Friday, September 10, 2021

Official CD release: MUSHROOM Songs of Dissent, A vital release in these times


[review by Bill Glahn]

Mushroom: Songs of Dissent (Alchemikal Artz/Light In The Attic AA002)

Venue: The Make Out Room, San Francisco, CA August 9, 2019

Sound Quality: Excellent

Cover: Fold-open eco-friendly digipak with psychedelic “light show” style graphics with track listing and short summary on back and complete list of performers and recording information inside

Tracklist: Founding Father/ Two Men Say They're Jesus, One of Them Must Be Wrong/ You've Got To Get In To Get Out/ Everything's Gone Green/ The March of The Wooden Soldiers/ Free Range/ Kraut Mask Replica - Steal This Riff - Redux

Comments: After more than a dozen releases since their formation in 1996, with many changing line-ups centered around drummer Pat Thomas, Mushroom now identifies itself, not as a band, but as a San Francisco “collective” of musicians. The term is not one that fits easily in the American mindset, where artists are looked at as singular structures – either solo artists who employ session musicians, or bands that have defined members, which may change from time to time, but never with the idea that past members are at-the-ready for any future projects. Band members are replaced in favor of new members or simply quit. To understand Songs of Dissent, it’s probably best to understand the concept of “collective” first.

The idea of music collectives is one that has existed in some form for decades in San Francisco, going back at least to the days of John Cipollina. Cipollina, a founding member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, spent the last decade of his life playing with innumerable bands with such names as The Dinosaurs, Raven, Fish & Chips, Niksilver (The John Cipollina-Nick Gravenites Band), The San Francisco All-Stars) and others, often simultaneously. While these bands may have had identifiable line-ups depending on the musical direction, they were all centered around and orchestrated by Cipollina. They also had a lot of interchanging members. In essence, it was a collective that released albums under different band names, depending on the project.

Whittled down to their most basic principles, the difference between a band and a collective is that bands are insular, whereas music collectives are community oriented. That’s a concept that is at odds with the American psyche in general, but more common in the arts.

Driving this particular community bus is drummer Pat Thomas, a multi-talented visionary who has worn (and wears) many hats during his career – producer (mostly re-issues, an astonishing list!), A & R consultant for Light In The Attic Records (the labels output defines eclectic with some of my favorite releases such as reissues of renegade folkie Bob Frank’s 1973 debut on Vanguard, Spooner Oldham’s much overlooked Potluck album, as well as a reissue series of Roger Chapman albums and the Ozark centric Winter’s Bone soundtrack – the last two overseen by Thomas), and book author (Listen Whitey; the sounds of Black Power, Jerry Rubin & the Yippies).

On first listen, Songs of Dissent works as an overview of the band’s career, revisiting the many aspects and styles that the band has explored over the years. This is probably by design, as the concert takes place at the same venue where they performed their first live concert, but 22 years later. The line-up reunites 3 of the original 5 members (the other 2 being Graham Connah and Erik Pearson), plus ample contributions from long-time members and new recruits.

While there is ample here for fans of early European prog (Can, Gong), a style the band is largely noted for, there are also guitar excursions into the styles of early Grateful Dead (think Live/Dead) and guitar/synth similar to Steve Hillage. And when Mushroom gets down to their jazzier elements, it’s largely behind the flute playing of Pearson. Which is fine by me. If there is a saying among some jazz enthusiasts that irks me to no end, it’s “No flutes in jazz.” It’s as elitist, offensive, and divisive to my way of thinking as “No ni**ers in NASCAR.” Pearson’s flute playing on “Free Range” is both beautiful and invigorating. Following “Free Range” is the final track, a trilogy that has all the dynamics of Hawkwind’s tour de force, Space Ritual. There's plenty of merit leading up to those tracks - although improvisational, there is the necessary structure that holds it all together as a cohesive performance. 

That's a simple overview of the musical aspects of Songs of Dissent, But it is the spiritual side that may carry the most weight. And that side is a direct descendent of Max Roach’s 1960 album, We Insist! 1960 was a dangerous time for a black person to insist on anything, especially equal rights. It was an album that needed releasing, a call to Black Power. And the progress that followed politically shouldn’t need to be explained to anybody. My, my, how we are a nation of backsliders.

But the progress that followed, which was social as well as political, shouldn’t be forgotten – it should be renewed and expanded. I’m not so cynical as to believe that white people learned nothing from the Civil Rights Movement. I am appalled, however, that so many people reverted back to old ways when they found it an easy way to excuse their own shortcomings when encouraged to do so. Songs of Dissent, a recording made with the same timbre as We Insist!, if not the same style, is a call back to community. It’s not only a great album musically, it’s a necessity - a reminder that we can do better.

Bonus views:


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

More Rory Gallagher RSD Gold

[review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]

RORY GALLAGHER: Cleveland Calling, Part 2 (Chess Records/Universal Music)

VENUE: Live WNCR-FM radio broadcast from the Agora Ballroom, Cleveland Ohio, sometime in September 1972.

SOUND QUALITY: Meh…you really need to turn it up to hear it, the recording hollow, brittle, and empty-sounding. Just a step above full-blown bootleg status, really, but Gallagher’s vox are easily discernable and his guitar cuts through the muck like a surgeon’s scalpel, but his otherwise talented rhythm section is blurred and slurred into sonic roadkill on most tracks.

