Bootleg Nation

Bootleg Review: Lou Reed – 12/16/72

lou reed live.jpgPicture this: The year is 1998. It is Thanksgiving weekend. My mother and her friend have picked me and my friend up from college to bring us to the Thanksgiving feast. We’re in the mom-mobile (similar to the Pope-mobile, but less stylish) riding on I-65 between Montgomery and Birmingham Alabama. I pop in Lou Reed’s Transformer album and “Walk on the Wild Side” begins to play.

Just as Lou sings “never lost her head, even when she was giving head” mom freaks.

“Did he just say what I think he said?”

Me mumbling something, quickly ejecting the tape wondering how I forgot the depravity on this tape.

“Mathew, I can’t believe you’d listen to something like this. That’s disgusting.”

I apologized over and over as I tried to find something clean and pleasant, like Hootie and the Blowfish.

To this day my mom won’t let me forget that moment, or the time she read the lyrics on the cover of Jane’s Addictions self titled album.

I still listen to both albums. I still find meaning in artistic expression that doesn’t necessarily fit into my own neat little morality.

Lou Reed always had a way of singing about the darker personalities; pimps, transvestites, drug pushers and anyone else who lives on the outskirts of normal society. And he did it with great art, influencing countless musicians behind him.

Ultrasonic Recording Studio
Hempstead, NY
This is what rock is supposed to be. Two guitars, bass and drums. No frills, all rock.

The show kicks off with a thumping “White Light/White Heat” that makes me want to grab my leather jacket, shave my head, and kick somebody’s ass.

After that they play “something off the new album” which turns out to be “Vicious.” It’s played to perfection and is something even mom could enjoy.

On “Heroin” Lou remarks on the irony of the song being banned in the early days (so much so that they couldn’t even advertise the album) and now they’re going to play it on the radio. We get the “rock version” of the song which means a lot more guitar and less distorted violin which makes for something a little more listenable, but it loses the sharp edge the songs takes in the studio version.

“Heroin” is probably the first Velvet Underground song I ever heard. They had it on the soundtrack to the movie about the Doors – an album me and my friend Candy listened to so many times we had every note memorized. We used to play a game during “Heroin” and “The End” to see who could get each line, each note exactly perfect. I loved that song. Still do.

Later we come to a first in my “Bootleg Country” series. Lou sings “Satellite of Love” just as he did with Bono on the U2 bootleg. I’ve now got bootleg carry over. This is something I suspect will happen a lot before the series is finished. Unfortunately I don’t particularly like the song, and find myself skipping it on both versions.

“Satellite’s” bass line morphs into “Walk on the Wild Side” with an uproar of cheers from the crowd and a little smirk on my face. Sorry mom, I still dig the crap out of that song.

Some versions of this tape are listed as having an interview with Lou in the middle of the show. As it was taped for a radio program that seems logical, but my copy doesn’t have the interview so we’ll continue with the music.

Actually, the source material lists the radio station as the venue, that and considering the under an hour performing time I suspect this show was actually performed in an auditorium in the radio station itself.

It is a short set, but a good one. There are only a couple of songs I don’t really care for, the aforementioned “Satellite of Love” and “Berlin.” Maybe that’s because I’m not really familiar with either song, or that they are both slow songs during an otherwise rocking set. The rest of the songs are straight ahead rock n roll and pretty much take me to the places I’d like to go with Lou Reed.

Set List:

White Light White Heat
I’m Waiting For My Man
Walk It Talk It
Sweet Jane
Satellite of Love
Walk On the Wild Side
I’m So Free
Rock ‘n’ Roll

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bruce Hornsby – Intersections 1985-2005

bruce hornsby intersections“Brrrrooooooooooo…”

The crowd of several thousand standing in the Atlanta Fairground shouted into the bright, hot, southern sky.

“Are they saying ‘Bruce’ or ‘boo?” Juliana asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” I replied. “I for one, am shouting ‘Bruce.’ How could you boo the spidery fingers of Bruce Hornsby? Especially during such a hot version of ‘The Way It Is!’”

“They must be yelling ‘Bruce.’”

And they were, as hundreds of thousands have yelled the same throughout Hornsby’s twenty year career.

That night Bruce was playing keys with the Other Ones – the first Grateful Dead reincarnation post Jerry Garcia’s death. It was but one of many collaborations in a career full of imaginative, incredible ensembles including Ricky Skaggs, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and Pat Metheny.

To say Bruce Hornsby is a multifaceted musician would be like calling Leonardo DaVinci a renaissance man – certainly it is true, but also rather superfluous and redundant.

With the release of the new boxed set, “Intersections Bruce Hornsby has shown just how multi-talented he really is – from piano based power-pop to bluegrass and century’s old fiddle tunes to improvisational jazz the songs covered in this set stretch across the American song book.

The bulk of the music presented here is culled form previously unreleased live cuts. This is not only good news for the hard core fan who already has all the studio tracks, but for the casual listener interested in understanding Hornsby’s work. As is the way for many of the artists I enjoy, Hornsby’s studio albums are often less than totally satisfying. In a live setting is where Bruce has always found his own, and performed nothing less than inspiring.

