Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Moby Grape, Live

If you’re reading this review, I expect you already know about Moby Grape.  To make a long story short, the Grape, one of the most promising bands to emerge from San Francisco in the mid to late 1960s were beset from the git-go by extraordinary bad luck and poor management choices and they fell into obscurity even though their self-titled debut album is one of the most extraordinary first (or second or third or . . .) albums ever released.  In 2006 they won a decades long legal fight with their original manager which allowed them to use and release recordings under their own name.  Sundazed records immediately began releasing Moby Grape material.  Live is the first “official” live album from the band – released 44 years after they formed in 1966.

If Moby Grape is a new band for you, their first album, Moby Grape, would be a much better place to start.  Fans of the band will almost certainly enjoy Live as long as they understand what they are getting.  The album collects 7 tracks recorded at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1967, another track recorded at an unspecified location in SF in ’67, the band’s complete performance at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival (none of which was included in the film), a 5-song Dutch radio broadcast from 1969, and “Dark Magic” a 17+ minute psychedelic jam recorded at the Avalon in 1966.  With the exception of the ’67 Avalon tracks, everything is in mono.  Skip Spence had fallen prey to mental illness and was no longer with the group at the time of the radio broadcast.

Recording quality varies from not-so-good to pretty-good.  Overall it’s better than you might expect.  At times you have to listen carefully to pull some of the instruments out of the murk but the effort is worth it.  You’re getting this album for the music, not the recording quality, and the music is there.

Live makes it abundantly clear that Moby Grape were the real deal.  Everything promised in that superb first album – the guitar interplay, the intricate vocals, the superior songwriting, all of it – was there in their live shows.  Fans who are very familiar with the songs on the first album will be delighted with the riffs played on well-known musical and vocal passages and it becomes apparent that the versions of these songs immortalized on the album were just the versions they happened to play that day in the studio.

Moby Grape were introduced as a band that played carefully crafted and intensively practiced songs.  Their guitars and vocals would have been outstanding on their own but it was the use of those elements in their markedly original songs that made Moby Grape a legend.  The Grape were a band that worked the short form in a time and place where their contemporaries were given to extended jamming.  Seen in this context, the 17+ minute “Dark Magic” is a revelation.  The Grape were also highly accomplished as a jamming band.

Oh, what might have been.  “Monterey Pop”, the film that introduced Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding to a much wider audience, might have done the same thing for Moby Grape.  Instead, the manager they fought (and continue to fight) in court for almost 50 years demanded ridiculous amounts of money for the Grape’s performance and film rights.   The band were stuck with this guy but the festival organizers and the film’s producers were not.  Moby Grape was originally scheduled to go on stage right before Otis Redding on Saturday night.  Thanks to their manager they were slotted in as the opening act on Friday night when the venue was half empty and left completely out of the film.  What should have been a story of widespread recognition and professional success became a story of lost opportunities, sadness and despair.  Now, thanks to Sundazed Records and a court system that finally figured it ouy, we have the chance to hear what we should have heard decades ago and the music is just as thrilling now as it was then.

“Omaha” recorded live at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival

“Murder in My Heart for the Judge” (sans Skip Spence) recorded for a Dutch radio broadcast in 1969


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07/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology comes in two basic packages.  One has 4 CDs of music.  The other, which is being reviewed here has 5 CDs of music (the same 4 as in the CD-only set plus another), a Blu-Ray disc that contains all of the 62 tracks that are on the 5 CDs in both 5.1 Surround and 96K, 24-bit PCM stereo, a vinyl LP with a remastered bootleg of 4 tracks from 1976, a DVD with an unreleased documentary about the band called 400 Days made in the mid-1990s, a second DVD with an unreleased concert from 1978, a large booklet with “zomg! this band is so . . . !!!”  from various people, Petty’s track-by-track comments on the tracks in the set and full details on when and where each track was recorded and who plays what on the track, and assorted other bits and pieces including silk screened stage passes and a Live Anthology blank-page notebook (?? wtf  ??).

