Category Archives: live

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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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Live at Hollywood High [CD]

 [Originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]

The second in EC’s live reissue series, and the one that most of his hardcore fans have been waiting for. Live at Hollywood High is the complete 1978 concert recorded at the venerable high school, just after ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ first album, This Year’s Model, was released and before Armed Forces was even recorded. Very nice sound quality here (much better than Live at the El Mocambo), and puts the three songs that were first issued on the free vinyl single into context. Of course, as these things go, if you bought the most recent reissue of Armed Forces then you already have half of this concert, but for a little over ten bucks, it’s definitely nice to have the complete show.
5/5 (Hip-O Records)

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The Replacements • For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 [CD, LP]

Many of us think back on the ’80s and feel it wasn’t a very good time for rock ’n’ roll. Well, we are clearly forgetting about THE REPLACEMENTS! Listen to For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 and you’ll recall that it wasn’t all bad – in fact, some of it was absolutely killer.

Captured professionally after their major label debut (1985’s Tim), this very live recording features the classic Replacements lineup (Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars) on an “on” night in Hoboken, NJ. If you know anything about this band and their near mythological live shows, depending on the night, they either were the best band on earth or they sucked big time. Representing the former – oh, thank heaven –this 2CD or 2LP release is quite possibly the Live at Leeds of our generation.

The set list this February night leaned heavily on tunes from Tim and their indie classic Let It Be, such as “Hold My Life,” “Bastards of Young,” and Westerberg’s awesome “I Will Dare,” sounding much more muscular in its live rendition (no Peter Buck on banjo!). There’s also an assortment of earlier hardcore fare such as “Fuck School,” “God Damn Job,” and one of my toppermost ’Mats tunes, Hootenany’s “Take Me Down to the Hospital.” I don’t wanna… die before my time… already used… eight of my lives…

For Sale also contains a number of cover tunes done the way only The Replacements could do ’em: unpracticed, spur-of-the-moment, warts ’n’ all. Witness “Fox on the Run,” the Sweet hit, which goes for about a minute (just past the first chorus) before it ends in a shambles. Elsewhere, “Nowhere Man” and T. Rex’s “Baby Strange” actually make it to completion, naturally in the rough ’n’ ramshackle manner these guys typically delivered.

All this is to say, if you need your rock music all polished and rehearsed, you probably don’t wanna shell out for this 30-years-overdue live release. But, if you’re a true disciple of The Replacements – and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you, man! – then you will find this album to be the quintessential, missing chapter of the book of the story of Minneapolis’s true rock ’n’ roll hall of famers. Hello Cleveland! indeed.

5/5 (Sire/Rhino R2 562078, 2017)

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David Bowie • Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74) [3LP, 2CD]

Talk around the internet forums and blogs in April of this year was that this splendid release, DAVID BOWIE‘s Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74), would probably be out on CD at some point. After all, the vinyl-only Record Store Day release sold out quickly and surely there was plenty of still-mourning fans who’d missed out. I’m not sure any of us figured the CD would be out barely sixty days later, but here it is: the 2CD reissue of a release not even two months old. Clearly it was always the plan. Crank up the hype machine, sell out of the initial vinyl run and then unleash the compact disc set while the iron was still hot. [Does that count as a mixed metaphor?]

Cracked Actor is an exciting live album and worth every penny regardless of the configuration you chose/choose. If you didn’t get the vinyl – for whatever reason – and you still thrill to a live Bowie show then you’ll want to add this release to your collection. Recorded in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in September 1974, it’s a show and band lineup that appeared between the Diamond Dogs and Philly Dogs tours of that year. Bowie seemed to be tinkering with set lists and musicians incessantly and this transitional date was, luckily, recorded by the BBC to bolster a documentary they were working on at the time. The band included Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick on guitars, Mike Garson on keys and David Sanborn on sax, and they were a startlingly solid group considering how recently they’d come together. Vocalists included Warren Peace, Ava Cherry and a certain Luther Vandross, who worked with DB on his next studio release, Young Americans. Songs include numerous cuts from Dogs, plus some from Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust as well as “All the Young Dudes” (written by Bowie and a then current hit by Mott The Hoople) and a cover of “Knock on Wood.” I really like the muscular, saxified “Cracked Actor” and the sublime “It’s Gonna Be Me,” ultimately an outtake from Young Americans. Cracked Actor is another case for Bowie as the amazing interpreter of his own songs that he was, and how every concert of his was an event because of that.

Indeed, the show has been bootlegged fairly extensively (apparently there was more stage banter and a longer intro than appears on this official release) so it’s not news to the more intrepid Bowiefans that this show even exists, but you won’t be sorry for buying this version even if you do have one of the boots. In a deluxe three panel album jacket, the 3LP presentation is a 5-sided, 20-song show that features rearrangements of even his then most recent material. (Side 6 features an etching of the distinctive Bowie logo that dons the cover of this release, as well as Dogs.) Sound quality is pretty top-notch for a live show, given its 1974 recording but late 2016 mix by longtime Bowie partner Tony Visconti, and mastering by Ray Staff at AIR Mastering. The pressing itself is on 180 gram vinyl and is dead quiet, with the records coming in static-free poly-lined black sleeves. The 2CD comes out tomorrow and features the same track listing but some liner notes and photos not in the vinyl package. It ought to be just as compelling, albeit maybe not as warm as the wax. At least you won’t have to flip the discs over as often. Either way, vinyl or CD, I wouldn’t miss this one!

4/5 (Parlophone DBRSD 7476 [0190295869373], 3LP, 2017) [I reviewed Bowie’s other 2017 RSD release, BOWPROMO, here.]

Here’s a clip of the title track from this very record, as broadcast on the BBC’s Cracked Actor documentary in 1974.

 

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