Monday, March 18, 2013

Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs, Vol. 4: Semi-Acoustical

Bun E.’s Basement Bootlegs were CD’s sold through Cheap Trick’s official website and fan club. They contained previously unreleased Cheap Trick recordings from the band’s archives, compiled by drummer Bun E. Carlos. There were four separate volumes issued between the years 2000 and 2002. Each one was limited to 1,000 copies. Each CD was packaged in a plain white cardboard sleeve with a stamped illustration of the drummer’s face and his hand-autographed initials. The discs were numbered using black marker. Each disc had a different theme to classify the types of tracks included on it.

The theme of the fourth volume, issued in 2002, was “Semi-Acoustical”, and it contained live recordings of Cheap Trick playing acoustic renditions of 17 songs. Also, this volume featured a bonus disc, documenting early live performances from the band from 1976.

The Semi-Acoustical disc sounds like a great MTV Unplugged episode that never was. (I know why they called it semi-acoustic; someone obviously plugged in an electric guitar during “Voices”, and used a wah-wah pedal during “Downed”). The band mostly stuck to their own material for these performances, except for their expected covers of the Move’s “California Man” (the acoustic rendition of which makes you want to dance like the characters in the song) and the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” (which sounds cool as usual with bassist Tom Petersson doing the lead vocal). Few, if any, of the Cheap Trick songs lose any of the feeling or intensity of their electric studio versions in these acoustic settings. In fact, these renditions draw more attention to Robin Zander’s powerful voice. Zander knows how to scale down his vocals for acoustic treatments without sacrificing any of their power. The entire band does a perfect job of scaling down “Wrong All Along” while preserving its intensity. This version of the psychotic “Ballad of TV Violence” moves along with brilliantly understated intensity, building up to Zander’s climactic primal screaming. Ballads such as “Ghost Town” and “Say Goodbye” sound simply lovely here; “Never Run Out of Love” is performed with a beauty that exceeds the studio version on Woke Up With A Monster. “Top of the World” sounds nearly flawless, with guitarist Rick Nielsen still displaying his usual flash without electricity in his axe. “I Want You To Want Me” has a campfire hootenanny feel to it; “Lookout” has a similarly infectious folk vibe. Semi-Acoustical is a delightful disc that shows an unusual side of Cheap Trick, although (to their credit) it doesn’t sound vastly different from their more familiar side. These power-pop legends do not rely as heavily on electric guitars and studio production as some people might think.

This volume came with a bonus disc titled Cheeseland ’76, which contained 12 live tracks recorded the year before the release of Cheap Trick’s 1977 debut album. The band may or may not have been aware of the growing punk rock movement that was happening at that time, but this disc is as good a document as any from that pivotal moment in music history. The not-yet-famous quartet cheerfully indulged in wild electric jams that could make Neil Young and Crazy Horse jealous. It was certainly brazen for Nielsen to introduce a song called “Taxman” as if it was a familiar Beatles cover, when the band was actually playing a Cheap Trick original of the same name (for obvious reasons, that song was retitled “Taxman Mr. Thief” on the debut album). Some of the other songs performed here also turned up on Cheap Trick’s studio albums, while others did not quite make the cut (“Lovin’ Money” was destined to be an outtake from the first album; an instrumental version of “Oh Boy” would be used as the B-side for the studio single of “I Want You To Want Me”). The set includes heavy-rocking early versions of “I Want You To Want Me” and “Downed” (titled “Down Down” here), and a version of “High Roller” that is marginally different than the studio version. Their cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” seems more restrained at first than some of the band’s later renditions of the song, until it faithfully climaxes with the same Plastic Ono-style screaming as Lennon’s original. “Girls On Fire”, written by Bun E., sounds like a new wave song just ahead of its time, except that most new wave songs weren’t nearly as long. Cheeseland ’76 is the exciting sound of a still-hungry rock and roll band sowing their wild musical oats, before they were refined by the machinery of the record industry.

Carlos saved the best Basement Bootlegs for last, because this fourth volume is arguably the best of them – and, so far, the last. Bun E. has stated that he has more archived material that he would like to issue on future volumes, but the issuance of more volumes is unlikely to happen. Although the drummer/archivist is still officially a member of Cheap Trick, he is not currently touring with the band, and he has said he is not on speaking terms with them, either. Those of us who love these Bun E.’s Basement Bootlegs discs will have to settle for these four volumes for now – and maybe for forever.


Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs "Semi-Acoustical" (no label, AMG-BENSEMI) 2002

Track Listing:

1. Baby No More
2. I Can't Take It
3. Ghost Town
4. Ballad of TV Violence
5. Waitin' (For The Man)
6. Oh Caroline
7. Wrong All Along
8. I Want You To Want Me
9. Never Run Out Of Love
10. Voices
11. Top Of The World
12. California Man
13. Downed
14. Lookout
15. Say Goodbye
16. Oh Claire
17. Goodnight


Bun E.’s Basement Bootlegs "Cheeseland '76" (no label, AMG-BENCHEESE) 2002

Track Listing:

1. I Want You To Want Me
2. Do You Believe Me
3. Fool
4. Taxman
5. High Roller
6. Cold Turkey
7. Lovin' Money
8. Younger Girls
9. Please Mrs. Henry
10. Oh Boy
11. Girls On Fire
12. Down Down


Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Rarebird’s Cheap Trick Reviews

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