Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Zeppelin re-issues - what to do?

**** update 04/22/1972 see below

We have been hearing about the Led Zeppelin re-issues for a couple years now. Today, details finally emerged. There is the band's official site, of course. However, they just show pics and prices. The links go to Amazon and there are no details there, either. I wanted to know exactly what do I get? Fortunately, this site has the details. My dilemma is should I get them? More importantly, should you?

 I have the entire Zepp catalog. Thing is, I don't really listen to them anymore. It isn't that I am sick of it, or outgrown it.  It is not even that I am bored of it... I don't think.  It is just that I listened to so much of it that it is hardwired into me. Example: you have Zeppelin 4 sitting over there somewhere. When was the last time you popped it in to listen to it? I bet it's been ten years. The songs are great, but they have so become a fiber of my being that listening is almost redundant. So, the remastering isn't enough of a grab for me. With the remaster I will listen to each disc once. I will think "oh, that does sound better". Then, it will go back on the wall and never be touched again.

Like all re-issues, for me it comes down to the extras, and is it worth it to me. So, let's pick one and take a look.

The first release of re-issues is the first 3 albums. They are each separate, and each come with one bonus disc. Jimmy Page is handling all of this, and he promised new unreleased stuff. I am suspicious of this, though, because he told me there were none left. In fact, in the entire canon of Zeppelin, there have been only 2 songs that emerged as unreleased from the studio albums. Page busted those out for the last box set. The first one is 'Hey Hey What can I do?'. Now, that is a brilliant and terrific song. I can't imagine why that didn't make the cut. The other is 'Traveling Riverside Blues'. This is just ok, and we can see why it never got a proper release on a studio album. It seems strange that a band with 12 years and 10 records out only had 2 songs stashed away.

So, these new undiscovered songs he is offering... frankly they can't be that good. If they were, he would have mined them long ago. That's ok, though, because the first disc set has a bonus live CD companion audio disc:

Live at the Olympia – Paris, France, October 10, 1969

 1. Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown
  2. I Can't Quit You Baby
  3. Heartbreaker
  4. Dazed and Confused
  5. White Summer/Black Mountain Side
  6. You Shook Me
  7. Moby Dick
  8. How Many More Times

Now, this interests me. Led Zeppelin was amazing live. They changed the game. I have a ton of Zeppelin bootlegs, and the early stuff is pretty rough. I am much more interested in what emerges with Physical Graffiti. To me, that is the absolute peak of the band on every level. Because I know Zeppelin's live catalog intimately, I can tell you the disc above likely won't be great.

Dazed and Confused will go on for 40 minutes. You Shook Me and How Many More Times will each likely be about 20 minutes. Same with Moby Dick. To me, that is just a bunch of filler. Another thing to consider is live music recording sucked in 1969. It is likely 2 channel, at best.  What does that mean?  It means each instrument didn't have its own recording track (like it does in the studio).  So, everything is jammed on to 2 tracks.  So, vocals and guitars on are one, and drums and bass are on the other.  The limitations of this means if you want to turn up the vocals, you can't do it without turning up the guitars.  They can't be separated.  That is why there is virtually no live music releases from the 60's.  Dylan released a bunch, but it is mostly one track.  That's ok for him, since it is just him and guitar.

Luckily for music fans, Owsley from the Grateful Dead later pioneered all live recording in the early 70's. However, in 1969 Led Zeppelin likely had no interest in what a bunch of wasted hippies from San Francisco were doing. Remember, until American Beauty came out in 1970, the Dead's studio albums were just psychedelic dreck. Their breakthrough and totally insane 'wall of sound' was still 6 years off. So, I will say without qualification that the sound of these early Zeppelin shows is likely shitty.

On the other hand, we are getting access to behind the curtain of the greatest rock band of all time. Zeppelin influenced everything, and everything about me as a musician. So, I would be a fool not check this out. Let's look at the potential positives: Maybe it is brilliantly restored. Maybe it has a dope ass 20 page booklet. I hope Page engaged Rhino records.  They are AMAZING at packaging and re-issuing stuff.  If I knew Rhino was involved, I would buy all three no questions asked.***** see update at bottom

The other two current released (Zepp 2 and Zepp 3) also come out the same day. Now, those also come with bonus discs, but they aren't live shows. So, they are likely outtakes and different versions of known songs. Here is my plan, I will buy at least the first release. They don't come out until June. I will review them here. I tend not to wait on this stuff, so I will have it the day it comes out, and I'll have something up here within a day or two. So, check back and I will give you the scoop. If I am impressed, I will buy the other two.

