November 26 – Show May Not Have Been ‘Cream’ Of The Crop

It was a show to see…although the home version was hardly cream of the crop. Cream played their final regular concert this night in 1968 at Royal Albert Hall in London. It was recorded for British TV viewers and later released for home viewing as the video Farewell Concert.

Cream were, as you likely know, a short-lived but highly influential trio sometimes considered rock’s first “supergroup.” when they formed in early ’66, Eric Clapton was already well-known and respected for his guitar work in the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce came from the Graham Bond Organisation, an early sort of prog/blues rock band which was well-regarded in Britain but lacked any significant commercial success. They quickly put out three albums, the third being the double-album Wheels of Fire, which came out in the summer of ’68. Along the way they’d had some international success with both the albums and singles like “White Room” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Wheels of Fire made the British top 10, as did the preceding pair of albums, and made it to the top on North American charts. Cream was touring regularly and a hot act, on the way up.

Nonetheless, they were getting tired of the road, and even more tired of each other… Baker and Bruce especially. Bruce was said to be enthralled by the idea of maximum volume and tried to turn his amps up loud enough as to drown out the drummer. “That last year with Cream was just agony,” Baker would later say. “I’ve still got a hearing problem because of the sheer volume…it just went into the realm of stupidity.” Clapton suggested that many of the shows on their last American tour, in the fall, “mainly consisted of (us) showing off.”

So after winding up the American tour in early-November, they decided to say a proper farewell to their home fans at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London on Nov. 25 and 26. The BBC recorded it, although apparently they only recorded short bits of the first one but the entire second show. Which unfortunately, according to Baker “wasn’t a good gig…Cream was better than that.”

Better or not, the Farewell Concert was what the Brits got to see a few weeks after, in January ’69, on the BBC. The TV show was produced by future record company magnate Robert Stigwood…although some would say not very well. The program ran 51 minutes, with six songs – “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Politician”, “White Room”, “Spoonful”, “Toad” and “I’m so Glad.” That was what was also released on VHS in 1977 but the DVD, in 2005, ran about an extra half hour with three added songs and John Peel bringing them on stage.

Critics had a lot to work with. The sound quality was not considered very good, and at times seemed out of sync with the video. Because the BBC used a variety of cameras, some film and some video, the actual visual quality was uneven, and worse, some shoddy editing involved mixing clips from both shows in one song, resulting in Eric Clapton mysteriously playing a different guitar than he was seconds earlier and Ginger Baker wearing different clothes.

For all that, it was a good souvenir of the band’s last stand. They had a chance to get it right 25 years later, when they appeared at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, and in 2005 when they played a brief reunion of four shows at the Royal Albert Hall again.

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November 21 – ’80s Live, Part 2 : Red Rocks Rocked By U2

Young readers might be surprised to learn that there once was a time when U2 weren’t a particularly “big” band. In the early-’80s they were just one of many post-punk rock acts out there struggling to get any widespread attention. But in a few short years, they’d elevated themselves to status of worldwide superstars, and that began in 1983. Early in the year they put out their third album, War, which was their best-received one to that point and opened the door to the American market for them with the singles “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” A major tour followed, which led to the next step up for them – their first live album. And that one, Live Under A Blood Red Sky, arrived this day 39 years ago.

Some called it an “EP”, others a “mini-album” while most consider it just a regular album, but no matter what the terminology it was a great-sounding record which helped win them more fans and draw attention to what would become their legendary live sets. The record was a trim eight-song, 35-minute effort containing seven of their relatively well-known songs from their existing albums (including the singles off War plus “I Will Follow” from their debut album, Boy) plus a somewhat obscure b-side off a standalone single, “Party Girl.” Although widely thought to be a recording of their concert from Red Rocks in Colorado that summer, in fact only two songs were taken from that show. One was recorded in Boston while five were drawn from a German show. The Red Rocks idea likely comes from the striking cover photo, showing Bono silohuetted “under a blood red sky” and from the video of the same name they released a few months later that was essentially the whole Colorado show. Regardless of the origins, the record seemed seamless…and powerfully impressive.

At the time, Rolling Stone took note and gave it 4-stars. They suggested that it “gives ample evidence of why people are calling U2 the best live band of 1983” and highlighting something not often commented upon – the bass. Producer Jimmy “Iovine’s approach uncovers U2’s secret weapon – the versatile, elastic playing of bassist Adam Clayton.” Later reviews generally concurred; allmusic gives it 3.5-stars, Pitchfork 9 out of 10 and Entertainment Weekly an “A-”. Pitchfork consider it “a key document in understanding U2’s meteoric rise”, an album made when “U2 aren’t yet an arena band but they carried themselves like one”. They noted their talent got more attention two years later when at Live Aid “only Queen and their monumental performance…came off better.”

Although they did put out a single off it, “I Will Follow”, it didn’t make it into the top 40 anywhere, although by reaching #81 in the U.S. it did better than the original, studio release of it. However, the album was eagerly bought up, actually being a #1 hit in New Zealand and #2 in Australia and the UK. Curiously, it somehow only went to #48 in their own Ireland! As it stands, it’s triple platinum or more in the U.S., UK and Australia.

