’ – A Truly Joyous Rock N Roll Live Album!

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I wish I could tell you how happy I am about finally having Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Live at the Fillmore, 1997 to listen to. In the interest of full disclosure I can’t tell you that I’m holding this live box set in my hands yet… The sketchy character known as “Santa” is supposed to bring it to me. I have a strong feeling that it’s wrapped and under my tree already. In that sense I do own it right now but I just can’t get to it for another few weeks… 12 days and counting. I will say, if you haven’t asked Santa for this music you best get on the horn to the North Pole asap and get it on your rock n roll list. In the absence of holding the physical album in my hands I’ve been streaming this amazing live document of a band at one of their true zeniths almost constantly. Other than Neil Young’s latest LP World Record, it’s literally all I’m listening to right now.

Part of the excitement I feel over this package is I can remember Petty, when he was still alive, talking about it. The two projects I’d hear him mention in interviews before we alas, lost him, were a live album culled from their 1997 20-concert residency at San Francisco’s venerable Fillmore theater and the expanded version of Wildflowers that more accurately portrayed his original vision of that record as a double-LP. I have to say that Adria Petty (Tom’s daughter) and whoever else she’s working with has done a nice job on the posthumous releases they’ve done to celebrate the life of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I’ll be the first to admit there was some skull-fuckery on her part around Wildflowers And All The Rest. I bought the deluxe 4-CD edition and it didn’t have the B-side everybody wanted, “Girl On LSD.” Well, there was a live version. That song, amongst a few others were held out for inclusion on a bonus “fifth disc” that a bunch of people spent a lot more money than I did purchasing. Then, chastised, they released that fifth disc separately as Finding Wildflowers. The folks that bought the 5-disc All The Rest were pissed and well, so was I just because Petty was never greedy like that. He once fought the record company to keep his albums priced at $8.98 vs the $9.98 the record company wanted to charge. That part aside, the Wildflowers And All The Rest was ultimately a very satisfying box set.

The other box set Adria (with help from some Heartbreakers, notably guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench) put out to honor Tom – and to release a treasure trove of released and unreleased stuff – was 2018’s American Treasure. Man, do I love that box set. It was truly a different path through Petty’s amazing career than provided by his officially released albums. If you haven’t checked that out yet again, you might wanna call the North Pole. American Treasure finally saw the release of what I consider the definitive version of “Breakdown” recorded live at the Capitol Studios.

Now we finally have the live LP that Petty never got around to releasing, Live At the Fillmore, 1997. While he talked about it occasionally, I’m not sure Petty was a big live LP enthusiast the way we are here at B&V. I remember him describing live albums as being greatest hits played way too fast. As longtime readers know, I love live albums. I actually bought and still own Petty & the Heartbreakers first live album, the double vinyl Pack Up The Plantation. It was from the tour to support Southern Accents and coincidentally was the first tour I actually saw Petty live. I don’t know what took me so long. The whole Plantation theme and the big Confederate Flag as a stage backdrop were probably ill-conceived and Petty said later in his career he had some regrets about that. I really liked that live album but it was overshadowed for most folks as Springsteen released his mammoth live LP Live ’75 to ’85 at around the same time. And while I liked Plantation even I’ll admit I don’t think it’s representative of the true live spirit of the Heartbreakers. They had a horn section and back up singers on that tour and thus on the album. Petty eventually put out an epic live album of his own ala Springsteen with the 5-CD Live Anthology. It remains a favorite here at B&V.

As much as I loved Live Anthology, now that I’ve heard Live At the Fillmore, 1997 I might have to go back and change my post on our favorite live LPs, BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums to include this one. When the Heartbreakers decided to hole up for a 20 night residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco in early 1997 things were changing a bit for the band. Longtime drummer Stan Lynch had split – last performing on the two bonus tracks on the Greatest Hits album – to be replaced with Steve Ferrone. They’d added multi instrumentalist Scott Thurston somewhere along the line to round out their sound. Luckily bassist Howie Epstein (who also provides delightful harmony vocals) was still with us and plays/sings on this live album. Of course guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench are here in all their glory. The band had just put out their soundtrack Songs and Music From “She’s The One” in August of 1996 and were three years away from recording Echo. These performances were to be the Hearbreakers only live shows in 1997 but man, what shows it sounds like they were.

Instead of the usual set list of songs a band plays on a big tour the Heartbreakers mixed it up quite a bit on this residency. I saw the Stones in ’81 in Houston and and then Kansas City and they played the exact same songs, in the same order and looked utterly bored doing so. I mean, that has to get old right? This is like listening to the best house band ever in a small bar. If I lived out in California I’d have tried to go to as many of these shows as I could have. Instead of playing the usual big hits and time worn crowd favorites Petty and the Heartbreakers turn to playing the music that inspired and influenced them in the first place. You can tell what an absolute kick they get out of that. It’s like a resurgence of energy. The sheer joy pouring out of the speakers on these performances makes this essential Petty listening. It’s like capturing a moment in time forever in amber. Who among us wouldn’t want that? Some people might be put off at the lack of hits here but give me the Heartbreakers honoring Chuck Berry by way of the Stones by blasting through “Around And Around” all day long.

Early on, after blasting through “Jammin’ Me” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” they crank up Little Richard’s “Lucille” and I am here for it! They follow that up with J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” and that point on the album they’d played more covers than originals. The band sounds loose and happy but they are tight as Hell here. “I Won’t Back Down” gets an airing but it’s very stripped down. Petty plays “a song (he) learned at camp” which turns out to be “You Are My Sunshine” which leads into a soulful Bill Withers’ cover “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I feel like I’m standing in a bar, beer in hand, jaw agape thinking “I’m glad I came out tonight.” The band takes us in so many wonderful directions here.  They even dip into the early, early Mudcrutch catalog for “On The Street.” They dig pretty deep on the choice of covers with “Hip Hugger,” an instrumental by Booker T. and the MGs. Anything goes! A fan actually calls out a request for “Hearbreakers’ Beach Party” – a Playback obscurity – and the band obliges him and plays the song which Petty admits the band had heretofore never played live.