The set is separated into three categories spanning four disks. The first, “Top 90 Time” contains the hits and singles, albeit often live and in a different arrangement than what is found on the original album.

The second disk, labeled “Solo Piano, Tribute Records, Country-bluegrass, Movie Songs” contains just that. The first seven songs are instrumental piano numbers uniquely titles “Songs A-H”. The rest are songs Hornsby either played on for friends and co-conspirators, movie soundtracks, and tribute albums.

The remaining two disks, named “By Request” are fan favorites and personal selections.

Interestingly, Hornsby has elected to keep most of his up tempo numbers as the officially released studio version. It is on his slower ballads that he has brought unreleased liver versions to this set. This is perhaps because fans were treated to primo live versions of his faster songs on the 2000 release Here Come the Noisemakers. Or, perhaps it is because live, his up tempo numbers can stretch into double digits, minute wise, which would leave few spaces for more songs.

Whatever the reason, we are still left with a tremendous collections of songs showcasing one of the more talented musicians of the last 20 years.

The boxed set is encased in a lovely three fold binder and includes a 59 page booklet highlighting his career. It includes a personal note from Bruce about each of the songs, numerous photographs, an a tongue-in-cheek retrospective of the critical assessment of his albums (including a number of reviews completely panning his work).

Also included in the set is a DVD full of videos clips (ranging from super cheesy ready-for-MTV videos from the 80’s to highly stylized clips directed by Spike Lee to live performances with the Grateful Dead, Roger Waters and even the “Star Spangled Banner” performed with Branford Marsalis at the World Series.)

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Cd Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Jimmy Buffett – 09/04/99

1028154245.jpgSeveral years back my wife (then girlfriend) was throwing a small party. I provided the music which consisted of several mix tapes. On one of these tapes was the Jimmy Buffet song “Barometer Soup,” which is kind of a calypso Caribbean rave up. My wife’s (then girlfriend’s) friend (then roommate), who is actually from Trinidad, developed a rather large sneer at listening to Jimmy Buffet trying to be Caribbean.

There was much discussion of how gawd awful the song was, and how unauthentic the steel drum sounded. I tried to give some sort of recompense for these ‘sins of the Caribbean’- Jimmy Buffet has spent much of his life in South Florida and the Caribbean, he uses authentic Caribbean musicians in his band (that one I’m making up, but it sounds good even if I don’t know if it is true) – but in the end these reasons fell flat on my friend’s ears. The real reason I included the song on the mix tape – the only reason to include any song on a party mix tape is that it’s a lot of fun.

You could probably sum up Jimmy Buffet with those words. He’s not the world’s greatest song writer, or a master musician, but he knows how to have fun, and his music shows it. He’s made a career out of island escapism.

It’s hard not to be jealous when listening to a guy who has made a career (and big bucks) off of sitting on beaches, munching cheese burgers and sipping margaritas.

The Tweeter Center
Mansfield, MA
The thing about Jimmy Buffett is that he’s really got his shtick down to a fine T. He knows how he is supposed to act, he knows how to please his audience. The thing that annoys me about Jimmy Buffett is his audience is made up of a lot of drunken buffoons.

This is a theme concert of sorts. The Beach House on the Moon album had just come out and Jimmy has planned a concert around it. It’s a pretty broad concept mainly consisting of Jimmy telling the audience they are going to fly to the moon, a few silly sound effects of a rocket ship, a few sillier jokes about landing on the moon and returning homeward. All fitted around his songs.

In fact it gets rather tiring listening to Jimmy try to segue into the next song and tie it into a part of the “trip.” To segue into “Coconut Telegraph” he notes that the only communication device that they will be using on the flight is, you guessed it, a coconut telegraph. And it really never gets better than that. The whole moon flight is just, well, lame.

Throughout the show he throws in all his hits, a bunch of new songs, and even a cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” Crosby Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross,” and the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” All are played with his typical island schtick, which basically means steel drums in the foreground.

Ed Bradley, of CBS fame, plays tambourine on a couple of songs. I’d say he played a mean tambourine, and he does as far as tambourine guest performers go, but we all know guest tambourine players only come on stage because they can’t play a real instrument.

Jimmy’s between song banter is as moronic as it is straight out of a frat boy party, the “concept” is just as lame and the music is uninspired, but I must admit it is all rather fun. It’s the type of bootleg I’d throw on while sitting around the pool, or on the back porch sipping something fruity. And in the end, if music can’t be fun once in awhile, then what’s the point after all?

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Norah Jones – 12/02/02

norah_jones_01.jpgThe difference between listening to a studio album and attending a live concert can be enormous. While listening to an album you can control the setting – turn the lights down low for a sensual beat; or turn them completely off while wrapping the headphones around your head to feel every moment of the music pulsing through your neurons and tendons, or wire speakers through your whole house to blast the neighborhood pretty much away for a block party.