To be honest, though, I don't expect to be. The real treasures are yet to come with their later material.

Imagine if we could get an official and cleaned up release of 'Destroyer', their legendary Cleveland show from 1977. That is the kind of box set I want to see. This is the uber Zeppelin live concert. Find a bootleg of this if you are a Zepp fan. It shows the genius of their playing, their catalog... the works.

*** update - I mentioned up above that the deal breaker for me would be if Rhino records was involved.  They are a record company or distributor or something.  They specialize in only putting out re-releases of super old stuff.  You may be thinky hacky and exploitive.  Wrong.  They are AMAZING.  Being 42, most of my music collection is at least 20 years old.  Well, Rhino takes these old collections and brings them to life.  new art, new interviews and essays, remastererd records, HUGE booklets....  seeing 'Rhino' on the box literally tells me if it is worth the price.  Want proof?  The Grateful Dead handed them 50 years of recordings, and it has been a gonzo success.  The Grateful Dead were one of the most profitable bands on earth last year, even though they broke up 20 years ago because of Jerry's death.  That shows the power and quality of Rhino.  Well, BIG news.  I just learned last week that Rhino IS involved in the Zepp releases.  So, simple answer to the above
 dilemma.  If Rhino is involved, so am I.  I literally stake my name on these guys.

Friday, February 21, 2014

the agony and ecstasy of Neil Young

Many years ago, I went to see Neil Young play.  It was a solo acoustic performance, and it was the most amazing two hours of music you can imagine.  When it comes to writing really amazing and perfect and inspiring acoustic guitar music, Neil Young is at the top.  He is up there with James Taylor and Bob Dylan.  These folks are gods in my pantheon, because acoustic guitar is my greatest passion.

Listen to the first side of 'Live Rust'.  Sugar Mountain, I am a Child, Comes a Time, After the Gold Rush, Long May you Run*, Needle and the Damage Done, Hey Hey, My My.  It is just amazing collection,  especially 'After the Gold Rush'.  It's a piano song, but Neil plays this crazy old school pump organ.  It looks and sounds like something out of a Tom Waits dream.  He also has this great falsetto that is perfectly delicate.  There is no other way to describe it.  Normally, you might think 'delicate' is a strange adjective for a male singer.  Especially when you know the singers I love... the raspy kind.  Neil, though, has this perfect delicate voice.

Those were all 30 or 40 years ago.  He never lost it, though.  He also never lost the ability to sing super high, which almost all male vocalists lose with age.  Listen to Unknown Legend. It is just a perfect, perfect song.

Here is the thing, though.  That is only half of Neil.  Neil is not unlike the Hulk.  His acoustic side is all David Banner.  We love David Banner.  This other side, though, is just a monster.  Take all the wonderful things I said about Neil above, change all those words to mean and hurtful ones, and you have Neil's electric career.  I can not stand Neil Young's electric music.  It is garbage.  It is noise.  Some of it doesn't even aspire to be noise.  Neil released a two CD set of live music of nothing but feedback noise.  I much admire Neil's spirit of playing by his own rules.  There is no one in all of music history who is as true to themselves as Neil Young.  Neil has quit bands mid set, because he "wasn't feelin' it".  Neil refused to show up at his own induction of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Know why?  The producers wanted to vett his acceptance speech for television.  Neil not only wouldn't let them have his speech, he refused to go altogether.  That isn't being an Axl just to be an Axl.  Neil has principles,. which is what likely makes him the most difficult man in all of rock to work with.

We aren't here to talk about Neil's swagger.  We aren't here to re-tell the classic 'more barn' story.  We also are not here to talk about how Neil has single handedly re-invented digital music and digital music distribution with his groundbreaking 'Pono'.

No.  We are here to wonder out loud, how does someone who makes the most joyful sonorous waves on acoustic and piano create nightmares like this.  That solo.  What the fuck is that solo?  He just hits a D for about 4 minutes.  If I had free tickets to go see Neil at Red Rocks play electric, I wouldn't go.

I dunno, this piece isn't going anywhere.  I just had to get this down here, since no one else has managed to figure out the evil dichotomy.

