Monday, April 29, 2019

Curtain Call: Sounds of '79

Was 1979 the best year for music? Sometimes I think so. Exhibit A. Buzzcocks from Hammersmith Odeon in March. That's about six months before 'A Different Kind of Tension,' the last of a trio of albums that really should be on every shelf. Only one song from that upcoming album was on the setlist that night. Here's the show opener:

I Don't Know What to Do With My Life

Buzzcocks are known for their stellar non-album singles, and here is one from '79 the crowd appreciates. It's one of my favorites too.

Everybody's Happy Nowadays

XTC's trip Down Under in the summer of '79 must have been a tough one for Dave Gregory. He was tasked with filling the shoes of the recently departed Barry Andrews. Can you imagine managing jet lag while playing guitar and occasionally replicating those manic keyboard parts of from the 'White Music' and 'Go2' albums? These early songs recorded at the Marconi Club in Sydney, including an encore medley from the 'White Music' era, document Gregory holding his own.

Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!)
Atom Medley: Into the Atom Age/Hang on to the Night/Neon Shuffle

There is nothing wrong with 'Stop Making Sense,' but 'The Name of This Band is Talking Heads' will always be my go-to live album. In 2004, the double LP was reissued with the same theme as the 1982 original: The quartet's live recordings from '77 and '79 are on disc one, and the expanded 10-piece band from the '80 and '81 tours are on disc two. The difference is the reissue increased the number of songs from 17 to a whopping 33.

In 1979, Talking Heads were on the road to support 'Fear of Music,' which hit the shelves in August. Brian Eno's influence is much more evident than on 'More Songs About Buildings and Food,' and the dystopian setting make the album darker and less playful than previous efforts. Still, many consider it the band's best. Here is a song about not trusting the air and a song about heaven... where nothing ever happens. Smiles, everyone, smiles. These come from a Nov. 17 show at the Passaic Theatre in New Jersey.


Let's do one more of these shows from '79 next time.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Curtain Call: Soul Men

I got some Sam & Dave for Christmas and have been on a kick ever since. This take of Sam Cooke's "Soothe Me" was released on 'The Stax/Volt Revue, Volume 2: Live In Paris.' The album also featured Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd and Otis Redding and comes highly recommended. The whole shebang was recorded in March 1967 and released on Oct. 7 of that year. A slightly edited version of "Soothe Me" from the show was released as a walk-up single on May 31, 1967. That's the one we will listen to today. It peaked at No. 56 on the pop and No. 16 on the R&B charts.

Soothe Me

While we're here, let's move on to Otis Redding from the same tour. 'Live in London and Paris' captures two nearly identical shows except the Paris show goes longer because they didn't have an 11PM curfew like in the UK. That's Booker T and the MGs backing Redding, and they never sounded better. I was tempted to go the Cooke route again with "Shake," but there is just no denying "Try a Little Tenderness" is the showstopper at both locales. This one is from the London performance... all 7:02 of it. Good luck sitting still during this one.

Try a Little Tenderness

James Brown recorded two must-have 'Live at the Apollo' performances in the 1960s, and they are a contrast in styles. Brown in 1962 is a rising star but not quite the Mr. Dynamite that he would become. Everything at that midnight performance on Oct. 24 feels smaller, but I find him more endearing and it a better all-around show. The 1967 performance is fabulous but an awful lot of pomp. Brown's backing band the Flames are there again but joined by strings, dancers and a female singer. They go through the hits like their pants are on fire. "I Got You (I Feel Good)" is not even 30 seconds long. My favorite moment from the '67 show is Brown's humble speech when he thanks the crowd for coming and says awkwardly, "and when you leave I hope you're glad you did." Let's listen to the opening of the '62 show. The Flames are nothing if not tight.

Opening Fanfare
I'll Go Crazy

This is another one of my stabs at convincing our pal in Portugal that the albums of Ray Charles belong in his music room. "Tell the Truth" appears on the live album 'In Person,' recorded May 28, 1959, on a rainy night in Atlanta at Morris Brown College's Herndon Stadium. This was right at the end of Charles' excellent run at Atlantic Records, and the R&B sound heard here is about to take a back seat as he signs a huge contract with ABC-Paramount and becomes a hit-maker in a number of different styles. That's Marjorie Hendricks from backing vocal group the Raelets sharing the microphone.

