LAMB OF GOD: THE DUKE

(EPIC RECORDS/NUCLEAR BLAST ENTERTAINMENT; 2016)

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I don’t know if you are a fan of Lamb of God or if you know anything about their passionate, compassionate singer, Randy Blythe. I don’t really care but, you should know about this incredible new EP from the aggressively progressive boys from Richmond, Virginia; you see, Randy and his bandmates care and they are more than willing to go the extra mile for their fans and put their money where their mouths are. I’m just gonna let Mister Blythe speak for himself about this record’s title track: “A little while ago, I became friends with a fan named Wayne Ford – he was terminal – leukemia. I talked with him often, even video chatted him into the studio. He was very calm about his impending death, and we discussed it very openly. I learned a lot from him. This song is for him.”

Lamb of God (Randy Blythe with Wayne Ford, 2012) (uncredited photo)

Lamb of God (Randy Blythe with Wayne Ford, 2012) (uncredited photo)

Randy was made aware of Wayne’s illness in October 2012, when one of Wayne’s buddies asked him if he could give his sick friend a shout-out from the stage; Randy met Wayne and his wife after the show, giving him a much needed shot of positive energy. A little over two years later, in January 2015, Randy received an e-mail telling him that Wayne was losing his fight with cancer; Randy contacted Wayne and they stayed in touch for the next few weeks, as Lamb of God worked on their next album (VII: STURM UND DRANG), with Blythe even allowing Wayne to video conference with him during recording of his vocal tracks (something that even his LoG brethren aren’t allowed to experience). On February 3, 2015 Randy learned that Wayne had succumbed to the disease. His immediate response was to write a song for Wayne Ford, called, perhaps with a bit of divine intervention, “The Duke,” as Wayne’s father later told Randy that he was a huge John Wayne fan and that he had named his son after the legendary actor known as the Duke. The band has also set up a charity campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society online, at propeller.la/lambofgod.

Lamb of God (John Campbell, Chris Adler, Randy Blythe, Willie Adler, Mark Morton) (photo credit: TRAVIS SHINN)

Lamb of God (John Campbell, Chris Adler, Randy Blythe, Willie Adler, Mark Morton) (photo credit: TRAVIS SHINN)

Now that you know what kind of men… no, make that Men… the guys from Lamb of God are, here’s why you should check out the music they make. “The Duke” is a progressive metal tour de force. The track features pounding drums (should it be otherwise?) from Chris Adler, a John Campbell bass line that thrums ominously along the bottom and inventive, pulsating guitars from the tandem of Willie Adler and Mark Morton, topped off with a stunning solo; Blythe’s vocals are mostly clean, only hitting on that well-known throaty growl on the chorus. I always considered Lamb of God to be a very technically proficient group, but this song really blows me away! The other new tune is “Culling,” which is more of the same, while not quite as inventive; this one is all abut the groove. There’s a Zakk Wylde style stun guitar running throughout, with a fleet-fingered, trebley solo punctuating the affect. Randy’s vocals revert to the norm here: Intense, guttural screams, which ain’t a bad thing.

Lamb of God (Randy Blythe, 2005 SOUNDS OF THE UNDERGROUND TOUR) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Lamb of God (Randy Blythe, 2005 SOUNDS OF THE UNDERGROUND TOUR) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The remaining three cuts are live versions of three numbers from VII: STURM UND DRANG. The first, “Still Echoes,” recorded at Germany’s Rock am Ring festival in 2015, features quick, precision strikes from the four musicians while still delivering a vicious, pummeling riff. The last two, “512” and “Engage the Fear Machine,” are from the 2016 edition of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The autobiographical “512” is particularly moving, as it recalls Blythe’s plight, being locked away in a Czechoslovakian prison awaiting trial on charges of manslaughter; the music, especially the snaking, circular guitar figure gives the song a suitably claustrophobic feel. By the way, the full story of Randy’s ordeal is told with brutal honesty in his memoir, DARK DAYS is available from Da Capo Press and all major book outlets, both online and brick and mortar varieties… or, you could check out a copy at your local public library. If the above story about his interaction with one terminally ill fan hasn’t given you proof of the man’s character, this book surely will!


ZZ TOP: LIVE GREATEST HITS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

(SURETONE RECORDS; 2016)

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ZZ Top are like an old friend… you just want to hang out with them and have a good time. After four-and-a-half decades (and counting), they have the distinction of being the longest running rock band with ALL its original members still going strong. That in itself is great, much less that they are still rocking as hard as ever. Their new live album, with songs recorded at tour stops all over the world (thus, the name) sounds great and is as fresh and as fun as the Tops have ever been… even after all this time. “Got Me Under Pressure,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man, “La Grange,” and “Tube Snake Boogie” are all here and, so is guitar legend Jeff Beck, who joins the trio for “Rough Boy” and “Sixteen Tons” (yes… the Tennessee Ernie Ford song). Billy Gibbons and Beck have known each other for quite a long time and the former Yardbird has been a touring companion with the “Little Band From Texas” on more than one occasion.

ZZ Top (Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons) (uncredited photo)

ZZ Top (Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons) (uncredited photo)

Bassist Dusty Hill, the great stickman Frank Beard and Gibbons still rock with an unbridled wit and vigor and some of the coolest licks you’ll ever hear. Personally, I find Billy to be one of the finest axemen around, taking a backseat to no one. Frank Beard (the only member of ZZ Top without a beard!) is just fine, a powerful meat-and-potatoes type of drummer… steady as a rock. They, like any band that has been around as long, will have their ups and downs, but they still manage to record some new stuff on occasion (their last album, LA FUTURA, came out in 2012). Im so glad they are still around – just the three of them – still blasting out their own style of rockin’ Blues and still having a blast doing it. This new LIVE GREATEST HITS FROM AROUND THE WORLD record should serve as ample proof of that. Long live the ultimate party band, that little ol’ band from Texas, ZZ Top!


INTEGRITY: HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL/DEN OF INIQUITY/PALM SUNDAY

(MAGIC BULLET RECORDS/VICTORY RECORDS/DARK EMPIRE/SPOOK CITY RECORDS; reissues 2015, original releases 1995/1993/2006)

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Cleveland, Ohio’s Integrity have been crushing the masses with their signature brand of occult tinged metallic hardcore for nearly 30 years. Along with Earth Crisis and fellow Clevelandites Ringworm, Dwid Hellion and Company essentially created the metalcore sub genre (though all of those acts shun the overused term today). Naturally, when I heard that Magic Bullet Records would be releasing a remastered version of the seminal HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, along with a collection of rarities and demos called DEN OF INIQUITY and a live offering from 1992 (which wasn’t unleashed upon the world until 2006) entitled PALM SUNDAY, I was beyond stoked.

Integrity, 1995 (photo credit TINA BRUGNOLETTI)

Integrity, 1995 (photo credit TINA BRUGNOLETTI)

HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL sees Integrity embracing their metal influences to the fullest. Crushing riffs are brutally weaved with dynamic drum beats, only to be crowned with Hellion’s maniacal growl and conceptually dark lyrics. The punk aspects aren’t completely absent from HUMANITY… , but they’re definitely overpowered by the metallic riffage and more complex song arrangements commonly found in the annals of mid ’90s metal. The real treat of this reissue is the clarity and cohesiveness of the remaster. The guitars are brought to the forefront, with the vocals being dialed back from their original overpowering state. Tracks such as “Hollow” and “Jagged Visions” have a much more dynamic feel, finding their true sound twenty years after their initial release. The album is brought to an end with an apocalyptic sermon narrated by Hellion, backed by an eerie soundscape that is creepy enough to make Damien Thorn piss his jam-jams.

