Holy Fuck, Chris Cornell can really really sing.
I like Chris Cornell. I like Soundgarden. I wouldn't say I love either, but I definitely dig both. Have seen Audioslave live, as well as Soundgarden, but will get to that below. So I don't have to type out 'Soundgarden' a thousand times here, let's call them 'SG' for the purpose of our discussion. Chris Cornell, we'll call 'CC'. I just saved us both half an hour there.
First time I saw SG was at Lollapalooza, forever ago (editors note, 1992). Let me tell you how long ago that was. Pearl Jam was just breaking. Pearl Jam was given the 2 pm slot on a show that went to midnight. That tells you how little they were at the time. SG had about an 8 pm time slot. This was back when CC more or less screamed everything. Everything. If you know CC as a singer of any kind, go back to early SG releases. All dude did was scream. They had great riffs and songs, though. Listen to this one. It's called 'Outshined' and I can't think of a better and heavier riff than that.
So, at this time, I was aware of CC as the screamer dude from Soundgarden. Liked him, didn't love him. Right about this very minute, Temple of the Dog is happening. (editors note 1990) I was unaware of it at this point, though. If I had an editor, he would inject the timelines here). So, the Singles movie soundtrack comes out and my backstore neighbor has it. What? He didn't live next door, he lived behind us.
That was when I heard 'Seasons'. That song changed everything in my mind. At that moment, CC and SG raced past Pearl Jam in my mind as the premiere grunge and songwriting talent. It's a beautiful song, and the singing is fucking amazing. Seriously. So, dude can sing after all... and not just scream. Ok, I am in. Where do we go from here, CC?
Well, CC bails on SG, which was the right thing to do. He had outgrown them, and their sound. He went on to do AudioSlave. I saw them live, I was not impressed even a little. His voice was shot that night. I didn't think of it as a one off, though. I assumed screaming for 20 years like an idiot on fire had destroyed his voice. So, I literally wrote CC off for good. He was like my youth - great memories, but there is nothing here for us anymore. You can't go home again. It's not you, it's me. You get the idea.
Btw, in case you don't get good Seasons really is, here is a live version you jaded asshole. Yeah, crazy good. So, fast forward ten years and I hear a live track from 'Songbook'. Songbook is a live record of various original songs of his throughout the years (even a Temple of the Dog track!). It was done last year, 2012, I believe (editors note, it was 2011). It literally took a couple years to get to me. I knew it existed, but wasn't interested in hearing it, knowing his voice was shot.
Turns out I was wrong! That night in Denver on the AudioSlave tour must have been an anamoly. Dude can still sing. In fact, he can sing better, and with more control, than he ever did. Long story short, buy this. It is beautiful and powerful.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
There is an old cliché that the Chinese symbol for disaster is the exact same symbol as opportunity. It’s meant to teach you a lesson about tenacity, and not being the little bitch that you are. I have no idea if that cliché is true, but it tells the story of Green Day live last week in San Francisco.
I was not
am not a
Green Day fan. I am not against them,
just not for them. Largely
indifferent. That was until I saw them
play Saturday night. Things went
incredibly bad at the concert. It was
the biggest disaster of a concert I have even seen my in 800 plus national
touring rock shows I have seen.
I have seen a lot of things go wrong at rock concerts. I have seen a lot of rock stars storm off stage. Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Butthole Surfers, Anthrax are just a few that come to mind of shows I was at where the artist stormed off. In fact, I have seen more rock stars stomp off stage than you have seen playing normal shows.
This is what should have happened Saturday night. Green Day was playing in a huge rain storm in San Francisco. You say to yourself “well, it often rains in San Fran, so how is that a story? More importantly, how were they not prepared for a rain storm?”
Well, the venue they played wasn’t built for rock concerts. They played the local baseball stadium – AT&T Park. Here is a picture of me and the wifey at the show.
Full disclosure, I was at the show for free. I was at a trade show for work, and they hired Green Day to play just for the trade show attendees. It was super bad ass! So, that is why I went, even though I declare I was mostly indifferent about Green Day. WAS. So, the band plays for about half an hour. I don’t know ANY of the songs. I kinda figured that would happen. I really don’t know much beyond Dookie, except their big radio hits – Time of your Life, and Wake me up when September ends). I know they have the big Broadway show, and just released three full albums this year. So, I didn’t expect to know the material.
About half an hour in to the show, the power goes out. Rain hits the soundboard and everything goes dark. Can’t hear or see anything. The power doesn’t come on. Not for a long time after that. Maybe half an hour. They managed to power a spotlight on Billie Joe. This is where Billie Joe should have stomped off. I would not have been disappointed. I saw Billy Corgan stop a concert and storm off stage because someone threw a tshirt near him. Not at him, near him. A soft billowy piece of cotton came near Billy very slowly, and he lost is SHIT. Billy told the guy who threw it he should kill himself, and then stopped the concert. No exaggeration. So, I expected Billy Joe to bolt.
Remember, Billy Joe isn't famous for handling things well. Just a year ago he went APESHIT on stage. He went so apeshit that they immediately canceled the rest of the tour. Here is video of the incident. In case the video doesn't capture it, Green Day was given a ‘1 minute’ warning. They were playing a festival with a TON of other bands. So, the schedule was tight. Billy Joe did not cotton to being told when to stop playing.