I didn’t watch the DVDs, listen to the vinyl or read the essays.  I did listen to the music on the CDs and both mixes on the Blu-Ray disc.  The Blur-Ray has the nice feature that you can switch back and forth between the stereo and surround mixes and it keeps you at the same point in the song.  This made it possible to do an ABC comparison of the CD, high resolution stereo and surround versions by syncing the CD in it’s transport with the Blu-Ray in the Blu-Ray player.  The Surround mix is very gentle with the rear speakers providing  crowd noise and a much-dampened delay of the front channels in order to give a slight feeling of being in a live venue.  As expected, the high resolution stereo provides greater clarity, depth, detail and dynamic range.  However, this will only be apparent if you have a sound system that can reproduce the sound captured on the Blu-Ray.  The recording engineers did an excellent job on The Live Anthology and the sound on the CDs is very, very good.  The hi res stereo is better but you’re not getting a markedly inferior product if you buy the CDs.  You are getting one less disc of music, however.

The Live Anthology is a love letter from the band to their fans.  In many ways it is the polar opposite of the recently reviewed box set from Kraftwerk.  With Kraftwerk you get nothing but eight of their albums remastered so that the sound is much better than what had previously been available on CD.  With The Live Anthology you don’t get any of the the band’s previously released albums.  Instead you get live versions (and I’m guessing most are previously unreleased) of (some of) their hits, album tracks, and covers.  For many fans, this is all going to be new material.

The collection was produced by Mike Campbell, Ryan Ulyate and Petty.  The lengths they went to in putting The Live Anthology together and making sure it was a box set that fans would treasure were extreme.  They started with multi-track recordings of 169 live shows stretching over a 32 year period.  Those shows were stored on 245 reels of 2″ analog tape and 36 500-GB hard drives.  The 245 tapes had to be baked in an industrial oven at 130 degrees for 10 hours each in order to play back properly.  Putting it all together they had 3,509 songs.  They did rough mixes of all 3,509 (!).  Played non-stop, back-to-back, that was 12 days worth of music.  There were 245 different songs among the 3,509.  They listened for five weeks and pulled what they considered the best version of each of the 245 songs.  They evaluated all 245 and ended up with a final cut of 80 songs.  These 80 songs were fully mixed (it took 6 months to do the full mixes).  Petty then worked on sequencing the 80 tracks.  He eliminated 19 songs because he didn’t find a way to sequence them that he liked.  That left the 61 songs that are in the collection (the first track on disc one is a band introduction which puts the number of tracks in the set at 62).  All of this took more than a year of work.  That’s a lot of effort and the result is clear for all to hear on the discs.  The Live Anthology is a brilliant collection.  Sometimes obsession can be a very good thing.

Every fan of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers will want The Live Anthology.  There are many ways to build a successful boxed set, but for a set designed to give fans of the band something they don’t already have it’s hard to imagine anything better than this.  Tom Petty has thrown down the gauntlet to every other band with a reputation of putting on a good show.  This is the way it should be done.  Outstanding.

Listening to parts of The Live Anthology while working on the review I thought “This is the track I’ll add to the review”, then another track played and I thought “No, this is the one.”  Then another track played and I thought “I have to have that one.”  This went on for five discs of music.  This is a band that’s all about the live show and The Live Anthology is a collection of what they think are their best live tracks from 32 years of performing.  There’s no way one, two or ten tracks is going to cut it.  So here’s two tracks from the disc that happened to be in the player as I write this sentence.

“Learning to Fly”

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

07/06/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Summer of Love, 40th Anniversary

On September 2, 2007 a free concert was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park celebrating the 40th anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love.  This CD/DVD collection is a record of that event.  With two CDs and 2 DVDs at a price less than $25 it is a very generous collection.  Whether or not it’s worth it’s low price will depend on how much the listener/viewer is willing to put up with in order to hear some well played music or perhaps wallow in nostalgia as the case may be.

The quality of playing on many of the tunes here is very high.  Whoever these people are (more on that later), many of them can really play.  As would be expected at a gig like this, songs tend to become extended jams and more often than not, the musicians tear the place up.  There’s more than enough good music here to justify buying the collection.