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2011) (uncredited photo)

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2011) (uncredited photo)

Second up in this trilogy of Holy Terror is DEN OF INIQUITY. A collection of EPs, splits, live cuts and rarities, DEN… , by nature, is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the songs here are solid, hiccuped with the occasional misstep. The problem isn’t the content itself, but due to being a compilation of songs spanning over a decade, the pacing, at times, feels wonky and disjointed; live tracks mingle amongst studio recordings, with stylistic changes laced throughout leaving the listener feeling a bit confused.

Finally, PALM SUNDAY is a live set recorded in 1992 at the now defunct Peabody’s in the band’s hometown of Cleveland. Antagonistic and vehement, Hellion whips the crowd into a fervor whilst belting out an array of tunes from the bands 1991 effort THOSE WHO FEAR TOMORROW, along with the rarities “Rebirth” and “Live It Down” (both of which are included on the aforementioned DEN OF INIQUITY collection).

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2013) (uncredited photo)

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2013) (uncredited photo)

Integrity are one of the most legendary acts in all of underground heavy music. They’ve influenced countless acts the world over and have remained a cornerstone in the aggressive music scene for nearly three decades. If you’re a fan of punk, metal or hardcore, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this reissue of the iconic HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, with DEN OF INIQUITY and PALM SUNDAY being reserved for die hard Integrity completists only. All three records are available at www.magicbulletrecords.com.


JOHNNY CASH: MAN IN BLACK: LIVE IN DENMARK 1971

(LEGACY RECORDINGS/COLUMBIA RECORDS/SONY MUSIC; 2015)

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There was a time when Cash ruled the world… a time before Rick Rubin and AMERICAN RECORDINGS and “Hurt.” In those days, a Johnny Cash concert was a cross-section of Americana: Equal parts Vaudeville, Grand Ole Opry and the Man’s hit variety show… you didn’t just get John, you would also get his wife, June Carter, along with her legendary family; his long-time friend and fellow Sun Records pioneer, Carl Perkins; >Cash’s famous backing band, the Tennessee Three (bassist Marshall Grant, drummer WS Holland and guitarist Bob Wootton) and longtime background singers, the Statler Brothers (real brothers Harold and Don Reid, Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt), who were also one of the biggest Country acts of the day. MAN IN BLACK: LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 is a live television spectacular, originally available only in Australia on DVD… released thirty-five years after the event in 2006; it makes its American debut as an audio release (in a standard CD version, as well as a limited, Black Friday Record Store Day two-record set) here, nine years later.

MAN IN BLACK LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 (Marshall Grant, WS Holland, Johnny Cash, Bob Wootton, Carl Perkins) (video still)

MAN IN BLACK LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 (Marshall Grant, WS Holland, Johnny Cash, Bob Wootton, Carl Perkins) (video still)

The set starts with a rather mild take of Cash’s then-hit record, “A Boy Named Sue.” This version is nothing to write home about; the best description for the performance is probably “professional” and “workmanlike.” It is funny, though, when Johnny self-censors himself on the line “’Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you ‘Sue,’” replacing the pivotal invective, using “ …son-of-a-bleep… ” instead. Two songs in and it appears that the real problems here are a small, seemingly dispassionate audience and an equally dispassionate mix, not a lackluster performance by Cash, guest guitarist Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three. This second tune, a serviceable reading of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” is the first of three Kristofferson compositions featured in this set. Johnny’s halting spiel in Danish (or Swedish, as he calls it in a later exchange with June) – slow, reasoned and without inflection – kinda sums up the proceedings to this point. By the next number, a more lively version of Cash’s own “I Walk the Line,” the Man seems to be settling into his sterile studio environment. Carl Perkins’ brief solo set threatens to kick the proceedings into another gear, with a smokin’ version of the song that almost made him a household name… curse that Presley boy for recording his own version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” released (on the ELVIS PRESLEY album) just two months after Carl’s Sun single began its ascent to the top of the charts. “Matchbox” follows, a foot-stomping, hand-clapping Rockabilly highlight. Seemingly energized by Perkins’ performance, John offers up a truly heartfelt vocal on another Kristofferson masterpiece, “Me and Bobby McGee.”

A short snippet of an early Sun single from Cash, “Guess Things Happen That Way,” is really more of an introduction to the Statler Brothers, who are finally featured more prominently on backing vocals. With the spotlight shining on them for such a short time, the Brothers kinda forgo their comedy schtick, putting the focus on the music; that means that we have one of the greatest vocal groups of any genre performing one of their biggest hits, the relatively new “Bed of Rose’s,” with the rhythm section of Holland and Grant finally hitting their stride. A brilliant version of one of the Statler’s best (and most beloved) tunes, the crossover hit “Flowers On the Wall,” is highlighted by Harold’s voice, as he digs a little bit deeper and gets a little bit lower on the musical register than at any other time in the quartet’s storied career. The familiar chugging groove that was Johnny Cash’s trademark is on display on one of the Man’s biggest hits, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Finally, John seems at ease with his surroundings, delivering a nice vocal on his signature tune, with Bob Wootton adding a great solo.

MAN IN BLACK LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 (June, Maybelle, Anita and Helen Carter, Marshall Grant, WS Holland, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bob Wootton, Harold and Don Reid, Phil Balsley, Lew DeWitt) (video still)

MAN IN BLACK LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 (June, Maybelle, Anita and Helen Carter, Marshall Grant, WS Holland, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bob Wootton, Harold and Don Reid, Phil Balsley, Lew DeWitt) (video still)

You can actually hear Johnny’s heartbeat quicken as he introduces the love of his life, Valerie June Carter-Cash. June always brought out the best in Cash and her playful growls on John Sebastian’s “Darlin’ Companion” pushes a somewhat pedestrian song over the top. John’s gruff voice plays beautifully against June’s sweet warble on “If I Were a Carpenter,” one of the most brilliantly conceived love songs of all time. This is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard. The number transitions right into the final Kristofferson tune, “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” The male-female duet completely changes the context of the song into something far different than any solo version – not necessarily better, just different. Johnny Cash was always a rebel, an outsider – a sympathetic and an empathetic everyman who, like Jesus Christ, would dine with sinners and saints alike, drawing attention to the plight of downtrodden and the forgotten, the worth of men imprisoned due to their bad decisions… men deserving of a second chance.And, of course, the insanity of war. With one song, in less than three minutes, he voiced his concerns in one of the most damning indictments of “Man’s inhumanity to Man.” That song, “Man In Black,” is still as powerful and moving now as then and you can feel the anger and the world-weary pain through the haze of nearly forty-five years with this version.

