Bootleg Nation

Bootleg Review: Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – 06/03/05

cit_sandpointfestivalimg_05-20-2005_6d4il3s.jpgSome musicians take time to grow on me. A seed will be planted with one or two songs, but weeks, months, or even years may go by before I listen to another one. Sometimes I may hear a few other songs, but they won’t catch. In time a few more songs or albums may find their way across my musical table and their diggability may grow. Eventually I may even grow into true fandom, and on a few occasions that grows into total obsession.

Ryan Adams is such an artist. I first heard him with his big hit “New York, New York,” shortly after 9/11. His infectious, hopeful tune about a city so prominent in the nations mind, coupled with the video, in heavy MTV rotation, shot on the Brooklyn Bridge helped ease my own (as well as many others) pain in such tumultuous times.

It wasn’t enough to make me buy the album, though. Over the next few months, I heard little more of his work. There was a song or two that came to me through movies or TV shows, and I caught him performing during a Willie Nelson tribute, all of which I enjoyed but other than making a mental note that I kind of dug him, I did nothing else.

More months slipped by and my Mondo Brethren began praising the name of Saint Ryan. I downloaded a few more upbeat songs and found I really was beginning to dig this man. Then I got a copy of Demolition and all was nearly lost. At the time I was living in a tiny apartment in Strasbourg with only my laptop and some cheap, crappy speakers of which to fulfill my musical needs. Demolitions brand of slower, softer, sad-bastard songs did not bode so well in this format. None, but “Hallelujah” clicked with me and I put off my Ryan Adams obsession after that.

The Mondo Brethren continued to elevate St. Ryan to savior status, so I found a few more tunes that weren’t so depressing and my interest again perked up. Then Ryan found the Cardinals and I grew to true love and ultimate obsession status. Something about that band brings out the best in Mr. Adams, and I dug it like nothing else. Not long after I found Heartbreaker, and downloaded the unreleased Destroyer and I knew I’d never come back.

I even grew to love Demolition.

ryan2.jpgRyan Adams and the Cardinals
06/03/05
Northern Lights, Clifton Park, NY

If they only played the opening song – “Easy Plateau” – I’d call this one of my favorite bootlegs ever. The beginning of the song is just cut off, but it fades into a nice interplay of sweet licks. Though they’ve only been playing together for maybe a year or so by this point, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals sound like they are old compatriots and road warriors. They are gelled, greased, and working together like a fine engine. Clearly this is a band on a mission. Ryan takes me to that place where “the cold don’t come and the wind don’t blow,” and every things all right.

Damn, Sam, if this is the first song, what’s next?

What’s next is nearly three hours of some darn fine rock and roll. Did I say that this band is playing like well tested road warriors? Well, it stands true through two tellings. I hate to compare them to the Grateful Dead, because well Brewster’s always rattling on about the Grateful Dead and there ain’t nothing like the Dead, but these guys create a cohesive sounds that reminds me very much of those boys in their prime. Ryan seems to understand this as well, because he’s sure throwing out his best Jerry Garcia licks. They don’t ever get particularly out there or spacey, but each instrument seems to be telepathically transmitting what they are doing and where they are going to everyone else. It’s the type of thing I live for. Stretching a song in different directions, yet retaining a cohesive whole.

It must have been a hot June night there in New York for the band has to stop several times throughout to retune their instruments. Ryan complains loudly about the heat and it’s impact upon the equipment, but this non-professional ear can’t tell the difference. In fact if the heat is screwing them up, here’s hoping for a life of brutal summers for them.

Early in the first set they start to stretch out with an eleven minutes “What Sin” howls and yelps the blues like demons on fire. And the improvisational nature of the beast remains throughout the entire show. They even give nod to the Grateful Dead by covering their classic “Bird Song” to close out the first set.