Big fans might want to look for a 2008 re-release of Under A Blood Red Sky. It contains the original album plus an expanded DVD version of the Red Rocks concert, adding in some nine extra songs.

November 21 – ’80s Live, Part 1 – When People Began To ‘Idol’ize Billy

It’s hard to keep a good song down. About six years after he first released a version of it, and about 18 years after it was first a hit, Billy Idol has his only U.S. #1 single this day in 1987 with a live version of “Mony Mony.” The song was a cover version of Tommy James and the Shondells 1968 song, which had been a #1 hit in the UK and top 5 in North America.

Idol had recorded it immediately after leaving punk band Generation X, and released it as a single back in 1981, to little real notice. However, it was a popular part of his live show for years (including the well-known custom of the crowd adding their own , umm, “suggestions” during the chorus) and he decided to put out a live recording of it to tie his fans over between albums, and to promote a forthcoming “best of” album. That time did the trick for Idol, who’d had two prior top 10s in his adopted country. It hit the top in Canada as well, and was a top 10 in a number of other countries including Australia and New Zealand. Coincidentally, the Idol version knocked another Tommy James cover out of the top spot; Tiffany’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now.

Idol’s been keeping a fairly low profile this decade musically, but was in the news in 2018 when he officially became an American citizen. Around the same time he got together with some members of his old band (Generation X) as well as Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols to do a one-off show as the “Generation Sex” in L.A.

“Mony Mony”, by the way, is a more or less meaningless phrase James came up with when needing a catchy chorus line for a song he had; he came up with it when seeing an illuminated “Mutual of New York” – MONY – sign.

October 8 – Illinois Band’s Road To Fame Ran Through Japan

Live albums are usually throwaway releases designed only for the hardcore fans of the artist or cynical ways for a group to finish off a contractual obligation to a record company without going back to do any work writing or in the studio. Usually. Every once in awhile though, it is something else and actually opens doors for the artist. Such was the case twice in the late-’70s, once with Peter Frampton and his Frampton Comes Alive and then again on this day in 1978 with Illinois’ Cheap Trick. They put out their fourth album, Cheap Trick At Budokan (or “Live at Budokan” as many of us refer to it as) 44 years ago. In Japan.

Which is part and parcel of the band’s story. They’d formed in Rockford, IL around 1973, and had a small following in the Midwest due to relentless touring. But success at home was hard to buy, even with the backing of Epic Records. Their first two albums bombed in North America, and the third, Heaven Tonight would only scratch briefly into the top 50 due to the minor success of the single “Surrender.”

Oddly however, they became a sensation in Japan. A combination of their looks (from the good-looking, well-coiffed Tom Petersson and his 12-string bass and singer Robin Zander to the chubby, old-time drummer Bun E. Carlos who would have looked at home in a barbershop quartet, and the zany bowtied Rick Nielsen, a musical Sheldon Cooper lookalike) and their poppy sound appealed to the Japanese crowd, especially teenage girls there. They scored a #1 hit single there with “Clock Strikes Ten” and their first two albums sold well. No surprise then that they headed there to promote the heck out of Heaven Tonight . Such was their popularity that they were booked for a couple of shows at Tokyo’s Budokan theatre, a sort of Oriental Madison Square Garden built for the 1964 Olympics. The Beatles were the first musical act to play there, so getting a gig at it was a big deal! The two shows were recorded and the best of them were put on a live album for the Japanese fans. Epic couldn’t even be bothered to put it out on this side of the ocean, they were busy trying to get the studio album noticed even a little.

The live album took off in Japan and something strange happened. People in the U.S. heard it and took note. It began to get spun on some radio stations and before you could say “trade tariffs” 30 000 copies had been imported and sold in the U.S! Epic decided it was worth pressing a few copies for release here at that point in February, 1979. That was a good decision!

As allmusic would later say (in a review that graded it a perfect 5-stars), “many of these songs were pleasant in their original form” but lacked… oomph. They only “gelled” played live, and the band’s “ear-shatteringly loud guitars and sweet melodies” influenced a whole range of ’80s metal and ’90s alt rock bands. Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana both claim Cheap Trick as a major influence, for example.

I Want You To Want Me” was one of the inescapable sounds of the summer of ’79 and when all was said and done, the live album had hit #1 in Canada, #4 at home and sold to multi-platinum levels in both countries. They of course, then went on to have a mixed career of hits and misses, but they would forever be a household name (in musical households) and never play to half-empty bars in Kenosha anymore!

They’re still a band, with Nielsen, Zander and Petersson doing their thing, over 40 years later.

September 4 – ‘Nine Tonight’ Did Better Than That On Charts

Many bands have reputations as great live acts. However, few of them carry that over and are able to sell many live albums; Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton were definitely outliers in the ’70s in that respect. But one more exception is Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band. They had a hit with Live Bullet in 1976, when they were just rising to national fame, and took another shot at it five years later with Nine Tonight which came out this day in 1981. Once again, he seemed to hit the winning formula.

