The Smiths: Cemetry Gates
On account of me being a huge idiot I never saw The Smiths in concert even though I had two different opportunities to do so.
I can't tell you how much I regret missing those chances to see them.
This track is from a Los Angeles concert in the summer of 1986, right at the height of their powers. This is one of the two crowds that I could have and should have been in.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
I have been to classical music and jazz concerts, and even a performance by Ravi Shankar, where the audience sat and listened. Yes, these were exciting shows, displays of wonderful artistry. Folk and rock shows can be like that too. And I would gladly go. But sometimes, the performance presenter needs to make sure that there are no seats clogging up the hall, because it’s time to dance!
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: Oh Yeah
Oh Yeah, indeed. The horns are blowing, the rhythm is tight, and no one has to be told to “get on up”. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show exactly why they were one of the best new swing bands of the 90s.
Delbert McClinton: Standing on Shaky Ground
[purchase different live version]
Standing on Shaky Ground was written by Walker Ickard, but claimed by Delbert McClinton. McClinton started out backing touring blues musicians, before going on to have hits on the country, pop, and R & B charts. He is one of those artists who is best known to other musicians. His Standing on Shaky Ground really cooks.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Don‘t You Feel My Leg
[purchase studio version]
As the night progresses, there is a point in the show where the band takes the pace down a bit. Now is your chance to get closer to the one you’ve been dancing with at such a furious pace. But how close is too close?
The time is Halloween night, 1993. The scene, Tramps in New York City. As the rest of the Dirty Dozens lay down a groove, front man Gregory tells the tale of an encounter with a rabbit. Then the band goes into a slow burn for a tale of intimacy gone awry. This one comes with a rudeness warning for younger ears.
The Uptones: Rude Boy
[purchase different live version]
And then it’s time to ramp it up again, for a dance that leaves them wanting more. As with much of The Uptones’ work, this one straddles the line between reggae and ska. There is even a dub break toward the end. In reggae, dub is an effect usually created in the studio, but here The Uptones manage it from the stage. It’s a nice trick, and they manage it not only without losing the beat, but also without dropping the energy level.
Fred Eaglesmith: Drive In Movie
Fred Eaglesmith: Harold Wilson
I recently saw Fred Eaglesmith and his band at a small coffeehouse in South Florida - you can read the full review on my own blog here (if only to enjoy his "nuns and heaven" joke!)...
The group is musically tight, Fred is riotously funny and they can rock out like nobody's business (see Boyhowdy's take on Freight Train here) - I'm already composing a post for Leftovers Week of Fred's remaining train songs... :-)
What the evening reinforced to me, however, is the stunningly-poetic nature of Fred's lyrics... and his absolute ability to Break... Your... Heart - I couldn't choose between so you get both (one personal, one topical), which I can justify since it's a 2-disc set. Break out the Lone Star and the Kleenex - then go buy this Official Bootleg Series Volume 2 (Volume 1 is Fred solo)...
***As I went back and forth between the two songs, in an attempt to narrow it down, I realized both included the phrase "down the pike" - Meant to Be...
Neil Young & the International Harvesters: Grey Riders
[Neil Young's Official Website]
Neil Young's country album, Old Ways bears only a passing resemblance to his live shows of the time. The album is burdened with over-the-top, slick '80s country production, But his live backing band, the International Harvesters, could rock when called upon. "Grey Riders" is an unreleased song from their late '85 tour. It's one of my favorites from this period. Lyrically, it's little more than a rewrite of "Ghost Riders in the Sky", but it boils over with atmospheric intensity.
I seem to recall that at some point Neil was forced by the International Harvester Company to rename the band, and they became The Grey Riders in late '85, but so far the only confirmation I have of this is my own not-well-documented (and long-abandoned) research from my early days on the Internet and the cover of the ROIO used for this entry's photo (and we know how accurate they can be!), so I've stuck with the "International Harvesters" moniker for this recording.
Barrett Strong: I Heard It Through The Grapevine
[purchase used for 80 bucks!]