You can be as distracted by other things as you want, or completely absorbed in the music. You can play the same track over and over, memorizing every moment until your ears bleed.

But live you only control the immediate environment around you, and sometimes not even that. The band or the venue set up the speakers, mix the instruments and control the overall sound. An outdoor amphitheater creates a completely different vibe than a small, indoor club, or a giant stadium. Crowds can be utterly hushed, plugged into the vibe of the band, or they can be wild crazy beasts hardly noticing that a band is on stage.

I’ve been to too many shows where the audience spent more time shouting and chatting with each other rather than actually listening to the music on stage. But when the audience is in tune, a live concert can be so much more than a studio album. There is a connection audience can make not only with the musicians, but with each other.

There are moments during those concerts when every member of the audience is singing along, washed away in a spiritual convalescence, a musical wave that sweeps us all away into bliss – those moments are perfect, without flaw.

Listening to a recording of a concert can obtain the best and worst of both worlds. You can choose the setting in which to listen, and if the recording is right, be swept away into that blissful moment. OR, you can hear all the flaws in the instrumentation and be utterly distracted by crowd noise.

Norah Jones
San Francisco, California

Norah Jones has a voice so sultry she could turn an albino chicken on. I remember when she first hit it big and everyone was telling me how sexy she was. I wasn’t much for radio in those days (and I’m still not) and it was during a cheap stretch when I wasn’t buying much music, so I didn’t hear her voice until well into her major stardom. My wife eventually bought Come Away With Me and I eventually gave it a listen.

My lord, they were right..

When I first heard that voice I stopped dead in my tracks and melted into a bed of puddin’. Chocolate puddin’, the best kind. I laid down, turned off the lights and drifted off into an ecstasy filled …well let’s just say never leave me alone with Norah Jones and a bed full of puddin’.

On this particular night Norah seems to be in good form. Her voice has retained that sultry siren feel. The back up band plays it nice and smooth. Still, there is something missing, While I enjoy the music, I’m not taken away into the soft lighting.

Part of this is the recording. This is an audience recording and though it sounds quite crisp for an audience mike (the instruments come in clear and crisp, the audience isn’t audible except in the appropriate places) there is something distant and cold in the recording.

Where on her studio albums, Norah feels like she’s sitting next to you on the couch, here she sounds like she’s playing at the bar next door. It really removes me from the recording and makes the bootleg something I enjoy having in my collection, and something I periodically take out to impress my wife, but not really something I search out to find that special secret feeling again.

It’s not just the audience recording that removes me, but also the performance. Again Norah sounds in fine form and there isn’t anything tangible that I can complain about in the band, it’s just that it feels a little…well, clinky.

To go back to the studio again, Norah’s albums have that soft, lush feel to them. The production brings out the music like crushed roses. It makes my knees quiver. It is extremely intimate. This live recording just doesn’t have that. In the live setting, on CD, that intimacy is lost. I’m sure for those that were there in Davies Hall it was all intimate and beautiful, but that’s the thing with bootleg recordings, the experience of listening to it is often much different than actually being there.

On some songs she is able to create an intimate, lush space for which to listen. On “Something Is Calling You” I feel Norah sneak up on me and lay my head on her shoulder as she coos me to sleep. But then again on the opening song, “Turn Me On” she fails too, something I would never expect from Norah.

While listening I found myself continuously wishing I had the studio counterparts instead. It’s either that or having Norah live in the flesh singing to me whilst I sleep in a bed of puddin’. Chocolate puddin’, the best kind.

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Nirvana – 10/31/91

nirvana.jpgBack about 12 years or so I was a counselor at a summer camp. It was a great couple of weeks spent playing games in the sunshine, hanging out with old friends, and mentoring young people. At the time I thought there would be nothing better than being a teacher, a molder of young minds.

The decade since either brought me to my senses, or slipped right by me.

During one of the weeks at camp, I had to go to a concert that I had no interest in. While there I bumped into a girl I became acquainted with a few months back. We began chatting it up and digging on each other.

I noticed some scratches on her arm and listened, fascinated, as she told me how she had etched “Kurt Forever” into her skin with a knife. This was not long after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and like a million other young people who are perpetually affected by such things; she took this selfish act to heart.

This was long before I understood terms like “scarring” or that thousands of young people do such things to themselves every day. I didn’t understand the pain, or the crying out such things often represent. I simply thought it was a pretty cool thing to do, if rather weird. While I was saddened, angered by Cobain’s act, the thought of carving up my own skin because of it was something of incompressibility.

Around the same time I heard “Come As You Are” on the radio which was followed by some smart-alecked DJ made sarcastic comments about Cobain lying when he sang, “And I swear that I don’t have a gun.”

My friend who happened to be a girl who later became something of a girlfriend, became very upset at this comment. She couldn’t understand how someone could joke about the death of an artist, and certainly not the suicide of a genius.

These days when I think about Nirvana, I think about those two girls and their incredibly strong reactions towards the band, its singer, and the songs they produced. In my full-on grunge days I dug the crap out of Nirvana (though truth be told I was always a Pearl Jam man) but these days they barely garner a ‘meh.’

