DVD

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (CD/DVD set)

“You know, Sean Connery was the best Roger Moore they ever had.” — Frank C. Starr

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (2005 CD/DVD set)

“Nobody said it was easy…and they were fucking right!”

The final review in this Four Horsemen series is a valuable live album/DVD set.  The CD was put together from “a box of old tapes”, all from 1992 gigs (one of which was Toronto), and there are ample liner notes discussing the band’s history and the songs herein.  It’s a brilliant live set, loaded with energy and Frank C. Starr’s unmistakable charisma.  Every track sweats whiskey.  With an opening one-two punch of “’75 Again” and “Moonshine”, you know you’re in for an action packed ride.  “Moonshine” is particularly cool, because the album version featured an authentic over-the-phone lead vocal, but the live one is full-on.  Throwing in a couple extra screams, Frankie added the icing on the cake.  Man, we so miss Frank C. Starr.

It’s a noisy affair, which actually suits this band just fine.  It’s appropriate that a Four Horsemen live album isn’t an overdubbed and glossed collection.  What it sounds like is a live band in a tiny club.  All three of the Horsemen’s singles are included in live form.  The slide-drenched “Tired Wings” goes down a treat.  “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business” are both electrifying; the latter especially so.  You don’t hear a singer with a voice like Frank’s very often.  He had the grit, the power and the ability, wrapped up in a rock star-sized bottle of Jack.  Frank Starr has to be one of the greatest unsung losses in modern rock.

And what a band behind him!  There is a constant and very hard-hitting beat at the back, courtesy of the man-mountain Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  According to the liner notes, Dimwit was a psychiatric nurse in addition to being a hell of a punk rock drummer.  The name Dimwit was clearly a joke, but there is a dark side.  The rigors of his work and the amount of care and emotion that went into it may have contributed to the depression and substance abuse that eventually took his life.  It’s sad really, but thankfully these live recordings exist.

One non-album cut is included in this set, a slow raunchy one called “Can’t Get Next To You”.  The AC/DC influences are obvious as this one is clearly in the musical mode of “The Jack”.   The fans wouldn’t have known this song, but Frank wants to see how many people know the album.  Introducing “Hot Head” he announces, “Let’s see if some of you fuckers actually went out and bought this shit!”…right before an equipment breakdown!  And it’s all there, documented for history.  Leaving in things like amp troubles makes for a more authentic listening experience.

All told, only two songs from the legendary first Four Horsemen record are not on the live CD:  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Homesick Blues”.  Although unlisted, “I Need a Thrill” does contain the “Something Good” coda, just like the album.  It’s even longer, with some absolutely consummate playing from lead guitarist Dave Lizmi.  The low grade sound quality perhaps enhances the overall experience.  This was a dirty rock and roll band and that’s how the live CD sounds.  That seems right.  With almost the entire first album plus an unreleased song, any Horsemen fan worth his or her salt should probably get their ears on this.  But there is still the DVD to feast our eyes upon!

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Interspersed with rare footage and interviews, you get all the original Horsemen music videos, starting with “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.   The stark music video for “Nobody Said it Was Easy” is a previously unseen version with some risque shots.  An interesting clip from MTV has the band mistakenly called “Four Horseman”.  (Apparently it was Riki Rachtman’s first show.  But then MTV got the name wrong on a later episode too!  MuchMusic got it right though.)  A rare live bootleg of “Hard Lovin’ Man” is audio garbage but video gold.  “High School Rock and Roller” is a blast to watch, especially the moving mountain that was Dimwit on drums.  There is big stage action from October ’91, opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd (“’75 Again” and “Rockin’ in Ma Business”).   Perhaps most interesting are some rejected music videos that didn’t see the light of day.  An early version of “Tired Wings” (with a pre-fame Kate Moss) is pretty crap and rightfully hated by the band.  Better than this is a rare “Mexican version” of “Nobody Said it Was Easy”.  The intro borrows liberally from “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty, but it’s cool watching the band mime in a hot dusty town in Mexico.  Then there is a never before seen $2000 budget video for “Welfare Boogie” from the original EP.  This video was rejected by MTV because the band were “too ugly”.

DVD special features are sparse but cool.  There is an exclusive acoustic demo version of “Tired Wings”.  What a different spin this is!  In demo form it was a slow acoustic drawl, laid back with angelic band harmonies.  The lyrics and melodies are identical but the arrangement is completely different.  This is set to a nostalgic slide show of rare band photos.  There is also a band commentary track for the main feature (Haggis, Dave Lizmi and Ben Pape). Lots of laughs, memories and anecdotes.  And making fun of “Dave Lizmo’s” hockey stick-style guitar neck.   Mostly they poke fun of each other’s clothes.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with the Horsemen.  The audio commentary track is a highly recommended shambles.

The CD/DVD set can be ordered straight from the band, and it comes autographed.  I think mine is signed by Haggis but I cannot be sure!

4/5 stars

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DVD REVIEW: Rushmore (The Criterion Collection) #WesAndersonBlogathon

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Scan_20160807 (2)RUSHMORE (1998/1999 Criterion DVD)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Whether they know it or not, everybody has their first Wes Anderson movie.  Mine was Rushmore, an easy entry point, and I had never seen anything like it before.  It has a genuine quality, an old-fashioned look, and a killer soundtrack — all Wes Anderson trademarks.

The Criterion Collection (“a continuing series of important classics and contemporary films”) deliver some of the best colour transfers, and that is necessary for any Wes Anderson film.  Soaked in dark but rich colours, Anderson fills his work with vibrancy.  His visual trademarks are apparent right from the first scene, a hilarious fantasy sequence introducing our main protagonist Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman).  Max is more than a dreamer though.  He is a doer.  He dreams things and makes things happen.  As such he is the founding (and sometimes sole) member of multiple clubs at Rushmore Academy.  He writes, produces and directs lavish school plays with no thought given to compromise, or safety.  Unfortunately, Max doesn’t dream much of his own schoolwork, and never seems to get it done.  He is on notice.  Fail one more class, and he’s expelled from the school he loves so much.  Brian Cox (Super Troopers) is excellent as Dr. Guggenheim, the school principal.

