Friday, May 30, 2008

Boot Tracker, May 28th 2008, Manchester

The recording of the Old Trafford show is unfortunately the second show that's a bit lost in the flood. The recording is more than a little muddy, bordering on unlistenable I'm affraid. Recording in stadiums is far from easy. The distance to the speakers if often much bigger than in the Arenas and this big washing tubs tend to echo more than just a little. Stadium shows are not the kind you visit because of the fine acoustics, but for the overall experience of a mass concert attendance. Which is too bad, because the Tafford looks like yet another mighty fine show in the Magic tour. Even more than during the Arena leg, the Boss seems to be working his ass off to bring you the hardest rocking show money can buy and it looks like he's pulling it off. From "Trapped" till "She's the One" the band is off on a regular exhaustathon. Even with all the mud on this tape I cannot help but get exited for the next time I'm going to see this band of brothers.

Read the review in the Independent.
Read the review in the Times Online.

"Adam Raised a Cain"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording:1,5 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: none

Boot Tracker, May 23rd 2008, Dublin

The second European leg takes the Boss and the band outside for a stadium tour. Stadium shows are different animals than the relatively small arenas the band has been playing thus far. Needless to say they are huge and a band usually has to resort to theatrics to be able to get the show across. Aside from enormous video screens, Springsteen still only brings a band to entertain the masses. Quite a few of his songs seem cut and tailored for that. "Born to Run" will have no difficulty filling those big open empty spaces with sound. His more subtle work however is in danger of falling on deaf ears and beer breaks. The summer sun will undoubtedly feed the thirst of more than a few ticket buyers who'll fruitfully try to quench it with that gold liquid flowing from the faucets. So in a way it seems only fitting that the swaggering on their legs, off beat clapping, yapping type fan is the main attraction on this recording. Our drunken Irish friend is quite pronounced, the band rolls on somewhere in the distance.

I'm sure that the Stadium leg will bring many great shows. I quite enjoy Springsteen in those big bath tubs. The man has a knack to bring them down to size. Even in nosebleeds I've often felt like I was in a small club, while at other moments as much in awe of that sea of people as I was with the band's ability to command their attention. Unfortunately not from our drunken Irish friend however. I've read some critique on this show saying the performance was somewhat uninspired. I don't hear that at all I must admit. This second night in Dublin sounds like a pretty standard Magic show. No big surprises in the set, but a mighty fine collection of Stadium rousers none the less. "Glory Days", "Bad Lands" and the "Promised Land" seem quite comfortable in that big bucket they call the RDS arena. As a bootleg I'd say this tape is only for those determined to hear every Magic show, but as a performance I wouldn't have minded being there one bit.


MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Sound: 2 out of 5
Show: 3,5 out of 5
Artwork: none

Down The Tracks; Lay It Down, Al Green

The reverend is back at the secular front with his third album since his 2003 comeback "I Can't Stop". After shying away from the secular market, focusing on Gospel, Al Green seems to have fully embraced the salt of the earth again. Green started scaling down his Pop career in '74 when a girlfriend doused him with boiling grits. Any other man would figure he really did something to piss her off this time. Green on the other hand saw it as a sign from God to correct his ways. It did take a fall off stage in '79 however before the good Lord gained his full attention. Green turned his back on a career that made him rich and started focusing on preaching. Ever the showman Green started using his gifts as an entertainer to woo his congregation in service of the Lord. He traded the screams of lust for the hollers of devotion. Though Green himself has always claimed that his spiritual believes were always a part of his music, it took him a quarter of a century to record some of that seductive silky Soul that made him legendary in the first place.

Al Green wrote the book on suave Soul. Though his albums never gained the stature of of Marvin Gaye's seminal works I wouldn't be surprised if Marvin picked up a trick or two from the reverend. Though three decades old his classic records still sound fresh today. A quick glance at the current Soul market is enough to see the younger generations are still attentive to his teachings. So an album where Green would find himself working with the new breed was just a matter of time. His former two records were with his original producer Willie Michel and what was left of the legendary house band of the Hi studios. Fine as they were, that classic set up could never quite match his work from the seventies. I dare say Hip Hop producer ?uestlove comes quite a bit closer to making us, momentarily, forget them. ?uestlove wisely doesn't deviate too much from Green's classic sound. It is in the surroundings of humming organs, syrupy strings and punchy horn lines, that the Reverend's voice comes out best, floating over it, Soul supreme. Instead of the lounge like Hip Hop beats that mar most of Nu-Soul, ?uestlove enlisted the help of the Booker T & the MGs from Brooklyn, the Dap-Kings. The same band that made Wino Winehouse recent outing so irresistible.

Backed by his new team Green whispers, hollers, screams, moans and pleads his way through this new album as if he never stopped doing secular music. It seems his voice only gained depth over the years, it certainly never lost any of its seductive qualities. Though none of the compositions here can match his best songs, I dare say that "Lay It Down" is a supreme album. Green never relied too much on his strength as a song writer, his voice has the ability to make the most mediocre lyrics come to life. When Green sings you get that flush in your cheeks, those butterflies in your stomach, even at an age of 62 he is contagious with that irresistible playful sexuality that defined his classic albums, he still has that deep blue undertones that will make your heart ache with yearning. Green is still the teacher of love as much as he's the preacher.

