Friday, August 16, 2013

CD Preview: Quicksilver Messenger Service Live At The Old Mill Tavern 1970

There must be a ready market for these Quicksilver Messenger Service pseudo-bootlegs with dodgy provenance (and often questionable sound), because a bunch of fly-by-night labels have cranked out better than a half-dozen such releases in the last four years or so. Live At The Old Mill Tavern, documenting a March 1970 QMS show from Mill Valley, California was released digitally and as a CD-R in 2012 and now gets the full digipak CD treatment from the good folks at Cleopatra Records, which at least ensures a decent package with the best sound possible.

Of all the live QMS recordings floating around, this one is notable in that it features a newly-reunited band line-up that included singer Dino Valenti along with guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina, bassist David Freiberg, keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Greg Elmore working out on tunes like Valenti's "Mojo" and Bo Diddley's "Mona." This particular set includes two lengthy blues jams with Chicago blues legend James Cotton (extending out 21+ minutes) and the sort of blues-infused psychedelic pop that only Quicksilver could deliver.

My old buddy Dave Thompson wrote the liner notes for Live At The Old Mill Tavern, and the label's press releases quotes from them, telling us more about the story behind the album. “The six-piece band – Dino Valenti, Gary Duncan, John Cippolina, David Freiberg, and Greg Elmore – had only been playing together a few months, since New Year at the Fillmore rang in this new decade, and they are blazing tonight, ” writes Thompson. “Fiery and more fiery still...waiting in the wings for encore time was harmonica legend Jimmy Cotton, whose eponymous Blues Band was kicking the crap out of more or less every band it came up against in concert...there's a lot of live Quicksilver material out there, and that is how it should be. The records are great but, as all the members have said, it was live that the Messenger Service really smoked, and the live tapes that truly mark the life and times that they lived so well. This recording punches all of those buttons, and a whole bunch more besides!”

Lords of the New Church Revisited by Real Gone Music

When they formed in 1981, Lords of the New Church was a sort of intercontinental punk "supergroup." Comprised of singer Stiv Bators (Dead Boys), guitarist Brian James (The Damned), bassist Dave Tregunna (Sham 69), and drummer Nick Turner (The Barracudas), the band transcended its punk/hardcore roots to deliver a sound that mixed punk's energy with garage and hard rock, their songs replete with melody and sing-along choruses that separated them from much of what was going on in either the U.S. or the U.K. at the time. The Lords' live performances were the stuff of legend, Stiv picking up the torch from punk godfather Iggy and nearly killing himself on stage every night, while James' underrated fretwork soared above the yeoman work of a solid rhythm section.

The Lords released three albums proper during their roughly eight years in the trenches circa 1981-1988, not counting multiple "hits" collections and live discs sporting bootleg quality sound and dodgy provenance. These three albums – the self-titled 1982 debut, 1983's Is Nothing Sacred? and 1984's The Method to Our Madness – are essential 1980s-era rock 'n' roll listening, influential and entertaining and, sadly, out of print for years. Thanks to Real Gone Music, all three albums will be reissued on September 30th, 2013 with spiffed-up sound and new liner notes from Scott Schinder. Sadly, none of the reissues include bonus tracks, and you're going to have to find a copy of the Killer Lords CD to hear the band's incredibly ramshackle cover of Madonna's "Like A Virgin."

The three releases are part of RealGone's September schedule, which also includes albums from Billy Preston and more live music from the Grateful Dead.

Lords of the New Church - "Russian Roulette"

Lords of the New Church - "Little Boys Play With Dolls"


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Big Star's Nothing Can Hurt Me

When it comes to pop and rock music from the last 40-odd years, the world can easily be divided into two simple parts: those who’ve heard of Big Star, and those who haven’t. The cult following that has been growing around this quasi-mythic Memphis band for decades now is such that the very words “big” and “star,” spoken in that particular sequence, have become a kind of code-speak for insider hipness.

It’s been this way at least since the Replacements’ song “Alex Chilton” (which name-checks the band and its most famous member) came out in 1987. It was intended as a tribute, which it is, though it also created a problem: it made a demigod of Chilton, erroneously implying that the former singer of the late ’60s pop act the Box Tops was the de facto leader and founder of Big Star. This misconception is now being remedied, thanks to the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which was officially released in July and has been playing in select theaters.

Big Star's Nothing Can Hurt Me

For the faithful flock that has long been genuflecting at the altar of Big Star, this is video manna raining down from rock ’n’ roll heaven. For the curious, the as-yet-unconverted, and the true music maven who has somehow overlooked the band, there’s no better starting place than this film, which will likely stand as the definitive version of the Big Star saga. Nothing Can Hurt Me presents the reasons behind the band’s commercial failure and resulting semi-secret status at the pinnacle of rock’s anointed few, and does a good deal more.

