Thursday, December 20, 2012

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 14

Last week I received the fourteenth set of exclusive vinyl items offered to platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its platinum members every three months. According to the postal service, my package was sent on December 13th. I received it on the 17th.

This fourteenth set of items contains a live double-LP by Jack White, and a 7-inch single containing three demos of songs which turned up in finished form on White’s 2012 solo debut Blunderbuss, which reached the #1 spot on the Billboard album chart and on some critics’ year-end lists. The third item in this package is a picture book by Alison Mosshart, singer from the Dead Weather and the Kills, titled Shark Infested Soda Fountain.

The 7-inch single, which is pressed in beautiful sky-blue-marble-colored vinyl, contains demos of three songs from Blunderbuss, each one running just over one minute long. If you’re going to put one-minute working versions of songs on a single, then “Freedom at 21” is the correct one of these three to put on the A-side. The song’s demo sounds like an intriguing alternate version (or at least the beginning of one), casting the song as a moody organ-dominated ballad that sounds quite different from its faster-paced finished version. The B-side contains demos of two of the album’s slower-tempo songs: “Hypocritical Kiss” and “Love Interruption” – and in that order, contrary to what the label says. Both of them sound like the far-from-finished works-in-progress that they were. “Love Interruption” is the better-sounding one, until Jack trips over the lyrics in the chorus.

The double-LP Live At Third Man Records, pressed in black-and-blue split-colored vinyl, was recorded at Third Man’s studio on March 8th, 2012, about a month-and-a-half before Blunderbuss was released. White played two sets that night, performing songs from Blunderbuss and from all three of his famous bands, to celebrate the studio’s third anniversary. For the first set, White was backed by the Peacocks, a six-piece all-female band; for the second set, he was backed by the Buzzards, an all-male five-piece band. Each band provides a similar combo of drums, bass, and keyboards, with fiddles and steel to add some country flavor. After years of hearing Mr. White perform as one-half of a duo, it’s strange to hear him surrounded by so much instrumentation, especially when he performs White Stripes numbers. I mean no disrespect to Meg White when I point out that both of the drummers here (Carla Azar and Daru Jones) are technically superior to her.

The most noticeable stylistic difference between the two bands is that the Buzzards play with a bit more hard-rock crunch, while the Peacocks tend to favor more countrified melodies. But that difference is not as drastic as it may sound. In fact, the Buzzards help bring out Jack’s country side the most on their covers of Hank Williams’ “You Know That I Know” and Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”. And the Peacocks rock out assertively on “Sixteen Saltines” and the Raconteurs song “Top Yourself”. Is one band better than the other? Based on this album, the Buzzards are preferable; their playing is tighter, and they have better chemistry with White and with each other, making the second record in this set the more fully satisfying one. The Peacocks are certainly good players, but their individual talents don’t blend together as well, at least not at this documented stage of the game. As a result, the first record in this set (while quite good) is the less solid one.

One thing is for sure: the Jack White solo sound, as presented on Live At Third Man Records, is less raw and more layered than the sound of the White Stripes. So far, it is working well. It will be interesting to see where Jack goes from here.

The front cover art for Live At Third Man Records is a sleek lenticular image that alternates between two photographs of White performing on stage. It’s possibly the most clearly designed lenticular image I’ve ever seen. There is one drawback to it: the front half of the album’s gatefold sleeve is stiffer than the other half, which makes it a bit tricky to slide the record back into it after you remove it. I recommend removing the second record before putting the first one back in.

The “bonus” item in this package is a book of pictures taken during the Dead Weather’s 2010 tour. Titled Shark Infested Soda Fountain and credited to “Baby Ruthless or Whoever Had The Camera…”, the book was originally self-published by Alison Mosshart in August 2010, and was reprinted for this Vault package on the Third Man Books imprint. (Ah, books! Another cherished physical medium that is dying in the digital age). It’s not a concert photo book. Rather, it contains 53 pages of “fun” snapshots (most in black and white, some in color) taken of the band members in various poses and situations while out on the road. The jokey captions sometimes reveal the geographical locales, most of them in North America. The book was clearly intended as a personal keepsake for Mosshart and friends. It’s cute, but it’s for fans only.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The A-side of the single has “Guess Hoss” carved in the dead wax; the B-side has “Eye Maq” carved. The double-LP has the following four messages carved: “Expensive cake”, “Rotted in the oven”, “Yellow + black tastes like dust”, and “We ate Gummi Bears for days”.