COVER: It’s a major label release, so the packaging isn’t too shabby – nice B&W “action” shot of Rory strangling his Stratocaster on the front, a B&W full band photo on the rear cover along with the track listing. The inner sleeve is in color with track listing and credits, and photos of the current in-print Rory Gallagher album catalog (so fire up those credit cards, kids!).

TRACKLIST: (Side A) 1. Messin’ With the Kid • 2. Used To Be • 3. Should’ve Learnt My Lesson (Side B) 4. Laundromat • 5. Pistol Slapper Blues • 6. Banker’s Blues • 7. In Your Town

COMMENTS: Let’s clear up any potential misconceptions about this “Record Store Day” album from the beginning…released on July 17th as part of the second RSD “drop” for 2021, Rory Gallagher’s Cleveland Calling, Part 2 isn’t a two-album set (like it says on the RSD website), it’s a single, seven-song 12” record pressed on a thick slab of 180g wax. There’s no “download card,” as some sources claim (or else my still-sealed copy didn’t come with one…as last year’s predecessor didn’t have a download, I’m pretty sure that Universal went cheap-o again and didn’t include one here, either…). Cleveland Calling, Part 2 features a previously-unreleased radio broadcast of a promotional concert done exclusively for Cleveland’s WNCR-FM.

Gallagher and his band performed seven songs in the otherwise empty Agora Ballroom on some day in September 1972 (no date listed, but Gallagher opened for Fleetwood Mac in Cleveland on September 8th). The album is a “sequel,” of sorts, to last year’s RSD release Cleveland Calling, a previously-unreleased in-studio acoustic performance for WNCR-FM from August ’72. That album was a resounding success upon its RSD release, peaking at #2 on the Billboard magazine “Blues” chart, a feat matched by this new archival release. Gallagher’s band at the time included bassist Gerry McAvoy (who would remain with Rory until his death in 1995), keyboardist Lou Martin, and drummer Rod de’Ath, the same talented group that would later record Gallagher’s critically-acclaimed 1973 albums Blueprint and Tattoo.

For those of you unfamiliar with the greatness that was Rory Gallagher, he was an Irish blues-rock guitarist who, after finding inspiration in the music of U.K. hitmaker Lonnie Donegan, picked up the instrument at the age of nine and subsequently fell in love with the blues and rock ‘n’ roll music he heard listening to Radio Luxembourg and the American Forces Network (AFN) on his radio late at night. Influenced by artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly, and Woody Guthrie, Gallagher taught himself slide guitar, harmonica, saxophone, mandolin, and banjo. His first band that anybody remembers was Taste, a blues-rock power trio formed in 1966 that would release a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums before breaking up. Gallagher released his self-titled solo debut in early 1971 and followed it up a few months later with his sophomore effort, Deuce, both albums breaking the Top 40 in the U.K.

Cleveland Calling, Part 2 features one song from Rory’s debut and three from Deuce, alongside a trio of previously-unrecorded tunes that were part of Gallagher’s concert setlist that would appear on his breakthrough1972 album Live In Europe. The Agora Ballroom was a great venue for Gallagher’s “meat and potatoes” approach to rock and blues music, the historic stage hosting notable concerts by talents like Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top, Boston, Todd Rundgren, Ian Hunter, and many others. Oddly enough, the club’s proximity to popular FM radio station WMMS meant that the station frequently broadcast live shows from the location. Cross-town rival WNCR seems to have pulled a fast one here, broadcasting an exclusive Gallagher performance from the venue.

As for the performance itself, Gallagher and crew bring fire and brimstone to the stage. Opening with Junior Wells’ signature song “Messin’ With the Kid,” Rory does a little noodling guitar intro until the band explodes into a revved-up, amphetamine-fueled Chicago blues jam that hits your ears like a drive-by mugging. Martin’s honky-tonk piano-pounding livens up the performance by offering a counterpoint to the Gallagher’s raging guitarplay. (Note: “Messin’ With the Kid” is incorrectly attributed to Wells but it was actually written by Chief Records founder and producer Mel London, who also wrote hits for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James). Gallagher’s original “Used To Be” is a bit of a letdown by comparison with the album-opener, but it features some tasty fatback six-string bending by the Irish maestro against a strident, if somewhat smudged rhythmic backdrop.

The scorching, Chicago-styled blues of “Should Have Learnt My Lesson” closes out the album’s first side, the song’s languid tempo disguising a fiery heartbeat and truckloads of emotion channeled through Gallagher’s strings and Martin’s subtle keyboard flourishes. It’s a captivating performance made all the better by Gallagher blue-eyed soul vocals. “Laundromat,” the lone song here from his debut album, roars out of the grooves to open side two, the song’s mix of raucous British blues and jazzy undertones providing a clever bit of songwriting alchemy. Gerry McAvoy’s bass and drummer Rod de’Ath are more discernable here, providing a rhythmic backbone for Gallagher rowdy performance and soaring solos.

A cover of legendary bluesman Blind Boy Fuller’s “Pistol Slapper Blues” never made it onto a proper Gallagher studio recording, its only contemporary appearance coming on the guitarist’s Live In Europe (it would later appear as a bonus track on the CD reissue of Irish Tour ’74). Gallagher seems to have treated live albums like studio work anyway, his setlists peppered with new originals and cover songs that he’d seldom revisit. Fuller’s Piedmont blues classic is provided a spry acoustic setting here, with Gallagher’s inspired vocals rising above his elegant fretwork. The Big Bill Broonzy song “Banker’s Blues” is cut from similar cloth, Gallagher’s half-spoken vocals accompanied by melodic harmonica, subtle piano, and filigree acoustic guitar. Deuce’s “In Your Town” closes the set with a booger-rock frenzy driven by Martin’s rollicking keyboards and Gallagher’s stinging, energetic guitar solos.

