Trying To Get To You

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Elvis Presley, 1970

Since I was away on vacation on August 16, I missed the commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of Elvis' death. So to atone for my absence, today's installment of Bootleg Friday is from an Elvis tour rehearsal taped at RCA Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, on July 24, 1970. It's a fascinating tape - it's Elvis being relaxed and deadly serious, often within the same song (similar to how he sang much of his material live). Elvis will take up a song lightly, playing around with it, but each time as the song progresses, he gathers his momentum and loses himself within the song. And he is hyper-conscious of his phrasing - you'll hear him stop the band on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to re-sing a line to his own satisfaction.

The rehearsal is a refreshingly stripped down version of Elvis' band, sans orchestra and background singers, so James Burton's guitar and Ronnie Tutt's drums really get the full spotlight. Tutt's drumming on "Suspicious Minds" is especially breathtaking. But what you get most of all, of course, is Elvis himself, a supreme singer and presence, who at this point in his career, still cared very much about his music, even if the rot had already began to set in.

Download: "Stranger In The Crowd" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "Something" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "Polk Salad Annie" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "Bridge Over Troubled Water" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "Sweet Caroline" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA
Download: "Suspicious Minds" 7/24/70, Hollywood, CA

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer Goodness: Superbad, Easy Street Records & The Gossip

Some more vacation tidbits...

Seeing “Superbad” was an unexpected treat. The movie - a vulgar, smartly filthy and warmly hilarious high school comedy is simply one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Not only does it work as a “high school sex comedy,” its wonderful portrayal of adolescent male friendship is very affecting without getting too sentimental. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are both great in their roles, and the juxtaposition of the badass soul music of the soundtrack with the futility of the the high school boys is brilliantly done. Go see it, if you haven’t already.

I was in Seattle for a couple of days and my hotel was around the corner from Easy Street Records, a superb record store that inspired me to buy a compact disc (Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors) simply because it didn’t feel right to me to walk out of the store without buying something (which is something I can’t say about Virgin Megastore or the former Tower Records, never mind horrible chain stores with no selection). Easy Street, like Amoeba Records, is a store creates such a music rich environment that it is impossible, if you’re a real music fan, not to want to immerse yourself in tons of new music that you’ve never heard before. It is more than a store – it’s a shrine to the love of music, and they honor that love. Being there, you can’t help but rekindle your romance with music just a little bit more.

I did a lot of driving during the trip, and since I was in the Pacific Northwest, I figured I’d listen to some music from that area that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, which led me to the Gossip’s Standing In The Way Of Control a luminous dance/punk/soul album released last year. Lead singer Beth Ditto, a very full figured lesbian provocateur originally from Arkansas, sings with a full-throated passion that occurs as inspired by equal parts Iggy Pop and a myriad of soul greats. It may plays as indie rock, but it’s really indie/soul music – created by an eternal outsider who holds herself with power and dignity in a world that would nullify her.

I’m swamped with catching up on stuff. Bootleg Friday will happen tomorrow – and then expect fresh content starting next week. I'm excited for the fall.

Download: Lyle Workman (Superbad OST) - "Flashback Party Weekend"
Download: Charlie Rich - "Behind Closed Doors"
Download: The Gossip - "Standing In The Way Of Control"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back From Vacation

Got home late last night from vacation in the Pacific Northwest. The last time I had traveled extensively out there was 1987 and I almost forgot how beautiful it is out there. It's good to be home, even if I'm a bit jet lagged. I'll give a vacation recap later in regards to some sounds I got into out there, but to be honest, I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead. Scenes like this one, from a hike I took up to Mirror Lake at Mount Hood in Oregon, just kind of called for it.

This vacation reminded me how much I love the wilderness. But it's great to be back home; I'm looking forward to getting a little corruption in my lungs.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Springsteen's "Radio Nowhere"

I’m still on vacation until next week, but the release of “Radio Nowhere,” the first single from Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming album, Magic, merits a posting. Or on second thought, maybe not.

A guitar driven, mid-to-up-tempo rocker, “Radio Nowhere” is a major disappointment to these ears. Generic in sound and lyric, the song occurs as a somewhat lifeless affair, with little in the way of joy, wonder or soul. The guitars growl, but they growl like an old, mangy dog might – with little spark or bite. And when Bruce sings the line “I was driving thru the misty rain/Looking for a mystery train,” it’s all I can do not to groan. This is one of those songs that sounds like it was constructed by using a “Springsteen-paint-by-numbers-kit,” and the blandness that producer Brendan O’Brien was wrongfully accused of for his production on The Rising comes to pass on this track.