After Johnny’s heartfelt introduction, the legendary Mother Maybelle Carter is joined by daughters Anita and Helen for a rousing version of the traditional fiddle tune, “Black Mountain Rag,” with Maybelle’s auto-harp replacing the fiddle. June joins her sisters for “A Song To Mama,” a tribute with a sentiment that is still valid for most of us today. The ladies, a classic Country and Western trio, bring in Cash for a spoken word piece before he leads them in the final chorus. A highlight of a Johnny Cash show in 1971 was a kind of everybody-in free-for-all Gospel campmeeting. John and June, with the Carters and the Statlers, belt out their new single, “No Need To Worry,” before diving into the eighteenth century hymn, “Rock of Ages.” The set closes with a rocking, stomping, high energy call and response Christmas song, “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” Perkins, who had been sitting back as a member of the band, joins the rest of the headliners, managing to get everybody worked up with an unrestrained fervor when his vocal part comes around on “Six for the six that never got fixed” and, just maybe, reveling in the fact that he was one of those six. Cash, sharing his microphone with Carl, gets tickled as the two do a little jig toward the end of the song… it’s a moment in time, as the two music legends revel in a decade-and-a-half of friendship. Johnny Cash is an artist that we will never tire of and, because of our continual need for a Cash fix, one whose archive will continue to be mined for whatever material is available; MAN IN BLACK: LIVE IN DENMARK 1971 may not be the greatest release in the Cash canon but, it is fun and captures the Man at the height of his popularity.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (16)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, starting with number 20, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(16) SUZI QUATRO: LIVE AND KICKIN’

(RAK RECORDS; Australian import; 1977)

Suzi Quatro cover

Suzi Quatro shoulda been huge… well, she was huge… she was huge in Australia and Japan (still is, as a matter of fact) but, she shoulda been huge on her home turf, the good ol’ US of… . Especially after making a few appearances on HAPPY DAYS, performing a couple of her most well-known tunes (“Cat Size” and “Devil Gate Drive”). Anyway, this release, recorded during Suzi’s AGGRO-PHOBIA tour of Japan and released on Mickie Most’s Australian record label, is probably the best of both worlds – Suzi in front of her most rabid fans, performing the songs that turned her into a household name across great swaths of three continents (she also had more success in Europe than at home). The album isn’t perfect: Suzi was promoting AGGRO-PHOBIA, her fourth record, which was a real departure from the previous YOUR MAMMA WON’T LIKE ME, so the live set relies heavily on tunes from that album; there are also some minor problems with the sound, as the production seems a bit thin at points. But… at the end of the day, this is Suzi live and, for that reason, LIVE AND KICKIN’ makes it in at number 16 on my list of great live albums.

Suzi Quatro with Len Tuckey, circa 1975 (video still)

Suzi Quatro with Len Tuckey, circa 1975 (video still)

The set opens with “The Wild One,” a glam classic from QUATRO, Suzi’s second release. The tune features Dave Neal’s trademark heavy backbeat, some funky guitar from Len Tuckey, a thumping bass line from Suzi and a cool tack piano from Mike Deacon, which lends it the then-typical ’50s rock and roll groove that Quatro had become known for. Tuckey delivers the first of many impressive, solid solos; Suzi’s vocals are tough and confident and, if anyone ever questioned the fact (production here and on her studio releases – for some reason – buries the bass tracks, leading to conjecture in certain quarters), her bass is not merely a prop… she can really play! Dallas Frazier’s country-fried “The Honky Tonk Downstairs,” the first of three AGGRO-PHOBIA songs in a row, chugs along nicely, coming off heavier than the studio version’s rockabilly Gospel revival tent-meeting vibe, with a nice Deacon electric piano solo. Like most tunes of this variety, Suzi’s voice has kind of a hiccup that adds to the overall charm. “Heartbreak Hotel” is Elvis Presley on steroids. It features a great arrangement, with a slow bridge on the chorus that works really well and a Tuckey solo that Scotty Moore would be proud of. With a more syncopated, heavier rock sound, “Half As Much As Me” highlights the fact that Suzi and Len are, indeed, a formidable writing team; it’s quite possibly the strongest track from AGGRO-PHOBIA.

Suzi Quatro (video still)

Suzi Quatro (video still)

Opening up side two, “Cat Size,” is Tuckey and Quatro attempting a sultry ballad but, in this live setting, it just never catches fire. It’s back to AGGRO-PHOBIA with Steve Harley’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me),” a sort of throbbing slow grind, not-quite-a-ballad number that works better than the last song. Suzi and her boys were always better when they were rocking, though the touch of honky tonk from Mike’s piano is a nice touch. “American Lady” with its patriotic, “I miss America” sentimentality comes across far better than most tunes of the type. The song is another one of those slow-burn tracks from the latest studio album that nearly bursts into a blazing inferno before the band expertly reins it back in. Deacon once again shines with some powerful organ work and the rhythm section of Suzi and Dave lock into a strong groove that propels the song forward. With “Glycerine Queen,” it’s back to the stomping rock ‘n’ roll; though never released a single (it did appear as the B-side to the North America only single “All Shook Up”), it remains one of Quatro’s most beloved numbers. She adds a touch of Gene Vincent swagger that kicks the whole thing up a rung or two on the cool ladder.

Suzi Quatro surrounded by her boys, Dave Neal, Len Tuckey and Mike Deacon (publicity photo)

Suzi Quatro surrounded by her boys, Dave Neal, Len Tuckey and Mike Deacon (publicity photo)

Dipping back into the group’s glam roots, side three kicks off with “What’s It Like To Be Loved,” one of the rockingest songs on AGGRO-PHOBIA. Live, the tune is stretched past the fourteen-minute mark, with Deacon exhibiting his mastery of several keyboard instruments, Tuckey feeling the blues on an emotive solo and Neal delivering a powerful solo that morphs into a funky, jazzy duet with Quatro’s meaty bass before the entire band comes together for an ELP-type flourish into the final chorus. Dave’s “boom boom,” as Suzi calls it, is front and center on the anthemic, old school rock and roll of “Can the Can,” the first big hit – well, it was big everywhere but here at home – of Suzi’s solo career. The simplistic riffing and nonsense lyrics in no way diminishes the power that these four people could generate on stage. Though the original album had a fade at the end of the song, it actually moves right into another stomper…

Suzi Quatro (uncredited photo)

Suzi Quatro (uncredited photo)

…the song Suzi Quatro may be most remembered for, “Devil Gate Drive,” which is the first track on side four. With a slight nod to boogie-woogie, Deacon’s ragtime piano drives the rhythm. Though Suzi never seemed to have the vocal power to compensate for the heavier, louder live setting, she does command your attention with her breathless delivery and the call-and-response with the audience displays her true showmanship. Speaking of vocals, there’s a certain ragged charm to the guys’ doo-wop inspired backing vocals. “Roxy Roller” is one of the few tunes from the AGGRO-PHOBIA period (it was released as a single and, though it was not on the original album, it is a bonus cut on the 2012 7T’s Records reissue) that maintained the ’50s-cum-glam vibe that Suzi was best known for, making it one of the few from that era to stand the test of time. It’s classic Quatro, with a massive bass sound propelling the song forward. The final of seven (eight if you count the single-only “Roxy Roller”) AGGRO-PHOBIA tunes, “Tear Me Apart” is a winner that highlights Suzi’s voice, as well as her ability to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand during another round of audience participation. A rousing, spirited encore of “Keep A-Knockin’” proves that Suzi Quatro is, indeed, a throwback to a simpler time, when rock ‘n’ roll was new and exciting. It’s a great way to close out this live offering from the undisputed Queen of Glam.

The only way this album (which is supposedly the entire performance) could have been improved would have been to include something from my favorite Suzi Quatro record, YOUR MAMMA WON’T LIKE ME (the title cut or “I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew” or “Strip Me” immediately come to mind). LIVE AND KICKIN’ has never been released in the United States and the most recent release comes from the British reissue imprint, 7T’s Records, which faithfully recreates the original album, without the album flip that separated “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive,” delivering a true “live” experience. I haven’t heard this version but, I hope that some of those sonic deficiencies I mentioned earlier have been corrected.