“Even The Losers” and “American Girl” appear but merely as acoustic renditions which was fine with me! They do the James Bond theme “Goldfinger” which no one wants to acknowledge was a song done by Mike Campbell’s side project (the Blue Stingrays). Eventually they welcome original Byrd Roger McGuinn onto the stage for a mini-Byrds set of tunes. The Heartbreakers were always compared to the Byrds so why not invite Roger to the party. Eventually John Lee Hooker comes out for some smokin’ blues. It’s fantastic and I’m so thrilled they included the guest stars on the record.

You name an influence on the Heartbreakers and there’s probably a song here by them: the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Byrds, Blues music, the Grateful Dead, Them (Van Morrison), the Everly Brothers…the list goes on. This is like Tom and the guys are still just a small band playing the biggest ballroom in Gainesville like back in the early days. There is just so much joy and great music on this live album. There’s so much that is great on this thing I can’t even begin to list it all. I can’t recommend this thing highly enough. It’s been a real treat to let myself get absorbed in these performances. It’s clear to me that Petty and the Heartbreaker’s were at an absolute peak at this stage of the game. Everyone should hear this album. It should be taught to all new bands… learn this great set of rock songs and you’ll always have a job.

Petty says at one point on the album he considered the shows they were doing at the Fillmore as one of the true highlights of his career and goes on to say “It’s going to be hard to get us off the stage…” Thank Heaven it was!

Cheers!

Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 (Live)’ – An Evening of Loose Jams For An Unruly Crowd

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Only a few days ago I posted about the new Guns N Roses box set celebrating the Use Your Illusions albums. I’m still waking up with the words “With your bitch slap rapping and your cocaine tongue you get noooooothing done…” lodged in my head every morning and yet here I am already posting again. Knowing I’m headed to points out West for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday I holed up all weekend in the B&V labs listening to the new archival live album put out by the folks down at Experience Hendrix – who really do a nice job with Jimi’s legacy – entitled Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 so I could post before I leave. I think I’m like most folks when I think about Hendrix, I just think about Jimi the Guitar God. I tend to overlook the fact that it wasn’t just Hendrix, it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And the Experience were quite a band. Listening to this live album one might say that seeing them live was quite, well, an experience. Joining Jimi in the band were Noel Redding (a frustrated guitarist) on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. One of our very first posts was about a Hendrix live album/documentary, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live). Although by that show in Hot’lanta on the Fourth of July 1970, Noel Redding had split and had been replaced by Billy Cox on bass. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V.

Ah, April 1969, what a time to be alive! Well, technically I was alive in 1969 but I was just an infant so not really cognizant. I’d have probably been frightened by the sound of an electric guitar turned up to 11. It was a stressful time for Jimi and the Experience. They’d released Electric Ladyland in 1968 and it was an absolute masterpiece. But the follow-up proved to be elusive. Jimi was searching for something. He had built his Electric Ladyland studio in New York, a state of the art facility which he felt he needed to get the sounds he wanted. However the recording process was terribly erratic. They’d go out on the road for a few days, fly back to New York and record for a day or two and then back out on the road. Touring was still a bit of a hodgepodge in those days, not the organized machine it is today. They couldn’t really just focus on making a record. Hendrix would often go out to clubs to party and end up at the studio in the wee small hours with a bunch of hangers on and try and record. It was tough to get anything done and Noel Redding for one was very frustrated with the chaos. By April of ’69 when this concert was recorded Redding was a mere two months away from leaving the Experience.

I know that many of you are thinking, What another live album from Hendrix? At this point it seems like Jimi could have dropped a guitar in 1970 and if it made a sound through the amplifier that was recorded in anyway, it’s been remixed, remastered and released on a record. Every note the guy played that was committed to tape is out there somewhere – some on bootleg, some officially released. This show from the L.A. Forum has been around on bootleg for a long time but it’s new to me and I can only assume the sound quality is much improved over any boot. I love any live stuff we can get from Hendrix because every show and every solo was different. Listening to the Experience live – or later incarnations of Hendrix’s bands – is like listening to jazz masters jamming and improvising. Every nuance is wrung out of every song but different every time. Hendrix was a rock star with a jazz guy’s approach to live performing. So for me the short answer is, Yes! Another live album from Hendrix! If you’re a fan of Hendrix or a fan of guitar, this album is for you.

I get the feeling from listening to Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 that the crowd was pretty unruly that night. The cops come over the PA a few times and Hendrix himself addresses the crowd to mellow out so the band could keep playing. It was spring and I imagine that’s a pretty wild time in California. Especially in ’69. With Redding frustrated and probably contemplating leaving it’s not a stretch to suggest this is the sound of a band who weren’t getting along. Although even that doesn’t stop Hendrix from laying down some tasty riffs. Listening to this album what jumped out at me was how great a drummer Mitch Mitchell was. I don’t ever hear his name mentioned in the same whispered tones of reverence that Keith Moon or Charlie Watts are, but the guy is feral on the drums. He and Hendrix soar on this record while the aforementioned Noel Redding plays the bass almost like a time keeper. Redding’s bass acts as the foundation here while the Hendrix and Mitchell play off each other like Jimmy Page and John Bonham.

I don’t know if it was the chaotic energy of the crowd pressing up against the stage but this album is a loose, jammy affair. There are several long (over ten or fifteen minute) jams. The band is introduced and much like another live LP by the Experience that I have, Winterland, Hendrix comes out and has to apologize while he gets his guitar sorted out. I don’t know if Jimi was too cheap to hire a proper guitar tech or they couldn’t find one but did he ever get on stage ready to play? Once he sorts out his instrument they launch into what must have been a live staple for them, a long, jammy instrumental “Tax Free.” It’s also the opener on the aforementioned Winterland. The song even come with a drum solo. It’s interesting to listen to the guys play off each other but it’s not going on the greatest hits album. I wonder if that tune is just how the band warmed up?

After the jam, they launch into a compact, snarling yet slinky version of “Foxey Lady.” I love Hendrix’s solo at the end of the track. Hendrix was quite chatty that evening. He seems to be having a lot of fun despite the crowd issues. The version of “Red House” is worth the price of admission in my mind. It’s a long, extended blues tune and I am here for it. It gets almost jazz like in the middle. I could listen to that track all day on a repeating loop. Hendrix then dedicates “Spanish Castle Magic” to the police at the show. It’s an impressive version of the Axis: Bold As Love track. Hendrix then launches into his soon to be iconic “Star Spangled Banner” which segues into the righteous riffage of “Purple Haze.” Once again with the cops on his mind he sings, “Excuse me while I kiss this policeman.” The extended fiery solo could possibly melt your face off. After that searing song Hendrix has to ask the crowd to mellow out again. They must have been rushing the stage again. He asks everybody to sit down which I think would be impossible at a Hendrix show.