Max soon meets steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), to the tune of “Making Time” by The Creation (1967).  The retro music and formal dress at Rushmore Academy gives the movie a timeless feel.  Could it be the 90’s?  The 80’s?  The 70’s?  Sure, why not.  Instead of working at getting his grades up, Max continues to dream.  He dreams of saving the Latin program in school (for no real reason other than just to do it), and of new teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams).  He’s a charmer, but often with ulterior motives.  He and Blume manage to find a bond together.  That is, before Blume himself falls for Miss Cross.

This leads to a strange rivalry between Max and Blume, with each jockeying for position in the Miss Cross stakes, with little thought given to how she feels about the whole thing.  It also sets up some pretty amusing situations, such as Max trying to build a school aquarium for Miss Cross.  He almost succeeds, too.  Max is a hard character to read, as he often wants to make certain impressions.  Blume, on the other hand, is clearly depressed, living in a sham of a marriage with two barbarian sons he doesn’t even seem to like. As their rivalry grows in intensity, so does the music, culminating in The Who’s epic live version of a “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the deluxe version of Live at Leeds.  Wes Anderson has a knack for a musical montage too, and Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” is host to one such montage.  (Stevens also appears later on with “The Wind” in another song-appropriate scene.)   The Stones’ “I Am Waiting” is more great music for marking the passage of time.

Max might not have been the best student, but genius does not always get good grades.  His plays have an epic scope, and his aquarium does too:  $35,000 cost, just for the initial plans.  (Some of the aquatic movie footage that Max views may foreshadow a future Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray).  He’s also a perfectionist.  When it comes to his plays, every line matters.  “Don’t fuck with my play!” he screams to the star of his version of Serpico, right before getting punched right in the nose.  Finally young Max possesses a razor sharp wit, which he uses at will especially when it comes to those he considers love rivals, like Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson).

Rushmore is an ode to the creative mind.  After some humbling experiences, Max learns to use his inventiveness to bring people together.  His final triumph, to the strains of “Ooh La La” (The Small Faces), is to bring all the film’s characters (even the bully student Magnus) together in solidarity.  It’s all done with plenty of laughs, smiles and a few tears.

Wes Anderson utilizes a cast of talents he would work with repeatedly, with Bill Murray being the most obvious.  Kumar Pallana as Mr. Litteljeans, the groundskeeper, was an Anderson regular.  Brian Cox, who also participated in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, brings a sour delight to Dr. Guggenheim.   Secret weapon in this movie however is Mason Gamble as Max’s ally Dirk Calloway.  Another Anderson trademark is that each frame possesses astonishing detail and visual information.  Like beautifully painted and impossibly detailed storyboards, his scenes have a life and tell a million stories in the background.  Much like one of Max’s plays, actually.

Without a doubt, one of the best special DVD features is a selection of play adaptations by the Max Fischer Players, from the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.  The players do their own on-stage takes of:  Armageddon, The Truman Show, and Out of Sight.  MTV were producing some very funny bits for their movie award shows at the time, and these are some of the best. Utilizing the original cast and familiar music from the film, these feel like a fairly natural extension of Rushmore.

Other valuable trinkets include an on-screen program for Max’s Vietnam drama Heaven & Hell, and his adaptation of Serpico.  Of course there must be an audio commentary and that is by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman.  There are also the requisite making-of featurettes and supplements.  The biggest selling feature of this Criterion edition for those who value physical products is the giant fold-out map.  From here you can follow the events of the movie on a delightful full colour sketch by movie artist (and director’s brother) E.C. Anderson.  In fact all the packaging for this DVD was designed by Anderson.

5/5 stars

RUSHMORE MAP

#479: Cracking the Case

DISC CRACK

GETTING MORE TALE #479: Cracking the Case

Whoever invented the DVD case, damn you.

In case you’re wondering, the dimensions of the standard DVD case are not random.  Somebody didn’t just say, “Hey!  Let’s package a round disc in an oversized rectangle!”  Since DVD was the format destined to replace the old VHS video tape, the dimensions of the case are roughly the same:  Height and width.  Only the thickness is different.  This was done to ease the transition from one format to the next.  Stores would presumably have to display their new and exciting DVD inventory on the same old shelving they already had for VHS tapes.  Makes sense from that point of view, although the cases are mostly empty space and could have been made smaller to cut costs, and waste.

When Blu-ray came along, the cases were reduced in height, slightly, to differentiate them from their DVD cousins.  It’s still mostly a waste of space.

That’s not the big gripe, though.  The issue was that some of the cases designed to hold DVDs would eventually destroy them if you put them in and out too many times.  This happened to my now long-discarded copy of the Matrix: Reloaded.

The problem with the DVD cases were the spindles or “teeth” inside the held the disc tight, by the center hole.  Remember how you had to push down to release the disc?  Either by poor design or bad tolerance issues, the act of pushing down and trying to release your disc could introduce tiny cracks around the center hole.   Like death by a thousand tiny cuts, the discs would crack further and further every time you used them.  Just like your windshield, the cracks grow.  Eventually tiny pieces of plastic would begin to flake off the middle.

At the old Record Store, we saw many DVDs that were cracked and flaking in the middle.  Customers were always pissed off when we pointed this out, and who can blame them?  They didn’t do anything wrong, they were just trying to watch a movie.  It’s not their fault that the cases they came in were so poorly designed.   Take that disc out one too many times and it’ll crack right in half.  I know because I’ve done it myself.

The traditional DVD case is a double fail.  Not only was it too big for its britches, but some would damage your precious movie inside!  That is unforgiveable.

REVIEW: Rachel Fuller presents: In the Attic with Pete Townsend & friends (2 CD/1 DVD)

Hey folks! It’s The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2! Just like last time, Mike and Aaron will be doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

RACHEL FULLER presents: In The Attic with Pete Townsend & friends (2009 Eel Pie 2 CD/1 DVD set)

A long time ago, Aaron found this triple disc set at Giant Tiger, for the ridiculously low price of $1.00!  Not being a foolish man, Aaron bought three of them.  One for me, one for the Heavy Metal OverloRd, and one for himself!