Jack White “Blunderbuss” Demos (Third Man single TMR178) 2012

Track Listing:

a. Freedom at 21
b1. Hypocritical Kiss
b2. Love Interruption


Jack White “Live At Third Man Records” (Third Man TMR171) 2012

Track Listing:

SIDE ONE

1. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
2. Missing Pieces
3. Sixteen Saltines
4. Love Interruption
5. Hotel Yorba

SIDE TWO

1. Top Yourself
2. Hypocritical Kiss
3. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)
4. Blue Blood Blues
5. We Are Going To Be Friends

SIDE III

1. My Doorbell
2. Freedom at 21
3. I Cut Like a Buffalo / Don’t Sweat the Technique
4. You Know That I Know
5. Weep Themselves To Sleep

SIDE FOUR

1. Ball and Biscuit
2. Steady, As She Goes
3. Seven Nation Army
4. Goodnight Irene

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Notes on Sandy and Shankar

The day before this post was written was 12/12/12, the day a major all-star benefit concert was held at New York's Madison Square Garden to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy. It was an amazing night. The Rolling Stones performed! The Who performed! Eric Clapton performed! Billy Joel came out of retirement! (Not that he ever really retired from performing). Baby boomer icons performed alongside heroes of Generation X. Bruce Springsteen sang two duets with Jon Bon Jovi. Roger Waters shared the stage with Eddie Vedder. And, most unpredictably of all, Paul McCartney stood in for the late Kurt Cobain as part of a Nirvana reunion! There was one unexpected pairing of Generation X and Y, when REM's Michael Stipe joined Coldplay's Chris Martin on stage for a performance of "Losing My Religion". And, unfortunately, there was also an overlong set from the egomaniacal Kanye West, who stuck out like a sore thumb.

The big news was the Nirvana reunion. Nirvana survivors Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic took the stage with sometime collaborator Pat Smear and the one and only Paul McCartney, to perform a new song titled "Cut Me Some Slack". I feared the worst, but the song rocked! See for yourself below:



Other high points of the evening included a solemn introductory set by Springsteen, a knockout set by the Who (who interacted with film footage of the late Keith Moon for a performance of "Bellboy"), and a short but graceful set by Clapton. The low point: an abrasive ego trip from Kanye West, who appeared to have borrowed a skirt from Kim Kardashian to wear on stage. I found myself wishing that someone would give Kanye a taste of his own medicine by storming the stage and interrupting his set.

Earlier in the day on 12/12/12, the news was reported that Indian music legend Ravi Shankar died at the age of 92. Shankar's impact on the music world was significant. He brought Indian music to the West, especially when he performed at the Monterey Pop and Woodstock festivals, and he taught George Harrison to play the sitar, leading Harrison to incorporate Indian sounds into Beatles recordings. And, on top of all that, he also brought Norah Jones into the world.

I couldn't help but think that the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert inadvertently served as a fitting tribute to Shankar, who may well have invented the concept of the rock benefit concert as we know it. In 1971, Shankar reached out to George Harrison to organize two famous benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden, to raise money for UNICEF to aid refugees from war-torn Bangladesh who were fleeing to India. Shankar later described The Concert For Bangladesh as "one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century".

The 12/12/12 concert is just the latest example of the many benefit concerts that have been inspired by the Concert For Bangladesh. It was held in the same venue and featured at least one of the same artists, namely Eric Clapton. To me, it was touching that this event was held on the same day as the passing of the man who helped to begin the proud tradition of benefit concerts.