It came out a year after Against the Wind, which elevated him to superstar status and the record was pulled from concerts on the tour for that album, one from Boston and one from his hometown of Detroit. And, while two live albums in five years might seem excessive, most of the 16 tracks came from records made after the previous live one. Seger had written all but three tracks and one of the trio done by others was known as “his” song – “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”, written by George Jackson and Thomas Jones. A cover of Chuck Berry’s “Let it Rock” was the finale, and he added in an older soul song, ”Trying to Live My Life Without You.” That one had been done originally a label mate of Al Green’s, Otis Clay in 1973, but despite being performed on Soul Train hadn’t taken off… until Seger got to it! Other tracks included a number of his familiar hits, mostly from the end of the ’70s and Against the Wind, like “Night Moves,” “Her Strut” and “Against the Wind” itself, with a few lesser-known ones like “You’ll Accompany Me.”

The tour it was culled from was their first that crossed Europe, and according to backing vocalist Shaun Murphy, “this was when the frenzy started to kick in…we had crossed the precipice.” She added “you’d look out in the audience and people were all singing all the words. That hadn’t happened to Bob (before)”.

Latter reviews were mixed for it. Ultimate Classic Rock called it his “victory lap” while allmusic gave it 3-stars, significantly less than the first live album’s 5. They didn’t seem to think it was a bad album, but did note “”the live versions here stick pretty close to the studio versions,” although “the cut of ‘Old Time Rock’n’Roll’ included here proves to be better than the original.”

His fans may have thought so too. Either way, the album made it to #3 at home and #6 in Canada, and hit the top 30 in Britain and Australia. Much of that was from “Trying to Live My Life Without You”, which hit #5 – his fifth top 10 hit song – in the U.S. and #11 in Canada. “Feel Like A Number” made it into the top 30 in Canada while the live take on “Hollywood Nights” did reasonably well in the UK. When all was said and done, the release (a double album, but put out later as a single CD with the Chuck Berry song shortened from its 10-minute plus length to make it fit) went 4X platinum at home, the biggest selling live record since the Eagles live one a year earlier.

August 30 – John Said If George Can Do It, So Can I

Call it playing catch-up or call it being a terrific humanitarian…likely both were true, and about 30 000 New Yorkers were all the better off for it this day in 1972. That was the day John Lennon held two concerts, an afternoon and an evening one, at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were quickly arranged benefit shows, and although no one knew it at the time, they’d be the last full concerts Lennon would ever give. He was the only one of the Beatles who never toured as such after the Fab Four split up.

Lennon decided to do the shows to raise money for the Willowbrook School after seeing a TV news story about it. Willowbrook was a state-run school for mentally disabled kids and none other than Geraldo Rivera, an up-and-coming newsman at the time, brought to light stories of both abuse of the children and poor conditions at the school caused by disrepair. Lennon and Yoko Ono felt moved to act, and so the concerts were arranged, with all proceeds going to the school. They brought in Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha Na Na to play on the bill as well; in a surprisingly magnanimous move, Lennon also invited Paul McCartney, who declined.

The idea was wonderful, but it was also highly reminiscent of a double concert George Harrison had done the year before to raise funds for Bangladeshi relief at the same venue. As even the Beatles Bible point out, “the success of George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ the previous year may well have influenced his decision.” No doubt it irked him a little to see Harrison come to the Big Apple – John’s adopted hometown – and become a hero, not to mention score a hit record, with a charity event that was exactly the type of thing they’d expect Lennon and Ono to do.

Whether a bit of jealousy played a role or not, it was hard to argue with Lennon’s gesture. They sold tickets at between $5 and $10 (depending on seat location) and both shows sold out quickly. ABC filmed it and turned it into a TV special, paying $350 000 to the cause for the rights.

Lennon and his wife brought in session drummer Jim Keltner, and the Elephant’s Memory Band (a group of session musicians from the New York area who often backed Lennon at the time) to play, with John playing rhythm guitar himself. They rehearsed for three days. After Rivera welcomed them to stage for the afternoon show, it was apparent to some that a bit more practice might have helped. The sound was a bit off, and at one point John joked “welcome to the rehearsal.” They played 17 songs, starting with “Power to the People” through a finale of “Hound Dog”. He powered through his Beatles tour de force “Come Together” and a number of his early hits or near-hits like “Imagine,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma”. Yoko took center stage to do a couple of numbers, “Born in a Prison” and “Sisters, Oh Sisters.” The evening set apparently sounded a bit better, and had 14 songs, including “Give Peace A Chance” to end it. The two Yoko songs were dropped from the bill, with no record of if any fans felt short-changed because of it.

The shows ended up raising over a million dollars for the school, making it a great humanitarian success. Commercially, it wasn’t a massive, or immediate hit. In 1986 (after John’s death of course) a live album and videotape of it were put out, produced by Yoko.

Two surprises came of that fact. One, she chose the afternoon set to use, which even the musicians themselves thought the lesser of the two, performance-wise, and two, that she had an unusual lack of egotism, basically editing herself out of the record. Her songs weren’t included and on songs where she was singing harmony, her voice was mixed very low so as not to detract from Lennon’s. The video had a different selection of songs. Rolling Stone would say of it while it “could have used a few more hours of practice” it was still a decent listen as “classic Lennon, because it’s all here – his humor, pain, anger and unshakeable faith in the power of rock’n’roll to change the world.” Traits his ex-bandmate George Harrison would no doubt admire. The album was a minor success, hitting #41 in the U.S. and eventually going gold.