Not everything is loud with a growl, for to love Ryan Adams is to love his soft side too. To the Cardinals praise, they know how to turn down the howling beast and allow the pink underbelly to show when things get slow and soft. Songs like “She Wants to Play Hearts” and “When Stars Go Blue” are performed beautifully, with tenderness and just enough bite to keep them interesting.

Though there are a few too many interruptions with heat warped instruments and rambly chatter, Ryan and the Cardinals put on a fantastic show full of too many highlights to list.

Though I came to Ryan Adams a bit late in the game, and my interest was slow to grow, shows like this make me thank the rock gods for having him around and this chance to have captured it on tape.

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April 19, 2007 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Country: Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy – 10/25/56

peteseeger2.jpgThere are many thoughts that come to mind when I hear the name Pete Seeger: Socialist, outspoken folkie, encyclopedic knowledge of music worldwide, compatriot to Woody Guthrie, Pinko-Commie, and axe-wielding madman running after an electrified Bob Dylan. It is his love and gift for folk music from around the globe, though, that I hope he will always be remembered.

Listening to Pete Seeger, in concert, is like being with a historian and archaeologist of the world’s music. He seems to know every song ever sung, and to be friends with their writers and singers. He is the soul of America, a true treasure trove of song.

I have a handful of concerts by Seeger, some official, others not, and in every one is a historical road map of folk. Though he often plays by himself, with banjo for accompaniment, he is never short of musicians, for he makes everyone in the audience part of the band. No, Pete Seeger concerts are not Holy Places where the music is sacred, and the audience mere worshipers. We are part of the song, singers and clappers and performers one and all. In nearly every song, he points out a chorus, or a repeating line that he encourages the audience to sing. Where they can’t sing, he says they can clap and hum.

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March 26, 2007 Posted by | Bootleg Review | 3 Comments

Bootleg Review: Nanci Griffith – 11/29/98

245556289_47084b85bb.jpgIt is a proven fact. It is a distinguished truth. It is Holy Writ. It is absolutely impossible to hear Nanci Griffith’s version of “Across the Great Divide” for the first time and not immediately ask who it is singing, which is quickly followed by, “I like it.”

Seriously, I have played it for die hard rockers, Deadheads, jazz aficionados, and even my uncle who hasn’t listened to music since the Hoover administration and they have all, without fail, said the same words. The song is that good.

The rest of the album, Other Voice, Other Rooms follows suit. It’s brilliant in its conception and perfect in performance. It is essentially Nanci, performing her favorite songs with her favorite performers (who also happen to usually be the writers of those songs.)

Like a number of my now favorite performers, I came to Nanci through the BMG music club. You know the drill, get 10 CDs for a penny and then agree to buy a few more at regular club prices. The thing with BMG is that they have lots of sales, and so their regular club prices come out not so bad. I’ve done this scores of times over the years, sign up, complete the deal, cancel and then sign up again. It was a great way to broaden my music collection without spending a fortune.

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February 14, 2007 Posted by | Bootleg Review | 3 Comments

Bootleg Review: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – 10/28/06

tompetty.jpgIn his 30 year career Tom Petty has sold more than 50 million albums, received three Grammy awards, a Golden Note award, the Gershwin Award For Lifetime Musical Achievement, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So why doesn’t he seem to get more respect?

To me, it stems from his ability to continually knock out solid albums in a steady fashion for all those years. Every couple of years, Petty puts out an album full of solidly good, if not great material. There are usually a couple of standout hits in each, but no album really rises above the rest. Think about it. Is there one Petty album that you would consider to be an absolute classic? What is his Revolver? Or Dark Side of the Moon? Or Blonde on Blonde? No, in my ever so humble opinion, none of his albums quite make it to that genius level.

Petty’s career has remained relatively stable over the last three decades as well. He continues to put out solid albums, record hit songs and take his band on the road. There haven’t been any giant breakdowns or burn outs. He hasn’t even faded away. No, there has always been a Tom Petty making good songs and churning out classic rock. Where almost all of your great rock bands have all died by one mean or another, Petty has remained one of the few rockers to keep truckin’.

