Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Sonics • 8

Yes, "8." I have no idea what the significance of the title is*, but I do know why this release is significant: It's the first release of new music from The Sonics in decades! And while there's only four new studio tunes, there are six new live recordings from their recent European tour (you only get four on the 10" vinyl).

To see these guys live—even today!—is to experience rock 'n' roll the way it was meant to be. Their manic, loud, practically deprived performances are what it's all about. I imagine there's no need to "introduce" you to The Sonics, since you probably already know they were a Tacoma, WA garage band from the mid '60s who followed in The Wailers' footsteps, but took it a few steps further, into the grimy back alley of what we call rock. Their original tunes "Psycho," "Strychnine," and "Cinderella" were some of the best original rockers of the decade. (All three are performed live on this release.) So, now we have 8, a short, sharp, shocking piece of wax (or aluminum and plastic) with some new tunes. When I interviewed the band in late 2008 for the article I did in The Big Takeover**, Larry Parypa said they were planning on recording some new tunes but were worried that they couldn't find a producer who could do it as raw as they wanted. Well, it seems they got in touch with Jack Endino somehow, and though Jack only gets an engineer credit, and Larry himself is credited as producer, the record definitely has the raw power Parypa was after. That being said, there's a bit of high end lacking (and that may just be modern ear syndrome), yet the result is overall pretty pleasing. I mean, let's face it. Everyone looking forward to a record like this thinks to himself, "I bet it's gonna suck." But if you've seen them live recently (and they're playing a show on New Year's Eve in Olympia, WA), you gotta figure there's a good chance they could manage a respectable rekkid. And they have...

I like the new tunes on this, especially "Cheap Shades" and "Don't Back Down" (not The Beach Boys song), both sung by Jerry Roslie, and the other two aren't bad either (sung by latter day bassist Freddie Dennis). But it's the live tracks that everyone's most interested in. Well, they certainly deliver the goods, performance-wise. The sound quality's not what you might expect from a 2010 live recording, but then again, the "very good quality board tape" quality is definitely in your face and fills your ears. (Here I'll mention that the other live tracks on the CD are "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," and not on the vinyl, "Boss Hoss" and "The Hustler.") Kudos to Jim Anderson, Seattle soundguy extraordinaire, for not overdoing it, separating it on 24 tracks, or using modern post-production tricks to make it sound clean. Dirty is where it's at, folks, and The Sonics are dirtier than bands half their age. Hell, a quarter of their age!
3.5/5 (The Sonics Record Co.)
* Aha, could it be because there's eight songs on the record? Sure, but there's ten on the CD and that's what most people will buy.
** Issue #64, and available at their web site on the Back Issues page.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Who • Live at Leeds [40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set]

It finally came the other day! A little over forty years after the concert was recorded at a "uni" in Leeds, England, The Who's legendary Live at Leeds is still hailed as one of the best live albums ever. Of course, when they finally put it out with the entire concert included (with the entire Tommy rockopera, even), it made it even greater. Now, they've released it in a be-all end-all edition that includes the double CD aforementioned, the original 6-song LP (on 180 gram vinyl), a 7" replica of the original UK (or is it German) single of "Summertime Blues" b/w "Heaven and Hell" (the latter of which was not on the original album), a hardcover 60-page book, and a vial of Keith Moon's sweat (that version already sold out).

The other big deal about this version of Live at Leeds is they released it with the entire concert from the next night, Live at Hull. Yes, I know... the title "Live at Leeds" is so iconic that "Live at Hull" sounds like a Rutles joke (and it is, sorta, since they claim that Dirk McQuickly put out a solo record called "(When You Find the Girl of Your Dreams in the Arms of) Some Scotsmen from Hull"). It's a great show, almost as good as Leeds, and they had to really do some work to make the first handful of songs presentable. Apparently, John Entwistle's bass was not recorded for the first five or six songs, and that's why the show was originally shelved. (They actually only listened to the first song or two at the time and decided the whole tape was bass-less so they passed on it.) But the shit they can do nowadays with a computer and a little gumption! They actually "flew in" the bass from the Leeds show and digitally maniupulated it to fit the performance at Hull. Man, I love technology! Sure, the show is pretty identical to it's way more popular brother, but it just goes to show that to have seen The Who in '69-'70 must have been like witnessing godhead incarnate. Of course I couldn't have appreciated it as well at the age of seven as I can now, or even when I first really heard the original album, probably 1980 or so, but listening to this amazingly awesome concert almost erases the memory of seeing them Moon-less at the Kingdome in 1982 (which is memorable primarily because it was the only time I got to see The Clash).

Now, you don't get all the little inserts that came with the original LP issue, though they are reproduced in the book, but you do get a pretty cool poster of Pete Townshend doing his windmill routine, and as I said, early pre-orderers do get a sample of Moon's sweat, which must have been prodigious considering how crazily-yet-brilliantly he plays during these concerts. Personally, I was hoping for a locke of Roger Daltrey's hair, but I guess the sweat will have to do. BTW, as great as I think The Who were, I still think "Happy Jack" is a pretty dumb song, despite the great music.
6/5 (Polydor/Universal)