Category Archives: live

Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions • Limbo [2CD]

Every city’s punk scene has bands that made it and are renowned the world over, and every city has local legends who never made it beyond the confines of their own particular scene. Los Angeles, being a big city that spawned many legendary bands (X, Weirdos, The Blasters, et. al.) had its share, and one of them has finally had its day in the reissue ring. PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS’ entire discography is now available as Limbo, a 2CD set named after one of their records and containing much, much more.

The first disc of this set is made up of Phast Phreddie’s debut, the 1982 live EP West Hollywood Freeze-Out, and their lone album, 1984’s Limbo. These are twenty songs of souped up, angular jump blues/R&B played by some of L.A.’s finest alternative musicians, recorded cheaply and quickly (“live to two-track, no remixes, no overdubs, what you get is what went down”) and with a decidedly punk feel. That’s partly thanks to the velocity of the songs, and partly to the attitude. The Phreddies were actually part of L.A.’s punk scene, so even though they don’t sound “punk” they were part of that world. In fact, read any book on any of the punk bands already named here – and many that aren’t – and Thee Precisions will not only be namechecked but held in high esteem. So, imagine my surprise when I finally heard the band (I was already familiar with their name) and couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not! Maybe it’s one of those cases where, if you were there at the time, you get it, and if you weren’t, you don’t, or maybe it’s just that I can’t get past Phast Phreddie’s singing voice. I’m not sure how to describe it… he sounded like the kind of smart ass who might have instigated more than his share of bar fights, someone who probably lost more of ’em than he won. Regardless, my first spin (through disc one only) left me questioning what all the fuss was/is about. Yes, the band is good. Yes, the band’s saxophonist is Steve Berlin, whom you’d know from both The Blasters and Los Lobos (though his name pops up on a zillion L.A.-based bands’ records). And yes, the guest list is also notable (D.J. Bonebrake, Peter Case, Marty Jourard of The Motels)(and that’s just the guests on Disc One!). But so far something was lacking… and then I put on Disc 2.

It’s got to be Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions’ live shows that made their reputation, because the live stuff (recorded at different live shows and band rehearsals) is what makes this set worth checking out. The sound quality isn’t all that great (what we would have called “a good audience tape” back in the day) but the performances sure are. I’ll bet if I could find some video of them performing it would all make sense. I really like “Only Lovers Left Alive,” their covers of “Peaches En Regalia” and “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (Zappa/The Mothers) and “Stone Free” (Hendrix), and one called “Empty Feeling.” With another twenty songs on the second disc, it’d be easy to get lost among Phreddie’s snotty-soundin’ vocals and the slightly dissonant saxes – not to mention the killer guitar of Harlan Hollander. But after a few listens to this compilation I can tell that those who praise this group aren’t wrong: these guys had to have put on one helluva show.

With Limbo you get, as the lead singer himself exaggerates in the liner notes, “more Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions than anyone could ever want.” Phans of the L.A. punk scene ought to pick this up just to understand what all the phuss is about.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 46701, 2020)

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Moby Grape • Moby Grape Live [CD, LP]

[This review was originally published 5/20/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

The first official live release from the original lineup of San Francisco’s legendary, infamous, underrated, greatest rock band, MOBY GRAPE, is not the live album we’ve all been waiting for. Moby Grape Live is a collection of songs recorded before festival crowds and less between ’66 and ’69, and there are some incendiary performances here. But there’s something missing, something that would have given this release that little push over the cliff that would have made it a must-have classic. Maybe it’s context…

For one thing, the disc (or 2LP set) is made up of songs from four different shows, recorded mostly in mono (not that that matters) from soundboards and the like, so the sound quality’s decent but not great. The final cut, “Dark Magic,” is from New Year’s Eve 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Fran, and is fabled for never having appeared on any of the Grape’s albums. It’s also a long one (that’s getting rather personal, isn’t it?), at 17+ minutes, but it’s a good jam and was probably quite awesome if you were on LSD or something when you heard it. I was on a Diet Pepsi, and I still got a kick out of it. There are also two versions of “Omaha,” one from the Monterey Pop Festival (’67) and one from a Netherlands broadcast in 1969 (and that one is KILLER). I also really dig “I Am Not Willing” (originally from the studio album ’69) with its heavy guitar attack and longer, more rockin’ arrangement. But as I said, something’s missing.