So, when the power went out, we were all expecting the worst. Since this was a corporate gig, he also knows no one is really there to see him. We didn't save our hard earned cash to see Green Day. It all adds up to a potential meltdown from the band. They would get paid either way.
Nope. Instead, Billy Joe became a hero. A goddamn deity. Billy Joe picks up his acoustic guitar, which no one can hear beyond the first few rows. Billy led a sing along. He switched over to songs he knew we would all know. Mind you, no one at this show paid. So, in theory, none of these folks are Green Day fans. We were there for free beer and music and free food.
Billy leads the first few rows into a sing along… which caught on like the wave in a football stadium. Soon, Billy has the whole crowd of a baseball stadium singing along. It was a campfire thing. He only did songs he knew everyone would know. For half an hour he said on his monitor in the dark and kept us all entertained. Remember, this is a torrential rain storm. Billy Joe sat in the rain and sang songs with all of us until the power came back on about 30 minutes later. When it did come on, he apologized to us!
Then, to make things even better, he played the only Green Day song I love. So, then I went super nuts. I had told my wife earlier that night it was the only song I wanted to hear. I said “he should play ‘When I come Around’ and then leave. That is almost what happened. We all sat in the pouring rain, drunk, singing along to ‘Time of your Life’ and ‘Wake me up….’ And then with some power (only the guitar was working, which was fine by me) he did ‘When I come Around’.
So, it should have been a disaster. It should have been a failure. Instead, Billy Joe took all that and gave us the best concert of our lives.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
So, we come to Pearl Jam.
If you have not read part 1, please start here.
Bootlegging stats steady and mostly under the radar for the next 30 years. Several 'jam' bands, following the Dead's lead, now allow taping. Dave Matthews band, Blues Traveler, Todd Snider, Phish, and Pearl Jam. Ok, they aren't all 'jam' bands.
Perhaps you will remember, Pearl Jam was the biggest band in America in the early 90’s. The second album set a record for most units sold (nearly a million first week. Would not be beat until Garth Brooks, who cheated his ass off to take the record). Eddie Vedder wouldn’t/couldn't go out in public without a mask. He was on the cover of Time AND Newsweek. Pearl Jam, you see, were BIG. Pearl Jam were also pretty unique in that they thrived in the live environment. The model of bands touring was a simple one. The record company sent you on a promotion tour around the United States so fans could see you. Then, you would buy their cassette/record. That record cost $95 cents to make, and they charged $12 for it. So, you see how they can afford to send a band around the country. Touring was designed as a loss leader promotion for the record.
Pearl Jam’s interest was in playing live. Like the Dead before them, studio albums were an after thought. So, their shows got bootlegged. Enterprising music fans snuck in recording equipment and secretly recorded concerts. Then, sold them at a HUGE mark up. This has always been happening, and it always will. Well, the band didn’t like this, for a few reasons. One is that the bootlegs were ripping fans off. Fans were paying $30 for a shitty recording of a recording of a recording of a live show. On top of that, it was a business issue. The band, whose music it was, was seeing none of that cash. So, the band took some brilliant initiatives.
They released official versions of every bootleg they saw on the market. They didn’t invent this, Frank Zappa did. Then, they put stickers on each live release that said “not to be confused with identical more expensive import". They didn’t invent this, IanMacKeye did. Tom Petty also tried it, and his record company tried to sue him out of existence.
|I can't get this damn picture to rotate correct. This is from my own collection|
Pearl Jam saw the demand these few official bootleg created. They did something that took the spirit of the Grateful Dead into the new century. They offered to sell ALL their shows. Everyone thought they were nuts. On one day, they put an entire tour on sale. On that day, they had 20 records all on the top 100. That is beyond historic.
Then, they took it further. Through the fan club, you could buy the show you were going to. The show that has not happened yet. You pay the band $10 online. Then, immediately after the show, the band emailed you an MP3 of that show. It was fast. Meaning, it was in your email when you got home from the show.
Pretty great, right? Well, they went further still. They made it so that you could buy CDs of the show you were at AT that show, that night. Well, this was the plan. About 15 minutes after the end of the show, through the miracles of cd pressers and real time engineering and magically pixie fairies… you drove home listening to that show. However, I don’t know that that phase got to the execution point. To do so would be incredibly expensive. That is a lot of infrastructure.
I see Pearl Jam picking up so much of what the Dead did and running with it. Pearl Jam plays longs shows, 3 to 4 hours every night. They also vary the set list of every show, just like the Dead. So, you can follow Pearl Jam on tour... and get a different show each night.
My favorite part of this story is how it has truly come full circle. Last week, I was at Dead show in Red Rocks (they are still touring with Bobby and Phil). On the way out, I saw a line of folks standing at a booth. Seemed weird for the end of the night. I knew the Dead were almost certainly not coming up for autographs. I asked a guy in line and he explained they were waiting for tonight’s show to press. The Dead took Pearl Jam’s idea and ran with it. How great is that?
I just love this. It is how the entire history of bootlegging can be summed up by two bands. The Dead started it, Owsley pioneered the technology. Pearl Jam ran with it, and the Dead are following suit.
That was long, thanks for staying with me. There is obviously much more to the history of live recording. However, a primer on the Dead and Pearl Jam pretty much covers about 80% of it. Plus, to be transparent, those are my absolutely favorite bands. So, this isn’t as much journalism as it is just me being a fan boy. I am actually a member of the Pearl Jam fan club, and have been for almost 20 years. Who the hell still does that? What am I, 12?