When Critics Get It Wrong-“Flash Will Get Huge and Yes Won’t Survive”-A Blast From the Vaults of Rock Obscurity

It’s 1970, and one of the up and coming British bands tapped for success was Yes. The liner notes of their 1969 debut boldly quote Melody Maker critic Tony Wilson who declared that Led Zeppelin and Yes would be the two Brit bands most likely to succeed in 1969  (Nostradamus-wise, Zep perhaps being an easy call, Yes less so). Their debut album got some attention for it’s mash up of unlikely covers and burgeoning musical prowess, but in May 1970, disaster struck the band….

As the second Yes album, Time and a Word was undergoing final tweaks in post production and a tour testing the new material was underway-founding member Peter Banks was shown the door. Or quit, depending on who you  believe. Either way, this was looked upon in the industry as a death knell for Yes. After all, Peter Banks was generally considered to be the heart and soul of the band-fashion savvy, and with a personality and playing style that were open and daring–in marked contrast to the taskmaster persona brought by Jon and the aloof and entitled (some friends said condescending) views of Squire. He had named the band in 1968 when Jon Anderson’s suggestion of ‘Life’ and Chris Squire’s suggestion of ‘World’ were met with indifference. Peter suggested ‘Yes!’ (exclamation and all) as a holding action until they came up with something better. It stuck,  though the exclamation point was dropped quickly.(The less letters in the band name, the larger it shows up on posters noted Peter).  Banks also designed the first Yes logo.

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With a sound fueled by a Gibson ES-335 that was very difficult to define, Banks was able to fuse rhythm and lead guitar sounds simultaneously to make a jazz rock fusion that some said formed the original definition of  progressive rock guitar. Lester Bangs noted of their debut album both the good and the bad in his February 1970 review:

Because all of it is excellently done: brisk fuzz leads, whirring bass, a bit of the Beatles vocally, a touch of Wes Montgomery in the guitar solos—a definitive album, in fact, in the prevalent style of “hip” groups over the past two years. The only trouble is that there are hosts of American bands (and presumably British as well) who are into the same bag with equal facility and taste. The excitement of true innovation is missing—which may not be a valid criticism, since most rock is folk music anyway, but that’s what makes albums like this one so much less arresting than many others…Their version of the Byrds’ “I See You” is especially nice, although none of their own compositions are very memorable.

Image result for yes time and a word      Image result for yes time and a word

The second Yes album cover was hastily reshot for the US version with newly acquired guitarist Steve Howe on the cover, although he didn’t play at all on the record. Howe played a similar style to Banks and his Gibson ES-175 hollow body brought a similar sound to the band as Banks’ ES-335. Howe’s reputation on the circuit was as a low key but tastefully improving guitarist, but not a forceful and flashy personality like Banks. Time and a Word featured some fairly heavy handed orchestral overdubs which stepped all over Banks’ guitar in the mix, and rendered Kaye’s organ work nearly invisible. A short attempt to demo this live in  concert left Banks even more dissatisfied-and he was gone. But with a new guitarist under their wing, the band soldiered on to create their first mini masterpiece, the meticulously ‘assembled from little song bits’ lp the Yes Album. Recorded six months after Banks departure, it brought some new success to the band. But while on tour in 1971, the axe fell again-and founding keyboardist Tony Kaye was left curbside for pickup. Two founding members leaving in a year? Many thought Yes was in big trouble. This is where our story begins:

Flash (clockwise, from left), drummer Mike Hough, bassist Ray Bennett, guitarist Peter Banks and vocalist Colin Carter. 

There is little agreement on the facts surrounding Banks and Kaye’s ouster from the Yes. In one interview Kaye said that Anderson came in his bedroom while he was sleeping off a night out and profoundly hung over. ‘You’re out of the band” said Jon and Kaye later said “I just grunted, mostly relieved that he was leaving the room so I could sleep more”

An early 1972 Rolling Stone article noted the difference of opinions as to what had transpired:


Tony Kaye and Pete Banks have now come together and formed their own band, Flash, which is currently working its way around the club and dance hall circuit.  Their departures from Yes are explained by Jon:  “They didn’t leave- we decided to get someone else.  It doesn’t help them to say that.  We’ve always said that Tony decided to leave the band because it’d get him a better situation. The truth is that we blew them out because they weren’t really into what we were trying to get together . . . Peter was a bit lazy, that’s why. He liked his clothes a bit more than his music.  Tony had a marvelous mind, he was a great guy to talk to, but he didn’t have so many ideas.  He wasn’t willing to expound himself.”

Jon and Tony seem to agree that he was tossed, Peter however disagrees (from the same early 1972 article):

  Pete Banks still doesn’t quite see that things happened the way Jon described.  “I decided to make a move more than anything,” he explained one evening, sitting on the floor of his basement flat.  On the walls were reminders of his stay with the band – posters, photographs and an album sleeve.  “I only made the decision though after I’d given it a lot of thought. Luckily Yes were strong enough to get a new guitarist, rehearse and get it back on the road.”  From his point of view Yes had become a mechanical band producing music that was less than human.  He remembered the times when he and Bruford had gone through the motions of clocking in and out on live performances, and how it [was] really only half a joke for them. “We’d go on each night knowing we’d go down well,” he said.”We’d got things worked out to that degree.  Yes always went for the technique approach, whereas with Flash we’re going for the feel.  Yes tends to lack feel.  Sometimes it’s good to make mistakes to show you’re human and that it’s not being made by a machine.  I don’t think Fragile was human.  You couldn’t fault it in any other way though.”

Peter seemed to reverse himself  and took a more distanced view of what happened in a 2006 interview:

Peter: I was kicked out, simple as that. I’ve never really found out why, to be honest. I think it was mostly musical. We hit a really bad period where we had quite a lot of work and rehearsals. I think the musical reason was, and I’m kinda guessing here, I think I lacked a certain amount of structure, and Steve came in to replace me, he was a more structured player, where my approach always has been really, I don’t like to play the same thing twice.

Obviously you have structure within music, but if someone says ‘I like what you played last week can you play it again?’ chances are I probably won’t, I’ll go out of my way to play something different, with a new spin on it. If you’re a lead singer, that kind of puts lead singers out. I think that might have been a reason but I don’t know.

I think Jon mentioned in a recent interview, where he was talking about Yes guitar players, he was very frustrated that I never played the same thing twice. Same with Bill, us two were a bit of a loose cannon. Because we were playing the same things night after night after night, we would like to screw around with it.

Rolling Stone in their review of 1971’s Fragile also took note of some of the complaints Banks had pointed out about Yes’ shortcomings:

  Some problems remain, however: They’re good and they know it, so they tend to succumb to the show-off syndrome. Their music (notably “Cans and Brahms” and “We Have Heaven”) often seems designed only to impress and tries too hard to call attention to itself. Is anyone really still excited by things like “Five tracks on this album are individual ideas, personally arranged and organized by the five members of the band..etc.”

Melody Maker echoed this in 1971: ‘Fragile’ does not seem to go anywhere or have any theme except displaying Yes’ technical ability …   It’s all a little too much like exercises, clever and beautifully played”.

 (A quick aside: Jon wasn’t averse to taking some dodgy chances with Yes-like recording around this time, as a Faberge commercial was recorded during the sessions for the studio version of America:     Another project which was waiting to be recorded when “America”  finally reached the can was a 60-second commercial for Faberge-
Put a little music on and hear it play/ Put a little music on from Faberge.
They’d even got a nice little arrangement for the band to set the lyrics to, but Jon wanted to it his way. He decided to use the same technique he used on “We Have Heaven” on the Fragile album, where they overlay vocal tracks from their own music. ” I think it’s worth it,” said Jon.”Not for the money we’re getting, but because it’ll be a nice little song when it’s done the way I want it. I didn’t want a dinky little song. Anyway, the more people that hear our music the better.”)

Whatever the facts were, two important founding members of Yes had joined forces in 1971 to create a band that echoed the early sound of Yes, but emphasized feeling over technique, and playing for the sheer joy of creation over the construction of things far removed from the emotional immediacy of rock n roll. People were excited.

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Although he is listed as a full member on their debut album, Tony Kaye was always viewed as a sideman in this project according to both Kaye and Banks (there were high hopes he’d stay on) Still, this fact escaped the music press, and Flash were viewed as a back to roots version of Yes, something that is less evident as desirable today as it was back in 1971. With the guitarist and keyboardist who’d provided most of the musical ‘sound’ to the parent band now in a new project-who could say which one would come out on top?

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https://ronkanefiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/flash_new.jpg?w=1440&h=712Their debut album in 1972 was decidedly Yes-like. Band members Mike Hough on drums, Ray Bennett on bass and the noticeably Jon Anderson-ish Colin Carter on vocals made up the quartet. Bennett had some prog-cred even in his teenage years: he’d been in a band with Bill Bruford at age 15, and rubbed elbows in bands with musicians who ended up in Gentle Giant, Man and Gun. The album cover by Hipgnosis was ambiguously created to impart a sauciness when viewed in the racks, but entirely confusing as to whether it was a front or rear shot when folded out. Small Beginnings, the first single, charted on both sides of the pond (top 30 in US Billboard) and things looked bright.

Children of the Universe, another highlight, accentuated the Yes vibe. Diddits and rahoovyahs straight out of The Yes Album were the frosting on the dexterous and constantly changing instrumental underpinnings. Banks was able to knit together some impressive runs that challenged the depth of his earlier work with Yes. His runs became even more jazz-like than in Yes, approaching a territory the Robert Fripp had dipped his toes into during the early days of King Crimson, yet Banks created a more successful hybridization of rock and jazz stylings. Although this album didn’t make the waves some critics were expecting, it did well enough to warrant a second album release, and many Yes fans snapped this up instantly. In retrospect, this was a fine response to  The Yes Album. Fragile? Well there was no challenger to Roundabout here, but the earlier notation by Banks that Fragile was hampered by sterility of playing shows the difference of opinions that led to his departure. Besides, Fragile only contained four actual songs.