"Lay It Down"

MP3 File

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Boot Tracker, October 5th 2004, St Paul, MN

In the midst of the Magic tour Ev2 decided to revisit the Vote For Change tour. Quite fittingly I might add, Springsteen's motivation for doing this tour is very much related the messages he's trying to get across 4 years down the road. One could argue that few things have been as helpful in reviving Springsteen's career as President Bystander, making Bush the oddest muse a R&R star ever had. The Vote For Change tour found Springsteen playing along partisan lines for the first time in his career. Though the tour begged comparison to the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour, Dave Marsh was correct to point out the moral basis of that tour. Singing in defense of human rights didn't necessarily put you in any corner of America's political boxing ring. Bush's "election" and the way he dragged the nation into an armed conflict on the basis of flimsy evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, deepened the political divisions in America. So Springsteen's decision to join this tour as the head liner was not without risk. Quite a few fans felt alienated, left out by his stance. As a blue collar rocker Springsteen has more than a few political conservative fans. Some of them felt Springsteen openly turned against them. For better or worse, Vote For Change defined the road Springsteen's career went down since.

Touring along the swing states, the objective was to get as many voters to register as possible. Although Springsteen was very outspoken in his support of senator Kerry outside of the shows, on stage he mostly let the music speak for itself as he always had. For music geeks the Vote For Change tour was finger licking good, no matter what side of the line you were on. The tour suddenly found Springsteen on stage with a new generation. In the course of the tour he shared the mic with R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Hip Hop stars Jurassic 5. Aside from the young guns, there were plenty of old timers involved as well. On this particular show Springsteen is joined on stage by John Fogerty and Neil Young. St. Paul truly was the gathering of legends. This Ev2 re-master from a new source is one of the better bootlegs I've heard from this tour. Neil Young's solo on "Souls of the Departed" rarely growled meaner than it does here. The guest spots on this show roll from one high point into the next, with Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" suddenly sounding painfully relevant again, making the Band's self contained spots almost pale by comparison. Almost, there's very little that can beat the raving version of "Johnny 99". The Band really pulls out all the stops on that one, almost as if Springsteen wants to show the dinosaurs on stage he, and only he, is the Boss. This is fantastic stuff, sound wise almost as good as the in ear monitor recording of October 2nd from Cleveland. While this show may be just a few notches below that one, this St Paul show clearly had the upper hand on guest performances. I dare say an essential addition to your collection.

"Johnny 99"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 format here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 4 out of 5
Show: 5 out of 5
Artwork: 4,5 out of 5

Read USA Today's take on the Vote For Change tour here.
The PopMatters review of the show.

Boss Tracks; Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison

Ever since that immortal line in "Thunderroad" it is hardly a secret that Bruce Springsteen is a big admirer of Roy Orbison. "In 1975, when I went into the studio to make Born to Run, I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector. But most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison", Springsteen said when he was inducted in the R&R Hall of Fame in 1987. A year later Springsteen was performing "Pretty Woman" on stage with Orbison for the TV Special that was instrumental in his sudden comeback at the tail end of his life. December 6th 1989, Roy collapsed on the steps of his mother's house, he was 52 of age. Roy had just released the Jeff Lynn produced album "Mystery Girl" that found him topping the charts again and was part of the highly successful Traveling Wilburys project that included Lynn, Bob Dylan George Harrison and Tom Petty. Orbison left an impressive legacy of hits of which 1964's "Pretty Woman" was without a doubt the biggest hit, selling 7 million copies in the year it was first released. "Pretty Woman" was Pop perfection, Roy's coy growling may be the most edgy element of the song.

Ironically "Pretty Woman" became part of quite the controversy about a quarter of a century later when the 2 Live Crew built their version around it. Though largely forgotten today, in their time the 2 Live Crew were about as nasty and dirty Hip Hop could get. Their version of "Pretty Woman" kept the signature base line of Orbison's version and basic song structure but they did a completely overhaul on the lyrics. That pretty woman walking down the street became the big hairy woman in desperate need of a shave and a two timin' cheat to boot. A year after the 2 Live Crew issued their version Acuff-Rose Music, Roy's publishing company, filed suit, claiming infringement of copy right. When the 2 Live Crew didn't obtain the license for the sample, they decided to go ahead and release it anyway as a parody, cleverly using the Copy Right Act of 1976 in their advantage. The case was taken all the way up to the Supreme Court eventually. The judges apparently with their sense of humor intact let the 2 Live Crew walk away the big victors. I'll leave it up to you to decide if the joke really was all that good.