It's unusual to find a live performance from Barrett Strong, who spent most of his career behind the music, cranking out songs for other artists both with and without producer Norman Whitfield - though it's worth noting that Barrett's original 1959 version of Money (That's What I Want), which would go on to make so much money for The Beatles, was the very first hit record for Berry Gordon's Motown Label. Though this technically classifies Strong as a one-hit wonder, there's no denying his influence on the rise of the Motown sound: in addition to the vast majority of songs from the Temptations' "psychedelic soul" era, his writing credits include War, Smiling Faces Sometimes, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, and Papa Was A Rolling Stone, which won Strong a 1973 Grammy for best R&B song.
This rare, out-of-print recording of Barrett performing a pensive, soulful version of his own composition, recorded in the early nineties at NYC's famous Bottom Line, comes from the first volume of In Their Own Words, a two-release set of live singer-songwriter work hosted by popular WFUV host Vin Scelsa. Barrett's intro, provided as a separate track on the same collection, provides no small insight into the life of a Motown staff writer, and the culture of Motown writ large. The voices and strings heard in the song's background include Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, and others present on that fateful night.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Webb Sisters: If It Be Your Will
As many have declared, it was a religious experience to finally see Leonard Cohen live a few months ago, after decades of love/obsession with his music - a full concert review can be found on my own blog here...
I started out this week with every intention of posting a track from Leonard Cohen Live in London... sung by LC himself - however, with only a guitar and a harp, Hattie and Charley, two of his back-up singers (The Sublime Webb Sisters, as he called them all evening) transformed a brief turn in the spotlight covering one of his original compositions into something magnificent and magical, and I knew I wanted to showcase them instead...
The track begins with Cohen speaking the first two verses of his poetic tune - swoon...
Neil Young: No One Seems to Know
[Neil Young's Official Website]
Despite all the hiss on the recording, I've always been partial to this short, haunting piano ballad. It debuted in 1976 (this version comes from a concert in March of that year in Osaka, Japan). After laying dormant for years, it was revived for his 2007 tour. But like dozens of his songs, it remains officially unreleased.
Baby Grandmothers: Being Is More Than Life
In 1967 Swedish rockers T-Boones left their beat/r'n'b origins behind and moved into looser, more psychedelic territories to keep up with the times. The newly opened rock club Filips in Stockholm needed a house band, so co-owner Bill Öhrström signed them on and re-named them Baby Grandmothers.
During their brief existence from September 1967 to July 1968 they managed to squeeze in one recording session and a quick tour with Jimi Hendrix, during which Hendrix cut his hand on a mirror while smashing a hotel room in Gothenburg and bled all over Öhrström's expensive Afghan coat.
Their only official release as Baby Grandmothers was the single Somebody Keeps Calling My Name/Being Is More Than Life, recorded in March of 1968 while on tour in Finland. Nobody took any notice as only 300 copies were pressed and it was only released in Finland. Legend has it the reason they only recorded a single and not a full LP was because guitarist Kenny Håkansson's amp couldn't take the pressure and broke down during the second song, bringing the session to an unexpected halt.
In 2007 Subliminal Records did the world a huge favor and re-released the now impossible to find 1968 single (to be honest it was probably impossible to find in 1968 too) along with four live cuts recorded at Filips, and one from the Finnish tour. The highlight of this release, in yours truly's humble opinion, is the slow-burning live rendition of Being Is More Than Life, a full 14 minutes longer than the studio cut. It will melt your brain.
Carbon Leaf: Banish Misfortune
[purchase official Carbon Leaf releases here]
One of the joys of seeing a band live is hearing them tackle a tune that they haven’t recorded. Carbon Leaf, in their early days, were known for the Celtic folk influence in their music. But they never made an official recording of Banish Misfortune. This is a traditional Irish tune, but it is also found in the repertoire of many American folk artists, especially in the South. Carbon Leaf gives it a light rock touch, while retaining the flavor of a folk tune.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
No prettier sight than looking back on a town you left behind..."
Mary Chapin Carpenter: Dancing in the Dark
Since the Almost Home CD5/Cassette Single is currently going for $42.16 on eBay, I will instead provide the link for Mary Chapin Carpenter's website - word on the MCC-list is that she'll be releasing a new album, The Age of Miracles, on April 27 as well as touring behind it (zippity!)...
Due to our mutual love of all things Chapin, a friend sent me this two-song promo disc a a good many years ago (thanks, sharong!) - I well recall my first listen, in which amazement segued to joy segued to satisfaction. I never got the tune under Bruce's frenetic treatment, complete with upbeat video featuring a very-young Courtney Cox - finally the melody matched the mood...