No one wants to fall in love with new Bruce Springsteen music more than I do. But I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em – this song is a stiff. I’m still very hopeful about the album – and perhaps in context with the rest of the album, “Radio Nowhere” will resonate more. And live, I’m sure it will gain some power. But for now, I have to say that this is the worst Springsteen lead single ever, a song that feels like it should be an outtake, and coming off of the looseness and joy of The Seeger Sessions, it feels like a major stumble.

Springsteen sings on this track, “Been in some kind of dark cove/Searchin’ for a world with some soul.” Usually, Bruce Springsteen music is something that can be counted on to provide the soul – but if his new music is indeed soulful, it’s going to be on the Magic’s other tracks, because this one just flat out misses the mark.

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Vacation

Hey all -

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I'm out of town on vacation and without Internet service. I'll be trying to post some next week - hopefully I'll get some Internet access. I'll be back on full time starting 8/28.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Elvis Costello, 1978

For today's installment of Bootleg Friday, you're getting Elvis Costello at one of his peaks, performing at the legendary Winterland in San Francisco, CA on June 7, 1978. The show was broadcast live on KSAN radio, and featrues Costello and the Attractions motoring through songs from his first two albums, My Aim Is True and This Year's Model, both of which are my favorite Costello albums. (I know there are a lot of fans of Imperial Bedroom, but despite many listens, it's never hooked me.)

Highlights include "Mystery Dance," "Less Than Zero," and titanic versions of "Blame It On Cain" and "Party Girl." I hear a lot of soul influence in both the playing and singing - the sound like a bunch English guys trying to be Booker T. and the MG's with a bad attitude, even though at the time, they probably wouldn't have admitted it. From the Rolling Stone interview in 1982:

"When I went to live in Liverpool I discovered everyone was into acid rock - and I used to hide my Otis Redding records when friends came around. I didn't want to be out of step. I tried to find somebody of that sort that I could like and his group would be it: someone weird like Captain Beefheart. It's no different now - people trying to outdo each other in extremes. I "saw the light" when I was already playing, coming back to London, seeing the pub-rock groups. I discovered that all the music that I liked secretly, that I'd been hiding from my friends - that was what was great fun in a bar: Lee Dorsey songs!
Costello's relationship with soul would take an incredibly complicated turn on the Armed Forces tour in 1979, when drunk in a bar after a show in Columbus, Ohio, arguing viciously with Bonnie Bramlett and members of the Stephen Stills Band and looking for the most outrageous possible thing he could say to offend his antagonists, Costello called Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger," said something similar about James Brown and attacked the stupidity of America in general. This from a man who had produced the first album by the Specials, a pioneering interracial U.K. band, who had taken on the racist National Front in England with "Night Rally" and had appeared at Rock Against Racism concerts. At the time, he became far better known for that statement than he ever did for his music, and it effectively ended any possibility of Costello becoming a mainstream artist - it would take years for the incident to be complete.

Download: "Mystery Dance" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "Lip Service" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "Less Than Zero" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "Blame It On Cain" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "This Year's Girl" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "I Don't Want To Go Down To Chelsea" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "Watching The Detectives" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "Party Girl" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Download: "I'm Not Angry" 6/7/78, San Francisco, CA

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I Was A Teenage Werewolf

Twenty nine years ago tonight, Bruce Springsteen played the greatest version of "Growin' Up" ever. I could write a whole spiel about it, but it would just delay you from hearing it. It's pretty goofy and corny, and yet, even after hearing it about 1000 times, I still get choked up listening to it. And it makes me want to take on the world.

Download: "Growin' Up" 8/9/78, Cleveland, OH

A Lighter Shade Of Pop

Yesterday I read Rob Sheffield’s very moving book, “Love Is A Mix Tape,” chronicling his relationship with his first wife Renee, who died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31 after they had been married for only five years. It’s an excellent book that is part ode to the role music plays in our lives (at least those of us who are total music fanatics) and how we process grief and loss. It struck me as a combination of High Fidelity and Joan Didion’s The Year Of Magical Thinking.

Of the many things that affected me about the book was the love Rob and Renee had for pop. I’ve never been a big fan of pop – listening to top 40 stations has never been my thing, and I’ve always been pretty snarky and dismissive about it. If there are songs on top 40 that I like, they’re usually ones that started somewhere else (rock, r&b, rap or soul) and then crossed over to pop, but my immediate reaction is usually to dismiss anything purely pop as light and insignificant. What I’ve missed with that attitude is that being light and insignificant is absolutely wonderful sometimes, and would be an ideal balance to my very serious and significant self (even when I’m having lots of fun, I’m pretty serious about it). As a listener, that means I don’t get a lot of great pop until after the fact, the way I didn’t get Justin Timberlake’s first album until about a year after it came out. (Hell, I even like “Sexyback” now.)