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Fully keyboard-less, the band delivered their sophomore effort, just as strong as their debut. Titled Flash in the Can, a name that punned on  the sophomoric cover. Like the first album, this one also flaunted the ‘sex will sell this album, dammit!” as it likewise folded out to a more salacious version. Despite the word flash meaning ‘fancy and cool’ in British slang, the record company was intent on another meaning of flash for the public to grab onto. One thing was sure at this point-Flash could jam live.

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Banks reveals anti-gravity guitar solo effect

The second album contains what many consider their finest musical moment, There No More. Overall, this album hangs together better than their debut, despite the lack of a proper keyboardist. The first two albums are definitely essential for any Yes fan. Critics weren’t so sure that a progressive rock band could cut it without keyboards, but Banks fretwork here ups the ante from the debut. Check out this:

Despite being perhaps even more overtly Yes-like (albeit an early version of Yes), their second album didn’t get the attention it deserved.Songwriting credit for Banks was limited to a half a song, as Ray Bennett was revealed as the principle songwriter-Banks crafted his guitar in and around songs. Maddeningly,  despite a full US tour spending a large chunk of  1972 in the States with the likes of Foghat, Savoy Brown, Wishbone Ash, Three Dog Night, Beck Bogert and Appice, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople and Humble Pie, the band’s fortunes only slightly crept onward. A second US tour in December of 1972 did see them headlining many of their own shows, and a full billboard graced the streets of Los Angeles next to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.

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Their 1973 album, Out of Our Hands continued the ‘boobs n butts’ theme, with hands and knuckles cleverly taking the place of arched backs and bums. The band had been sued for their name, forcing the record company to call the band ‘Flash featuring England’s Peter Banks’, much to the consternation of his hard working band mates. Sure Banks was still the draw, even three albums in, but his musical mates chafed at the change. They  played at least 65 US shows on an arduous tour from early August to mid November, finally imploding on November 17, 1973 with seven shows remaining to the tour-which all had to be canceled. Dissension and fatigue combined with the inability to get to the next level to finally destroy the band. According to Bennett, the problems 
all came down to Banks: “He
 was almost entirely to blame for the early Flash breakup, and for a major 
amount of friction and unrest in our
 camp — and not just with the band
— almost everyone around us, too:
 manager, producer, Capitol Records
 and others. I’ve restrained myself
 from just saying it bluntly in the past,
 but Flash didn’t just ‘implode on the
 road’. We’d had enough of Banks.”Some information on their dissolution can be found in an interview with Carter and Bennett here.

Banks takes a more distant, but similar view of the break-up in 2006, acknowledging he might have been a problem:

 We didn’t last long, but we were very creative, we made 3 albums in 2 years. But business things were very bad, we needed new management, I was very unhappy. What turned out to be our last tour was very Spinal Tap, I wasn’t even traveling with the guys, I would show up sometimes 10 minutes before the show, and I  probably acted like a real asshole at the time.

We broke up in New Mexico with 4 more gigs to go, very unfortunate thing to happen. I tried and I tried after that, because it was like a divorce. For 2 years we’d been working so intensely, we were getting better but the audiences were dropping off. We were playing with bands we shouldn’t have played with.

I had wondered about some of the bills they had been booked on during the US tour. They had more success here than in the UK, and it made sense to try to capitalize on the buzz created by the first album and single, but really…Three Dog Night and Flash on tour together? Grand Funk? Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show? A gig is a gig I suppose, but a more concerted effort to get them in front of an appreciative audience by  their management is perhaps the biggest spike driven into their possible success.
An easy example-Genesis was in the States in 1973, and Flash would have been the perfect opening act on that bill. Perhaps they were trying a bit too hard to shake the perception that they were a junior varsity version of Yes and were their own band by playing with folks not even close to their more technically adept stylings.

  Image result for peter banks flash

Image result for flash colin carter   Image result for flash ray bennett

In retrospect, it’s easy to see that Flash wasn’t going to hit the same level as Yes. But in 1971, things weren’t as easy to predict. Half of Yes strikes out on their own, leaving only the singer, drummer and bassist? You can see how those paying attention might be wont to plunk their ducats on the dark horse in this race. To this day, the first two Flash albums stand up extremely well against their peer group of B-division progressive rock bands of the early 70’s, (hell it even stands up fairly well against pre-Close to the Edge Yes.)  And the world would have to wait a few more years for the next even more  derivative Yes clone band to hit the floorboards, (though lacking the cachet of real Yes members)…..Starcastle.

But for now, let’s just ruminate on some small beginnings with large aspirations. One more pass through with Flash on US TV in 1972:

New Year’s Eve 2016 Beacon Theater NYC-Where’s My Mule?

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New Year’s Eve at the Beacon Theater in New York City is a New Years event that flies under a lot of people’s radar, but is one of the strongest traditions for Mule heads for their ‘gather from everywhere’ end of the year party.  And what a year it was-it seemed like about 10% of all rock stars departed the planet this last year. Starting with Lemmy’s departure right after XMas 2015, opening your computer to the news page was a hazardous adventure for music lovers in 2016. A who’s who of rock legends passed away in 2016: 2/3 of ELP with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (perhaps leaving the official band now as just “and Palmer”), David Bowie, Prince, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey (perhaps even George Michael might get a mention as a ‘rock star’).  Even famous sidemen shuffled off in droves: Buffin Griffin (Mott the Hoople drummer), Scotty Moore (pretty much created rock lead guitar as Elvis Presley’s  guitarist from 1954-1968), Bernie Worrell (keyboardist for not only all the Funkadelic and Parliament recordings, but keys on the essential Talking Heads live stuff as well), Rob Wasserman (acoustic bass player and sideman with Jerry Garcia but more well know for his long stint in Bob Weir’s Rat Dog). And this was only a partial list of the departed. While the usually cagey Mule always left the fans guessing until a couple of weeks before the show as to the guests and the theme, this year they stayed tight lipped right up until show time. An examination of the above logo did seem to contain some hints-the Bowie style lightning bolt on the ‘2’, the Prince-esque swirl on the ‘1’. A top hat and what appears to be a flashlight seemed to signify Leon Russell, and perhaps the flashlight was Bernie Worrell? Beyond that- nobody was talking.

The hints given were spot on, as the set list reveals:

 

New York, NY
2016/12/31

SET ONE
01 New Year’s Eve [a]
02 Larger Than Life
03 Thorazine Shuffle >
04 Funny Little Tragedy* >
05 Thorazine Shuffle (Reprise)
06 Child Of The Earth
07 Which Way Do We Run >
08 Brighter Days
09 Birth Of The Mule** [b]
10 Sco-Mule*** [b]

SET TWO
01 Maggot Brain**** > [c,d] Funkadelic cover
02 Flash Light [c,d,e] FTP Parliament cover
03 Red Hot Mama [c,d,e] FTP Funkadelic cover
04 Tight Rope [c,d,e] FTP Leon Russell cover
05 Delta Lady [c,d,e] Leon Russell cover
06 Take It Easy [e] FTP Eagles cover
07 Already Gone [e] FTP Eagles cover
08 100 Days, 100 Nights [d,e] FTP Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cover
09 Midnight Rider [c,d,e] Allman Brothers cover/Sharon Jones
10 Lucky Man [d,e] FTP Emerson Lake and Palmer cover
11 Hallelujah [f] Leonard Cohen cover
12 Bird On A Wire [d,e] Leonard Cohen cover
13 Angel Band > [e]
14 Mama Tried [e] FTP Merle Haggard cover
15 Shining Star > [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
16 Getaway [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
17 Descending [c] Black Crowes cover (keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)
18 All The Young Dudes [d,e,g] FTP Mott the Hoople/David Bowie cover
19 Rebel Rebel [c,g] FTP David Bowie cover
20 Kiss [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
21 Let’s Go Crazy [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
Encore
22 Encore Call
23 Purple Rain > [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Prince cover
24 All The Young Dudes (Reprise) [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Mott/Bowie

* w/ Message In A Bottle lyrics
** w/ Hottentot tease
*** w/ Smoke on the Water tease
**** w/ Auld Lang Syne theme
FTP = First Time Played
[a] Warren Solo
[b] Oz Noy, Guitar
[c] Marc Quiñones, Precussion
[d] Chronic Horns
[e] Jasmine Muhammad & The Sweet ’16 Singers
[f] w/o Matt Abts & Jorgen Carlsson
[g] Jimmy Vivino, Guitar
[h] Marcus King, Guitar

Note: Chronic Horns: Pam Fleming, Jenny Hill & Buford O’Sullivan; Jasmine Muhammad & the Sweet ’16 Singers (Tamara Jade, Tesia Kwarteng).

Let’s tally that up:

Funkadelic/Parliament-3

Prince- 3

Earth Wind and Fire-2

Bowie (and Mott the Hoople) -2

Eagles-2

Leon Russell-2

Leonard Cohen-2

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings-2 (if you count Midnight Rider, which she covered)

ELP-1

Black Crowes (their keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)-1

Merle Haggard-1

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card given out at doors
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the list of the fallen-with disclaimer

Set One started sparsely with Warren’s solo spot “New Year’s Eve”, one of many songs debuted by Mule this night. The set crackled along with some additional energy from guest guitarist Oz, culminating in a fairly hard charging one two punch of Birth of a Mule -> Sco-Mule. Set one ended on a real high point. The big question was what would the second set bring?