Mitch Mitchell unleashes some tribal drumming on “I Don’t Live Today.” This is a wildly chaotic version of the track which probably fit right in on this particular night in front of these unruly hippies. The show wraps up with my all time favorite riff from Hendrix on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” which segues into “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a Cream cover and then back into “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” While the second half of “Voodoo Child” is only three minutes it’s some of Hendrix’s most ferocious solo’ing of the show.

While the setlist is shorter than other live sets I’ve seen from Hendrix – I’m guessing they had to cut it short because of the lack of crowd control – there is still a lot to love here. I’m always up for a good Hendrix live concert recording. Like I said, if you’re a fan of the guitar – and especially hearing what the absolute farthest someone can take the instrument – or of Hendrix this will be essential listening when you’re trying to drowned out your fractious Thanksgiving dinner conversation. “What Uncle Tim, you think serving the meal family style is socialist? Frankly, I think Mitch Mitchell is a criminally underrated drummer…” Or something like that.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there who are celebrating this week in the States. Even if you’re not celebrating Thanksgiving we have a lot of to be grateful for in this life not least of which is rock n roll music. Be kind to each other. Eat a whole lot this Thursday, drink something brown and murky and play this one loud!!

Cheers!

Review: Guns N Roses, ‘Use Your Illusions – Super Deluxe’ – Like The Band, An Enjoyable Hot Mess of a Box Set Featuring 2 Complete Shows From 91-92

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Guns N Roses dropped the hotly anticipated (by me at least) box set for Use Your Illusions last weekend and I for one am stunned it’s been over thirty years since those great, albeit flawed, albums came out. I’m on record as a big Guns N Roses fan, even this current incarnation of the band with only Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar) and Duff McKagan (bass) remaining from the incandescent original line-up. I actually saw that line-up on the ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour over six years ago at Arrowhead Stadium (can it have been six years?). I saw that super cool blended cover art – strips of the yellow LP cover interchanged with strips of the blue LP cover and I fell immediately under it’s spell… I must have this box… until I saw the price tag. This was going to require some research…

I can still remember when Use Your Illusions I and Use Your Illusions II were released. I was working for a medical supply company out of Chicago that was owned by guys that had to be criminals. No matter how much product I sold I never seemed to see the commissions, working for the company store indeed… ah, the life of a traveling salesman. Anyway, in 1991 as soon as my day spent in hospitals and nursing homes was over I headed straight to the record store. This may be my faulty memory but I think I only purchased Use Your Illusions II (the blue one) on that late summer, September day. I had heard and loved the epic track “Civil War” prior to the album’s release as it had been put out on a charity album for Romanian orphans spearheaded by George Harrison’s wife, Olivia. I remember seeing my brother at the time and “Civil War” came on the overhead speakers at a sub shop where we were eating. I began cavorting in my chair and playing my always handy air guitar. I happened to look up at my brother who was sitting across the table from me, blank faced, staring at me impassively. I said, “Don’t you dig this?” Without even blinking an eye he said, voice full of contempt, “Yeah but I don’t have to look like an idiot to prove it.” Family…

I had also heard the rocking track “You Could Be Mine” from Use Your Illusions II since it also had been released prior on the Terminator 2 soundtrack. Having heard two songs that I already thought ranked amongst their best, Use Your Illusions II was an easy buy. I would like to think I’d have just gone ahead and bought both albums that day, but as mentioned, money was tight. I think I was in the “living with my parents again” phase of my life – always a sign of big time success. Much like when I was back  in junior high and even high school I always had a hard time committing to a double album or in this particular case two CDs released on the same day with the same title. And admittedly I was weirdly cautious about GnR. It took me until I heard the third single from Appetite For Destruction, “Paradise City,” before I bought that CD. The video for “Welcome To The Jungle” had me thinking these guys were just another hair band. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” caught my ear but it was a ballad and this was back when I was, let’s call it ballad-averse. Once I bought it, I was in, I was a fan but still cautious. By 1991 when the UYI albums were released it had been four years since their debut came out. That was a long gap in my mind.

Of course, in the time since their debut they’d released the odd follow up G N’ R Lies. While I had liked the song “Patience,” you couldn’t get away from it so who didn’t dig it, I had shied away from G N’ R Lies at the time because it seemed like a stopgap between “actual” albums. And admittedly I was deeply uncomfortable with some of the lyrics on “One In A Million.” Axl’s world view is certainly paranoid and misanthropic. I did go back to that same record shop and purchase Use Your Illusions I (the yellow one) a few weeks later after I heard “Dust N Bones.” Most people rushed out and bought that album for “November Rain,” which is a great, epic ballad but I preferred my GnR more menacing. On Appetite For Destruction they seemed like the most dangerous, threatening band on the planet – kind of like Aerosmith at their peak which coincidentally I had been listening to prior to this GnR deluxe release… It’s turning cold, the holidays are creeping up and I’m jumping around singing “‘Tis the Season for Hard Rock!”

The Use Your Illusions albums, taken together, to me sound a bit like the story of the Beatles’ self titled LP, aka The White Album. I’m not suggesting there is anything musically in common between The Beatles and the Use Your Illusions albums, but what has been said countless times about the Beatles’ record can certainly be said about the GnR albums: this is the sound of a band pulling in different directions. Use Your Illusions I seems to have the shorter, more focused, harder hitting rock songs. “Back Off Bitch,” “Bad Obsession,” “Dust N Bones” and “Perfect Crime” hit you like a prize fighter working the speed bag. I think that’s the direction Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), Slash and Duff wanted to go. They wanted to stay in their lane. Axl, who had turned extraordinarily paranoid – he’d had beefs with neighbors, ex girlfriends/wives, the press, and had been excoriated for being racist and bigoted for “One In A Million” (rightly so) – wanted to indulge his Freddie Mercury/Queen/Elton John fantasies and go big. Use Your Illusions II is full of epic tracks: “Estranged,” “Locomotive” and “Civil War.” Of course “November Rain” and “Coma” were in that epic category and they were on the first album.

