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WATCH THE SON RISE: Big Star’s Third Live

“An emotional bond there.” (—Jody Stephens): A new concert documentary and accompanying live album document a key Big Star’s Third performance, bringing both catharsis and closure to a long grieving period that’s ultimately transformed into a celebration.

BY FRED MILLS, MICHAEL TOLAND & JOHN B. MOORE

It is, in a very real sense, a culmination. The new DVD/2CD release Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More (Concord Bicyle Music), that is, and a culmination of many things—the trajectory of the troubled (at times near-mythic) third Big Star studio album, originally recorded in 1974 but not released until years after the band had splintered; the subsequent Third (aka Sister Lovers) revival as pushed by Alex Chilton acolytes of the Amerindie ‘80s underground, chief among them members and intimates of The dB’s, whose Chris Stamey had also worked with Chilton; an eventual reunion of Big Star in the ‘90s, with two members of the Posies drafted to bolster Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens in the absence of bassist Andy Hummel and late guitarist Chris Bell—a reunion that came to a tragic end in 2010 when Chilton passed away from a heart attack on the eve of the band performing in Austin at SXSW, thereby ensuring that no one would ever get to hear Chilton himself perform Third; and of course Stamey’s ambitious Big Star’s Third live project, initially mounted at the tail end of 2010 as a concert tribute to the memory of Chilton, and going on to be intermittently staged in numerous cities and countries over the course of the next six years, to much acclaim.

So Big Star’s Third Live brings with it a whiff of finality. Clearly I don’t mean that there won’t be any more artifacts excavated from the vaults; for example, as a recent, exhaustive nine-disc bootleg collection demonstrates, there are a number of tracks that remain officially unreleased, even though the diligent archivists at Omnivore have done some impressive vault-digging themselves as regards material from the Third era. Nor am I suggesting that there won’t be any more live performances of Third or tribute concerts or even potential get-togethers between Stephens and Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer; all that and more is far more likely than not to go down in the future.

No, by “finality” I mean closure for all of us, a means by which to collectively grieve and celebrate, even for those not able to attend one of the live shows. Channeling both those emotions for us, Third Live mainstays Stamey, Stephens, Mitch Easter and Mike Mills—along with string players and a slew of guest vocalists that have included, since 2010, everyone from Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock and the two Posies, to Stamey’s North Carolina collaborators Brett Harris, Skyler Gudasz (both pictured above), and Django Haskins—brought the music vividly alive at the appropriately named Alex Theatre, in Glendale, Calif., almost exactly one year ago (April 27, 2016), for the camera lenses of director Benno Nelson. As you’ll read below in our  tag-team review treatment, it’s a cathartic home-viewing and –listening experience for any fan of Chilton and Big Star—and, I should add, Chris Bell as well, as Stamey (pictured, below) was mindful to include—and sing, with a gorgeous, emphatic grace—Bell’s timeless “I Am The Cosmos” in the Third Live performances.

It’s particularly gratifying for those of us here at BLURT. We’ve covered Big Star scores of times in the past, of course, via obituaries for both Chilton and Andy Hummel; reviewing the Third reissue as well as the Keep an Eye on the Sky career overview box set; covering and photographing the live Third concerts; writing about Holly George-Warren’s exhaustive biography of Chilton; interviewing Drew DeNicola, director of the 2012 Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me; and more. But the band is perhaps closest to our hearts because of the personal connection we’ve forged over time. Not just as fans of the records—yours truly has had the pleasure of interviewing and writing about Big Star in the past, additionally hanging out with Chilton many years ago (he even played my old acoustic guitar for the MTV cameras once upon a time); our publisher Stephen Judge, who is good friends with Stephens, Auer and Stringfellow, was at SXSW that March of 2010 when the news of Chilton’s death broke and, like so many other fans, he attended the impromptu Chilton tribute that unfolded in Austin in the days that followed; and we also hosted our own little Big Star tribute concert a few years later, also in Austin at SXSW, at our annual day party, wherein Stephens, Stringfellow and Auer, along with several guest players and singers, did a set of the music we all love so deeply. Even more recently, our photographer Sadie Claire attended the special Third concert at the 2017 SXSW; you can view her photo gallery from the festival, including numerous BST shots, here.

As Stephens told Rolling Stone not long after Chilton died, “I can’t see us going out [now] as Big Star… But I would hate to compound the loss of Alex by saying, ‘That’s it’ for Ken and Jon, too. I can’t imagine not playing with them. There’s so much fun—but an emotional bond there too.”

And for us too, Jody. It’s been a long—though not unwarranted—grieving period, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up again multiple times while watching the concert film.  Now, though, let’s celebrate. —Fred Mills, BLURT Editor

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 Thank You, Friends: The CDs. You’d be hard pressed to find a band more beloved by fellow musicians and music writers while being wildly underrated by the record-buying public, than Memphis-based power pop band Big Star.

With a name that is savagely ironic, seeing as how none of their albums ever sold well on initial release—their debut was even called #1 Record!—and with the deaths of frontman Alex Chilton, guitarist Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel, drummer Jody Stephens is the only surviving founding member. In the decades since their three-record lifecycle from ’72-to-’78, the band has grown immensely in reputation, managing to become desert island album must-haves to many who now namecheck the band.

Given their place on the Mount Rushmore for fellow talented artists, Thank You, Friends come off more as a genuinely impressive love note to a favorite band rather than a cynical cash grab.

This two-CD set accompanying the concert documentary DVD includes a slew of Big Star fans, like members of Yo La Tengo, Wilco, R.E.M., Semisonic, the dB’s (notably Chris Stamey, the impetus behind the project) and Let’s Active, not to mention Robyn Hitchcock, joining Stephens on stage for an April 2016 show in Glendale, California, highlighting the band’s album Third/Sister Lovers. There are also some fantastic newcomers on the stage, like North Carolina’s Brett Harris and Skylar Gudasz, among others. The set also includes a handful of covers from the band’s first two records, like a beautiful take on “In the Street” and “September Gurls.” (Interestingly, the track sequence for the audio portion of the DVD/2CD package is a good bit different than the video, and it also includes “Back of a Car,” which does not appear on the DVD.)

Big Star may never have truly got the respect they deserved with the first go around, but Thank You, Friends is helping to right a few wrongs by bringing Big Star’s music to a broader audience. —John B. Moore, BLURT Senior Editor and Blogger

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Thank You, Friends: The DVD. Though Big Star’s Third Live is no stranger to stages around the country, it’s still not a project seen by a whole lot of people. Thus the DVD portion of Thank You Friends affords many of us the first chance to see this mini-orchestra in action. And the band does not disappoint. No matter who is at the mic, whether relatively big stars (no pun intended) like R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Robyn Hitchcock, cult favorites like the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins and bandleaders Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, or up-and-comers like Brett Harris and Skyler Gudasz, everyone lets their love of the material shine through.

There’s no doubt how much the music of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell means to them—it’s right there on each and every face. Singer/songwriter Dan Wilson—late of Semisonic and probably the wealthiest person on the stage, thanks to co-writing Adele’s “Someone Like You”—seems particularly moved to be there, putting aside fame and fortune to pay beautiful tribute with “Give Me Another Chance” and “The Ballad of El Goodo.” Even Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who surprisingly looks like he’s out of his depth, still manages to inject, if not passion, as least conviction into “Kizza Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.”

But some of the less well-known names are responsible for the best performances. Mills may have gotten “September Gurls,” surely Big Star’s most famous song, but Gudasz delivers an absolutely lovely “Thirteen,” while Haskins brings the perfect amount of tension to the intense “Holocaust.” Harris, whose old-fashioned singer/songwriter pop springs directly from the Big Star legacy, handles “Kanga Roo” with a perfect balance of passion and vulnerability, looking like he might explode at any moment, but never actually doing it. Gudasz and Harris also serve as utility players, providing extra instruments and a ton of harmony vocals alongside nearly everyone else. Continuity with the Chilton era comes from Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who served in the revived Big Star in the ‘90s and ‘aughts, and original drummer Jody Stephens, who takes his turns in the spotlight (“Blue Moon” and “For You”) but otherwise stays with his drum kit, keeping perfect time on these songs he knows better than anyone.

With backdrops and lighting cues kept minimalist, the focus is purely on the performances, and that’s as it should be. Chilton and his band weren’t big on production numbers, and neither is this ensemble. So it’s only appropriate that, a few frankly inconsequential interviews aside, director Benno Nelson concentrates on capturing the music as it happens. No filter, no effects, nothing between the audience and this timeless rock music. —Michael Toland, BLURT Senior Editor & Blogger

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Below, watch the official film trailer.

 

ETERNAL YOUTH: Robyn Hitchcock

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“The music industry pays people to remain frozen children”: The Bard of Prawns on growing old, innate Englishness, living in Nashville, overt eccentricity, the Beatles, Sinatra, and avoiding Bob Dylan’s broadsides.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY ALISA CHERRY

Most fans would agree that Robyn Hitchcock is an eccentric. Indeed, his random musings about life and general happenstance make both his music and his persona as charming as they are challenging. A wordsmith like no other, his wry observations find him both amusing and thoughtful all at the same time, the result of an unrestrained wit expressed on both stage and in song.

That inventive stance made him a perfect performer for Big Ears, the Knoxville Tennessee festival that courts artists who are decidedly out of the ordinary. Consequently, during his two Friday performances, Hitchcock easily lived up to those expectations, fascinating fans and followers with songs from various intervals in his nearly 40 year career. Oddball favorites like “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” “Raymond Chandler Evening,” “Madonna of the Wasps,” and “I Want to Destroy You,” a song first sung with his seminal band the Soft Boys back in the day, surfaced during his sets, neither of which found any replication. Less familiar were the songs from his upcoming self-titled set, but the fact that his afternoon performance opened with three covers — Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and a relatively obscure song by the late Syd Barrett, the madcap founder of Pink Floyd — clearly suggested he was returning to his roots.

“Time seems to slow down as we get older, because we’ve been through so much of it already,” he remarked at one point, clearly referencing the older individuals in attendance, he himself included. We could go one step beyond; time seems to stand still when Mr. Hitchcock is at the helm.

BLURT spoke with the affable Mr. Hitchcock over lunch, and though he was obviously famished, he was quite willing to chat, even at the expense of his salad and seafood chowder, especially when the subject turned to other English icons and Bob Dylan, an idol of his own. In person and away from the stage, he’s as clever and quick-witted as ever, and over the course of the next hour he freely shared his observations about life, longevity and his love of music.

Robyn Hitchcock’s new album, Robyn Hitchcock, is out this week via Yep Roc. Go HERE to view his American tour dates—and for a cheap thrill, go HERE to see photos of him a few years ago at BLURT’s SXSW day party at which he received a surprise birthday cake from the BLURT gang.

BLURT: You did a song by the late Syd Barrett today. It’s easy to see how he was an influence on you.

He wasn’t around very long so it’s hard to know what he was or what he would have what he would have been.  We don’t know if he was being ironic or not or simply funny. It’s difficult to know when he said things if they were in quotation marks or not. It’s interesting how we Brits come across. I am very British in a way, more like Nick Lowe than John Lennon, who considered himself more American when he died. Or look at someone like Ray Davies who was our version of Chuck Berry. He was mournful without being dreary. Like Chuck Berry, he was very good with words. Like Lou Reed. Very journalistic and yet quite specific. Bowie, on the other hand, would get quite abstract. Bowie didn’t do microcosms much. He got very widescreen.

 

The Beatles and the Stones transcended all that.

The Beatles and the Stones were quite American. They were British blokes with an American repertoire. Their music was mostly by black artists. It was soul music before they even called it soul. The Beatles were very specific, they had these nice little vignettes like with “Strawberry Fields.” But the Stones were already kind of talking American by the time they got over here. They were recording here in ’64. It always surprised me that the Stones were from south London because they sounded so American, but then again, their whole schtick came from Chicago blues. But it was a weird thing how so many British bands at that time played American music. There was almost nothing British at that time except some of the music hall things that the Kinks and the Beatles did, like “When I’m 64.”  But even that was like ragtime. It’s certainly not British folk. There’s no real elements of British music. There was sort of this trans-Atlantic echo. I never really considered myself British or American. I considered myself part of that genre, with the Beatles and Syd Barrett and the like. And I loved Bob Dylan. I don’t break it down into countries. That may be my persona onstage but I don’t know whether the songs themselves have a nationality to them. Obviously they’re not from the Ukraine.

They’re from you. That overrules everything.

Yes, they’re from me.

It’s your persona above everything else.

I guess whatever my persona is in an act. I’m a trans-Atlantic act. I have been since the beginning. The Beatles never sang in an English accent. Maybe Bowie did. And Syd.

Ray Davies did as well.

But it wasn’t a cockney voice like Bowie. (Affects a Cockney voice for “Well Respected Man”)

And Peter Noone as well.