Maggot Brain was mind melting, with an extra ‘fuck 2016′ tape loop playing under Funkadelic’s spoken word intro, as Warren’s guitar poured liquid fire lines tantalizingly slowly through the theater. Then….things changed. With “Flashlight, Mule took off on a gospel/r&b/funk jag for most of the rest of the night.  The  beautiful a capella Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen has been a part of their set from time to time, and though expected, was powerful in Warren’s solo delivery, and a break in the big band vibe. But overall looking at the set, that’s a mighty funk/r&b heavy set for a year that lost some mighty big rockers. Keeping in mind Mule’s psychedelic jam roots as one of the big three of sixties psychedelic bands who could really stretch it out: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers-one wonders where the fuck was any mention of Paul Kantner, leader of Jefferson Airplane?  Any bone to throw to Garcia and Weir sideman Rob Wasserman? Instead we get TWO Eagles songs? (overheard at the theater as they entered their second consecutive Eagles tune “I’m going to have to go backstage to speak with Warren ’bout this shit…”). A double shot of Earth Wind and Fire in tribute to Maurice White was a slightly odd choice, as was a double shot from the relatively unknown Sharon Jones. Where was ‘Young Man Blues’, a song they’ve done before and made famous by the Who, for Mose Allison? At this point I was quietly hoping for a short Motorhead cover to set things right, but no. Although the six horns/back up singers and one to two guest guitarists per song gave an overly busy sameiness to the arrangements, the crowd was fairly delirious throughout the whole thing.   I thought it was a definite improvement over the AC/DC flub two years ago, but a Mule was a bit penned up as a funk/r & b outfit.

Maybe it was a matter of ‘too much frosting isn’t always the best thing for the cake’ syndrome. Some of the specialness of Mule is the interplay of the quartet, with large areas left for Warren to…testify via electric guitar. When there’s ten to twelve people onstage at all times, something has to give to keep things from degenerating into undifferentiated musical mayhem. And hey, I like frosting….

 

 

And yet…

Like the 2014 New Years show as AC/DC, it felt amiss somehow. Certainly not as adrift as that show was, as chronicled here, where Warren had painted himself into an artistic corner pretty quickly, and was reduced to an overly talented AC/DC tribute band with no room to jam out songs, this show was quite different: a possible array of amazing tunes to choose from with the theme of ‘recently departed’ as the unspoken thread holding the night together. (btw, where was the Star Wars tease, Warren?)

Mule New Year’s shows can pull out some of the most amazing music in their rather large repertoire, and can be known for some Page Six worthy name dropping of guest stars. Robbie Krieger sat in for a whole Doors New Years set in 2013, Corky Laing from Mountain in 2010, Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals, Gregg Allman, Bill Evans from Miles Davis’s 80’s band, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, Myles Kennedy as lead singer in 2014 (the last singer for Led Zeppelin after Plant left in 2007), Ron Holloway (who’d played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard)….. if ever there was a year that was ripe for some star power, this was it. With the list of departed bands to pick from (anyone from Prince and the Revolution, any of Bowie’s bands, anyone from Funkadelic, Joe Walsh from the Eagles, someone from Jefferson Airplane (or Starship)..hell Carl Palmer fercrissakes? Instead we get fairly under the radar session men: Jimmy Vivino from the Tonight Show Band, Oz Noy (an Israeli guitarist who got his US chops with Will Lee and Anton Fig of David Letterman’s Late Show band), Marcus King (guitarist who debuted last year on Warren Haynes’ own label) and Marc Quinones from the latter day Allman Brothers. Huh? Talk show band guys in a year of all star departures? This wasn’t exactly the star power one might expect for a show honoring so many departed artists. No offense to the above guests, but if the statement at the end of 2016 was, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas-‘Rage against the dying light’ (of original old school rock n roll that is,) then it left one wishing a bit more work had been done on gathering some surprise guests to generate a little more musical rage.

Overall, not a noble failure, but very close. I’d had a blast, Mule had shown a side that we rarely get to see, but somehow I felt a little empty at the end. In a year of rock departures, Mule chose to pull a gospel/funk/R & B trip out.  I know it’s not easy to get musicians to fly in from across the world to hitch their wagon to someone else’s horse, but on the way out a pontificating drunk guy summed up what many were thinking  about too much gospel and the lack of full on rock power in the show, yelling loudly to no one in particular:

“Where’s My Mule?”

As the tape for Maggot Brain said:  “Fuck 2016”. Let’s hope for a better year this year folks. Rock on-carwreck.

 

The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard of: Van Der Graaf Generator: “Camps of Panolply and Majesty-Meet Tortured Soul and Refugee”

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Van der Graaf Generator is another band that is criminally unknown is the common era. Even among neo-prog twenty somethings, their name usually elicits blank stares. It isn’t until you hit rock kids that are tipping in at the late forties early fifties end of the spectrum will you be greeted with knowing nods and slow smiles. Because those people still know what has now become a bit of a secret-Van der Graaf Generator were one of the most challenging and influential bands in the world in the early and mid 1970’s. One of the big ones. But they seem to be slipping from the zeitgeist of musical gatekeepers. This needs to be addressed.

Name checked by a wide variety of artists (John Lydon of the Sex Pistol/PIL, Marc Almond of Soft Cell, Graham Coxon of Blur,Mark Smith of the Fall, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Julian Cope of general psychedelic fame. Even Geddy Lee of Rush mentions them briefly in an interview) Van der Graaf made an imprint on rock in four very short years from 1969-1972 that is still reverberating through music today. How could a band this unknown have influenced such a wide variety of bands, and how have they seemed to have flown under everyone’s radar?

One reason is the lineup– having no guitar player in a rock band in the late sixties or early seventies was not something that would play to your benefit. Electric guitar is the heart of rock, right? How about no bass player AND no guitarist? Unthinkable. So the line up of the classic quartet of Peter Hammill, Guy Evans, Hugh Banton and David Jackson? Piano, drums, organ and sax.  What? But the people who were watching music closely (ya know, the folks who could correctly tell you King Crimson was a much more advanced proposition than Yes or Genesis, and why) could tell you that this band was something special.

Iconoclasts in philosophical bent, lyrical bent and certainly in musical ideas-Van der Graaf was a loose collective of ever changing musicians trying something new in a field of musicians currently defining what new was. Rock was really changing big time in early 1967 London-Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, Traffic? You could walk into clubs and see them playing to crowds of a hundred or so. A Beatle or a Rolling Stone or two might be in that crowd. Pop fluff was being scattered to the winds, and an intellectual wave of literature, philosophy, drugs, mysticism, ufo investigation and science fiction imagery had bubbled into rock. The Hammill led band proceeded in an organ driven Arthur Brown vein, but the next two years saw them shuffling line ups, guitarists, bassists, hiring session men who would become band members, getting signed to Charisma (future home of Genesis), and putting out a solo Peter Hammill album out as a Van der Graaf Generator lp…they stopped to assess things in 1969. Band equipment stolen, contract hassles with labels (Mercury, Charisma, Polydor)-things needed to settle. With the departure in 1970 of Nic Potter, Banton began bashing away on bass with both feet on organ pedals while using both hands to create most of the meat of the song-saxophone and drums barking in reeling consonance.

Image result for pawn hearts inner sleeve

Image result for pawn hearts sleeve

The quartet era of the band from 1970-1972 is the stuff of legends. (their 1975 reunion is also worthy as is their work up until this day). Their master piece, Pawn Hearts in 1972 is the quiet cousin  of King Crimson’s better work. Fripp actually dips in for some of his most inventive session work in his career for these guys The inner sleeve of Pawn Hearts was something I didn’t see for a while (the US version wasn’t gatefold), and it is unsettling in a dada-esque tableaux. An unsettling vocal jazz version of a King Crimson-esque approach to music supported by drums, organ and sax is an unlikely combination for a band that could inspire riotous fan behavior, but this band certainly did, especially in Italy in 1972, where three tours supported this album. Hugh Banton playing bass with his feet on organ pedals upon Nic Potter’s departure, Peter Hammill a genius of vocal histrionics, and able to twist the throat of a phrase and make it spit out some truth was worthy of the poets of a brit century ago, hey stir in some eloquent piano and slashing acoustic guitar as well.

A good introduction to the band is with their last work with their bass player Nic Potter in 1970, Pioneers Over C, all 12 minutes of it:

 Van der Graaf Generator are also one of the big finalists in the ‘best side long song ever’ -prog rock is usually understood here-among the best of the best. Close to the Edge? Supper’s Ready?
The third choice is usually A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, side two of Pawn Hearts. Never performed live (except once in pieces and repieced for Belgian TV right before they broke up). Below is that Belgian appearance of Plague (I urge you to watch this in its 24 minute entirety to understand how this song is one of the big ones-
Nice epitaph to a civilization teetering on the edge of breakthrough from 45 years ago in Manchester. These guys are one of the best of the best, yet somehow have slipped through many cracks. You like Yes? King Crimson? Magma? ELP? Genesis? Area? PFM? Freaky pre-goth vocals okay? I might have your band right here. Lyrically, there’s more angst in a single Van der Graaf song than two full Nirvana albums. This is an overload of powerful psychic outburst that might fry the fragile subwirings of delicate millenials, yet showed up in 75% of their core stuff. Insanely essential rock band, one of the best of the early seventies by a long shot.
Get all three of those albums, immediately. If King Crimson scared the Moody Blues out of signing them to their label in 1969 as reported, then this is the only band that could scare King Crimson.
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This is the stuff of legends, legends that some now haven’t even heard of, which is disturbing. One more time:  grab all THREE of these albums right now. Sure, there was a 1975 reunion, with Godbluff and Still life in 1975 and 1976 respectively nearing the bar set so high in 1972. But this article is about the big three from 1970-1972.  More angst than how many Nirvana albums? In a field of bands that are almost literally undefinable in sound, this band defies description. You up for a challenge in your listening diet? This kind of band is what happens when you actually pay attention to everything that has come before, a quantum leap in creativity can create a break with the predecessors.

Camps of panoply and majesty, what is Freedom of Choice?
Where do I stand in the pageantry…whose is my voice?
It doesn’t feel so very bad now: I think the end is the start.
Begin to feel very glad now:
ALL THINGS ARE A PART
ALL THINGS ARE APART
ALL THINGS ARE A PART.

Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman-Howe, White, Squire (RIP): Yes? No? Maybe?

The story of Yes in their glory days is pretty well known, but many fans lost track of them in the 80’s. Even fewer are aware that things kept going right up to the present day, with some decidedly mixed and contentious moments and results. (If your name is Jon Davison or Billy Sherwood, please x out of this window now, it’s not going to be pretty.)