Mary Chapin's world-weary deconstruction of the song ensured that I actually heard the lyrics wrought with loneliness and frustration, desperate for a spark that may never come - "you sit around getting older, there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me" (sigh)...
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Shawn Colvin: The Only Living Boy In New York
[see Shawn on tour]
[purchase Shawn's "official" live albums Cover Girl and Live]
This Simon and Garfunkel cover, recorded at a Philadelphia concert in August of 2001 just a month before the world changed irrevocably in the wake of 9/11, has long been one of my favorite coversongs, hands down. Some of that is the performance - it's hard not to hear the hope and despair, the loneliness and love in this song come together perfectly in Shawn Colvin's sweet, soaring vocals. But some of it is the context, the pure coincidental combination of time and space, my favorite folksinger in the prime of her pre-pop career, the innocence we all felt just before the skies came crumbling down: the plane in the first line, the lonely city of the lyrics, the sentiment of saying that we're all gone half of the time, and we don't know where, but here I am, alive and grounded...
For me, it's personal. I had a friend of sorts on the second plane to hit the World Trade Centers on 9/11 - a fact I only discovered after I had spent the morning watching his soaring coffin smash into an office building over and over and over again on TV, without knowing it was him in that metal and glass. Like so many coworkers, he was one of those friends that was always on the verge of becoming closer, except life kept getting in the way - in fact, we were due to head out for a drink the week afterwards, our first true outing outside of work, but to be honest, we had cancelled a couple of dates in the months before, and there's good chance we might not have made it then, either.
Music hits us funny, sometimes; I have no idea how all this stuff got tangled up in this song, this performance, this moment for me in the first place. But I can say that listening to this song - any version or performance, really, but this one especially - hurts, now. And I'm sorry, in a way, though we need sad songs as much as we need happy ones, perhaps more.
But it will always and forever be my best way of remembering my almost-friend, of thinking about the worlds that could have been. I will forever hear it in my head when I see the towers fall, in photos and on video. And since the world will never forget, I will never forget my friend, either, I guess.
And for that, I offer it back to the world. With thanks for the time we have, though it is never as much as we hope it will be.
We miss you, Chris.
Neil Young: Don't Be Denied
[out of print]
[Petition to Release Time Fades Away]
Neil Young should have been on top of the world in 1973. The previous year's Harvest was a smash, producing the number-one hit "Heart of Gold". But on the tour to promote Harvest, everything started falling apart. Neil assembled a band mostly made up of the studio cats who played on the album, plus Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. Danny was heavily into a heroin habit at the time, and even before the tour started, Neil had to fire him. He gave Danny money for a plane ticket home, but Whitten used the money to score some smack, ODed, and died. Neil was devastated, but the shows (65 dates) were already booked, so the show went on. Some of the studio musicians had trouble adapting to the grueling live concert schedule. Midway through the tour the drummer was replaced, and at the end of the tour Neil brought on erstwhile friends Crosby & Nash for moral and vocal support.
Neil played a clutch of previously unreleased, dark gems on this tour, and compiled them onto the his first live album, Time Fades Away. The public hated it, but over the years it has acquired a certain mystique among Neil affectionados, perhaps aided by Young's refusal to release it on CD. Many of the songs are solo piano numbers, but "Don't Be Denied" features the whole band. The song traces Neil's early history in Canada and ends with his disillusionment with the record industry. His voice is raw, and the emotion comes through. This is a guy in desperate need of a long rest.
It was the start of a difficult period for Neil that produced two other dark masterpieces, On the Beach and Tonight's the Night. You can pretty much tell how deep someone is into Neil by getting their opinion on the so-called "Ditch Trilogy".
How did fans come up with that moniker? In the liner notes to the Decade compilation, Neil put a maverick spin on this time in his life while discussing "Heart of Gold": "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there."
Peter Paul & Mary (with Richie Havens): The Great Mandala
A live performance can certainly give you a greater appreciation of a musician’s instrumental prowess. Sometimes it allows you to capture a moment or a song that an artist would not put out in an official recording. There can be unlikely collaborations, as happens here. But only once can I recall a time when a concert caused me to completely reassess my view of a musical act. And I wasn’t even there! I saw it on TV, and I almost changed the channel. That was the Lifelines concert.