What no one there knew of course was that it was going to be the last time to see John do a concert of his own. Even though he was active recording through the ’70s and up until his death in 1980, he gave up playing live entirely after this show. The only exception was a brief appearance, also at Madison Square Garden, to be on stage with his friend Elton John in 1974 at one of his concerts.

May 7 – The Turntable Talk, Round 2 – Live Albums Encore

Today we finish our second instalment of Turntable Talk. We hope you liked the first one we ran last month which dealt with why the Beatles were still relevant. This time around, we’ve had six guest writers discuss The Live Album. Some people love ’em, some hate ’em. Some musicians put out some of their best work in live, concert recordings, others seem to use them as a stopgap to fulfill contractual obligations and little else. So we’ve asked our panelists to discuss live albums, however they see fit. Do they enjoy them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What are their favorites? So far we’ve had rave reviews of live records by the likes of the J.Geils Band, Who and Aerosmith.

Today, we wrap it up with a few thoughts about the concept from me here at A Sound Day:

 

I want to thank our six guest contributors this week who’ve looked at the Live Album, and shared some of their favorites. It shows that some bands can indeed put out great records straight from the stage with a minimum of studio enhancement, and at their best they can really give listeners a sense of the excitement of being there as well as great music to listen to for its own enjoyment.

For the most part, I share the sentiment a few of our other contributors had – I’m not usually a big fan of live albums. I’ve bought quite a few in my day, and had a big percentage of them gather dust more than most LPs or CDs in my collection. I think there are several reasons for this.

One is that most are merely live sets of songs we already knew. If they play the song like it was on the original record, it rarely sounds as good … it always sounds just a bit “off” compared to what we “know” it should sound like. The vocals are off a little or the drums are too prominent, or they add in a few extra bars of the bridge that jar my ears. But then, if they reimagine the song and make it something entirely different-sounding than the song we “know”, usually it seems wrong too. And then there’s the whole fact that while being at the concert is probably fun, hearing it later doesn’t match up. We might be happy and love hearing the singer scream out “hey Winnipeg, how ya doin’? Who wants to rock” if we’re in Winnipeg in the crowd and want to rock, but after hearing it a hundred times on the record later, it tends to get a bit tedious. And all the more the singers who break in the middle of a song to tell some story. Fun in person, annoying to listen to repeatedly, yes, Gord Downie notwithstanding. Funny, unexpected, adlibs or side stories are great when you’re there…but get tiresome when you hear the same adlib every single time you hear the song. Even the crowd noises often come across as distracting and superfluous.

All that said, there have been a few live ones I’ve listened to a lot and liked. Early on, two of the ’70s biggest come to mind – Cheap Trick at Budokan and Peter Frampton‘s Frampton Comes Alive. Both were huge sellers and I loved both. One reason for that is to me, they were new artists. I hadn’t heard the originals of the songs so the live ones sounded right. To this day Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” should be the Budokan one, not the rather sleepy studio original from a couple of years earlier. Same goes for Frampton and songs like “Show Me The Way”. Plus, his talkbox feature on the guitar (best heard towards the end of that track) was undeniably cool…it would get tired fast if every guitarist decided to use it, but it was a novelty that worked.

Earlier this week, Christian wrote about a live J. Geils Band album, Full House. In the early-’80s, I became a big fan of them through their (overdue) commercial breakthrough hit albums, 1980’s Love Stinks and especially ’81’s Freeze Frame. So I quickly grabbed a copy of Live Showtime, their 1982 live album (the third of their career). It had been recorded on the Freeze Frame tour earlier in that year, and it turns out probably was a mere place-holder. Like many live albums, its primary purpose might have been to buy the band some time between releases and fulfill a contractual obligation to EMI Records. Singer, frontman extraordinaire Peter Wolf had quit the band after that and they were scrambling to come up with a new direction and new album, so they put out another live recording. But to me, it was a rather cool, energetic effort. While the versions of the singles “Love Stinks” and “Centerfold” both suffered compared to the studio originals I knew, most of the other songs were new to me – even though old, and showcased how good a live act Geils had always been. I especially took to the new single off it, “I Do”, an old ’50s R&B song, and “Land of A Thousand Dances”, a song popularized by Wilson Pickett two decades prior. To me, the band seemed almost dual-personalitied… smoothly produced, fun pop singles (like “Centerfold”, “Come Back”) in studio and high-energy, party rockers and on stage. If not for this album, I might have missed out entirely on that other part of their presence.

Close to the same time in the ’80s a couple more live albums caught my attention and hold up well to me. One was Roxy Music‘s The High Road, which was really an EP more than an album…a four-song release. It appealed to me because I was really getting into Roxy Music at that time and had seen them on the same tour (for Avalon) which was the first real concert I went to. So there was a sentimental component for me but it was a good record and it had the advantage of having a couple of “new” songs on it, their cover of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” and the John Lennon cover “Jealous Guy.” They played both all through the tour. Now, before you British readers shout at me, let me point out that they had a #1 single there with the studio cut of “Jealous Guy”. But it wasn’t on an album of theirs and unfortunately flopped in North America, so it was pretty much a new song to us over here. Another was U2‘s Live Under A Blood Red Sky. U2 is a bit of a rarity among “new wave” bands or those labeled as such by being one who had a reputation for putting on exceptional live shows – high energy, interesting commentary from Bono. This one showcased them at their best, at least for the early part of their career, and at least one track, the singalong  “40” their traditional closer in that time period, seems to be a lot stronger and more emotional than in its studio version.