Axl’s paranoid vision for GnR was diametrically opposed to the rest of the band which never bodes well. By the time they recorded the UYI albums they’d already fired addled Steven Adler for heroin addiction. They’d tried to wait for him to pull himself together but in the words of Neil Young “He tried his best but he could not.” They replaced him with former Cult drummer Matt Sorum. Izzy always said they lost a key ingredient when they lost Adler, who had more “swing” in his drumming than Sorum, who is more of a plodder. Axl’s megalomania eventually drove Izzy Stradlin, who had also gotten sober, out of the band shortly after the two LPs came out. Losing him was a tremendous blow. Not because his replacement Gilby Clark couldn’t play but because Izzy was key for their songwriting.

In the end, I think you can say about the Use Your Illusions albums what they say about most double albums. There is probably a perfect, single-LP masterpiece lurking in this double album. I will admit, I’m happy to have as much GnR music from that classic line up as I can get so I’m still glad they sort of vomited all of this music on us back then. As I said when I saw the price tag on this box set I couldn’t help but think, “I have these records, what is the bonus material like? I was hoping like the Black Crowes on Shake Your Money Maker we’d get some unreleased tracks and some live stuff. Alas, I think GnR threw everything they had at the time on the two original LPs so scratch any unreleased studio gems from your wish list. However I would have loved to have heard some stripped down demos of these songs (especially of “November Rain”) or if there were outtakes (like Axl taking lead vocal on “Double Talkin’ Jive”) I’d have liked them included… especially at this price. I will admit I was a little disappointed when I heard that they would only be releasing two complete shows from the era, New York from May of ’91 and Las Vegas from January of ’92, and I can’t explain that disappointment. I don’t know why I felt that way? Rush just put out a great live concert with the 40th anniversary edition of Moving Pictures and it was sensational. Where was this feeling coming from?

Maybe it was the checkered history of the Use Your Illusions Tour? They actually started the tour before the albums came out because they were taking so long to finish. They couldn’t agree on a final mix. As I read somewhere, if Axl liked the mix Slash didn’t and vice versa. The Use Your Illusions Tour started in early ’91. I think one of the things that fueled my disappointment in hearing the bonus material was just two live shows was my memory of the troubled history of that tour. All the iconic bad behavior that we associate with Axl and the band stems from that tour. The tour was marred by GnR showing up late, Axl being drunk, Axl having vocal issues, Axl jumping into the crowd and fighting audience members, Axl walking off stage after only a few songs and in the case of the July ’91 show in St Louis, Axl starting a riot. Hence in the liner notes of the Use Your Illusions you can find the immortal words “Fuck St. Louis.” As someone from Kansas City a mere car ride away, I can tell you, they weren’t exactly wrong about St Louis.

GnR had been out on the road for eight months when the albums actually came out that balmy September. By November, Izzy Stradlin had quit the band. Before he quit, he had stopped riding on the tour bus and would just follow them on his motorcycle. I remember after he quit, one of their videos showed Izzy’s picture on milk carton under the words “Have You Seen This Man?” During the summer of ’92 GnR teamed up with Metallica for a joint tour that lasted from July to October that saw James Hetfield being burned up by the pyro. There was just some bad juju around this band and this tour back then.

That said – and I’m not a big bootleg guy any more, so I’ve never heard either of these two concerts before – I enjoyed these two concert recordings. Now admittedly, GnR never put out a definitive live album – and we know our live albums around here – and these two concert documents aren’t going to change that. They’ve confounded the issue by releasing separately, beyond the box set, remixes of the individual version of I and II with a hodgepodge of live cuts from different shows than the ones released in the box. I guess they’re trying to get folks to buy the box and new versions of each album all at the same time. Cashing in? I will say on the individual new release for Use Your Illusions I they have a nice live cut of Lenny Kravitz joining the band to play his tune “Always On The Run” from Paris. Lenny and Slash were buddies in high school and Lenny was the drummer in Slash’s first band. I’m not sure the live cuts would be enough to get me to buy the individual albums again unless I didn’t own them already, which I think is going to be a limited number of people.

In terms of the box set bonus material I probably like the New York May ’91 set best. It’s almost like hearing them rehearse. Axl even admits it’s only like the third time they’d played the songs since he “never shows up to jam with these guys.” Axl certainly has a bad case of LSD – Lead Singer Disease. People may be sort of “meh” about these two concerts but any time you can listen to Slash, one of the most melodic guitarist of all time and Axl one of the greatest voices in rock history rocking out it’s a treat. They throw in snippets of covers songs from Alice Cooper (“Only Women Bleed” an interesting choice), Rod Stewart (“I Was Only Joking”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”). It’s a great mix of tunes from all their albums from the debut to the two then new LPs.

On the Las Vegas Jan ’92 we get more of what we got on GnR’s live album Live Era ’87-’93 with back up singers and horns. There are actually five tracks from Live Era from this Vegas concert so there is a bit of duplication. We even get a little taste of “Hotel California” on this set. While this may not be GnR at their absolute peak it’s still an enjoyable listen if you’re a fan and it certainly holds together than the live stuff they cobbled together for the individual LP releases. I’ve never understood why Axl chose to bring in back up singers and horns? During one track he yells, “Give me some reggae,” which is something I never thought I’d hear at a GnR show… and the band drops into what sounds like a meth fueled attempt to slow it down and play a reggae thing. Sigh.

Overall at the price their charging I can’t recommend this box set. Like a gambler in an old time western movie, I’m pushing away from the table while mumbling, “Too rich for me…” However, I do recommend everyone at least stream this stuff. Especially if you’re a GnR fan or if you dig live music. A definitive live album doesn’t exist for these guys but these two shows provide us a snapshot of a time when GnR and hard rock were on top of the world and spiraling out of control. What’s not to love? Also if you don’t own Use Your Illusions I or II now might be the time to pick up those essential hard rock albums.

To everybody in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving next week. I’m being held hostage by family in a remote location… Anyway, turn this one up loud to drowned out the political arguments during your Turkey Day. “What’s that Uncle Bob, you think I’m a communist but you love Slash?” Well, who doesn’t love Slash? Finally something we can all agree on!

Cheers!