I must have first heard Peter Paul & Mary at a peace march in the 60s. These were chaotic affairs, and you couldn’t always hear the announcements of the musical acts from the stage. Add in the fact that I was eight years old. I remember that I began my lifelong habit of asking, “who was that?” at these events, but it’s hardly surprising that I didn’t always find out. So the first song I remember connecting to Peter Paul & Mary was Leaving on a Jet Plane. It was all over the radio, and it struck me as corny and cloyingly sweet. And that was how I thought of Peter Paul & Mary for many years. Certainly, this was not folk music.
In time, I met my wife. Her father was into the folk-pop groups, the Limelighters, the Kingston Trio, and so forth. I lumped Peter Paul & Mary in with these, and I still felt that this was not folk music. Folk music was made by one person with a guitar or a banjo. The folk-pop groups arose, (as I saw it), because some former folk musician sold out.
But, channel surfing one night in 1996, I came across the fund drive on my local PBS station. And there were Peter Paul & Mary. And Odetta. And Dave Van Ronk. And Ronnie Gilbert from the Weavers. By this time, I “knew” that the Weavers were the exception to my folk-pop group rule; it was impossible to believe that Pete Seeger could ever sell out.
The Lifelines concert was Peter Paul & Mary’s tribute to the folk musicians who inspired them, those who came up at the same time as they did, and those were inspired by them. And it placed them right in the middle of the folk music continuum in the United States. That combined with the quality of the performances made me realize that I had been wrong about Peter Paul & Mary all those years. I just have one request: don’t ask me to like Leaving on a Jet Plane.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Steely Dan: Bodhisattva
[listen free at last.fm]
I posted the original 1973 version of this song here on Star Maker Machine way back in the summer of 2008; I won't bother to linkback, as the download is long dead, but I stand by what I said at the time:
A jamming, loose, eminently danceable tune, paced out as a 1950s jitterbug and famous for its guitarwork, this classic hit from the masters of otherwise-smooth, high-arrangement jazzrock has frenzied ecstasy all over it...carefully constructed to reflect a general tone of hysterical, almost desperate upheaval and unpredictability just on the other side of the suburban picket fence...among the greatest, rawest demonstrations of the carefully crafted genius that is Steely Dan at its best...make sure you've got your air guitar handy.
It's hard to beat the controlled chaos of the original. But this classic live version, recorded the following year, is goddamn glorious, the song on speed: a little breathless, and a hell of a lot more punk. Sure, you can bop to the other, but you can mosh to this. Air drummers, take your marks...
Joni Mitchell: Carey-Mr. Tambourine Man
I second the motion of Ramone666 - count me in for an Official Joni Bootleg Series!
In late-October of 2009, the Joni-list was all a-buzz with confirmed stories of a soon-to-be-released two-disc concert CD, complete with a 48-page booklet of photos and text, of a "forgotten" recording that was about to see the light of day, 40 years later...
Amchitka: the 1970 concert that launched Greenpeace took place October 16, 1970 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada - the line-up: Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor (who was a last-minute addition, at Joni's request)...
You can read all about it here (to hear all the songs, go to the Music button, then click the green Playlist and Streaming link)... but nothing compares to listening with your whole heart and soul - I bought the CD for my husband and myself before we left for our Christmas vacation and, every time we put it into the car player (which was often), we never failed to be amazed by the pristine quality of the sound, the richness of the voices and the innocence of a time in which 10,000 people paid $3 each to come together for a common cause: to stop nuclear testing in Alaska...
The CD can only be purchased from the website, and all proceeds go to support the continuing work of Greenpeace - I came very close to posting Joni's stunningly haunting version of Woodstock, but this Carey-segues-into-Mr.-Tambourine-Man is special for a few reasons: Joni covering Dylan... and, at about the 6-minute mark, Joni forgets the words and asks James for help (and the rest, as they say, is history... :-)
Joe Jackson: Is She Really Going Out With Him
The first time I saw Joe Jackson was at the Greek Theater in Berkley, California in about 1983. The show was amazing; however, one thing that struck me at the time was that he seemed to have outright disdain for his own fans! He harangued us through the entire show, calling us names, making fun of us for being rude and arrogant Americans, and so on. This went on non-stop for the duration of the evening. I left loving his music more than ever, but wondering why he hated us so much.