Pete Townsend and Rachel Fuller are life partners and musical collaborators.  She hosted a web show called In the Attic that featured performers from all over the musical spectrum.  The Pete Townsend & Friends installment was gifted to me by buddy Aaron!  What he did not know is this:  I’m only a casual Townsend fan (not a collector), but by buying me this, he added some more Tenacious D to my collection of that band!

The DVD contains most (but not all) of the same material as CD, but also a lot more.  For example Tenacious D’s “Tribute” is only on the DVD.  Jack Black was suffering from strep throat that night, and they had to lower the song an octave. For a guy with a sore throat, he still sings pretty great…and even more demonic and evil!  Their “Tommy Medley” is damn impressive, but it’s really too bad that Jack wasn’t in full voice.  Kyle Gass apologized to Pete for this jokey, uber-fast medley, but I don’t think the apology was necessary, since Pete yelled for an encore!

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Joe Purdy was unfamiliar to me before, a folk musician with a large discography.  When he invites his dad Dad onstage, and Pete Townsend fixes his mic stand, there is a brief “we’re not worthy” moment that must have been mind-blowing.  The pair does an original song called “Daisy” (great bluegrass) before Joe performs a couple more: “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Talk About Suffering”, both with Pete.  “Let My Love Open the Door” is the familiar Townsend classic, and delightful in its tender acoustic guise.

Rachel Fuller then performs her original song “Sir Walter Raleigh”, an f-bomb laden piano ballad!  A song is cut here from the DVD, another Fuller original called “I Can Fly”, on CD 1.  This pretty song is a nice contrast.  British solo artist Alexi Murdoch is next with two songs, both originals:  “Dream About Flying” and “Orange Sky”.  His impressive bluesy picking creates a dark folk sound on these songs.  “Orange Sky” is performed with Pete and Rachel which I would imagine reduces most people to jelly.  Imagine having Pete Townsend and his significant other playing on a song YOU wrote….

Most folks should be familiar with Ben Harper who takes the stage next with cellos and violins!  “Please Bleed” is incredible.  With Pete, he does his hit “Diamonds on the Inside”, still great today.  Finally, and still with Pete, they do “I’m One” from Quadrophenia together.  I imagine this is something you would stroke off a bucket list.  “I want this to last a really long time!” says Ben mid-song.

The final guest of the evening is Pete himself, with four acoustic songs.  “The Real Me” takes on a funky vibe, but brilliant as always.  “Acid Queen”, “Drowned” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” complete this Who set.  Even just solo on an acoustic guitar, this set is incredible.  Townsend’s presence and expertise soak through every note.

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That’s the end of that night’s show, but not the end of the DVD.  The release is split in two sections – “The Hotel Cafe” and “Joe’s Pub”.  The “Joe’s Pub” section has plenty more big name stars.  This came from a traveling version of Fuller’s show, shadowing the Who at their festival gigs.  In New York, they did a show at Joe’s Pub, and the first guest was a starstruck Amos Lee.  His two songs are “What’s Been Going On” and “Freedom” (CD only), with special accompaniment by Pete himself.  “What’s Been Going On” is an incredible moment of folk power and feeling.  “Freedom” celebrates with a big soulful chorus.  These are great songs.

Rachel Fuller played two songs at Joe’s Pub:  “Jigsaw” (CD only) and “Cigarettes and Housework” (what, you mean you and Pete can’t afford a maid to do the housework?).  “Jigsaw” is bright and pretty with lyrical references to some certain Who songs!  Fuller’s remarkable voice is the main feature on the sparse “Cigarettes and Housework”.

Of all people, Jimmy Fallon is next.  “Carwash for Peace” reveals that he actually has a pretty good singing voice.  It’s a silly but fun sing-along.  “Let’s have a car wash for peace, there’s trouble in the Middle East,” he sings.  If we do this, there’ll be no more wars, or dirty cars!  It’s hard to argue with that logic.  “President’s Day” is a folksy send-up on the subject of getting totally wasted on President’s Day, because hey, it’s a day off.  “Beer and a shot with my man Dick Cheney!”  Hey, it was 2007, still the Bush years.

Rachael Yamagata takes the stage with Pete Townsend and Kevin Salem for “Paper Doll”, a sultry original acoustic number with some amazing soulful singing.  There’s a nice moment on the DVD when Rachael smiles, looking at Pete playing her song, a real “pinch me” experience I’m sure.  Her other song, “Be Be My Love” (CD only) has a similar chord progression as Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You”.  This is her first song on her first album and I’m sure any similarity is coincidental.  Then it’s Townsend’s turn to go it alone, with “Acid Queen” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (both CD only).

The final guest on this set is Mr. Lou Reed.  “White Light/White Heat” with Pete is a moment so gravitous* that news reports suggest a new black hole formed over New York that night!  “Pale Blue Eyes”, with accompaniment by Pete on the chorus, is delicate and weighty at once.

For a mere buck, I would postulate that In the Attic with Pete Townsend & friends has to have the most bang-per-dollar value of any purchase made for my collection.  This is great stuff for music fans of all tastes.

4/5 stars

* Not an actual word.

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2 CD/1 DVD + Japanese bonus tracks)

The Deep Purple Project is a massive, ongoing series of in-depth reviews.  This is the last for now as we take a break, but Purple will return.  

DEEP PURPLE – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2015 Edel 2 CD/1DVD set, Japanese CD with 2 bonus tracks)

Purple live releases have been in strong supply lately.  Last year, Purple released a matching set of double live albums, each with a complete DVD of the show in one package.  The first set, In Wacken, was reviewed yesterday.  Today, we look at In Tokyo.  In order to “get it all”, I added the Japanese 2 CD set with bonus tracks to my collection.  The bonus tracks are on the CD portion of the package.  As we did yesterday, we’ll get the bonus material out of the way first.