I think by continually putting out good, not great albums so steadily it is easy for the casual fan to overlook Petty’s achievement. Without one brilliant album to cling to, his dozen really good ones get overlooked. By never leaving our presence, it’s easy to sort of forget about how remarkable his career really is.

10/28/06
Double Down Stage
Las Vegas, NV
Download this show via Bittorrent
One of the great things about Tom Petty’s long career is that he can play a different set list almost every night and still sprinkle it heavily with hit songs. For this performance he performs half a dozen of his hit singles, while mixing in songs from his newest album, Highway Companion, slightly obscure older songs, and a few BB King covers.

campbell.jpgThe Heartbreakers never veer far from the original versions of the songs, but perform with the vibrant energy only found at live concerts. Occasionally there is an extended guitar solo, but it never wanders far from the song’s melody and always ends way too quickly for these ears. Mike Campbell proves over and over that while he may never make it to any top lists of greatest guitarist lists, he is more than capable of producing sweet licks and charbroiled sounds.

This is a pretty decent audience recording, and as such there is a good blend of the band playing and the audience enjoying the show. The band mixes are a little muddled, so this is nothing to put on your A-list shelf, but the audience is so exuberant and excited in their response and sing-along that I find myself getting swept away in it all. When the light is just right, I close my eyes and almost feel like I’m right there.

Tom Petty may never find the diehard fanship of The Beatles, Dylan or The Dead, but by continually writing good songs and putting on shows like this, he’s proven to be one of the most steady and long-lasting performers in rock and roll. Not a bad epitaph to have in the end.

Enjoy a few sample .mp3s: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’,” “It’s Good to be King,” and “American Girl.”

December 22, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Country: John Prine – 09/12/99

John PrineIt’s been a long time since the last installment of Bootleg Country, and I’m sorry about that. The truth of the matter is that I do most of my primary musical listening in the car. Sure tunes are often playing in the homestead, but it is usually regulated to the background as when I’m at home I’m either cleaning, or reading, or playing on this here computer and definitely not paying that much attention to the music that fills the aural cavities.

The thing that makes sense of that above paragraph is that I was laid off from my job back in the month of August. Without a daily trip to and from the workplace, my automobile driving is rather limited. Well, I should say my automobile driving of my own car, for when I do go out these days it is usually with the misses and since she owns the better car, we take it.

Thus I’ve had little opportunity to do any listening to bootlegs, and without the listening there isn’t much to write about.

Thanks to a long drive to visit my folks out in Oklahoma I’m happy to present the newest edition of Bootleg Country. I’d like to promise regular upcoming editions, but there still isn’t a decent job in sight.

Back in the days of college I had a friend, well I had lots of friends, but there was one in particular that stood out. Musically that is. He had this big giant tape collection filled with all sorts of musicians I had never heard of.

You see when I was in the age of growing up I only knew music through the pop radio station, MTV and my mom. MTV and the radio both played basically the same songs, that is to say whatever was a hit at the moment, while my mom had a nice collection of classic rock vinyl. It was there I first heard Dylan, the Beatles, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and many others. But even all this was not cutting very deep into the pantheon of rock music.

It was in the latter days of high school that I began to search out music out of the mainstream. With magazines like Spin and Alternative Press I began to learn of bands like Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., All, and Operation Ivy. Periodically I actually had the cash to actually buy the albums I was reading about and my musical knowledge grew.

Then there was this fella in college who had such a lovely collection of tunes. We became friendly enough, and I dropped by enough that he gave me a key to his dorm room and I would often slip in while he was at class or on a date or whatever. I would sit all alone in that room playing tape after tape, filled with new music.

It was within those walls that I first heard a Grateful Dead bootleg. It was there I first fell in love with a man named Willie Nelson. And it was there I discovered Lyle Lovett, John McCutcheon, and John Prine.