I dig the influential nature of the scene. Rock certainly needed a good swift kick from hair metal, and arena rock. And when listening to the MTV Unplugged album, you can really get a feel for how great a songwriter Cobain, et al. was. But these days, my musical tastes swing the long shot away from the amped up new punk that is the bulk of their releases.

Seattle, WA

A Halloween show just after Nirvana became the saviors of rock music. It is loud, full of angst and anger, and some pretty stinkin’ good melodies underneath it all.

From my 30 year old head, which prefers Donna the Buffalo to Soundgarden, Norah Jones to L7, this guitar heavy neo punk music takes awhile to warm up to. After the first listen I was bored. So I turned it up a few notches, this is rock ‘n freaking roll after all, and it needs to be cranked.

That helped, the rhythmic pounding blasting from my little Saturn’s speakers got me to head banging, all the way down to my pancreas.

But it still wasn’t enough; I kept wishing I had a copy of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions, or maybe a Bruce Hornsby bootleg, circa 1997.

By the third listen my nerves had calmed down, my mind accepted the distortion, the noise, the grunge of it all and I began to digest the music.

For the love of grunge, this is some rockin’ shite.

For a band with only two albums under their belt they mix it up pretty well. They cover a good portion of Bleach and Nevermind, throw in a couple of new songs and even manage to cover the Vaseline’s “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.”

The band seems to be in good spirits. Besides a rockin’ they make some cracks about the audience not being dressed up for Halloween, white boy funk and John Jacobs and the POWER team. But mostly they just rock out.

Listening to these guys throw down the heavy stuff for a fourth time didn’t make me join the cult of Nirvana once more, but it reminded me why I was once part of the faithful.

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: U2 – 08/28/93

u2When asked what season I love the most, autumn is the usual reply. What with the cool, crisp air, the turned leaves that resemble Joseph’s magic Technicolor coat. But when spring comes, I always reconsider.

The sun returns from its slumber. Flowers burst forth and the weather warms my toes – for it is barefoot season again. Spring also makes me fall in love all over again. And when I say love, I mean lust. What with the acres of exposed skin, seething flesh, long luxurious legs, and bountiful boobies.

Yeah, boobies. I love spring for the boobies.

My first true love, the one I’ll always remember is a little Irish rock band called U2.

The year was 1987 I was 11 years old, puberty was in the air, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was in heavy rotation. What a great, f-ing song. Seriously, it’s one of the greatest rock songs ever. Put me on a desert island and that song, nay, the whole bloody album will be coming with me.

That year, and for many to come, I ensconced myself in U2. I went back and bought their old albums, I practically lived with Wide Awake in America in my car. They went live with Rattle and Hum, I memorized ever line from Bono’s mouth. They became electronic and ironic, and I came along for the ride.

They were my band.

Over the years U2 and I have parted ways. The dance beats of Pop didn’t move me. They repented their ways and returned to their roots, but I moved on. I discovered jazz and the jam. But no matter how far apart we’ve grown, I’ll always remember my first true love.

Dublin, Ireland

This was the final stop of the European leg of their Pop Mart tour. What better place to finish up than back home? It is some year and a half after they unveiled the ironic sensibilities of their Zoo TV stage presence. Bono has now become The Fly an enigmatic caricature of a rock star – part Jim Morrison, part Lou reed – donning leather pants, slicked hair and wrap around bubble sun glasses.

This is a far cry from the black and white earnestness of Rattle and Hum era U2.

The boys start out breaking one of my rules for a successful concert. That being, don’t play every song from your new album right off the bat. It is seven songs into the show before we get a song that isn’t off of Actung Baby. Sure, it’s freaking “New Years Day” and it stinking rocks, but shouldn’t you treat your home audience to more than just your new songs?

It’s true that Actung Baby is over a year old by that point, and certainly most of the Dublin audience would have digested it already, but it still seems a little rude, to me anyway. However, since this is a bootleg, and it’s now 2006 those songs are old and now classic.

The new music is still played with ecstasy. You wouldn’t know that this is the end of a long tour for the band. It is energetic and fantastic.

From everything I had heard about this tour, I suspected the music to take a second seat to all the postulating and cheeky visuals. Maybe there were loads of cheeky visuals that I just can’t see through the music, but the songs don’t suffer for it. There are a few moments when Bono rattles on and flips through the channels on that enormous TV, but mostly he keeps quiet, allowing the songs to say it all.

The band is still clearly clued into its audience. Even with the newer songs you can hear everyone in the audience sing along. They mix in some old classics into the new songs – The Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” is perfectly tagged into the end of “One.” The Beatles classic “Help” helps begin “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and the show ends with a lovely sing-a-long version of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

My favorite moment, in fact, is sans band. Bono sings an a capella version of “Help” with the audience singing at the top of their lungs. It is a perfect moment where the audience becomes an intimate member of the production, and where I can’t help but sing along either. It is a testament to the powerful Beatles song, the power of music, and why U2 remains the biggest rock band in the universe.

