Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs, Vol. 2: Soundchecks ‘82-‘97

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 second volume, issued in the year 2000, was “Soundchecks”. That’s right: the CD contains recordings of sound checks, which are pre-concert preparations done for the purpose of making sure that sound systems and frequencies are working properly before the shows. It takes audacity for any artist to issue a CD containing 70 minutes worth of sound checks, even as (especially as?) a limited edition fan club/website collectible. As you might expect, this disc is strictly for fans. Does it have enjoyable tracks? Sure it does.

First, here’s the downside. Most of the cover songs (the Beatles’ “Across the Universe”, Neil Young’s “The Losing End”, the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”) sound just as loose and informal as you would expect sound checks to be, and their inclusion here seems self-indulgent. The exceptions are “It’s All Over Now” (the one Stones cover out of three that satisfies) and Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”, which is even less professional than the other covers, but turns into a likably rowdy and irreverent blues jam.

Now here’s the upside. The proper Cheap Trick songs that the band played at these sound checks are fun to listen to. Sure, they sound casual as well, but that gives them a ragged charm. This includes the three Roy Wood covers (“California Man”, “Rock n Roll Tonight”, “Brontosaurus”) that appeared on Cheap Trick studio recordings. The unfortunate exception is a clownish toss-off of the normally touching ballad “Shelter”. Unless you count “California Man”, all of the Cheap Trick numbers come from the band’s 1982-1997 period. The best one is a six-minute blues jam based on “Cry Baby” from Woke Up With A Monster.

The CD is littered with short and inconsequential instrumental tracks. The track labeled as “Drums” is a 15-second snippet of “The Flame”. (Yes, I realize the band has no love for their sole American #1 single). Three others are labeled with the initials of band members Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, and Tom Petersson; each one of those runs one minute or less, and goes nowhere fast. But go figure: the closing track labeled “BC Blues” (with the drummer/archivist’s initials) is an engaging five-minute instrumental. Of course Bun E. wanted his name on that one!

One frequent source of disappointment: lead singer Robin Zander often held back on his vocal delivery during these sound checks. It’s easy to understand why; it was important for him to save his pipes for the actual concerts, right? Still, that understanding will not make Volume 2 of Bun E.’s Basement Bootlegs any more important to anyone but Cheap Trick’s most ardent fans.

If you do obtain this CD, I recommend programming the player to play tracks 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 23, and 25. The selection of those 12 tracks will form a leaner and meaner Cheap Trick bootleg.

Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs “Soundchecks ‘82-‘97” (no label, CT 002) 2000

Track Listing:

1. RN Blues
2. Oo La La La
3. The Losing End
4. Get Off Of My Cloud
5. Across The Universe
6. Lookin' Out For #1
7. Y.O.Y.O.Y.
8. Auld Lang Syne
9. If You Want My Love pt. 1
10. If You Want My Love pt. 2
11. RZ Blues
12. Mannish Boy
13. California Man
14. Rock n Roll Tonight
15. Drums
16. Shelter
17. Cry Baby Blues
18. Wild Horses
19. You Let A Lotta People Down
20. TP Blues
21. Brontosaurus Jam
22. Brontosaurus Rehearsal
23. Brontosaurus
24. It's All Over Now
25. BC Blues

Volume 1

Volume 3

Volume 4

Rarebird’s Cheap Trick Reviews

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs, Volume 1: Gigs '79-'94

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 first volume, issued in 2000, was “Gigs”, and it collected various live cuts recorded between 1979 and 1994. It contained Budokan-class performances from the years between the releases of Cheap Trick's live albums At Budokan and Music For Hangovers. These versions of “On Top of the World” and “Heaven Tonight” sound great in their raw form, and the “Stiff Competition” performance here is solid. “Didn’t Know I Had It” gets a heartfelt acoustic treatment, although it is marred slightly by a clownishly high-pitched harmony vocal (presumably by Rick Nielsen). The included performance of “How About You” has more strength than the weak studio version on Standing on the Edge. Their cover of the Beatles classic “Magical Mystery Tour” is both faithful and irreverent. The CD also captures the band jamming with various friends and idols. It’s amusing to hear Roy Wood join them for their cover of the Move’s “California Man”, but it’s even more fun hearing the Tricksters jamming on Chuck Berry tunes with famous collaborators. They had good rapport with Dave Edmunds for “Reelin’ and Rockin’”. And when they got together with Bon Scott and the Young brothers from AC/DC to do “Johnny B. Goode”, the results were killer!

The disc does have a few weak tracks toward the end. A labored eight-minute jam with the late Alex Harvey on Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” never quite catches fire; it may have been something to see, but it’s only half-interesting to hear. The ninth track features two different guess-you-had-to-be-there performances of “I Know What I Want”, with very casual vocal turns by bassist Tom Petersson. And the performance of “Goodnight Now” with guest star Cozy Powell does not sound like anything special. Again, I guess you had to be there.

Regardless of those few weak spots, Volume 1 of Bun E.’s Basement Bootlegs contains valuable treasures for devotees of this great live band.

Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs “Gigs ‘79-‘94” (no label, CT 001) 2000

Track Listing:

1. Jammin’ w/Dave – (“Reelin’ and Rockin’” with Dave Edmunds)
2. Stiff Competition
3. On Top Of The World
4. Didn't Know I Had It
5. Jammin’ w/Roy – (“California Man” with Roy Wood)
6. How About You
7. Heaven Tonight
8. Jammin w/Bon, Malcolm + Angus – (“Johnny B. Goode” with Bon Scott and Angus and Malcolm Young)
9. I Know What I Want parts 1 + 2
10. Jammin’ w/Alex – (“Shakin’ All Over” with Alex Harvey)
11. MMT (Magical Mystery Tour)
12. Goodnight Now w/Cozy

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Rarebird’s Cheap Trick Reviews

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Bloody Valentine: the pre-1988 EP's

In case you haven’t heard, the Irish alternative band My Bloody Valentine have self-released their long-awaited third album, titled m b v, earlier this month. They are selling it through their official site, using a Radiohead-like distribution model. This comes a full 22 years after their startlingly unique 1991 album Loveless, which is rightfully regarded as a classic of the alternative genre. The best way to describe that album is as baroque pop distorted through a Sonic Youth-like lens. It’s a creative and fascinating work. The new m b v is very similar in style, except that it usually sounds gentler, smoother, and less chaotic. One song, “New You”, is stylistically closer to the 1988 album Isn’t Anything. It’s great to actually, finally, have another My Bloody Valentine album to savor, especially one of respectable quality. However, it is slightly disappointing to hear this album covering the same basic territory as its 22-year-old predecessor, without breaking much new ground. Then again, how many artists truly are breaking new ground these days? An album that sounds like Loveless is an album that sounds original by anyone else’s standards.

So, where had My Bloody Valentine been during all those years in between? The band virtually disappeared after the release of Loveless in 1991, mainly because leader/guitarist Kevin Shields was not able to create a follow-up that he was satisfied with. (Having heard the follow-up at last, I must say that it seems rather strange that it took 22 years for Shields to complete m b v). The band's only known recordings for the remainder of that decade were two cover songs (Louis Armstrong's “We Have All The Time In The World” and Wire's “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W”) for various-artists projects. They officially disbanded in 1997, and reunited ten years later for live shows. It seems unfair that My Bloody Valentine did not reap more rewards from the ‘90’s alternative revolution, especially since the Smashing Pumpkins were able to attain mega-stardom with a sound that often resembled a more accessible variation of Loveless.

My Bloody Valentine’s 22-year recording hiatus also seemed strange because they were quite prolific in the studio from their mid-‘80’s beginnings up until 1991. Although Isn’t Anything and Loveless were their only proper full-length albums from that period, the band also released numerous EP’s during that six-year span between 1985 and 1991. The EP’s released between 1988 and 1991 have been compiled on a 2012 U.K. compilation titled EP’s 1988-1991. And that’s good – because there is good stuff on those four EP’s, and the 2-CD set has several bonus tracks as well. But what about the seven EP’s the band released in Europe before 1988? As of this writing, they all appear to be globally out of print. Of course, those EP’s only received limited European distribution to begin with. Listening to those early EP’s, it becomes clear that it took several recordings for My Bloody Valentine to find themselves, but they had some colorful adventures along the way.

Their 1985 debut EP, recorded in Germany, was titled This Is Your Bloody Valentine. The band’s early lineup consisted of guitarist Kevin Shields, drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, original singer Dave Conway, and original keyboardist Tina Durkin. Containing seven songs and running about 25 minutes, the EP consists of goth-rock that is very unlike the band’s later shoegazing sound. Joy Division and Nick Cave were clearly key influences on this material. The EP is a decent but unexceptional entry in the goth-rock genre. Conway’s Cave-like vocals become tiring toward the end; the closing track, “The Last Supper”, sounds a little too much like the Doors.

The live recording Man You Love To Hate – Live documents a performance by the same quartet in West Berlin in 1985. It was distributed on cassette only, to the tune of only a few hundred copies. The band performed four songs from the debut EP, and four others which they never released on any studio recording. Once the listener is able to cut through the expectedly muddy sound quality, it becomes apparent that the quartet was still doing the Nick Cave goth thing. Shields and Colm already had a potent guitar-and-drums combo going on (particularly on the title track), but Conway’s punk vocals are relentlessly grating and distracting in this setting. It’s hard not to be amused when you hear him act completely loony on “A Town Called Bastard”, but I usually found myself wishing he would just shut up so I could hear the band play.

The Geek! EP, also released in 1985, was the first recording to feature bass player Debbie Googe, after Durkin departed. The four songs on this irresolute short-player showed the band awkwardly stepping away from the gothic sound of their previous studio EP. Although the closing track “The Sandman Never Sleeps” is in that same vein, the other three tracks (“No Place To Go”, “Moonlight”, “Love Machine”) sound less dark, though still melancholy. Conway sounds a bit less like Nick Cave and more like a deeper-voiced Morrissey. (Note: a 7-inch single version of Geek! existed, containing only “No Place To Go” and “Moonlight”).