GENE CLARK: TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY

(HIGH MOON RECORDS/RSO RECORDS; reissue 2014, original release 1977)

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Reading Gene Clark’s Wikipedia entry is an exercise in frustration, another classic case of a prominent musician suffering the pitfalls of inadequate promotion, dashed expectations, poor timing, et cetera. A founding member of the Byrds, one of the most influential bands of the ’60s, Clark surely deserved better than the checkered solo career he endured after essentially leaving that band in 1966. Clark wrote or co-wrote some of the best-known Byrds tunes, such as “Eight Miles High,” “She Don’t Care About Time” and “Set You Free This Time,” helping to pioneer some of the early country rock stylings with a twist that the Byrds became known for. But his solo work, although gaining critical favor in some circles with quality offerings like 1971’s WHITE LIGHT and 1974’s NO OTHER, seemed to always fall short commercially or have some record label “issue” that confounded Clark’s hopes. The 1977 release TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY was an introspective album that partially documented the fallout of Clark’s divorce at the time, and though very listenable, it was ill served by the first CD version in the early 90s, which many fans complained about (record labels tended to rush out CDs in the early days of that format with little concern about the sound or pressing issues; pun intended). But now TWO SIDES… has been given a deluxe remastering by High Moon, and Clark’s stellar songwriting shines through at last.

Gene Clark (photo credit: TORBJORN CALVERO)

Gene Clark (photo credit: TORBJORN CALVERO)

Things kick off with the rousing banjo picking of “Home Run King,” and Clark’s engaging vocals. I was struck by how much Clark’s voice reminded me of Mike Nesmith’s from the Monkees. It’s well-known that Nesmith was a fan of country rock, and you gotta think he was a fan of stuff like Gene Clark and Gram Parsons in particular. “In the Pines” features classic fiddle, keyboards and female backing vocals, and is bursting with energy. Evidently, this is a traditional folk/blues song, although an online note says the song may have initially been composed by blues great Leadbelly. “Kansas City Southern” is a terrific train song that Clark had previously recorded with Dillard and Clark, and it rocks pretty madly here, with fiery guitar work. It’s also more than a little evocative of John Fogerty’s CCR stuff. A cover of the James Talley mining ballad “Give My Love to Marie” makes for one of the most achingly sad numbers here. Clark’s voice is way upfront, and the string section combines with it (and some very spartan drumming) to induce shivers. Truly beautiful, actually. The following “Sister Moon” suffers by comparison; it aims for subtlety, but the big backing vocals and strings again don’t serve it particularly well. “Mary Lou” is an overdone cover that, while energetic, is emotionally empty in context. The straight, traditional country numbers here such as “Lonely Saturday” and “Hear the Wind” are much better, the kind of tunes Clark was known for, with strong melodies and pleasing arrangements. “We talk and hear about loneliness/The cold blue hunger of the soul,” Clark sings on that latter track, which delivers its pathos with pedal steel and piano in timeless fashion. Sometimes a line like that can really overpower you, in a way you weren’t prepared for.

Gene Clark (uncredited photo)

Gene Clark (uncredited photo)

“Past Addresses” and “Silent Crusade” are the sound of heartbreak; with slivers of haunted sentiments that Clark sometimes seems reluctant to fully release. “I am told that my life is a clipper/The sea of time has tossed about/And I know that there’s only one skipper/Who can guide that ship about, he wearily intones on “Silent Crusade,” as a lonesome keyboard punctuates his simple guitar picking. Nothing like a tough breakup to make you feel you’re adrift at sea, I guess. There is something timeless about this brand of Clark-ian songcraft, and when you realize the guy died at the tender age of 46, probably falling well short of his dreams, you’re in true melancholy territory. That distinctive voice and his often pioneering sound surely would’ve matured and given us so much more if he had lived a few more decades. At any rate, this is a fine reissue of a neglected album, and purchasers also get to download a generous selection of bonus live material. It’s not ALL wonderful, but there is definitely stuff here that is essential in grasping Gene Clark’s rightful place in the Americana/singer-songwriter scheme of things. He was there when both those categories were first being conceived, and that ain’t no small thing.


ALICE COOPER: RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE FROM WACKEN

(DVD, BLU-RAY, CD; UDR MUSIC;2014)

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Most everybody who knows me and everybody that’s read my stuff for the past 20 years knows that I am a huge Alice Cooper fan – the band, solo stuff, Billion Dollar Babies… chances are good that if Alice, Dennis, Michael or Neal are involved, I have it. Even through the rough times (as far as I’m concerned, those rough times are called LACE AND WHISKEY, ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN and TRASH… though they are not without their own redeeming qualities). For the last fifteen years or so, Alice the man has mounted a substantial comeback, cranking out some fine albums and touring continually with a show that changes and evolves almost on a nightly basis. Alice always manages to surround himself with musicians of the finest kind and, the band he had playing behind him on August 3, 2013 before a mass of humanity at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany was no exception. Now, with RAISE THE DEAD… , we can experience the sights and sounds that have thrilled and shocked audiences for more than 45 years; both the Blu-Ray and DVD releases come packaged with a two CD set which, between video and audio, manages to capture Alice’s entire Wacken show.

Alice Cooper, flanked by Ryan Roxie and Orianthi (publicity photo)

Alice Cooper, flanked by Ryan Roxie and Orianthi (publicity photo)

As it was the music that always drew me in, let’s start by an examination of the CDs first. One of the cool things about an Alice Cooper show is the set list; with 26 studio albums worth of material (seven with the band and 19 solo), the Coop always manages to throw in a surprise or two. Even though he took time to open for Motley Crue’s farewell tour, among others, he’s spent a couple of years on the RAISE THE DEAD tour and, even though the set has remained fairly constant during that time, he’s only recently (in Alice time) brought back “Hello Hooray” as the opening number. The tune hasn’t sounded this good since the original band did it back in 1973, even though Alice’s vocals do get lost in the guitar mayhem a couple of times. “House of Fire” is pop star Alice from the TRASH album. It is one of the stronger tracks from that record, so I can live with it. Without stopping to catch their breath, the band (long-time guitarists Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, long-standing bassist Chuck Garric, drummer Glen Sobel and hot-shot guitarist Orianthi) rip into “No More Mister Nice Guy.” There’s a little bit of playful risk-taking with that familiar guitar riff that adds a new dimension to the song. One of the original band’s snottiest songs, “Under My Wheels,” sounds even more garagey with the three prong guitar attack. Unfortunately, Sobel is no Neal Smith… but, then, who is? His playing is fine but, he just misses some of those subtle nuances that Neal added. Speaking of Mister Smith, his co-writing credit from Alice’s latest, WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE, is up next. “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” was one of three songs on the record to feature the four surviving Alice Cooper members (with former solo mainstay, guitarist Steve Hunter, ably substituting for Glen Buxton); there’s not as much venom in this live version, but it’s still very much in the classic Cooper vein. “Billion Dollar Babies” is the song that finally has all players hitting on all cylinders at the same time, with Glen Sobel being particularly on-point with the complicated drum patterns.