One more recent live album that I, maybe to my own surprise, like a lot and have listened to frequently is The Stranglers Friday the Thirteenth, a ’97 release. It was the ninth live album put out by “The Men In Black” which gives an indication that their fans really like their live sets. I saw them twice in concert, once in the ’80s and once in the early-’00s. Both times they were fantastic live players and a fun show. But as I’ve pointed out, that doesn’t always translate onto live records. But with The Stranglers, it often does. I think that is primarily because of the nature of the band. Unlike most rock (or punk if you prefer) acts, they’ve always been dominated by bass and keyboards rather than guitars and drums. J.J. Burnel plays the bass like a lead instrument and is wildly entertaining to watch as was the late Dave Greenfield in his jet-cockpit like bay of keyboards he spun around to play simultaneously. Often though, their contributions were muted a little in the studio mixes, but on their better live recordings they really come through front and center. This album also had a string section behind them, which added another layer to a few of their songs that worked nicely. Any fan of the band needs at least one record with their live version of “Down in the Sewer” (a possibly tongue-in-cheek “punk” anthem which has always been a standout in their concerts), for me this was mine.

That all said, there have been a number of other acts that I absolutely love, and in some cases enjoyed seeing live whose live albums really… well did very, very little for me (except at times curse myself for spending money on them.) I won’t bother to badmouth any of them, because as I said, they’re acts who do a lot of things right. Just putting out live albums isn’t one of them. So for me, my final take is, live records can be good and on rare occasions can outshine the studio originals. But it takes a certain flair and energy on stage, good recordings and perhaps a set list that isn’t merely one old hit single after enough to make them memorable or worthwhile. That’s my take, I’d love to hear yours, dear readers.

May 6 – The Turntable Talk, Round 2 – Jammin’ A Lot Of Pearls Into One Set

Today we continue our second instalment of Turntable Talk. We hope you liked the first one we ran last month which dealt with why the Beatles were still relevant. This time around, we’re pleased to have six guest writers discuss The Live Album. Some people love ’em, some hate ’em. Some musicians put out some of their best work in live, concert recordings, others seem to use them as a stopgap to fulfill contractual obligations and little else. So we’ve asked our panelists to discuss live albums, however they see fit. Do they enjoy them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What are their favorites? So far we’ve had rave reviews of live records by the likes of the J.Geils Band, The Who and Aerosmith.

Today, we jump forward a couple of decades from those and have Lisa, from Tao Talk, talking about Pearl Jam. Lisa a poet who writes about quite a range of topics ranging from foreign movies to current affairs to examples of her poetry at her site, which we encourage you to check out! Here’s what she’s got to say about Eddie Vedder and the boys-

The moment Dave named the topic of live albums, I knew that I wanted it to be one of Pearl Jam‘s, but I wasn’t sure which one to choose. Probably my most favorite one is Live at the Gorge, a “seven CD box set that documents the band’s three performances at the Gorge amphitheater in George, WA in September, 2005 and July, 2006,” but that one seemed a little too ambitious to write up, so instead today’s essay will be about the two-disk, Live at Benaroya Hall. The benefit concert was done on October 22, 2003, to raise funds for youthcare, an organization to end youth homelessness in Seattle, Washington. What makes me love PJ’s live albums are Eddy’s comments between songs. He’s a preacher in his own way and his flock are adoring of his pronouncements.

I decided to put this essay in a format where I will listen to the disks and while doing so write whatever bubbles up during the listen. Notes will be made on Eddy’s comments between songs, as I will also do for audience response. The plan also developed into including what album, if any, each of the songs are on and any orienting tidbits for each of them.

Disc 1 of 2

Of the Girl”

Gossard wrote this one and describes it (elsewhere) as “pretty somber.” And the crowd goes wild. The Jamily is feeling blessed that they are there with the band.

Low Light”

On the Yield album, this is bass player Jeff Ament’s first lyrics contribution. Listening to a live Pearl Jam album is like going to church. Every member is “on” and tweaking it with the vibe of the audience. I love the sound of the wood resonating in the rhythm guitar. Now here comes McCready with his soul-driven flourishes. Eddy’s singing like the benevolent God that he is. There truly is nothing other than the now of the music.

Thumbing My Way”

From Riot Act. “I love you, Eddy!” someone shouts from the audience. Too many hoots and cheers to count. This song is an anthem for every traveler going through this world.

Thin Air”

On the Binaural album. There is something about “Thin Air” that is deceptively simple yet deep and profound. The wordplay and the delicate manifestation of the melody brings tears to my eyes every time. One of the most magical things about live music is that you’ve got thousands of listeners communing with the band at the same time. “taken on on on on” crooned by Eddy urges an almost orgasmic experience. Multiply that by so many supercharged people in the audience and the energy of resonance has got to be off the charts. For those of us listening to a recording at home, we are aural voyeurs that feel it less intensely but are still satisfied. Where’s my cigarette?