John Prine
09/12/99
West 54th Street
New York, NY
Setlist

In the liner notes to the first John Prine album, Kris Kristopherson tells the story of hearing an unsigned and unheard of John Prine play a few songs in a little club, after hours. He relates that moment to what it must have been like to hear Bob Dylan at the Gaslight in the early sixties. Kristopherson, no stranger to great songwriting, knows of what he speaks.

Prine laughs off the Dylan comparison in an interview on this bootleg with a breezy, “yeah there were four or five of us,” and while Dylan comparisons aren’t really necessary, Prine has written some of the best danged folk songs this country has ever seen.

This bootleg is from a taping of the television program, Sessions at West 54th and as such you get a few things that differ from the normal bootleg. The sound quality is great, though having been compressed for television signals, the extreme audiophile may beg to differ. The set is relatively short, fitting nicely onto one blank CD. And there are a few interview sections with John Hiatt.

I should also note that my bootleg is missing a few songs from the official set list, which makes me assume that it was recorded straight off of the television show, and not the later DVD release, or soundboard feed.

As an added bonus there are a few duets with the always lovely Iris Dement. The taping comes off of Prine’s release of the album, In Spite of Ourselves, which heavily featured Ms. Dement.

The show starts with a rollicking, rambling “Spanish Pipedream” with a full band, and they sound like they are having lots of fun, even if the music is a bit of a mess. It still remains one of my favorite songs and contains an oft quoted (at least by me) chorus:

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own

The band settles down to a gentle “so sad it’s pretty” version of “Six O’Clock News” followed by the relatively new, but still utterly sad “All the Best.”

Iris Dement sings on four songs (“(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” “Let’s Invite Them Over Again,” “When Two Worlds Collide,” and “In Spite of Ourselves”) and while she is always a welcome voice to my ears, on this set she only accentuates the raggedness of Prine’s natural voice .

There is an amusing anecdote given before “In Spite of Ourselves” where Prine discusses how he had to cajole DeMent a little to sing the song with him due to it’s “questionable lyrics” (which include sniffing undies and convict movie fetishes.) Ultimately she was won over and we have a song that’s pure Prine – raunchy, sweet and hilarious – and the world is better for it.

During one of the interview sections Prine mentions how he got started in the business by playing at an amateur hour for a local club. After hearing the first three songs he’d ever written Prine was hired permanent.

Those three songs? “Souvenirs,” “Paradise,” and “Sam Stone.”

As Hiatt says in the interview, “Good God, I would have hired you after that too.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Prine or those songs, that would be like Dylan saying his first three songs were, “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin.”

This is the best sounding Prine bootleg I have, and despite a somewhat ragged performance, it is still a great disk.

The entire session has been released on DVD and is available through Amazon.

I’m always up for some bootleg trading, if you have a list, drop me a line. Or if you’re just starting out, I can always help a kind soul with a B+P.

Here’s a couple of MP3s from the show for your listening pleasure.

Six O’Clock News

In Spite of Ourselves

Lake Marie

November 29, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Otis Redding – 1967

otisredding.jpgBefore I begin with this week’s review let me first apologize for the lack of content here of late. I normally listen to my bootlegs while driving to and from work, since being laid off, I’ve been driving my car remarkably less and thus have had little time to listen. You might think this would free up time to listen at home, but I have remained quite active in other things and music in the home tends to work as something in the background. I try to give my full attention to bootleg reviews and thus I have been quite absent here. Please accept my apologies.

Let’s put a few facts on the table. I am a middle aged, middle class, white male from the Midwestern United States. I’ve got no soul, I can’t jump, I can’t dance and I can’t get the blues. I don’t know the difference between hip-hop and rap, the blues from complaining, or soul from Shinola.

What I do know is I love Otis Redding, and if it is soul that he sings, then I’ll spend my life wishing I had some.

Otis had a voice like silk pie. He could make a blind man see, the dead rise again, and a middle class, middle age white guy shake it like he’s got a pair.