While he never built more than a cult following stateside during his lifetime, Gallagher nevertheless forged an influential and modestly-successful career, releasing eleven studio and three live albums over roughly 20 years as a solo performer. Gallagher died of complications from a liver transplant in June 1995, but his unassailable catalog of music influenced artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Gary Moore, and Joe Bonamassa, among many others. In the wake of his death, Rory’s brother Dónal has kept the guitarist’s legacy alive with a steady stream of high-quality live and archival releases. He may have dug deep into the vaults to find the performance featured on Cleveland Calling, Part 2 but it’s a worthy addition to the artist’s canon and a necessary addition to the collections of Rory’s avid fans. Grade: A

Bonus view: 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Husker Du or Husker Don't? The Complete Spin Concert vinyl falls short on quality


[review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]

HÜSKER DÜ: The Complete Spin Radio Concert (Radio Silence Records, Europe)

VENUE: The legendary First Avenue club, Minneapolis MN; August 28th, 1985.

SOUND QUALITY: Muddy, distant, hollow-sounding without much instrumental separation, the vocals all but buried in a miasma of droning sonic overkill. Plus, there’s a sort of buzzy effect on the vocals that tickles your eardrums like a shard of broken glass. The entire album sounds like it was sourced from second-or-third generation tape of the original radio broadcast or, worse-case scenario, from a previous vinyl release. Pretty shabby…

COVER: Colorful psych-drenched front cover with a photo of the band superimposed against a spotty, purple-tinted electric backdrop. Nice heavy cardboard, with a period photo of the band onstage at (presumably) the First Avenue club on the rear cover along with the track list. 

TRACKLIST: Side A: 1. Flip Your Wig • 2. Every Everything • 3. Makes No Sense At All • 4. The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill • 5. I Apologize • 6. If I Told You • 7. Folklore • 8. Don’t want To Know If You Are Lonely • 9. I Don’t Know For Sure • 10. Terms of Psychic Warfare Side B: 11. Powerline • 12. Books About UFOs • 13. Hardly Getting Over It • 14. Sorry Somehow • 15. You’re So Square/The Wit and the Wisdom • 16. Green Eyes • 17. Divide & Conquer

COMMENTS: Minneapolis rockers Hüsker Dü were anything but a household name in the mid-‘80s. The critically-acclaimed trio had three well-received albums under their belt, including bona fide classics in 1984’s Zen Arcade and 1985’s New Day Rising, and were poised to release what would be their final SST Records’ album, Flip Your Wig, before leaping from the indie world to a major league deal with Warner Bros. Records. This August 28th, 1985 hometown performance at the legendary First Avenue club was taped for the syndicated Spin Radio Concert series and was distributed to radio stations on a 12” double-LP set that remains quite collectible to this day, selling for $50 - $75 in VG/NM condition. 

On the First Avenue stage – which had hosted such talents as Prince, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and the Jayhawks as well as appearing in Prince’s Purple Rain movie – Hüsker Dü roared through a 17-song setlist that mostly featured material from New Day Rising and the upcoming Flip Your Wig. The sequencing on this Radio Silence vinyl isn’t the same as on the original promotional release, which sprawled across three sides to make room for DJ chatter and national underwriting advertising. It also drops a song in “Celebrate Summer,” crams “You’re So Square” and “The Wit and the Wisdom” into a single track, and magically includes a pair of worthwhile tunes that don’t seem to have been included on the original acetate. 

What’s left is still pretty powerful stuff, even if the sound quality is so hollow, hidden, and horrible as to be offensive to your poor lil’ eardrums. Opening blast “Flip Your Wig” manages to scramble its way out of the deep canyon that is the album’s mix to grab you by the lobes, machinegun guitar and blistering vocals matched with turbocharged drumming to raise the roof from the first strummed note. The six-string assault continues unabated as Bob Mould and gang (esteemed bassist and drummer Greg Norton and Grant Hart, respectively…) roll right into “Every Everything” without a second’s break, the song a two-minute flash-bang that segues nicely into “Makes No Sense At All,” all three songs roaring out of the grooves of the soon-to-be-released Flip Your Wig. There’s a scrap of melody discernable in “Makes No Sense At All,” cowering in fear, perhaps, beneath the Panzer-like blitz of the thrashing, crashing instrumentation. 

The next flurry of kidney-punches comes courtesy of my personal fave Hüsker Dü flapjack, New Day Rising, “The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill,” “I Apologize,” “If I Told You,” and “Folklore” all offering squalls of soaring fretwork that dives at your skull like a hungry raptor while the rhythmic backdrop crushes your ears beneath an onslaught of thunderclaps and lightning-strike drumbeats. Oddly, neither “If I Told You” or “Folklore” are listed on the original Spin Radio Concert track listing, but they’re dancing around in these grooves nevertheless, even if “Folklore” seems to be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blur of sound and kinetic energy. By contrast, “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely,” which wouldn’t actually appear on wax until 1986’s major label debut Candy Apple Grey, is built from the sort of gorgeous, melodic, guitar-driven wall-of-melancholy that could have made it college radio hit if WB hadn’t fumbled the ball.