Eddy comments about hearing beforehand about the good acoustics of the venue (Benaroya Hall) and talks about his mistake on the “Thin Air”. He introduces a new song, “Fatal,” that is coming out soon on, Lost Dogs, which is a collection of b-sides.

Fatal”

Written by Gossard. From the Lost Dogs album. Previously unreleased and was an out-take from the Binaural album. Lost Dogs is an often-overlooked album, and it shouldn’t be. It’s one I’ve listened to just as much as any of the others. There is more of a potpourri aspect to it than any conceptual thread, but that’s ok. It’s like walking around an amusement park.

Some loudmouth in the crowd is screaming unintelligibly. There is one in every crowd.

Nothing as it Seems”

Written by Ament, from the Binaural album. Rocking sweet McCready solos. Those long, lonely notes. Many audience members are howling and screaming.

Eddy says that Tim Burton sent “Big Fish” to PJ and asked them to write an ending song for it. They had just recorded it a few days before; they asked Tim if it was OK if they performed it at the show and he was ok with it. The song? “Man of the Hour.”

It appears on the “Man of the Hour” CD single. The chord progression in “Man of the Hour” is another one of those songs that seems to squeeze the tears out of my eyes.

Immortality”

On Vitalogy. Rhythm guitar jamming out. Bass prominent. Eddy waffles on whether or not this song was about Kurt Cobain (but not at this concert.)

Off He Goes”

From No Code. One of my most favorite of the favorite of their songs. How many of us have known someone like him? How many of us are him? McCready wails on his guitar to show support for our sorrow and for his lonely way of being.

Around the Bend”

From No Code. Such a sweet serenade! Written by former drummer, Jack Irons, as a lullaby for his son.

Eddy says that one of ushers notified him that someone wanted to talk with him. The person verified he was Eddy and then the man tried to serve Eddy legal papers. Eddy comments that it was, “the most punk ass mother fuckin’ move I ever heard of.”

I Believe in Miracles” (This is a Ramones cover.)

Appears on the 2003 Annual Vinyl Single. How this bridge starts and goes sends me into orbit: I close my eyes and think how it might be. I can’t tell you the number of times this one has done an earworm on me.

Sleight of Hand”

From Binaural. Existentialism is best not dwelled upon too long. McCready uses his wah wah pedal. The acoustics in Benaroya Hall are excellent.

All or None”

From Riot Act. It’s open to interpretation. Extremes are to be avoided in my experience.

Lukin”

From No Code. Stone Gossard introduces the song. The song is short, sweet, and damned intense. It’s about when a woman was stalking Eddy to the point that he was avoiding his own home. Also it is reported that it’s short and sweet because someone criticized PJ’s songs as being too long. Funk dat!

Disc 2 of 2

Parting Ways”

From Binaural. Looking through some comments on websites about this one, there are interesting theories but the consensus seems to be this was about the imminent breakup between Eddy and Beth.

Eddy gives a Public Service Announcement (PSA): 60,000 young adults have been helped through Youthcare. Eddy asks for a round of applause for the staff and the kids involved with the organization, and then to the audience for supporting them.

Down”

On the Lost Dogs album, written by Gossard, McCready, and Vedder. Originally on the, “I Am Mine single”. An up-tempo song with a line that is also the title of a Howard Zinn book, You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

Encore Break 1

Can’t Keep”

From Riot Act. Eddie on ukelele, singing about going to “the other side,” and the refrain is, “you can’t keep me here.” There is a definitely mystical aspect to this song.

Dead Man”

Included on the Lost Dogs album. Originally from the “Off He Goes” single. Originally intended for the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, but passed over in favor of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin.” (Wrong choice, in my opinion.)

Masters of War”

Written by Bob Dylan, I wish I could say this song is obsolete. It feels ever-fresh with new blood being spilled. Why young people continue to choose to die to serve their world chess playing masters is one of the great mysteries of our species.

Black”

This may the best known Pearl Jam tune. It’s unquestioningly one of their signature tunes. The poetry of the lyrics, the way Eddy sings it, and knowing he poured his all into it, trying to get over the one love of his life. Many times he sings with every drop of raw emotion. This time he sings as if the sting of anguish has subsided and it’s more in retrospect. Eddy invites the audience to sing along and it gives me the goosebumps to hear it sung in unison with Mike’s accompanying soulful guitar.

Crazy Mary”

One of my personal favorites. Surprisingly not written by PJ but by Victoria Williams. If you can listen to this song and not feel at least a little compassion for Crazy Mary, you have no heart. I also like the mystical aspect to this one. I wrote a poem in honor of Crazy Mary a few years ago. You can read it here.

25 Minutes to Go”

Johnny Cash wrote this one. It’s about a guy facing capital punishment by hanging. Eddy does it up right with some real nice flourishes by McCready on guitar.

Daughter” A quote from Eddy about it:

“The child in that song obviously has a learning difficulty, and it’s only in the last few years that they’ve actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities, that before were looked at as misbehavior; as just outright rebelliousness, but no one knew what it was. These kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they’d end up getting the shit beaten outta them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down—so that the neighbors can’t see what happens next. What hurts about shit like that is that it ends up defining people’s lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just f***g destroyed.” – from Jones, Allan. Pearl Jam – The Illustrated Story, A Melody Maker Book. Hal Leonard Corp, 1995.