Alice Cooper (photo credit: PEP BONET)

Alice Cooper (photo credit: PEP BONET)

Caffeine” is an odd little ditty that somehow works better than it should. The vocals are a bit muddy (must be all that coffee!), but it sure sounds like everyone is having fun. “Department of Youth” is one of – if not THE – favorite song from an album of great songs (WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE). This version is really good, though I did miss any mention of Donny Osmond or Justin Beiber or One Direction or whatever flavor of the month was hot in August 2013 when, at the end of the tune, Alice asks, “Who’s got the power?” and, then, “And who gave it to you?” A minor complaint, I know, but it’s the simple things in life that get me through. Alice kind of reasserted himself after TRASH with the more rocking sound of HEY STOOPID. The title track, an anti-drug message wrapped up in a snide Cooper lyric, is sorta in the same sarcastic vein as “Caffeine.” This live version sounds even better than the original studio version, which featured both Slash and Joe Satriani on guitar. “Dirty Diamonds” is the latest in a long line of spy and crime oriented songs (“Halo of Flies,” “Crazy Little Child” and “Man With the Golden Gun” immediately spring to mind) from Alice. It’s a solid rocker but, still, it just can’t compare to those earlier tracks. It features a duet with Garric and Sobel showing off their rhythm section muscles to great effect; near the end of the duet, Orianthi, joins in for a nifty little solo over the top. There’s a subtle shift in sound on the track that launched Alice’s solo career, “Welcome To My Nightmare.” Touring without a keyboard player and eschewing a backing track for the majority of the show gives much of the solo material a slightly different, beefier sound. I like it! The song rolls right into “Go To Hell” from Alice’s second solo outing. This version is relatively close to the original, with a killer guitar sound.

Alice Cooper begins his transformation into the Cooperstein creature (photo credit: OLAF MALZAHN)

Alice Cooper begins his transformation into the Cooperstein creature (photo credit: OLAF MALZAHN)

The second disc kicks off with the rarely performed “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” a track from Alice’s MCA days, which barely gets any love from the Coop (a situation that I really don’t understand, as there were some good tunes on both CONSTRICTOR and RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL… especially side two of the latter). Anyway, gone are the cheesy ’80s synthesizer dance grooves, replaced by a heavier guitar sound, making it even creepier than the original version. Orianthi drops in a nice extended solo toward the end. “Feed My Frankenstein” may not be my favorite HEY STOOPID track, but it’s good theater. For a few tours, Alice would build a hulking monster out of body parts onstage. That worked really well but, now, he undergoes a “transformation,” turning himself into a Cooperstein; I like the idea… I’m just not too sure about that lumbering twelve foot tall Alice thing… looks kinda goofy to me. But, then, maybe that’s the whole point. The ultimate Alice Cooper song, “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” follows, as Doctor Alice is sent away for his crimes against nature. The traditional piano intro (a playback from the original recording) gives way to a haunting, reverb-drenched guitar from Roxie. Alice sounds even more schizophrenic and demented than usual, as “Nurse Sheryl” (named after Alice’s wife, who held the role until daughter Calico took over) torments the straightjacketed patient until he breaks free and chokes her. Now, that action is gonna get you punished, Alice… looks like you losing your head is gonna cause you to lose your head. The band plays the final, execution section of “Killer” (which doesn’t make it to the audio version of the show) as the guillotine does its thing, bisecting the villain at the neck. While Alice is dead, the band offers a truncated version of “I Love the Dead,” no verses just the chorus and the middle bridge section. It’s always been my favorite Alice tune and, after doing it this way for quite a few years, I’m kinda used to it.

Alice Cooper (Calico Cooper as Nurse Sheryl) (photo credit: PEP BONET)

Alice Cooper (Calico Cooper as Nurse Sheryl) (photo credit: PEP BONET)

As Nurse Sheryl inspects the body, a voice from beyond calls: “Alice Cooper. Alice, you’ve cheated death once again. How fitting that you should end up in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires… here with all of your dead, drunk friends.” Cue Alice’s return from the dead and the unmistakeable riff of the Doors’ classic “Break On Through.” Alice has often recounted the legendary binges that he and his drinking buddy, Jim Morrison, would go on; Morrison was a Hollywood Vampire before the club existed and exited before the first “meeting.” There’s some really nice guitar and drum work on the heavier, funkier version that Alice and his band offer up. John Lennon was a member of the debauched drinking club (and the only one who didn’t die of some sort of substance abuse) and Alice’s rendition of “Revolution” is spot on, particularly the backing vocals. Even though Jimi Hendrix wasn’t a Vampire, I’m sure that he and Alice ran into each other quite often in LA, probably at the Whisky on Sunset Strip. Since we’re talking about Hendrix here, this may not make too much sense but, consider the original before reading on. The beauty of “Foxy Lady” lies in its simplicity. Three guitarists, all trying to be Jimi, is just too much; everything else, including the vocals kinda get lost in the six-string melee. The next song brings things back to earth. The Who’s Keith Moon was a Vampire; Alice salutes him with a great, punky take of “My Generation,” a tune that he’s been doing off-and-on for the past fifteen years or so. Of all the covers, it sounds like Alice had the most fun with this one. As the song ends, he surveys the headstones of his friends, these four legends, proclaiming, “My dead, drunk friends.” It’s a great lead-in to…

Alice Cooper (publicity photo)

Alice Cooper (publicity photo)

I’m Eighteen,” the band’s first hit single and the one that will always remind us why Alice, Glen, Dennis, Neal and Michael are considered one of the greatest rock anthem bands of all time. The next tune came very close to breaking my camel’s back as far as Alice Cooper is concerned. Oh, how I hate this song! It’s worse than “I Never Wrote Those Songs” and “(No More) Love At Your Convenience.” Combined. And, the most confounding thing about “Poison” is, he was dead sober when he wrote the thing; at least, when he did LACE AND WHISKEY, he had the excuse of living his life in a drunken stupor. For what it’s worth, the band sounded okay and the Wacken crowd (and everybody but me, apparently) really seem to dig this atrocity. As mentioned in a couple of other spots, the three guitar approach didn’t always mesh too well. “School’s Out” is an exception to that statement; the various styles of Orianthi, Ryan and Tommy (in order of their spotlight solos) work really well within the free-for-all confines of the traditional show closer. As he’s done for quite a few tours (probably as long as he’s done “My Generation”), Alice weaves Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall” into the fabric of “School’s Out,” offering a unique, utterly enjoyable mash-up of the two. It’s become somewhat expected of “Classic Rock” acts like Alice Cooper to release a live document of their shows, seemingly one or two a year. These affairs can, unfortunately, be hit or miss. I’ve never been disappointed with live Alice (“Poison” aside). RAISE THE DEAD… is no exception.