The radio-ready “I Don’t Know For Sure” is another song from Candy Apple Grey (for those keeping track at home, Hüsker Dü are reaching forward across two future albums for songs, saying something about the band’s prolific songwriting chops). With a driving rhythm and engaging vocal harmonies rising above the din of Mould’s slashing guitar licks, the song could have been a contender! Flipping back to New Day Rising, “Terms of Psychic Warfare” is like a Blue Öyster Cult tune on amphetamines, a snarling, metal-slagged behemoth with counter-harmonies and stomping rhythms. Side two plugs in with another pair of molten gold NDR tracks in the stripped-down “Powerline,” with its mesmerizing guitar riff, and “Books About UFOs,” which is a surprisingly spry and up-tempo rager with clashing vocals and screeching guitar licks.

Hailing from the future (and Candy Apple Grey) come “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Sorry Somehow,” the former a lethargic dirge with wistful vocals and dense, droning instrumentation with an imaginative guitar solo while the latter offers angular guitars driven by emotional, apologetic vocals and another thick-as-mud musical mix. “(You’re So Square), Baby I Don’t Care” is a cover of the 1957 Elvis Presley hit penned by the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for the movie Jailhouse Rock. Suffice it to say that old ‘E’ never sang it quite like this, Hüsker Dü ripping through the song at like a buzzsaw with no little joi de vivre, grinding right into the plodding, dino-swagger of the guitar-crazed “The Wit and the Wisdom” before snapping back to the 1950s for an Elvis reprise. Hüsker Dü close out the side with a storm of mortar-fire, the yearning “Green Eyes” afforded a respectfully melodic arrangement and performance while “Divide & Conquer” is an up-tempo rocker with shouty vox and a barrage of wiry guitar and explosive rhythms.   

The Spin Radio Concert is probably the most often bootlegged Hüsker Dü performance in existence, and its widespread circulation among fans from day one only helped in the creation of dodgy titles like Lynndale’s Burning, Minneapolis Is Burning, or Psyche Power Pop that are sourced from poor-quality cassettes taped off the radio, other vinyl and CD releases and, infrequently, the actual master tapes. Because there is a distinct lack of decent Hüsker Dü live recordings, and this show is so readily available, some dodgy European labels have released albums with different dates and cities credited in an attempt to disguise the performance’s origins. The Complete Spin Radio Concert is up front about its source, and while the band righteously kicks out the jams with an A+ performance, the poor (albeit lively) sound quality drops the grade a couple of points. I’ve heard worse, but surely there’s a better-sounding recording hidden away that could be restored and reissued to the glory this performance deserves?

Grade: C+

Bonus view:

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Z-Files: Astonishing Zep Release On Vinyl. Killer Highlights - 2 Nights In Osaka


[review by Bill Glahn]

Led Zeppelin: Killer Highlights (2 LP, Retrorock records 2002)

Venue: Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan September 28* and September 29**, 1971

Sound Quality: Superb soundboard recording with well defined instruments and vocals for all tracks except the final two on side D, which are audience recordings (muddy with a lot of “audience participation”).

Cover: Exquisite double pocket gatefold with period photos throughout, track listing on back, and interesting liner notes inside. As stunning as anything the majors have come up with that wasn’t a box set.

Tracklist: (side A) Immigrant Song**/ Heartbreaker**/ Since I’ve Been Loving You* (side B) Bron-Y-Aur Stomp*/ That’s The Way**/ We Shall Overcome*/ Tangerine*/ Down By The Riverside*/ What Is and What Should Never Be* (side C) Heartbreaker Of A Solo*/ Smoke Gets In Your Eyes**/ Communication Breakdown**/ Rock n Roll**/ Please Please Me*/ From Me To You* (side D) Stairway To Heaven**/ C’mon Everybody (audience)*/ Hi Heeled Sneakers (audience)*

Comments: This is only the second release from Retrorock Records (no affiliation with the old Retrorock syndicated radio show), the first being the stunning The Byrds Across The Borderline, released in early 2020. Evidently Retrorock will not be one of those high production labels that knock out new titles by the truckload, regardless of quality.

In the CD era, the Japanese bootleggers were obsessive completists, several labels vying to issue every newly discovered tape source in an attempt to release every note ever played by Zep on stage. Often, tape sources were “blended” in multiple disc sets to present full concerts, whether the source was from soundboard or the most infuriatingly poor audience recordings. The 1971 Osaka soundboard recordings are infamously incomplete with the recordings ending in mid-song and other songs absent altogether. This didn’t seem to deter the Japanese CD specialists – they would simply splice the recordings with audience recordings, often in mid-song. While the edits were exemplary, and attempts were made to match the sound as closely as possible, the listening experience left something to be desired.

There is not a note on Killer Highlights that hasn’t appeared on a Japanese CD at sometime or another, but for much of it, there has never been a vinyl release. Retrorock has taken the old school approach of presenting an incomplete document, but one that is an enjoyable listening experience from beginning to (almost) end.

Unlike some of their contemporaries, Retrorock hasn’t simply made a transfer from CD, or worse yet, an MP3 download, but rather done an excellent mastering job (most likely from an analog source) which is evident from the get-go – mastered exclusively for vinyl which is different than CD mastering.