The two Japanese extras are instrumental versions of “Hell to Pay” and “Apres Vous”, newer songs from Now What?!  I am happy to report that these instrumentals are not live.  Since both songs are complete and live on the album proper, I was pleased to find these two are instrumental mixes of the studio cuts.  This makes sense, since the instrumental “Hell to Pay” is used as the main menu backing music on the live DVD.  As with any instrumental mix, it is interesting to pay attention to the musical interplay.  Since it’s Deep Purple we’re speaking about, it’s that much more enjoyable.

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Moving on to the live part of the set, the recorded intro of Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War” has the Budokan crowd in Tokyo excited for the return of Deep Purple.  The band bravely opened with “Apres Vous”, the new cut from Now What?!  It works surprisingly well by setting a mood.  Ian Gillan keeps it from getting too serious by wearing one of those tuxedo-printed shirts.  I want one of those.

Gillan’s hoarse on “Into the Fire”, but overall he’s stronger than he was in Wacken.  The added grit makes the song tougher and closer to the 1969 original.  Also from way back then is “Hard Lovin’ Man”, a pairing that always works well.  Don Airey takes an extended Hammond solo, and the song gallops in a way that set the basis for Iron Maiden’s career.  Thrills and chills abound, but Morse is smiling so much that you know we’re all in for a good time.  What a contrast with the moody and unpredictable Ritchie Blackmore!  This breathtaking assault of a song absolutely needs to be played live.  It’s no surprise that they need to lay back with something slower after that.  “Strange Kind of Woman” does the trick with that unforgettable groove.  Morse pulls off a jazzy solo that just kills.  This is a far better version than the one in Wacken.  Speaking of women and strangeness, it’s odd that “Woman From Tokyo” wasn’t played this time.

“That was the end of the jazz part of the show,” says Ian.  Back to new songs, “Vincent Price” is rolled out next.  Brought to life on the stage, “Vincent Price” is heavier and chunky.  The spooky keyboards are intact and Gillan injects the song with extra terror.  Steve Morse is on a roll now, and it’s time for his solo.  It’s chopped up a bit compared to how they played it earlier in the year.  “Contact Lost” is still first, but this time that goes into “Uncommon Man”.  I love watching Steve Morse playing volume swells with his pinky on the knob, while hammering out a complex melody.  There are plenty of hand close-ups here.  Copy if you can!  (I can’t.)  When “Uncommon Man” begins, Ian Gillan whispers in Steve’s ear.  I like to think he just said, “That was incredible.”

“Uncommon Man” is powerful live, by the way.  Steve goes again with his playful “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.  The dexterity here is quite unbelievable, but you knew that already.  Once again I’m grateful for plenty of hand close-ups.  I have no prayer of being able to play this but I love to watch and see how it’s done, and just marvel.  During a break in the keyboard part, Don Airey claps and dances along; quite amusing!

The Fireball oldie “The Mule” is always welcome out of the mothballs.  A drum workout, Ian Paice is given a chance to show that time has not lessened his abilities one iota.  It’s a busy drum song, and quickly descends into a mad solo.  At one point, the lights go out and Ian plays with glowing sticks, Sheila E style.  He gets to slow down a little on the Jon Lord tribute “Above and Beyond”.  Jon’s image behind them on the big screens of the Budokan, you can sense the emotion of the moment.  His successor Don Airey plays a Hammond tribute to Jon, before the band return to the sound of “Lazy”.  It’s just a seamless blur of one incredible piece of music after another.

“Hell to Pay” continues to prove its worth as a stage-ready, fun rocker.  You can tell that the formalities are over now, because Gillan has changed out of his tuxedo print shirt!  Don Airey dominates on the Hammond.  He gets a spotlight solo next, a chance to do his own thing.  Like his solo in Wacken, this includes a snippet of “Mr. Crowley”, a song that Don played on way back in 1980, and the ensuing Ozzy Osbourne tours.  His solo runs the gamut from tender piano, to classical passages, to spacey synth.  He quotes the melody of “Woman From Tokyo” which the crowd clearly appreciated.

It’s all business from here.  “Perfect Strangers”, as usual the only song from the 80’s, is as timeless as always.  Back to Machine Head for “Space Truckin'”, Roger Glover seems to be having a great time rocking it for the crowd in Japan.  Gillan’s sounding a bit knackered, but he’s still going for it.  No retreat, no surrender.  The classic riff, “Smoke on the Water” explodes in the Budokan, as we draw close to the end.  You can tell they still have fun playing this song, loose and never the same twice.  Two encores are still to be had:  the medley of “Green Onions”/”Hush”, and “Black Night”.  “Hush” is given a neat slinky jam section, because they’re Deep Purple and why the hell not?  After a brief Glover bass jam, “Black Night” commences as the final song of the night.  Gillan’s sounding tired, but that’s rock and roll.  They’re finally done, Roger lingering to make sure he’s thrown out every last pick.  That too is rock and roll.

These two sets were time consuming but very entertaining.  I think they are both worth having, but if you are not the Purple diehard that needs as much as you can consume, be aware that these are men in their late 60’s.  They are not spring chickens, so don’t expect To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo to be the equal of Made in Japan.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – From the Setting Sun…in Wacken (2 CD/1DVD)

The Deep Purple Project must continue!  Their most recent live releases are next up.

DEEP PURPLE – From the Setting Sun…in Wacken (2015 Edel 2 CD/1DVD set)

“This record is the first of a double release,” says Roger Glover in the liner notes.  The second is called To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo which we’ll examine in a separate review (including the Japanese bonus tracks).  This nicely assembled three disc set has the entire show on both CD and DVD, a 2013 concert at the legendary Wacken Open Air festival.

Our friend of ours, Jessie David at 107.5 Dave Rocks, went to Wacken in 2015. “I can say that going to Wacken is truly life-changing. It is an experience like no other: Where every single person there is part of a family.” Roger Glover says the real stars of this show are the audience.