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970’ – Another Great Live LP From Their Vault

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It seems it’s time here in the B&V labs for us to (like the Dude) slip into our big, tan, baggy Westerly cardigan and mix a White Russian as we turn our attention once again to the mighty, mighty Creedence Clearwater Revival. You’ll have to forgive me for referencing the classic movie The Big Lebowski and Jeff Bridges’ iconic character, “The Dude,” but ever since the Dude lost his Creedence tapes when his car was stolen at the bowling alley the two have always kind of been tied together for me. CCR has once again opened up the vaults and released another searing live LP, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970. I have to wonder how much great live stuff they have in the vaults and why it’s taking over half a century for these live recordings to see the light of day?

Say what you want about Creedence but they were a great band. I don’t think they ever had that “cool” cache like the Stones or the Beatles but they put out some great, straightforward, meat and potatoes rock n roll. They rocked but had a touch of blues in the music… along with a swampy southern vibe. It was a wonderful goulash. They were from San Francisco but dressed like lumberjacks from the great northwest. These guys had the Grunge look 30 years before it was a thing. And of course John Fogerty had that awful “page boy” haircut. Maybe that’s what hurt their swagger? They had a profound influence on rock n roll. Springsteen inducted them into the Rock Hall of Fame. In 1986 Bob Seger covered their iconic protest tune “Fortunate Son” and released his live version of the song as a B-side to the song “American Storm” (it was later added to the CD as a “bonus track”). I 100% agree with what Seger says to begin the song, “This by a band that I’ve always loved called the Creedence Clearwater Revival…” (although Bob, it’s just Creedence Clearwater Revival, there’s no “the” in the name). If ever there were two acts cut from the same cloth it was Seger and CCR. I think you can trace Creedence’s influence well beyond Springsteen and Seger though. Ike and Tina Turner covered “Proud Mary.”

For a band who never really released a great live LP during their active period of 1968 to 1972 they’ve certainly made up for it since. They did release Live In Europe in 1973 but that one feels like an LP released to fulfill contractual obligations. The Concert also recorded in 1970 but not released until 1980 was a more accurate portrait of this iconic band’s live show. It was only 3 years ago that they finally released the full recording of their performance at Woodstock, Live At Woodstock. Man, we loved that down here at B&V. But then as long time readers know, we love our live albums around here. Although embarrassingly we didn’t include any CCR on our list of our favorite live LPs. Oh well, live and learn. CCR – John Fogerty, vocals/lead guitar; Tom Fogerty, rhythm guitar; Stu Cook, bass; Doug Clifford, drums put out a body of work that will forever keep them in the conversation for “Greatest American Rock Band.” And live, well they could really bring it live. I’m going on record today as saying Creedence may be one of the greatest live bands ever.

As it turns out, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970 actually documents CCR’s first concert appearance in the U.K. They certainly came to conquer as if this was the reverse of the War of 1812. The Americans are setting the capitol on fire. When we listen to this concert it helps to step back and look at the then current British rock n roll environment at the time. The Beatles, who had returned to a more rock n roll approach (vs the psychedelic approach they’d adopted) on Abbey Road and the soon to be released (May 1970) Let It Be had just announced their break-up. McCartney’s debut came out three days after this show. Cream had broken up the year prior. The Stones were coming off the successful Let It Bleed album and tour but founding member Brian Jones had quit and then sadly drowned in his pool. It feels like there might have been a rock n roll void in the U.K. at the time… enter “a band I’ve always loved,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.

At the time Creedence was at their zenith. 1969 had been an amazing year. They’d released three of their best LPs – yes, 3 LPs in one year – Bayou Country followed by Green River followed by my personal favorite Willy And The Poor Boys. Talk about a 1-2-3 punch. They’d also played in the wee hours of August 17th, 1969 at a little festival known as Woodstock. They were supposed to play the night of August 16th but the Grateful Dead just kept jamming and CCR had to come on after midnight on the 17th, much to John Fogerty’s chagrin. But that Woodstock set was legendary stuff. This concert at the venerable Royal Albert Hall was right before CCR was to release another great LP, Cosmo’s Factory. The time was ripe for an American Invasion of the British rock scene.

CCR come out on this recording and deliver. I will admit there are parts of this where Fogerty’s vocals are slightly distorted which only make the recording more deliciously menacing. They kick it off with “Born On The Bayou.” Right off the bat you can tell Fogerty is taking no prisoner’s on guitar. There’s no in-between song chatter (for the most part) it’s just set ’em up and knock ’em down. There was certainly some “chooglin'” going down that night. Fogerty is just wailing and talkin’ about old hound dogs and the 4th of July. They stretch “Born On the Bayou” into a hypnotic groove. What a perfect opening. That quickly rolls into “Green River.” It starts to feel like the Royal Albert Hall is turning into a roadhouse out at the crossroads, outside the city limits with beer for a quarter or perhaps for a pound. Fogerty’s lead stabs through clean and strong. That leads us into the third track, from the album Green River, the more obscure “Tombstone Shadow.” “Everytime I get some good news, there’s a shadow on my back.” Great, great track with a bluesy vibe and great lead guitar.

That leads us to my favorite track on the album, “Travelin’ Band.” I love this version of the song. It borders on manic. It is a full tilt, meet me at the finish line rocker. Fogerty says a quick thank you and then they launch into “Fortunate Son.” This middle section of the album is some of the greatest rock n roll I’ve heard in a long time. A screaming guitar solo kicks off “Commotion” and at that point it’s just hold on for your life. CCR is rawking. The pace is relentless. To give everybody’s heart a rest at that point, CCR slow it down and go midtempo with another personal favorite, “Midnight Special.” You can hear the crowd cheering as Fogerty sings the first few lines. The chooglin’ keeps on rolling with a spirited rendition of “Bad Moon On The Rise” ( the studio version of we included in our Moon themed playlist).

After that the hits keep coming. The band sounds enthused and into it. They hit “Proud Mary” which is one of their early hits. When Fogerty wasn’t playing any Creedence songs because he was tied up in litigation and just plain pissed, it was Bob Dylan who told him he needed to play his CCR tunes… “otherwise people are gonna think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner tune.” While Fogerty is on fire so is the whole band. The rhythm section of Cook and Clifford are tight. They keep rolling right into “The Night Time Is The Right Time,” perhaps the bluesiest moment of the night. The big surprise for me was the rollicking version of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and it’s big fun. Fogerty’s guitar is on fire at this point. I imagine the London Fire Dept having to pour water on the guy… But he manages to come back for one more, the appropriate ending, “Keep On Chooglin’.” After exhorting the crowd to keep on “chooglin’,” Fogerty jams and bends his guitar strings – and plays harmonica – through the longest song/jam of the night. I love this song.