Alice Cooper's final bow (Glen Sobel, Ryan Roxie, Chuck Garric, Alice, Orianthi, Tommy Henriksen) (photo credit: PEP BONET)

Alice Cooper’s final bow (Glen Sobel, Ryan Roxie, Chuck Garric, Alice, Orianthi, Tommy Henriksen) (photo credit: PEP BONET)

The accompanying video (available in DVD or Blu-Ray versions) sounds and looks great, though it is not without its problems. While we do have the entire “Killer” snippet leading up to the execution, both the Beatles and Hendrix numbers are cut. From “Break On Through,” the video jumps right to “My Generation.” Calico’s performance as Nurse Sheryl is magnificently over-the-top and the executioner’s post-beheading antics get a grin out of Chuck Garric. As Chuck exhorts the crowd to sing louder, the executioner holds the microphone up to the lips of the decapitated head, shrugs his shoulders and smirks, as if to say, “You ain’t got nothin’ to say now, do ya?” A great moment of sick humor. So, anyway, I mentioned problems. They are all directorial or editorial things that should not have happened since this was obviously a multi-camera shoot… meaning that they were all decisions made in post-production. It seems that the director had a very difficult time in finding, focusing on and following the solo or meaningful musical moment or cool theatrical moment. Examples include, but are definitely not limited to: A shot of Orianthi (granted, she is very photogenic), from behind, no less, when Ryan Roxie is playing a nice solo; a close-up of Garric behind his mic, before the chorus comes around and it’s his turn to actually sing… by the time he opens his mouth, the camera’s already off to the next incongruous shot; when we should have extended shots of Chuck, during his duet with Sobel, we see Glen and we see the crowd and we see long shots of the stage; during the climax of “Go To Hell,” Alice menaces Roxie and Tommy Henriksen with a whip… all we see is Alice flailing the weapon from one side of the stage to the other, either in close-up or from over Glen Sobel’s shoulder. Speaking of which, there are far too many such shots (over Sobel’s shoulder, I mean) and too many crowd reaction shots at integral points in the show (solos and such). These may seem like trifles to some but, to those of us who like to know what’s going on and who is playing which guitar part and what Nurse Sheryl is doing behind Alice, that’s what we wanna see, not a sea of indistinguishable faces in the dark. Having said that, problems aside, RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE AT WACKEN is a nice addition to your Alice Cooper collection.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (17)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(17) GARY NUMAN: LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80

(BEGGARS BANQUET RECORDS; English import box set, 1981)

Gary-Numan-Living-Ornaments

In the United States, Gary Numan (barring a miraculous surge in record sales) will always be known as the one-hit wonder guy, thanks to the number one 1979 psuedo-techno classic, “Cars.” Those of us with an adventurous disposition (at least where music is concerned) know that – as good as “Cars” was – it is nowhere near the best song Numan ever recorded; we also know (as do his legions of fans in Great Britain and Europe) that – even though he retired for a short period of time to race cars and fly planes – he has hardly been quiet since the song went viral (well… whatever the comparative term for viral was back then) upon its initial release. THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, the album that featured “Cars,” was Numan’s third in two years (the first two marqueed by his then-current band, Tubeway Army) and the similarly dystopian TELEKON was just a few months away. In September 1979, Numan was moving away from the Tubeway Army sound and name; THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE was still two months from release. The live show still relied very heavily on the popularity of the group’s name and music, but this newer, tighter band was already exploring new territory and introducing Uk fans to the music from Gary’s first solo record; by September 1980, the band had a tougher, futuristic sound as it toured to support the just-released TELEKON.

In an unprecedented move, early 1981 saw the release of two live albums documenting both the 1979 and 1980 tours. This may have been intended as a stop-gap, offering Numan’s loyal fans something with which to remember the tours, before he released the jarringly different DANCE in September; maybe the releases were intended to appease those loyal fans because the next album would be a departure from the sound they’d come to expect from Numan and his well-oiled machine-like band. Whatever the reason, it was soon decided to offer the two records together, in a box set. That box set, not available except as an import in the US, lands the number 17 spot on my list of great live albums. Here’s why:

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

The 1979 album was recorded on the group’s second night at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, September 28. LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 has a very disjointed feel, as Numan rearranged the track order and cutting the show down from the 21 songs performed to nine on the released version; due to that editing and shifting, there are fade-outs (and -ins) on many of the tracks, which disrupts the live feel. The quality of the music and performances, however, were never in question. Side one opens with the instrumental “Airlane,” which served as album opener on THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. The track features a cool synth groove and an awesome power-chording guitar from Rrussell Bell. The worldwide number one hit, “Cars,” is sped up in this live setting. Though Numan’s voice has a rather chilling, robotic feel on the studio version, his performance here may not exactly be dripping with emotion, but it does exhibit more emotion than most are expecting from this period in his career. The Tubeway Army B-side “We Are So Fragile” shows a punkier – dare I say, fiercer – Gary Numan on display. The bass by Paul Gardiner is a definite plus here (and throughout the record). The song, “Films,” features another accelerated tempo, as Gardiner and his partner in rhythm, drummer Cedric Sharpley, are locked into one of those pockets that only a bass/drum tandem can really fall into. Numan’s voice is the disinterested and robotic instrument that we know so well. “Something’s In the House” comes from Tubeway Army’s debut album and has Numan sounding snotty and punky again. There is some amazing interplay between Bell, Sharpley and Gardiner, proving that – regardless of detractors comments – this is a real band… a very solid performing unit. The only problem seems to be a completely out-of-place keyboard/synth solo. I can’t tell if it’s in the wrong key or the wrong tempo or exactly what the problem is; I just know that it doesn’t fit.

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

My Shadow In Vain,” more spooky punk from the TUBEWAY ARMY album, is the first track on side two. It features a deranged Numan searching for answers, for dead friends and for his shadow… all in vain. I was surprised by the similarity (particularly the bass, guitar and synthesizer melody lines) with the Knack’s “My Sharona,” which was recorded and released a full year after Tubeway Army’s debut. “Conversation” is another quirky tune from THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE (are there any other kind?). Sharpley and Gardiner are in another syncopated groove and Numan’s vocals are “best-of-show” on the track. Billy Currie’s violin coda at the end of the song, as well as the melody line would show up three years later in Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” The existential punk of the TUBEWAY ARMY cut “The Dream Police” is highlighted by screeching, scraping violin and viola (by Currie and Chris Payne, respectively) and a repetitive guitar riff from Rrussell Bell. “Metal” sounds very much like a leftover from REPLICAS, as it seems to share that album’s cyborg/human machine thematic concept. It does feature the droning synth and machine-like drumming adopted on the next record.