Yes is one of the defining bands of the 70’s rock n roll scene. Able to jump genres, (mostly their fan’s genres) everyone who had records in the late 70’s had a Yes album: Fragile, Yessongs and the Yes Album were on most kids shelves. Close to the Edge showed up on the more adventurous fan’s collection. Even Tales From Topographic Oceans wasn’t unfamiliar in college dorms in the early 80’s. But the ability to please everyone in the plebeian beer swilling rock scene was a heady achievement for such a distinctly tricky British prog band.

The Eighties

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Many Yes fans lost track of the band as they ended up combining forces with the Buggles’ Trevor Horne and Geoff Downes in 1980 (better than one might guess) but soon broke up, crushing fans and scattering them to the winds. 1983 saw an unlikely resurgence for the band: a reunion line up of Yes (originally called Cinema until Jon rejoined) which suddenly had a number one hit (Owner of a Lonely Heart), a triple platinum album (90125, initially known as 80120 until its release was delayed), a huge MTV video, and a battalion of new fans unaware of their deep philosophic and esoteric musical heritage. 1987’s Big Generator couldn’t really sustain the immense wave of popularity they had garnered. (The complete lack of thought in the last two album covers wasn’t helping, either)

The Big Split

Image result for abwh cover       vs.       Image result for chris squire promo photo 1988 -getty

Then…something happened. Chris Squire and Jon Anderson had a falling out in 1988 over the future of the band, as Squire had descended into a coke infused downward spiral but stubbornly held to creative control, he either a. eventually fired Anderson or b. Anderson quit. In the end, Squire owned the name, but had no bandmates as Anderson took Steve Howe, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman from the classic era, plugged in Tony Levin on bass, and the legal team of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe was born. Yes existed as Chris Squire alone, with no band. (Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin and Alan White were still lurking around, but with Anderson gone, it was a band without any viable plans.) ABWH put out a fairly convincing version of Yes, and toured successfully in 1989. Attempts by Squire and his legal team to sue ABWH into submission did little to convince anyone that this wasn’t the ‘real’ Yes.

(Does anyone remember the Dead Milkmen album Metaphysical Graffiti? Which contained the song Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How! Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers fame ranted these lyrics:

We’ve got to get together
And we’ve got to save the snails
Let’s board the purple spaceships
Before they set sail

I want a Yes reunion
And you know I want one now
No more Anderson
Walkman, Buttholes and How!

Listening to the opera
And smoking angels’ dust
You can’t get more fucking
Progressive than us)

War is Over, We Will Now Have a Union….

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Yes, one big happy family?

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ABWH began to fall apart during the second album sessions, and a solution was hastily proposed: a fusion of ABWH and the remnants of Yes to form a supergroup derived from a single band–an apparent octet featuring Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin on guitar, Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye on keyboards, Chris Squire on bass, and Bill Bruford and Alan White on drums. (In reality, White and Kaye only appear on one song, and Rabin on three). Too many cooks spoiled the broth, hired hands re-recorded Howe and Wakeman’s original recordings, and Jon Anderson’s control freak streak combined to make the most disjointed and disappointing Yes release to date, one which had a startling amount of sidemen credited-18 in total, ten of them keyboardists. Seven producers are listed. No one was surprised when this lineup imploded (1992).

Or Not….

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Peter Max cover

Talk, in 1994, quietly rewrote what was essentially  going to be a Trevor Rabin solo affair into a hastily reconstituted ‘Yes of the 80’s’ lineup. It was a fully digital project pre-dating Protools–it  is sonic-wise a great high end stereo system test album, but sterile is another word used frequently for this cut and paste technique that eventually took the industry over in the next few years. The odd choice of Peter Max was diametrically opposed to the whole ethos of the mysticism of the Yes concept, but appears to be signaling an intentional break with the past. Yes seemed to be fading into the woodwork. ( I still like this album a lot, just found it on vinyl)

Wakeman In, Wakeman Out, Wakeman In, Wakeman Out

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1995 saw the reformation of the classic lineup, with Howe and Wakeman rejoining, displacing Rabin and Kaye (who wasn’t on much of Talk anyway). Keys to Ascension 1 and Keys to Ascension 2 were the result of this 1995-1996 reunion. Mostly remakes of classic 70’s era tunes, the second volume contained Mind Drive, a lengthy song that was the last and one of the few pieces to survive from the ill fated 1981 collaboration between Led Zeppelin and Yes known as XYZ. (a quick read on them here.) Wakeman bounced in November 1996 and Billy Sherwood, mixing engineer on Keys came aboard as the new keyboardist. The lackluster Open Your Eyes in 1997 closed many eyes forever for older Yes fans still clinging on.

 

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Yes, now a quartet plus one replacement part was struggling for a sound. Pop? Prog? Neither? The third choice seemed to describe 1999’s The Ladder, which saw Sherwood shift to second guitar, the first time Yes had had a second guitarist in their 31 years to that date. Producer Bruce Fairbairn died while recording this lp, prompting some ill advised jokes about the current state of the band. Igor Khoroshev took over on keys and Yes now contained two replacement parts. Horns? World music? Techno? (via Front Line Assembly/Skinny Puppy associate Rhys Fulber) This further muddied the waters of the Yes sound as they seemed to throw anything against the wall to see what stuck. (see: Union) Magnification in 2001 was a mild return to form, written specifically to be recorded with an orchestra to replace the departed Sherwood and Igor. Some Yes fans forgave them since they had jettisoned the replacement parts and were now a quartet. Anderson was frustrated with low album sales and a moratorium on new material was declared. Yes became a live outfit only.

A 2000 tour where they played only seven songs was one dream finally realized: the big three: Close to the Edge, Ritual, Gates of Delerium in one set combined with  Starship Trooper to bring in a four song wallop that clocked in at nearly 80 minutes. A Roundabout and All Good People, and a Heart of the Sunrise rounded out the evening. ( I remember watching Howe on the jumbotron during Gates as he grimaced at his fingers to will them to get every note as he silently cursed himself for writing such convoluted passages).  Wakeman wasn’t yet returned, and Igor held down the keyboard duties. (Igor eventually got the heave ho for feeling up and biting a couple of  unamused female security guards backstage at a show in Washington DC in 2000)

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Suddenly, Wakeman was inspired to rejoin for the..let’s see errr…fourth time, and the classic lineup toured from 2002-2004.  The 2004 35th anniversary tour featured inflatable stage props to give Roger Dean’s art work some three dimensional life. (when the lights hit it wrong, it looked a bit uncomfortably weird, like slightly uncool deflated and warped beach toys) The band didn’t seem like they were having much fun. Wakeman bailed once again after the 2004 tour.

Kicked Out of a Band You Founded?

When a 2008 world tour had to be first postponed and then canceled due to Jon Anderson’s serious respiratory illness, the band quickly made a muddle headed decision, and fired the founder, voice of the band and spiritual leader, and moved on. (note that when Squire’s ill health forced a postponement of the spring 2009 tour, nobody even blinked.) Benoit David from a Canadian Yes tribute band was YouTube selected by Squire, and with Oliver Wakeman (Rick’s kid) in tow, the band hurriedly set out to honor the commitments of the failed tour. Yes was now playing clubs and small theaters as the trio of Squire, White and Howe didn’t get folks frothing to see the remnants of a legendary outfit sporting now an offspring as a member. David acquitted himself well, recording Fly From Here, the first Yes album in a decade. It relies heavily on the 1980 Buggles era album Drama as its source for material, reworking themes and re-recording some unreleased pieces to generally good effect. Ironically, David was shown the door in 2012 for a brief respiratory illness that postponed a leg of the tour (he found he was out of the band when reading a Chris Squire interview announcing his departure).

Enter Jon version 2

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Mountains came out of the sky once, Jon

Jon Davison, yet another YouTube discovery, was hastily plugged in to replace David and the 2012 tour commenced. (Geoff Downes from the Buggles and Drama (and Asia) had rejoined on keys by now, replacing Oliver Wakeman) Davison was much more faithful to the Jon Anderson’s ethereal vibe than Benoit David’s more Trevor Horn approach. He also exudes a passion for the music that is tangible on stage. But the excitement quickly dissipated with the replacement singers, and Yes was doing package tours with Styx and Procol Harum to get some asses in the seats. Copping a trick that many classic rock acts had done to reboot some enthusiasm, Yes went out on “the Albums Tour”. They played Close to the Edge, the Yes Album and Going For the One in their entirety, which had mixed results. Fans were excited by the old chestnuts revisited, but others wondered why the now healed Jon Anderson wasn’t a part of this. Yes also ignored the wisdom of the moratorium on new material, and blorted out the ill advised album, Heaven and Earth. Scathing reviews put this as the nadir of the Yes experience, as many questioned why they would sully what was left of their reputation. This album made Union look refreshing and challenging.

Heaven & Earth
Cover = A-. Music = D+.