Roy Orbison

MP3 File
Available on The Essential Roy Orbison

2 Live Crew

MP3 File
Available on As Clean as They Wanna Be

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boot Tracker, March 17th 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

As a 'rule' I do not review second versions of a bootleg. From time to time I will try to give you little updates on alternate versions I came across. But then again, rules are meant to be broken. Since I didn't do a review of the first version of Milwaukee floating around, I'll take a little time out for the "slowburn" version. As a recording this new version is nothing earth shocking. Its a very decent audience recording, a tad muddy, but overall pretty good sound. Especially if you play it loud like the taper suggests, neighbors be damned! What is interesting though is that the recording stems from a phase in the tour when the shows were supposed to be stale. At least according to set list analyzing fans like myself. You know, the type of fan that obsesses over every little thing he does, analyzing it to the bone. On many occasion fans like myself had the arrogance to bemoan the quality of the shows on the basis of what we saw printed, on the set list. During the first phase of the second American leg, these lists were still kind of static.

This recording proves us wrong though. Static as the set lists might have been, the shows were far from stale. Springsteen is one of those Rock stars who understands the importance of making every evening count, of making every show an experience. After all, most ticket buyers will probably get only one show and that show better be damn good! Milwaukee is just that. Of course if you've been doing multiple shows, if you've downloaded more than a few bootlegs, there's little that you haven't heard before. But judged on its own merit, set off against the question if this particular night was a good night, the answer can only be positive. With "Reason to Believe, "Cadillac Ranch" and "Ramrod" in the set, Milwaukee was the night of the Road House Rockers, down right sleazy and dirty as R&R should be. This show also had a pretty rare performance of "Streets of Fire" and very nice guest spot on "Meeting Across the River" from Richard Davis, who played base on the original studio version. However static the set lists might have, little was wrong with the shows.

"Meeting Across The River"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 3 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: none

Monday, May 26, 2008

Boot Tracker, August 1st 1976, Monmouth Arts Center, Red Bank, NJ

As much as I like the Fanatic releases, fanatic as I am, every once in a while Rob Oslan releases one that tests even my patience. This is not a good recording by a long shot. Another one from the box of Joe Kivak, but it sounds like Joe had an off night. Aside from the recording being muddy, it is more than a little messy. The tape is filled with drops and microphone interference. At essential moments this unfortunately disrupts the flow of what looks to be a killer show. Especially the encores suffer from these disruptions. Which is a real shame, because it is often in the encores where the more muddy Kivak tapes redeem themselves. This recording for example has the unique and very infectious "She's Sure The Girl I Love" based on Phil Spector's classic Crystal's single. While the recording of that single song is intact, the interference in the tape takes the pace out of the encore. Where on most Fanatic releases you can get caught up in the exitement of the show, the interference prevents you from doing so here.

Question is, should such a tape be released. Shouldn't some tapes simply be left in the boxes. I for one don't think Rob should discriminate. Bad as the tape may be, it is still part of the larger Springsteen story. The mentioned unique performance of "She's Sure The Girl I Love" still makes this tape worth while collecting. This is also the show where "Something in the Night" and "Rendezvous" debuted. Especially with the first it is interesting to hear how it started out and compare it with subsequent versions. Few artist did work in progress on stage like Springsteen did in those early days and it is fun to track his final works to it origins. I applaud Rob for his Kivak master project. I do not think Rob's intention is to only release high quality stuff, I think his intention is to tell a story, to show how Springsteen's career developed. From that perspective this tape might even be essential because of the debuts and the one time cover. This tape tells an important part of the story, at least of how some of the songs turned out. Another possibility of course is that he's just more of a fanatic than I am. Either way, I continue to applaud his work.

"She's Sure The Girl I Love"

MP3 File

Download the show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 1,5 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: 4 out of 5

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Boss Tracks; Cry To Me, Betty Harris

Betty Harris is one of the most respected figures in Soul music, for the connoisseurs at least, as she is unknown to the broader public. Most of that respect she gained on the basis of the single featured here today. Her version of "Cry to Me" is an absolute triumph. The slow dragged out church vocals betray a deep grief while she offers her comfort to the broken hearted. Betty Harris has been where disappointed in love are, her wounds never quite healed, sharing in a common pain. Recorded in 1963 for the Jubilee label, "Cry to Me" proved to be the template to which legends as Etta James and Aretha Franklin modeled their vocals. Though the song charted in an up-tempo version for Solomon Burke just a year before, Betty Harris managed to score her biggest hit with "Cry to Me", charting #23 in the Pop charts. It was her version that the Stones picked up, which subsequently led to the renditions done by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. The frail Betty really managed to eclipse the 200 pound Burke, no mean achievement. As Harris remembered in 2004 this tour the force took a mere 3 takes to get on wax.