This particular bootleg is actually a mix of at least three separate venues all from 1967. As such the quality of each performance varies from simply super to less than stellar. It also contains a few songs played more than once. The result feels less than complete, a little like listening to rehearsal tapes for an album, but Otis displays enough overt energy in every song to make it well worth listening to.

It helps that his band is cracker jack. They swing, jump and pop all over the place. With Otis keeping up every step of the way it is nothing short of a celebration of life, soul and music.

Four songs into the disk he covers the Beatle’s classic “A Hard Days Night.” At first it feels out of place, the music feels to heavy and dense. But in less than a minute, as by sheer force of will, Otis converts me to his side of things. He’s like a fire and brimstone preacher shouting to his minions that there is a better way, and it involves plenty of horns.

Even on slower songs like the tender “Pain in My Heart” the band cooks and lights a fire under the sentiment. It is not as soul wrenching as what you’ll hear on studio albums, but it is impossible to complain as the beat moves your out of your seat and onto the dance floor.

In pieces you can hear that’s just where the audience is – moving and grooving and shouting like the apocalypse has just announced the end of times, but first there’s a party to attend. During “FA-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” Otis turns the audience into part of the chorus and I they blow him out of the park in terms of sheer volume. They are there to have a good time, and there aint nothing gonna stop them now.

The differing levels from venue to venue couples with the couple of songs played twice mars the overall effect of this bootleg, but Otis Redding turns it all loose and more than makes up for the problems with performances that are out of this world.

With only a handful of available bootlegs out there for Otis Redding, this is definitely worth seeking out for collectors and fans of Otis and soul music itself.

October 9, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | 3 Comments

Bootleg Country: William Shatner – 1977

128574.jpgWilliam Shatner
??/??/77
Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY

I first learned of bootleg trading through the now defunct Grateful Dead usenet group rec.music.gdead. It is no surprise then when I say that the majority of the music I saw available was the Dead and Dead related bands. Once in awhile I would find a list with something a little more unusual, say Pink Floyd or Lynard Skynard on a list, but it was usually just one show from such a band and it was an unusual sight.

Whenever I would see these “odd” shows I would scramble to trade for them. Partially because I thought they were so rare and would make good trade bait, and partially because I was interested to hear what these other bands sounded like.

It wasn’t until years later, with the availability of broadband internet and the usability of bit torrent that I realized that these oddities were much more available than I thought. Moving out of jam band circles enlightened me to another world.

By far the oddest bootleg in my collection is this 1977 recording of William Shatner performance. It is part stand up, part dramatic performance, and part audience participation and completely weird.

The performance is some 8 years after the original Star Trek television series was cancelled and a couple of years before the first movie came out, yet it is obvious that Shatner is performing before a group of Trekkers.

The show begins with Shatner reading a poem entitled “Earthbound” about a fanciful young man who is abducted by aliens for a time. It is very theatrical with spacey sound effects and Shatner reciting in his best Shakespearean voice.

Throughout the show he reads poetry, essays and theatrical monologues to illustrate points he’s trying to make in his spoken word performance. In his verbal essay he points towards man’s yearning to travel, explore and learn throughout time.

Shatner appears very well versed in history and philosophical matters, at least for the purpose of this performance.

Scattered throughout the theatrics, he answers questions from the audience which mostly deal with the series and rumors of the upcoming movie. It is particularly interesting to hear this information as the film is still in the very early stages of development (Leonard Nimoy has yet to even sign on, though Shatner says it is simply a dispute over contracts.)

In these segments Shatner also sound nervous and unsure of himself. It is quite often he tosses of a quick line and follows it with a high pitched giggle making him sound like a school boy asking a girl to the prom. It seems peculiar that a well worn actor of stage and screen would get nervous around an audience, but that may be the difference between performance and simply talking in front of a lot of people. In fact the nervousness goes completely away when he recites his theatrical lines.