I love you, Neil.  Eat a peach!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Fives - iPod edition

Hey all,

This is a cross post from my other site.  This is a game I play called the iPod game.  I put my phone in song mode and hit shuffle.  Then, i will tell you the story of my relationship with the song that comes up - no matter what it is.  For full disclosure, it's a 16 gig phone.  My last iPod was 120 gig, so that had about 8,000 albums.  This has maybe 30.

Ready?  Let's go

Grateful Dead - Loser
Springfield, MA 5.11.78

This song has grown on me over the years.  I used to find it a sleeper, but it has totally gotten better to me for some reason. I have a LOT of Grateful Dead. It could be half my collection on here is Dead stuff.  I am very much a 'deadhead'.  I got to do the whole thing - follow the band on tour.  It was amazing.

I can't speak too much to this version.  It just came up, and I don't have time to listen to the whole thing now.  I can't say much about 1978 for the Dead, except that the year before was EPIC.  There are two eras of Dead live music that have become legend - '77 and '91.  I was lucky enough to see most of my shows during the latter era

Hayseed Dixie - keepin' your poop

Have you heard of these guys?  Here are some links.  They are awesome.  This is a group of self confessed hillbillies who play amazing bluegrass - with a catch.  The music they play is entirely heavy metal covers.  This song, though, is an original.

Billy Joel - Uptown Girl

I have been on a Billy Joel kick a lot in the last month.  He is fantastic!  Such a great songwriter.  Now, this song above... it's a throw away.  I don't even listen to it.  It was packaged on a greatest hits disc.  This was, of course, his awesome ode to Christy Brinkley.  They were married for a bit, but not too long.  Both of them have about 6 marriages each.  Basically, this song could be called Brinkley!"   She is still crazy hot, and crazy relavant.  I googled her name.  Once I typed in 'Christie' google auto completed her last name.  In fact, they are both doing really well.  Here is a very recent pic of Christie.  She is likely about 60, but still wicked hot.  and Billy?  He is doing great again.  Check out this  performance of 'you may be right' recorded just two weeks ago (new years eve 2013/2014).  Dude just kills it!  This song is special to me because my band plays it.

Sorry, I really wanted to embed that video right here, but that ability is disabled.  Interesting, huh?

Also, above in the title I would normally link the song.  However, this song is way better, and from the same era.  Dig it!

Tom Waits - Tango till their sore
Rain Dogs

Tom Waits is great.  Amazing.  He is like the sad drunk version of Billy Joel.  Luckily, I got to see him live, too.  This album is amazing, and contains the song 'downtown train'.  Rod Stewart had a HUGE hit with this Waits original.  Hootie, Springsteen and the Eagles both had big hits with Tom Waits material.  To many, I think he is like Bob Dylan.  They think "well, he's a great song writer but he sure can't sing".  I firmly disagree.  See, you are only thinking of this Tom Waits (which is awesome) - but don't forget this Tom Waits is there, too.

Waits is also an actor, and amazing guest on talk shows.  Mostly, though, he is a recluse.  He never really toured, records very sporadically.  He is quite strange, but in a joyful way.

Bob Dylan - Hard times in New York Town
Witmark Demos

This is classic very very early Dylan.  Maybe his first original ever.  I love it, but you won't.  These Witmark demos are for hardcore collectors.  it is all the demos he recorded simply for copyright purposes.  So, they are not fully fleshed our or even recorded well.  They are more like a sketchbook.  For someone who LOVES Dylan (like myself) it is a great collection.  However, I would never start someone on Dylan with a collection like this.

These were never meant to see the light of day.  This was simply archive material for the record company legal department to prove Bob wrote these songs.  It is common practice.  Bob knew some of these songs might not be released for 5 or 10 years, but he wants to make sure they are logged as his.  It's ironic, kinda, since Bob was known as bit of a copyright thief.  Seriously, big time.  He took well known songs and changed a few words.  Then, copyrighted them as his own.  When questioned about this dubious behavior, a reporter asked "are they your songs", Dylan's response was "well, they are now". 

By the way, like Tom Waits above in being a great talk show guest, Dylan was amazing with press conference some.  Google them, they are for the ages.  you get gems like this about being a celebrity and what a drag it was for him "well, I am only Bob Dylan when I have to be.  The rest of the time, I am just me."  That is good writing.  That is why he was the voice of a generation.  It's such a simple and thoughtful expression - but says so much.