I’ve always looked for meaning, depth and substance in music – and I always will. But I am declaring that I am now ready to some more frivolity in my listening picks. I’m open to suggestions.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Police At MSG

Today we are lucky to have a guest entry on last Friday night's Police show at MSG by our good friend Artie Fufkin. I have to say that Artie is a far better writer than I thought he'd be - and certainly a better writer than he is a promo man.

If I were a betting man, I would venture to say that nothing Sting does these days happens by accident. With that being said, if one was to believe that his intention was to “shock the world” by announcing a Police reunion, mission kind-of accomplished. But if you dig a little deeper, you’d see that it wasn’t so shocking.

Digging back into the set-lists from Sting’s last back-to-basics concert tour (during which he played colleges for the first time in decades), his set leaned heavily on classic Police material. And so when the band appeared together at a Sundance cocktail party following the screening of Stewart Copeland’s DVD Why Does Everyone Stare, it seemed like something was definitely brewing.

Since the time the trio imploded at the height of its popularity, Stewart Copeland has kept busy as an avid film composer (scoring a staggering 60 movies) and Andy Summers returned to his first love, jazz, releasing niche records with little commercial success. Which suited him just fine. Or so it seemed.

Of course, everyone knows what happened to Sting. But for better or for worse, you gotta give the guy credit-- a lot of credit. He works really hard at it. (And he has the body to prove it - Ed.) Releasing a consistent stream of solo albums (Nothing Like The Sun, The Soul Cages and Ten Sumner’s Tales have all aged well in their own way) some not so good (the over-produced Mercury Falling or the forgettable Sacred Love) all the while dropping unexpected later-day career gems like “Desert Rose” and mounting extensive concert tours featuring some of the most seasoned studio musicians money could buy.

And even though The Police never really formally announced their break-up, you couldn’t help but admire Sting for the time and effort he put into his Dream Of The Blues Turtles band which featured the truly outstanding Omar Hakim/Branford Marsalis/Daryl Jones/Kenny Kirkland line-up which helped not just re-invent, but truly re-construct some of Sting’s darker material like “Shadows In The Rain,” “Bring On The Night,” “When The World Is Running Down…” into swinging jazz fusion monsters, with some versions actually eclipsing the originals. Many other line-ups would follow, but none would match the sheer splendor and wow factor of the original Turtle’s band. The line-ups that followed, while often equally talented in the sum of their parts, became more and more sanitized as the years wore on. The adjective I found myself using after seeing Sting shows was “polite.” Having seen most of them live, I tip-toed around The Police reunion cautiously.

With the advance buzz on the first few shows being very mixed, my intention was to approach the band’s return to Madison Square Garden with an open mind. Walking into the arena, a couple of things perked my immediate interest. The first one being that The Police themselves hadn’t played together on-stage at MSG in over 25 years-- I can’t recall another band (other than maybe Cream) that had been away this long. The second thing on my mind was more of a curiosity factor to see how the mostly older crowd would react to the band’s return.

That latter question was immediately answered the second I sat down in my in my $254 + tax, handling fees and UPS shipping charges seat. People were excited. Big time. So by the time the band’s intro song cranked through the P.A. (the well-fitting “Get Up, Stand Up”), most of the crowd was on its feet waiting for the band to kick into “Message In A Bottle” which has kicked off every reunion show on this tour thus far.

They started strong and quickly followed up with “Synchronicity II.” To the band’s credit, they kept the staging simple and the light show efficient, never over-powering the band or the songs. And thankfully, the band’s expanded line-up of their later tours, featuring back-up singers, horn sections etc., were nowhere to be found, leaving the original band bare of clutter, able to focus inward.

“Walking On the Moon” followed, eventually leading into a very tentative sounding “Voices Inside My Head,” which evolved brilliantly into the evening’s first real highlight; a full-on-blow-out explosion of “When The World Is Running Down…” It absolutely killed. It was obvious that they had taken the time to work on it. At this point in the show, I was ready to dismiss the negative reviews I’d read online, but unfortunately, the momentum the band had built got brought to a near stand-still by re-arranged versions of the punk rave-up “Truth Hits Everybody” (rearranged with an underwhelming 4/4 tempo that didn’t work), “Bed’s Too Big Without You,” (great on Regatta De Blanc in all its reggae nuanced glory, not so great live) “Dee Doo Doo, Dee Da Da,” which sounded aged (and not for the better) and culminating with an anemic version of “Invisible Sun,” (one of the band’s great singles) which sounded neutered and tired.