Eddy introduces the members of the band (Gossard, Ament, Cameron, McCready, and “you know my name, look up the number…”) He sings a few bars of “You’ve got to hide your love away.” and then sings, “you don’t have to hide your love away.”

Encore Break 2

Yellow Ledbetter”

Another song of theirs that got a lot of radio play. About a guy whose brother who has gone off to fight in war and the guy hopes he doesn’t come back in a box or a body bag. The guy gets a letter saying his brother has been killed.

OK, there you have it, a template for how I grok live albums, or at least how I grok live Pearl Jam albums. The musicianship is superior, they sound just as good live as they do on their sanitary studio versions, and you just never know what Eddy is going to say.

Thank you for the prompt, Dave. I enjoyed writing this very much.

I was going to link each song separately, but I found the whole concert out on youtube. There is a track listing where you can click to each song, which is always helpful.

https://youtu.be/mpygOcZYIws

 

May 5 – The Turntable Talk, Round 2 – Who Knew Live Music Better Than Pete?

Today we continue our second instalment of Turntable Talk. We hope you liked the first one we ran last month which dealt with why the Beatles were still relevant. This time around, we’re pleased to have six guest writers discuss The Live Album. Some people love ’em, some hate ’em. Some musicians put out some of their best work in live, concert recordings, others seem to use them as a stopgap to fulfill contractual obligations and little else. So we’ve asked our panelists to discuss live albums, however they see fit. Do they enjoy them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What are their favorites?

Today, we have Max, from Power Pop blog, one of our favorites. He looks at rock and pop of the ’60s through ’90s as well as some great vintage TV shows there daily, so we encourage you to have a look. Here, Max talks about one of his favorite bands:

First of all…Thank you Dave for hosting Turntable Talk and coming up with the different talking points we all appreciate it. 

Now to Dave’s question. Is there an act that actually come out better on live releases than studio ones?

First, let me say…overall I’m more of a record guy…I usually like the studio version of songs but yes there are some bands that can come off better live. I would say The Who, Allman Brothers, Cream, The Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, The Stones (1969-1972), and Bob Dylan’s “1966 tour” fit that description. However, there is one condition to this.

I think you have to take into consideration the era you are talking about with each band or artist. If we are talking about the peak years then yes. The Rolling Stones for instance…for me it would be 1969 through 1974. When they had Mick Taylor on guitar…they had a huge raw sound live they haven’t had since. With Dylan, the ’66 tour for me was the top and I could listen to those versions all day. The Who it would be 1969 through 1976 when they were untouchable live.

When The Who took Tommy on tour I think the live recordings beat the studio album by a long shot. That leads me to…my favorite live album of all time.

The Who: Live at Leeds. If you are a rock and roll fan, a rock fan, or even a heavy metal fan…everyone can find something on that album. This is guitar rock at its best. Listening to the sound of that record, it’s no telling how loud they played. They weren’t the loudest in the Guinness Book of World Records for nothing! When Pete hit a power chord you could almost feel your eardrums retract in and out like a speaker.

It’s not being loud though that makes it so great. Personally, I’ve never heard a band as tight as they were during this tour. They wanted to release a live album and soundman Bob Pridden had 38 shows taped. Pete wanted Pridden to go through all of the shows and tell him which one was best. Because of constant touring Pridden could never get through all of the shows. The day came and Pete asked him ok…which shows. He couldn’t give Pete an answer.

They had a show at Leeds and Hull coming up on the schedule. In a move he’d later label one of the stupidest decisions of my life,” Townshend told Pridden to burn the tapes so that they’d never wind up in the hands of bootleggers. So, instead of more shows from that era…we have very few.

So…now the tapes were burned and the Leeds and Hull concert was coming up. They had a lot of pressure to get it right for the live album.

Pete Townshend: “I played more carefully than usual and tried to avoid the careless bum notes that often occurred because I was trying to play and jump around at the same time. The next day we played a similar set in City Hall in Hull. This was another venue with good acoustics for loud rock, but it felt less intense than the previous night.”

They played most of the Tommy album and their “oldies” on this tour which at the time were songs only around five or six years old. The original Live at Leeds didn’t have any Tommy songs on it. This album was like a marker for the pre-Tommy Who coming to an end. The deluxe re-released version had the complete show full of Tommy material

The recordings had a few clicks in the tape and Townshend tried to maneuver around them.

Townshend tried slicing out the clicks with a razor blade and quickly realized it would be impossible to get all of them. But subpar-sounding bootlegs were flooding the market at this time, so the band just added a note to the label saying the clicks were intentional! The album cover was a faded stamp reading The Who: Live at Leeds on brown paper, mirroring the look of illegal vinyl bootlegs of the era. Later on, Aerosmith had a similar live “bootleg” album cover (which Deke looked at a couple of days back here!)

What impresses me is the only overdubbing on the album was the backup vocals because they were poorly recorded. John Entwistle and Pete did the backup vocals in one take in the studio to stay true to the live album. What you hear on the album is what the good people at Leeds heard that night. No massive overdubbing to tighten anything up. 