After recording a few more sides for Jubilee Harris would go on to record with the legendary Allen Toussaint on Sansu records. It was Toussaint who dubbed her the 'Soul Queen of New Orleans', even though she never lived in the city. Harris was born in Orlando. Typical for her status as forgotten Soul queen, biographers never got her birth date right. Most commonly the date's pegged at either '41 or '43, Betty Harris however is pretty sure she was born in '39. Though her Sansu sides cemented her status for the connoisseurs, she was never able to repeat the success of that first single. Toussaint coached Harris into a more funky and aggressive style, brilliant as those singles often were, it is the ballad material where Harris really shines. "Cry to Me" is soul supreme, often rivaled but never beaten. Springsteen performed this gem once on stage with Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom. He did sound check the song in 1975 but never did play it on stage. Luckily this E-Steet version was captured on tape, though I suspect through the door as the recording is more than just a tad muddy.

Read an excellent full biography on Funky 16 Corners.

"Cry to Me" is available on Lost Soul Queen

Betty Harris

MP3 File

Bruce Springsteen

MP3 File

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Boot Tracker; June 14th 1977, South Side Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, featuring Ronnie Spector

I managed to snatch this little gem from Jungleland before the torrent got banned because it isn't a Springsteen bootleg. Which if you ask me is a crying shame. There are few very good South Side Johnny bootlegs out there and this one is borderline superb. I guess I got lucky. The recording is sound board sourced. Though there are a few sound drops and some occasional slurring in the tape, this recording is a fine taste of how the Jukes sounded in their prime days. Though Springsteen was know to jump on stage from time to time during this period in South Side Johnny's career, not this night. However this tape does capture the Queen of R&R Ronnie Spector in her giddy old ways. A guest performance no doubt courtesy to Miami Steve. Van Zandt was quite prolific in those mid to late seventies. Aside from grinding his ax as Springsteen's the side kick in the pimp suit, he produced Southside Johnny on his first classic albums and managed to get a genuine Ronnie Spector single out. A 45 I have yet to chase down for this blog, but when I do, we'll take a closer look at that one.

Back to the show! I always wondered how Southside Johnny never managed to get more of a career out of his first few albums released on Epic. Southside in my mind is one of the finest blue eyed Soul wailers ever to roam the earth. Those van Zandt produced albums are forgotten classics in my mind. This Time It's for Real and Hearts of Stone are must own items for any serious Springsteen fans. As this tape testifies he gave a mean show as well. Those Asbury Jukes shows were some of the most exiting and raving Rock and Soul shows you could catch in those days and I dare say, they still are even today. This show is a fine mix of classic covers, such as Solomon Burke's "Gotta Get You Off My Mind", and originals from the pens of Springsteen and van Zandt. Maybe the bottle neck is that Southside never became a prolific songwriter himself, he arguably never developed a real distinct voice of his own. Though I don't necessarily agree, I can see how some critics rather pick up the originals by Sam Cooke than a Jukes joint. I think those critics are short changing themselves in a misguided sense of purisms, but I guess you'll find part of the explanation there. But maybe South Side simply hit the scene to late. Ten years earlier Joe Cocker became monstrously successful with much the same concept. Like Cocker, Southside reinterprets those classic Soul sounds. If you ask me, Southside did a better job than Cocker. But by the time Southside started out, R&B infused Rock and Soul had its hey day.

Those who are in the know however, will love this recording. Southside had the Soul theatrics down, he knew how to work a room like the best on the chitlin' circuit. He may never have had any fancy dance moves, but then again never did Sam Cooke. I'm not saying Southside comes anywhere near Sam, but he sure had a mighty wailing voice and a wry sense of humor to make up for being rhythmically challenged. Even Soul classics like Sam & Dave's "You Don't Know Like I Know" never become cheap rip offs when Johnny tears into them. He approaches them with genuine love and respect, but never tries to fully copy them. With the Jukes wailing behind them, he makes them his own like few performers can. Ronnie Spector's appearance is endearing on this show, but listening back to it now, I'm wondering why she never hit it big again. In the case of Southside however, it is a crying shame.

"Got To Get You Off My Mind"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 4- out of 5
Show: 4,5 out of 5
Artwork: 2 out of 5

Boot Tracker, Oktober 13th 1976, Kean College NJ

Regulars know I'm a big fan of Fanatic releases. Rob continuously release great shows from the pre-Darkness tours taped by the now legendary Joe Kivak. I enjoy listening to each and every one of them. But then again, I am a Fanatic. You need to be to stomach these recordings from time to time. Though Rob released quite a few tapes of great quality, every once in a while there's a recording that really does the name of his record label justice. A hardcore fan will find many things to enjoy on this recording, for the more casual bootleg collector this recording is best left alone. The sound is exceptionally muddy and cluttered, even for a fanatic like me it is hard to get a sense of the show. Which really is too bad. Because on the moments you do manage to catch that spirit of the night, it proves to be enchanting. So I once again thank Rob, mister Anonymous and Joe Kivak for putting in all that work and effort to bring us Boss addicts this release. Earlier releases of this show had cuts all over the place, this recording restores most of them, that alone made it worth my while.