I now have a friend who saw him on the exact same tour in Los Angeles. He tells a story of being in the front row and having Joe Jackson actually walk up to the edge of the stage and pour an entire 32 oz cup of water right on his head!
I don't know what was up with his mood that year, but Joe Jackson did not want to be on the west coast of the United States.
Joe... I still love you, even if you hate me.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Jerry Garcia Band: Evangeline
I only saw the Grateful Dead a handful of times, in the early '90s, and each time it was a a bit depressing. There was no fire to the music. One song rolled on after another, the band's speed seemingly stuck on "mid-tempo chug". Despite their well-deserved reputation for improvisation, there was a sense of inevitability about each concert: the fans expected a certain thing from the band and they gave it to them.
So hearing the double-live eponymous Jerry Garcia Band album that came out in 1991 was a revelation. Freed of the weight of the Dead's baggage, Jerry actually seems to be having fun. And the band (Melvin Seals on keyboards, John Kahn on bass, and David Kemper on drums) actually play some uptempo numbers. But even the slow songs are fantastic--Jerry's voice wringing every bit of emotion out of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". The album is full of great covers (including no less than four Dylan songs). Yes, there is jamming (at 17:15, "Don't Let Go" rather wears out its welcome), but the album also includes a few concise, energetic performances, including a cover of Los Lobos' "Evangeline" that might even be a shade quicker than the original. It's fun, lively, and you can dance to it. This is the Jerry I want to remember.
John Denver: The Eagle and the Hawk
I imagine this week will be full of concert stories, some of which we've already heard. I wanted to be sure to post a live John Denver song before the week ended as an excuse to write about one of my favorite concert moments.
I saw John Denver in Park City, Utah (pictured above) in about 1989 at the outdoor amphitheater there. If you have never been to Park City, it is a phenomenally scenic environment, and the amphitheater is an ideal setting for live music of all kinds.
This particular concert was in the middle of the summer, when the sun sets sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 PM. We were all sitting on blankets on the hillside for the show.
At one point as the shadows were getting darker John Denver was right in the middle of a song, just him and his guitar up on stage, when he abruptly stopped playing, pointed behind the crowd and said, "Look at the sun".
Silently, thousands of heads immediately and simultaneously turned around to see the sun as it dropped below the mountains, streaks of red reflecting off of the wisps of clouds in the summer sky. I remember smiling and even laughing briefly at this impromptu shared experience. Within 10-15 seconds, Denver started to play again and the concert went on.
That's why I love live music.
I've always thought John Denver was an underrated artist. I think he made some career choices (The Muppets, that movie "Oh God!") that undermined his street cred. But up until about 1975 he could write a song with the best of them.
This is The Eagle and the Hawk, live.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Joni Mitchell Mr. Blue
See her live
Buy other Live Joni music
I love live music, so I'm predicting that this will be one of the best weeks in Star Maker history. As a fan of the site, I'm really looking forward to it.
One of the great things about live music is that the fans get to know the artists a little better. We get to see behind the mask of the polished studio recordings to the artists underneath. There are mistakes, stories, explanations, jams, and monologues. It's real, it can be quite personal, and it's always so much more fun than anything recorded on multiple tracks.
For the life of me I can't recall where I got this song, but it's beautiful, as is most everything Joni does. What I like most about this track is that we get to hear a little about the way she wrote these lyrics and which ones she likes the most. At the end, after the song ends, we also get a taste of her playful sense of humor.
Joni is not currently touring, so the first link above will allow you to add her as a favorite on Ticketmaster. That way if she ever comes near you, you'll know it. The second link will lead you to her first live album.
Joe Ely: Gallo del Cielo
Here we have the Tom Russell song Gallo Del Cielo. It tells a tale of one Carlos Saragosa who steals a lazy eyed fighting rooster in Mexico with the hopes of making enough money to recover land that Pancho Villa stole from his father many years earlier. So he sets off across the Rio Grande for San Antonio where he puts his plan in motion. More than a tale of a rooster and/or animal abuse (cock-fighting is illegal in the U.S.), or even of Carlos Saragosa, this song also serves as a reminder that profiting from stealing usually doesn't end well either.
Actually posted by Bert