There is one small bonus feature on this DVD to get out of the way before we start the show.  It was surprising to see Deep Purple release a new music video in 2013!  “Vincent Price” was a fun music clip, featuring plenty of band shots.  The horror movie storyline is entertaining and make for a fun video.  Perhaps the actor in the video playing the titular character should also play Governor Tarkin in an upcoming Star Wars anthology film?  This video is not really appropriate for kids, so be forewarned!

Purple’s Wacken set was filmed and recorded for posterity quite well. I don’t know if I have ever seen Deep Purple captured so clearly.  Taking the stage in daylight, we begin with “Highway Star”.

Ian Gillan’s voice is quite thin; this is one of the poorest live Deep Purple releases as far as vocals go.  That’s unfortunate but at least they didnt’ “fix it in the mix” as they say.  Roger Glover seems to be having a blast, pulling faces and poses over on the bass station.  Bathed in the setting sun (hence the album title), the lighting is quite dramatic.  The old In Rock classic “Into the Fire”, rarely played, is up next.  Ian really struggles with his voice, having to affect a nasal tone, but he’s starting to warm up a bit now.  Hey; the man is 70 years old!  Then, directly into “Hard Lovin’ Man” from the same album, another rarely played smoker.  Ian’s on track now!  Organist Don Airey is brilliant on this.

Newish single “Vincent Price”, the same song as the music video, is next in the set.  Because of the spooky keyboards, it does not sound like any of the prior songs, which is great as the sun goes lower on the horizon.  I think new material works best sprinkled in the set at the right times, and that’s the approach Purple took here.  This corker moves directly into “Strange Kind of Woman” somehow, but this oldie is starting to sound a bit tired.  The first solo spot of the show is Steve Morse’s dual guitar solo, “Contact Lost” and “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.  This dramatic scene is a show highlight, as thousands of people wave their hands in the air to the music.  The two musical pieces are brilliant in composition and execution.  Another new single, “Hell to Pay” has to follow this smoke show.  The song always struck me as custom-written for the stage, and this appears to be true in Wacken.

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Don Airey’s keyboard spotlight on “Lazy” is impressive.  It’s hard to forget the man he replaced in Deep Purple (Jon Lord).  In many ways his solo is a tribute to Lord, as he plays a few cues that Jon wrote.  The band never seems to tire of playing it.  However they stall a bit on “Above and Beyond”, perhaps a song less well adapted to the stage.  “No One Came” on the other hand always kicks ass live.  With Don Airey on keyboards it has some new flavours to it, and then he gets a full-fledged keyboard solo of his own.  He plays all over the musical map, and even hints at “Mr. Crowley”, a song he used to play with Ozzy Osbourne.

“Perfect Strangers” is usually the only song from the 1980’s that Deep Purple still play.  The drama builds as we get closer to the end of the show.  It is dark out now in Wacken but the crowd still bounce along to the music.  I have long felt that “Perfect Strangers” works very well with Steve Morse on guitar, and that was true in Wacken in 2015.  Then we’re off “Space Truckin'”, another song boasting many jawdropping musical moments.

The biggest surprise is the appearance of a wisened Uli Jon Roth on “Smoke on the Water”.  He and Steve Morse have a blast playing off each other.  Think of it:  Two of the most unique and  incredible guitarists in the world on one stage, playing back and forth.  I say this often in my Deep Purple reviews, but what more could you want?  Uli’s solo is pure magic.  He is a force of nature, but so is Steve Morse.  If Uli is wind, then Morse is fire.

Encore time:  Purple started playing “Green Onions” as a prelude to “Hush” a couple years ago.  This is one of the most magical moments in the set.  The energy is palpable.  “Black Night”, which also has a brief segue into Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times”, is the final tune of the night, an otherwise standard take with amazing playing regardless.

It’s a fair bet that Purple won over Wacken in 2013.  Pick up this live set for a taste.

3.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Never Say Die (live 1978)

A double-header for you today, folks!  Head over 80’s Metal Shatz N Giggles to read Deke‘s review of the Never Say Die album!

BLACK SABBATH – Never Say Die (Live in 1978, 2003 Sanctuary DVD)

Recorded in 1978 at the Hammersmith, the DVD Never Say Die was recorded for TV, and not badly either.  The video part, anyway!  Great live angles and decent editing lead to a very watchable concert, albeit chopped down for length.  The audio leaves something to be desired.

The muffled riff of “Symptom of the Universe” commences the set, Iommi sounding as if powered through a crappy battery powered transistor amp, such is the horrible sound captured.  A blazed Ozzy growls through it, and Bearded Bill is in the back wearing braids and looking like a complete dirt bag.  As for Geezer?  He’s mixed too low to have any significant impact.  Tony Iommi stands guard at center stage, while Ozzy claps along next to him.

The close-up shots are nice and vivid, Ozzy waving the peace sign during the start of “War Pigs”.  He then commands the crowd to put their hands together, and they soon oblige singing along with him.  There is something about a live version of this song with the full original lineup including Bill Ward.  Bill was always a jazzy drummer, and that’s the vibe he loaned Black Sabbath.  It’s especially necessary on tracks like “War Pigs” which require a certain swing on the traps.  With Bill here still in vintage mode, the song has all the right heft and movement.

It’s hard to tell that this was a group of guys who couldn’t bear each other anymore.  While they mostly keep to themselves on the large stage (as they always have), Ozzy acts as Tony’s cheering section during the guitar solos, and you can even see a hint of a smile in Tony’s eyes.  Then Ozzy claps and screeches his way through the monolithic “Snow Blind”.

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The only track from the new album, Never Say Die, is the title track.  Its upbeat attitude and fast tempo allude to where Ozzy was going to go as a solo artist.  For Sabbath, it’s one of their most unappreciated tracks.  This live version is pretty sloppy but very rock and roll (including an old-tymey rock and roll riff that wasn’t in the original).  Then, Ozzy introduces the all-time classic, “Black Sabbath”, with an interesting statement.  “Thanks for the last 10 years, and we hope we’re around for another 10 years, and another 10 years.”  It’s interesting because at this point, Ozzy had already left the band once, been replaced by Dave Walker (Savoy Brown) for one TV performance (“Junior’s Eyes”), and then returned to the band to do the Never Say Die album, refusing to sing anything they wrote for Walker.  Not exactly the kind of environment to encourage longevity!  Of course the amazing thing is that three of these guys are still together, winding up the band that they formed.