I don’t think the set lasted even an hour. The crowd had to have left the Royal Albert Hall smiling and keyed up. If you’re into live albums this is a great one to have. It’s a high energy, full tilt rock n’ roll performance. Turn this one up loud and if you’re out there and you’ve had your Creedence tapes stolen… I hope this will help ease that pain. I know that between this live album and Ozzy’s latest LP, Patient Number 9, I am certainly feeling great these days. Although that might be the White Russians…

Keep on chooglin’ out there people. We need that vibe today more than ever.

Cheers!

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ – The Legendary Concert Finally Released

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I wish I could tell you how happy all of us down here at B&V are that the Stones have finally released an official version of the entire legendary 1977 show from Toronto’s El Mocambo Club (March 5, 1977). The album, creatively titled, Live At El Mocambo dropped a few Fridays ago – 45 years after the actual shows. In the interest of full disclosure I purchased this one on CD. The $149 price tag on the vinyl was too rich even for this avid, obsessed Stones’ fan. Hearing this live album I have to say, it ranks up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out as one of the Stones’ finest live LPs. The Stones have been around so long, different live albums tend to capture/conjure different eras in the band’s storied history. Ya-Yas captured them at their career peak with Mick Taylor still on lead guitar. I’ve always been fond of Live At the BBC: On Air  released only a few years ago, but that one really captures the early-Stones, Brian Jones era. Now we have Live At the El Mocambo to give us a taste of the mid-70s, Ronnie Wood-just-joined-the-band era. Of course this early Ronnie Wood era had already been documented on the Stones’ 1977 Love You Live, another Stones live album I love… maybe I just truly love Live Albums.

The Stones were at a cross roads in the mid-70s. After the tour for 1974’s It’s Only Rock n Roll Mick Taylor, lead guitarist extraordinaire, quit the band. Taylor played on what many consider to be the peak of the Stones’ career on albums that include Exile On Mainstreet and Sticky Fingers. When Taylor was in the band there seemed to be a strict division of guitar labor, Taylor played the solo’s and Keith was allowed to become the “Riffmeister,” strictly rhythm. By the time Taylor left the Stones it was largely believed that their classic period had ended and the Stones had become more decadent and less focused on the music. Critics lamented they were a spent creative force. It didn’t help that disco and punk were nipping at their heels. Supposedly, Jagger was fascinated with being a star and Keith was fascinated by, well, heroin. If you ask me Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock n Roll are still pretty “classic” Stones albums but I’m a pretty big fan. But for the Stones there was never any serious consideration given to quitting when Taylor split. Nothing can stop the Stones, man.

They were ready to record a post-Taylor album so they used those sessions to audition a new lead guitarist. They were probably thinking, “Hey, we need to jam with some new guys, let’s record it and try and get an album out of it. ” Many guitarists auditioned including Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton to name drop a few. Others included Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. Finally they decided on Ronnie Wood, who in retrospect was the perfect choice. Wood and Richards’ guitars meld together so well. There would be no more guitar division of labor, these two would practice what Keef calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where their guitars snake in and out of each other’s. Plus Ronnie was a good drinking buddy for Keith. The ensuing LP, recorded as a guitar audition, was Black And Blue. The critical reception was mixed but the album spent a whole month at number one in 1976. I love the record but when a college buddy asked me about it I just said, “It’s more for fans.” Over the years I’ve regretted that as I love the songs on that record. It’s long on grooves and jams but… what’s wrong with that? It also has two of their greatest ballads, “Fool To Cry,” and my favorite “Memory Motel.” The album includes contributions from Mandel, Perkins and Ronnie… but alas no Jeff Beck who left his audition and said, “We jammed for 2 hours and I only played three notes.” Jeff Beck, sigh.

Despite the success of Black And Blue, and the ensuing tour in support of it, critics couldn’t help but continue to decry that things “were over” for the Stones. They were still considered a spent creative force. To make matters worse Keith and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg kept getting busted for coke and heroin possession. And of course, Keith traveled with such a large quantity of drugs – for his and Anita’s use – that he was charged with trafficking. He could have ended up doing real time. He eventually received a suspended sentence… but they were so nervous Keith and Mick took the band into a studio in Paris at the end of 1977 and recorded enough music to fill Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The Stones apparently – when you back them up against the wall – DELIVER. But, I’m losing the thread here…

The Stones made a great choice in Ronnie Wood. The guy’s enthusiasm for rocking out, evinced by his time in the Faces, is contagious. He brought a sense of fun and excitement back to the Stones who were suffering from a bad case of ennui. They were going to follow Black And Blue up with a live album and while they had stuff recorded from both the ’75 and ’76 tours, it was decided they needed to go to Toronto to record a show in a small club, the El Mocambo. Toronto has become the Stones’ home away from home over the years. The Stones now do little club shows at the beginning of almost every tour but in 1977 they hadn’t played a small club since their days the Marquee Club in Richmond 15 years prior. They’d been filling stadiums for almost a decade. It was Wood who lobbied for a club show. It was also Ronnie’s idea that the Stones go back and mix up the set list, playing old blues numbers and some of their shorter classic tracks. I still wonder how they talked Mick into this. It was just the band (Mick/Keith/Ronnie with Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums) with Billy Preston and Ian Stewart on keyboards and Ollie Brown on percussion. There was no horn section or back up singers (save for Keith and Ronnie). This is as straightforward as you’re going to get from the Stones at this point in their career.

Oddly, they used some of the El Mocambo stuff on the ensuing live album, Love You Live, but only 4 tracks. It was, for you vinyl cats out there, side 3 aka “The El Mocambo” side. I can’t help but think it might have been better to just release the entire El Mocambo show back then? I will admit Love You Live has a lot of great moments. They played the entire album on the Houston rock radio station the night after I saw the Stones for the first time with my buddy Brewster, who was apparently upset with the Stones’ set list that night. He said, “What album is this?” I didn’t know at the time. And he said, “At least they’re playing everything I wished they’d played tonight.” Drinking warm beer in the Astrodome parking lot in 1980 I will say, Brewster could always be incisive.