Is what’s missing a tuner for the one guitar on the Netherlands cuts that is nearly unbearably out of tune? Is it the not-quite-as-tight-as-I’d-have-it-ness of the playing? Is it just the lack of suitable drugs to make me understand what it was all about? (I was barely 4 years old in 1967…) Or is it all of the above? Well, that all being said [or asked –ed.], this is a live album worth having, especially if you already like Moby Grape. If you don’t know them yet and you’re trying to figure out where to start, this isn’t the place. Get Moby Grape, their debut from ’67, and then proceed to Wow and ’69. Sundazed’s The Place and The Time from last year is also a good one, a double album with lots of different flavors. And if you’re a vinyl lover, note: You can get this on 2LP black vinyl or ultra cool 2LP purple vinyl, but really, the cost doubles from CD to vinyl and doubles again from black to purple wax, so you’ll want to dip your toe in before you cannonball.

3/5 (Sundazed LP-5314, 2010)

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The Velvet Underground • 1969 Live with Lou Reed, Vols. 1 & 2 [LP]

[This review originally posted 4/22/10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Another reissue on account of Record Store Day 2010, 1969 Live with Lou Reed comes in two separate volumes, both on vinyl only. These 180-gram pressings are very nice, with deluxe gatefold covers, handy black insert to protect you and the kiddies from the DRAWING of the closeup of a lady’s tight behind on the cover, and are sealed for added security.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND had splintered by 1969 and their initial glory was waning, thanks to all sorts of reasons. In fact, the dubious birth of these two live releases, stemming from shows in Dallas and San Francisco in the fall of ’69, is only the start—by the time these actually came out in 1974 the band had already disappeared. The quality of the recordings is pretty good, though, apparently having been done by some hardcore VU fans with decent gear. The playing is a little less exciting. I’m not sure if this is quintessentially what one of the band’s shows sounded like or not, having been but a wee boy of six at the time, but I can see how some people wonder what all that hot fuss is about. Now, before you scream “SACRILEGE!” and hold your fingers up in a cross at me, let me just say that I think Lou Reed’s songwriting is really something else. I can appreciate the band for many reasons; unfortunately, there are some pretty good reasons why they’re not in my Top Ten. For starters: Nico. Good God, Andy Warhol, what in the hell were you thinking? I don’t care how good looking she was, that woman couldn’t sing her way out of a wet paper bag. Put her in a fucking go-go cage without a mic and she’s alright, but please don’t let her sing. Second: Lou’s singing. This man isn’t God’s gift to vocals, either. And this is coming from a guy who likes Elvis Costello! Third: Guitars are almost always out of tune, even on the studio albums. Having bitched that, I don’t dislike the Velvets.

But enough of my Marty DiBergi-esque yakkin’! These two live albums, containing songs from the two aforementioned shows, are a great document of the band at the time. The song selection is quite good, too, even featuring some that Lou would go on to record solo, plus a nice cross section of the band’s discography up to that time. Big fans may already have these, true, but the nice pressings are worth the cost, Volume 1 is on white vinyl, and they’re supposedly quite limited. So if you see ’em, pick ’em up. Disregard my comments if you have no idea what I could be talking about, and if you, like, totally dig what I’m puttin’ down, then leave ’em for those who will appreciate them more.  — Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Mercury/ORG ORG-036 and ORG-037, 2010)

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TC&I • Naked Flames – Live at Swindon Arts Centre [CD, DD]

A couple of years ago XTC’s Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers teamed up to form TC&I, and after releasing an EP of new material (2017’s Great Aspirations; reviewed here), they did some live shows and recorded them. Naked Flames – Live at Swindon Arts Centre is the souvenir of these concerts, a baker’s dozen of songs originally recorded by Moulding and Chambers in one of new wave’s most celebrated groups. Including one of XTC’s other songwriter’s tunes (“Statue of Liberty”), the selection is a pretty good look at Moulding’s best work.