Yes vs. Anderson Rabin Wakeman

The untimely death of founding member (and main antagonist to Anderson) Chris Squire in 2015 threw Yes for a loop. Down to Howe and White, with Geoff Downes of the 1980 Drama album as the authentic members, folks questioned the decision (rooted in Squire’s final wishes) to continue the band. The 2016 tour revisited Tales From Topographic Oceans and Drama, with a bands worth of replacement players. With Alan White out due to back problems, Yes consists of Steve Howe. Reactions to the tour were mixed.(scroll to end of that review)

But very quietly, whispers indicated something else was cooking. Jon Anderson had done a small tour with Rick Wakeman in 2011, and another one with Jean Luc Ponty in 2015. He seemed healthy and vibrant on stage, and gave consistently warm and powerful performances of reworked Yes classics.  Then in summer 2016, fans were greeted with this news:

ARW.JPG

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I think this one is in ‘G’

Holy shit, a real version of Yes was going to tour? Discussions started to pop up in well informed boards-which one is the real Yes? (stevehoffman.com polls had ARW as the 88% choice) As you have read, this wasn’t a new question, but one that has dogged them for decades. The ARW tour has just begun this month, and I attended the 12th show of the tour. What confronted me was the real Yes (friends said this blew the current Yes out of the water in the first ten minutes). Wakeman, resplendent in a very complicated cape, surrounded by a dozen keyboards including two Minimoogs,  Jon trim and in full voice, Rabin the quiet metal edged power-this band cooks like the 1985 tour did. Sure Steve Howe is missed, as is Alan White. But those two guys cannot fill up a room with sound, power and vibrations like Anderson and Wakeman (with Rabin)  can. Jon regaling us with tales from the past: “Ahh Boston Garden…remember that? You were there, I was there. We were stoned, eh?” and introducing the Meeting from AWBH said “we were in Montserrat recording, and we went out to play cricket against some local schoolkids. They were like eleven and twelve and thought we could wipe the field with them. Wrong! They annihilated us. Rick and I got drunk after and went into the studio to improvise a piano/vocal duet on the spot. This is the result”

Though the evening of Yes Music and More consisted of Yes music only (barring the Meeting from AWBH), and some choices posited in early interviews (Endless Dream from Talk, I’m Running from Big Generator) were instead represented by Rhythm of Love (Big Generator) and Lift Me Up (Union), it didn’t matter. The power of Awaken, Perpetual Change, Heart of the Sunrise and Long Distance Runaround blew the theater to delirious heights. (overheard at show: ‘if Jon Davison sees this, he is going to quit Yes on the spot out of guilt’). In short, ARW is the real deal, Yes reborn. Friends after the show that attend all things Yes agreed: the current version of Yes is a nice, a polite evening’s entertainment. ARW is full on Yes, where you walk out of the show going ‘holy shit was that amazing!’ A set list is available here.

Shoot High, Aim Low… or: Wither Yes?

So where does that leave us? Is the current Yes even Yes? Is it now a tribute band to Yes? Is the band that doesn’t own the name the real Yes? The only logical solution is a fusion of the two units. No Chris Squire leaves a large hole in the proceedings, as he was the second strong voice in harmonies, and his distinctive growling Rickenbacker bass stylings practically founded a genre of prog bass playing (Rush, Starcastle, Genesis, Lemmy in Hawkwind among the many). He is irreplaceable. But the lineup of Anderson Wakeman Howe White and perhaps Rabin and Tony Levin would certainly engender some real excitement. Fill up some hockey rinks. I will leave you with one further thing overheard on the way out:

“Yes is in BIG trouble when word of this gets around…”

Update April 2017: Jon Anderson reclaims the band name, and ARW is now known at Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman. Let the fun begin.

Pink Floyd-The Early Years Box Set: Price Check on Aisle One!

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Okay, the Early Years box set is the big kahuna, the whole enchilada-the motherlode of early Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett that fans have been waiting for…waiting so long that many have actually forgotten they were waiting for it in reality. But people were fairly ecstatic that a huge and I mean huge amount of Pink Floyd rarities were seeing the light of day finally. But then…people got a look at the proposed price, one of the eye poppingly highest price tags in the history of rock releases. And everyone drew a long breath. Does this thing have nuggets to tempt even the most jaded Pink Floyd aficionado? Hell yes. Does the content (27 discs) come up equal to the price? (pre release list price- $699.00, Amazon pre-order price $571.36 at the time of this writing). Well lets do the math. 571 divided by 27 is twenty one and change per disc. For a single CD, that’s a pretty hefty entrance fee. But multi disc sets usually discount pretty heavily. Most double CDs clock in at around $19.99. Triple CDs average $25. See there is an industry prescribed sliding scale for multi disc sets. But over twenty one dollars per disc for the full run of 27 discs? (actually with the DVD/BluRay duplicating each other, this is only a 19 disc set, at $36 per disc!!) Mighty strange marketing here. Are they kidding? Did they include something worth this literally obscene outlay of dosh?  Let’s look closer:

First, any Floyd head worth his salt  owns 90% of this stuff already. Vinyl and cassette in the early 80’s, CDs in the 90’s-whatever. But the list of famous bootlegs is long, and folks like the author and his close friends have owned this stuff on vinyl bootleg since 1979 ticked into 1980.

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You get the idea. There is a lot of good stuff here. Among the 10 cds, 8 blu-rays and 9 dvds are plenty of treasures. But we have already heard much of this. The legendary More Furious Madness from the Massed Gadgets of the Auximenes? Mostly here, yet not called that for some reason. Known as ‘The Man’ and ‘the Journey’, it was a 1969 concert slated to be released as a live album, but shelved for some reason. But something Floyd heads have owned for decades. The Stockholm 1967 soundboard recording with Syd Barrett? For many, this is the treasure of the box, yet it has circulated for a while on bootleg forums. 1965 recordings with original guitarist Bob Klose? Ok, that is pretty cool. The long sought after 1967 John Latham soundtrack recording done by the Syd led Floyd? Now we are getting somewhere. That takes care of CD 1 and CD 2.

1968 BBC sessions that have been heavily circulated comprise CD 3. Studio tracks readily available pad out this disc. Outtakes from More and some heavily bootlegged 1969 BBC and Amsterdam stuff comprise CD 4. The aforementioned Massed Gadgets unreleased live album takes up CD 5. 1970 BBC sessions (again, heavily bootlegged and common) make up CD 6. Zabriskie Point outtakes (these somewhat rare compared to the rest) take up CD 7. CD 8 is Meddle era 1971 with an early version of Echoes, again BBC stuff. CD 9 is a clunker-a 2016 remix of Obscured By Clouds. Why? The original is a favorite of many Floyd heads and was the opening section of the first leg of the 1972 US tour. Unnecessary. The final CD is back to BBC 1967 with Syd Barrett, some 1968 BBC stuff and the famed 1969 session they did for the moon landing.

The DVD and Blu-ray stuff is more enigmatic. First-is this set really a mixture of Blu-ray and DVD? Why? Blu-ray folks will put their noses in the air at DVDs. And DVD people will not be able to play Blu-rays. Puzzling in the extreme. (a closer look reveals that the DVDs and Blu-Ray duplicate each other-so it is really a 19 disc set, which puts this at a gagging price of over $36.00 per disc!) Yet this stuff is where most of the unreleased material resides. A compendium of exactly what is on the set can be found here.

A video of the unboxing with some close ups of the extra memorabilia is here.

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Five original facsimile picture sleeve 45s are included, as well as facsimile memorabilia (a la Who Live at Leeds lp) in a nod to the vinyl collectors (very few of who actually still spin 45s, as they are a royal pain in the ass to change every 3 minutes).

So the main underlying question remains: Is this thing worth it? Could I spend the same amount of money on something else?

So what could a budding rock aficionado get for $699? Let’s put together a comparably priced fantasy space/prog/classic rock new CD essential collection with seven hundred bucks to spend (using Amazon prices for new CDs), and see what we can come up with:

Pink Floyd -Dark Side of the Moon $7  A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black background

Pink Floyd – Meddle $7.50  Related image

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother $7.00 Image result for atom heart mother

Pink Floyd -Piper at the Gates of Dawn $8.00 Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn special edition vinyl replica CD

Pink Floyd – Saucerful of Secrets $4.00 Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd – Obscured by Clouds $8.00 Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd (CD, Mar-1987, Capitol)

Pink Floyd- More $7.oo  Image result for more pink floyd

Pink Floyd – Ummagumma $16 Ummagumma by Pink Floyd (CD, Apr-1994, 2 Discs, Capitol) Remastered w/ Slipcase!

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here $9 PINK FLOYD**WISH YOU WERE HERE**CD

Pink Floyd- Animals $8 Pink Floyd - Animals (Remastered CD 2011) Brand New & Sealed

Pink Floyd -Relics $9 PINK FLOYD**RELICS (GATEFOLD/STEREO)**CD

Hawkwind-the first 8 albums in one box 11 cd  $39

Tangerine Dream- 3 cd 4 lp virgin box $11 The-Virgin-Years-1974-1978-Box-by-Tangerine-Dream-CD-Jan-2011-3-Discs

Ash Ra Tempel – Best of Private Tapes 2 cd $11 Ash Ra Tempel

Klaus Schulze – La Vie Electronique 3 cd  $20 Klaus-Schulze-La-Vie-Electronique-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Faust-Complete 5 cd $39 Product Details

Can-the Lost Tapes 3 cd $30 Can-The-Lost-Tapes-UK-IMPORT-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Ozric Tentacles-Vitamin Enhanced 6 cd $60 Vitamin Enhanced [Box] by Ozric Tentacles

Gong- the Trilogy box 3 cd $49 Gong - Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy [CD New]

Magma – Konzert Zund 12 cd $70 Kohnzert Zund

Grateful Dead-the Golden Road 1965-1973 complete 12 cd $70 The Golden Road (1965 - 1973)

Yes – The Studio Albums 1969-1987 12 cd $40 The Studio Albums 1969-1987

Frank Zappa –  Läther 3 cd $10 Läther

Sensation’s Fix-Music is Painting in the Air 1974-1977 $12 Music Is Painting In The Air (1974 - 1977)

Genesis-Archive 4 cd $57 Genesis Archive, Vol. 1: 1967-1975

King Crimson-21st Century Guide to King Crimson 4 cd $45 21st Century Guide to King Crimson 1: 1969-1974

Okay let’s stop there and figure out what we got with that haul. 16 bands. 25 releases. 95 cds. Roughly six hundred bucks. This would keep anyone pretty busy for….what, a year at least?

In the end, this box isn’t really universally the “unheard” motherlode it appears to be, but is coming from a similar place as Frank Zappa’s Beat the Boots box set, where Frank reissued some of the most important Zappa bootlegs in their original covers. What were they gonna do-sue him? So I hope this last part gives a bit of perspective on where your six hundred dollars could be spent otherwise. If this was at a more reasonable $15 per disc, it would be $285.00 for the box. This begs the larger question: “WHERE DID THE OTHER $400.00 GO? This might be where one could say ‘Can someone charge a record company with fraud?” and actually mean it. A box set that is priced $400 over what it should roll out at is……..friggin’ criminal.