Peter Noone! He had a big effect over here, didn’t he?

He actually sang in an English accent.

The only thing I remember of him was “I’m Into Something Good.”

He did songs like “East West, “No Milk Today.”

That’s really interesting. I guess I need to listen to him again. But in Britain they were never cool. They never got beyond the teenybopper thing. They never wrote their own stuff. They were kind of like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.  I guess it’s the same people that would go see Davy Jones. A friend of mine went to see the Monkees and he could count the number of times he was in tears. Mind you, I was the same way when went to see Ringo. If he played “Yellow Submarine,” I’d just be weeping. My God, it’s Ringo Starr singing “Yellow Submarine” and I’m 150 feet away, seeing him at the Ryman. He’s looking fantastic and sounding great. Then the other guys come on and sing their hits from the ‘80s. I first saw them when Levon Helm was with him.

I saw them at various times with John Entwistle and Jack Bruce.

Really! He picked the ones that were going to exit. He should have called his band The Rehabs, but Ringo stuck with it and they didn’t.

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You did an album of Dylan songs, didn’t you? It was kind of an unofficial release?

Yeah, most of what I do is unintentional. It’s not towards an end. I actually had those lying around. And then we did a whole live show where we replicated the Judas gig. Which again was recorded from a mike on the desk. It wasn’t even a desk tape but it sounded even better than a deck tape. I should probably have mixed the two together. I have so many songs lying about. I do so many live shows where I do Dylan songs.

Have you ever met Dylan?

Oh God no! I wouldn’t want to. Too many people want a piece of Dylan. He has to be the most scrutinized person in the world. I know people who have met him and he generally sort of plays with them but he can and because people have kind of treated him like the crown jewels since 1964. He’s said as much in interviews. I don’t have unconditional love for what he’s done, apart from his momentum years when he had momentum. I would totally avoid him.

What if you were told that he wanted to meet you? Would you be up for it?

If he wants to meet me it’s different, but he may want to meet me just to fuck around with me. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t really trust people, and on some level I like that. But I know people who have worked with him and hardly even saw him. So I don’t think I need to meet him and he doesn’t need to meet me. I know that me and many other people will miss him when he goes and I take comfort in the fact that he’s still there. And I like his approach to time. He accepts it. He’s a reverse Paul McCartney. He shows his scars and leaves the knocks and the chips on him. He hasn’t had any facial work which he could easily afford. He likes to be like an old tree or an old chair. He likes to show all the marks of time, and the paint never dries on his songs. If he does play an old song, it’s unrecognizable. I don’t like that, I’d rather watch McCartney do a crispy version of “Penny Lane” than to see Dylan sing some mangled thing that turns out to be “Visions of Johanna.” I can do a better version of that than he can. He’s moved on and I respect the fact that he’s not beholden to his past. Unfortunately, Paul McCartney and me still have to come up with our old songs in a respective way. I saw Ray Davies a few years ago and he sang “Waterloo Sunset” like he’d never sung it before and it was great.  He didn’t try to change notes or alter the style. Donovan’s like that as well.

They’ve really become a brand.

Yes, and that’s why they’ll stay forever young. Keith can be this old fossilized mummy and Dylan, well he was always this old man. He had a voice like an old man early on. Dylan never had the demeanor of a kid, even in the idolized image of his younger self. He’s so scrutinized. There’s never any expression on his face. He’s like a kind of old, withered gargoyle. His expression has long since been obliterated by the winds of time. It’s a rare position. It’s not like there’s anyone to be that, or it’s a position that occurred before. He talks about Sinatra, and I suppose Sinatra was one of the few people he felt competitive with and had respect for. If Frank speaks to me, I will speak back. There are only a few people Dylan respects or is in awe of. Which is one reason why I wouldn’t want to meet him…Oh God, I can’t remember where I was. My mind’s gone. What were we talking about?

We were talking about how Dylan looked up to Sinatra.

Sinatra and Paul McCartney and Elvis Presley are icons and gods who time can erase or replace. Dylan is an oracle and still is. Sinatra and McCartney might make some pithy points about life, but you’re not going to go up to them thinking they might give you the great psychic fortune cookie that will make you say, “Thank you great master. I am now reprogrammed. Only Dylan did that. He has the curse of being the one that unleashes this stuff. For that reason alone, you really have to stand clear, because he made the error on the personal level of giving all this stuff away, and no people expect him to enlighten me, oh master. I’s a weird gift, and not like anything other celebrities have. Maybe like some professors or poets.

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You now reside in Nashville? What brought you there?

Emma (Swift, his girlfriend). Em was living in Nashville. People go there for a record deal or to make contacts. I went there for a relationship. She’s from Sydney. Then she went back to Sydney and I commuted from Sydney to the Isle of Wight for a year. Then our address was a couple of suitcases for about six months and then we moved back to Nashville.

How do you like it?

I think I do much better here than I do in England, and it’s much easier for me to be based in Nashville. All I have to do is get on a plane or drive. I don’t have to block off lots of time to do things in the States. It’s two hours from anywhere east of the Rockies.

Where were you living before?

I was living in London for ages. I’d go live in the Isle of Wight between relationships. It had become a place for gnarly dudes who liked surfing and stuff, but it all began with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. They had a royal residence down there, but I don’t think she went in the sea much. Alfred Tennyson, who was like the Bruce Springsteen of his era, had a house there in the west, where I tended to hang out. Charles Darwin came and stayed there. Em and I actually lived in Charles Darwin’s house for six months. It still had the same plumbing and the same heating. Then there were the big festivals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, which I went to as a kid. Bob Dylan played there after he was sort of snubbed at Woodstock.

Did you see him there?

I did, and what was especially memorable, was that I saw Jimi Hendrix’s last show. I also saw one of the last Doors gigs. Jim Morrison was very polite. He didn’t reek of imminent doom or anything. They just kind of did a medley of their greatest hits. Hendrix was more alive. He was in a creative arc. I remember seeing a statue of Hendrix at the end of our lane. It made him look very bedraggled.

It must have been very inspiring to live in a place that had such a rich poetic history.

I wrote loads of songs when I lived there. I went there as a kid and I went there for the festivals. My father lived on the island before World War II, so he’d take us there as kids in the ‘60s. So I went to those festivals and then I went back in the ‘80s, and I had a house there on the west end until about ’93. And then I went to Washington D.C. and then London.

What brought you to Washington D.C.?

Cynthia, my partner at the time. She lived there, although we met in San Francisco. So I lived there. But we didn’t last. So then I was back in London, and then on the island and now I’m in Nashville.

Do you miss London?

No. When I moved to Nashville I found it was quicker to get to London from there then it was from the Isle of Wight. Are you okay? I was in a place like that and the same thing happened. It might be my magnetic field. So just blame me. Once I got to Nashville, I spent more time in London. It’s easier to get over there from here. Certainly a lot easily from Sydney, although I like Sydney. London is expensive and damn cold. All the shit that’s happened here has happened there as well.

People also have a certain image of you, certain expectations no doubt. You have this very articulate and witty persona.

It’s sweet of you and I won’t belittle what I do, but it’s only a sort of cult that really knows who I am. I deal with lots of people who expect stuff. When I was on MTV 25 or 30 years ago, I’d go through airports and anybody who was between 25 and 30 years ago would come up to me and say, “Aren’t you Robyn Hitchcock?” They’d want to know the meaning of life, oh master. It slows you down. People are aware of who you are…

Much like now we would guess…

Oh no. Far less. If I’m in a town like this full of people of a certain age, yeah, the people will probably wave and say hello. But they’re not 19 where they’re going to swoon all over your balcony. They’ll nod at you and go back to grazing and doing what they do. It’s really good not to be followed too much.

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Can you imagine yourself at 80?

Well, simply don’t die, that’s all. I’m in a precarious situation. If something goes wrong, I have to be shipped back to Britain to be dismantled. Unless it’s clean kill. I’d rather be cremated here because it’s a lot less expensive.

It’s more about retaining your wit and your persona and moving about in circles with people half your age.

As long as I’m able to function. They might have to freeze your head and remove your whole body. Or be like Stephen Hawking. Jesus. The Me Generation only has five years to go — Dylan, McCartney, the Stones, David Crosby — they’ll all be 80.

They’re in the 70s now, so who would have thought that?

They are have a few quid so I’m sure they’re better off medically than I am. You do what you do and people will enable you to do it. You can always come wheezing in and putting on a show until you start to malfunction. We have all those people who are a dozen years older than me and none of them have packed up. Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe… in a few years they’ll be classics. The surviving Beatles, Dylan, David Crosby… they’re already 75. What I hate is when they start saying 70 years young. I don’t mind saying I’m 64 years old.

Perhaps 80 is the new 60.

The thing is, people of that generation was the first generation not to have to grow up. They were a generation of selfish hippies. It used to be, when I get to 30, I’m going to cut my hair, put on a tie, provide for my family and stop taking drugs. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be come laughing stocks and all that, but the whole schtick of the baby boomers is that you won’t grow up. It’s great that McCartney is still Beatle Paul. And Dylan is still the wise the wise old man. You don’t want the sad old guy with missing hair, and I’m just me. I think the key point here  is that nobody told us we had to grow up> I’m sure there are loads of people back home who say, “Oh God. Poor old Robyn. He never grew up and went off to America. There are people like that who were born after 1940, but there are people who were born in the ‘90s who are now just sort of responsible. The whole point of our generation was that we never grew up.

Eternal youth then.

No, I never grew up. I’m in a business that doesn’t encourage me to grow up. It pays people to remain frozen children. So while Dylan shows time, McCartney defies it. He’s had all the work, he’s had the hair done, you watch him from 200 yards away and he still looks like Beatle Paul. Jagger still moves like Jagger. I saw a video and I thought, this guy moves like Jim Morrison, and it was Jagger. He was aping all his movements. But his dad was a physical education instruction. And with people like Dylan and Keith (Richards), you’re bound to get attention even though they’re gnarly old people with terrible teeth and knotty hair.

Below: Hitchcock with the author.

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THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON… Brian Jonestown Massacre

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BJM may have set the controls for the heart of the sun, ultimate destination unknown, but nobody’s cruising on autopilot here on this psychedelic Krautrock/shoegaze epic—on gorgeous yellow vinyl, to boot.

By FRED MILLS

After Anton Newcombe, the mad genius behind Cali space rockers the Brian Jonestown Massacre, relocated (fled? teleported? dematerialized?) to Berlin, he set about assembling a recording complex. The resulting Cobra Studio soon yielded Revelation, followed by Third World Pyramid which, with its trippy mélange of fuzzed-out psych, West Coast-styled modal folk-rock, droney Krautrock, and even the occasional Beatlesque jangle-pop flourish, was one of 2016’s shining avatars of mind-expansion/-immersion music. That the LP’s die-cut sleeve mimicked the old Spacemen 3 numeral logo was certainly no accident, either, considering that Newcombe and erstwhile S3 guitarist Sonic Boom are musical birds of a feather. Raise your hand if you coveted the purplish-tinted vinyl the record was pressed on, too.

Now comes the follow-up, the group’s 16th studio full-length, released as usual on Newcombe’s own A Recordings label, distributed Stateside via Forced Exposure, which should be a TMOQ in any music fan’s book. While it’s almost inconceivable that BJM could top Third World Pyramid, that’s exactly what they’ve done, on all fronts—sonically, stylistically, even design-wise, with two slabs of almost fluorescent yellow 180gm. vinyl housed in a brilliantly-hued gatefold sleeve that depicts circuitry in extreme close-up on the outside and alien-green lyrics littering the inside to resemble code raining down a computer screen a la The Matrix. (Consumer note: download code not included, but the album’s on Spotify. Below, the new album and its predecessor.)

BJM colored vinyl

The 2LP set (or single CD) kicks off already in high gear with “Open Minds Now Close,” an eight-minute, motoric slice of propulsion rock awash in pulsing guitar drones and shimmering synth lines that, indeed, recalls Spacemen 3 at its Sonic Boom-Jason Pierce peak. A couple of tracks later we get the titled-too-perfect-for-its-time “Resist Much Obey Little,” a thrumming, Velvet Underground-esque number. Soon enough “Groove Is in the Heart”—not the early ‘90s Deee-Lite hit—cues up, darkly ominous with shuddery waves of tremolo and deep-space twang, plus Tess Parks’ languid call and response vocals with Shaun Rivers lending a decisively stoned edge to the proceedings.