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

LIVING ORNAMENTS ’80, recorded on September 16 (the second date of a four day stand at the Hammersmith), has more of a live feel, with crowd noises connecting the cuts instead of the off-putting fades (even though the ten tracks were – like the ’79 edition – re-ordered and edited down from the 19 actually played that night). The band line-up has shifted slightly, with Numan now adding synthesizer and guitar duties to his singing and Roger Mason’s keyboards replacing Billy Currie’s keyboard and violin. Set opener “This Wreckage” also opens side one. The still-to-be-released single has the more industrial sound of TELEKON, the album this tour was in support of. A throbbing synth gives way to a pumping bass line and a swinging drum groove brings Numan to the stage, with his disconnected lyrics and disinterested vocal that somehow drips with more emotion than most balladeers can muster. The then-current single, “I Die: You Die,” follows. A sparkling keyboard, Gardiner’s fretless bass and electronic drums from Sharpley are deceptively inviting; a punky guitar slashes and snakes just under the surface as Numan delivers brutal, venomous lyrics about love, lust, lonliness and vengeance: “They crawl out of their holes for me/And I die; you die/Hear them laugh, watch them turn on me/And I die; you die/See my scars, they call me such things/Tear me, tear me, tear me.” An almost majestic sounding tune, “ME” features soaring keyboard and synthesizer. Again, the lyrics focus on death and isolation, a constant theme, especially in Numan’s solo work. The man’s vocal sounds frenzied and a little crazed… in a robotic kind of way. The song continually threatens to fly apart, but Ced Sharpley’s spectacular drumming holds it all together. “Everyday I Die” is one of the few holdovers from the debut Tubeway Army album on this tour. Numan’s vocals have a staccato quality, as he continues to express feelings of lonliness, this time, seemingly, the result of a love lost. The sparse instrumental accompaniment adds to the disturbing tone of the lyrics, making them somehow more frightening. “Down In the Park” is a part of REPLICAS, a grand punk opera about a growing sub-species, more machine than man. It’s a Tubeway Army song, but in name only; a beautiful piano intro gives way to stark, hollow instrumentation and wickedly unemotional vocals.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The final side of the box set, actually side two of the ’80 record starts with “Remind Me To Smile.” The TELEKON track is about the price of fame, way before the paparazzi were such a prevalent thing: “Get off the car/Get off the phone/Move from my window, leave me alone.” The band participates vocally, with a call and response chorus. “The Joy Circuit” is mostly instrumental… anthemic with hyperkinetic synth and bass. Even through the droning guitars and looped effects, the song somehow has a… happy feeling. “Tracks” starts with a solitary guitar, eventually moving into a synth-driven soundtrack kinda music. The tune could be about drugs or growing old or missing an older constant (parent?) that’s no longer in your life. Aside from “Cars,” “Are Friends Electric?” may be Numan’s best known song in the States. Numan’s spoken word vocals stab and the guitars slash at and through the sci-fi oriented keyboards and synthesizers, giving the tune a distinct Floydian sound. The final number, “We Are Glass,” is another TELEKON cut. It’s one of the more melodic songs from this early stage of Numan’s career, but the creepy REPLICAS cyborg thing is definitely in the lyrics, with such lines as, “We are cold/We’re not supposed to cry” and “You are replaced.” Over a three or four year period (say, 1979-1982), there were a lot of bands that excelled at the type of music pioneered by Gary Numan… at least in the studio; very few were competent enough to pull it off in a live setting. The band that toured with Numan during this time period proved themselves more than capable of bringing Numan’s dark visions to the stage and that’s why the special edition box set, LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80, is one of the greatest live albums ever.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The latest versions of the albums were released separately in 2005, but still no American editions. The ’79 album has reconstructed the entire show in the proper running order on two CDs; the two CD edition of the ’80 record features the original released version followed by the entire concert, again, in the proper running order. The full show is sourced from the stage monitor mix, which definitely gives you a different listening experience. Bass player Paul Gardiner died of a heroin overdose; drummer Ced Sharpley passed away in 2012 from cancer. During their time with Tubeway Army, Gary Numan’s solo bands and Dramatis (the samae band, minus Numan), they comprised one of the most potent rhythm sections in all of rock and roll. They are missed.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (18)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 18, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(18) STATUS QUO: LIVE

(CAPITOL RECORDS/EMI RECORDS; 1977)

Status Quo Live US cover

So, this was a hard one. Among all of the live albums that I love and listen to the most, this spot came down between three great records: LIVE BULLET from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Rory Gallagher’s STAGE STRUCK and this one, my first extended listen to (The) Status Quo (aside from the 1968 psychedelic masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”). With PHOTO-FINISH and TOP PRIORITY, the single record STAGE STRUCK album from 1980 comes from my favorite period of Rory Gallagher’s career and, with killer songs like “Shin Kicker,” “Wayward Child” and “Brute Force and Ignorance,” it’s hard to overlook on this list. As far as LIVE BULLET goes, this is truly the one that put Bob Seger over the top nationally and side three of the 1976 double album (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Heavy Music” and “Katmandu”) may just be the single most perfect live side ever released. But, then, why LIVE, a little heard release from a little heard (take it easy, Europe… I know that these guys are huge there… in America, not so much) boogie band from the UK? Well… it’s a really good, rockin’ set and… this is my list! You don’t agree, make your own list. Besides, where do I draw the line? I mean, what about other great live albums that didn’t make my list? What about UNLEASHED IN THE EAST, IF YOU WANT BLOOD… YOU’VE GOT IT, ROXY AND ELSEWHERE, LIVE RUST or WAITING FOR COLUMBUS? It’s definitely a tough call on my part but, don’t just pass this one over; give it a listen… you just may find yourself as big a fan as I am.

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

The Status Quo began their career as a psychedelic pop group, garnering a top 10 hit in the UK and a top 20 hit in the States with their first single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Even though they experienced moderate success in England and Europe, by their third album (1970’s MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), they had dropped the Paisley sounds (they’d already become merely Status Quo the previous year, dropping “The” from their name), going for a rougher boogie sound; even then, it wasn’t until 1972 and album number five, PILEDRIVER, that they really started to roll, hitting number five on the UK charts. By the time LIVE was recorded, in October 1976 at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre, the boys had a number two album and three number one’s. LIVE is Status Quo at the top of their game and on fire, ripping off blistering song after blistering song.

The Quo kick off the set with “Junior’s Wailing,” an old Steamhammer tune from 1969 that the boys covered on MA KELLY’S… . It’s a straight on, chuggin’ boogie stroll and a mission statement, declaring to all that this band means business. A coupling of the first two tracks from1974’s QUO album follows, with John Coghlan’s pounding backbeat taking no prisoners, even offering up a cowbell heavy mini-solo coming out of “Backwater” and leading into “Just Take Me.” The guitars (provided by the powerhouse duo of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi) get a bit funky on “Just Take Me,” particularly the solo. “Is There a Better Way,” the lead track from the then seven month old BLUE FOR YOU album, is probably the best known Status Quo tune here in the US (outside of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) and it’s as heavy as anything by that other group of boogie merchants, AC/DC… in fact, it could be the best AC/DC song that Bon and the boys never recorded. It’s highlighted by a booming bass from Alan Lancaster and a swirling organ from the newly-minted fifth member of the band, Andy Bown. It is, to these ears, boogie perfection. Side one closes out with a 1970 English single (which was added to a completely deconstructed and rebuilt American version of MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), “In My Chair.” It’s another strident stroll, with a cool Link Wray guitar figure and solo. Upon its release as a single in ’70, it just missed the top 20 on the English charts, a rather surprising thing considering that the previous single, “Down the Dustpipe,” reached number 12. Or, maybe not so surprising, as the British record buying public seem to be far more fickle than here in the States but, they like what they like.

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

On side two, we’re introduced to 1975’s ON THE LEVEL via “Little Lady” with its Chuck Berry stomp and “Most of the Time,” which starts off with a country boogie sing-along before the band kicks in. There’s another great guitar solo (there always is, isn’t there?) as the bottom end is awash in a sea of Coghlan drum rolls. “Most of the Time” may be as close as the bulldozing Quo came to producing a ballad during this, their boogie heyday. “Forty-Five Hundred Times” comes from the group’s widely overlooked (though chart-topping) 1973 offering, HELLO; I’m not really sure if the intro’s a joke or not, but they say that “here’s something… one of those albums that we get really tired of… ” before heading into a massive (nearly 17 minutes) roiling, solo-filled rendition. The song and the lads seem to pick up steam at about the seven-and-a-half minute mark, leading into an epic guitar duel between Rossi and Parfitt, with a lot of interesting interaction going on underneath from Lancaster and Coghlan. With the several time changes, and as I’m not familiar with HELLO, other than this and the other two tracks from it played here, this could be the band’s way of giving the fans a little bit of every song on the album.