And perhaps, in the spirit of the bootleg origins of most of the material on this Floyd box, and the spirit of the truly ironic, many of us will wait and…you know….see if it will show up somewhere sketchy for download instead? Shhhhhh…

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C’mon, SEVEN HUNDRED bucks for a fucking CD box? Really?

fortes fortuna adiuvat

Update: Warning-Caveat Emptor
Even at $400, this is still overpriced for what you get. On paper, the 10 cd audio content is tantalizing. In reality, the tendency to screw up remixes in sonic quality (which has become a trend lately) hits this package squarely on the nose, and bloodies up the whole thing. Huge clanging treble issues render much of the audio borderline unlistenable. In many songs, cymbals crash with a harshness that cymbals just aren’t supposed to sound like. The Obscured By Clouds disc suffers heavily from a harsh, unnatural and digital sounding mix that makes this particular disc something no one needs. If one is only going to listen to this on mp3 on their computer, perhaps some of the sonic problems would be less noticeable. Can’t say I know of anyone ready to dish out $400-$500 for mp3s though.
More specifically in the complaint department, why some of the BBC stuff I have owned on cassette since the 80’s is superior in sound quality to what shows up here is dumbfounding. It is like the research department spent zero time tracking down better versions that are readily found in the bootleg field.

Pet peeves:
Where is Let’s Roll Another One instead of Candy and a Currant Bun? My friends and I have had this for decades, and they didn’t bother to look for a version of it? Mixing out the chipmunk vocals on Scream Thy Last Scream? To what end I’d ask? The  1967 Advision sessions not included (which had Lets Roll Another One). Remixed Vegetable Man instead of the original mix. Stockholm live 1967. Sigh-vocals from the show are not up in the mix. Nothing to do about that as it was a product of the show at the time, but still, this holy grail bit is slightly underwhelming. In the Beechwoods, something discussed for years as one of the unheard Floyd masterpieces is an intriguing and out of character sounding instrumental, decent quality-is missing the vocal melody, an unfinished eye opener of sorts.
So, 8 of the video discs duplicate each other, the Obscured disc is a listen once throw away, leaving us 18 real discs at a minimum of $400 at this date (12/10/16)—still over twenty dollars per disc. The vinyl 45s suffer from a similar over equalization towards a harsher high end. Throw in defective BluRays that most everybody got and now have to exchange, and you have a product that is nowhere near even a $300 price point.
Some good stuff in there, to be sure, but dodgy sound on more of the live stuff than I expected, overly ‘high end heavy’ equalization yielding harsh treble across so many songs? Peeved. In the end, although this seemed to be the Floyd dream, it’s really not worth a huge financial outlay by a longshot. Fortunately, a friend kicked down to buy one, giving many a chance to hear the great, the good and the disappointing together. Try the $12 two cd condensed version of it first to give it a test run for the sound would be my advice. Separate sets are coming after the New Year to give the subsets of this more manageable release.

 

Summer 2016 Concert Round Up-Janes Dead Guns Bad Beatles Sabbath Ween n’ More…Around the World in Eighty Daze.

“My magnificent octopus” – S. Baldrick

As the Zombies almost once said, summers are the time of the season for concerts. From sheds to stadiums, folks pile into their vehicles to head out road trippin’ and space truckin’ for some full on outdoor Dionysian rituals. Some choose to make the parking lot their tailgating blow out (occasionally failing to even enter the show), others wait patiently in line to get into the venue early to drop $40 bucks on a shirt and absorb multiple beers at $11 a whack. But the gamut of summer concert behavior makes up one of the best seasons to see rock n roll in person– outside and under the stars. This summer was no exception. Below is a chronicle of the Carwreck adventures on the road from June to August this year.

   June 9-Joe Walsh and Bad Company

Joe Walsh and Bad Company, opening night for the summer season. I’d almost given this one a miss, even though I had tix in hand already. It was a weeknight, I was beyond tired. At the last second though I jumped in the car and flew to Great Woods (sorry, corporate logos change so quickly at these joints that we need to stick with the real names: The Meadows in Hartford, Worcester Centrum, Providence Civic Center, Boston Garden, Great Woods etc, who can keep track of which joint is the Xfinity Center anymore? And by next year it’ll be something different, you can TD bank on that). Aptly named the One Hell of a Night tour, this was one of the best shows of the summer. Going in, my expectations were low, but was I in for an eye opener. Joe Walsh is a pretty funny guy. If you’ve never heard him talk, you’d swear he was blasted out of his mind (which he was from the sixties until 1994)  Here is a pretty good example of him, courtesy of David Letterman in the late 1980’s:

Joe was in fine form at this show, introducing Life’s Been Good with the slurred quote “If I’da known I’d be playin’ this song for the rest of my life, I’da written a better song. But this is what we got, we’re stuck with it,  so let’s make the best of it…”. Long term band mate Joe Vitale gave the outfit a 70’s era Barnstorm feel. Walsh’s unit opened the show but easily could have headlined-Walsh’s distinct guitar lines warping reality like the James Gang used to.

Next up was Bad Company. Often thought of as the poor man’s Led Zeppelin, they were crisp on a pared down stage, serious and powerful. With Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from the original band (bassist Boz Burrell passed away in 2006 and guitarist Mick Ralphs declined to do this US tour due to health reasons) they were fleshed out by long term second guitar Howard Leese of Heart fame and a temporary stint from Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes. Lean and mean, Paul Rodgers stalked the stage as the band delivered some of their tightest playing of their career. Notes I took at the show included the question “How the fuck can Paul Rodgers still be this good?” How the fuck indeed-Rodgers had started to really tear up venues with Free in 1969, and 47 years later hadn’t lost a step. I’d seen Robert Plant a few times over the last few years, and Roger Daltrey a dozen or so times in the last decade. Both are still vocal legends, but neither could hold a candle to what Paul Rodgers can still pull off in 2016. Hard to believe, but Paul Rodgers is the last man standing, the most powerful 70’s era vocalist in rock n roll today. Had there been a roof, Bad Co.would have blown it off.

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Yep, still got it

July 15 Fenway Park-Dead and Company

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Is that really made from a tablecloth?

Next up was Dead and Company. I had seen them in 2015 early in their tour and was decidedly underwhelmed, as noted here.

I’d been wary of this band since the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary last show ever ‘we swear we are done’ in Chicago was quickly followed by a fall tour announcement with Oteil replacing Phil Lesh, and John Mayer as ‘Jerry’. I wasn’t the only long term Deadhead to be a bit skeptical of a cash grab, as brilliantly portrayed here.

I was dragged nearly kicking and screaming to the show and protested heavily that I didn’t really want to go. But an outdoor show at Fenway seemed like it could overcome John Mayer being the focus of attention in the Dead, but still had very low hopes of them being close to good. . But like Fonzie once famously said, I was wrrrrowrrr..

I thought Dead and Company were a pale imitation of the real thing, and that there was no way they could even come close to the Grateful Dead’s power.(I was wrong). The band started out the night with a jam that took a while to lead into Jack Straw. Jams to start a show? This was new. Donna Godchaux, a polarizing vocalist from the Grateful Dead from 1972-1978 showed up for a rare appearance, and brought a decent mid 70’s vibe to the setlist that drew heavily on her era of studio work. The first set finished with Help On the Way->Slipknot->Franklin’s Tower, something usually held out as a second set centerpiece. I wondered if this was going to be a long single set show and we had strayed into the second half. Nope. Second set started with St. Stephen->Dark Star. This was a mind bending way to begin a set. Combine that with the follow up of TerrapinStation/Drums/Space/Terrapin/Morning Dew–this  would have sizzled synapses and popped craniums had it been played in the 80’s or 90’s, leaving many Deadheads quite different people than they are today. But make no mistake-this sounded VERY much like classic Grateful Dead of the late 80’s early 90’s. Mayer popped a couple of song choices over Bob Weir’s strummed introductions to something different. Mayer overruled Weir? Twice? What was going on? With a Casey Jones that sped up each successive pass through the chorus, the Dead finished with a lighting fast version that sounded like they’d been injected with some of Heisenberg’s finest blue.(read up on Phil Lesh allegedly inventing cocaine suppositories for the band in the 80’s so they didn’t have to stop to blow lines in between songs when you get a chance).  Weir in particular threw Mayer slightly worried glances as they sped up to a tempo never heard before in any era of the Dead canon. As they approached light speed, Weir and the drummers eyes bulged at the exertion and looked as if all three might pass away right in front of us while Mayer hopped up and down gleefully strumming full speed.

A rare double encore to finish what has been said to be the best show this unit has ever played? Sublime. Though never a Donna fan, her addition combined with some pretty inspired playing from Mayer made this so close to the Dead that I have fooled several knowledgeable people playing them the soundboard from this show. (highly recommended for purchase while you can). Oteil deserves a mention for finally figuring out how to get genuine dinosaur-like Phil Lesh bass  runs pounding underneath. Great show, and I’d go again in a heartbeat. These guys are becoming musically dangerous on stage, and though it pains me to say this,  John Mayer might consider dropping his career to do this full time.

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July 17 Fenway Park-Paul McCartney

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Uh oh,  I see a drunk guy headed for the stage

Found some cheap tickets to McCartney on StubHub and jumped in the car once again. I’d seen the giants of the 60’s bands: Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Animals, Traffic…but never seen an actual Beatle.  Once again the rockers on their 50th or more anniversary tour fill up the stadiums. McCartney looked ageless (he’s actually 75), and has overcome some vocal problems that have plagued his recent tours to deliver a 38 song set that covered his whole career. The show started with a surprise for Sir Paul. Everyone had a card under their seat with instructions. Which resulted in this:

Crowd members held up cards welcoming Paul McCartney to Fenway Park Sunday.

From the opener Hard Day’s Night the band was off and running. Pretty much every Beatles song you’d ever want to hear combined with some excellent Wings era material made for a show that seemed short even though it pushed nearly three hours. Tributes to George Martin and George Harrison and stories about meeting a Russian defense minister who told him that his first album was an illegal  Beatles album, and that the Beatles had nicked For the Benefit of Mr. Kite off a Victorian era circus poster nearly word for word made McCartney seem very reachable and real. Another highlight was Bob Weir-still in town from his two day stint with the Dead at Fenway the previous night- coming onstage to join McCartney for Hi Hi Hi (of course).