Whew. Not even halfway through the album and you’ve already taken a series of interdimensional skips. Plenty more to come, from the minimalist, pastoral, mellotron/piano-powered “One Slow Breath” and the pounding, cavernous “Throbbing Gristle” (homage?), which features Parks on lead vocals this time; to the hypnotic, Joy Division/New Order-like “Fact 67” featuring the Charlatan’s Tim Burgess on vocals, and shoegazey instrumental “UFO Paycheck.” Nearly half of the tracks here top the five-minute mark, giving the players plenty of room to stretch out, almost in jamming fashion but typically utilizing repetition of riffs and grooves to lock the listener’s body onto the same wavelength. Here and there BJM also slip off onto odd stylistic tangents—a freeform, sax-led jazzy “Geldenes Herz Menz,” for example, a kind of Madchester rave anthem titled “Acid 2 Me Is No Worse than War,” and a droning final track sung entirely in German, “Ich Bin Klang.” These serve to reinforce the record’s take-a-trip-with-us vibe, because nothing about this band is random; they may have set the controls for the heart of the sun, ultimate destination unknown, but nobody’s cruising on autopilot here.

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Newcombe and bandmates Ricky Maymi, Dann Allaire, Collin Hegna, and Ryan Van Kriedt are joined by TWP alumni Emil Nikolaisen (of Serena-Maneesh) and Parks (who, as before, brings a kind of Nico-meets-Hope Sandoval edge to the songs that she sings on), plus Pete Fraser (Pogues, New Young Pony Club) on sax, and both Rivers and Burgess on vocals. Tellingly, the sleeve also lists “Ghosts” in the personnel credits: There is indeed a ghost or two in this machine, a haunting, haunted probe of the inner eye in all its psychedelic glory.

Below: watch a complete BJM concert from the Caberet Vert festival in France last year – in HD, no less.

FLOWERS’ POWER: Paul McCartney

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The Upshot: Expanded reissue of 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt is the sound of Macca picking himself up after taking some hits on a remarkably diverse (read: hit or miss, and at times downright bizarre) album, now expanded into the usual multi-disc and now-obligatory multi-vinyl iterations.

 BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

The 1980s was a decade of mixed success for Paul McCartney. McCartney II (1980) offered a rare glimpse at his quirky side, while Tug of War (1982) showcased him in fine form. Then things got rocky. There was the decidedly lackluster Pipes of Peace (1983); the success of the “Say Say Say” single (due to his paring up with the biggest star in the world at that time, Michael Jackson); the debacle of the Give My Regards to Broad Street film in 1984 (though the soundtrack yielded a good single in “No More Lonely Nights”); and the puzzling Press (1986), which peaked at #30 (his lowest charting release since — well, ever) and failed to even go gold.

So McCartney took his time before releasing his next major record (he did bang out an album of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, Choba B CCCP — “Back in the USSR” — initially released in Russia only in 1988; worldwide release came in 1991). He even reached for a little outside help on his songs, collaborating with Elvis Costello. The extra effort paid off; 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt was certainly McCartney’s strongest album since Tug of War, and set the stage for his return to live performance.

At the time, much was made over the McCartney/McManus (Costello’s real name) songwriting team. But with one exception, the best songs on Flowers are McCartney’s. That exception is the album’s first song (and single), the poppy “My Brave Face”; it’s about a romantic breakup, but as a song about loss, it’s become more poignant since the death of McCartney’s first wife, Linda. The rest of the pair’s numbers aren’t as successful. In interviews at the time, McCartney loved to say how the collaboration on “You Want Her Too” (where both McCartney and Costello vie for the attentions of the same woman) echoed that of the positive/negative interplay with John Lennon on “Getting Better.” But frankly the McCartney/McManus number sounds forced and drags. Similarly, the Irish-gospel of “That Day is Done” is a painfully slow dirge. Though “Don’t Be Careless,” is interesting because it’s so bizarre; McCartney tortures his voice into a high register as he describes paranoid visions of his loved one being “chopped up into two little pieces.” Substantially darker than “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

On his own, McCartney comes up with good, strong material. “Put It There” is trademark McCartney, a simple, lovely number about a father passing on his wisdom to his son. The funky “Rough Ride” is surprisingly lustful if you take a closer look at the lyrics. Yet the man who once championed “Silly Love Songs” now viewed the subject from a perspective that’s decidedly bittersweet. The gentle “Distractions” is about how love subsides in the face of day-to-day life, while “We Got Married” makes the observation, “It’s not just a loving machine, it doesn’t work out if you don’t work at it.” Even the ostensibly catchy “This One” is somewhat regretful in its admission that we don’t often take the time to tell a loved one how much they mean to us.

The rest is more of a mixed bag. “Figure of Eight” is pleasant, but unsubstantial (oddly, McCartney chose this song to open his 1989/90 shows, instead of something more instantly recognizable). The vaguely reggae-ish “How Many People” is an agreeable let’s-make-the-world-a-better place tune. The closer, “Motor of Love” is a dreaded power ballad, sounding even worse due to those awful ’80s production techniques (e.g. processed drums). The original bonus track, “Ou est le Soleil” (“Where is the Sun”) is a bit of fun, McCartney indulging his penchant for dance rock (cue the extended remixes!).

There’s a 2-CD/2-LP version that includes eight original demos between McCartney and Costello, especially interesting as they include demos of songs that didn’t appear on Flowers (“Playboy to a Man” is nicely high spirited). And for the truly indulgent experience, there’s a 3-CD/1-DVD box set, also featuring a 112 book about the making of the album, and some other goodies. The most fun item is a cassette, featuring three of the McCartney/Costello demos. The set’s other CD features even more demos. But someone made the boneheaded decision to have the original Flowers era B-sides and remixes (four of “Ou est le Soleil”!) only available through download, not on a fourth CD. In a bizarre non-interview with SuperDeluxeEdition.com, McCartney’s manager Scott Rodger apparently indicated (SDE’s Paul Sinclair noted, “To stress, these are not direct quotes from Scott and these aren’t necessarily the exact questions I asked, but I’ve created the questions and answers below to try and simplify and clarify the points of view”) that there was a belief that people are more excited about streaming, hence there was no need to have a fourth CD in the set. Wrong. As the commentary on sites like amazon makes clear, people spending over $100 bucks on a set (Flowers’ Super Deluxe is retailing for $117.99 at amazon), would much, much prefer to have everything on CDs (with accompanying downloads available, but not featuring any exclusive material). There are also some complaints that not every Flowers era B-side was used.

Flowers in the Dirt

The DVD is stuffed as well, featuring the numerous videos created for the tracks, back when videos still mattered (including a truly embarrassing one for “My Brave Face,” about an avaricious Japanese collector of Beatles memorabilia); footage of McCartney and Costello working in the studio; and the documentary Put It There. In short, a comprehensive look at Paul McCartney’s professional life in 1989.

Flowers in the Dirt is Paul McCartney picking himself back up after taking some hits. What else could you expect from Mr. Thumbs-Up? You can knock him down, but he’s always going to get right back up again. Good on ya, Paul!

 

THE INDELIBLE SOUND OF… Wire

Wire 2017

“We weren’t immediately lauded as the best thing since sliced bread”: Four decades on, a Wire gig—not to mention a new album—continues to be “an event. To mark the recent release of Silver/Lead and the band’s DRILL Los Angeles festival, we cast our minds back to the British band’s boisterous beginnings via an archival interview with vocalist Colin Newman, originally conducted in 2006. (Scroll down for list of upcoming DRILL shows in Europe.)

BY FRED MILLS

Late last month, Wire—original members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey (aka Gotobed), plus guitarist-since-2010 Matt Simms—released their latest studio album, Silver/Lead via, as is their custom, via their own Pink Flag label. Yours truly, in a (cough) succinct review, observed thusly:

Silver/Lead, with its immersive sonic immediacy and lack of abrasiveness, plus rich, colorful melodic schema, has a near-irresistible appeal, Right from the get-go, the grand power chords, monolith-like drums, and belching synth lines of “Playing Harp for the Fishes” signal a cinematic ride ahead. Vocalist Colin Newman, figuratively perched at the lip of the stage, fairly leans into your face to dramatically intone words that feel more like commands than lyrics. Later on, with “Sleep on the Wing,” a brace of chiming, echoing guitars and undulating keyboards conjures a purposefully dreamy, kosmiche ambiance. Even the album’s quote-unquote “pop single,” a three-minute, hooky romp titled “Short Elevated Period,” has an almost Phil Spector-esque wall-of-sound vibe.

It almost as if Wire set out to make a concept album without actually calling it a concept album, so consistent is the sound throughout, and with subtly recurring melodic themes—compare, for example, the similarity between the main chord progression of “Playing Harp…” and the closing title track. However, given how inscrutable most of the lyrics (penned largely by bassist Graham Lewis) are, some almost haiku-ish or like a series of non sequiturs, it might be hard to make that concept claim stick. The musicians themselves might be aghast at such a label anyway. (Or maybe not. Stay tuned, or scroll downward.)

silver lead

Still, the four gentlemen are nothing if not bloody minded. Unlike most of their peers from the class of ’77, they never quite knew when to stop, having indulged numerous hiatuses that weren’t true hiatuses (they would play on each other’s side projects), created a musical collective (Pinkflag.com eventually becoming the official URL) that operates more like a club house than a project, and announced the proverbial “new direction” numerous times while still maintaining a detectable through-line across 14 studio albums and more than a few live releases. Four decades on, with studio album number 15, Wire continues to thwart expectations and defy pigeonholing,

I count myself among the Wire faithful who were with the band practically from the start, having scored a copy of their 1977 debut, Pink Flag, which against all odds had been released in the States on the EMI imprint Harvest. That their U.S. label was one normally associated with British prog and avant-folk artists was an irony lost upon no one—but then, even at the outset, Wire’s art-punk seemed more aligned with the Krautrockers and experimentalists of the day than the safety-pinned brigades, a notion that was seemingly confirmed on ’78 sophomore platter Chairs Missing, and even more so on 1979’s 154. Those three albums continue to inspire fans, and it’s likely a new fanbase was created in 2006 when Pink Flag reissued them in America, additionally releasing the 5-CD box set Wire: 1977 – 1979 containing three original albums plus a pair of previously unreleased live discs: Live at the Roxy, London – April 1st & 2nd 1977 and Live at CBGB Theatre, New York – July 18, 1978.

wire box

It was on the occasion of that box that I found myself on the horn to London one afternoon, talking to Colin Newman for Harp magazine (for whom I was managing editor and also author of the publication’s “Indelibles” column, which discussed key and classic albums). What follows here is an extended draft of the Wire installment of that column; after that, if you have some extra time to waste, you can read the entire, unfiltered, previously unpublished interview. What was originally going to be about a 20 minute conversation with Newman soon stretched to the better portion of an hour, and he was genuinely one of the most outgoing and gracious musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing.

drill poster

Incidentally, Wire just marked the 40th anniversary of the abovementioned Roxy performance, which as it turns out was the band’s official live coming-out party. (There had been a prior performance at a college under a different name than Wire.)  Elsewhere on the BLURT site you can view a photo gallery from DRILL Los Angeles by longtime contributor Susan Moll. We’ve faithfully covered the band in our nearly nine years of existence, and if you have even more time to waste, just enter the term “wire” into the search box on the right-hand side of this page and dive right in. Happy birthday, lads.

APRIL 1, 1977, LONDON: Wire is onstage at the Roxy club, nearing the end of a 17-song set – which, in a flourish of Ramones-like economy, will clock in at barely 25 minutes. Caustic sexual diatribe “12XU” is followed by the fuck-you society rant “Mr. Suit.” Then, with barely a pause between tunes, the band catapults into a cover of the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over.” Shorn of its feel-good vibe and delivered at breakneck speed, the ‘60s pop chestnut is reinvented as a punk anthem steeped in irony.

Clearly, this band Wire will be greeted as an upstart conquering hero here at this grotty punk venue (the Roxy was previously a gay club located in London’s Covent Garden section), which has chosen April 1 and 2 to showcase the cream of up-and-coming British combos for a two-day “Punk Festival.” Wire’s in good company, too, sharing a bill with the likes of X-Ray Spex, Slaughter and the Dogs, the Adverts and the Buzzcocks.

“Glad All Over” throttles to its conclusion, and then – dead silence. Nothing. Stunned disbelief on the part of the Roxy audience, outright indifference, or….?

Wire 70s

“There wasn’t anybody there!”

Wire vocalist Colin Newman chortles heartily. Three decades after his band’s official debut as a quartet, his memory, in 2006, of Wire’s early days remains fresh. All the more remarkable, given his band’s fractious career that’s seen more than its share of breakups, reunions, extended hiatuses, and concurrent solo careers.

Part of Newman’s good mood is due to his having recently completed long-after-the-fact postproduction work on live tapes of the Roxy shows – originally recorded by EMI, two Wire songs would be included on 1977 punk compilation The Roxy London WC2 (Jan – Apr 77) and he’s now high-spiritedly framing the scene.

“On the first night we were the opening band – the opening band on a five-band bill in a club holding 100 people,” explains Newman. “That’s pretty lowly! So it has to be pointed out that the reason it’s so quiet between songs is because no one was there [yet] that night. In fact, because the Wire tracks on that live Roxy album were so quiet, a lot of people thought they’d actually been recorded in a studio! On the second night they’d moved us up on the bill because they thought we were quite good, but we still weren’t that high. I think we were still behind X-Ray Spex, who were newer than we were.