Another wonderful moment is “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It follows a super version of “Running to Stand Still,” where that song closes, “Streets” opens with a quiet meditative organ. You can feel the audience realizing what they are about to hear with an explosion of cheers just as the guitar erupts and the crowd goes completely bonkers. The song spreads into the cosmos and everything is just alright.

In the last issue of “Bootleg Country” I talked about the ability of the Grateful Dead to change a simple song into something different, something exploratory. U2 is not a psychedelic jam band. The songs here are treated pretty much as they are on their perspective albums. What they create in this live setting is an energy, a connection with the listener that is just as transformative.

This was a great concert from one of the world’s biggest bands in the middle of a transformation that would lead them to something further and grander.

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | 1 Comment

Bootleg Review: Grateful Dead – 11/22/72

gratefuldeadAnd here we are, the Grateful Dead.

Without the Dead there would have no bootlegs. Without the Dead there would be no Bootleg Country. Without the Dead my musical life would be much, much different, and a lot more boring.

Talking about why I love the Grateful Dead always leaves me twisted and tongue tied. There are all kinds of reasons why I love the Dead, but in the end I always sound like yelping dog, howling at the moon.

The old quote goes that writing about music is like dancing for architecture. Well, writing about the Grateful Dead is like doing the hokey pokey for Helen Keller. The Dead’s music is often just something you have to get. Jerry Garcia has been quoted to say:

Grateful Dead Fans are like people who like licorice. Not everyone likes licorice, but the people who like licorice REALLY like licorice.

I don’t like licorice, but I freakin’ love the Dead.

Reasons I love the Dead

The Grateful Dead wrote some sacrilegiously great songs. Jerry Garcia and his lyricist partner, Robert Hunter, are on par with Lennon/McCartney in terms of song craft. And I’d give the upper hand to Hunter for writing insightful, poetic lyrics.

Add to that a dozen or so heart palpitatingly brilliant songs by the rest of the band and you’ve got a collection of songs that rivals just about anything in rock.

Let’s go ahead and admit it, the biggest chunk of the Grateful Dead’s studio albums suck. They are either too experimental or too over produced, but they almost always are too awful to listen to more than once. But as any Deadhead will tell you, the beauty of the Dead don’t lie in their studio work; it’s the live stuff that counts, man.

Live, the Dead were the kings of experimentation, lords of improvisation. They constantly reinvented themselves and their music. Some nights they failed. Some nights they flew into the outmost reaches of the stratosphere. Every night they laid it on the line unscripted and always interesting.

Truly, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

Listening to a crispy soundboard recording of the Dead in concert is like Nirvana (and we’re talking about the spiritual state here, not the grunge band). Lives have been changed by less.

It is as if each member is the lead performer, playing music from the heavens. Yet somehow, on some cosmic connective level they weave in and out of each other creating music that is alive and fitted together perfectly.

Grateful Dead
Austin, TX
Source: Soundboard
Stream this show at


The first several songs of the first set are marred by interesting sound problems. During “Sugaree” Phil Lesh’s bass is over miked, and over shadows the rest of the instruments and vocals. This allows for a very clear understanding of how Phil used his bass as a lead instrument. He truly plays like no other bass player I’ve ever heard. He drives the rhythm and yet steps outside to move the song in different directions. His playing is immediately recognizable and often outstanding.

In the next few songs both Keith Godchaux’s keyboards and Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar get the same miking situation. Again it is completely fascinating to fully hear how the musicians play their instruments in the context of the song.

1972 is one of the peak years for the Dead. They’ve been playing as a band for 7 years now and have fine tuned their particular brand of improvisational psychedelia. They have left behind their early days of Acid Test house band and that absolute craziness in favor of strengthened song writing and craftsmanship.

With the release of their two classic albums, Workingmans Dead and American Beauty, the Dead perfected the craft of storytelling in song and have shed some of the cosmic dead persona they built during their early years. This is not to say that they have stopped stretching the limits of what we know as music, for they still extend their songs into the stratospheric surf. But the songs they use to launch this manic weirdness are better crafted, more finely tuned than what they used before.

They, by this time, have also settled into a two set pattern. As typical of the time (and ultimately the remainder of their 30 year career) the first set is exemplified by shorter mostly straight forward songs.

Here they don’t get close to anything out there until the sixth song of the set, “China Cat Sunflower”, and even then its coupling with “I Know You Rider” is still just over 11 minutes in length. Hardly the half an hour that combiknation has received in the past.

Some of my favorite moments in Deadland come from the interchanges between songs. The Dead often would squish two or more songs together without stopping for a beat between them. These transitional sequences often created some of the most beautiful, amazing music my ears have ever listened too.

Manys the time I’ve sat with my ear phones on, trying to pinpoint exactly when one song would end and the other begin. The subtle change of melody, one movement at a time could be a moving experience.

The transition here between “China Cat” and “Rider” is less than brilliant, but it’s still early in the first set, and as all good heads know, the best is saved for the second set.