I would never be able to consider myself one of the Trek fold. I remember watching the original series as a boy in afternoon reruns. I was enthralled with the drama, the action and the ladies legs in those little skirts. On the school bus me and a friend would often draw the different versions of the Enterprise in the condensations forming on the window.

However when the Next Generation came out I watched some episodes with enthusiasm, but often I was distracted by other things and paid it no mind whatsoever. I’ve watched all of the movies, but have paid no mind to subsequent series. So while I would consider myself a fan, I am always humble when I say such a thing for I know my fandom goes only so far.

Which may be why when I listen to William Shatner wax poetic about mankind’s deepest desires to explore the unknown I have a mysterious smirk on my face instead of a mystified look of reverence.

September 21, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Paul Simon – 02/14/87

paul-simon.jpgWhen I was an early teen, say 14, I got a little compact stereo for Christmas. It has a radio, tape deck and a record player. As my parent’s record player had died many years prior I was very interested in this little device.

My mother, ever the child of the sixties, had an astounding record collection of great early rock and roll (I am sad to say it has since been lost in a flood.) The Beatles, Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, the Rascals, Beach Boys, Loving’ Spoonful, you name it if it was a hit in the 1960s she probably had it on vinyl.

This was also the point in my life when I began to take music seriously. Certainly I had enjoyed music prior to this. I used to tape Casey Casem’s Top 40 show every week as well as the local stations nightly top 10 requests. But I would often record over those tapes with whatever songs were new and popular. Music was something fluffy and fun, like candy that was to be enjoyed and discarded afterwards.

Now with all of this great music at my fingertips I began to really understand the depth and reach of what music could really be. For the first time I began to really digest the poetry of Dylan, the guttural sex of the Stones and the sheer brilliance of the Beatles. This was more than just throw away pop music, it was important.

I spent many hours sitting inside my room, lying flat on my back in my bed devouring this new music. Most of these songs I had heard previously. Mother listened to Oldies radio and so much of what I was now listening to wasn’t new at all. I had heard all of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits separately many times over the years. Yet, as odd as it may sound, I had never put together that they were all his.

As much as I might now scoff at Greatest Hits albums, the 10 songs put together on Dylan’s version was life changing to this little boy. I couldn’t believe one person had sung so much greatness.

It was Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel that made the biggest impression on me. Something about the sheer force of their songwriting knocked the breath out of me.

To this day I can remember listening to the “Boxer” late one night. As I had done many times before I turned off the lights and set the volume down low as to allow the music to lull me asleep. Except I couldn’t sleep because my mind kept listening. I couldn’t stop, the song was too forceful to allow such a thing as sleep. The music, as it has done many a time since, kept me awake and begging for more.

02/14/87
Rutfaro Stadium
Harare, Zimbabwe
Etree Link for Setlist

When I first started dating the girl who was to become my wife I gave her three CDs as a means to share my musical obsession. They weren’t necessarily my all time favorite CDs, though they would certainly be high on the list, but albums I thought she would never have heard and that would shed some light into music that moved me.

Those albums were Willie Nelson’s Stardust, Nanci Griffith’s One Fair Summer Evening, and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Graceland is an album of sheer joy to me. It is filled with great pop songcraft as well as a myriad of astounding vocals and rhythms from South Africa. It also helped bring about Americans listening to “World Music”.

This show is a song by song recreation of the album complete with a cacophony of South African musicians who provide their own myriad of sounds.

In fact it is the African performances that make the bootleg worth listening to. Simon certainly performs with adequacy, but there is nothing here that really outshines the album. Part of the problem is that he only plays songs off of Graceland. To be a really great performance, to me, you need to play songs spanning your entire career, not just one album.

Maybe Simon wanted to highlight only his newest album. Perhaps he wanted to showcase the African musicians and singers for the entire show. It seems to me this could have been done better by arranging a few older songs to include the singers. I can imagine an absolutely astounding African vocal arrangement of “April Come She Will” and a mesmerizing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But for whatever reason, we don’t get any of that, just Graceland and a number of what I can only guess are African originals.