“You wouldn’t have imagined anything was happening at this point. It all just sort of happened, really. Less than six months later we were recording Pink Flag.”

pink flag

Ah. Pink Flag. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine a modern musical milieu without the DNA strands of Wire and its debut LP winnowing around in the mix – on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years American heavy hitters as sonically diverse as R.E.M., Mission of Burma, and the Minutemen have enthusiastically cited Wire’s influence, while the current crop of UK neo-postpunkers  — Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Githead et al — could do worse than to simply sign over a portion of their royalties to Newman, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, drummer Robert Gotobed (nee Grey), and bassist Graham Lewis. (Ditto that: In 1995 Britpop upstarts Elastica literally nicked the angular, loping intro to Pink Flag’s “Three Girl Rhumba” and, upon grafting it into their own “Connection,” took the Wire influence directly to the bank; the matter was subsequently settled out of court.)

The road to Pink Flag was paved with, not so much fortuity or luck, as sober-headed deliberation. The group initially began life at Watford art school in 1976 as Overload; lasting one gig, Overload then gradually morphed into Wire after fellow students Newman, Gilbert and guitarist and principal songwriter George Gill recruited Newman and Gotobed, although Gill’s tenure came to an end after only six gigs when the other four determined that pointed, streamlined tunes with an eye towards maximum initial impact trumped Gill’s more traditionally-minded material steeped in solos and extended choruses.

One fortuitous stroke did occur when producer Mike Thorne, who’d overseen the Roxy club recordings for EMI, took a liking to Wire. At Thorne’s urging, EMI offered a contract, and by the fall the band was hard at work in London’s venerable Advision Studios, crafting Pink Flag with Thorne at the helm. EMI no doubt thought it was getting a one-two-three-FOWAHH! punk band for its cash, although in hindsight, signing Wire to its progressive imprint Harvest and not EMI proper has to go down as one of rock’s great Freudian slips.

“Wire were not a punk band,” Newman vehemently maintains. “Any attitudes that would be coming from [punk], we would be of the opposite direction. Secondly, you have people who were really, really serious about the music. To have a record with your name on it, that’s a serious thing and you’re not gonna blow this chance. You’re gonna do it really properly.”

Newman adds that while at this stage the musicianship in Wire wasn’t quite up to, say, Yes or Genesis standards, a lot of thought and strategy went into the making of Pink Flag. “There were a bunch of people with points to prove, including Mike Thorne,” he says. For his part, Thorne proposed that Wire could draw from both the heavy metal and pop fields in order to make a record that was simultaneously accessible and true to its creators’ art school-fueled leanings. The massive wall of guitars – a pair of two-chord sequences overdubbed eight times — that greets listeners’ ears on opening track “Reuters,” for example, reflected the metal aesthetic (Newman recalls band members exclaiming, “Yeah, we like that!” at the playback). Elsewhere, while the album is dotted by numerous cuts that speed abrasively past in under a minute, more tuneful material such as “Ex-Lion Tamer” (a joyful, lyrically absurd romp) and the title track (a kind of upside-down take on Chuck Berry, and one of several overtly political numbers on the album) clearly speak to Wire’s and Thorne’s hunch that the band could be, as Newman puts it, “pop and avant garde at the same time.”

(Newman hastens to point out that, seriousness of intent aside, a lot of humor could be found in Wire: “It was extremely deadpan and all done with a very straight face, so a lot of people didn’t understand that there was humor in it. But listen to the Roxy thing – absolutely hilarious! You understand something about Wire that you can’t necessarily understand listening to Pink Flag. I mean, same band, in the same way, in the same style, doing ‘Glad All Over’?!?”)

Journalist Simon Reynolds, in his insightful 2005 post-punk post-mortem Rip It Up And Start Again, cites Pink Flag’s key attributes: “21 bursts of abstract fury in just 35 minutes,” “enigmatic lyrics and non-linear dream logic” and “songs as exquisitely etched as a finely honed haiku.” Similar plaudits greeted Pink Flag in the UK upon its release in late ’77, and Wire soon found itself doing photo sessions for all the British weeklies. A tour supporting the Tubes further exposed Wire to the masses, and Newman recalls the sense of momentum that began kicking in.

“We did a series of Saturdays at a pub called the Red Cow in Hammersmith. It held 200. We started off the first Saturday with it half full. The second Saturday was three-fourths full, and on the third it was completely full. That fourth Saturday there were as many outsiders who couldn’t get in as there were on the inside. I remember my friends would be like, ‘Wow – this is really happening, man.’ Everyone who was in a band would come and see us and tell us how much they loved us – Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire. A Wire gig was definitely an event.”

Wire’s reception over here was a bit different. Thanks to Pink Flag being released by EMI in America, the band enjoyed a leg up, distribution-wise, that many of its contemporaries weren’t privy to. The record did find its way into stores. Yours truly, however, working in 1977-78 for a record store chain’s distribution center, distinctly recalls spotting several cartons of Pink Flag promos earmarked for the warehouse’s dumpster. Upon rescuing a handful of LPs (I still own a sealed copy) I opened one and played it over the in-house stereo; the looks of horror and outright hostility that warehouse workers immediately directed at me suggested that elsewhere in the American heartland, at that very same moment, similar reactions to Wire might be taking place. As Newman drily puts it upon hearing my anecdote, “We weren’t immediately lauded as the best thing since sliced bread.”

Wire didn’t do itself any favors by only coming to the U.S. once during the seventies, and high profile though a five-night residency at CBGB (in July of ’78) may have been in theory, in practice it rendered the band non-starters on these shores. EMI didn’t even bother to release its second album in America. So for the most part it would be up to college radio and the loose network of punk fanzines to get the word out on Wire; both Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus trashed the album, in Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, respectively, so Pink Flag would have to settle for having a delayed, halo effect upon American youth. It would take the hardcore movement of the ‘80s – the SST Records camp, the DC and Boston scenes – to fully appreciate Wire’s minimalist, rejection-of-rock-dogma, approach.

Meanwhile, Wire went about its business at home, touring extensively in Britain and Europe and recording two more groundbreaking albums with producer Thorne, 1978’s Chairs Missing and 1979’s 154. Each represented a huge step forward for the band: Chairs Missing, compared to its predecessor, was lush with keyboards, borderline psychedelic and contained the near-hit single “Outdoor Miner”; 154, densely textured and cloaked in atmosphere, prefigured in places the ambient techno scene of the ‘90s.

Comparing the recording of each album, Newman recalls the debut as being “quite fraught. It wasn’t necessarily grueling but there was a lot of frayed tempers when we were recording the backing tracks. If Robert didn’t keep a steady speed Graham would stop playing and then they’d have a fight and the sticks would go flying across the room. Chairs Missing was fun, and because we could play better we found it easier to put the backing tracks down and there was also more overdubbing. That’s an exciting thing to be able to do, when you first start to get the whole feel of overdubbing, adding parts that were not done in the original and taking a track somewhere. That was obviously a key to how then things developed in the following album.”

Yet by the time of 154 Wire had effectively divided into two camps, the defiantly avant-garde Lewis and Gilbert and the Newman-Gotobed contingent, who Newman says was “still interested in retaining a really broad canvas for the band.” Thorne was stuck in the middle, attempting to extract singles-oriented material from the band in order to appease the powers that be at EMI.

Everything came to a head during the making of 154, says Newman, partly as a result of EMI’s demands, partly due to the band’s collective bloody-mindedness, and to a large degree the byproduct of diverging agendas among the members themselves. “Personal relations in Wire have always been very, very difficult. We’ve never been friends and it’s never been an easy kind of thing. Chairs Missing had been joyful and sunny and the joy of a band discovering they could really play and then just taking that and pushing it further in the studio. Whereas working on 154, it had some very horrible moments, ambition pushing it in different directions.”

Not long after the release of 154 Wire embarked upon an ill-fated tour with Roxy Music that found the group, much to EMI’s displeasure, quitting the tour after only a few shows. Tension between band and label was further fueled when Wire did a series of performance art-heavy concerts in November ’79 that barely featured any of the new 154 material. The following February Wire announced it had left EMI, citing a “breakdown of communication” (e.g., EMI wouldn’t fund some of the group’s ideas for promoting Wire – among those ideas, filming videos).

Wire played a concert on February 29 at London’s Electric Ballroom. Again heavy on multimedia content and performance art, the show was recorded for posterity and eventually released by Rough Trade in 1981 as the Document and Eyewitness album. By that point, however, Wire had been absent for over a year. It would be four more years before anyone would hear from the band.

*****

wire middle

“I look back now and I think… pfffttt, we were pretty damn arrogant, you know?” remarks Colin Newman, of Wire’s burning desire to keep moving forward artistically at the expense of its own commercial fortunes. “We just didn’t give a stuff about what anybody thought. We just felt it was obvious we had to do something else. You’ve got to remember, we were in the first serious, postmodern critical era in terms of what rock music was about. We could say, ‘But what happened to Pink Floyd? Why did they become rubbish?’ Well, they got rubbish because they just did more of the same, but weaker, adding water to their formulas.”

The members of Wire, always determined not to get painted into a Floydian corner, remained musically active during the first half of the ‘80s, Newman issuing string of solo records, Gilbert and Lewis teaming up in various guises (Dome, Duet Emmo He Said, Cupol, Lewis/Gilbert), and Gotobed doing session work. 1985 saw the four men resume operations as Wire for another five years, and then again in 2000, the latter reunion yielded 2003’s stunning Send and a lengthy tour (documented on the CD/DVD package The Scottish Play: 2004). In the fall of 2005, however, Bruce Gilbert gave his notice that he was leaving Wire for good.

“This last version if Wire, the version that did Send, was supposed to be the version that was built to last,” muses Newman. There’s a long pause, followed by an equally long exhalation. “It didn’t happen. That was a great album and that whole thing should have gone some place. Actually, the timing of these re-releases, it was supposed to be Send, and then the re-releases, and then a new Wire album, all like a virtual circle. But it just hasn’t happened.”

Newman diplomatically declines to go into specifics, simply saying, “It’s an incredibly sad story. There were moments when maybe something could’ve been done, but I don’t really know. But anyway, I don’t want to talk it down. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.”

Indeed he is. In addition to spearheading the Pink Flag America reissues of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 and penning each disc’s liner notes, Newman has overseen a 5-CD box set, Wire: 1977 – 1979. It includes the three original albums housed in mini-LP sleeves plus a pair of previously unreleased live discs: Live at the Roxy, London – April 1st & 2nd 1977 goes all the way back to the beginning, with both Wire sets from the Punk Festival, while Live at CBGB Theatre, New York – July 18, 1978 documents one night of Wire’s 1978 CBGB residency. The limited-edition box is available exclusively at Wire’s website, www.PostEverything.com).

“I probably care more than I should,” says Newman, acknowledging his role as de facto curator of the Wire archives. (2004 also saw the release of Wire on the BOX: 1979, a live DVD/CD package.) “Some people in Wire may be nervous about going too far, and it’s the infuriating thing about Wire which makes the internal relationships very difficult. But I just think that Wire deserves, in this late stage in its life, to receive adulation. The amount of love that Wire gets for what it’s achieved, and what it’s achieved in more than one incarnation, well…

“We’re not going to turn into some kind of squidgy, sentimental thing and all of a sudden do ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ or something like that, you know what I mean?”

***

The complete Colin Newman interview is here on the BLURT site.

Wire: The Colin Newman Interview

Wire.1987

The Wire/Colin Newman Interview: This conversation was conducted 5/5/06 via transatlantic phone call to England.

BY FRED MILLS

Ed. note: In 2006 when Wire’s label Pink Flag reissued the first three Wire albums in America, additionally releasing the 5-CD box set Wire: 1977 – 1979 containing three original albums plus a pair of previously unreleased live discs: Live at the Roxy, London – April 1st & 2nd 1977 and Live at CBGB Theatre, New York – July 18, 1978, I had the pleasure of talking to Colin Newman for Harp magazine (for whom I was managing editor and also author of the publication’s “Indelibles” column, which discussed key and classic albums). On the previous page you can read a new version of that feature along with comments on the new album Silver/Lead and the band’s recent DRILL Los Angeles festival marking the band’s 40th anniversary. Below, read the entire, unfiltered, previously unpublished interview with Newman.