The band did bounce back near the conclusion of the show with an absolutely pulverizing version of “Can’t Stand Losing You” which morphed into “Regatta De Blanc” then back into “Can’t Stand Losing You” with the band truly coming together in a way that I’d never heard before, never over-shadowing each other but rather playing off each other and allowing for spaces between the notes to breathe in a new inviting way.

Without question, there is greatness left in this band. Sting’s voice has never sounded better and despite some strength that’s gone from Copeland’s playing, he’s still one of the most adventurous drummers ever and the best possible platform for Sting’s melodies and arrangements—when they work. He sang with strength and clarity in a way I’d rarely seen before and he seemed dare I say, HAPPY singing these songs again. But then again, if you grossed over 6 million bucks for one night’s work at Dodger Stadium, you’d be pretty fucking happy too. But without digressing into the obvious money making opportunity that this tour clearly is, if the band stopped playing it safe and followed the abandon that they’re hinting at, this could truly be a reunion tour to remember. Until that happens, the show will remain pretty ordinary with flashes of greatness.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Thoughts On Lee Hazlewood

Our dear friend Greg Beshers in San Francisco writes about Lee Hazlewood, who died this past weekend.

Lee Hazlewood had soul, a lot of it in fact. Since he passed away this weekend at the age of 78 there have been quite a few news articles on his career mostly focusing on his biggest hit, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin,’” sung by Nancy Sinatra. While that song is about as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, it’s his solo material that personally gets to me. His song craft, his late 60’s slick West Coast production techniques - utilizing horns, guitars, multiple keyboards and a super tight rhythm section - as well as his deadpan delivery, drenched in reverb, with tales of cowboys and life on the wrong side of the tracks, stand out for their quality in any age of recorded music. He rivals many producers, even to this day, for the sounds he got.

To me though, Lee was the real L.A. Cowboy who epitomized the word “maverick.” He did what he wanted, with who he wanted, when he wanted and never looked back. It's probably because when you get down to it, he never gave a damn what people thought. That's a tough road to go down and it’s even tougher to do it in style, which he did, much to my eternal admiration. We talk a good game in this country about our respect for such men, but I think it's mostly just talk. I guess it makes sense that even though he died over the weekend, I didn't hear a word about it until Monday morning.

Buy Lee Hazelwood at Amazon

Download: "You Look Like A Lady"
Download: "She Comes Running"
Download: "If It's Monday Morning"

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Real Thing

It's very unusual for me to dis a part of my own posts, but that Bowie version of "Knock On Wood" I put up this morning has been bugging me slightly all day long. So I'm putting up a far better live version of it. It's Eddie Floyd, the original creator of the song, doing it with Bruce and the E Streeters in Memphis in the Spring of 1976.

Enjoy the real thing.

Download: Bruce Springsteen w/Eddie Floyd "Knock On Wood/Yum Yum Yum (I Want Some)" 4/29/76, Memphis, TN

PS: It was after this show that Springsteen drove out to Graceland and tried to meet Elvis - by climbing over the wall and running up the driveway. He was gently escorted from the premises.

Accessing The Bowie Files

Sorry for the mishap with the files. They should be working fine now.

Bootleg Friday: David Bowie, 1974

Today’s episode of Bootleg Friday is a very great and interesting David Bowie show from the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles from September 5, 1974. It’s from the Diamond Dogs tour and what you hear is a Bowie in transition from the glam of the Ziggy Stardust era to the soul and funk explorations of that would result in the release of Young Americans the following year. (And you can hear his fascination with soul in the cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood,” which isn’t anything particularly good, but I’m including it for historical purposes.) His band for this tour is a pretty amazing one, consisting of studio vets like Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Michael Kamen, David Sanborn as well as Luther Vandross on backing vocals. Toni Basil (of “Mickey” fame) handled the elaborate stage show and choreography.

I’m a Bowie fan, but I’ve never worshipped at his altar. There are albums of his that I love (Ziggy, Station To Station, about half of Hunky Dory), but to me, he’s always been a fascinating fraud – an artist who has neither a ton of emotional depth or soul, yet one who’s done an incredible job of taking on different styles and personas to create something utterly modern and glossy in the most appealing (and sexy) of ways, which I believe is why his appeal endures so strongly. But he did write "All The Young Dudes," and for that alone, he's a legend in my book.

Download: “1984” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Rebel Rebel” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Moonage Daydream” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Suffragette City” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “All The Young Dudes” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Rock N’ Roll With Me” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Knock On Wood” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “The Jean Genie” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA
Download: “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” 9/5/74, Los Angeles, CA