I have to say, first and foremost, Live At The El Mocambo sounds fantastic. I don’t know if its the intimate setting – it only sat 300 people but it feels like you’re there. The Stones had kept the gigs a secret. They faked a radio contest – what would you do to see the Stones? – and the winners would see April Wine live. The opening act was the Cockroaches… aka the Stones. People showed up and were surprised, the Stones were the actual headliners. Mick Jagger sounds like he’s having an absolute blast during this show. At one point he tells the small crowd that Ronnie Wood is inviting them back to his hotel room after the show… but they have to bring their own beer. The band is really tight on these performances – as if this was an escape from all the turmoil off the stage – and the tighter they play the more relaxed and fun Jagger becomes. Or maybe they’re just responding to playing in a tiny club. Keith has always said Mick could rule a stage from a stadium to a phone booth. Ronnie Wood’s lead guitar is also searing on this album. I couldn’t turn it up loud enough.

The Stones start off with a bit of a lumbering version of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s like they’re getting their bearings. Then they take off with “All Down The Line” one of my favorites from Exile On Mainstreet. Everything seemed to come together from there. What’s so great about this album is they not only took Ronnie’s suggestion to play older tracks and blues tunes but they play almost the entire Black And Blue album, something that you’re never gonna hear again. They played one of their earliest “Route 66” and its great but around that they play three tracks from Black And Blue. “Hand Of Fate” is a forgotten rock masterpiece as is “Crazy Mama,” but Jagger sounds IN TO IT. I love the ballad “Fool To Cry” (although I’m broken-hearted they didn’t do “Memory Motel”) but I’ve always been a sucker for ballads and sad songs… ask anybody whose dated me. I used to sing the lyric from “Fool To Cry” to this girl I used to date who lived downtown behind the old blood bank on Armour, “I gotta woman, she live in the poor part of town, I go and see her sometime, we make love so fine…” She’d always say the same thing, “This isn’t the poor part of town.”

“Mannish Boy,” and “Crackin’ Up” are two old blues covers that actually ended up on Love You Live but while I enjoyed the El Mocambo side, the songs just seem more in context here. “Dance Little Sister” and “Tumblin’ Dice” just snarl here. “Hot Stuff” from Black And Blue leads off the second disc. “Star Star” is still the most vulgar Chuck Berry-type track ever. They do a couple of blues tracks and it felt like I was back in Richmond (although I’ve never been to Richmond). “Worried Life Blues” is a track I’ve never heard the Stones do and I loved it. They did “Little Red Rooster” which also amazing… I think they took that to number 1 in England. I mean, you just don’t hear these songs at a Stones show. “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and “Rip This Joint” rock with such a ferocity you think things are going to slip the rails.

After they return to more predictable fair to end the March 5th, 1977 set with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” they’ve tacked on three songs from the March 4th show. It may seem weird but it almost feels like an encore. If the encore was obscure songs that I would be allowed to pick. “Melody,” another great Black And Blue track and gives Billy Preston a chance to share lead with Mick. Then they play “Luxury” a reggae thing from It’s Only Rock n Roll. The final track is a very early version of “Worried About You” a song that didn’t see the light of day until Tattoo You, side 2 (and yes, I know there are Tattoo You, side 2 freaks out there…I’m one of you).

This is the sound of the Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World discovering the joy in playing a concert again. You can hear the joy they find in the music. I do think a lot of that comes from Ronnie Wood’s almost childlike, joyful attitude. This is a treat for big Stones fans and more casual fans alike. It would be another year before the Stones emerged, defiant and triumphant with Some Girls, an album that silenced the “they’re done” talk. That album also happened to awake a rock n roll obsession in a young man living in the Kansas City suburbs…but that’s another post.

I can already tell this album is going to get a lot of airplay here at B&V this summer… Cheers!

Review: The White Stripes ‘White Blood Cells (Deluxe)’ – Revisiting the LP That Made Them Famous

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The dawn of the new millennium saw a lot of changes for me. In the decade leading up to that landmark year of 2000 I had moved around a lot living on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the Kansas City state line. I seemed to bounce from apartment to apartment every year or year and half. Perhaps that’s why I always felt like a gypsy despite living exclusively in the area codes of 816 and 913 the entire time. I was always in a constant state of flux. I never even took the time to take everything out of boxes or hang any pictures on the wall. Mine was a Spartan existence, capital letter on purpose… Of course in those days I never wanted to own anything I couldn’t carry to the car in the dead of night while the sound of sirens got closer and closer. I still had my original record crates back then to facilitate getting my albums to the car easily…say what you want, but my priorities were definitely in order… I never wanted to commit to anything that might slow my exit, should it become necessary, and it always seemed necessary.

In the year 2000 all of that changed. I remember as a kid always doing the math on what my age would be in the year 2000 where I expected robot butlers in every home and flying cars… maybe an Earth colony on Mars. I thought the Jetsons cartoon was prophecy. Well, none of that happened. While I did that math on how old I’d be in 2000, I never really thought about what my life would be like then or in the years after it. Things did start to get better for me around that time. My job situation got better. I actually started looking for a house, something my commitment-phobia would never allow prior to that. Things just started to stabilize for me. And when I stopped emitting all that gypsy, rootless energy I finally met a stable, solid woman. Yes, the Rock Chick entered my life.

By 2001, we were living together in a house in Brookside, south of my beloved Plaza in the heart of Kansas City. Alas, my record crates, like most of my pre-marriage property ended up on the curb. Farewell futon, farewell olive colored couch, farewell to my glass kitchen table. Time to make room for new, improved, Rock Chick approved home furnishings. Getting rid of all my stuff was traumatic but I have to admit, I hadn’t had a roommate in years and now I was living with the Rock Chick and her somewhat hostile daughter… thank God for Bob Marley. I had gone from gypsy to Evil Stepdad in the span of a year.