Side A starts off with Page hitting a few notes in a final soundcheck. The full crunch of his Hiwatt amplification is captured perfectly, no hiss, no digital noise, no digital compression that reduces everything to midrange. Then Bonham bangs his snare a bit followed by an off-mic shout of “Louder” in his midlands accent. A few more hits around the kit, followed by “Louder, louder, Zeppelin, Zeppelin” (again off-mic but more clearly than you will ever hear it elsewhere) – and they’re off delivering the full hammer of the gods.

After two bombastic rockers from the second night, the first side finishes off with a blistering rendition of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from the first night. The transfer is seamless with no change in mix or atmosphere. At the end of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” Plant announces the first unreleased song of the evening, “Black Dog” from their upcoming album, IV (ZOSO). But alas, it is not to be. “Black Dog” was one of the songs where the soundboard source ends before the song is completed.

Side B changes pace, featuring acoustic performances from both nights – and what an interesting song selection it is! Having spent the previous day touring Peace Park in Hiroshima, Plant had obviously been affected by the memorial for the victims of the atomic bomb that ended WW2. With another war raging in Asia, and peace talks going nowhere, Plant leads the boys through two anthems of the anti-war movement, “We Shall Overcome” and “Down By The Riverside.” The performances would never be repeated in any other Zep concert (not a band noted for political or social commentary). It’s quite moving, actually, that Plant would put image aside and the “hammer” would be laid down for a brief moment in time. Side B finishes off with a return to electric instruments, doing the appropriate “What Is and What Should Never Be.”

Side C picks up where side A left off. Or to quote John Bonham, “Louder, Louder! Zeppelin, Zeppelin.” “Heartbreaker” from the first night was another of those songs that were maddenly incomplete on the soundboard source. But with a blistering solo by Page, it just couldn’t be ignored. Retrorock has done the only sensible thing and picked things up in the quiet “Greensleeves” lead-in to the solo that follows the first part of the song. What you get are four minutes of the most fleet-fingered Page soloing on record. Guitar fanatics will love it! After a few seconds of Plant warbling “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” the fretworks continue with the band firing on all cylinders with a long and funky rendition of “Communication Breakdown.” The audience then gets a fine rendition of another, as yet, unreleased song, “Rock n Roll.” Plant serenades the crowd with a line from “Please Please Me” and then Page seems to want to go full throttle into “From Me To You.” But that song is abandoned after less than a minute as well.

Side D provides one last unreleased (at the time) song from IV, the spectacular “Stairway to Heaven.” Imagine the delight of the Osaka crowd, at hearing so many gems before the rest of the world! The final two tracks on Killer Highlights are, to put it mildly, lesser in sound quality than everything that preceded them – two audience recordings of encores from the first night in Osaka, included for their rarity, no doubt. “C’mon Everybody” is somewhat rare, but other versions exist. “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” is unique to this show.

Killer Highlights follows in the tradition of early vinyl bootleggers, such as TMOQ, (Live on Blueberry Hill, Going To California, Hiawatha Express, Bonzo’s Birthday Party) by avoiding the expensive box set route for the sake of completeness, and opting, instead, for a two-LP set that can be enjoyed from beginning to end. No points deducted for the last two tracks this time. You can always lift the needle without missing any of the good stuff.

Grade: A

Bonus view, opening night in Tokyo 1971


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Saints: The Most Primitive Band In The World - vinyl release with more minuses than pluses


[review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]


The Most Primitive Band In the World

(Radiation Reissues, Italy)

VENUE: According to Saints guitarist Ed Kuepper, these tracks were recorded in his parents’ garage (a/k/a “The Twilight Zone”) in Brisbane, Australia sometime in 1974.

SOUND QUALITY: Like rubbing your eardrums with coarse-grit sandpaper. Literally recorded as low-fi as one could possibly achieve, the album sounding like somebody snuck a tape recorder hidden in a suitcase and padded with newspaper into the band’s practice space and let it roll. Muddy, distant, hollow, noisy, raw…pick your adjective, you won’t be wrong…   

COVER: Very cool blue-tinted photo of the band with their name scrawled in white against a black background and the album title in blue type that mimics handwriting. Back cover offers more blueish band photos, track listing and credits and, because this is a sorta, kinda semi-legit release, liner notes by Saints’ guitarist Ed Kuepper.


Side One: 1. Wild About You • 2. Do the Robot • 3. One Way Street • 4. Knock On Wood • 5. Erotic Neurotic  


Side Two: 6. River Deep, Mountain High • 7. Lies • 8. (I’m) Stranded • 9. Messin’ With the Kid • 10. (I’m) Misunderstood

COMMENTS: Hailing from the unlikely starting point of Brisbane, Australia, the Saints were the first punk rockers of note to hail from “down under.” Formed in 1973 as Kid Galahad and the Eternals by singer Chris Bailey (from Ireland), Ed Kuepper (from Germany), and bassist/drummer Ivor Hay (the only native Aussie here), they found early inspiration in bands like the Stooges and MC5 as well as original rockers like Elvis Presley and Little Richard. They renamed themselves the Saints in 1974 and made a name by revving up and over-amping cover tunes from artists like Del Shannon and Ike and Tina Turner before they started writing their own material. The Saints would become notorious in their homeland – police would often close down their gigs, arrests of the band members for “disturbing the peace” were frequent, and they ended up converting the band house into a makeshift venue they called ‘The 76 Club’ to play in because nobody else would book ‘em…until authorities put the hammer down, that is...