The vocals are another story.  Some are good, others are not.  Although every song on the collection is played or sung with great enthusiasm, there are several cases where notes the singer could hit in their youth are well beyond their current abilities.  There are also cases where the ability to sing in key is a distant memory.  If you can handle enthusiastic screeching, this won’t be a problem.

I started to watch the DVDs but quickly gave it up.  From the little I saw, the interviewer’s questions were beyond lame and the musicians often seemed embarrassed or annoyed by the whole staged interview process.  Maybe it gets better.

It’s hard to believe anyone could release anything with documentation this bad.  If you recognize a song, all well and good, if you don’t, you’re shit out of luck because nowhere is there a list of song titles.  I’m not making this up.  Each CD lists the bands in the order they appear but does not give the titles of the songs they play.  Also, there is no listing of the musicians who are playing in each band.  Given that more than a few of the original members of these bands have since passed away, it would be nice to know who was running around in 2007 playing under the band’s name.  

If you like the music of late 60’s San Francisco played loose, free and well, and you don’t much care who is playing it, there’s a lot here to like.  You will have to put up with some truly dreadful vocals and abysmal documentation but if it’s all about the music for you, it’s here.  If you’re attracted to the collection because of the names of the bands listed on the box, be careful.  There’s no telling who these people are and in some cases what you hear will be a major disappointment if you have fond memories of the original band.

10/28/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, music | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: On Stage at World Cafe Live: Jennifer Glass & Daniella Cotton

This is more of a warning than a review.  The reason it’s not a review is that the sound quality of this DVD is so bad we couldn’t stand to listen to it and you can’t really review something you haven’t seen or heard. TheOn Stage at the World Cafe disc opens with Jennifer Glass, a singer I haven’t heard before, but we went straight to the Daniella Cotton segment thinking we’d go back and listen to Glass later.  Didn’t happen.  No matter how bad I think something is I’ll try and listen at least several times before I write a review but we got midway through Cotton’s second song and decided we couldn’t stand to listen to any more.  Cotton’s voice, as heard on her album Rare Child, is extraordinary.  On this DVD it sounds like she’s singing through a large-diameter metal pipe that’s about a block away.  The lead guitar is waaaay too high in the mix so that it drowns out almost everything else.  The bass is inaudible most of the time.  The drums are fairly well recorded but the mix is so bad it doesn’t matter.  Strictly amateur night at in the recording booth.

The problem isn’t our sound system which is a fairly good one and is kept in line with electronic room correction and regular speaker balancing using an SPL meter.  The problem is that Cotton’s set is so poorly recorded that the DVD is best avoided.  Cotton is too good, much too good, to be listened to like this.

07/11/2008 Posted by | DVD reviews, music | , | Leave a comment

Review: Ojos de Brujo, Techari Live

Ojos de Brujo are a large band from Barcelona that perform a combination of nuevo flamenco, Gypsy, Indian, African, Caribbean, hip hop, rap, and more that I find utterly intoxicating.  Not only do they make music that Techari LiveI could, and often do, listen to all day, they completely control the packaging and production of their music on their own record label.  Rather than release CDs designed to squeeze every last dime out of the buying public they put out lavish productions that reflect their love of the music they make and their desire to share that music in as pleasurable a way as possible with the rest of us.  I love this band.

Following 1999’s Vengue and 2002’s Bari, Ojos de Brujo released their third album of new material, Techari, in 2006.  On December 22nd of the same year they performed the material from the album along with some new tunes at a gig in their home town of Barcelona.  Techari Live presents that concert in two formats, a CD and a DVD.  Although I very much enjoy the CD, I find it the less satisfying of the two.  As often happens in live performance a number of the songs from Techari are played at slightly faster tempos than they are on the studio album which results in the loss of some of the lilt and sway that can make Ojos de Brujo’s music so captivating.  Also, the intensity and power of a live performance from a nine member band augmented by two flamenco dancers and innumerable guests blasts away some of the nuance and subtelty that is present on the studio recordings.  Having said that, the live gig is expertly recorded and mixed so that all of those musical voices can be clearly heard and distinguished.  It’s a masterful recording.  And the band . . .  God in heaven, the band is amazing.