The turn of the millennium was not only a transitional time for me, so too music was in a state of flux. The Grunge movement which had dominated the first half of the 90s had faded away. Kurt Cobain had sadly taken his own life. Soundgarden had broken up. Layne Staley of Alice In Chains had practically disappeared into a heroin haze. Pearl Jam released Binaural which was a solid LP, but I felt it fell short of the heights of some of their previous work like Ten, VS, Vitalogy or even Yield. It just felt like Pearl Jam wasn’t swinging for the fences anymore. True, Grunge had punched itself out by the latter half of the 90s but it had given way to what they were then calling “alternative rock.” There was some really good stuff that came out during the late 90s but I had done what I had done in college – I’d turned backwards in time to music from previous decades. I was really into the Velvet Underground and the Clash at the time. I did catch some of the great alternative stuff that was coming out like Fiona Apple or Beck, I wasn’t completely unaware. I was also looking into some of the singer songwriters that I’d missed: Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. I just didn’t feel connected to current music any more, something I never thought would happen. I was concerned at the time that Grunge was the last great musical movement.

I was lucky when I met the Rock Chick for many reasons, but one of the foremost was her music taste. She turned me onto a lot of stuff that I’d missed or ignored: The Cult, Social Distortion, Motley Crue and Green Day. Luckily for me she was also a little more connected to the rock music that was then current. I started tuning back in to the radio and what was going on. At the time there was this new “Garage Rock” thing going on. I couldn’t help but think, “Garage rock, Hell yes, deal me in.” There were all these bands playing loud, fast rock n roll. On paper this should have been perfect for me. There were the Von Bondies, the Hives with Veni Vidi Vicious or Hot Hot Heat who an ex-girlfriend sent me a CD from. The Rock Chick was particularly into the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs and Karen O. I jumped into the fray on this whole scene with the band that had most the hype, The Strokes and their debut LP, Is This It? I know this will be considered blasphemy by the rock n roll faithful who follow B&V but the Strokes just left me cold. They came across like hipster kids with rich parents. I couldn’t dig the lead vocalist at all. It sounded like he was singing through a running fan. I was on the verge of giving up and going back to my Clash albums when a band emerged to save me… that band was the White Stripes.

I was actually watching some MTV Awards show and they had the White Stripes play the final song of the night. “Honey, who is this? Is that a chick on drums? Where’s the rest of the band?” The Rock Chick quickly played me the “hits” they’d been playing on the radio, “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl.” This was the garage rock I had been searching for. I was convinced this was the next great band. With a little research I found that these tracks were from their third LP, White Blood Cells. I quickly decamped to the record store – lets be honest, the CD store – and picked up this album. Little did I know that I was holding the White Stripes’ landmark, breakthrough album. As I wrote last year about their Greatest Hits album, to paraphrase, I fell in love with a band.

The White Stripes were Jack White on guitar/vocals/keyboards/songwriting/production and Meg White on drums. Just typing out “Meg White on drums” seems reductive because she was a monster on the kit. Much has been said of her “caveman” style of drumming but that simple, straightforward yet visceral attack on the skins allowed Jack White to soar on guitar and vocals. When I saw them live – and I did so on two subsequent tours after White Blood Cells – Jack would always wander the stage, shredding on guitar but he always ended up back at the drum kit, the heartbeat of the White Stripes’ sound. Jack would always introduce Meg as his “sister” but in truth they’d been married and were divorced. Jack said later that he was telling people Meg was his sister to avoid that “Fleetwood Mac drama,” which actually makes total sense to me, but I love Fleetwood Mac.

There is so much to love on White Blood Cells. There’s the aforementioned “hits” like “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With a Girl.” I loved that they had this guitar-forward garage rock thing but I could hear blues in what they did. Probably more so on their 2 earlier LPs, but it’s still there on White Blood Cells on great tracks like “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known.” They could also go acoustic with great success on tracks like everyone’s favorite, “We’re Going To Be Friends,” which sounds like Rubber Soul-era Beatles. Rock tracks like “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman,” “The Union Forever,” and “Offend In Every Way” continue to resonate with me. They could be frantic and intense and I just loved it. Everyone should have White Blood Cells.

I was doing research on the 50th anniversary of a number of legendary LPs from 1971 recently, and I didn’t realize it’d been twenty years since White Blood Cells came out. If you’d asked me about an LP from 2001 I’d have said, “Yeah that’s about 10 years ago, right?” To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this fabulous record, Jack White and the folks down at Third Man Records have released a “deluxe” edition of the album. Much like Lou Reed’s deluxe edition of New York last year, White Blood Cells (Deluxe) is the original LP with a bonus disc containing a live concert where the Stripes play WBC in it’s entirety from start to finish. On Lou Reed’s New York Deluxe Edition, they pieced together the live performance of the LP from different performances. Despite that it hung together… Unlike that, this performance by the Stripes is one show. They recorded this at a show at The Gold Dollar club in Detroit (now gone apparently). Jack walks on stage, introduces his “sister” Megan and says, “We’re going to perform our new album White Blood Cells in it’s entirety for you.” That’s about all he says to the affectionate crowd. He does mention at the end, that they’d played the same room a few years earlier and there were only about three people in the audience… I’m guessing from the sound of it there were a few more there the night they played this show.

It’s probably no surprise, but I love this live performance. It feels more raw, less polished than the studio LP. Not that the studio LP was overly “polished.” Meg White’s drumming in particular is ferocious. As I said, I got to see this band twice and I always thought they brought it. It’s nice to hear them come out and go from quiet to loud, hard rocking to ballad and do so seamlessly. They completely nail it in these performances. I can only say I wish I had been there. The question I always ask myself on these “deluxe” packages is, is it worth? First and foremost, if you don’t already own White Blood Cells, buy the deluxe as you will absolutely want this live concert. Even though I already own this album I am absolutely purchasing this deluxe package as I think the live set is absolutely worth it. Any live White Stripes – or live Jack White, for that matter – you can get your hands on, do so. If I have any complaints, its that there is no bonus studio material… I guess we’ll have to wait on that for the 30th anniversary…

If anything, this music has me thinking back to those fun early days of becoming a family. I have intensely positive memories tied to this music… Luckily it’s kick ass music. And this live performance of the record only enhances it in my estimation. The White Stripes were such a great band. I’d love to see Meg come back from out there in the wilderness and play with Jack again… if she still even plays. I will always tell people to get into the White Stripes. They will go down as one of the greatest rock band ever… if B&V has any say in the matter. This titanic live performance ought to help seal their fabulous legacy.

Cheers!

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 Choice” 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!