It is there that the disks shine. The South African performers create sounds with their voices and instruments that are out of this world (or at least out of this part of the world). It is mystifying.

Unfortunately the mix of Simon and the South Africans is a little underwhelming. I have heard marvelous things about this tour, and I suspect had I been in the audience I would be saying similar marvelous things, but to these ears, the tape doesn’t hold up to the hype.

It is hard to point at anything particularly wrong with this set, but when I think of Paul Simon performing Graceland live in South Africa with performers from the area I get all goose pimply and when I listen to the disks, I keep waiting for something more.

It is a good set, with good music. It’s just that when compared to say the Grateful Dead circa 1977 or Dylan in the 60’s or Bela Fleck in any year, this set just doesn’t have that same magic.

September 13, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | Leave a comment

Bootleg Review: Gillian Welch – 09/17/03

david rawlings and gillian welchI have a long history of not going to a concert and then regretting it for years to come. The reasons for not going usually involve not having anyone to go with/not wanting to go alone, and not being familiar enough with the artist to convince me that the show is a must see.

That and I’m a cheap bastard.

A few months down the road I usually become more familiar with the artist and begin cursing myself for not seeing them. This happens often in the city I currently live. It is a college town and large enough to nab artists just before they hit the big time, but too small, and too close to Indianapolis to carry them after that. So usually it is once missed, never see again.

Gillian Welch came to town a few years back and I thought about seeing her. I liked the few songs I had heard of hers, but the voice in the back of my head got to nagging – you don’t know her songs, you won’t be able to sing along, you should be saving your hard earned dough – and I didn’t go.

Oh how I have cursed my ever loving name for that. How I’ve yearned for her to come back to no avail.

09/17/03
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI

Quite simply, Gillian Welch’s voice is nothing short of heavenly.

If there really are angels, and they really do sing, then they must sound like Gillian Welch.

She has some of the most haunting, achingly beautiful songs ever sung. I am reminded of Alison Krauss in that the two have similarly beautiful voices, yet where Alison’s choice of songs often make no impression on me, Gillian’s own songs and her choice of covers are perfect for her style and often get stuck in my head for days on end. I have been singing “Look at Miss Ohio” for a week now.

This show starts with a triple play of my favorite Gillian Welch songs. “Look at Miss Ohio” starts off the show and it often gets a repeat play around these parts. It is followed by “Elvis Presley Blues” which is the first Gillian Welch song I ever knew, and remains one of my favorites. It speaks of nostalgia, the deep mysterious ache of loss and the magic of music. It is a perfect song and Gillian Welch sings it like it’s the only song in the world.

My holy trinity is concluded with “Rock of Ages” which is one of Gillian Welch’s rocking out songs, and by that I mean it has a tempo other than a slow dirge.

Before I go any further, I really must mention David Rawlings, Gillian’s musical partner for many years. David often gets overlooked in writings about Gillian, but is very much an important player in her musicality. On stage he sings harmony and plays guitar and gives the music a layered and more dense quality.

She follows her trio of excellence with an entire show of great music. It is a show that reaches spiritual proportions. The music is so soft and warm and kind it wraps around me like a blanket near a fire while the cold wind and rain whip about outside.

This is an audience recording and as such we hear the crowd scream and shout between songs at a louder volume than preferable. However, they do keep quiet during the song performances allowing the music to filter in untouched and unmarred.

My only complaint is that the show runs just a tad long. While the music is always beautiful, Gillian’s penchant for playing slow, sad songs starts to be too much by the middle of the second disk. I find myself fully ready for it to be over a few songs before it actually is. I suspect as an audience member I would have begged for more, but as it is, on CD I’m ready for the closure.