Watching the band perform can greatly enhance one’s appreciation and enjoyment of this music.  There are a lot of musicians working here, they are playing rhythms, counter rhythms, cross rhythms and polyrhythms that are dizzying in their complexity, and all of these guys can count.  The group is so tight they are beyond belief.  They’re playing within rhythmic structures that are so complex and so fast they’re almost impossible to figure out and yet the band will stop, turn and shift gears on a razor’s edge.  Being able to watch them is a great help in keeping track of who is playing what and in separating out the different rhythmic strands.  As if two percussion players, a drummer, a turntablist, and two flamenco guitarists all playing different rhythmic lines weren’t enough the band adds a pair of flamenco dancers for even more rhythmic goodness.  They do one number where spitfire rapper Maxwell Wright and flamenco dancer Susi Medina carry out a vocal-foot percussion dialogue that begins with them trading eights and shifts to trading fours and then twos at a speed and complexity that has to be seen and heard to be believed.  Another highlight is the duet between Ojos de Brujo’s spectacular vocalist Marina Abad and guest vocalist Martirio on “Todo Tiende”.  Those are two great moments but there are many, many more.  Time after time this band will stop you dead in your tracks and leave you awestruck.  These guys can really play.

Although the CD and DVD contain the same songs (for the most part, there are a couple of extra studio tracks on the CD) the sequencing is different on each which is a nice touch because they provide different listening experiences.  The DVD features surround sound but it is not recorded in either DVD-Audio or SACD.  In addition the DVD has a documentary on the making of “Techari”, a short on putting the gig together, and a collection of the videos they made for tunes on the album including the terrific video for “Sultanas de Merkaillo”.

As can be heard on the Barcelona Zona Bastarda compilation, Barcelona is currently the home of an exceptionally vibrant and creative music scene and Ojos de Brujo is one of its leaders.  They are are an extraordinary band that has put out one excellent album after another.  Techari Live is no exception and by also providing a visual record of the concert on DVD Ojos de Brujo gives us another way to enjoy their joy-infused and celebratory music.  Highly recommended.

04/28/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Allman Brothers Band, Alltel Pavillion at Walnut Creek Raleigh, NC 8/10/03

The Allman Brothers Band have been playing their brand of Southern rock, blues rock, jam band music for a long time now.  They’ve survived personnel changes that would have ABB Alltelstopped most other bands dead in their tracks.  What other band could have continued after the loss of a guitar player of the magnitude of Duane Allman?  They’ve been on top of the world, they’ve crashed and burned and they’ve gotten it back together.  Throughout all of this they’ve not only survived, they’ve prospered.  Unlike other long-lived bands like, say, The Rolling Stones who have been focusing much more on being rock stars than on the music for several decades, ABB can still be as musically exciting as they were in the beginning.

“Alltel Pavillion” is a 3 CD live recording of the last gig from their tour to promote their studio album “Hittin’ the Note”.  The lineup is Gregg Allman (Hammond B-3, piano, vocals), Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (drums), Marc Quinones (Congas, percussion, vocals), Warren Haynes (lead and slide guitars, vocals), Derek Trucks (lead and slide guitars) and Oteil Burbridge (bass).  Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson and Branford Marsalis sit in on selected tracks.  They’re not doing anything you haven’t heard them do before but as can happen with this band, they’re doing it very well.  Marsalis plays on “Dreams” and “Whipping Post”, two of the three encores that make up disc 3 and his two numbers are among the highlights of the gig.  Time and again I’ve heard jazz musicians, who are typically light years beyond most rock musicians in their level of musical knowledge and ability, play rock or funk that is flat and dull.  They have chops to burn but not the feel or instinct that can make the simple chord changes and harmonics of rock soar.  Marsalis is a happy exception.  He burns on both his numbers and he fits well with the band. 