It’s worth noting that nobody can (or will) capture the vibe of “Black Sabbath” like the original four.

Detouring to Technical Ecstasy, Sabbath pour into the underrated prowl, “Dirty Women”.  After this, uncredited, is a brief Bill Ward drum solo.  That melds into “Rock and Roll Doctor”, another obscurity.  Ward’s cowbell and Tony’s rock and roll riff give it a retro vibe.  Bill plays it busy compared to the album version; that’s fine by me.  Tony takes a guitar solo before the scary oldie-goldie, “Electric Funeral”.   Always a treat to hear this rarely played Paranoid classic, but unfortunately this one is noticeably edited down.

Closing out the disc, “Children of the Grave” is an obvious highlight.  Once again there is no drummer on Earth who can play it properly, except for Bill Ward.   Some come close, but none capture the reckless engine that drives it.  For the encore, Ozzy asks the audience “What do you wanna hear?” to which they are supposed to respond “Paranoid!”  I don’t know if they do; the audio here is really not good.  They trot out “Paranoid”, the flaw of which is that it always sounds by rote.  Ozzy couldn’t sound less interested in singing it again for the millionth time.

You have to consider the sound quality on a DVD like this and if you’re the kind of person who will care or even be able to tell the difference.  I don’t care.  This is a great though imperfect glimpse at a rare period in Black Sabbath’s history.  A short while later Ozzy would be solo, and Sabbath would go to Heaven and Hell with Ronnie James Dio.

3.5/5 stars

 

DVD REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009)

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

“Of course that country cop out track (“Nine Lives”) is brutal…Leppard has no place for CMT! I remember hearing about the Swift deal…I had zero interest. I was like, ‘How can a band that put out stellar product (basically the first four albums) go and cross over!??’ I mean right out of the Sixx play book entitled Following Trends!”Deke from Metal Shatz

“There’s always a first day when you discover a band, be it the Beatles or Taylor Swift, when you hear the name for the first time and then you go and check it out. So we just Googled her, iTuned her, listened to it all and said, ‘Wow’!” — Joe Elliott

“I like to write songs about what’s going on in my life.” — Taylor Swift, stating the obvious

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Before the Swifties come and tear us apart for what you’re about to read, let’s be perfectly clear. Taylow Swift is very talented and has a genuine love for Def Leppard’s music. She is also an incredibly bright individual, and she has written more hits than Def Leppard in a fraction of the time. Both of them started in their teens, and are guilty of using outside writers. In the included interview footage, she and Def Lep seem like a mutual admiration society. We have nothing against Taylor Swift here, though her brand of pop music is never heard around LeBrain HQ…save this Walmart exclusive DVD release.

How did they hook up? Taylor was on tour with “Tim and Faith” (McGraw and Hill) who’s tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. She expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with them, and then the phone rang.

Leppard and the Swift’s band share the stage, dual drummers, umpteen guitar players, and fiddle…but on a heavier track like “Photograph” you can’t really hear her group. Taylor gets the first line (she says she felt like a kid in a candy store to do so); then she and Joe swap. It’s clear that she doesn’t have the power nor the control that Joe Elliot has. Her voice is whispy by comparison. It’s also weird to see a girl in a gold mini-dress and cowboy boots fronting Def Leppard, but talk about dreams come true! I’m sure Def Leppard didn’t mind the national exposure either.

“Picture to Burn” is the kind of candy-coated pop country that irritates so many fans of the old fashioned stuff. Taylor is more at home on her own songs, but Joe has never sounded more awkward. Taylor’s band dominates on this song, with only a few Phil Collen guitar squeals to remind you he’s there. Tellingly, Joe Elliot says of her music, “You take the banjos and fiddles off, and you’ve got pop.” The next Taylor number, “Love Story” is one I’ve heard on pop radio many times, but it’s hard to suffer through. It brings back bad memories of Leppard’s pop disaster, X.

Taylor butchers my favourite Def Leppard ballad, “Hysteria”. The song successfully absorbs the twang, but again, Swift just lacks the vocal power to blast it the way Joe can. Her own ballad “Teardrops on my Guitar” is so laid back that most of the Leppard guys are sitting down for it. The bands mesh well and the song is pretty good, although she has a guitar player who kind of looks like a goth country emo Russell Brand. She’s at home on Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide”. Once again the meshing of the two bands works well here. There’s a full string section, plus backing vocalists crowding the already overloaded stage, but that’s what the song calls for and it’s genuinely great version of the well-worn hit. “Should’ve Said No” is a Swift song I don’t know, but it’s one of those pop tracks that just feels like it was written by a computer. It transforms directly into the show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, but…damn. Taylor’s out of breath. She is audibly gasping (a big no-no) between lines and unable to deliver the goods. With the fiddle and extra accouterments added, this one’s a write-off.

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There are three bonus tracks that weren’t broadcast as part of the show: One Swift, two Leppard. Taylor says she wrote “Our Song” in ninth grade (“three years ago, actually”). That’s exactly what it sounds like, ninth grade pop, but obviously there is a need in the world for that kind of kid-friendly music. Leppard fans won’t find any appeal here. They will however appreciate “Love”, the only new Leppard song in the set. Interestingly it starts with only Taylor and two of her guitarists on stage, then Leppard emerge from the shadows. As a duet, it’s enjoyable, and it’s overall probably the heaviest thing all night. The much-overplayed “Two Steps Behind” is the final bonus track. The fun thing here is trying to count the number of people playing guitar on stage. (Eight plus fiddle and Rick Savage on acoustic five-string.)

Phil Collen gets bonus points for wearing a jacket on stage, dressing up a bit for the television, but he sticks to tradition by having no shirt on underneath.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Live in Stockholm 1970 (2 CD/1 DVD)

EPIC REVIEW TIME!