In June of 1976, the band recorded two of its original songs, “(I’m) Stranded” and “No Time” and, unable to find any label interest, formed their own Fatal Records label and released the songs on a 7” vinyl single. They mailed out copies to radio stations and magazines in both Australia and the United Kingdom, where an indie label – Power Exchange – reissued the single to almost universal critical acclaim from the British rock press. EMI Records, afraid to be left behind in the race to exploit the bourgeoning punk rock scene, offered the band a three-album deal. In December 1976, the band recorded their debut album, (I’m) Stranded, over the course of two days with Rod Coe producing. Featuring eight original songs along with covers of the Missing Links’ “Wild About You” and the Elvis song “Kissin’ Cousins,” the band subsequently moved to Sidney and went out on tour with AC/DC to promote the album. 

Relocating from Australia to the U.K. in late 1977, the band’s self-produced second album, Eternally Yours, was released in May 1978. Moving Hay over to drums, and adding bassist Algy Ward (who would later form the NWOBHM band Tank), the album found the Saints pursuing a more R&B-driven sound complete with horn section. Gone were the cover tunes, the album’s 13 original tracks penned by Bailey and/or Kuepper. Sadly, without the forward-leaning raw punk energy of the debut, Eternally Yours sold poorly. The band released its third album, Prehistoric Sounds, in late 1978. Forging forward with a soul-influenced sound, the album made no waves commercially and EMI dropped the band. Additionally, a difference in musical opinion between Bailey (who wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll) and Kuepper (who preferred a more avant-garde direction) broke up the band. 

Bailey put together a new version of the Saints for 1981’s The Monkey Puzzle, and has forged an eclectic career for the band ever since, releasing ten albums to date and featuring various line-ups with musicians like guitarists Brian James (The Damned, Lords of the New Church) and Marty Willson-Piper (The Church). Kuepper has pursued his own muse as both a solo artist and with bands like the Aints and Laughing Clowns, releasing better than 20 albums since 1985. All of which brings us back around to The Most Primitive Band In the World, a collection of poorly-recorded, live-to-tape performances that pre-date the band’s debut album and were literally recorded in Kuepper’s parents’ garage. 

The band’s youthful energy and enthusiasm lift the material on The Most Primitive Band In the World above the horrible low-fi recording, songs like “Wild About You,” “One Way Street,” the Velvet Underground doppelganger “Erotic Neurotic,” the lengthy, Stones-ish “Messin’ With the Kid,” and punk classic “(I’m) Stranded” emerging fully-formed and sounding every bit as electrifying and impactful as the versions found on the band’s groundbreaking debut album. Other tracks, like the rockabilly-tinged “Do the Robot” or the bass-heavy, soul-drenched “Lies” (both of which would be included as bonus tracks on the 2007 CD reissue of (I’m) Stranded) showcase a band still experimenting musically and lyrically to achieve its signature sound. 

Inspired livewire cover of Eddie Floyd’s Stax Records hit “Knock On Wood” and Ike and Tina Turner’s classic “River Deep, Mountain High” display the band’s interpretive ability in reimagining classic R&B tunes with punkish ferocity, the former song imbued with loads of soul and performed with reckless abandon, the latter with Bailey’s rapid-fire vocals and Hay’s impressive, fluid bass playing. The album’s final track, “(I’m) Misunderstood,” was recorded on mono cassette at Queensland Uni studios with short-time drummer Laurie Mysterio banging the cans. The song would reappear on Eternally Yours, but it’s recorded here as a charging, guitar-tortured rhino with crashing cymbals and galloping drumbeats.    


The Most Primitive Band In the World was originally released on vinyl and CD in 1995 by Hot Records in the U.K. while this 2021 version was licensed by Italy’s Radiation Records for their reissue vinyl series. Saints’ guitarist Ed Kuepper was the source of the recording, creating even further friction between him and vocalist Chris Bailey. In his excellent 2020 book Another Tuneless Racket: Punk and New Wave In the Seventies*, former zine publisher and music historian Steve H. Gardner quotes Bailey talking about the album stating, “in fact, neither Ivor nor I were consulted on that thing, and it was after the fact that we discovered that it was out. I think it’s atrocious…also there’s quite a bit of tension between his record company and management and mine because we weren’t notified and it is kind of an illegal thing that they’ve done.”

As for the album’s sonic quality, Gardner refers to it as “a crude recording for sure, but one that shows that in 1974 the Saints were already performing songs that would be recognized as punk classics…and playing them with the same full-on sonic assault that the rest of the world wouldn’t get to hear for another two to four years. Does anyone still think punk started only in CBGBs or the 100 Club?” Still, despite its historic importance, Gardner admits that “because of its raw sound,” the album is “not one to enjoy through repeated listenings” and that while “the band has energy and spunk,” if he was a member of the band, he “wouldn’t necessarily want anyone else listening to it.” 

So, you’ve been forewarned, buckaroos…The Most Primitive Band In the World is one for the rabidly fanatical, the obsessive completist, or the historically curious. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anybody (go dig up a copy of (I’m) Stranded instead), and the generous grade is due mostly to respect for the band’s status as punk pioneers than any sort of kind listening experience. Grade: C- (Review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon)

* Buy a copy of Gardner’s Another Tuneless Racket if you’re a fan of 1970s-era rockers and proto-punks like the Saints, Dr. Feelgood, Television, Blondie, the Stranglers, the Damned, et al…

 Bonus view: 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Jo Jo Gunne unauthorized CD: On Your Radio (Echoes CD2054) sucks. Read on.