By 1970 The Who had been touring almost non-stop since 1964 and it showed on this album. After the album, the band didn’t tour as much as before. They worked in the studio on more complex albums Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Their tours were not the marathon tours of the sixties.

This was before “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Riley”, and  Quadrophenia‘s complex music that required backing tapes live. This album was The Who as nature intended… a very loud tight rock band and possibly the best live rock album.

BTW…Bob Pridden worked as The Who’s soundman until 2016 when he retired. 

Here are three examples. “Young Man Blues”. Listen to Moon and Entwistle intertwine with each other. You also have “Summertime Blues” and “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

The Who : Maximum R&B at it’s best.

 

May 4 – The Turntable Talk, Round 2 – A Stageful Of Blues

Today we continue our second instalment of Turntable Talk. We hope you liked the first one we ran last month which dealt with why the Beatles were still relevant. This time around, we’re pleased to have six guest writers discuss The Live Album. Some people love ’em, some hate ’em. Some musicians put out some of their best work in live, concert recordings, others seem to use them as a stopgap to fulfill contractual obligations and little else. So we’ve asked our panelists to discuss live albums, however they see fit. Do they enjoy them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What are their favorites?

Today, we have Keith, from The Nostalgic Italian blog, a guy who says he just likes “classic stuff” – be it TV, movies or rock music. He writes about these things and more on his site, which we recommend highly. Today he looks at a band who really only did live albums –

This is my contribution to the next installment of Turntable Talk, hosted by Dave at A Sound Day. For this round, we are discussing the Live Album. “What’s your favorite? Do you even like them?” Is there an act that actually come out better on live releases than studio ones?”

This may seem a little ridiculous coming from a guy who has seen a lot of live concerts, but I have never really been a fan of live albums. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy seeing live shows, but I’d rather listen to studio albums. So when this topic was presented, I really had to think about whether there was even a live album I could pick.

I had it narrowed down to Aloha from Hawaii from Elvis, which is truly spectacular or Live Bullet from Bob Seger. However, one day on my drive in to work, the ’70’s on 7 channel played “Soul Man” by the Blues Brothers. I decided to focus on their two classic live albums – Briefcase Full of Blues and Made in America.

The Blues Brothers were made to play live music. In 1978, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi donned black suits, black hats, and sunglasses and treated the Saturday Night Live audience to Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender” and Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”. This was two years before their movie was even released. Their performance got them road gigs opening for Steve Martin and the Grateful Dead.

From Wikipedia:

With the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, Belushi and Aykroyd started assembling a collection of studio talents to form their own band. These included SNL band members saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom “Bones” Malone who had previously played in the group Blood, Sweat and Tears. At Shaffer’s suggestion, guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the MG’s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis’ Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well.

Belushi wanted a powerful trumpet player and a hot blues guitarist, so Julliard-trained trumpeter Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin was brought in, as was guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had performed with many blues legends.

For the brothers’ look, Belushi borrowed John Lee Hooker’s trademark Ray Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses and soul patch.

Their style was fresh and in many ways, different from prevailing musical trends: A very raw and “live” sound compared to the increasing use of sound synthesis and vocal-dominated music of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Briefcase Full of Blues was recorded in 1978 while the group opened for comedian Steve Martin. The album was so popular it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 and went double platinum. The album consists of ten songs including Big Joe Turner’s “Flip, Flop, and Fly,’ Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” The Chips “Rubber Biscuit,” (which features a fantastic vocal by Aykroyd), Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” Junior Wells’ “Messing with the Kid,” and a Belushi favorite, The Downchild Blues Band’s “I Got Everything I Need Almost.”

From the Album – “Hey Bartender”, “Soul Man” and “Rubber Biscuit” were released as singles. “Hey Bartender” didn’t chart, “Rubber Biscuit” went to #37, and “Soul Man” reached #14.

In 1980, The Blues Brothers film was released. The second album released was the soundtrack of the film, which contains a mix of live and studio cuts. With the success of the movie, Atlantic Records recorded a second live album entitled Made in America.

This album was recorded while the band was out playing a 22 date tour while supporting the movie.

The album opens with their cover of the Bar-Kays Soul Finger, which allows Elwood (Aykroyd) to introduce the band over the intro. Other soul/blues classics on album include Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love?,” a medley of The Contours “Do You Love Me,” and James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn,” Jimmy Reed’s, “I Ain’t Got You,” The Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” and Sonny Boy Williams’ “From the Bottom.”

The album features a Randy Newman cut entitled “Guilty.” What’s neat about this is that Elwood laments that his brother is guilty and he needs to find him a good lawyer, which allows the band to segue right into the Perry Mason theme song. It is obvious that Aykroyd is having fun scat singing along with this cut.

The highlight for me, despite all these great songs, is the fact that side two opens with “Green Onions”. The fact that Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn are playing on a song that they played on in the mid-’60’s brings it all full circle for me. It is a treat indeed.

As I look back over the many blues classics featured on these albums, I wonder what they might sound like if they had been recorded in the studio. I won’t lie, I would love to hear that! However, what we get encapsulated in these two albums are two nights of live music. The energy and electricity of the band mixed with the fun and lively vocals, all played against a background of some very happy people in the audience singing along.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were far from accomplished musicians. But they surrounded themselves with the best of the best and that led to some amazing music captured for us on these two albums.