Another highlight of the concert is a jam called “Instrumental Illness” that clocks in at just under 40 minutes.  It features an extended drum break by Jaimoe and Butch Trucks that is terrific.  Few bands feature two drum kits and the opportunity to hear two drummers making music together is a real treat.  Many people say they don’t like drum solos.  On the one hand, as a drummer I hate to hear this but on the other I understand why they don’t like what they hear.  Too many rock drummers substitute technique and/or bombast for musicianship when it comes time to solo.  Which means they play fast and loud.  The result may be technically difficult but it’s often musically uninteresting.  Drumming is about rhythm not speed.  Jaimoe and Trucks have been with the band since the beginning and had been playing together for 34 years when this gig was recorded.  34 years!  They’re like two bodies with one mind and their interaction on “Instrumental Illness” is like a graduate seminar in drumming.  World Class.

If you like the early ABB before death, drugs and Gregg Allman’s Cher infatuation nearly destroyed the band, Alltel Pavillion will please.
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06/08/2007 Posted by | CD reviews, music | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Crowded House, Farewell To The World

Crowded House often seemed to be more untogether than together.  Formed by Neil Finn out of the ashes of Split Enz when his brother, Tim, left the group, Crowded House had a career that was rocky even by rock-band standards.  Members were continually leaving and joining the group, albums would be released, go nowhere, and then six months later would explode, and so on.  Their self-titled first album was a huge hit in the US but didn’t arouse much interest in most of the rest of the world.  Their third album, Woodface wherein Tim briefly rejoined his brother in the band, was a huge hit in the UK and most of the rest of Europe but did zip in the US.  Throughout all of this they were consistent megastars in their home countries of New Zealand and Australia.  In June of 1996 they released a greatest hits compilation that entered the UK and Australian charts at #1 at which point they promptly announced they were breaking up.  They then proceeded to do a whole series of final concerts.

They scheduled what was really going to be their final concert for Saturday, November 23 1996.  The gig was to take place on the steps of the gorgeous Sydney Opera House. It was going to be recorded and filmed and the proceeds were to be donated to the Sydney Children’s Hospital Fund.  Most of that happened, but not as expected, which I suppose isn’t all that surprising given the history of this band.  Turned out the weather on the 23rd was terrible and they had to postpone the gig until the following day.  This created a problem for a number of their avid fans who had flown to Australia for the Saturday concert and had to fly back out on Sunday.  So what did the band do?  Without the movie people, without the recording truck, and without a lot of fanfare they went to a venue that was open and played virtually the entire planned concert for the people who couldn’t make it the next day.  How do you not love a band like that?

The next day over 120,000 people showed up and Crowded House played a concert that has become legendary among their fans.  This is the recording of that gig and it’s very good.  Neil Finn has won a well deserved reputation as a master craftsman of the art of pop song writing and there is hardly better evidence of that reputation than the songs played here which cover the entire range of Crowded House’s ten year career.  If you’re familiar with Finn’s work, you expect good songs.  What is, perhaps, more surprising is how well the band plays together and how hard they can rock.  Drummer Paul Hester had left the group two years earlier and was afraid he wouldn’t be able to anchor the band before an audience this large.  He needn’t have worried.  The gig takes up two discs and the band doesn’t let down once.

The band is well recorded.  Unfortunately, the crowd is not.  There’s over 120K people out there, they know these songs and they are singing along but you can barely hear them.  For the most part this isn’t a problem but during those tracks where the band gives the crowd lines to sing it makes artificial dead spots out of what were probably emotional highs at the show.  It’s a shame and the only reason I can think of why it has taken over ten years to release the concert on CD.

Neil Finn is quoted in the liner notes as saying “We broke up better than anything else we ever did really.”  The evidence is here . . .

. . . . . but wait, the band got back together and released Intriguer in 2010.

Check here for a review of the DVD of this concert.

Music from this concert can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 004 – Live, In Concert
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03/01/2007 Posted by | CD reviews, music | , , | 4 Comments