DEEP PURPLE – Live in Stockholm 1970 (2014 Edel, 2 CD 1 DVD set)

This is the second time I’ve bought this live album.  Hopefully, this edition from the Official Deep Purple (Overseas) Live Series, with its bonus tracks and DVD represents the last time I need to shell out.  The first was a cheap looking 2 CD set called Live and Rare (1992).  There was also a more official version called Scandinavian Nights.  They’re all pretty much the same, a set of early long long bombers by Deep Purple recorded for radio in 1970.  This remixed (from the master tapes) edition has the set list restored to the correct order, and two bonus tracks from Paris the same year.  It also has a Jon Lord interview and a DVD for a TV special called Doing Their Thing.

The TV broadcast weirdly begins right in the middle of “Speed King”.  Full colour and in stereo, this is some fantastic footage.   It’s shot and edited for excitement.  Ritchie Blackmore assaults his weapon, but with precision.  For a guy who is so technically capable, it’s amazing how physical and visual he gets.  “Child in Time” gives Ian Gillan a chance to both sing and scream.  Strangely there are two small bored looking boys in the audience, right by Roger Glover, and they couldn’t look any less thrilled to be at this taping.  Who are they?  Why are they there?   Who knows!  This is the full unedited “Child in Time” complete with solos.

You get ample closeups on Jon, Ritchie and Roger and it’s amazing to see them play so fast, so perfectly.  You can study Jon’s hands and try to figure out what he’s doing.  Ian Paice is in the back, tiny frame creating a huge sound.  The instrumental “Wring that Neck” is soloriffic, and Blackmore is surprisingly friendly with the cameras.  This is very rare for the man in black.  The audience politely clap at his playful solo, and he keeps them guessing to the end.  A rare delight, to see him in such a good mood on stage.  The final track on the DVD is “Mandrake Root”, another song that was really only in the set for them to jam to.   They are in sync, and being able to watch Deep Purple at their peak jamming in this clarity, well that’s really something.  Too bad most of the songs are edited down.

As for the 2 CD set, it has always been a bit of a slog to get to the end.   There are two tracks at 30 minutes a piece.  There is one at 18.  There are three in the 10-12 minute range.  Of all the Deep Purple live albums out there, Stockholm is probably the one that requires the most patience.  This is, however, my first time hearing it freshly mixed and restored for today.

Set commencing with “Speed King” again, this time it’s the full-on 12 minute jam.  Barely hanging together, Purple blast it out with extra heavy energy.  Gillan sounds as if he’s about to burst a blood vessel in his neck.  The audio has more depth than previously releases, but Ian’s voice sounds a bit too low in the mix.  “Do you know what a Speed King is?  A Speed King is somebody who sing at a hundred miles an hour,” sings Ian, not really enlightening us.  “Everybody’s a Speed King when you wanna be,” he adds, confusing things more.  Things quiet down, turn jazzy, and then explode once more.  Not the greatest version of “Speed King” ever recorded, but definitely one of the most frantic.

“Into the Fire” is a rare shot of brevity.   Assailing the skull nonetheless, after “Into the Fire” the band take it back a bit with “Child in Time”.  This full-on 18 minute version is far longer than the better known one from Made in Japan.  The cool thing about Purple is that no two versions of any song are exactly the same, and if you’ve heard “Child in Time” before…you still haven’t heard the 18 minute version from Stockholm.  With all due respect to the Japan version, this one has its own diamonds of brilliance.  How the hell do they keep playing with that rapidity?

Better pee now, because a jazzy “Wring that Neck” is next, over 30 minutes.  Loaded with playing that’ll stop your heart, but not as interesting as the definitive version on Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  This contains a showcase for Jon Lord’s keyboard solos.  Ritchie’s playing is always sublime, and so is Jon’s, but…30 minutes…that’s a lot of jamming.  Like too much crème brûlée.  Ritchie again plays with the audience, teasing out melodies from songs such as “Jingle Bells” and “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”. If that wasn’t enough, Deep Purple’s 10 minute cover of the Stones’ “Paint it, Black” is really just an excuse for a long drum solo by Ian Paice!  Gillan took off, making the song an instrumental, which they only stick to for a minute before letting Paice go nuts.

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Flip over to CD 2, and get ready for another 30 minute long bomber.  “A thing you can jump around to,” says Ian.  It’s “Mandrake Root” and it’s bouncy.  This is a well-known version of the song, and it even appears on Deep Purple comprehensive box set Listen, Learn, Read On in its complete length.  You can clearly hear Gillan on the congas during the long instrumental break.  You can also hear them quoting the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me Now”.  This jam generates more interest than “Wring that Neck”, but it’s still a chore to finish.  And you get to hear “Mandrake Root” and “Wring that Neck” three times each in this package.

The final song (of a mere seven!) for Stockholm is a reasonably brief one:  “Black Night”.  After so much jammin’ it’s nice to have a single, with a set structure, and more than just occasional lead vocals!  It raises the energy a bit after a very draining concert set.  But you’d better refuel with some coffee, because you’re not finished yet.

The two bonus tracks from Paris sound as if they were recorded in a smaller venue.  They are sonically superior to the Stockholm recordings, but damn, I am all jammed out!  Thankfully, this version of “Wring that Neck” is delightful and unique.  It’s hotter and way, way jazzier.  Blackmore also teases out a bit of a preview of a forthcoming song.  You can hear a teeny bit of the guitar melody to 1971’s “The Mule” in his solo.  He even plays a bit of “God Saves the Queen”, in Paris!  Then on to “Mandrake Root” again, 14 minutes this time, half the length of the last one.  Jon’s solo is incredible, but aren’t they all?  This one has some nice rhythmic choppy bits that are so fun to air-keyboard along to.  The track eventually descends into chaos and noise, as all good Deep Purple jams do.

Finally we have the 1971 Jon Lord interview.  This 11 minute track discusses how Jon joined the band, the early days, the Concerto, and In Rock. The title is misleading however, since the track also contains a few bits with Ian Gillan.  Fun stuff but ultimately nothing here that the fan doesn’t already know.