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We’re gonna get high high high…

Then during Helter Skelter, with Weir still on guitar, the stage was charged by a drunken Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. As he mugged for the audience, Weir gave him a look like he wished Gronk would spontaneously burst into flames and burn to a crisp onstage. It would be nice if someone could emulate the Seinfeld episode where he goes to a heckler’s job to screw with them. A rocker should show up at a Pats game and start yelling signals at Gronk behind him to see if he’d get the point. Doubtful. Even hard core Pats fans were pretty dismayed at his embarrassing drunken roofie worthy stunt (He is likely immune to roofies though):

Other highlights were the fireworks laden Live and Let Die (the first of two I’d see this week) and a peek at the earliest work of McCartney and (mostly)Lennon-In Spite of All the Danger from the 1957 era pre-Beatles, the Quarrymen. A real cool night that ended with a blast.

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Live and Let Live? Live and Let Die!
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Green Monster with the real score

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July 21-Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr, Living Colour

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In a tent on the waterfront of Boston Harbor two days later, this triple threat of 90’s heavyweights lit up the night. I’d been a fan of Living Colour since day one-my Vernon Reid fan-dom even tracing back to his stint in jazzer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s highly demanding Decoding Society in 1984. Always hard to pin down, what exactly is their sound? Funk, jazz, metal and pop synthesize seamlessly into a literally unique sound. Hitting the stage early, the seats were only about 20% filled. But no matter, vocalist Corey Glover (sans Bodyglove wetsuit) played it like it was a full stadium. The band has become even tighter in the last twenty years-Vernon Reid crackling on guitar like a rampant electrical storm, Doug Wimbish moving air with devilishy complex bass runs, and the spectacular Will Calhoun pounding out poly-rhythms that made Dinosaur’s drummer Murph comment backstage: “he’s a monster!”. Not bad praise coming from a drum legend himself. During their major hit, Cult of Personality, Corey ventured deep into the crowd-running down empty rows back and forth until he settled directly behind me to sing the final notes “per-sunnnn-al-it-teeee!” all about a foot from me. Holy living fuck! I’d been lucky enough to have backstage passes for this one, and quickly shuttled to the backstage area. Jane’s Addiction were holed up with tattooed, pierced and needle scarred mini skirted hangers on, but both Living Colour and Dinosaur Jr were hanging in an outdoors area backstage entertaining the handful of hangers on. (this was a home game for Massachusetts based Dinosaur Jr). Living Colour stayed in the main open area backstage to chat with fans and take photos. I had a long conversation with Vernon Reid, reminding him that I’d seen him play at Newport Jazz Festival opening for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck in 1984. Took a bit for him to remember until a mention of the minuscule statured pianist Michael Petrucciani jogged his memory. He stayed and chatted for about a half hour, very affable and generous with his time. This set was one of the highest energy sets of the summer, with Vernon Reid spitting molten notes out on top of the most ferocious rhythm section I’ve seen all year. Breathtaking shit, really. I said to Vernon that they should be headling this bill. “you gonna have to talk to somebody else ’bout that I’m afraid…” was his wry observation.

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Dinosaur Jr came out pumping with Lung from their 1987 second album, and didn’t let off the gas pedal until the final notes of Just Like Heaven, a Cure cover also from their second album. Start Choppin’ from 1993’s  Where You Been got people up out of their seats and jumping around until the end of the set. I’d seen them several times over the years, and in 2016 the band is a well oiled machine. Murph’s drumming syncs with Lou Barlow’s bass to give a perfect platform for J Mascis’s unique wall of sound country inflected punk rock assault. Dinosaur Jr can be volume monsters in a smaller venue, but open air can tend to absorb much of this power. (As an aside, I’d seen J play in a Stooges tribute band recently, and his raw Les Paul through a Marshall was the best sound and soloing I’d ever heard from him in the twenty odd years I’ve seen them. ps-he was deafeningly loud. )

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Headliners Jane’s Addiction were what the crowd came for though. I’d seen them on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991, but hadn’t seen any of the reunion shows until 2011. A sober-ish Perry Farrel (peripheral ya know) held down the madness, and guitarist Dave Navarro was a whirlwind of motion, spitting out blistering solos that simultaneously ripped large holes into songs and melodically stitched them back together again by the end of a run. Maybe the five years of touring has taken a little lustre off the silver spoon, but this show wasn’t quite as energized as the 2011 and 2013 tours. (in 2013 I witnessed Navarro nearly punch out his guitar tech right on stage when his acoustic guitar kept failing during Jane Says). Still, a so so Janes Addiction show is much better than 95% of the bands out there. 2013’s vintage stag films were replaced this year by something definitely more chilling. Girls hung and swung from the lighting rig like they had in the past. But when you looked closer, you could see they were fetish style hung from meathooks through their skin. You heard that right. I saw them backstage before the show, and they exuded a….ummmm….different vibe. A video below captures the painful action from the front row. (not for the squeamish)

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Overall it was an amazing triple bill. Living Colour, although on the undercard billing, took the night hands down. The nineties, updated and backdated-and fully syncopated. All three of the bands are headliners in their own right.

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July 22-Guns n Roses/Lenny Kravitz- Foxboro

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The next night it was in the car once again and off to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. Labeled the Not in This Lifetime Tour ( a reference to an interview Axl had done recently when asked about the chances of a reunion of the original lineup), this was an unexpected event. I definitely didn’t expect any sort of reunion of the original line up, especially Slash. (Technically, without main songwriter Izzy Stradlin or founding drummer Steven Adler, this isn’t the original line up). Knowing their proclivities for legendary train wrecks on tour, I waited to buy a ticket until the last minute, not convinced that this uneasy detente between Axl and Slash would actually hold. A reunion of Slash and Axl was certain to bring people out of  the woodwork, yet would they make it far enough through the tour to get here? Witness Axl breaking his foot on opening night and doing several full shows sitting in a huge throne. (Dave Grohl’s super throne actually). I had my doubts.

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Axl unexpectedly finds himself on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms

Fans scooped up the overpriced tickets quickly, perhaps too quickly. But the promoters made a large miscalculation in booking two nights in Boston and tickets on Stubhub plummeted in price. 75 dollar tickets slipped to 17 bucks a pop. When coming through the turnstile, I was directed towards another ticketing area for a “free mandatory upgrade”. Choices were simple: “Do you want floor seats or lower bowl 100 level loge seats?” My 24 dollar Stubhub ticket for a 64 dollar face value ‘cheap seat’ in the nosebleeds was now a 104 dollar loge seat. The upper bowl 300 level was roped off and empty. Half of the stadiums’ 200 level was likewise roped off, and the 100 level loge was only about 80% full. Someone took a large financial bath on this particular show. Although Billboard reported a 92% of capacity ticket sale for Foxboro, the numbers they reported don’t add up, as they used a 35,000 capacity figure for a stadium with a listed 69,000 seat concert capacity. This show didn’t have more than 25,000 people scattered thoughout the bowl and floor. (More GnR lies?)

Its about the music, not the money. Right?

Opener Lenny Kravitz kicked off the evening in style. I’d thought it an odd pairing until I found out that Slash and Kravitz had gone to high school together, and he had jammed together with GnR in 1992. A seven song set seemed short, but nobody was here for Lenny.

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One question many people had was ‘Will they go on before midnight?’ as Axl was notorious for coming onstage literally hours after showtime. There must have been a strongly worded clause in their contract involving forfeiting pay, because the band came onstage before 8:30 pm. Axl looked good, no longer the beanpole, sinuously serpentine, but also not the beer inflated parody he had begun to turn in to. (in comparison, Slash is starting to increasingly resemble Howard Stern circa 1995). He kept a leather cowboy hat on over his omnipresent bandana (to cover the bald spots). Strong in voice, he had definitely worked to get his end of things solid. It’s So Easy kicked off the night, and three of the first four songs included Mr. Brownstone and Welcome to the Jungle. Wedged in there early was Chinese Democracy from their latest incarnation, and Slash must have wondered why the fuck he was doing playing on something he not only hadn’t written, but actively  disapproved of. He wandered a bit aimlessly during this song. Further Chinese Democracy material combined with some questionable tracks from the Use Your Illusion albums to bog the proceedings down.But though this unit may not be a ‘real’ band, they are nothing but professional. Slash, resplendent in a ‘Mickey Mouse boning Minnie Mouse doggie style’ shirt kept mostly to himself. In fact, the stage was so huge, Slash and Axl could have actually not violated a restraining order and still played the show on the same stage they stayed so far away from each other all night.

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Mickey and Minnie bonding
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Axl  and Slash in separate zip codes yet on same stage

There were some unexpected highlights. An instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and a cover of the Who’s the Seeker were a couple of ‘out of left field’ moments. Live and Let Die (my second in four days) has never lived up to McCartney’s version, but was still a highlight. My largest shock was a surprisingly fleshed out version of November Rain. Axl tapped timidly on the piano (Elton John is in no danger here) while the band rose up in a powerful crescendo. I was amazed that this fairly weak song was transformed into perhaps the highlight of the evening.

The grand finale, Paradise City brought everyone back to life as the whole end of the stadium literally exploded.(Axl either intentionally or accidentally sang over Slash’s iconic guitar solo introduction here. Puzzling)  We were ushered out into the wild before 11:15, a time usually reserved for their coming ON to the stage. In retrospect, though this was a nearly three hour show, it did illustrate the fact that this band doesn’t really have the material to sustain a show of this length. Sometimes less is actually more. But the band did defy predictions of imminent implosion and make it through the tour successfully without any fights onstage, prolonged hissy fits, three hour delays or crowd members being attacked by Axl  (hello St. Louis). I wasn’t blown away, but was very glad I went.

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Long stick goes boom

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August 21st  Ween Philadelphia

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Well, this one wasn’t a home game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was for Ween. But a Ween reunion isn’t something one needs to split hairs about. If they are playing and you can physically drive there in a reasonable less than six hours time? Go.