FRED MILLS: You seem to do the lion’s share of interview duties…

COLIN NEWMAN: Wire is a difficult beast, and the internal relationships are not great. I tend to do that simply because some people would see an interview in a completely different light, whereas I take the view that it’s the connection between the art and the public, and it’s quite an important thing to be able to explain something, to understand, to make connections. It’s not just pure commerce, you know? There’s a role for explaining art, although some people are less interested in that. You know? [laughs]

For me it’s all about communication, and I think that’s something I discovered. When I was younger I didn’t really “get” interviews; I didn’t get the point of all that. I mean, I knew it was important to be on the cover of the NME, but I didn’t really know how you got there or anything about that. So over the years I found I have more and more in common with the journalists I was talking to because I was interested in some of the things they were interested in. I mean, I’m a fan of music! I like to analyze how things fit together – what has led to what, and just what’s noticed and what’s unnoticed, and to take a journalistic attitude towards the medium. Certainly journalists find that attractive because I can kind of talk the same language, so to speak. And Wire is certainly not a we’re-all-down-the-bar kind of band, you know? There are different attitudes towards how you do that thing.

I’ll give you a brief anecdote to illustrate how my awareness of Wire evolved. Back when Pink Flag came out I was working in a record chain’s distribution warehouse, and since this is 1977-78, there were a lot of, shall we say, old-school employees with more of a redneck/classic rock mentality. So we got a box of LP promos for Pink Flag and a couple of us who were already into punk and new music grabbed copies for ourselves. One afternoon I and a friend put Pink Flag on the warehouse stereo. The looks of revulsion and horror and anger on some of the faces of those workers was priceless! It was thrilling and I knew we were onto something. At any rate, the residual point here that I came to realize many years later is that, regardless of what the general public’s reaction to Wire may have been compared to those like myself who were in the know, Wire still had a leg up on a lot of other bands of the era because you did have that Capitol Records distribution in the States and you did have the chain warehouses getting those records into the stores. So, in theory, there was a far greater awareness of Wire than a lot of the others. People could choose to ignore you, but you were still there in the stores.

Yes, that was a huge point. In fact, this is one of the things which is kind of strange because there’s a kind of shorthand for a lot of Americans for Pink Flag. A lot of American journalists thought it was a punk album. Well, from a British point of view it certainly was not a punk album and it was never regarded as a punk album. Punk was something that happened a year before – the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned. Wire were something else, and you knew it was something different. Whereas America didn’t get most of that stuff. They got the Sex Pistols, the Clash. But then the rest was all on import only. So obviously that made a huge difference.

So Pink Flag had national distribution in America and that’s what I think really made a big difference in the American story of Wire. The American story and the British story of Wire are two very different things. Because what happened was, the first album got out there, in ’77 and ’78, and it kind of seeped into many areas, being in national distribution. But by the time we got to play there in ’78, certainly the effect had not been that great. We weren’t immediately lauded as the best thing since sliced bread.

In fact the first reviews were pretty rubbish in America! I have testament to all that. The two most famous journalists who reviewed Pink Flag thought it was rubbish. Lester Bangs who wrote an incomprehensible review, and basically you got the general information that the LP wasn’t much good. And the other guy was Greil Marcus, which is interesting, because this guy who rubbished Pink Flag in Rolling Stone put the Githead album in his Top 3 for last year!

The second wave of reviews that came through for Pink Flag were more positive. Kind of another generation of reviewers going, “It doesn’t all quite add up…” But the gut reaction of Americans was not very positive towards Wire.

There were punk fanzines that clued into it, and I had one myself a bit later and we loved Wire. I talked to Mike Watt from the Minutemen not long ago and he told me about what a huge impact Wire had on him. He read about it in a fanzine so he went out and grabbed it. So the record did find its way into certain hands.

I think it did. It was that other thing. The reason it was not loved in the beginning is because there’s something quite “other” about it. It doesn’t conform to any of the rules of rock ‘n’ roll as they were at the time. America could understand the Ramones; the Ramones had done that thing of simplifying, but it was a joyous thing. Whereas the Wire approach wasn’t so sympathetic. I personally don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, you see. There you’ve got the core of it. I have a big problem with rock ‘n’ roll as a kind of medium. I always just think of some fat blokes taking the stage going [in lunkhead voice], “Rawk en rawlll….” It’s like, no, no, no – it’s something else. It’s all about art.

In Mojo you were quoted referring to Wire as “contextless.” And rock ‘n’ roll is all about context.

It is all about context. And because of that I really think you could just say that Wire is “differently contexted.” [laughs] Because it always is about context. There’s also a v very British attitude there. We played CBGBs in 1978, and people were coming up to us – this girl came up to me and said, “My 16 year old kid brother can play better than you can.” And I said, “Yeah? Well, I’m standing on stage and he isn’t.” She didn’t really have much to say to that. But there were some people who loved it. Some people were insulted because there was no obvious musicianship on display. There was ensemble playing because the band had always been able to play together, but it wasn’t about virtuosity and it never has been.

It seems like a lot of people tried to characterize it as a lot of short songs and that’s clearly not the case. To this day a lot of people seem to misunderstand Pink Flag.

I think Wire continues to be misunderstood in many ways. A lot of people who imagine Wire did three albums in the ‘70s and then the noble thing to do was to not go on until later – that’s completely wrong, the circumstances were entirely different. If you’ve read that Mojo piece you’ll know a lot more about the truth.

Regarding the shortness, some of them were long and some were short – there just happened to be a lot on one record! From my point of view, that came about in the transition from the five piece to the four piece Wire. When we had to get rid of George Gill and had to come up with new material, one of the things was that I was very much reacting to what George had been about, which was traditional rock ‘n’ roll, solos and all that kind of stuff. We’d already got to the point where we were playing all George’s material, but without the solos, so they were a lot shorter without the solos. Then it became obvious that was a good style to write in. You didn’t need to have any more. Because you’ve got the singer writing the tunes it became about the music being enough to carry what needed to be said in the vocal and not much more. And then there were also other pieces counter to that where it was a bit more of an extended story – say, in “Reuters” or something like that, where there is a bit more of a narrative.

Do you remember your first gig as a four-piece?

Yes, that was the one at the Roxy. April the first, 1977.

What went through your mind when you were listening to those tapes for the box set?

Well, I did quite a lot of work on them, actually because there had to be a good deal of post-production that went into it. They were not geniusly recorded, so I had to up some of the tonal qualities and all that stuff. So I went through them quite a lot, and they are hilarious! Absolutely hilarious. You understand something about Wire by listening to that Roxy thing that you can’t understand by listening to Pink Flag. Because Pink Flag sounds deadly serious. Whereas [on the live tapes] you hear the same band, in the same way, in the same style, doing “Glad All Over.” Which is like, “Now hang on, this is not deadpan humor, but this isn’t quite as serious as we thought it was….” I think it’s a very good key to understanding why Wire always said there was a lot of humor in it and why a lot of people didn’t understand that there was humor in it. Because it was extremely deadpan and all done with a very straight face.

The absolute moment is at the point during the second night when Graham tells a heckler to arse off. [laughs] It’s just hilarious.

Interestingly, Jon Savage, who wrote a review of that show for Sounds and later used it in his book England’s Dreaming, that’s exactly what he had remembered. I talked to him because we’re actually quite good friends and told him I was going to use this from the Roxy, and he knew exactly – “Oh, that bit when Graham tells that heckler to arse off. That was the high spot of the evening!” And I thought, wow, what a memory. And he kind of filled in a lot of details for me exactly what the atmosphere was. Because the Wire tracks used on that Live At the Roxy album was so quiet, a lot of people thought they were recorded in a studio. It has to be pointed out that the reason it’s so quiet between songs is because there wasn’t anybody there! [laughs] On the first night we were the opening band. The opening band on a five-band bill, in a club holding 100 people. That’s pretty lowly. On the second night they’d moved us up because they thought we were quite good. But we weren’t that high – I think we were still before X-Ray Spex, who were newer than we were.

You wouldn’t have imagined anything was happening at that point. It was just, yeah, we’re doing this gig, we’re recording it, we got 50 quid… It all just sort of happened, really. I mean, less than 6 months later we were recording Pink Flag.

And you’ve said, by contrast, the recording of that was very serious, right?

Oh yeah. It had to be taken seriously.

 A lot of bands at that time, punks especially, would just go into the studio and try to bash out and reproduce their live sets but with better fidelity and be done with it.

Well, again, Wire, were not a punk band in the people’s perception, and they certainly weren’t a punk band in their own perception. So any attitude that was coming from [punk] we would be of the opposite attitude. Secondly, you have people, at least half of the band, who were really, really serious about the music, and to have a record with your name on it, that’s a serious thing.

“You’re not going to blow this chance…”

You’re not going to blow this chance. You’re gonna do it really properly. And to be honest, the standard of playing was not that high. But the idea we had was, yeah, we should do an album but not a single. And doing an album meant that all the things had to be there. There had to be some concept behind it. There had to be some thought gone into how we were recording it. And so there were a bunch of people with points to prove, including Mike Thorne.

 What did he bring to the table?

He had two basic ideas that he came with. One was heavy metal and the other was pop.

Heavy metal was where all the massed guitars came from. You make guitars big by double or triple or quadruple tracking them. The thing was, that style was really derived from super-accurate players who weren’t playing rhythm guitar, whereas that whole science was used in Wire to track not hugely competent people playing rhythm guitar. That sort of Queen guitar sound, of multitracked guitar lines by expert players is just exactly the opposite. But the sound of someone playing the same guitar part, two chords recorded eight times, becomes an enormous wall of sound. And we went, “Yeah, we like that!” That was good.

And then Mike would have all these tapes which he’d labeled “pop production.” He had loads of recordings he’d made and he had all these theories about pop. And at that point there was very little fear that we could be pop and we could be avant-garde at the same time – “Who cares? That’s what we are. That’s what we do.”

Do you have good memories of the Pink Flag sessions?

Um, Pink Flag was pretty hard work. It wasn’t necessarily grueling, but there were a lot of frayed tempers when we were recording the backing tracks because Robert was not very confident, and if he didn’t keep a steady speed then Graham would stop playing, and then they’d have a fight and the sticks would go flying across the room… It was quite fraught.

Chairs Missing was more fun. Because we could play better and found it easier to put the backing tracks down, and also there was more overdubbing. It was the start of overdubbing. I remember doing something like the rhythm guitar solo overdub in “Lowdown” [makes “dang-a-dang-a-dang-a-lank…” sound] and I remember thinking, yeah, I wanna to that, then going into the playing room, and playing on top of it that part. And just thinking, “Wow, that’s amazing, I can just do that! I can add this thing and take this track somewhere else!” And that’s an exciting thing to be able to do. It’s like when you first start to get the whole feeling of overdubbing, adding parts that were not in the original when the band played and taking a track. That was the excitement for me, and obviously a key to how then that developed in the following album, 154.

Did you oversee the remastering with Dennis Blackham? Were you present?

No. Dennis is in Skye. He’s a very good friend and he’s remastered every release on Pink Flag and every CD release on Swim (label). So we’re talking at least every other week. Originally these were going to be just EMI releases and the Pink Flag involvement didn’t come along until later in the story. So he says he’s got this job, this EMI thing, and I said we are in the offing of talking to them about it. And I think he knew very well that this had to be the definitive version, and I think he took it – he’s reported to me already that he’s had some journalistic feedback on his remastering which he’s very, very pleased about.

The difference is pretty striking from the previously released Enigma Retro reissues.

Those initial CD re-releases were classic ‘80s CD re-releases, just slapped out. The band had no involvement with them at all. And this was a point when no one was talking to EMI anyway. It was just, bung the album out, don’t worry about the remastering, stick a bunch of extra tracks on, whatever fits time-wise and nothing to do with whether it’s from the right period. Not that those extra tracks are bad, but some of them are really the wrong thing in the wrong place. Back then everyone was getting excited about having 70 minutes to work with: “Oh you have to have extra stuff!” Now we’ve gotten a big more postmodern and people have gone back, in a way, to an album-length CD. You don’t need all that extra stuff on there.

And that’s a different thing, a different project. Maybe we’ll be putting all [the extra material] out later. Who knows? A lot of it is about negotiating rights. [laughs] It’s a pretty remarkable thing that our label Pink Flag is releasing these CDs. This is actually the first US domestic release of Chairs Missing in its original format.

Yeah, I remember having to track the LP down on import.

Basically Capitol were not interested. We’d come in ’78 and played 5 or 6 nights at CBGBs, not even a tour of one city, but a tour of one club! Wire was not present in America – that story happened in the ‘80s when that seepage we mentioned really started to happen, when those hardcore bands, whether you’re talking about Mike Watt and the Minutemen, Black Flag, or the guys over in Boston, the DC scene… It was like, “No, no, Wire – THAT’s the band!” My theory is that what was appealing about it was that hardcore was the first native American rejection of rock history. It was like an attempt to say, no, all that “expert” stuff is crap. We just wanna make a noise that’s in your face. In a way that American punk up until then hadn’t embraced.

And Wire had rejected so much as well.

And the Wire record sleeves were pretty iconoclastic for rock album covers too.