3/5 stars, simply because I know from experience that this set won’t get much repeat play in your home.

3.5/5 stars when you take the bonus DVD into consideration.

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (TV special edition – 2CD/2DVD set)

JETHRO TULL – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976, 2015 Chrysalis TV Special edition 2CD/2DVD)

I foresee a future time, when every man woman and child will be able to buy deluxe multi-disc box sets of just about every album ever made.  While old geezers with greying beards will sit back in a rocking chair (a hovering one, no doubt) listening to multi-track backing tapes for every single Poison CD, our children will be able to do the same with a comprehensive book-box version of the NSync debut album.  It’s going to happen eventually, so we may as well get good albums like Tull’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! in box set form while the concept still has validity.

Of course this isn’t the first Jethro Tull album to get this kind of treatment.  A super deluxe Aqualung was a fairly recent release, and I received Benefit myself for Christmas last year.  The bold four-colour album cover for Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll makes for a splendid book-form box with plastic CD trays inside.  An absolutely massive (80 page) full colour booklet awaits you inside.  Rare photos are the norm of course, but a features such as “From Carmen to Tullman” about the late John Glascock are valuable reads.  Detailed liner notes will help you make sense of the track listing, and the multiple versions of each song included.  Almost all of this material is rare, previously unreleased, or newly mixed material by studio wizard Steve Wilson.

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Scan_20151229First of all, I was not aware that all of Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll was re-recorded for a UK television special, included here on DVD.  Anderson had a theatrical presentation in mind, so playing live wasn’t of interest to him.  But, apparently due to British law, the LP Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll could not be used for backing music on a “live” TV special.  Anderson’s vision seemed to involve the band miming to the album while pulling amusing faces and occasionally acting out the lyrics.  In order to mime and do it legally, brand new recordings of every song had to be made!  In fact the band painstakingly took great care in recreating the album, although there are also obvious differences.  For the DVD and CD, these tracks been newly mixed and are available for the first time.  CD 1 contains the standard stereo mix of the re-recorded album.  DVD 1 has the special in both stereo and 5.1 surround.

The original album was also meant to be remixed top to bottom in 5.1 by Wilson.   This was not possible, because the original multi-track tapes survived for only five songs, almost the whole second side:  “From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser”, “Bad Eyed and Loveless”, “Big Dipper”, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and “The Chequered Flag”.  Tull’s semi-acoustic nature lends itself well to a good 5.1 mix.  The audio field is filled out, but not to excess.  It’s a good balance and the tracks included in 5.1 shine with fresh light.  Do not be surprised to hear parts you didn’t hear before.

The bonus associated tracks are a light collection of rare Tull.  The two bonus tracks from the prior 2002 remaster, “One Brown Mouse” and “A Small Cigar” are included here unaltered on CD 2, or on lossless 96/24 stereo PCM on DVD 2.  The unreleased tracks are excellent.  “Salamander’s Rag Time” sounds like the Jethro Tull collaborating with the Beatles via “A Day in the Life”.  Meanwhile, “Commercial Traveller” is a lushly arranged and recorded ode to the road with full strings and Martin Barre guitar blazes.  “Strip Cartoon” also has quaint Beatles-isms though it is really just a bright Tull acoustic jaunt.  An incredible instrumental take of “Salamander” is pure delight, hearing it ring in live perfection.  There is also a bare acoustic version of “A Small Cigar”, and earlier versions of “Quiz Kid” and the title track.  As always, these are available on both the CDs and DVDs.  Four of these (“Salamander’s Rag Time”, “Commercial Traveller”, “Strip Cartoon” and the acoustic “Small Cigar”) can be heard in 5.1, again mixed by Wilson.  Expect the same level of lushness and quality as the album tracks, although with the acoustic arrangements, it’s more about the spaces between.

One of the great advantages of the DVD format is the ability to re-release classic Quadrophonic mixes for modern audio systems.  Like many rock bands (and especially progressive rock bands) of the early 1970’s, Jethro Tull released Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll in Quad.  That long unavailable version is right here in 4.0, on DVD 2.  It’s certainly an interesting animal.  Where Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mixes envelope the listener in clouds of Tull music, the Quad mixes things hard into individual channels.  It’s an interesting experience.  The vocals are mostly on the right, the flute behind, and the other instruments tucked into their corners.  If you want to hear it as if the music is coming from four separate corners of the room, then this Quad mix is that exactly.  There is something to be said for this, because you can clearly hear each instrument isolated, and easy to study.  You can easily lose yourself in a particular part of the mix, which is the benefit and weakness of the format.  Regardless, the classic 1976 Quad mix has parts you won’t hear elsewhere, and it’s available again, and that is a good thing.

With all this talk of extras and remixes and surround sound, the original album is almost overlooked!  Fear not.  A bit like an afterthought, the original, stereo, classic Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! is here, as the final 11 songs on CD 2.  Even the Benefit super deluxe box set didn’t include the original album on CD.  If you prefer lossless stereo, it’s there on DVD, too.

What of the original album, then?  Well, I reviewed that in 2012, and you can read all about it here.   A brief summary:


 

SAM_1882Like many Tull albums from the mid-70’s, there’s plenty of acoustics to go around accompanied by lovely flute passages and complex drum patterns.  There’s also some horns and orchestration courtesy of David Palmer (not yet a full member of the band).  Personal highlights:

  • “Salamander”, a folksy number with intricate acoustics.
  • The harmonica riffing of “Taxi Grab”, reminiscent of an earlier bluesier Jethro Tull.  The guitar soloing (both electric and acoustic) is also divine.
  • “Big Dipper”, a playful yet complex number with plenty of flute and a fun chorus.
  • The masterpiece title track (obviously), lush with ochestration.
  • “Pied Piper”, one of the most obviously catchy songs on the whole album, albeit still complex with multiple parts and section.
  • The final track of the album, a slow but dramatic grandiose number called “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”.

 

Too old to rock ‘n’ roll?  Never.  Buy this for the grandpa on your lists.

4/5 stars