Colin Moulding was definitely the George Harrison of XTC, contributing few songs to the band’s albums while Andy Partridge-as-Lennon-&-McCartney had the spotlight as the premier wordsmith in the group. Here TC&I run through many of Moulding’s good ones, such as “Grass,” “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Life Begins at the Hop,” “Ten Feet Tall” and a few more obvious choices, take a stab at later tunes like “Standing in for Joe,” and two original TC&I tunes, “Scatter Me” and “Say It,” and the result is pretty good. I say that because, though the band is not bad, they’re not exactly great either. While it’s nice to hear some of these XTC tunes played live, there’s a certain vibrancy missing on this disc. I think that’s partly due to the recording itself, which is missing some top end shimmer and therefore lacking in live vibe, and partly because Moulding’s voice seems kind of weak. They may have been able to beef it up for XTC’s studio recordings but in this live situation it lacks bulk.

This all being said, there’s no doubting that Colin Moulding has written some truly great songs, and TC&I covers them ably on Naked Flames. These live renditions just don’t pack the same punch that XTC’s originals did. Chances are the initial interest in these versions will wane soon after first hearing and the superior XTC takes will remain the quintessential versions of Colin Moulding’s greatest hits.

3/5 (TC&I Music TC&I-CD-002, 2019)

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Big Star • Live on WLIR [CD, LP]

Last time I reviewed something BIG STAR related here, I mentioned that Omnivore Recordings had seemed to have excavated about all there was left to find of the Memphis power pop band’s recorded legacy. (My review of Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos is here.) So far, I haven’t been proved wrong. This “new” release, Live on WLIR, is neither new nor all that necessary – especially if you already own 1992’s Live. That Rykodisc release was the first official issue of a 1973 concert recorded for Long Island, NY radio station WLIR, and though of interest to hardcore Big Star fans, was certainly a lesser part of the group’s canon. This release is a pretty straightforward reissue of that concert. Whether you ought to invest in this version largely depends on three things: 1) How big a fan you are, 2) If you already have that now out-of-print CD, and 3) If you’ve just gotta own that concert on vinyl.

The 14 songs on Live on WLIR (the fifteenth track is an interview with guitarist Alex Chilton) appear to be a pretty representative sample of Big Star’s ’73 set. At this point, after the release of the band’s sophomore, trio-recorded Radio City, the band consisted of Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and new recruit, bassist John Lightman (who had just replaced the recently departed Andy Hummel). You hear the threesome play songs from both Radio City and #1 Record, and though there’s a pretty rockin’ vibe throughout, the pared down band doesn’t quite pull things off the way the original four-piece with Chris Bell did, let alone the studio arrangements of the Bell-less band. What you do get is a real good idea of Chilton’s guitar playing ability, which is greater than you might expect. His distillation of multiple guitar parts into one, live part is quite remarkable. And that’s why I’m remarking on it right now! Had I the opportunity to review Live when it came out in ’92 I’m not sure I would have picked up on it. But after being submerged in Big Star-mania for a few decades, it’s certainly noticeable to me now.