The first set climaxes with a splendid 16 minute “Playing in the Band.” They leave all comprehension of the song and enter a magic field of improvisation. Garcia spirals into another dimension while Weir prowls and chases Garcia’s lead. Lesh keeps the backbeat moving with thunderous applause from his bass and we are transported to a forgotten time and space.

The second set of a Grateful Dead concert is where the band really takes off. Typically they quickly launch into interstellar overdrive and stay there the rest of the night. Sometimes as few as five songs would be played over 2 hours of music.

On this night, they play more songs with less chaotic madness. The highlights of the set are a beautifully mournful “He’s Gone” punctuated with an ending musical coda that is as touching as it is surprising.

This leads into a version of “Truckin’” that actually makes me rethink the song and maybe even like it. From there we move into a short Drums followed by the apocalyptic “Other One.”

Phil’s bass must have set off seismographs in other counties it’s so bombastic. It is usually a song reminiscent of God’s thunder, and here it is nothing short of cataclysmic. Playing like that is not of this world.

From there the rest of the set is a bit of a let down. The show is not one of the Dead’s best, it’s not even a highlight of their 1972 run, yet I would still highly recommend it. It’s a great show that stands just below brilliant, a height the Dead reached so often, it’s hard not to feel the twinge of disappointment when they don’t create it again.

But even a less than perfect Dead show is light years beyond what most bands, those mere mortals, ever achieve. Even with its flaws, this is an amazing couple of hours of bootlegged music.

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Frank Sinatra – 05/22/68

frank-sinatraWith the advent of inexpensive, high speed, broadband internet, actual tape trading has almost died out. There is no longer any need to look up tape lists, find good traders and go through the hassle of mailing packages. Now all you have to do is point, click and wait while the internet brings you a new concert recording.

Bootleg collectors are a notoriously cranky bunch. They also have the ears of an audiophile. Back in my trading days I had to adhere to numerous rules to make the serious collector happy. Before CDR, all music had to be recorded on Maxwell XLII tapes, anything else was sub par in terms of quality. I had to write down source material and what generation of tape I had. Each recording from tape to tape reduced the quality of the actual sound.

Even in this new world of exact digital copies, and easy downloads; one still has to be precise as to where ones bootleg collection comes from. Serious collectors will collect several versions of a particularly fine concert to get the best possible source material.

The problem with downloading concerts is that they are often very large files. A Grateful Dead concert often went for three sets, lasting into the wee hours of the morning. Three or four compact disks worth of music can add up to several gigs for a download.

Though the rest of the digital community has converted entire music collections to the .mp3 format, bootleg collectors of stature, cannot stand the degradation in quality that comes from such a compression. Yet, .wav files are much, much too big for a conceivable download.

There are a couple of formats that are now used to compress sound files into something downloadable, without causing any compromise in the sound quality. Both .shn (or shorten) and flac are acceptable compression files.

Both types of files come with their own software to decode the compressions (or compress .wav files). Each also create special signals which can be read by the software to ensure the compression still contains exact data. You can find .shn software at the immensely informative etree site and flac software is available at their own website.

There are numerous website out there in which to download new and old bootlegs. One of the most useful, and expansive is Archive has thousands of concerts available in a myriad of compressed and uncompressed files.

One of the most popular formats in which to download bootleg concerts today is bittorrent. This format has gotten a lot of flack lately in the media because it has also become the primary source of illegal downloads as well.

Bittorrent is kind of an evolution of the peer to peer download software as developed by Napster and Gnutella. Bittorrent’s ability to allow everyone to download small parts of the shared file from everyone allows for simple and fast downloads.

There are torrent sites out there for nearly every band that has ever played a concert. One of my favorites is It’s very jam band friendly, but well, so am I.

If Wilco is your band of choice then let me introduce you to Via Chicago Torrents.

Is bluegrass your thing? Then check out the Bluegrass Box.

None of this suit your fancy, then drop on down to Pure Live Gigs, where they torrent everything from the Rolling Stones to Frank Zappa to Stevie Wonder. With a few searches you can find just about anything you would ever want. It’s a big bootleg world out there, so come on in, the music’s just fine.

Frank Sinatra
Oakland, CA

One of the interesting things that has happened to my collection since going broadband is my ability to collect a myriad of bootlegs from a variety of genres.. In my tape trading days, I generally stuck to the Grateful Dead and other jam bands. The trading scene consisted mostly of bands that actively allowed tapers into their midst and legally allowed their concerts to be traded, freely amongst fans. Where a lot of your big name acts actively pursue punishment for concert recorders, most jam bands, following in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead, accept and encourage the sharing of their concerts.

However, as my horizons expanded with each available download, I found live concerts of nearly every type. While Frank Sinatra may not sing “Fly Me to the Moon” in 50 different ways, it is still interesting to hear how he sounded in a live setting. At under a quarter per blank disk, and only a few bucks a month for the internet connection, the price was completely right to find out.

This show is a lovely sounding soundboard of Sinatra singing many of his standards and fan favorites. The backing band is swinging and his voice is in full form.