Ween had been off the road for a while. Gener’s meltdown in Vancouver in January 2011 signaled that-if not the end of the band, a long hiatus was needed.

The power of the Boognish is strong though, and when Ween announced three shows in Colorado for February, the tribe gathered once more. (Personally I’d wished they’d opened that run with Bumblebee part 2, but What Deaner Was Talking About Made a similar point)

A 90+ song setlist for the three days there showed zero repeats of a single tune, a difficult feat. But they had announced very few shows. Were these it? Soon we knew there would be a three night run in New York City at Terminal 5 in April 2016. They were impressive there, delivering another 100 songs over three nights. Spot dates were announced here and there for the summer, and the whole tour seemed very tentative, likely depending on how Gener’s new found sobriety held up. The idea of seeing them on the waterfront under the stars in Philadelphia was definitely appealing. So once more out on the road. What was less appealing was a forecast for torrential rains, 100% guaranteed. Somehow upon arrival, the sky cleared, and though the venue was a bit of a mudfest in spots, the rains abated for the whole evening.

Under a bridge downtown…

A setlist that delved heavily into Chocolate and Cheese (they had to play Freedom of 76 in Philadelphia, right?) combined with deeper cuts (the Thin Lizzy-ish Gabrielle) to make an incomparable 31 song set. Buenos Tardes Amigos closed out the evening in a large group sing a long. Seeing Ween in their home state? Pretty amazing experience.

Foolishly I decided to give their Boston show two nights later a miss. Deaner ended up posting online (something he doesn’t usually do) that the Boston show was the best one of the 2016 reunion and was one of the top 25 Ween shows ever. Fuck. A listen to readily available bootlegs of the show confirm they were pretty off the hook that night. I’d heard more recently that Lockn Festival crowds were questioning why Ween was on the bill, which makes one wonder about the state of jam band audiences these days, and a quick read of the comments on the Lockn forum shows some pretty calcified brains flickering towards flat lining. Sorry folks, there’s life beyond Phish (who actually love Ween). Or, as someone posted “I’m sorry, Umphrey’s fans opinions just don’t really count”. These people haven’t been even exposed to Frank Zappa or the Mothers of Invention, never mind the Tubes or 10cc or Sparks (all precursors of Ween’s ability to jump genres and parody social culture), so there’s a learning curve of musical literacy out there that many  have missed. I could go on a soapbox rant on the increasingly limited musical awareness populating the twenty somethings in the festival scene, but lets move onward to something far heavier…

August 25 Black Sabbath-Great Woods

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Four days after Ween, the concert-mobile trekked out once again. Back to the venue where this whole summer started, 80 days and a weighty daze later we’ve come full circle back to Great Woods.

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Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends?

Black Sabbath has declared this to be the final time on the road. With Tony Iommi battling lymphoma at age 66, the end of the ride has been more forced upon the band than any internal band decisions. I’d seen Sabbath twice on the “13” tour in 2013, and although the word uneven comes to mind, many of the strengths that made this band a legend already forty five years ago were still on display. That album hearkened (with obvious intention) back to the glory days of Master of Reality and Volume 4, and the new material in concert wasn’t half bad (even prompting Ozzy to say ‘hey I’m starting to LIKE that one”). Constant ice water baths over his head kept him conscious. He reminded me of grandpa at Thanksgiving  finding out there’s only one beer left in the fridge  as he scurried shuffling across the stage. This year the baths were minimal, and Ozzy seemed far more energetic and in better voice. (On the 2013 tour he was frequently out of key by the final two songs Dirty Women and Children of the Grave) With this the final tour, there was no time for newer material-it was full on retrospective time. Black Sabbath, Fairies Wear Boots, After Forever and Into the Void opened the show. I had received a coupon for $16 lawn seats for this show and grabbed em up. Deciding to keep on the  move and remain directly behind the arena seats, I had a great view of the whole show (and from every angle to boot). Here’s the start (cribbed from Omaha):

Iommi seemed to have lost a step or two in his trademark brittle cascading solos, but what the hell, he almost expired last year. Ozzy’s inexplicable improvement compensated for this small trifle nicely. Geezer Butler remains the thundering ball of rumbling bass energy that he has been for 47 years in the band. Former Ted Nugent and Rob Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos held down the rhythm seat. His overly histrionic drum solos tend to detract from the overall feel, but I do understand that this band needs a dependable workhorse to let Butler and Iommi lay their magic on top of. I personally would love Bill Ward’s free flowing improvs underneath, but as Ozzy said: “I’m not going to be responsible for killing one of my best friends by making him tour!”

This is Your Captain Speaking, Your Captain Is Dead

There were a couple of shows I intentionally missed this summer. The first was Yes. They were continuing their album showcase. This time it was Drama and half of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Here’s where I had a problem: Drama was a vehicle for Chris Squire primarily in the wake of vocalist Jon Anderson’s departure in 1980. But with Chris Squire’s untimely death, Billy Sherwood stepped in and donned the long coat to give the impression that Squire’s ghost might still be flickering around. It isn’t. Another large part of that album is Alan White, who has dropped off the tour with a bad back. So let’s take attendance: Jon Anderson? No. Chris Squire? No. Rick Wakeman? No. Alan White? No. Steve Howe? Yes, the last one standing. With Tales From Topographic Oceans being such a creation of Jon Anderson collaborating with Steve Howe, and Ritual in particular being a vehicle for Squire’s legendary bass solo, I’d have to agree with the  many reviewers who have said that the band should have postponed the tour until Alan White healed up. Although people said it was a fun night, it is getting perilously close to being a tribute band. (In a current Steve Hoffman website poll, 88% of respondents pick Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman as the authentic Yes compared to 12% for the current Howe-led Yes). I didn’t want to tamper with the decades of awe inspiring Yes shows programmed in my brain with a severely diluted version. Squire is just too integral to not only the band, but these two albums in particular.

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Find the real Yes member in this photo

While on the topic of tribute bands, I also declined tickets to go see Kiss. Now this is a band that has crossed the line from rock n roll, to an actual stage play being put on with actors playing the part of Kiss. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer don Peter Criss and Ace Frehley’s make up each night and pretend to be them. Sure, the Dead have John Mayer in as ‘Jerry’, but they don’t strap a pillow around his gut and slap a fake beard on him, do they? Sure it’s entertainment, but let’s be real-it’s a choreographed show with rehearsed dialogue, not a rock band anymore

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Don’t tell me this isn’t the real Ace and Peter

In conclusion, this was quite a parade of talent on view, and a highly recommended summer diversion. Get out there, highway star….

Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand
Anyone who sweats like that must be all right
No one wants sometimes, no black eye
Just another cat beneath the stars tonight

Cats down under the stars
Cats down under the stars

Final tally-Eleven bands, seven shows, five venues, 225 dollars total in tickets, 1585 miles traveled.

Madonna-Ray of Light Carwreck Archives #5 May 1998

This is another off the wall review from VMag, May 1998. God bless Murphy, the editor for understanding these reviews in all their not so subtleties. Part Five of a look at the Carwreck Archives. These pieces were written for VMag, a music and arts magazine from the late 1990’s until the early 2000’s. Home to some pretty amazing writers, all under the patient watch of editor Murphy, one of the best of the best. Some reviews were quick hits, some were downright strange.

After getting hired for faxing the magazine a single sentence, Murphy asked for another review for the May 1998 issue to go with the Ani Difranco one I’d submitted. This one ended up as the lead review for that issue. It’s truly amazing that  this record still stands up pretty well today, 18 years later. 

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Madonna -Ray of Light (Maverick/WB)

Once upon a time, there was a little blonde girl who fell down a rabbit hole. At the bottom of the hole was a room full of mirrors, and every mirror that the little girl looked into had a different reflection. Identities swirled around her as she pirouetted in the center of the room, finally stopping in front of one. ‘Goodness me’ she exclaimed, regarding herself in the mirror, “…a techno princess!”

Madonna’s long route to 1998 has been fraught with a multiple array of personalities both divergent and occasionally embarrassing.  The common denominator to these changes is her glomming on to the latest fad, thereby appearing current and hip.

The electronica boom, and the ensuing crossover success of Bjork and Portishead in this field has not escaped the constantly scanning eye of Madonna. Attempting at first to enlist Prodigy (of  Smack My Bitch Up fame) to produce her new record (who politely declined with a terse ‘Fuck off’), her searchlights descended upon William Orbit, whose techno resume was sufficiently solid enough to inject a smidgen of credibility into this project.

The result, however derivative, is fairly successful. The key to judging any Madonna release is the question: “Would you really ever listen to this  outside of a dance club?” That most people’s answer will be ‘yes’ is  going to puzzle a lot of folks. I hate to use the words ‘Madonna’ and ‘maturity’ in the same sentence, but the new post-techno format elicits a strikingly reflective and thoughtful side to her that most would think never existed.

The opening cut, ‘Substitute For Love‘, strikes a brooding mood immediately–awash in the thick echoes of midrange and muted breakbeats so currently in vogue in the Bjork and Portishead camps, it’s a strangely heartfelt meditation, bordering on –dare I say?—SPIRITUALITY. A spiritually dreamy trance-like state permeates the album. Indo-trance pop influence bubble under the techno veneer, most evident in the piece ‘Shanti Ashtangi’. This song (and much of the album) is strongly reminiscent of the pioneer of the trance pop genre, Sheila Chandra and Monsoon. Spiritual influences dart in and out of songs-oops, there she goes again, apologizing for being shallow and self-centered for the last fifteen years. (Nothing Really Matters)

Although Ray of Light is fairly strong all the way through (the exuberant title track and the quirky ‘Skin‘ in particular), the musical reference points on the album are symptomatic of the problem in Madonna’s recent work. Her innovative strengths seem to have faded into the background, and her talents have shifted to successfully latching on to others and adapting their work to her own ends. Sometimes the result is disastrous (Bedtime Stories, I’m Breathless), but this time Madonna-with William Orbit–has crafted a highly listenable, laid back journey through the current looking glass.