Redeeming factors on this recording are the quieter moments shining through quite a bit better than the raucous raving Rock and Rollers. Uncharacteristically for 1976 shows there were no covers played on this show, save for "It's My Life". However the guitar intro on this version is one of the best I've ever heard, a slow burner, filled with tension that chocked me up before he even got to the story. Springsteen's relates his memories with such clarity on this one, you almost feel the unease he must have felt entering the house, his hair tucked in his collar. You see his father sitting on that kitchen table, his mother hiding in the other room. You feel his old man brooding with alcohol fed discontent, waiting to give his son a piece of his mind, ready to play out this scene of helplessness once more. Too men trying to connect in their rage. After the claustrophobic rage and frustration in "It's My Life" and "Backstreets", the unabashed cockiness of "Growing Up" comes as sweet release. Unfortunately there still seems to be a cut in this story, so we never learn how the space traveler on his way to Mars wound up in New Jersey. We'll leave that one up to our imagination.

"It's My Life"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 2 out of 5
Show 3,5 out of 5
Artwork 4 out of 5

Friday, May 23, 2008

Down the Tracks; The Legendary Fleshtones

Some Legends are in your face, like the E-Street Band, some Legends lay waiting in the shadows waiting for us to stumble upon them. The Fleshtones are Living Legends, lurking in those shadow, secretly giving the worlds greatest R&R show, waiting to pull you in to never let you go. Once you stumble upon the Fleshtones, once they enchant you with the magic of R&R, you’ll never be free of their spell. Twelve years after their last show in Amsterdam, the Fleshtones were suddenly back in a funky little place called Akhnaton. A club that carries about 200 patrons, where you’ll still see the stage through a thick soup of cigarette smoke and that gets hot and sweaty as the evening rolls on. Not unlike CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City where the Fleshtones started out 33 years ago I imagine. Through a rough and raggedy show, filled with squealing Farfisa organs, high strung guitar riffing and a thunderous rhythm section, the Fleshtones proved their legend once over. Their hex breaking R&R casting yet another spell on a largely unsuspecting audience and some die hard fans.

The Akhnaton barely had something that you could call a backstage area, so I grabbed my chance, determined to have an audience with the Legends. Going through their road manager and drummer, I weaseled my way to the dressing room, standing eye to eye with that Roman Gods, Peter Zaremba. He would love to do an interview, but first there were fans to meet, brain cells that had to be washed away, feet that needed shuffling on the R&B beats downstairs. Zaremba took some chasing before I finally had him sitting down on the couch. During our chase we stumbled into ax grinder extraordinary, Keith Streng! He was too caught up in the evening to really sit down and talk to us, but did disclose that he was working on his Master Plan, ever chasing the magic of R&R . If we are to take his word for it, the Fleshtones are about to go reach that final frontier, recording a Christmas album that is bound to cement their status of true American icons.

A few to many Heinekens later, we’re sitting down with Peter Zaremba. The Fleshtones just finished 11 shows in a row, a new record in the history of the band. The Giant of R&R slopes down into the couch, tired but strung out on R&R ecstasy. “We’re very lucky” he admits, “a certain amount of people, though not many, say we’re the best band of the world”, allowing the Fleshtones to roll on. There was a time though that the Fleshtones seemed to be destined for greater thing than the Akhnaton, coming up in the New York Punk scene, they got rave reviews from the obscure fanzines to the NY Times. The consensus was that these guys were the hottest act in town. Yet they never achieved the same status as the Ramones. “They were just so quintessential” Peter reflects today “We tried to form a band for years. The Ramones showed us to stop doubting ourselves. It hit us, they were incredible. Within months [after seeing the Ramones] we had a band”. The mid seventies found R&R in a rut. The Fleshtones were determined to save R&R from itself, turning out to be one of the few bands to incorporate disco into their sound. Smiling, with a slight sense of pride Peter remembers “All those people saying Disco sucks, just weren’t listening, there were all those hippies, playing ‘Rock music’ with solos 20 minutes long, where you’d smoke pot and fall asleep”. The Fleshtones weren’t going to be about that, still firmly believing in the concept Peter explains that he wanted music “that made me just want to get in my car, drive fast, meet girls, get drunk and go crazy “ He makes no excuses for incorporating Disco, why should he? The energy of the evening proves him right when he claims “Whatever turns you on, makes you want to dance, whatever’s got Soul, is kind of ridiculous, you take that”.

Of course the Fleshtones were much more than Disco, few bands managed to capture the spirit of R&R like they do, few bands manage to keep going as long as they do. Today they are the only band from that CBGB’s scene still around, still rocking with a fervor that would make a lot of the young guns go green with envy. The band still enjoys being on the road, it seems to be their fountain of youth. People scuffle in and out of the dressing room, Keith Streng has found a few tasty looking girls, playing around like a young man in his twenties. Maybe the Fleshtones captured the spirit of R&R so well because they never gave up on the life style, never compromised on the music. Even today, the Fleshtones sound like they escaped from the legendary Nuggets LP, dodging the bullets of trends and hip new styles, staying true to their school. Finding their sound wasn’t easy though. After years of “Fucking around” in the studio, “The Fleshtones vs Reality” was the first record that captured some of the spirit they’ve got going on stage. Peter realizes now, “You’ll have to be more direct”. For that album, and the records since, “we stripped away many of the insane things we were trying to do”. It took years to find out that records are a lucky shot, referring to the classic Rhythm and Blues sounds coming from downstairs Peter exclaims, “That’s how these great records happened!”