It is a great disk by a overlooked performer, whose music really matters. In a world full of dizzying pop songs, flashy lights, and fast edited videos, Gillian Welch seems more of the past, like some ancient hieroglyph pulled from the very dust of America. It is old, real music that should last another millennium.

September 1, 2006 Posted by | Bootleg Review | 2 Comments

Bootleg Review: REM – 06/09/84

I have somewhere around 1,000 CDs in my bootleg collection. I usually get one or two new shows a week. I simply don’t have the time to listen to all of this music. Because of this, a lot of bootlegs get lost in the cracks.

From time to time when I am fingering my way through my collection I am completely surprised by something. Either I have forgotten that I owned a certain bootleg or the music contained therein, while previously dismissed, kicks the tongue to the back of my head.

One of the great things about this series is that I am forced to look closer at music I may have previously ignored. I am a musical creature of habit. Even though I have thousands of CDs in my collection, there are maybe a few dozen that actually get any type of heavy rotation.

It’s not that I’m opposed to new music, for there is plenty of that that rolls across my eardrums every week, but for certain moods or events I have a select set of music that meets my needs. When I’m feeling sad or introspective I grab Willie Nelson’s Stardust. Or if I want something a little off kilter that makes me smile I’ll grab some Wilco. In the mood? How about Norah Jones.

This rotation changes over time. New stuff finds its way in, while other music slips away to collect dust until I rediscover it.

With Bootleg Nation I’m continually walking outside my normal musical boundaries to find something different. One of my initial goals in this series was to show the diversity that can be found in the bootleg community. It’s not just a bunch of hippie, jam-band music, but jazz, folk, punk and every other genre you can think of.

06/09/84
Capital Theatre
Passaic, NJ

My first full length memory of REM is coming out of play practice in the eighth grade. It was well into dark and I was looking for my brother amongst all the headlights. Moment later he rolled up in hi K-Car and as I opened the door “Stand” blaringly filled up the night air. I jumped in singing along at the top of my lungs.

I was not a popular kid in junior high and by singing along with such a cool song I felt that, I too, was cool. As by simply knowing the music, it’s popularity might somehow rub off on me. It was a perfect moment and I savored every minute of it.

It didn’t last, of course, the next day I went to school and I was the same pimply faced shy kid. No one had even noticed, or cared that I dug REM.

Dig I did that band, for many years. They were one of my first true musical loves and I remained faithful up until a few years ago when they become so maudlin as to nauseate.

I’ve had this show now for many months and not given it much attention. When I would see it I would skip past it feeling it wasn’t worth any more listens. Thinking about that now I’m not sure if this is because of a general distaste I have for the band, or because I have another bootleg from 1995 that’s not very good at all. Whatever the reasons, I haven’t given it a spin in a long time.

Actually listening to it now, I don’t think I ever gave it a spin. The music is completely new to me, so it must have been something that was acquired and immediately put into my collection.

What a shame because the music contained here is as fresh and vital as it must have been when it was originally performed some 22 years ago. Wow, if that doesn’t make me feel old.

This is a band on a mission; they are on fire playing like Greek Gods before the Vestal Virgins. This is well before they become the biggest rock band on the planet, and a few years before “alternative” became an overused buzz word. This is indie rock at its finest.

They open with a sweet cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” which isn’t as pretty as the Velvet’s version but a lot more tight than REM’s drunken version on Dead Letter Office. Anytime you hear a band cover the Velvet’s first thing, you know you’re in for a good night.

Like a lot of early REM, the music is heavy on the lower end, and light on the high end levels. Mike Mill’s bass trudges, and thumps along like a Chihuahua on sugar tablets, while Peter Buck’s guitar slithers like a snake. Michael Stipe’s vocals are as muddled as ever, but it all assimilates into a growling, beautiful piece of rock music.

Highlights include a howling “Hyena” that reverberates into my jowls and“Gardening at Night” for the ages.

It is a great bootleg, and one that I’m knocked out to have found again, for the first time.

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