Apparently there were some hecklers at this show, for a few times Sinatra cuts his singing off to take a crack right back at them. Just before he sings “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)” he jibes, “Oh the back the back…” obviously frustrated with the hecklers. Yet, through it all he is the ultimate professional, never breaking the rhythm of the song.

Sinatra has such a fluid, real voice that many of the songs sound almost exactly like the studio versions. It is a voice so strong that it doesn’t need the digital clean up of the studio to make the girls swoon.

More than once I’ve gotten a few queer looks from other drives as I buzz down the road singing at the top of my lungs with Frank on “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Sinatra seems to love all the songs he sings. To introduce them he announces this is one of the greatest songs ever written. Towards the end he nearly runs out of adjectives to describe the songs (the greatest/sweetest/loveliest American/folk/contemporary songs every written by a left footed Bulgarian ballerina.)

Personally, I could do without some of the slower ballads like “It Was a Very Good Year,” and the very rich, and very white Sinatra really can’t pull off the powerful slave songs “Ol’ Man River,” even if it was written by two very white men.

But this is Sinatra, and to complain over a few song choices is trivial. The voice is there and that’s enough to win points with any lover, playing over a candle lit dinner.

July 26, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Alison Krauss and Union Station – 09/02/05

alison kraussI first started collecting bootlegs in 1997. The internet had really just come into its own, exploding all over the place, including my little apartment. I had recovered from the staggering amount of boobies available, and had begun looking for other interests, including music.

With my 2800 kps modem there wasn’t much use in looking at graphic intensive sites so I quickly made a place for myself on Usenet groups. One of my favorite places was, a land-of-plenty for Grateful Deadheads.

Patiently I read through months of messages about trading live bootleg tapes. It seemed to be a secret society thriving on the edge of this international, public network. They even used secret code words like B+P*, SBD**, and GDTRFB***. I had been chatting long enough to understand the basics of internet speech, I could LOL with the best of them, but these deadheads had a language all to themselves.

There were agreements going on all the time, special music and tapes being passed back and forth all carrying their own specific rules. Rules to which if you broke, you were forever labeled with words like “bad trader,” marked like the beast to be banished from this secret world.

After several months of deciphering the code words and understanding the secret rules to this society I finally decided I wanted to enter into this world.

With the help of a buddy who had a few bootlegs (which he had obtained by giving out hamburgers to a local trader, which is a story in itself) I posted a message to the board asking for trades to help a newbie out.

I was overwhelmed with responses. Numerous folks said they would tape some shows for me if I would send them blank tapes and the price of the postage to get them to me. A couple of kind folks sent me freebies, including one guy who sent me a stack of tapes from every decade the Grateful Dead played.

Quickly I turned around and asked for more trades, passing around my little list. Others, just like me, with small lists, gave me lists of their own and trades were made, more music was obtained.

It was addictive. I kept a list of what tapes I had, who I had traded with, to whom I was currently trading and who was a bad trader. Though most folks in the scene were very cool and kind, there were a few folks who would set up a trade, receive the tapes I had sent, and then never send anything back. This was more of a hassle than an actual loss.

To set up a trade in those days, I would spend hours on websites that contained thousands of tape lists. I’d search those lists looking for shows I didn’t have and that sounded interesting. Then I’d search another website to get the set lists and reviews of that particular show. When I found some things I wanted, I’d email the owner and ask for a trade.

Half the folks never responded, either they were too busy or I had nothing they wanted. After sending out 10-20 requests a few responses would come in. Multiple emails would pass setting up all the requirements for the trade. There would be discussions of the quality of the material, of what type of tapes we each used, whether we wanted to send the cases or not. On and on we worked out the details until finally all was settled and nothing was left to do but start recording. It might take a week to get everything settled upon and a trade officially made.

So, it was extremely disappointing to go through all that work and receive nothing in return because of a bad trader.

But when a trade went through there was nothing sweeter. Seeing that bubble mailer lying next to the door when I got home was paradise. Opening the package, reading over the tapes received and then sliding them into the tape deck to fill the room full of beautiful new music was nothing short of awesome.

Some of the best music I’ve ever heard comes from these bootlegs.

Alison Krauss and Union Station
Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival
Woodstown, NJ3 out of 5 starsAlison Krauss has a lovely voice, smooth as silk pie. It’s the kind of voice that makes your loins weep. It’s the kind of voice that will make atheists believe, and the faithful renounce their calling for their can be no god, but Alison. She’s not a bad fiddle player either.With the Union Station, Alison sports one of the finest bluegrass units playing music today. This particular show has everything you could want from an Alison Krauss concert — well, except the masterful dobro picking of Jerry Douglass, who didn’t join the band until 1998. Even so, the music sported here in both the early and late shows are full of fast picking and soulful ballads.

With songs like “Baby, Now that I’ve Found You,” I suspect that if you followed up with audience members you would find more than a few children who have birthdays nine months after this show.

Dan Tyminski, most famously known as George Clooney’s singing voice in <i>O Brother, Where Art Thou?</i> adds the perfect harmony to Alison’s lead. The entire band aptly plays along during the slow songs, and tears it up for the faster ones.