The film lays out the far larger pop-culture context in which Big Star emerged, fizzled and improbably found new life on the sheer strength of its once-hard-to-find records, aiding the viewer in appreciating what the band accomplished within perhaps the worst possible time period and circumstances. The sprawling and often poignant story is told by a sizable cast of Memphians who played roles ranging from central to supporting to peripheral (though the late and notoriously media-wary Alex Chilton, who was still with us when the film began production, characteristically opted not to participate). Cameos from members of the music press and the international indie-rock elite confirm the extent of the band’s effect upon them and the disciples who were still to come.

Memphis Music In The 1970s

Then, of course, there’s the music. It seeps through the very pores of the film, as well it should, providing an essential dimension of the story (and one that threatens to distract from it at times). An accompanying soundtrack (available on CD and, fittingly, vinyl) offers various remixes and one original demo, while the film itself does contain bits of lesser-known music from founding member Chris Bell and other associated Memphis bands.

Indeed, Nothing Can Hurt Me is secondarily a film about the Memphis music scene in the ’70s, and includes such items of interest as interview segments with legendary producer and indie-music godfather Jim Dickinson (including a look inside his inner sanctum) and a vintage local TV clip that hilariously demonstrates just how revolutionary—or at least controversial—Memphis rockers were capable of being. The film also documents Chilton’s late 1970s move to New York City, where he became involved with such groups as the Cramps and retooled his own career, drawing from punk and alternative sensibilities that left many of his fans befuddled.

Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel & Jody Stephens

Because the nearly two-hour-long documentary is packed—more correctly, layered—with compelling music and multiple story threads, as well as some very artful visual moments (like, for instance, the neon sputnik scene that aptly accompanies one of Big Star’s eeriest tracks), one viewing won’t likely be enough to catch all that it has to offer. One, however, is all it takes to explicitly convey to the viewer what is often implicit in the songs and vocals of Chilton and Bell: that is, the considerable struggle experienced in their interior lives.

Don’t be misled by the title—Nothing Can Hurt Me, for all its celebration of Big Star’s music and its belated, bittersweet victory, is anything but pain-free. For the faithful flock, however, the opportunity to finally see this long-deserved story come to life so splendidly on the screen will make the ache bearable. [Review by Steve Morley]

CD Preview: Flying Colors

Nothing could have prepared audiences for the 2012 self-titled debut album from the prog-pop "supergroup" Flying Colors. Comprised of singer Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev), noted guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple), bassist David LaRue (Dixie Dregs), keyboardist Neal Morse (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic), and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic), Flying Colors was a band brimming over with exceptional musical talent.

The debut album showed an instant chemistry among the band members, and in my Blurt magazine review of the album last year I wrote "Flying Colors often treads dangerously near art-rock or “pomp” territory – think Styx or, if you prefer, Saga – rather than re-visiting musical turf already ground to dust by the members’ other considerable bands." I concluded the review stating "Flying Colors is an auspicious debut from a band of incredibly talented and frequently underrated (and overlooked) musicians." 

Musicians like the Morse's – Steve and Neal – and Portnoy are road-tested touring machines, so the band naturally hit the rails in support of the debut album, spending much of 2012 zig-zagging across the planet and capitalizing on the bank of audience goodwill built by decades of touring by the individual band members and their various band and solo projects. One of these amazing 2012 performances was caught on tape and will be released CD and DVD as Live In Europe on October 15, 2013 by the band's own Music Theories Recordings label, distributed by the Mascot Label Group.

Live In Europe was recorded and filmed at the club 013 in Tilburg, Holland on September 20, 2012. The video was directed and edited by Bernhard Baran (The Cure, Porcupine Tree) and longtime Neal Morse management partner Bill Evans is the executive producer. The album and film includes the entire Flying Colors studio album performed in its entirety, along with songs from the back catalog of each of the individual band members, including Dixie Dregs' "Odyssey," Dream Theater's "Repentance," and Spock's Beard's "June," among others. 

In a press release for the live album, Flying Colors drummer Mike Portnoy says, "what a band!  What a tour! The magic that we captured on the debut album was only further developed and cemented on Flying Colors' 2012 tour. Each night on stage I felt like I was part of something very special and cherished every moment of it. As it was such a brief and limited tour, I am so glad we captured it here to now share with fans all around the world that didn't get to see this special band in person...enjoy!" Guitarist Steve Morse adds, "performing live is most fun when the music is able to lift you up with pure emotion. We, as well as the audience, were feeling that, I'm sure!"

Live In Europe will be available as a two-CD set and a limited edition three-album vinyl edition, as well as a digital download on iTunes and For those fans that enjoy the whole audio/visual experience, the performance will also be released on DVD and Blu-Ray disc with stereo and 5.1 surround mixes and featuring an additional 45-minute documentary film with interview and other backstage video footage.

Flying Colors' Live In Europe video trailer