Live on WLIR’s new artwork is nice but not exactly a game changer. The liner notes here are by the same guy who wrote them back then (Robert Gordon; they’re new notes, though, and augmented by a short interview with bassist Lightman). And the mastering? Again, new but not revelatory; I listened to both versions and there are only minor differences. The ’92 Live, by Dr. Toby Mountain, isn’t as in-your-face, true, but it also doesn’t “feature” the slightly out-of-tune and overly saturated guitar that this year’s Live on WLIR by Michael Graves does. Since a multitrack recording of this concert clearly doesn’t exist, all of the audio quality decisions lie in the mastering. I prefer Mountain’s job on Live myself. But that version of the concert hasn’t been available for some time (and was never issued on vinyl), so this likely may be the only one you come across. I don’t know that having this set on vinyl is all that important, as I can’t imagine something that was recorded live to analog, preserved to digital, and then returned to analog is going to be any better on vinyl than it would be on CD. So, since this isn’t a crucial Big Star release, I’d probably opt for (in this order): 1) The original compact disc on Rykodisc, followed by 2) This Omnivore CD, and finally 3) The 2LP vinyl set, which might just be more appealing to you if you’re absolutely adamant about analog.

2.5/5 (Omnivore OV-321, 2019)

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Neil Young • Songs for Judy [CD, 2LP]

Here’s a left field title for you: Songs for Judy. NEIL YOUNG’s latest archival live release is culled from recordings made during his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse. They’re not on this record, actually, as these tracks are from Neil’s solo opening sets (the band joined him for the second set each night). The recordings here were taken from the board and are very basic – sometimes in mono – with Neil accompanying himself on guitar, piano or banjo and harmonica. There’s a lot going for this release, though, and it would make another worthy addition to your NY discography.

Songs for Judy gets its peculiar title from a song intro Neil did for “Too Far Gone” one night in Atlanta, a rambling but interesting fictional account of meeting Judy Garland backstage before the show. Luckily, Cameron Crowe and photographer Joel Bernstein were taping these shows (they accompanied Neil and band on the tour to cover it for an aborted Rolling Stone article) and so this rap and all the songs here were preserved and now presented to us. The pair recorded the shows, and then for personal use, compiled what they believed were the best takes of each song Neil did on the tour (he didn’t do the same ones every night) and made copies for themselves. Luckily for us, Young has seen it fit for release (finally!) and here we are.

The takes themselves aren’t perfect – which actually is perfect for a Neil Young live release – but they’ve definitely got that mojo you hope for. Songs for Judy’s selections range from the obvious to the obscure (at least at the time), so you get “Mr. Soul” and “Heart of Gold,” but you also get “Human Highway” and “Pocahontas” (which hadn’t been released yet) and every kind of song in between. I really like the renditions of “After the Gold Rush” and “Mellow My Mind,” and a number of others, too. I could kind of do without this version of “A Man Needs a Maid,” what with its synthesizer (?) intro and middle bit, but it does feature a snippet from “Like a Hurricane” which is otherwise not featured here. On the other hand, the audience between songs is sometimes distracting thanks to abrupt transitions (might be unavoidable since these songs came from different shows) and that’s much less nitpicky than my previous statement. The cover art was done by Neil’s gal, Daryl Hannah, and it’s okay. (I’m a critic so I am supposed to criticize!)

Songs for Judy is the second great live release from Neil Young’s camp in the last year and I hope they continue bringing these out. (My review of Roxy–Tonight’s the Night Live is here.) Like, how about a live compilation of the sets he did with Crazy Horse on this ’76 tour? Or, I don’t know, Neil. You choose. Just do.

4/5 (Shakey Pictures 574192-2, 2018)

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Elvis Costello • Live at the El Mocambo [CD]

[Reviewed 11/19/2009 in Skratchdisc; the concert on this disc is from 1978]

My relationship with ELVIS COSTELLO has been a rocky one. I wrote a piece on him for my 9th grade newspaper, based solely on taking my journalism class teacher’s copies of My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model home for the weekend and coming up with what I’m sure is a shoddy little piece of writing. (Thanks Mr. Bishop!) Next thing, Armed Forces comes out with that bonus 7″ of Live At Hollywood High. I ride my bike to some local record store, buy it, strap the bag to the rack on the back of my ten speed, and off I go. Next thing you know I’m his biggest fan. I buy everything. Every import single, 12″, CD single, everything. Then things changed…

