Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Alice In Chains "Live Facelift" (2016 Black Friday RSD EP)

Alice In Chains' Live Facelift is a six-song live EP recorded on December 22, 1990 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle, WA. This concert took place shortly after the release of the band’s 1990 debut album Facelift, and about one year before the enormous success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam turned Seattle grunge rock into a worldwide phenomenon. (In fact, the then-unknown Pearl Jam was actually the opening act at this gig, although their name at the time was Mookie Blaylock). Before it was released in this vinyl EP format on the Black Friday Record Store Day in 2016, limited to 5,000 numbered copies, Live Facelift had previously been issued in 1991 only as a VHS home video cassette, which is now out of print.

Although this concert recording holds major interest because of the presence of deceased frontman Layne Staley, Live Facelift is also a good showcase for the rest of the band. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell, original bassist Mike Starr (who also passed away, in 2011), and drummer Sean Kinney all show focused playing and chemistry throughout this set. Staley is also in mostly good form; there is little about his performance during this set (except for the lyrics of “Real Thing”) that suggests the way his drug addiction problem would soon degrade his ability to perform – not to mention that it would lead to his death in 2002.

The music of the Facelift studio album was a more straightforward type of Zeppelin-derived metal than the band would explore on its later works, and it was not a very far cry from the type of late-‘80’s hair-metal that grunge would soon displace. These live versions are faithful to the album originals, but are rawer in this setting. The sound quality of the recording is very good. The set opener “It Ain’t Like That” was omitted from the original VHS issue, but is included on the vinyl EP. It’s certainly not lacking in quality, as it showcases the band’s early chemistry just as well as the other tracks. “Man In The Box” – which has become the best known song from the Facelift album – was probably considered to be a better choice as an opening track for the home video presentation. Although all six of the songs are well-played by the band, “Sea Of Sorrow” is a particular standout, and “Bleed The Freak” is notably better than its studio version. In audio or visual form, Live Facelift is a telling snapshot of Alice In Chains performing in their early, hungry stage, just a few short years before drug problems would derail their career.

Notes on the VHS version: The concert is presented in black-and-white film. The video cassette also contains the official promo videos for the Facelift album’s three singles: “We Die Young”, “Man In The Box”, and “Sea Of Sorrow”.

Alice in Chains - Live Facelift

Alice In Chains “Live Facelift” VHS (SMV Enterprises 14V-49081) 1991

Songs Performed:

1. Man In The Box
2. Real Thing
3. Love, Hate, Love
4. Sea Of Sorrow
5. Bleed The Freak
6. We Die Young (video)
7. Man In The Box (video)
8. Sea Of Sorrow (video)

Alice in Chains - Live Facelift

Alice In Chains “Live Facelift” EP (Columbia/Legacy 88985374931) 2016

Track Listing:


1. It Ain't Like That
2. Man In The Box
3. Real Thing


4. Love, Hate, Love
5. Sea of Sorrow
6. Bleed The Freak

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Alice Cooper "Live From The Astroturf" (2016 Black Friday Record Store Day single)

The original Alice Cooper band played a surprise reunion show on October 10, 2015 at the indie music store Good Records in Dallas, Texas. Four-fifths of the original lineup – singer Vincent Furnier (whom we now know as Alice Cooper the solo artist), rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith – performed for a crowd of approximately 200 people. Ryan Roxie took the place of original lead guitarist Glen Buxton, who passed away in 1997. Their seven-song set was the longest set the original band had performed in 40 years. For the Black Friday Record Store Day in 2016, a limited edition 7-inch single was issued, containing two songs from that performance. The single, titled Live From The Astroturf, was limited to 2,500 copies, pressed in different colored vinyl variations: 1,150 white, 1,150 pink, 100 black, and 100 split color pink-and-white singles were randomly distributed. The pink-and-white variant contained art prints autographed by the four surviving original members. The single was co-mixed by Bob Ezrin, who produced most of the band’s early-70’s work.

The two songs included on Live From The Astroturf were both drawn from the 1971 breakthrough album Love It To Death. Alice and the band sound great on both tracks, still able to convincingly crank out anthems of teen rebellion well into their 60’s. During their performance of the classic “I’m Eighteen” on the A-side, Cooper ad-libs the line “I gotta get outta here, Mom and Dad got me drinkin’ beer”, showing that he can still get inside the head of an angst-filled teenager. Their performance of “Is It My Body” on the B-side has all of the rock and roll attitude that the song has always had. Pretty please, boys, you’ve gotta do this again!

Alice Cooper - Live From The Astroturf

Alice Cooper "Live From The Astroturf" (Good Records GRR33) 2016

Track Listing:

a. Eighteen (aka “I’m Eighteen”)
b. Body (aka “Is It My Body”)

Dungen “Häxan” (2016 Black Friday Record Store Day release)

For the Black Friday Record Store Day in 2016, the Swedish prog-rock band Dungen released an album titled Häxan in both CD and LP formats, with each format limited to 2,000 copies. The LP version was pressed in white vinyl, and came with a digital download card. (The album was released digitally two months later, in January of 2017). Häxan (translation: “The Witch”) is Dungen’s first all-instrumental album, created as a new original music score for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which is believed to be the oldest surviving full-length animated feature film, predating Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by 11 years.

It is fortunate that this 90-year-old silent film has not been lost, because it is fascinating to watch. It was made with silhouette animation using black paper cutout puppets and images, and reportedly took three years to complete. The visually arresting animation tells a fairy tale derived from the Arabian Nights stories, following the adventures of the titular Arabian prince who mounts a flying horse and unwittingly flies off to an enchanted island, where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful princess Peri Banu. He then teams up with Aladdin and the Witch of the Fiery Mountains to battle an evil African sorcerer and an army of demons. The paper cutout images are impressively elaborate, and the animation is riveting.

The Häxan album is a fine art-rock opus on its own, consisting mostly of moody orchestral pieces that befit such an otherworldly fantasy film. It has occasional touches of ambient (“Grottan”) and dissonance (“Wak-Wak’s portar”), and climaxes with the clamorous six-minute hard-rocker “Andarnas Krig”, which ends the album with a burst of Hendrix-like guitar intensity.

So, do the movie and the music work well together? More often than not, they do. (This assumes that I properly synced the movie and the album; the LP played one-and-a-half times during the course of the film’s 65-minute running time). Admittedly, the harder-rocking tracks ("Andarnas Krig", the title track) sometimes seemed too overwrought to match the images onscreen, and some other scenes called for more intense musical accompaniment than they ended up having. But, for the most part, the album and the film combine for a unique and satisfying audio-visual experience, with Dungen’s music adding a modern dimension to a film that some might say is timeless.

Dungen - Häxan

Dungen “Häxan” (Mexican Summer MEX 222) 2016

Track Listing:

1. Peri Banu vid sjön
2. Jakten genom skogen
3. Wak-Wak’s portar
4. Den Fattige Aladdin
5. Trollkarlen och fågeldräkten
6. Grottan
7. Häxan
8. Aladdin’s flykt över havet
9. Kalifen
10. Achmed flyger
11. Aladdin och lampan, del 1
12. Aladdin och lampan, del 2
13. Achmed och Peri Banu
14. Andarnas Krig