I gave the records to a friend who doesn’t know that much about the history of Wire and she remarked that the covers were beautiful. Again, it’s very sort of unpunk. The difference between the cover of Pink Flag and Never Mind The Bollocks is very stark.

And with the other two albums you certainly presented a message that this was a band who felt its visual aesthetic was very important.

I think that has a certain kind of validity. That’s the justification for what some people would say is pulling a fast one – [reissuing] the same album with less tracks. But this is another thing, going back to the original statement. Pink Flag didn’t have “Dot Dash” or “Options R” on it. Those are things that come later, a different mindset. Pink Flag was very specific. As is Chairs Missing. They’re very, very specific records. So what’s there is what fits with them, and I don’t know if people now have the same concept about making an album, but remember we’re talking mid ‘70s, and the “concept” album may have been derided, but it was still very much an idea which was current. And I think in some ways they are concept albums.

In some ways, people think of concept albums along the lines of Tales From Topographic Oceans: big bloated double album productions in gatefold sleeves. So let’s end the concept of concept albums, so to speak. But you can still do it in a brighter way.

Yes, you can do it in a different way. All that prog bloat [sighs] – those bands were just so absurdly successful too!

Did you think, at the time, that Wire was being heard and understood in England at least?

Oh yeah. I mean, there was a point just after Pink Flag came out, and we did a tour supporting The Tubes. A very strange thing to do. They were very good to us, actually. They really supported us as a band playing with them because we were so different from what they did. It was a stark contrast between their kind of baroque over-the-topness and our stark simplicity. Their lighting guy probably set the tone, for a lot of people, of how they saw Wire onstage. He just kept the lighting really, really simple and made us look great on stage. During that period we did a series of Saturdays at a pub called the Red Cow in Hammersmith, just around the corner from the Hammersmith Odeon. A place where loads of bands played. We started off – it held about 200 – the first Saturday with it half full. The second Saturday it was ¾ full, and on the third Saturday it was completely full. And on the fourth Saturday there were as many outsiders as there were on the inside who couldn’t get in. And in that month you could so feel – I remember my friends would be like [dropping volume to awestruck tone of voice] ‘Wow – this is really happening, man!’

You could just feel that that thing was really developing, and certainly in London. When we got out to the other areas, in the midlands I don’t think they really took to us, but soon as you got north, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, those places, there was solid support. A Wire gig was an event. You met everyone in the bands; anyone who was in a band would come see us and tell us how much they loved us, whether that was Joy Division, or Cabaret Voltaire, or Prefects. Even people who were not so well known would come. The more cheeky bands were the ones from Liverpool; they would never admit to liking anyone – even themselves!

I remember playing the Russell Club, one of the kind of early incarnations of the Hacienda in Manchester, and you really felt like it was an event, with anyone who was anyone at that gig that night. It was a special feeling. So we definitely felt liked. We played quite a lot in Britain, and touring was not easy in Britain so you definitely felt that we were somebody.

Given the big changes that you instituted in the sound between albums, did you ever have fears about alienating your audience?

No. The short answer! [laughs] I look back now and I think… pffft, we were pretty damn arrogant, you know. We just didn’t give a stuff about what anybody thought. We just felt that it was obvious we had to do something else. And as a music fan, my attitude was I didn’t want to have a band do the same record. And you’ve got to remember, we were in the first serious, postmodern critical era in terms of what rock music was about. We could say, “But what happened to Pink Floyd? Why did they become rubbish? Well, they got rubbish because they just did more of the same, but more weak, adding water to their formulas.” So the idea was of going on to something new. And the key track coming into Chairs Missing was “Practice Makes Perfect.” It sent shivers up our spines. And something that makes you feel that good can’t be bad! So that was it, and that’s still a key track.

The first time I heard “I Am The Fly” I think I levitated…so to speak. It was like someone rubbing a silk ribbon across my exposed spinal column.

In a good way? Can I have some of the drugs you’re on? [laughs] It’s an enormous pisstake, it really is. It’s a blues change with the wrong chords: it starts on an E, and then the next chord it goes to is precisely the wrong one. And then it goes on, and if anyone was a blues fan it’s really an insult to the blues. It’s got this shocking metallic guitar sound that sounds as unorganic as you can possibly have. And it made everybody laugh. It was a funny tune, not intended to be entirely serious, very, very tongue in cheek. “I’m not really the bad boy. I’m quite far from being the bad boy! I’m not one of the rock ‘n’ roll rebels. That’s not my character to be like that.”

I’ve read that you personally are not a big fan of 154 – is that correct? “I Should Have Known Better” is one of the great opening cuts…

Some tracks on 154 I love and others I don’t love at all.  But yes, that tune I think is awesome. That was one of the creative high spots of the record. If you ever heard the demo, the way it started out was very heavy metal and I really didn’t like it very much – “This isn’t going to work, it’s not going to make the album. Graham’s going to be really disappointed because everyone’s going to turn around and say, ‘Actually, it’s not really that good…’” Then Robert started doing this kind of reduced disco beat [goes dikka-d-didda-da-dikki-da..] and it suddenly sounded fantastic..

I’ve read that as this point the band was divided into a “pop” and an “anti-pop” camps. You were also having problems with EMI, and I wondered what contributed more to the demise of the band after the release of 154?

It wasn’t really pop versus anti-pop. It was more pop AND anti-pop versus just anti-pop. Half of the band, basically me and Robert, was still interested in retaining a really broad canvas for the band. The other half decided they wanted to do something which was more avant-garde, which couldn’t have worked very well within Wire. Personal relations in Wire have always been very, very difficult too. We’ve never been friends and it’s never been an easy kind of thing. And it kind of came to a head working on 154. It had some very, very horrible moments, whereas Chairs Missing had been joyful and sunny and kind of the joy of a band discovering they could really play and then just taking that and pushing it further in the studio. With 154 the expectation was that it should have all of those elements, but then there was also ambition pushing it in different directions.

Relations with EMI deteriorating then couldn’t have helped either.

Well, Mike arrived at the 154 session with, “We’ve got to make five singles.” That idea got junked pretty fast. But where he was coming from, he’d obviously been meeting with EMI, who was saying, “This band’s not commercial enough.” Wire at that point had no concept of a market. You have to understand, there can be a way to be on a major label and understand nothing about how your music is sold. Because Wire would get advances for every record, they would never sell enough copies to pay off the advance, so the only money you ever saw was the advance at the beginning of the album. So the money you earned, what you saw – and we made no money on the road – had no relationship at all to how successful you were. So there was no culture of understanding, okay, hang on, if you do it this way then perhaps you’re gonna make more money out of it our you’re gonna survive better. On one level, yes, that’s kind of good for an artistic purity, but on another level you have to be aware of the fact that you are working within a commercial medium. This is not state-sponsored or –subsidized art! These are fundamentally pop records released on a label that expects to see its money back.

And in some ways it’s great if you can have a long view. I think that’s one thing nobody expected, that there would be such a longevity in those records. Certainly EMI didn’t expect that! When we were out the door in 1980 that would be the last they’d have to care about us. Suddenly, 10 years later, it’s still going, and 10 years after that it’s still going! That’s the craziness of it. It’s like every generation finds its own relationship to Wire. And each generation that finds Wire imagines that nobody else knows about it. Which is almost perfect, this whole kind of thing. But at the same time it has kind of emerged that American has been the place where Wire has achieved the most in terms of attention and success, record sales and the rest of it.

You once said something to the effect of, Wire, whenever it’s on the verge of success drives the bus right off the cliff.

That’s not me driving that bus! But yeah, it’s absolutely true. And it’s also absolutely infuriating, the infuriating thing about Wire which makes the internal relationships very different. Some people, I think, may be really nervous about getting too far with this, and I just think that Wire deserves, in this late stage in its life, to get and receive the adulation and the kind of love for real. I don’t have a problem about suddenly getting attention is going to turn into some kind of squidgy, sentimental thing – we’re not going to all of a sudden do “Mull  Of Kintyre” or something like that, you know what I mean?

You should see the reviews for 154 at the end of the ‘70s – we were, in Britain, the “best band of our generation.” 154 was “the album Bowie failed to make when he made Lodger.” John Lennon “was listening to 154 not long before he got shot.” Bob Dylan was quoting us. All that. We were seriously accepted. So how you can go from that to being dropped by your label and getting crap reviews for doing a “pretentious” stage show is quite extraordinary as a kind of turnaround. So in hindsight I look at that and go, “No, that was a big mistake.” It’s fine to be reevaluating and thinking and changing direction and doing something else, but there can be too much of that.

Rock ‘n’ roll, there’s too much of that “live fast, die young” kind of rubbish. But it’s just not – it’s an evolved artform now. We’re talking about where someone is going to make their tenth record and it’s gonna be genius, and that’s not necessarily going to happen in any way. It doesn’t conform any more to those James Dean things.

There is a certain thought that, because of Wire’s longevity – “We won!”

Yeah, yeah. “We won the punk rock war.” Whatever. In Britain there is a magazine called Artrocker, and the whole point about that, what he says, is, “Without these guys, we don’t exist.” Artrocker considers themselves more important than they are, but they’re really seriously challenging to be the hip version of the NME. So you’re talking something that really means something in the culture, and a bunch of young bands who say, “That’s our roots – Wire is our roots. Not some other kind of stuff.” And I think, wow, that’s an amazing situation to be in.

I suspect you would have spoken differently back in the ‘80s when Wire refused to play any older material.

I can’t speak for anybody else. But a lot of my attitudes are now shaped by the ‘90s, running a label, seeing how hard it is to break young bands that you know are really good and original. Just knowing a lot more about how the industry works. But at the same time, it was the wrong context – the ‘80s was not about ‘70s rock. That was the whole point. In the mid ‘80s, as far as Britain was concerned – and you have to understand, this is a British band – late ‘70s punk rock was just out, out, out! Nothing more out than that. Whereas in America it was different. It’s interesting that I learned in hindsight about the hardcore thing. I didn’t know anything about it at the time: “Why are these bands playing punk rock?” But the mid ‘80s stuff that came out of Britain, the post-punk of the early ‘80s, sort of came out of disco, just starting with digital, a clean, sound, that was the mid ‘80s sound. Not the sort of dirty punk rock.

What’s interesting is that Wire was, for Americans in the ‘80s, rock, and it was kind of lynchpin for hardcore. By the time you got to the ‘90s, for British bands it was pop.

Right – Elastica and all that.

Yeah. And this is actually a moment in time that hasn’t passed in Britain. The most well-known Wire track, the most-played Wire track if you go to LastFM and look up Wire, is “Three Girl Rhumba.” It’s now the best-known Wire song. It was used in a few different places. A TV program used the Elastic riff from it. So in the ‘90s, British bands would go, “Oh yeah, Wire are famous rock stars, they don’t care about this…” But with the generation of bands now they’re like, “Oh no, Elastica got that completely wrong. They should have really acknowledged their debt to Wire like we’re doing.” That’s a recent trend now in Britain, in this decade.

So it’s all fascinating. It’s culture, evolving culture.

Wire’s current status: Inactive, I hear. And that Bruce officially gave his notice last year.  Is that accurate?

Yep.

So in terms of activity, all we’re to get for now is archival work?

Right now, yeah. It goes through phases from bad to worse to slightly less bad. Last week was bad. Maybe next week will be better, I dunno! [laughs] There were moments when maybe something could’ve been done but I really don’t know. I can’t really imagine that I can do very much with Wire. I can represent it in interviews and I can help promote the back catalog, but when it comes down to it, I can’t be Wire.

Well, the band has resurfaced several times now, against the odds

Yeah, but…. [long pause, long exhale of breath] This last version, the version that did Send, was supposed to be the version that was built to last. It didn’t happen. That was a great album and that whole thing should have gone some place. Actually, the timing of these rereleases was supposed to be very much set. It was supposed to be Send, and then the re-releases, and then a new Wire album, and the whole thing was supposed to be like a virtual circle. But it just hasn’t happened. It’s an incredibly sad story. And I don’t want to talk it down. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved – please edit out anything I’ve said that’s not entirely positive about anyone because I’m not into that.

I look at it from a Wire fan’s point of view. The amount of love that Wire gets for what it’s achieved, and what it’s achieved in more than one incarnation, I have to just cry in my boots and say, “Okay, I’ve got another band.” That’s what I’ve got and I can’t be Wire, but I can be in a different band and it can produce music which I value very, very highly, and continue the dialogue in that way.

I think the fans will treat the box set as a huge gift too. Fans will always want the archival stuff.

They will. And there were all these embarrassing production delays. Believe me, I feel the weight of hundreds of Wire fans: “Oh, we want to get the box set! Where is it!?! Why can’t I buy it now?!?” [in mock-wailing voice, then laughing] I feel for those people.

We’re not officially allowed to promote it in Britain, but in America of course, because we’re the American licensee, we can. And the American press has picked up on it. We are just the U.S. licensee – in Britain they are the EMI versions. It’s a subtle game. Pink Flag is the U.S. licensee for the EMI re-release. EMI has it for the rest of the world. We hope to do well in America with those, because if you can imagine we’re not on a very good royalty from EMI. It’s the same product, apart from the fact that unlike the three you have, EMI just slapped those things out. They didn’t take care of finishing the artwork nicely. We actually did some work making sure the artwork looked good before it got printed, so the Pink Flag versions look superior.

And the box set is something else altogether. That’s been completely taken apart and put together again by our star designers. A different level. Every single aspect that could be improved has been improved. And I am proud of it. The re-releases for me personally have been a nightmare. Very hard to do with EMI. Not because they’re a bad, evil mega-corporation. But because they’re a major label and therefore are much more inefficient than indie people. Even just getting the parts so we had something to release became a nightmare that should never have been. Departments don’t talk to each other; you can’t just go to someone and tell them you need something ready by such and such time because it’s their product. We’re not paying them. Just a whole different ballgame.

I don’t want to just be bitching though because the people have been pretty nice and helpful. They get a certain amount of kudos for that and I think the people that work there are mature enough to realize that perhaps it hasn’t done EMI any harm at all having Wire in their back catalog. They’re not stupid – those records didn’t stop selling.

Funny how to this day EMI and Wire butt heads. I like what you said a minute ago about you feeling the weight of hundreds of Wire fans.

Yeah, I probably care more than I should what people think about the band. I know its reputation is high and I know not everybody in the band cares that much about what the fans think. Different attitudes. That’s to do with some people feeling that artists need to be more pure and to not care what other people think, and it’s a point of view. For me I see the fans as people and I don’t devalue them saying, “They’re just fans.”

 

YOU’VE GOT EVEN BIGGER EARS THAN I THOUGHT: Big Ears Festival 2017

 

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Once again Prof. Rosen makes his pilgrimage to Knoxville. Check out his 2014 report, as well as 2015, not to mention 2016.

BY STEVEN ROSEN

Photos by Melinda Wallis-Rosen

As the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville has grown during its six installments since 2009, bringing a mind-bogglingly large mix of cross-pollinating modernist rock, classical, jazz, international and other types of music, one increasingly wonders where Ashley Capps — its founder and artistic director — got his interest in something so culturally cutting-edge.

After all, he runs Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, the company that puts on the giant summer outdoor Bonnaroo, Forecastle and other contemporary rock festivals. These are known for their innovative mixes of performers, but there are limits. One would not expect Bonnaroo, for instance, to feature the 78-year-old American New Music composer Frederic Rzewski rigorously, forcefully playing the piano for more than an hour straight in a performance of his 1975 “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!” It consists of 36 probing, exploratory variations of a Chilean folk song, and is meant to remember the murdered Salvador Allende and serve as an inspiration for resistance.

But there he was on a Friday afternoon at this year’s recently concluded Big Ears (which ran from a Thursday through Sunday), playing a Steinway & Sons grand piano in the center of a large nightclub called The Mill & Mine, as a crowd sat on the floor or stood to watch and listen to this impressive exhibition of stamina. (Below: Matmos)

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In the past, Capps and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero have wisecracked that his interest in such unconventional music is related to him once owning a Knoxville club called Ella Guru’s, named after a Captain Beefheart song. That running joke continued at the Thursday-afternoon kick-off reception this year, when Rogero introduced Capps by calling him “a man who needs no trout mask replica, a man who is as safe as milk, a man who is our very own doc at the radar station.”

And that’s all well and good, but there’s something else at work here. Capps revealed some of that when introducing Rzewski (pronounced “zev-sky”) by telling about the time in 1977 he picked up him, pianist Ursula Oppens and saxophonist Lee Konitz at a New York airport to take then to Woodstock’s Creative Music Studio, where Capps was a student. There, Capps remembers, Rzewski played “The People United…,” a recent composition commissioned by Oppens, that had yet to be recorded. He knew at the time it was destined to be a major work, he says.

So Capps has a personal connection to this kind of work. (He also remembered driving Don Cherry to Woodstock.) And he definitely still has an ear for it.

When introducing the contemporary classical pianist Lisa Moore at the same venue, with the same in-the-round set-up on Saturday, he said that when he first heard her 2016 Stone People album, he knew it was one of the year’s strongest.

Imagine how many records in a year he must listen to, or at least be aware of, to stay atop of his vast festival and concert business. Yet he picks one, on the niche New Music label Cantaloupe Music, that features recordings of compositions by the likes of Rzewski, Missy Mazzoli and John Luther Adams.

But Moore did not disappoint. By turns lyrical and pounding in her choice of material and approach to the keyboard, and wearing a distinguishing white jacket, she began with one of Philip Glass’ most melodic and downright sweet compositions ever, 1979’s “Mad Rush.” There were times when Moore made it echo with snatches from “Over the Rainbow.” Her concert then featured works by other big names — Rzewski, Mazzoli, Adams, Julia Wolfe. But the standout besides “Mad Rush” was a work called “Sliabh Beagh” that she had commissioned from an Australian composer, Kate Moore, in order to explore Irish roots. Starting off like an introspective art song — Lisa Moore sang at the beginning — it evolved into a thunderously powerful work for piano that just kept building. Her concert was thrilling.

A couple years ago, the roaring, avant-garde bass saxophonist Colin Stetson played a Big Ears gig at a small bar so crowded I had to jump up and down every now and then just to catch a glimpse of his head. But there was no problem hearing then — the sound he got from that gigantic woodwind, large enough to double as a piece of public sculpture, could cut through a baseball park filled with fans cheering a grand slam.

This year, Stetson had a venue where he was easily seen — onstage at the large Mill & Mine. Believe it or not, it was reasonably hard to hear him. But it didn’t matter. With an ensemble of horn and string players, plus a singer, he was performing his reimagining of Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s 1977 3rd Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), which became famous when a 1992 recording sold a million copies. Because one of the three songs contained within the symphony used a message found on a Gestapo cell wall, it conjures World War II and the Holocaust. Stetson calls his adaptation Sorrow, and he means for the saxophone to wail not so much in the Illinois Jacquet sense of the word, but rather in the “weeping” sense.

Amid the wave-like comings and goings of repetitive phrases from the other horns, Stetson’s playing fit in rather than stood out. And it sounded like an ominously rumbling bass. But the overall arrangement of Sorrow sucked everyone into its slowly building undertow and then cathartically brought them along. And when the music quieted to let Stetson’s sister, Megan, sing the songs, it was like Jefferson Airplane subsiding its playing for Grace Slick to solo on “Someone to Love.” Megan Stetson had a magnificently rich mezzo-soprano voice.

Stetson is a restless talent — on his new song, “Into the Clinches,” he hits his sax’s keys like he’s hammering out an electronic backbeat while blowing into the instrument. The result is as unexpectedly infectious as Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and it could be a dance club hit.

While Big Ears is way too eclectic to pigeonhole its approach to booking, the rock or pop acts who played the two major venues — the luxurious 1928 Tennessee Theatre (the official state theater), and the 1909 Bijou — tend to be either experimentalist or to be using Big Ears for a conceptualist venture. (The event’s biggest act, Wilco, maybe doesn’t fit that description, but band members Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy also used the festival for separate concerts.)

One such example was the toughly intellectualized Matmos, consisting of Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, whose austerely theatrical take on the late Robert Ashley’s television opera Private Parts made for an invigorating noontime show at the Tennessee on Friday. Musically, it has an understated drone punctuated with electronica touches. Schmidt, in the first part looking Mr. Rogers-like in brown sweater and bowtie, provided the odd, casually upbeat recitation that Ashley himself used to do at his shows. Behind him, two women faced each other and provided an occasional encouraging “that’s right” in accompaniment. Ashley isn’t an easy composer to understand, but Matmos did make him and his music accessible — and hip.

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But Matmos didn’t have anything on Xiu Xiu (above), who presented on Saturday at the Tennessee their tribute to David Lynch’s and Angelo Badalamenti’s music for the eerily meta Twin Peaks television series from 1990-91. Mostly instrumental but with a few vocals, like on the drifting and chilling “Into the Night,” the project allowed a fierce Jamie Stewart to play guitar or drums to Angela Seo’s keyboards and Shayna Dunkelman’s smashing, riveting percussion. She whacked mallets on vibes or slammed drums. With Twin Peaks slated to return to television on Showtime this year, Xiu Xiu has a hot concept more cutting-edge than retro, and knew it. It was a show infused with currency.

Compared to these two, the Magnetic Fields concerts at the Tennessee, presenting composer/singer Stephin Merritt’s year-by-year autobiographical songs on the band/art project’s new 50 Song Memoir, were more traditional. Merritt, after all, writes impossibly catchy pop tunes with witty lyrics that make you smile and laugh. What’s that doing at Big Ears?

But Merritt was downright subversive on stage, beginning with that low baritone/bass voice that can add such gravitas to even his lightest, loveliest songs. There was also, in new material like “Come Back as a Cockroach,” “I Think I’ll Make Another World” and “Eye Contact,” real bite and irony. He wasn’t just skimming the surface of his early years (I was only able to catch the first of his two Big Ears shows) for material, he was also humorously but resolvedly plumbing the emotional depths. He was being confessional yet novelistic.

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He also was a very conceptual performer — in that regard, a natural fit at Big Ears. The stage set-up for his concert reminded me of the Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone. He sat inside a fanciful room-like set, maybe based on a childhood bedroom, wearing a garishly checked sweater and a mac. He made amusingly snarky between-song patter — he was the middle-aged man looking back with mixed emotions.

The five other musicians were positioned around and behind this prop, in an arc formation. They played an array of instruments that gave the sound satisfying coloration and power. Merritt, too, played instruments or otherwise manipulated sounds, and sometimes would do something surprising, like sing the unabashedly silly but joyful tune “Hustle 76.” This brought out the “bumpity bump” (as Merritt hailed it) in the Magnetic Fields’ sound. The second set, which got Merritt through year 25 in his life, was just as strong. This is a great album, probably one of the year’s best when final polls come out, and Merritt’s performance made you realize its quality.

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By now, Merritt is an old pro. He’s 52, after all. But a couple truly old pros, both women, were the performers I’ll remember most.

The jazz composer and pianist Carla Bley, at age 80 looking as snazzy and stylish, with the same assured posture and black outfit as a decades-younger fashionable orchestra conductor, on Thursday night led the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra at the Tennessee Theatre through her big-band compositions. Her longtime bassist Steve Swallow and tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard augmented the group, and the result for the most part was swinging yet prickly, as burrs and detours kept cropping up in the straight-aheadness. Her final composition, “The National Anthem,” was prefaced by her comment, “What better time?” (to play it). But despite its unorthodox yet welcome funkiness, it didn’t seem to leave as strong an impression as I desired. Maybe the times and the current president call out for the kind of state-of-emergency defiant approach Hendrix took to patriotic music at Woodstock. This wasn’t quite fiery enough — maybe Bley needs to compose an Escalator Over the Trump.

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And the 74-year-old, pigtailed Meredith Monk (above) was spry and delightful enough a presence at the Bijou on Friday night to play Puck in a staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as if her career and talents aren’t already varied enough). And her ever-present gracious smile could have illuminated even the top row of the theater’s otherwise-dark balcony.

Appearing with her Vocal Ensemble, her voice was in synch and in pitch with anything else on stage. She could duet with a revved-up monster truck if she wanted to. It is a marvelous instrument, whether she uses it for wordless vocalization or to comically, exaggeratingly lampoon in song a privileged older woman not prepared to die yet whose time has come.

Her concert included material from throughout her career. Her ease with “Click Song #1,” which she described as a “duet for solo voice” and which found her humming, clicking and puckering simultaneously, would make Tuvan throat singers envious.

And on “Choosing Companions” — from an opera, Atlas, that she composed in 1991 — Monk sat at the piano and sang haunting variations on the sound “day-o” by herself for a while. Then, Vocal Ensemble member Katie Geissinger came out, knocked on the piano to introduce herself, and began a short recitation of what I took to be an interpretation of Monk’s musical message. She soon joined Monk in singing, and the two communicated a call-and-response, point-and-counterpoint sensitivity to each other that elegantly pushed the song toward emotional breakthrough.

At one point, Monk told the audience about sitting in the New Mexican hot sun waiting for a musical idea, and you can see how that state’s artistic New Age exoticism could play a role in her vision. But there’s also a New Music progressivism, not unlike John Cage or Steve Reich, which incorporates Contemporary Art notions of modernism. She deserves all the recognition she can get as one of America’s singular composers and composers.

In past coverage, and at the beginning of this review, I’ve mentioned the Big Ears-Captain Beefheart connection. And also how Capps, at Big Ears, seems to be closer to someone like Rzewski than a raucous blues-rock iconoclast like Beefheart.

But another experimentalist whose name cropped up this year was Arthur Russell, an early proponent/practitioner of the kind of open-minded approach to music the festival favors.

He was a cellist drawn to experimentalism and minimalism, a friend of such other New York City classical music boundary pushers of the 1970s as Glass, Reich and Julius Eastman who also became interested in the conceptual rock of Talking Heads and Modern Lovers and the multi-rhythmic funkiness of disco. And he composed, sang and played cello on fragile, Nick Drake-like chamber-folk love songs like “A Little Lost.”

Always ahead of the curve, his death in 1992 passed with little attention. (He was just 40.) But his reputation has since grown — he was the subject of a 2008 documentary called Wild Combination. He was truly an artist with “big ears.” This festival, as it evolves, seems to be modeled on his vision of music.

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STEEP GRADE: Mipso

 

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The Chapel Hill-based Americana quartet’s female singer holds forth on their ambitious, just-released new album, life on the road, favorite bands (Phish!) and authors, and more.

BY DANIEL MATTI

Outside the Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, Ohio, Libby Rodenbough and the band stood before the venue they were going to play later that night. Before the load in I spoke with Libby on the phone about the new album Coming Down the Mountain that was about to drop in just a couple days and how they passed the time in the van.

If you’re not familiar with the band Mipso they started off as a three piece in the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina with members Jacob Sharp, Joseph Terrell, and Wood Robinson. Starting off with open mics and playing around town they later branched off into playing what was known as Mipso Trio. They went on to record an album titled Long, Long Gone under the name and from there they grew among the locals and their college friends who they had grown up with and moved out of North Carolina increasing their fan base to a larger scale. The following year Libby joined the band to add fiddle and powerful harmonizing vocals on the album Dark Holler Pop and, later on, Old Time Reverie.

(Below, listen to new track Hurt So Good.)

 

BLURT: How long have you all been on the road?

LIBBY: We’ve been in the Midwest for about a week and half and it’s been typical Midwestern rainy and gray and now we just got out of the car and the sun has broken.

 

That’s great to hear! Midwestern weather can be quite a drag. Congrats on the new album by the way! Did you all have a concept or idea for the new album Coming Down the Mountain going in to the studio?

The concept was just we didn’t want to overthink so I guess that’s the absent of a concept. We had songs and we didn’t want to overdue them we wanted to create space and track simply and track most of the stuff live and just get it down and you know just not over complicate it. It’s easy nowadays to do want to do a bunch of drafts and then.

 

 Is that something you have tried to do in the past?

I don’t think we have spent as much time as we did but we definitely put time into crafting the songs. This one I feel like is the most livest.

 

One of the best tracks on the album is “Monterey County” is there a significance behind that song?

I think that was just because we were driving highway 1 out west and it was just a super evocative landscape and I think the images got into Joseph’s head and he wrote that one. It was the landscape that reflected out mid twenties angst.

 

 For this album album did anyone take more charge of writing?

I did more writing on this one than in the past. Were all pretty interested in songwriting so it seems to be pretty collaborative.

 

Any favorite albums you have been playing on repeat recently?

Our friend Jake Xerxes Fussell just dropped an album a couple days ago so I’ve been listening to that a ton. As we were driving up to the venue we were blasting some Blink-182. So I’m the one exception to this but all my band mates were high-school Phish heads. So sometimes when we need to get in sync we throw it on. Even though I don’t know any of that stuff. So there’s the contagious positive energy while listening to it

(So there it is. One of Mipso’s biggest influences is Phish.)

Other than listening to Phish albums in the van is there anything else you guys do for fun in the van?

Yeah I’m very fortunate I have had time to read a lot more. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. We have this mobile hotspot with us so it’s very easy for us to sit our laptops for six hours. Reading a lot more novels now since college for me is key

 

 Is there anything that you are now reading that you are now saying to yourself why haven’t I read this already?

I just found this one author name Nell Zink. Really great authorial voice. She writes irreverent dark humor but their also filled with great characters. Through an interview with Nell Zink I found this book called The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. It’s from a woman’s point of view during communism during the ‘30s-‘50s. Strong intelligent female voices. It’s all about communism and it’s about the collapse through the eyes of female characters.

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Make sure to grab Mipso’s new album Coming Down the Mountain out on CD/LP/MP3, released today, April 7.

 

IS EVERYBODY IN? The Doors

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The just-reissued Doors debut from 1967, expanded to include a mono mix (for both CD and LP) and a key ’67 concert, not to mention a recent 10” vinyl box chronicling the band’s pre-fame 1966 setlist, might turn you inside out.

BY FRED MILLS

Fifty years on, all the children are still insane—now, more than ever, and perhaps more than anyone is comfortable with acknowledging. Enter The Doors, as fresh now as it was a half-century ago, alternately testing and serenading America’s youth. This is a fact not in dispute: The self-titled debut of the Lizard King & Co. remains as iconic a release as any from the post-British Invasion rock era, perhaps the defining moment for the underground-on-the-verge-of-going-overground.

How many times can Elektra (via the WEA group’s stalwart keepers of the archives, Rhino) return to the Doors well? How much time do you have?

But this 50th anniversary box is no marketing afterthought. Sure, you probably are not lacking for the original stereo mix of The Doors; by 1967, that’s how most of us would have first heard the LP anyway. A second CD containing the so-called “original mono mix,” while not essential, finally makes that mix available in digital formats so fans don’t have to track down original vinyl mono LPs. (For a younger generation, this may seem slightly archaic, but even by the late ’60s albums were still being pressed in both stereo and mono, and there is a collector camp that prizes mono over stereo. Although, admittedly, they are not rare, as a quick glance at Discogs shows several copies available for as little as $10.)

Vinyl nuts such as yours truly, of course, will appreciate the opportunity to own a pristine mono-mix LP here despite the easy availability of used vinyl copies. Neither it nor the CD mono version are particularly revelatory, but there’s always some fun to be had with the old A-B test between the mono and stereo mixes of records from this era.

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CD3, recorded live at venerable San Fran venue The Matrix in March 1967, is perhaps the chief draw for completists; we are advised that this comes from the recently discovered original, professionally recorded, tapes, as opposed to the third-generation dubs that comprised a 2008 release of the Matrix tapes. The Doors estate, via its Rhino-distributed Bright Midnight imprint, has been nothing if not generous with its archival offerings over the past decade and a half, and discoveries do indeed continue to be made, such as the London Fog May 1966 10” box that surfaced not long ago (see below). So even if you own the 2008 Bright Midnight version of the Matrix ‘67 or an earlier bootleg version (yes, there are several couple), this concert recording essentially becomes the proverbial “definitive” one. The eight-song set very nearly replicates the original LP’s 11-song tracklisting, only lacking “I Looked at You,” “End of the Night,” and “Take It as it Comes,” and with the latter arguably the only essential song among those three, Live at the Matrix emerges a must-own live representation of the band on the cusp of greatness, the debut LP having only been released a few weeks’ prior. Listen to Morrison’s growls, howls, and yowls during “The End” and dare to differ.

The box also boasts a full-sized hardback book featuring journalist David Fricke’s liners and tons of photos. As an artifact, it’s flawless, so even if some might argue that musically speaking, it’s for completists only, there’s no question that it merits a solid “5” out of 5 stars. Ride the highway west, baby…

… To the prior year.

Allow me to introduce the latest in a long-running parade of posthumous Doors live releases, London Fog May, 1966. It summons from the mists of time a proverbial “recently discovered” live recording of the band, expertly cleaned up for the modern digital ear, in order to give acolytes a sense of what Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore actually sounded like, onstage, around the time they were recording their debut album for Elektra Records but had yet to burst upon the national scene.

And it’s neither time capsule nor curio, but rather a valid projection into the collector-archival ether that should hold up for future generations. Vintage, if hard-edged, blues apparently dominated early Doors sets: Here, a lengthy workout on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and a remarkably serpentine, sensual Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me” showcase not only Morrison’s intuitive embrace of the blues’ primal imperative, but his bandmates’ agility as translators of same. Also in the mix are covers of Big Joe Williams, Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard. Seminal Doors originals also make surprise appearances: a somewhat hesitant “Strange Days” (which would go on to be overhauled and polished in the studio to provide the second album’s title track), and a rowdy-bawdy-bluesy “You Make Me Real,” which subsequently went into hibernation until 1970’s Morrison Hotel.

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Time capsule: well, actually… yeah. Rhino has pulled out all stops for this box, which houses both a CD and a 10” vinyl disc of the nine tracks, plus an assortment of memorabilia that includes reproductions of the evening’s setlist from the London Fog, a postcard and drink coaster from that Sunset Strip dive, and photos of the evening Nettie Pena, a UCLA Film School student who Morrison, also a student, enlisted that evening to document his band’s performance on a small reel to reel deck. In those photos, the musicians seem impossibly young, as yet unjaded by stardom, yet clearly determined as artists. Talk about a snapshot. (Pena, who also wrote a review of the gig, discloses that she cannot locate an additional reel of tape from the show that contained the band doing a 15-minute “The End,” but promises that if it ever surfaces, she’ll immediately pass it along to the Doors camp.) Worth additional note: a passionate remembrance in the CD booklet penned by Ronnie Harran, who at the time of the show was booking the nearby Whisky A Go Go and, acting on a tip, came to check out the Doors during their residency at the Fog, ultimately returning to the Whisky, eager to book them at her venue. Everything is housed in a 10-inch, thick cardboard box—pure collector catnip. Just the effort alone that’s been put into this project demands an above-average rating for archival releases; the mesmerizing music guarantees it a perfect score.

Commentary, artifacts, and nostalgia aside, London Fog May, 1966 ultimately brings the Doors—pardon the inside joke—reverse full circle. Prior to Morrison’s death in 1971, the group had reinvested itself in the blues that had originally spawned the combo back in the early ‘60s (as Rick and the Ravens), tackling both vintage material and primal original compositions on Morrison Hotel and on swansong L.A. Woman. And while it’s impossible to say if the Doors vaults have finally been combed clean (as this obsessive Doors collector’s CD library can testify, the band and its archivists have been diligent over the course of the past decade and a half; hats off to Rhino, Rhino Handmade, Bright Moonlight, Elektra and everyone involved), there’s something fitting about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut LP by listening to an early Doors set comprising the blues, soul, and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll that inspired the musicians in the first place.

But then, of course, there’s the matter of said debut LP, from 1967, now graced with a deluxe reissue/reappraisal. Rewind this tape and start from the beginning. Is everybody in?

Photo Credit: Joel Brodsky

 

 

DO YOU STILL BELIEVE? Flaming Lips Live

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Survey says… yes, indeed we do! At venerable Atlanta venue the Tabernacle, Wayne Coyne & Co. made jelly out of the crowd’s collective brain…. Photo gallery follows the text. Wait, it that guy above naked?

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY TIFFINI TAYLOR

The Flaming Lips is a legendary band that will take you on a magical journey throughout their show. The Lips proved it in Atlanta on a warm Spring night in an old church that is the iconic music venue Tabernacle. Literally, standing room only and we were all like a jar of pickles ready to explode, and then it happened, The Flaming Lips took the stage. A great roar from us all in attendance to what can only be describe as a uniquely creative experience. Gigantic inflatable mushrooms, strobe lights, confetti cannons, huge helium balloons floating throughout and the Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, conducting a musical journey.

This is how memories are made. People coming together to celebrate music. I’ve seen the Lips quite a bit and they are a band that doesn’t disappoint when performing live. It is almost like a psychedelic circus where imagination and creativity knows no boundaries. It is all wonderful.

Music is never lost by the wonderment of the psychedelic imagery projected on the screen behind the band or by the giant disco ball or even by the confetti falling. They are a rare band that incorporates creative genius and musical genius. This does not come along often enough in music in this present day. Yes, they have been around for years and yes they are a band that some say is the new Pink Floyd. Whether that is true is up to personal opinions. To me, they are and always will be the definition of creativity.

Rope lights that looks like fringe is lifted and lowered to the stage, at one point during the show while it is lowered to the stage a giant inflatable rainbow arch is lifted in it. Wayne Coyne is underneath and beautiful music is the result. Confetti cannons shoot confetti during the show and huge helium balloons float back and forth and the crowd helps in keeping them afloat. A few of the balloons burst and make a loud pop, but that does not stop the fun that we are having in the audience. Laser lights, strobe lights, even Wayne Coyne coming into the crowd riding on top of a mannequin horse wearing inflatable rainbow wings this is what dreams are made of. We were all amazed by this sight of him riding through the audience. A psychedelic dream came true from a band that will always be the band to see on everyone’s bucket list, my advice to you, Don’t Miss this Show!

Their new album is “Oczy Mlody” and is out now.

The band is wrapping up its tour TONIGHT, April 4, in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Jannus Live. Did you miss it?

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