If I have a complaint it is about the quality of the actual songs. I’ve never heard a studio album from these guys that I’ve really enjoyed. They seem to choose songs written by friends, which should be great for the friendship, but not necessarily a good choice for the band. There is generally very little to latch on to and remember after the music is over. I rarely find myself humming one of their tunes, or singing a remembered lyric.

This is easily overlooked, for the entire band members excel with their musicianship and Alison sings like the heavens above. Listening to them live I forget that the songs themselves aren’t necessarily awe inspiring. This is surely a case where the band performs well beyond the songs themselves.

*B+P – Blanks and Postage, one sided trades where somebody with a bootleg will record it for another if that person sends the blank tapes and enough postage to ship the tapes back.

**SBD – Soundboard tapes, used to signify bootlegs recorded directly off of a soundboard feed.

*** GDTRFB – “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” title of a traditional song covered many times by the Grateful Dead

July 25, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Wilco (April 17, 2006)

wilco.jpgThe last and first time I saw Wilco in concert I walked out. That’s right, walked right out the door on one of the best bands playing rock and roll today. This was just after A Ghost is Born came out, so it was well into all the hoopla over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Frankly, at the time I wasn’t much of a fan, I had only heard the Being There album and attended the show more out of something to do, than any real relationship to the band or their music.

They were playing a club way too small for them at the time. It was standing room only, and within a few songs into their set, the place was swelling. Everyone was jostling for position, pushing, squishing, and elbowing in every direction. It was more than my wife, and our friend could take.

The final poke was from an enormous young man who was not only pushing for the front row, but talking obnoxiously loud on his cell phone right in front of us. My two companions moved way to the back of the small club. I moved to a friendly section of the crowd but knew my time was coming. After a few more songs I found my people and we decided to walk out. The band was good, but not knowing any songs and the rotten crowd overruled anything our ears were hearing.

Fast forward to last night, I have since become a convert to the Wilco idolatry religion, and am very excited to see them again. Hoping to finally rid myself of the stigma of having once walked out.

This time the venue is much larger and more fitting to the band’s status. The IU Auditorium is a medium sized auditorium with lots of seats and space.

The opening band was local and an odd mix of the Meat Puppets, “Space Oddity” era David Bowie and Radiohead. They started promptly at 8:00 to a crowd at less than half capacity.

Opening acts are an odd thing to me. They say they are there to get the crowd jazzed and loosened up, but the crowds I’ve seen are usually bored by an opener and keep looking at their watches hoping those fools will get off the stage so the headliners will appear.

I guess it’s a good opportunity to hear bands you might not have heard before.

The opening band played a good 40 minute set. After a long 40 minute pause, Wilco finally took the stage at 9:20.

The crowd now at full capacity gave the auditorium a good holler.

They opened with a rumbling version of “Airline to Heaven” followed by a scorching “Kingpen.”

The crowd was pretty tame. My section of the balcony was half standing, half still in their seats. Songs from Yankee Foxtrot Hotel got the biggest cheers of the night, but songs from all of their other albums got noticeably less participation in the sing-alongs.

Actually my realization for the night is that Wilco has very little in terms of sing along lyrics. Sure, they have a few good belters such as the hillbilly bluegrass chanter “Forget the Flowers” and the nonsensicalness of “I’m a Wheel” is a hoot to scream a long with, but so much of their music has these sorts of odd tempos and changes that render any typical sing-along too difficult to enjoy.

They more than make up for this with the music. There are so many great hooks in their songs as to get lost in them trying to count. The quiet beginning of “At Least That’s What You Said” followed by the loud, pounding rhythm which is then followed by a louder, more pounding rhythm is a slice of pure rock and roll heaven.

More than once I reached the point of ecstasy where my body shook to the beat as only a white boy can, my eyes closed and my smile took over my whole person. Surely the sign of a great rock concert.

Lead singer/guitarist/primary song writer Jeff Tweedy goaded the audience by saying we were acting rather mild for an audience he had been pre-warned would be rowdy. This was the beginning of Little 500 week at Indiana University, the loudest, most party-rific week at a school which has often won the title of “#1 Party School.”

The audience responded by jumping over the rails at the front row and cramming right up against the stage.

The band closed a second encore with “California Stars” and we walked out into the cool spring night under lovely Indiana ones.

1. Airline To Heaven
2. Kingpin
3. Handshake Drugs
4. A Shot In The Arm
5. At Least That’s What You Said
6. Hell Is Chrome
7. Spiders (Kidsmoke)
8. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
9. Forget The Flowers
10. War On War
11. Jesus, Etc.
12. Hummingbird
13. The Good Part
14. Walken
15. Heavy Metal Drummer
16. Theologians
17. I’m The Man Who Loves You
18. Monday

Encore 1:
19. The Late Greats
20. I’m Always In Love
21. I’m A Wheel

Encore 2:
22. California Stars

July 25, 2006 Posted by | Concert Review | Leave a comment