[Review by Bill Glahn] 

Jo Jo Gunne: On Your Radio (Echoes CD2054)

Venue: Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead, New York, 1973, exact date unknown. This was a promotional broadcast for Bite Down Hard, released on June 5, 1973, so best guess is mid to late June.

Sound Quality: maybe the worst quality of any radio broadcast on CD that I’ve ever heard. Layers of hiss and distortion that drown out the band. Pathetic. Better recordings of this show abound.

Cover: 8 page booklet and tray card in traditional jewel case. Liner notes.

Tracklist: Roll Over Me/ Babylon/ intro – 99 Days – Run Run Run/ Rock Around The Symbol/ Special Situations/ Rhoda/ Take Me Down Easy/ Shake That Fat/ Broken Down Man/ DJ outro

Comments: After Spirit’s magnificent album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, the band split with Randy California opting for a (short-lived) solo departure and members Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes leaving to form Jo Jo Gunne. Ed Cassidy would carry on the Spirit name with a fine album, Feedback, but clearly missing the talents of Randy California. California released a weird album called Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, long on improvisation and short on actual songs. It died a quick death in the cutout bins. Only Jo Jo Gunne experienced a level of public success when their more pop-oriented self-titled debut yielded the Top 40 hit, “Run, Run, Run.” But by their second album, Bite Down Hard, the musical ideas were already fading and the band was nearing generic boogie (which is where they ended up).

This is where On Your Radio picks up the story.

Six of the tracks featured on On Your Radio come from their current record, while the remaining four are highlights from their first. Future lineup changes in the band would only exasperate the problem of not being able to differentiate themselves from a hundred other bands of the era. Jay Ferguson would recapture the rock/pop magic displayed on the first album with his second solo lp, “Thunder Island” release. Besides the title track, a huge 1978 hit, the album revisited the fabulous “Babylon” from Jo Jo Gunne’s first album. Perhaps that is the direction that Jo Jo Gunne should have followed.

On Your Radio presents a picture of Jo Jo Gunne before their final crash into mediocrity and could have been a fine release. But the aural presentation lacks any credibility.

Grade: F

Bonus view: 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Television's One Of A Kind Musical Alchemy: Live At The Waldorf On Vinyl


[review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]


Live At the Waldorf In San Francisco

(Radio LoopLoop, UK)

VENUE: The Old Waldorf, 444 Battery Street, San Francisco CA; June 29th, 1978.

SOUND QUALITY: Not too bad, really, with some cavernous quality to the sound and a little hollowness to the overall mix. Still, although Tom Verlaine’s vocals are a bit muddy, his and Richard Lloyd’s guitars are quite distinctive, as is Fred Smith’s underrated bass playing. Billy Ficca’s drums are minimal, with really only the high tones crashing above the instrumental drone. Eh, I’ve heard worse…

COVER: Up-close-and-personal B&W photo of the band in all of its Lower East Side junkie chic below a black banner with the band’s name and the album title in what has to be the worst use of the Helvetica font in existence. Back cover sports a more relaxed color pic of Television (actually credited to photog Lynn Goldsmith!), band credits, and track listing with more should-be-a-crime use of Helvetica. 

TRACKLIST: Side A: 1. The Dream’s Dream • 2. Friction • 3. Marquee Moon • 4. Careful Side B: 5. Venus de Milo • 6. Foxhole • 7. Ain’t That Nothin’ • 8. Little Johnny Jewel

COMMENTS: Television is notable not only for its revolutionary, guitar-driven sound, but also for their status as one of the punk pioneers that took up stations at New York City’s infamous C.B.G.B.’s club. Originally formed in 1972 as the Neon Boys by Verlaine and his longtime friend Richard Hell along with drummer Ficca, they would add Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist in 1973 and change their name to Television. Their unique blend of psychedelic-rock, punky garage-rock, and avant-garde musical experimentation quickly earned the band a cult following at C.B.G.B.’s and Max’s Kansas City. 

There was only room for one alpha dog in the ranks, however, and Hell quit to first form the Heartbreakers with former New York Dolls member Johnny Thunder and, later, the Voidoids, which rode their song “Blank Generation” to punk-rock infamy. Hell was replaced by the more talented, if less charismatic Fred Smith (no relation to the MC5/Sonic’s Rendezvous Band axe-mangler Fred “Sonic” Smith) and the band was signed to the major label deal that resulted in the classic, groundbreaking Marquee Moon and Adventure albums. Although both albums received widespread critical acclaim, their meager stateside sales, along with inner-band tensions, seemed to have doomed the Television experiment before it could really take wings (although, interestingly, both of the band’s albums charted in the U.K.).  