It wasn’t until quite a few years in their careers that the Fleshtones managed to capture that sound. Maybe that’s why their career stalled even though they were getting all this praise in the mid seventies. Though it could be that the Fleshtones have always simply been to singular to fit into any trend or radio format. Looking back on it now, Peter seems to feel no regret about where the Fleshtones ended up in this stage of their career. He’s very proud of the band and flattered by the legendary status the fans ascribe to them. “We always admired the delusional people [in R&R] history. Peter is proud to claim his place amongst them. And lets be honest, how many R&R bands are out there that had kingdoms established in their name. Unlikely as it may seem, when traveling Spain, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon the nation of Fleshtonia, complete with its own flag and rule of the land. All though it has never been recognized by most of the international community, the Fleshtones made their mark on history.

Take a Good Look is available on Yep Roc records now!

Listen to "Love Yourself"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Down The Tracks, Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time

"Dodge City went black. The front edge of the duster looked two thousand feet high. Winds clocked in at sixty miles an hour. A few minutes earlier there had been bright sunlight and a temperature of 81 degrees, without a wisp of wind. Drivers turned on their headlights but could not see ahead of them, or even see the person sitting next to them. It was like three midnights in a jug, one old nester said. Cars died, their system shorted out by the static...A woman in Kansas later said she thought of killing her child to spare the baby the cruelty of Armageddon". Black Sunday, April 14th, 1935, the biggest duster yet wreaked havoc on America, carrying the dirt from the mid lands as far as New York City. Much has been written on the Dust Bowl, but most books focussed on the exodus that the dust bowls caused. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl is one of the few books out there that chronicles the experiences of those who decided to stay. In this absolute can't put down book, Timothy Egan breathes life into people who history forgot, majestically capturing the horror of the Dust Bowl and the reliances of those who decided to stay and face them.

The Dust Bowl was caused by a series of complex factors. To gain some understanding Egan takes us back to the final frontier, how the midlands were won. In extremely vivid story telling Egan relates how the Indians were chased from their lands in the era of home steading. He illustrates how the Texan cowboys chased the bison from the plains, how the farmers after that cultivated them, replacing the prairie grass for wheat. In a matter of decades, first encouraged by the high wheat prices during World War I, then by the dropping prices during the depression, every strand of prairie grass was destroyed. When the farmers decided to abandon their lands or stopped cultivating them, the top soil lay loose, easily picked up by the winds. Ultimately this caused one of the first man made ecological catastrophes that hasn't seen its equal since on American soil.

The scenes Egan sets in his book seems miles away from Springsteen's rendition of "My Oklahoma Home", a popular folk song from that era. The wry and ironic lines and the upbeat music cloud the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. Yet it lies waiting there for us to uncover. After finishing this book, not one line in "My Oklahoma Home" seems an exaggeration. The dusters and depression indeed took every little last bit from the people but their mortgage. After reading this book you can't help but admire the spirit of whoever wrote the original. To look that mean black duster in the eye, letting it fill up your lungs, take away your house and reasons for living and laugh in its face is inspiring indeed.

The main strength of Egan's book is how he traces a few select families from Dalhart and Boise City, located right in the heart of the Dust Bowl, a region aptly called No-Man's Land. Through these personal histories, Egan makes that complex interplay of what caused the duster come to life. Through Egan we not only get to know the people, the dreams they had when they settled and the terror they felt under the dusters and the depression, we also get to know the land, why it responded like it did. As this book illustrates, it doesn't hurt to reflect on those times every once in a while, be it trough song or reading. The Dust Bowl holds many lessons our collective memory would rather forget. But in an age of global warming, facing our past couldn't hurt.

Read more on the Dust Bowl and see interviews with survivors here

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Boss Tracks; Iko Iko, the Dixie Cups

This 45 is a mysterious little platter. The origins of this song are shady and the meaning of the lyrics have been lost to time. Maybe the mystery of the song is why it is still such a popular staple during Mardi Grass in New Orleans. Springsteen did not exactly cover this song but included just a little snippet in "Light of Day" when he took New Orleans by storm in 2000. I've been trying to uncover the meaning of the lyrics for weeks now, but I must conclude that the Boss didn't have a clue what he was singing. Nor do any of the other cats who ever tried on this song for size. The version I have here in my hands was recorded by the Dixie Cups. A vocal group who had hit big in 1964 with "The Chapel of Love". The success of this single for the New Orleans based group led to a sessions in New York, to be produced by Leiber and Stoller. During a break in the recording sessions the girls started fooling around with drums sticks on ash trays and coke bottles, chanting this little folk ditty from home. Leiber and Stoller had the sense to keep the tape running and record the song. Later they overdubbed some base and "Iko Iko" found its release on the Red Bird label and proved to be the version that popularized "Iko Iko". The single shot to #20 in the Pop charts, making it the oddest recording ever to grace the charts.