Their next four-song EP, titled The New Record by My Bloody Valentine, was recorded by the same lineup, but they almost sounded like an entirely different band. They began to create ‘60’s-style pop music intentionally discolored by white noise, although it did not yet resemble their later work that fit the same description. The opening track “Lovelee Sweet Darlene” is an unabashedly cheery piece of fractured pop; the other three songs have a similarly innocent-seeming type of fuzz-drenched post-punk sound. Instead of sounding like a goth, Conway suddenly sounded like a blissfully naïve young man in love (or lust). Shields’ guitar playing on the closing track “We’re So Beautiful” gives the song a simultaneously dreamy and distorted atmosphere, presaging the future sound of the band. The New Record was My Bloody Valentine’s first solid, distinguished musical statement.

Sunny Sundae Smile, the band’s last recording with Conway on lead vocals, continued on the same path as The New Record, containing four more sunshine pop songs, the first three of which had similar walls of distortion. This time, the songs sounded less fuzzy and more cohesive, getting the job done in less than ten total minutes. The outwardly innocent-sounding vocals are often used as a disguise for not-so-innocent lyrics; “Paint a Rainbow” has truly macabre subject matter, but could easily be mistaken for a warmhearted love song. The EP’s closing track, “Kiss The Eclipse”, is built upon the type of guitar jangle that would be utilized on the next two recordings. (Note: Only 2,000 copies of the 12-inch EP were pressed. A 7-inch version contained only the title track and “Paint a Rainbow”).

The three-song Strawberry Wine was the first recording by the definitive My Bloody Valentine lineup. Conway was replaced by Bilinda Butcher, who shared vocal and guitar duties with Shields from that point forward. This EP marked another radical reinvention for the band. The music had more grace, with less white noise and more jangle. Butcher’s vocals added more sweetness to the arrangements, and Shields’ vocals were cool and understated, without any of Conway’s posturing. This band was growing up fast.

On the seven-song Ecstasy, the quartet fully embraced the shoegazing ethos. Each song has a feeling like a vague dream. The songs mix Velvet Underground-like distortion with Byrds-like harmonies and guitar jangle, creating an effective atmosphere with more subtlety than the band’s previous EP’s. The two vocalists keep their singing low-key throughout, allowing it to blend in with the instrumentation. Ecstasy is perfect listening for 3 a.m.

In 1989, the songs from Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy were compiled on a release titled Ecstasy and Wine (Lazy LAZY 12), which used a different version of the song ”Strawberry Wine”. In 2001, an unofficial German release titled Things Left Behind (Independent Music IM 567) combined the contents of Geek!, The New Record, Sunny Sundae Smile, and Strawberry Wine.

My Bloody Valentine - This Is Your Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine “This Is Your Bloody Valentine” (Tycoon ST7501) 1985

Track Listing:

1. Forever and Again
2. Homelovin’ Guy
3. Don’t Cramp My Style
4. Tiger In My Tank
5. The Love Gang
6. Inferno
7. The Last Supper

My Bloody Valentine “Man You Love To Hate – Live” (Schuldige Scheitel SCH/SCH 102) 1985

Track Listing:

1. Scavengers (Intro)
2. The Devil Made Me Do It
3. The Love Gang
4. Inferno
5. The Man You Love To Hate
6. Home Loving Guy
7. A Town Called Bastard
8. Tiger In My Tank

My Bloody Valentine - Geek!

My Bloody Valentine “Geek!” EP (Fever FEV 5) 1985

Track Listing:

1. No Place To Go
2. Moonlight
3. Love Machine
4. The Sandman Never Sleeps

My Bloody Valentine - The New Record by My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine “The New Record by My Bloody Valentine” EP (Kaleidoscope Sound KS 101) 1986

Track Listing:

1. Lovelee Sweet Darlene
2. By The Danger In Your Eyes
3. On Another Rainy Saturday
4. We’re So Beautiful

My Bloody Valentine - Sunny Sundae Smile

My Bloody Valentine “Sunny Sundae Smile” EP (Lazy LAZY04T) 1987

Track Listing:

1. Sunny Sundae Smile
2. Sylvie’s Head
3. Paint a Rainbow
4. Kiss The Eclipse

My Bloody Valentine - Strawberry Wine

My Bloody Valentine “Strawberry Wine” EP (Lazy LAZY07T) 1987

Track Listing:

1. Strawberry Wine
2. Never Say Goodbye
3. Can I Touch You

My Bloody Valentine - Ecstasy

My Bloody Valentine “Ecstasy” EP (Lazy LAZY 08) 1987

Track Listing:

1. She Loves You No Less
2. The Things I Miss
3. I Don’t Need You
4. (You’re) Safe In Your Sleep (From This Girl)
5. Clair
6. You’ve Got Nothing
7. (Please) Lose Yourself In Me