Nowadays the guy drives me crazy. He tries too many genres, collaborating with just about everyone who’ll have him. And he’s married to Diana Krall! How’d he manage that? Well, it’s not germane to this review so I’ll move on. The only releases of his that I’ve bought in the last decade or so have been the reissues and the ones where he’s actually playing ROCK ’N’ ROLL. So here’s Live at the El Mocambo, which was originally released as a Canadian promo album, then as a bootleg (that’s what I had back in the day), then came out as part of a Rykodisc box set. Now he’s put it out as part of a live series of value priced CDs. And I come a-runnin’! This March 1978 show was just after he’d put together The Attractions, the best band he ever had (and with the best bass player he ever had, Bruce Thomas). It’s a fiery, ragged set, recorded for a Canadian radio station (so the sound quality’s a bit compressed and flattish), and features the band doing songs from the first two albums. It’s great to hear the band tear into tunes from My Aim, since they didn’t play on that one, and it’s great to only pay ten bucks for it. Again, audiophile sound quality is not what we’re after here, it’s great performances. And that they are.
4/5 (Hip-O B0012380-02, 2009)

 

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David Bowie • Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) [3LP, 2CD]

Last year for Record Store Day we enjoyed the release of DAVID BOWIE’s triple LP live album, Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74), a superbly recorded and dynamically played concert. You either plunked down for a 3LP vinyl copy, or (as it turned out) waited two months to buy it as a 2CD, sensibly priced package. Many weren’t surprised at the release of the compact disc version, despite it not being announced when the RSD vinyl was. This year – no surprise this time – we got Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), another 3LP RSD release trailed by a 2CD standard version. The vinyl, like last year’s release, comes in a double-gatefold package with photos from the concert and 180-gram LPs inside. (I’m assuming, pre-CD release, that that will be similar to last year’s CD package.) The concert itself was recorded at the end of Bowie’s 1978 post-Low tour, and features yet another band lineup.

I’m not as bowled over by this one as I was by Cracked Actor. The band is quite good, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t seem to gel as well as the ’74 group did and the mix isn’t as compelling. That being said, unless you’re the most curmudgeonly of Bowie fans, you’ll find a lot to like about Blackout, even if it’s just that the audio is much better than what has been available on bootlegs for years. The set list is quite good, anchored by a lengthy instrumental intro (Low’s “Warszawa”), and then mostly working backwards, song-wise, through DB’s catalog. You get a number of newer songs for the first half of the show, followed by inspired renditions of some of the man’s hits, including “Fame,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” et. al. Welcome to the Blackout ends on side six with “TVC15,” “Stay” and “Rebel Rebel” – a song I’ve never grown tired of and a great tune to wrap up the show with.

If Bowie’s estate keeps doing this every year, releasing great concerts most of us have never heard, I’m okay with that. I can’t imagine a time when they’d put out so many releases (reissues or new titles) that I’d get burned out on David Bowie’s music. (Check back here from time to time for updates on that prediction.) I’d much rather that than just see countless reissues of his back catalog remastered for no good reason.

3/5 (Parlophone DBRSD 7782, 2018)

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Neil Young • Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live [CD, LP]

Another Record Store Day release, although I got the CD (non-RSD) version, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is this month’s new NEIL YOUNG release. Seems the guy has always got another album up his sleeve, which comes as no surprise since he’s had over fifty big years in the business, ladies and gentlemen. You could say he oughta lighten the load of releases coming from NYA (Neil Young Archives), and you’d basically be right. But at least he’s not as slow and redundant as Sir Paul “Molasses” McCartney.

This live one was caught one night at the Roxy in L.A. back in September 1973, just weeks after Young and Crazy Horse finished recording Tonight’s the Night, an emotional album that Neil then waited a few years to release. Such was the loss he suffered after both Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry had died the way so many involved in rock ’n’ roll do – “out on the main line” – that Young couldn’t bear to put out the excellent LP he dedicated to them. But before that decision was made, the remaining Crazy Horse guys, plus Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, became the Santa Monica Flyers and helped christen the new Sunset Strip club with a near-complete Tonight show. (The album was eventually released in 1975.)