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Roll Over Lay Down” is the first of those other two HELLO numbers. It opens side three and features a kind of undulating, rolling vocal style (I know that description makes it all as clear as mud but, once you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about). The boys take a fairly standard blues riff and ratchet up the power-chording to great effect. As the song’s feedback ending crashes into the heavier “Big Fat Mama,” the vocals sound like a beautiful meshing of the Tygers of Pan Tang’s Jess Cox and little Johnny Osbourne of Sabbath fame. The charging tempo and hot-rod fueled bass could very easily be a prototype for the forthcoming New Wave of British Metal. It’s a fun song from the PILEDRIVER record and a definite highlight in a live setting. Barely affording the crowd a chance to catch their breath, the band rips into the final HELLO tune, “Caroline,” which is highlighted by great work from the rhythm section – including Parfitt’s rhythm guitar – and one of the strangest drum solos I’ve ever heard before jumping into Quo’s homage-paying tribute to Chuck Berry, via Berry’s own “Bye Bye Johnny,” the album closer from ON THE LEVEL. The track turns into an audience participation affair, as they’re led through the chorus of, “Bye, bye/Bye, bye/Bye, bye, Johnny B Goode.” The only disappointing thing about the tune (and, indeed, most of LIVE) is that you just know that Andy Bown is in there somewhere, adding that Johnnie Johnson boogie-woogie piano to the mix; either he’s simply overpowered by the guitars or he’s been buried in the mix for some insidious reason.

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Rain,” only the second song from the new BLUE FOR YOU album, opens side four. This might be my favorite Quo song of all time, featuring one of their best riffs and great sing-along lyrics. A couple of tracks from PILEDRIVER, the first and last songs on the record, brings the final side of LIVE to a rousing close. Fan (and band) favorite “Don’t Waste My Time” chugs along, eventually crashing into a killer 14 minute take of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” The percolating groove is punctuated by powerful performances by Coghlan and Lancaster, as well as tour manager Bob Young, joining in on harmonica. The chugging middle section is given over to the animated crowd , a traditional Irish jig (I think it’s called “Paddy O’Brien’s.” You know… it’s that leprechaun thing) and a snippet of the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates chestnut, “Shakin’ All Over,” before returning to the Doors tune to finish off the set. If you aren’t familiar with Status Quo or want to relive those glory years of the band, LIVE is the perfect place to start.

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

The original American release of LIVE also featured the group’s then-current single, “Wild Side of Life” backed with “All Through the Night,” as a free insert. The latest version of LIVE that I’ve been able to confirm is from 2005. It features a slightly different running order, keeping it in line with the actual set lists from those three nights in October 1976.


STEVE HILLAGE: RAINBOW 1977

(GONZO MULTIMEDIA; 2014)

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I gotta be honest: I wasn’t into the whole Canterbury scene (odd, jazzy pop groups like Caravan, Soft Machine and Gong, the band Steve Hillage was in immediately prior to launching his solo career with 1975’s FISH RISING) or anything (other than Frank Zappa) that sounded even remotely like THAT kind of music. For a couple of years there (probably about 1975 through 1978 or so), I was all about one thing musically: Hard rock with screaming guitars, heavy rhythms and – above all – absolutely no keyboards (unless they were provided by people named Hensley, Emerson or Lord) or horns; to be blunt, I was an idjit. Once I finally got all of that “musical snobbery” out of my system, I started to realize that I had missed some amazing music along the way. I was still a few years removed from “discovering” Steve Hillage, via his 1982 double release, FOR TO NEXT/AND NOT OR, so I was totally unfamiliar with the music here, aside from the two covers. Of the eleven tracks, six are from the just-released MOTIVATION RADIO (the album Hillage was touring behind); I certainly remember seeing the record in the bins back in ’77 but, being totally unimpressed with the cover, I didn’t give it a second thought (more idjitry). Thankfully, most of the music I overlooked (for whatever dumb reason) through the years tends to be reissued on a fairly regular basis. Likewise, stuff like RAINBOW 1977 crops up upon occasion.

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Before we get into the particulars of this release, let’s get into a little bit of history about the band, the show and how RAINBOW 1977 came to be. Steve and long-time partner, Miquette Giraudy, went bare bones for this tour, using only bassist Curtis Robertson and drummer Joe Blocker (both coming from the jazz funk group Karma… Blocker was also in the final version of Love for the REEL TO REAL album) to augment their sound, rather than additional guitar and keyboard players. The decidedly funky American rhythm section gives the music a much heavier bottom-end than Hillage bands had offered before (or after, for that matter). The Rainbow show was the final date of the MOTIVATION RADIO TOUR on November 3. Some of the show had appeared on a bootleg called GGGONG-GO-LONG which, after hearing it, prompted Hillage to find the original tapes and release the full concert – or as much of it as was usable, at least (more about that later).

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

The set opens with “Octave Doctors,” an instrumental intro with a funky bass groove and powerful drumming underpinning the layers of synthesized textures and an awesome, phased guitar solo from Hillage. The track leads directly into an absolutely stunning version of George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much,” which is fueled by what can only be called “majestic” keyboard work from Giraudy. A couple more MOTIVATION RADIO tracks are up next (“Octave Doctors” being the first). A weird, psychedelic introduction from Steve leads into “Light In the Sky,” a weird, psychedelic number with sci-fi lyrics and a spacey Hawkwind vibe. The song features another in a long line of great Hillage solos, as well as an odd, little kids voice (it’s either Miquette or Hillage) reciting the line, “Oh, me! Oh, my!/There’s a light in the sky.” “Radio” is a mostly instrumental piece, with a nice Hillage solo guitar (sounds like a hollow body, kinda like Steve Howe, but with more balls) over a funky bottom by Blocker and Robertson. The minimal lyrics are about – incredibly – radio. They’re really rather unnecessary, but rather unobtrusive.

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Electrick Gypsies,” from the Todd Rundgren produced L, is probably the purest example of rock ‘n’ roll here. The synthesizer embellishment adds the prerequisite spacey feel, while everybody else gets funky, including a funked-up guitar from Steve. The tune segues into a movement from “The Salmon Song,” which features a cool sounding solo from Hillage and the return of that little kid voice. The piece moves into another FISH RISING number, listed as “Solar Musick Suite (Part 2).” If I’m reading things correctly, that would be the section of the song sub-titled “Canterbury Sunrise.” The tune features Robertson’s three-minute-plus bass solo, with guitar and synth adding some echoey texture before the drums kick things into overdrive.

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

And, so, we’re back to the final three songs from MOTIVATION… , starting with “Motivation,” which features more groove-oriented guitar. The tune has probably the best vocal performance of the entire set; Hillage’s voice was made for this funkier style. Of course, better lyrics help, too. There’s a crazed solo at the end of the song, while the drums are particularly impressive. The vibe and music of “Saucer Surfing” reminds me more of Hawkwind than anything else, with lyrics like: “We’re real reality gypsies/Surfing on vibrations with our minds.” Miquette has a heavily processed spoken word section toward the end, sounding vaguely like a computer (which, obviously, was the intent). Things remain trippy and spacey on “Searching For the Spark,” which is highlighted by a long solo from Joe Blocker. With his jazz background, Blocker’s solo is anything but boring. The final number is an impressive cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” This version features ethereal keyboard and vocal work. Now… remember when I mentioned that I had my doubts about this being the entire concert? Here’s where that question comes to mind; just about every live Hillage version I’ve heard of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has a long guitar solo. This one doesn’t. I can’t tell if the solo has been edited out or if, for some reason, Steve just didn’t play one at the Rainbow that night. It really doesn’t matter… it’s a minor complaint; RAINBOW 1977 is one of those records that grows on you with each listen, never sounding boring or pretentious.