Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bob Weir - live solo acoustic

Bob Weir is the guy from the Grateful Dead who wasn't Jerry Garcia.  You know him, and his voice.  He did 'Truckin', their biggest hit aside from 'Touch of Grey'.  Bob has been with Garcia and the Dead since he was 16.  He has also spent virtually all that time overshadowed by Jerry... in every possible sense.

For example, I have tons and tons of Grateful Dead live shows: bootlegs, dvd's, official releases - the works.  On almost every one, it is impossible to hear Bobby's guitar.  Even when Bobby sings (which is 50% of the time, that is why its sad how marginalized he's become).  It was easy to marginalize him, we thought.  He didn't seem like a great talent on guitar, and not nearly as enigmatic as Jerry.  I knew Bobby was good, though.  I saw him about 20 years ago do a live acoustic show with Rob Wasserman.  It was terrific.  He did stripped down versions of a lot of his hits.

I never thought Bobby was great, though.  That was until recently.  A few years ago, he started an online recording studio, TRI studios.  He does songs with friends, in really high def quality, and gets the chance to shine.  Watch this:  holy shit.  Bobby is amazing, and I nevet knew it.  He really is a good guitar player.  It is tough when you sit next to Jerry for 40 years.  I regard Jerry Garcia as unquestionably the best guitarist in all of rock.  I put him higher than Hendrix, Stevie Ray.

Jerry has been gone for almost 20 years now.  So, we have had to lean on Bobby, and Bobby has delivered in every way.  Everyone left in the Grateful Dead continued to tour after Jerry passed.  They have been in many difference incarnations, and rarely have all the survivors played together.  Also, they wisely forever dropped the moniker 'Grateful Dead' after Jerry passed.  Here are just a few bands off the top of my head that have spawned in the wake of Jerry's passing:  ratdog, futhur, the Dead, Phil and friends, 7 walkers, scaring the children...

Back to Bobby.  Bobby joined the band when he was 16.  Bobby is 66 now.  He has spent his entire life in the Grateful Dead family.  Bobby is always on tour, generally with 2 or 3 different bands.  Last year, he did a solo acoustic tour... which is pretty much all I have been waiting for.  I find nothing on earth better than a talented musician alone with an acoustic guitar.  Example - I got to see Elton John do a solo show.  Just him and a piano.  It was probably the best concert I have ever been to.  It is also something Elton John does not ever do, for some reason.  On the other hand, if you gave me free tickets to see Elton John with an entire orchestra (which is how he tours) I wouldn't be interested.  Another example - Dave Matthews band is great.  Dave Matthews solo acoustic is transcendent and amazing and life affirming.  I am lucky enough to have seen him many times like this.

So, Bobby Weir sitting on stage by himself with an acoustic doing all his Dead hits is the best thing on Earth.  In fact, a year before this I actually reached out to his production company and offered to book and promote Bobby doing a solo show.  He had been doing many one off nights as a solo act, but never a proper tour.  I wasn't sure how good it would be, though.  Like I said, he isn't known as a great anything.  He was great. He was amazing. he was also chatty, and funny, and engaging.  Yes, Bobby talks.  No doy, you say.  Here is the thing, though; the Grateful Dead NEVER EVER spoke on stage.  Not a single word, not ever.  There was no 'it's great to be here in Denver', or 'this next one is a classic'.  Nothing.  Not ever a word.  It appears that was a Jerry Garcia rule of sorts, because both Bob and Phil are chatty bastards.  Of course, you would be too after 40 years of being pent up on stage.

I got to see him play a nice and small venue - Paramount Theater - in downtown Denver, CO.  We also had great seats.  I am used to seeing the boys in a football stadium.  Or, of course, Red Rocks.  Seeing Bobby up close in this small venue felt more like hanging out in his living room.  It was intimate, and Bobby worked hard to make it so.

I was also curious as to how a Dead song would hold up on a single instrument.  See, there are a zillion members of the Dead.  They even had 2 drummers.  So how would Bobby do?  What would Bobby do?  I got to see he is a hell of a guitar player, and a very unique style.

He opened with awesome 'Music Never Stopped'.  This is such a great song.  I mean, look at this lyric, it tells you everything.  "the sun went down in honey.  The moon came up in wine".  Aw heck, just watch this.

The night was amazing.  He looked and sounded amazing.  His song choice was terrific.  Like Jerry's solo shows, half the set was Dylan songs.  This is always fine by me.

Like Dead shows, there was no set list.  That is something unique to the Grateful Dead... no set list.  I know virtually everything about music, and I can tell you there is NO band who doesn't do a setlist.  Now, some bands will do a setlist the day of the show (like Pearl Jam).  Most bands, though, do the exact same set from night to night.  This is for practical reasons, like lighting cues and guitar changes.  The Dead, though (like Bobby and Jerry solo) make up the setlist as the show goes on.  So, note, two pieces are unique to the Grateful Dead and it's members subsequent tours:  no setlist, and a different show every night.  This was practical for the Dead, as fans follow the band from city.  No one wants to go on tour and here the same songs.  So, this way...  not only do you not know what songs are coming up... neither does the band.

Like Phil, we took Bob for granted.  We gave all our love and focus and energy to Jerry.  It was easy to do, I assure you.  Only when we lost Jerry did we stop to appreciate the others, and their musicianship and contributions.  Recently, Bobby canceled all of his remaining dates for 2014for health reasons.  This scares me, since Bobby has never canceled a tour in 50 years.  If you get the chance, go see Bobby.  Ideally, if you can, see Bobby and Phil together.  God, between Dead shows and their offshoot bands, I have probably seen them together between 30 and 40 times.  Problem is, they are getting old and slowing down.  Phil isn't really touring anymore, understandably.  He's in his 70's and has been living in a tour bus for 50 years.  With Bob's recent health scare, who knows what the future holds.

Let me tell you, though; these guys have absolutely gotten better with age.  Most musicians get better with age.  Except... singers generally lose their higher range.  Well, Bobby sounds exactly the same as when I started chasing the band back in 1989.  Dig this, I lucked out.  My first Grateful Dead show was filmed at released.  I was at this show.  Also, quite awesomely, some of these Bobby solo shows are for sale.  I highly recommend getting one.  Actually, get as many as you can.  As I mentioned, the songs changed from night to night.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Zeppelin re-issues - what to do?

**** update 06/10/2014 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.   If Rhino is involved, so am I.  I literally stake my name on these guys.

*** update update - I went out and bought Zepp lll remaster.  I am disappointed, here is why.  I went to best buy, and the packaging is very confusing.  For the sake of artiness, you can't tell from the packaging which ones are single discs and which ones are double.  Plus, I thought they were all double discs.  So, I plunked down my cash and just got the studio disc - no bonus.  I am bummed.  Also, I listened to the discs and they sound exactly the same as the original.  I am nuts about music and ALL the details... I noticed absolutely nothing about the new release sonically.  Usually, a remaster gets you better low ends, and a crisper treble.

So, don't buy the new ones just to update your collection.  The only incentive is the bonus discs.  That piece, I blame on myself.  And you.  Mostly you.

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!