Tell the Truth

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Curtain Call: Nick Lowe

So many live performances by the Abominable Showman on the shelf. A few random selections are presented for your enjoyment:

Here's one from Rockpile at Montreux in 1980. What a show! Highly recommended. Nick, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams sure knew how to bring it. This was a few months before the only album ('Seconds of Pleasure') to use the Rockpile name was released. Of course, they had been playing together for a number of years on the "solo" efforts of Nick and Dave. This song goes back to a stand-alone single released during the 'Jesus of Cool' era. Here in America, it would appear on 'Pure Pop for Now People.'

They Called It Rock

This next one is from when Nick was backed by His Cowboy Outfit in 1984. In case you're not familiar, that band was Martin Belmont, Paul Carrack and Bobby Irwin. Not bad at all. This show was recorded at the Paris Theatre in London for the BBC, and this song was the latest single. One of my favorites.

Half a Boy and Half a Man

On Nov. 21, 1987, Nick sat in with Elvis Costello and the Confederates for a show at Kosei Nenkin Hall in Tokyo that was recorded for broadcast on Japanese television. I'm getting this one from a bootleg called 'Do the Rumba' I picked up during my days in Japan, and it's one of only two shows I own from the Confederates era. The band rotated in and out quite a bit in those days, but on this night Elvis and Nick were joined by Jerry Scheff, Jim Keltner, Austin De Lone and James Burton. Wow! Costello's banter with the crowd is epic. When he introduces the band, he quips, "I don't know if you understand a word I'm sayin', but I hope you enjoyed it anyway." Before the last song he says, "We're supposed to be off the stage now, otherwise they chop our heads off, but so what? You only live once." Here's a song that has paid Nick's bills for lo these many years. I think you're really going to enjoy the harmonies from Elvis and Nick and as they trade verses.

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

You'll find this cover of the Jim Ford song from 1970 on the 'Live! On the Battlefield' EP as performed by his band the Impossible Birds at Sun Plaza in Tokyo circa 1994. It's a roster he played with for five albums and throughout the crooning years until he adopted Los Straightjackets a few years ago. The pace of this song is quite a bit different than the version you probably know from 'Jesus of Cool'/'Pure Pop for Now People,' and it has grown on me considerably.

36 Inches High

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Curtain Call: The Modern Lovers

In 1993, I picked up 'Live at the Longbranch Saloon' by the Modern Lovers at a home store in rural Japan. Yep, this CD was just a few feet from the latest washing machine and bottles of mold killer. It was strange and exciting to see a live album by them in any setting, and the obi strip shows I spent ¥2,500 for it. I didn't balk at the price because I thought it was one of those exotic Japanese releases I had not known about. This was before the 'Net. If I had been able to check my phone I would have seen it had come out a year earlier and was readily available back home and for a lot less money. Actually, I would not have cared. With most of my music collection in storage back in America, I was always desperate for something new to play.

Six of the nine songs from the self-titled album are here, along with 10 more from a couple of shows recorded at the famed Berkeley club on San Pablo Avenue in 1972 and 1973. The timeline reads that many of these songs had just had proper studio takes. That studio album, as you know, didn't end up seeing a proper release until 1976. Listening to this album today reminds me that this band was way way ahead of its time. I can't even imagine what the crowd standing at the Longbranch must have been thinking in 1972. Richman's between-song banter illustrates his eccentric personality hasn't changed a bit in 47 years.

I dedicate these songs to our pal Drew at Across the Kitchen Table. I play the first one in honor of his auspicious birthday celebrated this week. As Richman, sings, "Someday we'll be dignified and old together." OK, maybe we already are... old anyway. Next comes "Foggy Notion" because Drew is the biggest Velvet Underground fan I know. Finally, Drew just watched 'Repo Man,' and there is a great cover of "Pablo Picasso" in that film. There you have it. Cheers.

Dignified and Old
Foggy Notion
Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Curtain Call: 10,000 Maniacs

Let's listen to some live performances this week. This show from 10,000 Maniacs at the Greek in Los Angeles on June 3, 1993, would be one of the last shows Natalie Merchant would front for the band before going solo. Her peers had known that little nugget since before the recording of 'Our Time in Eden,' but the rest of us wouldn't receive the news of her departure until she announced it on MTV in August, saying she "didn't want art by committee anymore."