After a warm-up show at the familiar My Father’s Place in Roslyn NY, Television launched its 1978 tour in support of Adventure in April with a string of dates in the U.K. Returning home in late May, they tooled around NYC and the East Coast before heading out to the West Coast for a mere four dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. San Francisco’s Old Waldorf was a legendary Bay Area venue that, although it was only open a short while (roughly seven years), nevertheless hosted a number of impressive shows by folks like Spirit, Metallica, the Dead Kennedys, Rory Gallagher, Poco, and R.E.M. The June 1978 performance documented by Live At the Waldorf came at the tail end of the tour and would be the band’s last North American road run until reforming in 1992. Adventure was released just months prior to this concert and the album’s eight-song set list is split roughly 60/40 between tracks from Adventure and the band’s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon

I’ll leave it up to Television fanatics to debate the merits of this particular set list but, to this fan, the swirling, oddly-syncopated, angular psychedelia of “The Dream’s Dream” provides a great showcase for the band members’ myriad instrumental talents – the guitars chime like a thousand bells, the bass riffs are hearty and jump lustily out of the grooves, and while the aforementioned shoddy mix underplays Ficca’s talents, he makes his presence felt nonetheless. Verlaine’s vocals take getting used to – a sort of deep, nasal, NYC patois – but they’re effective and haunting riding above his and Lloyd’s mesmerizing guitar lines. The sound quality nosedives a bit for “Friction,” from Marquee Moon, but the song’s cascading guitar licks, Verlaine’s strident vocals, and percussive rhythms rise above the fuzzy, distorted mix to create a staggering slab of raucous city slang. 

The title track from their debut LP is afforded extended instrumentation beyond even the original version’s generous ten-minute sonic devastation, the live track running half-again as long and featuring lengthy passages of electroshock guitar, crashing drums, and funky circular bass lines sounding like a klaxon horn beneath Verlaine’s tortured vox. Adventure’s “Careful” sounds pedestrian by contrast, the song’s relatively-brief three-minute-plus running time and jaunty, up-tempo sound and vocal harmonies a shock after the mind-bending “Marquee Moon.” Side two kicks off with “Venus” (incorrectly titled “Venus De Milo” here), a Marquee Moon track that rumbles and roams across a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll soundscape, but still features the band’s jagged trademark fretwork, here paired with the vaguest vestige of a melody that made it a natural to release as a single (if only in Japan, it seems!). 

Adventure’s “Foxhole” was released as a single in the U.K. (where the band had found a more receptive audience) and is a similar up-tempo rocker but with no melodic hook, just jugular-crushing rhythms, razor-blade guitars, and muscular drumbeats that hit your ears like mortar-fire. Another Adventure track, “Ain’t That Nothin’,” was an odd choice for a U.S. single, the song’s cross-cutting instrumentation, odd time changes, wall-of-sonic-overkill arrangement, and overall intriguing, albeit challenging sound not particularly suited for battle in the rock arenas of the day, much less friendly enough for the era’s timid, strictly-formatted FM radio playlists. 

Live At the Waldorf closes out with an eleven-minute extended workout on what was the band’s actual first single, the transcendent “Little Johnny Jewel.” Originally split into two parts and released as a (highly collectible*) 7” single by their manager Terry Ork’s legendary indie Ork Records label, the song wasn’t included on Television’s debut album (although it was later added to the 2003 CD reissue of Marquee Moon). An enchanting, almost magical performance that runs through several sonic textures, light and dark, and quiet passages blown-up by shards of expansive instrumentation, the song suggests the sophisticated song structure and experimentation the band would make the cornerstone of Marquee Moon.

Less than a month after this performance, Television would break up, ostensibly due to Lloyd’s drug abuse but mostly because Verlaine’s uncompromising artistic vision prevented the other guys from getting a musical word in edgewise. Verlaine and Lloyd both launched solo careers with varying degrees of success; Billy Ficca took his skills to new wavers the Waitresses (“I Know What Boys Like”) and Smith played with folks like the Roches and Willie Nile through the 1980s. Television reformed in 1992 and released one last, self-titled album and continues to perform sporadically with three of the four original members (Lloyd leaving the band in 2007 due to health concerns). 

This show was originally released by the esteemed Trademark of Quality bootleg label as Ain’t That Nothing and duplicated through the years by titles like Live Adventures (Chapter One Records), Live In San Francisco (Four Aces Records), and Live At the Old Waldorf (Russian label DOL). It acquired a semblance of legitimacy when Rhino Records released the full performance on CD in 2003 as Live At the Old Waldorf as part of its “Rhino Handmade” limited edition series. The set was reissued again on vinyl in 2017 by Warner affiliate Elektra Records, so the major label has definitely laid claim to this particular performance for their own exploitation. What Radio LoopLoop has done is take a timeworn performance, dropped a song from the track list (in this case, a cover of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”), and shoehorned the remaining set onto a single disc (Elektra’s version was stretched thin across four sides). 

My half-assed Internet research unearthed a comment by legendary rock critic Lester Bangs that he heard a lot of the influence of Quicksilver Messenger Service and its guitarist John Cipollina on Verlaine’s playing in particular. The mercurial bandleader downplayed this comparison, citing the Venture as a more appropriate influence but, in truth, I can hear both bands here as well as the ever-looming Velvet Underground, all influencing the unique (and seldom-duplicated) Television sound. Verlaine and Lloyd eschewed the traditional lead/rhythm guitar dynamic, blurring the lines and redefining musical roles in favor of interlocking guitars that were allowed to improvise, almost jazzlike, on their own wavelength (something that Smith also does with his bass guitar, albeit to a lesser extent). 

You can hear a lot of this exciting instrumental interplay in the band’s live set, and Live At the Waldorf is a great example of Television’s one-of-a-kind musical alchemy. Grade: A

* A near mint condition copy of “Little Johnny Jewel” on Ork Records will set you back a hefty $40-$50 according to Discogs as of this writing…

Bonus view: