Monday, December 20, 2010

Reconstructing the Velvet Underground's Lost Album

Anyone who has listened through the standard canonical works of the Velvet Underground will probably notice the vast differences in sound between each of the albums (and each member's solo output). Perhaps the most glaring, but least obviously explicable, is the shift from melodic, sparse, subdued work of The Velvet Underground and the direct pop-rock of Loaded. A bit of research reveals that the band was beginning to stall in mid-1969 after The Velvet Underground was released and their label, MGM/Verve dropped them for being too subversive. Supposedly, they were not allowed to take their masters with them, so the album they had been working on was lost and had to be restarted from scratch. On top of that, by the time that Loaded was recorded for a new label, Atlantic, original member Moe Tucker was absent due to pregnancy and her unique drumming style was replaced by a more traditional approach from a set of revolving drummers.

What happened to the missing songs and the so-called "lost" fourth album? Many of the songs were re-recorded by Lou Reed for his early solo records, but the original recordings remained unreleased until the 80s and later. The first insinuation to the public that any such material existed came in 1974 with the release of 1969: Velvet Underground Live, which includes several hitherto unreleased songs and strikingly different early versions of several Loaded tracks, albeit in the form of live performances recorded with modest quality. Finally, a compilation of the best of the band's forgotten outtakes was released in 1985 as VU, and Another View followed the next year with another set of unreleased tracks. Between them, they include fourteen tracks from the lost album (and five from 1967-1968, when founding member John Cale was still present). The Peel Slowly and See box set from 1995 and the "Fully Loaded" reissue of Loaded from 1997 include several additional songs from this era, and The Quine Tapes, an "authorized bootleg" of live material from 1969 (released in 2001) also provides some interesting perspectives on much of this material.

The problem is that there is no singe place to get a cohesive idea of what this lost album would have sounded like. The Velvet Underground Web Page suggests a version that essentially just sequences the fourteen tracks from VU and Another View. (They suggest using Peel Slowly and See over the VU versions were applicable, but I think this is irrelevant, as the versions are identical.) That works, but then there are additional problems. How do we really know that those were the only songs from that period to be considered for the band's next album? How do we know that those are the versions that the band deemed best? The band re-recorded some of the songs for Loaded but still left them off the finished product, and there are live versions of several additional songs that either cannot be found elsewhere or that sound completely different. Perhaps some of this material should be considered as well.

Thus, I have compiled an arbitrary assemblage of songs that I deem as the best single-disc compilation of the "lost album" era. Many decisions must be made when constructing such a collection. I generally chose the best quality recording available, and thus live versions are only used when a studio version does not exist. The live versions are often fantastic in their own right, but in live performances the band would extend their songs often to two or three times their standard length. In compiling material for a single compact disc, brevity becomes preferred. I chose to remove any songs that ended up on Loaded to prevent redundancy, although any material later re-recorded by Lou Reed in his solo career I consider fair game, since Reed's versions are usually substantially different in terms of style, production, and arrangement. And of course, I generally only included songs I rather like, and so the few that I do not failed to make the cut. So, here is my version of the Velvet's "lost album":

01. We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together (Another View version)
02. Foggy Notion (VU version)
03. Countess from Hong Kong (demo version from Peel Slowly and See box set)
04. Coney Island Steeplechase (Another View version)
05. Andy's Chest (VU version)
06. I'm Sticking with You (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
07. I Can't Stand It (VU version)
08. It's Just Too Much (live 1969.09.19 in Dallas, Texas, from the Peel Slowly and See box set)
09. Over You (live 1969.11.25 at The Matrix, San Francisco, California, from The Quine Tapes)
10. One of These Days (VU version)
11. She's My Best Friend (VU version)
12. Lisa Says (VU version)
13. I Love You (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
14. Ride into the Sun (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
15. Ocean (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)

And because that still leaves room for more on a standard 80-minute CD, here are some extra tracks that don't quite make the first cut but are still quite good:

16. Ride into the Sun (instrumental version from Another View)
17. Love Makes You Feel Ten Feet Tall (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
18. Sad Song (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
19. Satellite of Love (demo version from Peel Slowly and See box set)
20. Rock & Roll (early version from Another View)
21. Sweet Jane (Live 1969.11 in San Francisco, California, from 1969: Velvet Underground Live)

Much like my revisionist Get Back compilation that I devised earlier this year, I'd like to explain my choices, in terms of what I included, what I excluded, what versions I chose, and why I picked this track ordering. Here goes!

01. We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together (Another View version)
Never originally released in a studio version, the general public first heard this on the 1969 live album, released in 1974. Patti Smith began opening her concerts in 1974 (and for several years afterward) with a great version of this song with her own additional lyrics. Lou Reed eventually released a studio version in 1978 on Street Hassle, but that version is full of tremolo and other effects and totally lacks the powerful drive of the Velvets version. The outtake heard on Another View has the same energy as the live versions but was recorded in much higher fidelity. When the Velvets reunited for a tour in 1993, they opened their shows with this song, and in that tradition, I think it makes a perfect opener.

02. Foggy Notion (VU version)
The live versions available on the Quine Tapes are interesting (especially the medley with "Sister Ray" recorded at Washington University in St. Louis!) but the audio quality suffers terribly. The outtake from VU rocks and captures some of the solid extended jamming that makes this song stand out.

03. Countess from Hong Kong (demo version from Peel Slowly and See box set)
A beautiful piece unavailable anywhere else. It sounds more like an outtake from The Velvet Underground, but it was supposedly recorded during the "lost album" era.

04. Coney Island Steeplechase (Another View version)
This isn't a particularly awesome song, but it does have a great charm, and if you've ever gone to Coney Island, you'll know how perfect the lyrics are. There are no other versions.

05. Andy's Chest (VU version)
A truly weird song, but I kind of like it, and it fits with some of the other slightly deranged pop songs like the previous and following tracks. Reed's solo version from Transformer is quite good, but the Velvets version is more bouncy and strange compared to Reed's more direct rock. (But hearing Bowie doing the background vocals is cool!)

06. I'm Sticking with You (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
This song is incredibly cute and I love the arrangement. Sung mostly by Moe Tucker, the ending where she jumps back behind the drumset is great. This is particularly cool in the live take from the Quine Tapes, but that version is too lo-fi and isn't as good of a take overall. VU also has a version, but the arrangement is too simple and the performance less impassioned. I recommend editing out the studio chatter at the beginning of the Loaded outtake version.

07. I Can't Stand It (VU version)
This song isn't great, but the guitarwork, particularly the noisy solo near the end, is good. The theme of weird lyrics continues here. The Quine Tapes and 1969 both feature live versions of this song with extended jams, but both are too unfocused and lo-fi. Reed released a version on his first solo album, but it is too overdone and lacks the awesome solo. The VU version captures the best of the solo without going on for too long.

08. It's Just Too Much (live 1969.09.19 in Dallas, Texas, from the Peel Slowly and See box set)
Just like the previous track, this song isn't the best, but the guitarwork is nice. The live versions from the Quine Tapes and 1969 are good, but are lo-fi and meander a bit too much. The 1969 version is featured in a medley with "Sweet Bonnie Brown", but there just isn't much there with that song. Since no studio version exists, the live version from Peel Slowly and See seems to match the best quality with a concise take.

09. Over You (live 1969.11.25 at The Matrix, San Francisco, California, from The Quine Tapes)
A simple but good song, it is also only available in a live form. The version from 1969 is comparable to the Quine Tapes version, but the latter features a slightly better performance and less noise.

10. One of These Days (VU version)
The country feel of this song makes it feel very much like a few songs that ended up on Loaded. It is unavailable elsewhere.

11. She's My Best Friend (VU version)
I like this song a lot, and this is the only version.

12. Lisa Says (VU version)
A bit slow and dramatic, but it works. The 1969 live version is really good but also really long, while the VU version is cleaner and more to the point. Reed did a version for his first solo album, but it suffers from overproduction and overdramaticism.

13. I Love You (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
A really pretty song, and the outtake version is rather loose but still strong. The emotion is much stronger than the demo version also included with the Loaded reissue, and that version suffers from sparseness and apparent incompleteness. Reed's version from his first solo record is good but totally different, based mostly around acoustic guitars.

14. Ride into the Sun (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
This is a really cool song, and it's hard to pick the best version. I think the demo from the Loaded reissue is best, since the organ and vocal parts are so good. The instrumental version from Another View is almost as good; it features awesome guitarwork but has a very different feel, but the lack of vocals puts it squarely in second place. The Quine Tapes include a cool version, but it is way too long and too lo-fi. Reed also did a version for his first solo album, and it has some good parts, but it is far more rock-oriented and a bit too overproduced and overblown.

15. Ocean (outtake version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
This is probably my favorite Velvets song, and it makes a perfect dramatic closer. There are several versions, but the outtake version from the Loaded reissue has tons of great guitar and organ parts, and the ominous feel and slow tempo totally work in its favor. The demo version from the same reissue is also good, but just not as full and complete. (Supposedly John Cale guested on the organ for that version, but that's unconfirmed and the outtake version has a better organ sound anyway.) The VU version is also good, but the drumming is too cymbals-heavy, and the organ is far inferior. 1969 also has a good live version, but it's just too long and lo-fi. Reed's version from his first solo album is good but more directly rock-oriented and lacking many good parts.

And now for the "bonus tracks". They were all re-recorded and released on either Loaded or one of Reed's first solo albums, and although these versions are interesting, they just don't quite make the cut.

16. Ride into the Sun (instrumental version from Another View)
As I said above, this is a really great version. It's extremely pretty but just doesn't quite beat the demo version.

17. Love Makes You Feel Ten Feet Tall (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
This song is pretty good but not awesome, but has a different, slower, and more drone-like feel that Reed's later solo version from his first album.

18. Sad Song (demo version from the 1997 reissue of Loaded)
Also not particularly awesome, but this version is far more focused and direct than Reed's overblown, overproduced, and overextended version from his first solo album.

19. Satellite of Love (demo version from Peel Slowly and See box set)
The demo from Peel Slowly and See is just barely better than the alternate demo from the Loaded reissue; this version is simply a better take (and lacks the studio chatter at the start). The Velvet's version might not top Reed's classic version from Transformer, but it is an interesting alternate version.

20. Rock & Roll (early version from Another View)
This is a nice alternate version, although it doesn't beat the Loaded version. This version has a very different feel – it's far more drone-like, and the verses almost sound like the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows". The demo from the Loaded reissue and the live versions from 1969 and The Quine Tapes are good but aren't as interesting (and are too lo-fi). This track is generally considered part of the "lost album" in full right (particularly by the Velvet Underground Web Page as mentioned above), but I think it's better to focus on material that didn't appear on Loaded.

21. Sweet Jane (Live 1969.11 in San Francisco, California, from 1969: Velvet Underground Live)
This is a really cool early version, and although it could never beat the full-length version from Loaded, this one does feature different lyrics and a much more laid-back style. The early version from the Loaded reissue is somewhat similar, but the annoying cowbell is just too distracting.

And that's all! There are a few notable exclusions that I'd like to point out. The most significant is probably "Ferryboat Bill", which appears on Another View and is often considered a necessary part of the "lost album", but frankly, the song is too weird and nonsensical and just plain not good. "Follow the Leader", released as a 17-minute jam on The Quine Tapes, is just too long and unfocused to consider. The version Reed later did for Rock and Roll Heart in 1976 is superior. "I'm Gonna Move Right In" from Another View is a contender, but that version is an instrumental and not that interesting. Bootlegged live versions from 1968 with vocals aren't that much better. "Oh Gin" and "Walk and Talk", both found as demos on the Loaded reissue, are not bad, but also not that great. They may be less overproduced and more focused than Reed's solo versions from his first album (where they were renamed "Oh Jim" and "Walk and Talk It", respectively), but that doesn't actually make them better.

There are also early versions of several additional tracks from Loaded available on the 1997 reissue (and extended early versions of "New Age" can be found on 1969 and The Quine Tapes), but none of them are all that particularly different than the final incarnations, with the possible exception of "I Found a Reason". Presented as a demo, it is done in a sort of country style with harmonica and Moe Tucker on drums. It's still just not interesting enough to make the cut. The only other tracks that I'm aware of that could possibly be included are the unreleased songs from 1967 and 1968 with John Cale that can be found on VU and Another View. However, since they were almost certainly not considered to be a part of the "lost album" that the other songs on those albums reconstructed, they do not really deserve to be a part of this discussion, no matter how good they may be.

As I've said before, I don't feel comfortable in breaking copyright laws to upload my mix for public download, but if you own the albums, it should be really easy to put this together on your own. If you have constructed your own version, please let me know! I'd love to hear some other ideas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

hereafterthis / The Everest Ruin / Ian Fisher / Dots Not Feathers - Live 2010.11.07

On Halloween, I saw a friend of mine I hadn't seen in about a year and a half. We narrowly missed each other in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, and probably a few other places, too. It was at this sudden convergence that he told me that he was about to leave the country and go back to Berlin – but before that, he was going to be playing a show in my current hometown of St. Louis. It turns out another friend of mine would be performing as well, and the whole thing was arranged and promoted by yet another friend of mine. Hence, this will be an undeniably biased review – but what can I do? I'm a musician and many (if not most) of my friends are as well, so it is inevitable that I'll see concerts based at least partially on personal interest rather than pure musical interest. I want to be up-front about this potential conflict of interest, but it's not going to stop me! So here goes:

Artists: hereafterthis / The Everest Ruin / Ian Fisher / Dots Not Feathers
Venue: The Focal Point
Location: Maplewood, Missouri
Date: November 7, 2010

Review:
hereafterthis would appear to be primarily the work of one man named Jeremy. He sang in a melodious swoon along with his acoustic guitar and piano chords. He seemed to prefer his guitar and mostly let guests (including the promoter, Ben Majchrzak) take a second chair at the keyboard. His stylings and structures aren't the most complex, but he kept my attention with his solid voice. Excepting a few forgivable flubs, the performance was great. Download a few songs here.
Score: B

The Everest Ruin is really and truly just one man, Josh King, and tonight it was just him and his Chinese guitar. He's a tricky one, because most of the focus is on his clever lyrics, although underneath his sly voice is a mean set of acoustic riffs and chords. He sings about the glory of Missouri, the dangers of Facebook in the modern world, his advice from years ago to Ben concerning his love interest, and so on and so forth. Being "in" on some of his jokes is great, but even outside of the insider knowledge, the stories are hilarious. And the guitarwork never slows down behind it all. He's got a bandcamp page with a studio recording of one of the songs he played on this night, and supposedly he's got an album due out soon.
Score: A-

Ian Fisher shares my love of Germany, Austria, Berlin, Vienna, traveling in general, and playing the guitar. Thing is, he's better than I at the lattermost, but when he performs songs about certain ideas and places, it's eerily familiar. It's been years since I've seen him perform and yet he still possesses the same vitality and passion. He asked the audience for some suggestions, so I called out "Candles for Elvis". I think I had heard him perform the song years ago, before he'd recorded it, but my memory is weak sometimes, and hearing him perform it so powerfully on this night felt like some sort of strange mission had just been completed. I'd always liked the lyrics, and I finally caught the story that accompanies them: upon viewing the BBC World News homepage one day, Ian was confronted with two images, side by side. One showed thousands mourning the deaths of countless victims of an earthquake in Peru, and the other showed thousands mourning the death of Elvis Presley thirty years prior. The song was written from the perspective of a somewhat unlikeable man who cares far more for the one man over the masses.

Before I could shout my next request, someone else asked for precisely what I had in mind: "VIE", which hits home especially hard for me, since I can remember just like yesterday the day when I took the S-Bahn to the Vienna airport to head back to the USA. And he played several other solid songs before a guitar string broke and he left the stage. The point is, Ian rocked. I don't know how he does it, but he takes repeated folk-style progressions and adds so much emotion and energy that it's hard not to be swept under. Good luck in Berlin, man. (Check out his Myspace and iTunes page to hear his stuff.)
Score: A+

Dots Not Feathers, the so-to-speak headliners, were the only true "band". A five-piece with a rotating set of string and keyboard instruments, these guys knew how to throw down some solid harmonies. Keeping an acoustic feel, they traded vocal parts as they swapped around instruments to keep their melodies lively. I was a bit confused by what the one song featuring a bass guitar was doing, but generally the instruments did meld together in a cohesive sort of beauty. Something about them reminds of a significantly less deranged Pere Ubu. That's a good thing, I think. (Here's their Myspace.)
Score: B+

Incredibly fun night. Yes, I just gave an A+. He deserves it. This was a really cool event, and the mood was just right.
Overall score: A

Saturday, November 20, 2010

SLSO Blogger's Night 5 Summary

In case you didn't catch the other reviews of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchesta's fifth Blogger's Night, go check them out on the SLSO blog. Here are the direct links:

Dear Dominik (link from SLSO blog) - I also wondered about some of those techniques, particularly the rubbing. I know what it sounds like on a guitar, and it's usually not pretty.

Jen from Euclid Records (link from SLSO blog) - The first Haiku review I've ever seen.

Urban Hoedown (link from SLSO blog) - I also wasn't sure about the clapping thing. And I love the #70 Grand. It goes two blocks past my home, so I ride it all the time. And the seats were indeed great.

Cici from Washington University's KWUR (link from SLSO blog, which includes some of her related tweets) - Sometimes I'm jealous of young people who grew up on this kind of "classical" music. I think Cici's connection with Scheherazade is akin to my connection with the Beatles or Kraftwerk.

Small Town Girl's Guide (link from SLSO blog) - I was also impressed by Fred Bronstein's appearance in the Met Bar. Yeah, sometimes even just showing up means something.

I Went to a Show - I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Concentric Paths was incredible! The other reviews seemed less appreciative of it, but it was probably my favorite piece of the night. And this line is perfect (I thought the exact same thing): "The conductor is charming and charismatic, and he explains things in a way that isn't condescending or tedious to people who know what's what, but he doesn't lose the attention of the uninitiated with elaborate fancy-talk." Gotta love David Robertson. My university even gave him an honorary degree at my graduation!

That's all I'm aware of. If I'm missing anyone, let me know! To all you SLSO bloggers, it's great meeting you/seeing you again, and I eagerly await the next one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra - Live 2010.11.12 (review)

Following up from yesterday's semi-nonsensical post about the fifth Blogger's Night at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, this is my review in my normal style of writing and structure.

Event: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, part of the Russian Festival, conducted by David Robertson
Venue: Powell Hall
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: November 12, 2010

Program:
1. Symphony No. 1 in D major, op. 25, "Classical", composed by Sergei Prokofiev, 1916-17
2. Violin Concerto (Concentric Paths), composed by Thomas Adès, 2005, featuring Leila Josefowicz on violin
3. Scheherazade, op. 35, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1888

Review:
The night opened up with a relatively small set of musicians – plenty of strings, but just one percussionist on the timpani. Prokofiev began his "Classical" symphony in a traditional style, starting with a big, dramatic, triumphant allegro part before bringing in a slower, softer, more serene larghetto section. While the allegro part hurled by quickly, the larghetto sprawled out and let the musicians descend in and out of a fairytale scene. David Robertson appeared to float through the misty fog of violin strings rather than merely conduct it. He urged the musicians to a dance in the woods, a bit of light, casual fun.

But then – ! Suddenly the the third segment, the gavotte, rushed to the scene. The picture sharpened, the cellists tapped their strings, and suddenly the orchestra was running through the woods and dancing on the air. With hardly a trace of a transition, the finale rocked hard and brought a surprise ending. Lulled by the enthusiasm and spirited vigor of the orchestra, I didn't even see it coming. Fifteen minutes had just flown by.

Leave it David to stick a contemporary English composition smack in the middle of two traditional, very classical Russian works. And yet, he succeeds. Adès' Concentric Paths appears otherworldly, much unlike the Russians that remain grounded in this one, even if they might recall times long past. Adès invokes the darker side of the traditional works for his rhythmic base, but he uses their forms as a springboard to jump into the unknown. The piece starts with something akin to a synthesizer, probably affected by the woodwinds. Led by Leila Josefowicz (whom I previously saw two years ago perform Steven Mackey's Beautiful Passing), the violins flew wildly across the room. Leila jerked around and convulsed, caught in the passion of performance, while the other strings players jabbed and plucked with all their might.

Weird warbles, perhaps emitted by the scaling violins, evoked a theremin, and by extension, a 50s sci-fi flick. The high-tension strings and dark accompaniment set the mood of a spooky planet in some other solar system: an enemy alien has been spotted, it crawls and lurches, and it might just attack. Moments of respite came with flutes and peaceful violins, but deep, thick rhythms exposed the inner anxiety, should the alien being reemerge. By the time the third and final segment, "Rounds", began, Leila appeared as if ready for a challenge. Some other weird tone emerged, sounding like a didgeridoo, before a drumset kicked in and the orchestra began to move. The strange time signatures and dark tones that finished the piece sounded almost familiar by then – something cool was happening, but it was something we'd seen before, so the excitement and tension weren't quite the same.

The final work of the night was the more traditional Scheherazade. (At David's Pre-Concert Perspectives before the actual performance, almost the entire present crowd raised their hand at the question of if they'd heard the work before.) After the raw, intense nervousness and anxious curiosity of Concentric Paths, this work felt staler, entrenched firmly in the past. Some segments felt surprisingly similar – the jabs and punches, the occasional subtle tension, the sweet plucking – but much of the first half felt too methodical, predictable, or premeditated. It felt directed, perhaps too ordered, but yet that makes some sort of sense, since the whole concept is that the eponym of the piece tells a long series of stories (the 1001 Arabian Nights) to try to prevent the Sultan from murdering her. Perhaps Rimsky-Korsakov intended such a deterministic structure.

Consistent throughout the piece was a fugue of just the first violin and a harp. The rest of the large-scale orchestra would drop out and let just the two instruments spin their pretty little bit before the story would continue. The third part, "The Young Prince and Princess", felt appropriately very courtly and stately, in contrast with the charging knights and feudal heralds of the previous parts. This part was perhaps the tamest and least interesting, but this led into the final segment, a series of shorter tales that jumped around wantonly and rashly. Grand rushes and big percussion devolved into a more cacophonous jam, but the musicians remained united and descended slowly before running up and down, back upwards and further upwards and the feelings rose higher and higher to a harmony that felt impossibly good for its towering position.

And then the night was over. For a 45-minute piece, Scheherazade feels long, but not that long. In its own context, the work is adventuresome and complex, but that just can't compare to Concentric Paths, which reached another whole level of exploration and development. Neither of the Russian works offered much of a surprise, but the performances were beautiful. It was easy to become lost in the waves of melody and start dreaming of other places and scenes. In that sense, the performance can only be described as a success: this was probably the first classical concert that I've attended in which my mind was alight with such wondrous imagery. Just as David floated and danced with the music, my imagination transcended the seat and the city I was sitting in.

Score: A-

Thanks to Eddie, Dale, and Shannon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra - Live 2010.11.12 (notes)

I was invited last night to the fifth Blogger's Night of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. After discussing the night with the blogging crew, I shall post two versions of my review. This first one is simply a transcription of my notes that I took during the performance. I'll let the reader try to make sense of it. The second review, which will be posted tomorrow, will feature my traditional style of writing and analysis.

Remember, I came all the way back from Germany for this! Here goes:

7:00 Pre-Concert Perspectives
Prokofiev too fast, like Formula 1
No Communism!
Genetically modified music
singing at cows, staring en masse

8:06 Prokofiev
Big open strings, dramatic
triumphant, sweet
sehr upbeat, grand, dramatic
so many strings, not much else, only perc timpani
drives to one big moment, one big swing, allegro over
Larghetto: soft, serene, slower
David floats, picked pretty bit, woods/brass chill
oh! big! no, released again
soft bed descending bits, fairytale
waltzing through the forest
softens, descends, peaceful a dance in the woods, spring
Gavotte: bigger, grander, sharper,
cellos tapping strings loud page turn
oh! fast! sudden! sharp! whirling about!
flutes really going! fast! through the trees!
woah violins, all over fast [arrow to previous line] dancing on air
row of women changed page for men (cellos)
woodwinds/brass really rockin it!
went right into finish, surprised ending,
lulled into the vigor + sweetness
timpani like a cat
8:22?

Adès: 8:24 new timpanist + perc now
Leila in a pretty grey dress
David: aware of 300+ year violin tradition
she moves as possessed, just like before
8:32 very spooky, dark, violin squeaky
ominous, descending into darkness, falling
vio all over, wild, heavy
8:33 wavering lead vio
synth-like notes – woods?
vio all over all over, shit dark already
[scribble] those wavering high notes
like a theremin, sci fi
on some fucked up planet
super high v notes, minimal accompaniment
dreamy, spacey, feathery
she is beyond good and evil
strings jerk alien! enemy! scared!
gasp! Percu! shit! hit hard, stop
Paths: jab jab pluck jab stretch pluck
aggressive plucking Bam Again
structure growing heavy shit strange jungle
dark but logical don't take it for granted
she flies convulses the the only one standing but the timpanist
deep comp, crazed v moment of movement [?]
No vs at all, descending creepy something's coming
there it is oh shit, strange, jabs out
ugh thick deep rhythm
oh sweet now, softer, v + flutes alien is away peace on earth
i want that dress smooth serene a bit heavier more dramatic
darker but not evil
beyond good + evil
fucked up v notes
no logic there wont stop
everything else cools
v finally slows finally
Rounds: she awaits the challenge
starts low + creepy Digeridoo [sic] sound! wtf
drums hell yeah strings, woods going, eerie
learning new things, this aint too bad can handle this
v there it is, normal though – sorta cool [?]
she's freakin out generic dark, cool but not as cool
whirling exploration low taps 5/4 oh jab that v
ouch! big final sudden swipe! not totally unexpected
but still big 8:51 lots of clapping

9:19 Rimsky-Korsakov
Big, heavy, ominous, puncuated (Police sirens)
soft, tragic, pointed – harp! Much fuller orch
first v solo more classical, trad
Grand majestic, timpani soft + sweet lilting in the air
decisive scheduled precise strictly non-loose
oh – bigger grander, wilder, is this a dance?
brass make it big pointed directed formulated
pretty but predictable
Another part? slower even more premeditated
still lilting swaying as if to dance
bigger grander really big notes really really big
huge brass notes slower, methodical
nice pointed conclusion bring led from point A to B
harpy + v solo bassoon (oboe?) solo
slow but subtle beauty plucks
sounds classical, medieval, court [undecipherable]
[arrow to two lines prior] oh crap – harsh injection feudal call
riders on the storm comin from afar heralds
shake those vs somethings coming fast
alles shaking trembling okay calmer tense though nervous
tap tap tap nice perc bis triangle yeah
knights coming oh lots of them here they march
tromp stomp tra la la triangle jump!
relative peace soft plucking
fairly triumphant charging in control
coordinated chaos wild strings
jab jab, punch crescendos nice
oh sweet plucks held high oh that harp
subtle but a bit tense rising tension bigger + bigger
big!!! big note [arrow to "tense" in previous line] | pause
melodic strings soft + simple + serene unghh
pretty though floating impatience in the crowd
wheres the action – or am I just noticing
snare!? so subtle + grey
dancey back + forth .............
first v + harp nochmals
crash big follows basic melody storybook
very small + subtle pause
that first v + harp again oh god so much more
dramatic bang big fest big event movement
courtly? grand presentation tambo
let the [undecipherable] big thrusts chase jumping
o, now serene und schön noch wieder
pluck – pluck 1-2 / 1 2 1 2 3 –– !
those threes chasin drama big david is all over it
perc shit big long grand a bit dark
cacophonous but united in a grand front
descend [scribble] [scribble] up and down
dark back sweet top lulled into peace
[arrows sweeping upwards] [scribbles] just over [undecipherable]
squeak whistly [scribble] forlorn
rising to a harmonious top note . . . .
10:03 individuals standing up thx david
hoots and hollers ha ha

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Magnetic Fields - Live 2010.03.30

A month after the fact is better than nothing, right? Well, before I got really busy in April with international travels, I caught a relatively recent newcomer to my musical radar live in my current home town.

Artist: The Magnetic Fields
Venue: Mousonturm
Location: Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Date: March 30, 2010

First Set:
01. Kiss Me Like You Mean It
02. You Must Be Out of Your Mind
03. Interlude
04. The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side
05. Better Things
06. I Don't Want to Get Over You
07. Acoustic Guitar
08. The Nun's Litany
09. I Don't Really Love You Anymore
10. I Don't Know What to Say
11. Shipwrecked (originally recorded by The Gothic Archies)
12. Suddenly There Is a Tidal Wave
13. Walk a Lonely Road
14. I'm Sorry I Love You

Second Set:
15. Xylophone Track
16. Long Vermont Roads
17. The Dolls' Tea Party
18. Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget
19. Always Already Gone
20. All the Umbrellas in London
21. The One You Really Love
22. Night Falls Like a Grand Piano (originally recorded by The 6ths)
23. Fear of Trains
24. I'm Tongue-Tied
25. We Are Having a Hootenanny
26. From a Sinking Boat

Encore:
27. 100,000 Fireflies
28. Papa Was a Rodeo

Review:
I heard about the Magnetic Fields a long time ago, but for some reason I never pursued them further. It happens. We all make mistakes. Later I went to college and and half of my friends never stopped spinning the triple-disc 69 Love Songs. And one day I saw the whole box on sale at a good price, so I bought it. I've never regretted that decision.

Anyway, I had the pleasure of catching them on their European tour to promote Realism, which I neither own nor have heard in any part. They played at a medium-small theater in Frankfurt-Bornheim; there were probably a good 300 people there. My first thought was, "Woah, this is where all the alternative people in Bankfurt go!" Instead of an army of suits, I was mixed in with people with crazy hair and clothes with actual style. It was quite refreshing.

There was no opening act; the band just played two sets. They were no drums or crazy beats; Stephin Merritt suffers from hyperacusis and even covers his ears when the audience claps. The instrumentation was fairly constant: Shirley Simms sang and played autoharp; Claudia Gonson sang, played keyboard, and occasionally played auxiliary percussion; John Woo played acoustic guitar; Sam Davol played cello; and Merritt sang and played ukelele.

The setlist included most of the new album, plenty of tracks from the band's biggest album (69 Love Songs), and a handful from very early albums. To be honest, I'm really only familiar with 69, but I was quite pleased with the song selections from the album. "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" and "I Don't Want to Get Over You" were great, but they sounded quite different than their synthy, heavy-reverb guitar and drum album versions. It worked, though. The melodies and all the parts were all there, just on different instruments. And Merritt's deep bass sounded perfect – I can't believe how well he can hit such low notes. (Maybe I just say that because I'm jealous.)

It wasn't just the instrumental parts that got swapped around – vocal parts were as well. Merritt didn't sing "I Don't Want to Get Over You" on record, and both the female vocalists took parts originally sang by other singers. This was never blatantly obvious, in the sense that nothing sounded "wrong" or particularly strange. I think the quality of the tunes and lyrics carries over extremely well to about any set of instruments and voices, as long as their respective performance quality is up to par. And with these musicians, that's certainly the case – I don't think I heard a single significant mistake the entire night. There were some technical problems, but that's another story.

I think the Magnetic Fields function so well because of the incredible combination of top-notch pop with great lyrics. The music is not straight-up traditional pop; the band likes to experiment around and their albums have plenty of odd sounds, but the lyrics are top-notch. I hate love songs and yet I love Merritt's lyrics, which usually focus on love or death. No matter how ironic or bitter or harsh or flippant, the lyrics are always delivered with a straight face and a perfect intonation. That's impressive.

These songs are not, in terms of technicality, all that complicated, but there are plenty of exceptions. Several songs feature complex interwoven parts, and the musicians were capable of letting loose and tossing out cool solos and lead bits. The best example was "Acoustic Guitar", which is just Gonson on vocals and Woo on guitar, and Woo did the entire thing note-for-note perfect, and considering some of the fancy little runs and fingerpicking patterns, I wouldn't rate that as easy.

After 26 songs (including two from Merritt's side-projects) and some two hours of music, the band gave a great encore: "100,000 Fireflies" from the band's first album and the ballad/storytelling duet "Papa Was a Rodeo". A nice rocker might have been even cooler, but the slower-paced finished was pleasant enough.

Score: B+

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SLSO Blogger's Night 4

In my absence from Saint Louis, I've been unable to attend the last two Blogger's Nights at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Thankfully, Chris Maue made it to the last one. Check out his first part of a coming set here.

To read other blogger's posts, check out the SLSO blog posts here and here. There may still be more to come...

As for myself, I've got plenty in the works but progress is slow as a result of constant travel.

[Edit 4.27.2010: You can see all of Chris' latest round of SLSO comics here. Make sure you read the alt texts!]

Friday, March 12, 2010

Towards a Compromise Between Get Back and Let It Be

I've been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember. They were the first band that I "inherited" from my parents. I've actively listened to them consistently throughout my life, I've learned to play most of their oeuvre, I've collected their bootlegs, I named my solo act after one of their songs, I've seen their films, and I've obsessed over the life and music of John Lennon. They're one of my favorites, and their mass popularity somehow hasn't turned me off from them. Despite the seemingly endless plethora of written and other information, I'm going to try to add something.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the Beatles music still remains today Let It Be, or Get Back, as it was originally intended. Although all of the latter-day Beatles albums sound pretty different from each other, and very different from their first albums, Let It Be stands out. The only album of theirs not produced by George Martin, it sounds a bit rough, despite the obvious, heavy overdubbing in several tracks, and it features studio chatter and two odd little jams and improvisations. Their last studio album to be released, it sounds like their last – even more so than on the White Album or Abbey Road (recorded after Let It Be but released before it) – because of the very different styles of composition by the members, and especially the harsh "I Me Mine".

Of course, there's a long story to explain all this, and I'll save myself the trouble of repeating it; plenty of others have done it before. I'm concerned here just with the music itself. See, although I really liked it, Let It Be never sounded quite right to me. Like many other people, including some of the Beatles themselves, the album felt a bit... mangled, shall we say, by Phil Spector's production. Don't get me wrong: I think John Lennon wasn't lying when he said something to the effect that Spector took a loose assemblage of half-baked rehearsals and came out with a finished, marketable product. But to me, there's no doubt that Spector went too far in his overdubbing.

The only other original source of songs from the Get Back / Let It Be project are the singles from the album and the "Wildlife" version of "Across the Universe", all of which are these days conveniently collected on the Past Masters compilation. I've always liked these versions, but it's not a whole album, just a few tracks presented in different mixes (and produced by George Martin). The same can be said of the alternate versions released on the Anthology. Most of them are loose alternate versions, although a few interesting takes certainly do turn up.

The first and only official alternative version is Let It Be... Naked, released in 2003. This version certainly de-Spectorizes the album, but some of the mixes and alternative versions are almost too different, and several little things are missing, like the chatter and jams. It often feels too clean and smooth.

Of course, there are bootleg versions of Glyn Johns' mixes of the album when it was still known as Get Back. The two best and most common versions are his May 1969 mix and his final version from January 1970. Both feature a different set of tracks, practically no overdubs (as was originally intended), and an even rougher and looser feel, but they suffer in their lack of general production quality. There's no doubt that Spector did a better version of mixing things together to create a higher-quality sound. (Spector didn't get famous for nothing, but to be fair, Johns' goal wasn't to get a clean sound.)

And this is not all: there are plenty of other bootlegs to find more alternative versions from. It is possible to find recordings of everything the band put to tape during the Get Back sessions (including, of course, the takes from the Let It Be film), but the audio quality really suffers, and it's nearly impossible to actually find better versions there. However, the Anthology Plus bootleg features a few particularly interesting versions, and the bootleg of the live rooftop performance is also of special note. (Several of the songs were used in some form on Get Back, Let It Be, and Let It Be... Naked.)

After listening through all of this material over the years, it seemed natural to me to try to sit down and pick out my favorite versions. For some reason, I never got around to doing this... until now! I would now like to present to you my ideal mix of Get Back / Let It Be, with tracks borrowed from most of the sources I mentioned above.

01. Two of Us (early version from Anthology Plus bootleg)
02. Get Back (Get Back May 1969 version)
03. Don't Let Me Down (Get Back single b-side, also Past Masters)
04. Dig a Pony (remixed live version from Naked)
05. Maggie Mae (Get Back January 1970 version)
06. I've Got a Feeling (remixed live version from Naked)
07. One After 909 (original live version from Let It Be)
08. Dig It (original edited version from Let It Be)
09. Let It Be (single version, also Past Masters)
10. For You Blue (remixed version from Naked)
11. Teddy Boy (Spector's outtake version from 1970, a bonus track on the Get Back January 1970 bootleg)
12. Two of Us (original from Let It Be)
13. The Long and Winding Road (alternate take from Naked)
14. I Me Mine (remixed version from Naked)
15. Across the Universe ("Wildlife" version from the World Wildlife Fund charity album and Past Masters)
16. Get Back (live version from Anthology 3)

You may be surprised that I chose 16 tracks, of which two are duplicates and one was never released by the band, and that I changed up the tracklist a lot. It would be my pleasure to explain these choices, as well as why I chose each source for each track, and of course, why I left out certain other tracks. As far as the length of my version, it's actually under 48 minutes, and it contains just as many tracks as Glyn Johns' final mix. And now to the specific track choices:

01. Two of Us (early version from Anthology Plus bootleg)
Originally, "Two of Us" was a chugging, faster-paced, guitar-based rocker. This is the best version that I'm aware of that original version, but it breaks down after two minutes. I really like this version, and the loose feel of the track fits in with the whole; as the opener it sets the stage for what's to come. All versions of the album start out with more rocking songs; Let It Be starts with this song, and both versions of Get Back feature several very loose jams in their first few tracks.

02. Get Back (Get Back May 1969 version)
Very similar to the single version, and not at all far from the Let It Be version, since they were all based on the same master take. I prefer this early mix (even over Johns' final 1970 mix) because of the louder, more reverby drums and the rougher edges. Somehow I think the quality is high even in its less-produced stage. And personally, I really like the coda. The fact that both Let It Be versions drop it (even if it wasn't originally there) is to me a loss. I like having this song early in the album, as with Naked, although I also like the idea of a reprise at the end of the album as with the Get Back versions. More on that later.

03. Don't Let Me Down (Get Back single b-side, also Past Masters)
One of my absolute favorite tracks from these sessions, it was left off of Let It Be since it was the b-side of the Get Back single, although I agree with every other version of the album in including it anyway. However, my favorite version remains the b-side version; it's clearly the best take, and even if the live version cobbled together for Naked has some power, this version has yet more. This is approximately the location of the track on both versions of Get Back and Naked. For a slowish but impassioned rocker, third in line seems to work fine.

04. Dig a Pony (remixed live version from Naked)
Most versions are about identical and generally fairly good, especially the original Let It Be version, but I find the Naked version was remixed quite well. This is the strongest version I could find. This was also the approximate placement of the track in each version of the album.

05. Maggie Mae (Get Back January 1970 version)
All versions are nearly identical except for the lead-in and fade-out. I disagree with Naked's removal of the track; I think it's important to the overall loose and "fun" feeling of the album. Plus it's kind of funny in how it doesn't fit with the band. I chose this version because it includes the line "and so we leave the little town of... London, England" at the start, lacking from Let It Be. (However, that version does have a slightly better fade-out; this version starts to fade out just a bit too early.) My placement follows Let It Be in that it precedes "I've Got a Feeling".

06. I've Got a Feeling (remixed live version from Naked)
The Let It Be version is pretty good; it's a powerful song in any version, but the live rooftop takes are especially strong. Although the heavy editing done to this track on Naked may go against the original intentions, I find the mashing of the two live takes to be the absolute best version I've heard. This is also the approximate placement in every version but Let It Be. I like the live versions in general because of their sheer spontaneous power, and this is a perfect example. To me, the rooftop concert embodies the spirit of this album, and hence, except for "Don't Let Me Down", I choose live versions in every case possible.

07. One After 909 (original live version from Let It Be)
The standard Let It Be version suits me best, as does it's placement after "I've Got a Feeling" (the sequence is also used on Naked.) I prefer Spector's production of the live version over Get Back's weaker mix, whereas the remix looses some of its feeling – and the "Danny Boy" tease at the end, which is, of course, extremely important.

08. Dig It (original edited version from Let It Be)
"Dig It" has to be immediately before "Let It Be" because of Lennon's great line "... and now we'd like to do... 'Hark, the Herald Angels Come!'" I prefer the edit over the full take heard on both versions of Get Back, because, honestly, the full version isn't very good and it gets old. The edit features the best lines ("... like the FBI / And the CIA / And the BBC / B.B. King! / And Doris Day! Matt Busby!") but cuts the less interesting parts. Naked mistakenly cuts the song entirely, but I think it's important to the the general atmosphere, and especially to contrast the almost-too-overt "Let It Be". There is a bit of a problem in that the fade-out from "One After 909" into the fade-in of this song takes way too long, and manual editing is probably necessary to shorten the gap.

09. Let It Be (single version, also Past Masters)
This is the version of the song I always think of. Even if the lyric is a bit too heavy-handed for me, I still like the song; the emotion is pure. This is also one of the most controversial songs of the whole project, but I agree with many when I say that the strings, horns, choir, and tape echo on the drums of the Let It Be version are just too much. Too much Spectorism for me. Other versions (from Naked, Anthology 3, and Get Back) just don't make the cut: the production is either too weak or the guitar solo isn't quite right. The single version is well-produced, has the tom-toms in the latter half (which I actually like for the nice syncopation they create), and has the best guitar solo (especially since you can hear the second-best solo somewhat more quietly in the other speaker). The one downfall is that the guitar solo over the last part is too low in the mix (which the Let It Be version has higher up), although in every other way, this is the mix for me.

10. For You Blue (remixed version from Naked)
All album versions feature the same master take, but Naked has the best mix. The Get Back versions have some studio chatter that is relatively uninteresting and thus I'd rather have the version that sounds the best. I like that the Anthology 3 version has a more prominent piano, but the take is weaker on the whole. The placement after "Let It Be" follows Johns' 1970 mix's ordering.

11. Teddy Boy (Spector's outtake version from 1970, a bonus track on the Get Back January 1970 bootleg)
This might be a bit of a surprise, but this song appeared on Johns' early mix, and he did another mix with George Martin that didn't make the cut; Spector also did this version despite leaving it on the floor. McCartney later did a solo version, but this version fits with rest of the session, and I love Lennon's random square-dance section. This song was apparently always something of a contender, and I like it enough to include it. The Anthology 3 version is a bit cleaner, but it's also edited, and I actually like Spector's work on this version. The other versions sound far lower-quality. I follow Johns' 1969 mix in having it follow "For You Blue" and precede "Two of Us".

12. Two of Us (original from Let It Be)
Still one of my favorite tracks from the project, I think Spector did a fantastic job with this song, which mostly meant just letting it be. (Heh.) The Naked version is a pretty straightforward remix, but I prefer this version, partially because of Lennon's opening banter. Having that dialog so late in the album is a bit weird, but as far as the song goes, I like the sense of progression you get from beginning with the early version and getting to this more thought-out version by this point in the album.

13. The Long and Winding Road (alternate take from Naked)
Almost certainly the most controversial track from the whole project, I again agree with many in finding Spector's extensive overdubs simply too much. Most other versions, though, I find to be simply poorly produced, and most feature a spoken bridge that Spector edited out of his version. I agree with his decision to remove it; I prefer the sung version. This version of the song sounds good and is actually a different take with nice subtle guitar and organ touches. I agree with every other version of the album, though, in having it near the end of the album.

14. I Me Mine (remixed version from Naked)
Another example where the Spectorism is just too much, but his general production values were top-notch. Copying half of the song to make it a brief two and a half minutes instead of a super-short 1:45 was a good idea, but the strings just don't belong. The Naked version reaches a very acceptable compromise. I like the placement near the end, as was done on Naked and Glyns' 1970 version (where it also follows "The Long and Winding Road").

15. Across the Universe ("Wildlife" version from the World Wildlife Fund charity album and Past Masters)
I love this song, but I prefer the psychedelic tendencies way over the cheesy choir and strings from the Let It Be version. The strings themselves would be fine, actually, and the female backing vocals in this version are almost a bit too much, but this take is the best compromise. No version is perfect. The Anthology 2 and Naked versions are both wonderfully psychedelic, but they cut or lack John's own extra vocals, the cool bass riff at the end, and the maracas, all of which I really like. This version has the slightly annoying wildlife sounds (although the opening sounds can be manually cut and the sounds at the end aren't too distracting) and could be more psychedelic, but to me it gets closest to the point. If the wildlife sounds and female vocals are too much for you, then take the great alternative version from Anthology 2. I copy Johns' 1970 version and Naked in placing this song second-to-last before a version of "Get Back".

16. Get Back (live version from Anthology 3)
As I said before, I really like the idea of having a reprise of this song, and it's a great song to end the album on. However, the reprise version used for both Get Back versions is too weak for me. I prefer this historically interesting live take, cleaned up for Anthology 3. It's the last song the band played on the rooftop, and thus the last live performance of the Beatles: what better way to end the "last" Beatles album? You can hear the guitars cut out at one point when the police start pulling plugs, and you can hear the nervousness or tension in Paul's voice and the guitars (although the English winter might have also been a factor). It's really not a bad take at all, and Paul starts ad-libbing some funny lyrics at the end, which is a nice balance, since most of the funny comments on the album are from John. I do wish that this version had the banter from the end of the Let It Be version ("I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves [sic], and I hope we passed the audition", a fantastic line to close the album on), although I could always edit it in.

My version leaves out "Rocker" and "Save the Last Dance for Me", found on both versions of Get Back, but they are very scattered, incomplete takes, and I think the rough, early version of "Two of Us" and the other little jams and bits of banter cover the same task better. Otherwise, every other track on every version of the album is present in some version, and I generally went for versions that didn't stray too far from the version that everyone knows best, Let It Be (except for excising the gratuitous Spectorisms), and I largely borrowed track ordering from somewhere between Get Back and Let It Be. There were plenty of other songs performed during the sessions, many of which ended up on Abbey Road or various members' future solo albums, but none of them (except "Teddy Boy") neared completion or garnered enough attention to be thoroughly produced, and therefore I've left them off.

I don't feel comfortable in breaking copyright laws to upload my mix for public download, but if you own the legitimate albums, I find no sin in downloading bootlegs of unreleased material, and these bootlegs are very easy to find. It shouldn't be too hard to piece this together on your own, although I wouldn't be surprised if you have your own preferences and tweaks. Feel free to let me know what your favorite mixes are!

[Edit 3.16.2010: I also left out "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)", released as the b-side to "Let It Be", since it was recorded originally around the time of "All You Need Is Love" and The Magical Mystery Tour and finished during the Abbey Road sessions; hence I don't think it fits here at all.]