Where the bootlegs invade iTunes
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
OK, it’s been a while (too long, if you ask me) since I’ve let the Gods of the Digital Music Library dictate exactly what I will be writing about for the next 1,000 words, so let’s fire up that magical portal, iTunes, and see what’s in store for us. Onward!
1. Pixies — “Tame” (Doolittle): Probably the most fiery one minute and 56 seconds in their entire catalogue, it showcases their “loud, quiet, loud” aesthetic perfectly. Quiet, brooding, a little menacing, and then TAAAMEE! TAAAME! Frank Black has a scream like no other, and his perverted heavy breathing paired with Kim Deal’s “ah-huh-huh”s all add up to one of their five best songs. Just awesome.
2. Mudhoney — “Good Enough” (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge): When this song comes on, it’s hard not to picture four lanky guys with long hair jamming out in a garage somewhere. The guitar sounds messy and the chord changes aren’t exactly smooth, and Mark Arm’s voice isn’t high and piercing as on other songs; instead, he sounds disinterested and apathetic, especially as he sings “well, one more time is good enough for me.” There’s also an interesting echo going on with the little solo break in the middle, almost as if the separation in the studio (or, garage) wasn’t quite good enough to get a clean sound. Well, that’s not an issue for them, since slick studio clarity wouldn’t have exactly enhanced their sound. They were the most rough-and-tumble of the Seattle bands from the late 1980s and early '90s, and that’s why I like them.
3. Rolling Stones — “Gimme Shelter” (Brussels Affair): Live from the Stones’ 1973 tour. If you’re at all interested in the Stones, I recommend seeking out as many bootlegs from the early '70s as you can, especially those featuring Mick Taylor on guitar. This recording, in particular, is perfect and suitable to have been released (indeed, it sounds better than Love You Live), and you can hear every ripping note of Taylor’s solo here. This is when the Stones were still dangerous, when Keith Richards still set a wicked tempo, and when Mick Jagger wasn’t quite so polished and rehearsed, when he allowed himself to be let loose and go for the spontaneous. It was an explosive combination, to be sure, and it’s all featured here on what is arguably their best song.
4. Pearl Jam — “Out of My Mind” (Not For You): The B-side of the “Not For You” single, “Out of My Mind” is an improv that was performed twice and subsequently honored with a title and an official release. It’s not life-changing, but it’s pretty characteristic of Pearl Jam’s improvs from that time. It features a lot of chords and riffs that “butt up against each other,” as Stone Gossard would say, and Eddie Vedder’s on-the-spot lyrics calling for you to help him before he loses it completely. I think it’s kind of funny, to be honest, that they chose to make this the B-side to any single, but it definitely shows a different side of the band and probably left the listener scratching his head a bit back in 1994. But, it was the band’s policy to leave listeners scratching their heads at that time. In that case, job well done.
5. Primus — “Welcome to This World” (Pork Soda): Good God, Primus is weird. I very much like them, and I have a few of their albums, but, man, I’ve never been able to figure Les Claypool out. And that’s precisely why I like them. Even though he has a style that is very much all his own — bizarre songs with funny beats and funny vocals, all while singing some of the darkest stuff of the era. Even working in this strange field, an area only Ween ventures into, that I’ve noticed, he still manages to surprise me. Regardless, I love listening to the jumping bass on top with the heavy metal guitar lines underneath, topped off with some strange drum sounds and beats. Primus: Music for Crazy People.
6. Pearl Jam — “Alive” (Soldier Field, Chicago 07/11/1995): This is, for me, the bootleg to end all bootlegs. On July 11, two days after the Grateful Dead’s final show, Pearl Jam stood on their stage and played what is (as far as I can tell) their only stadium gig in the United States, in Eddie Vedder’s home town no less. This recording is raw, and the band tears every song to shreds, an amazing showcase of punk energy for close to three hours. At the time, it was their longest show. And though they’ve released hundreds of their concerts for mass consumption since 2000, and the band is as tight as any rock band could be, my favorite year for the band as a live unit is still 1995. Just coming off the release of Vitalogy and still maintaining some of their early, unhinged aggression, this was where they started to really find themselves as a live band, realizing what they could accomplish on any stage on any given night. Mike McCready’s solo here is biting and snarling, while Vedder adds grunts and shouts from his now-shredded vocal chords, and they still had another eight songs to go. Today, they play every show as if it could be their last, but here, it sounds like ever song might do the band in. Heavy, for sure.
7. Supergrass — “Sad Girl” (Road to Rouen): Supergrass is able to accomplish impressive feats in the studio. Their use of vocal harmonies and overdubs on top of their distinctive backwards guitar riffs and their always-interesting keyboards is what separates them from their BritPop contemporaries. Supergrass has matured very well over the years, and all of their strengths were on display with Road to Rouen, which didn’t feature a single weak song, or even one that left this listener wanting something a little different. For a band that started off as a trio of young, energetic 18-year-olds singing about being caught by the Fuzz, it’s rather remarkable. They still rock, just now in a new way.
8. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals — “Cold Roses” (Das Haus, Ludwigshafen, Germany, 10/17/2006): Of the many, many live Cardinals recordings floating around the interwebs, this one seems to be a favorite among fans, and for good reason. Mr. Adams and the band are in fantastic form, with the vocal harmonies and guitar lines all perfectly fluid and soaring.”Cold Roses” is probably the finest example of the Dead’s influence on the band, with hints of country, laid back rock and even touches of jazz working together to form a bed beneath Adams’ mournful lyrics. Honestly, this is a track you just put on, tilt your head back, and allow to wash over you. There’s two minutes left on this one, so that’s just what I’m going to do.
9. Johnny Marr & the Healers — “Long Gone” (Boomslang): Ask anyone who’s known me for a while, and they will tell you that I was obsessed with this album in the summer of 2003. Marr has a most excellent guitar sound throughout this record, this song included, and the whole thing was just an explosive burst of creative energy. Coming from a man who’s been such an icon in music for so long just made it all the more impressive. “Long Gone” is a great example of Marr’s bluesy, English rock. His guitar playing is outstanding, and the rhythm section, anchored by the incredible Zak Starkey on drums, thunders and booms in just the right places. I don’t listen to this as often as I did then, but I still pump myself up when I hear it.
10. Neil Young & Crazy Horse — “Down by the River” (Vienne 07/17/2001): This is now officially the “bootleg” edition of Random Notes. Young Neil and the Horse were particularly loud and obnoxious on their European 2001 tour, and that’s exactly how I like them. “Down by the River” is always a fantastic showcase for his big, hairy, chunky riffs, with an awesome amount of soloing over the more-plodding-than-driving rhythm. And, as a bonus, there’s 12 minutes of it! For all of his quirks, Young can never be accused of not giving an audience their money’s worth. His vocals are there, as always, and he’s as energetic as he’s ever been, but what makes this is, again, the guitar playing. He’s on his game when he’s manic, switching from subdued, J.J. Cale-esque solos to ridiculous, machine gun-style riffs. Loud is the name of the game here, and like the Pixies, Neil knows the value in the "loud, quiet, loud" aesthetic, too.
As the last six minutes or so of “Down by the River” play out, I’ll wrap this up. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll be unclicking the “shuffle” button and letting the rest of this show play out as I go about my business this afternoon. Yeah. That’ll do it.
July 8, 2009