Much to the disdain of James "sugar boy" Crawford who had recorded "Jockamo" 10 years down the road with much the same lyrics, which he claimed he wrote. The law suit was settled out of court with Crawford getting 25% although he made no further claim of authorship. Nor could he. The lyrics to the song had been around for centuries and are most likely a mix of African languages and Caribbean. They prove to be a delightful puzzle to anthropologists up till this day. The words "Iko iko un day" have been traced back to Gambia by some, meaning something along the line of "Pay attention today" or "Hey listen to me". The words "Jockomo feeno ah na nay" have been translated from Gambian as "Don't mess with us! We are for real!" or as explained by the Neville Brothers "Kiss my ass", supposedly secret code for the slave drivers on the plantations. Other sources however claim that Jockomo is derived from French and means Jester. So what's the deal with "My spy dog see your spy dog, Gonna set your tail on fire". Most commonly this is explained in the Mardi Grass culture. The parades in New Orleans do not go without some rivalry between the different groups of Mardi Grass Indians. From what I read it seems to be a game of challenge, trying to outdo each other and threatening to sabotage each other's parades. Similarly "Fix your chicken wire" should be seen as a threat to damage a person's Mardi Grass costumes, of which chicken wire is the foundation. How all of this exactly adds up, I'm not sure. New Orleans is built up from a fascinating mix of cultures, languages got muddled into cryptic speech patterns and chants nobody seems to understand anymore. So for all I know, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. But who cares, neither did James "sugar boy" Crawford as he later admitted in an interview.

Available on The Very Best of the Dixie Cups: Chapel of Love

"Iko Iko"

MP3 File

Monday, May 19, 2008

Boot Tracker; April 28th 2008, Greensboro NC

Why is it that sometime a mediocre to bad recording gets me more exiting than a clear recording. Greensboro is by far from being the clearest tape of the tour, the sound is jumbled and muddy and there's more than a bit audience noise, yet I'm loving every second of this one. Its not just the show, though undoubtedly a killer performance, the Boss is quite habitual in giving those. I think its the audience on them. There are few people yapping on this tape, but lots of folks hollering, blaring along, screaming from the top of their lungs, making it easy to see them stomping their feet and punching their fist. This is one audience the band can't drown out. Even though that takes your some of the pleasure of the performance away, it does an excellent job of getting the exitement of a Springsteen show across. This tape is sort of the "Live in Barcelona" of bootlegs if you will. Loud, but it puts you straight in the heart of the pit! Judging from the title of this tape, "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the Greensboro Pit", that's exactly where our taper was.

At the tail end of the second leg, this was one of the most exiting shows of the tour yet. If only because it opened with a blistering version of "Roulette". Again one of those songs that fits the theme of the tour like a glove. I'm surprised that it took Springsteen this long to haul it out. "Promised Land" has found its place early in the set. As a classic it does the trick of goosing spirits up early in the show. Even though this audience sound like they didn't need the encouragement. "Saint in the City" is an absolute highlight on this tape, a blistering guitar duel that gives the "Gypsy Biker" a run for his money. Mary seems to be back in her place sort of permanently, if I'm not mistaken this is the third show in a row she gave a party, TURN IT UP!! Bobby Jean is revisiting the encores again, not everybody's favorite I know, but who cares, Greensboro went ramrodding forever more after that. An absolute knock out show! I'll leave it up to you if you want to go partying along with the Greensboro crowd.

"It's Hard to be a Saint in the City"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, only burn mp3s for personal use, but never use an mp3 based CD in a trade. The Quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 2,5 out of 5
Show: 4,5 out of 5
Artwork: 3 out of 5

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Down the Tracks, Steve Turner, The Man Called Cash

"I think Springsteen says it better than any of us did" Johnny Cash

I imagine that quote might be the biggest compliment Springsteen ever got from another artist. Taken from Steve Turner's biography, Cash said these words when asked about his "Johnny 99" album from 1983, on which he covered the title track and "Highway Patrolman". Though once a giant in music, Cash's career was in a slump at a time. Though Cash was still a much respected figure in country music, he didn't write the songs anymore that captivated a nation. I imagine that he looked at Springsteen's success with some nostalgia, remembering the time he spoke for the disenfranchised in much the same way. "He's the master of these songs, he's such a prolific writer" Cash relates, "I guess youth has a lot to do with it". The album proved to be Cash's second to last album before Columbia records foolishly set him out with the trash, like putting a Rembrandt through the paper shredder. Ten years down the line Rick Rubin would make Cash eat his words about youth, and Columbia hang its corporate head in shame, when he revived Cash's career on American Recordings. Allowing Cash a renaissance in the fall years of his life.

Steve Turner's book, The Man Called Cash, was the first biography that chronicled Cash's entire career right up till his passing on September 12th 2003. The book proved to be a very good companion reader next to Cash's own autobiography published in 1997. Though Cash arguably tells his own story better himself, Turner dispelled some myths from the that book and the movie that hit the theaters shortly after his death. As Turner explains in his book, Cash liked to stretch the truth a little bit from time to time, to make the story more compelling. Turner does an excellent job in chronicling Cash's career and is effective in explaining Cash's lasting appeal. Turner demonstrates how Cash was marketed outside of the Country scene and how his singular views appealed to both the conservative and religious Country fans as well as to the protest generation. Turner even touches on a part of R&R history that other Rock historians tend to ignore. When the protest generation began to show his flaws, some might even say proved to be morally bankrupt, they were overtaken by a Christian version spearheaded by Billy Graham and Johnny Cash. For a while the Jesus Freaks, as they were called, replaced the protest generation, fusing the free spirit of the sixties with religious conservatism.

Turner traces Cash's journey from being a Hillbilly hero to becoming an outlaw, from being a national television star to a relic from the past, to ultimately being an alternative rock darling and elderly statesmen. Few artists have had so many incarnations as Cash, few have been so consistent as Cash at the same time. Like no other artist Cash was aware that "no man is good all the time and no men is bad all the time". We carry both sides of the coin in us, Cash acknowledged both. Cash was not affraid to show that life was falling down as much as climbing up. Cash was as much humble before God as he was a backslider and didn't hesitate to show both sides of himself. Nor was he afraid to speak his own mind, his career be damned. That probably is the core reason why Cash spoke to people in all walks of life. From the inmates in San Quentin, where he recorded arguably his best album, to the mighty politicians who loved having him over for dinner. What his boom-chicka-boom music lacked in sophistication his words and the way his voice carried them revealed a complexity few artists are able to carry in their body of work. Don't take Cash for his word, nobody did it better than him, not even Springsteen.

Recommended listening:

Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar
The first singles on Sun collected. Includes many of his biggest hits like "I Walk The Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues". Cash would be chasing the sound and simplicity of these singles for the rest of his career.

Bitter Tears (Ballads of the American Indian)
With this album Cash would be the first big Country star that would speak for the American Indian. He lays bare the trials of the Indian in modern times and the betrayals by the US government. An album that didn't sit well with his audience but is exemplary of his singular ways and refusal to compromise.

Orange Blossom Special
One of his most compelling studio albums at Columbia. Cash covers three Bob Dylan songs on this album. Embracing the protest generation as the natural continuation of the Folk movement before anybody else in Country music.

At San Quentin
Arguably the better of the two prison albums. At San Quentin strikes a perfect balance between his secular work and his gospels. At San Quentin Cash had a riot at his fingertips. The tension in this album is uncanny. It might even be the best live album ever recorded.

American Recordings
Recorded in Rick Rubin's living room. Cash acoustic and raw. Though initially intended as demos they proved to capture the essence of Cash like no studio album had done since his years at Sun records.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Down The Tracks; Elvis Costello, Momofuku

Pot noodles, that's what the title of Elvis Costello's new album Momofuku refers to. An album title so clever Costello needs to explain it in a press release on his site. The title is a tribute to the inventor of the pot noodle, Momofuku Ando. Elvis cleverly picked the title as a reference on how the album came to be. "Momofuku" was recorded and written within a period of three weeks. The result is the musical variation on pot noodles. Just poor some hot water in a plastic cup, filled with dried plastic looking noodles, throw some oddly colored herbs on them and you've got a tasty snack. Not exactly haute cuisine, but tasty, nothing more, kind of like Costello's new album, "Momofuku". The record comes as a pleasant surprise since Costello voiced his disgust with the industry not so long ago. The angry young man had become the grumpy old geezer, albeit a clever one at that. Though he threatened to hang up his R&R shoes, he's back with the Imposters.

In recent years Costello R&R output was meager to say the least. Elvis proved to hold quite a few more clever tricks up his sleeve that distracted him from making R&R. The results varied from interesting, like his collaboration with the Dutch Metropole Orkest on "My Flame Burns Blue", to close to brilliant on his last album with Allen Toussaint, "The River in Reverse". The few R&R albums he did release often seemed forced and too thought through, making me wonder if Costello still had it in him. "Momofuku" is a nice step in the right direction. Because of the way the record came about it has an infectious loose feel to it. On the stand out tracks you'd wish that Costello would record this way more often. But not all is good. For most part of the album it sounds like Costello these days is simply too clever for R&R. The album is filled with stylistic exercises that sound like they would have been best saved for maybe another collaboration with Burt Bacharach. While tracks like "American Gangster" are edgy little rockers and a return to form, jazzy Beatlesque exercises like "Mister Feathers" seem under developed. But I guess in the end the album lives up to its title. "Momofuku" is a nice snack, something to hold you over till dinner time.

"American Gangster Time"

MP3 File