If you’re not a fan of the harrowing, beautiful Tonight’s the Night, then you’d be excused for skipping this live release. But, as you know if you’re crazy about Neil, sometimes his live versions add extra meaning and bravado to what was done in the studio. Roxy is full of them. Granted, you don’t really get much more than what was on the album these songs came from, but it’s a decent length gig and a very nice recording, too. The fact that the band sounds like a cross between Crazy Horse’s ragged glory and the Stray Gators’ country kick is something very definitely in its favor. I could do without some of the chit chat in between songs – Neil says “welcome to Miami Beach” a few too many times, which might have been topical to the set decor but which is lost in an audio recording – but that’s a pretty minor complaint considering how generally brilliant this show is.

If you didn’t pick it up on Record Store Day you won’t have to shell out big bucks for it online because it’s been released as a readily available double vinyl set. The only difference between the two is the standard version lacks an “art print” that you probably wouldn’t have hung up anyway (why ruin the value of your highfalutin RSD purchase?). Again, I went with the CD version both as an austerity measure and because I assumed it would be something I’d wanna crank in the car. And I was right. It happens sometimes – tonight’s the night.

4/5 (Reprise 567390-2, 2018)

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The Who • Live at the Fillmore East 1968 [CD, LP]

Live albums from most acts are pretty much a dime a dozen. Nowadays, when I hear of a new live release from a band I’m into, I assume it’s probably gonna be crap. But. Not with THE WHO. When they put out one of these things I instantly hit “buy.” Live at the Fillmore East 1968 has just been released and it is nearly literally the bomb. Recorded in April of ’68 at Bill Graham’s  not-yet-fabled NYC venue, it’s a warts and all program of the band’s live set at the time. The Who weren’t quite to the Live at Leeds level of 1970, but they were well on their way.

What this 2CD/3LP release has that Leeds lacks is glorious grit. Not only is the performance loose (and somehow, as The Who were so good at, tight) but the recording is, too. Live at the Fillmore East is like a really good soundboard bootleg. You get all the instruments in pretty good quality, even somehow in stereo, but it’s definitely not perfect. At least, not by the standard definition. But as The Who have proven with prior releases like Leeds and Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, they were fucking on fire from about ’68 to ’72, whether or not they incorporated the entire Tommy program (like on the Isle of Wight set list). Missing are the first two songs of the show (“Substitute” and “Pictures of Lily,” sadly), but what’s left is incendiary. On disc one you get thirteen songs, including an eleven minute “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” a twelve minute “Relax,” and a triumvirate of Eddie Cochran covers. We’re used to hearing The Who tear apart “Summertime Blues” and “C’Mon Everybody,” but what you don’t usually hear is their insanely killer “My Way” (as in, “I’m an easy-goin’ guy but I always gotta have my way”), which is a rarity in their cannon (and I meant to spell it ”cannon”). Good gravy, that is almost worth the cost right there! But. Then there’s disc two, with a (hold your breath this long if you can) 33:02 version of “My Generation.” Of course, your hardcore Who fan knows that they don’t stick to the basic arrangement for half an hour, they veer off into all kinds of themes and vibes that are about as jazz as any haaaaaaarrrrddd rock band has ever done. Townshend, Entwistle and Moon feed off each other so effortlessly, they surpass Led Zeppelin, The Move, everybody in that way. So, jazz in the sense of free-form jamming and instruments not only working with and off of each other but intuitively sensing where the whole thing is going. And when they get there, oh, what a trip it’s been.

I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Live at the Fillmore East 1968 better than Leeds. They’re both so great, we’re gonna have to call it a draw.

5/5 (Polydor 6744485, 2018)

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