This unofficial release called 'In the City of Angels' is taken from a radio broadcast, and the sound is quite good. I have a few tiny quibbles with this tour. They didn't play anything from before 'In My Tribe,' not even "Can't Ignore the Train." Also, there are horns on the album they are supporting for this tour, and the section is used liberally on stage, including some of their earlier songs. Hearing saxophone on "Hey Jack Kerouac" hurts my heart. Having said that, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and this is a boot I spin almost as often as their 'MTV Unplugged' album. Here are a few live renditions from the 'In My Tribe' era.

Like the Weather
What's the Matter Here
City of Angels

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Caff Call

Bob Stanley is one of the great champions of indie pop (along with many other genres), and he rounded out his status as Renaissance man with the founding of the short-lived but legendary Caff Corporation in 1989. Here is his explanation of the label that appeared as an insert in CAFF 1:

Throughout the 17 singles, these inserts would often become as entertaining as the music. My favorite might be for CAFF 4 when Stanley says of Close Lobsters, "As I write, the lads are attempting to 'crack' the American 'market', hence no witty Burnett sleevenotes that nobody understands except his cat..." This is a smile because I interviewed Andrew once, and it left my head spinning.

Since Stanley was releasing demos and other songs from the cutting-room floor, these limited singles were probably for die-hard fans. There were some monumental moments, however. The insert for the twangy single from Phil Wilson of the June Brides, for instance, was where he announced he was done with all of this music nonsense. It would be nearly 20 years before we would hear from him again. Stanley says this lesser known take of the Lobs' "Just Too Bloody Stupid" bests the one you know, and he even goes so far as calling the more famous version the "bastardised" one. Not sure I agree with this one being better, but I do enjoy this very different rendition. I'm a huge fan of Razorcuts, and this demo from 1984 heard below is actually my favorite moment of many greats from the band. Harvey Williams is a name that pops up in my collection nearly as often as Beth Arzy and Amelia Fletcher. Here as Another Sunny Day, he takes on OMD from a portastudio, and what a racket it is!

Thanks to Mr. Stanley and all he has done as writer, musician, historian and entrepreneur. Here are a few of my favorite A-sides from the Caff Corporation. You'll no doubt notice most of the bands that appeared on Caff were from the rosters of Creation, Sarah and Subway. Stanley is nothing if not a chap of impeccable taste.

Phil Wilson - Better Days (CAFF 3, 1989)
Close Lobsters - Just Too Bloody Stupid (CAFF 4, 1989)
Another Sunny Day - Genetic Engineering (CAFF 7, 1989)
The Claim - Birth of a Teenager (CAFF 8, 1990)
Razorcuts - Sometimes I Worry About You (CAFF 10, 1990)
The Orchids - An Ill Wind That Blows (CAFF 11, 1990)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Rule No. 1: Don't Admit to Liking Dad's Music

Last Sunday afternoon I watched my 12-year-old son's weekend band play a jazz club in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. I love when they play there. It's a vibe that can't be matched by the gymnasium or occasional theater where his school band resides. Reserved tables, dark lighting, great food... the whole bit. Before the show, I was surprised to hear the familiar sounds of Minutemen on the sound system. Then, during the break, it was fIREHOSE. Obviously, I had to ask about it at the bar. Turned out bassist Mike Watt was playing there that very night with a trio headed by Mike Baggetta. When my son's band came back on, now all I'm thinking is that my son is performing on the same stage as Watt. I know. Pathetic.

After the program, I explain all of this to my son. Of course, he didn't care one bit. Now I have but one goal... to get him as excited about this development as I am. On the way home, I pull out my iPod and plug it into the car stereo. I choose a few of the most accessible songs across the legend's discography and hope they stick.

Minutemen - This Ain't No Picnic (1984)
fIREHOSE - Honey, Please (1987)
Mike Watt - Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man (2011)

As you can guess, it didn't work, and why would it? I certainly wasn't into the music of my father at that age. Even if I had liked Johnny Cash and George Jones, I doubt I would have let him know that. The good news is I did eventually come around to the music of my father without the least bit of pushing. In other words, there's still hope my son will someday come to the realization that his old man has the best musical taste in the world. Otherwise, who is going to get all of these records one day? Don't answer that. Vultures. Ha!

In case you're interested in what Watt has been up to, this album has been described as "post-genre-improv-jazz-rock." In other words, it's indescribable. Speaking of legends, that's Jim Keltner on the drums. He was not part of the tour, however. My son dodged a bullet there. Pulling up Keltner would have been a long drive home.