Friday, February 20, 2009

Pink Floyd - "An Hour With Pink Floyd (KQED)" (concert)

I found this gem while researching the Roger Waters review below. I've labeled it as an "LP Review", but that is not quite accurate. Apparently on April 29, 1970, KQED in San Francisco recorded a Pink Floyd show and broadcast it. I don't know much more than that. I'm of the impression that the show was done especially for KQED, but I'm not certain.

I've always enjoyed their 1971 recording (1972 release) "Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii", and this is certainly similar. While "Pompeii" features several tracks from the LP "Meddle", "KQED" features two from "More", one from "Atom Heart Mother" and one from "Ummagumma". I happened to find this because I was considering reviewing "Cymbaline" as a "forgotten song". The studio version is nice, but the live version is amazing -- a must listen.

I've been unable to find a DVD bootleg of the concert (I would get it just for "Cymbaline"), but there are various portions on the web. YouTube user "FranksValli" has kindly split the concert into nine pieces. The track listing, with YouTube links, for "KQED" is:

0. (Intro)
1. Atom Heart Mother (part 1, part 2)
2. Cymbaline
3. Granchester Meadows
4. Green Is The Colour
5. Careful With That Axe, Eugene
6. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (part 1, part2)

Tracks 5 & 6 are arranged similar to the "Pompeii" release. Two blogs, "Palace of Exile" and "Clandestine Sound Lab" provide URLs for getting the videos directly. I'm still hoping for someone to make a nice bootleg.

(2009-12-01 edit: the YouTube account hosting the above links is suspended and the videos deleted, but you can still find the entire video at Google Videos. And I did find a bootleg DVD for sale, but the URL is now defunct.)

(2010-06-17 edit: I've been able to find new YT links for all but "Intro" and "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun". The old links have been left intact.)

(2011-11-08 edit: Here is the entire concert in a single YouTube link. We'll see how long this one lasts...)

(2013-02-15 edit: here's another upload of the entire concert)

2013-11-04 edit:  I think all of the above links have been removed, so here's a version on Dailymotion.  If only KQED/PF/whomever focused their energies into releasing an official version instead of just removing the unofficial versions from the web...

Also, I'm removing this from the "LP Review" category and retroactively putting it in the category of "concert". 

And since I labeled this as an "LP review":

Standout tracks: All, but especially "Cymbaline".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final rating: 10/10.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roger Waters - "The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking" (LP Review)

My friend Terry and I belong to a very exclusive club: we believe "The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking" is an amazing LP. Most people just see the neurotic excess of Roger Waters without the balancing influence of David Gilmour. I see that as well, but I also see this LP as a successful completion of the ideas introduced in "The Wall" and "The Final Cut" (example: in the movie "The Wall", Pink is reciting the lyrics to "Moment of Clarity" in the scene in the bathroom stall). This LP is arguably better since the the stream of consciousness / lucid dreaming format better suits Water's story telling.

Released in 1984, TPACOHH is Roger Water's first solo LP (not counting 1970's "Music From the Body" as a proper solo LP) and was released near the end of his membership in Pink Floyd. Joining Waters on this LP are a host of excellent musicians, including David Sanborn and Eric Clapton. Much like the previous two Pink Floyd LPs, this one is best enjoyed with the volume way up and/or with headphones since various special effects (e.g., the sound of the Lamborghini in the 2nd track) and subtle plot cues are provided in the background (e.g., "and mother wants you!"). The LP only featured one single that received even tiniest bit of airplay (track 10, "The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking"). Also like the previous two Pink Floyd LPs, the songs out of context won't necessarily make a lot of sense. By itself, the single is about people you meet hitch hiking. But that's not really what the song (or LP) is about...

Waters has a summary on his web site, but I'll attempt an even shorter version. A husband is lying in bed late at night and has a dream about leaving his wife for a hitch hiker he picks up and after a brief encounter the hitch hiker is gone. He moves to Wyoming and lives off the grid with his wife who ultimately leaves him for another man. Despondent, he becomes a hitch hiker himself and has a cathartic journey as he makes his way back to civilization. He finally wakes up and has a "moment of clarity" and realizes he's happy despite his dream state mid-life crisis.

To emphasize the dream sequence, the tracks are actually titled 4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad), 4:33 AM (Running Shoes), 4:37 AM (Arabs with Knives and West German Skies), etc. The times correspond to the length of the song, and the parenthetical titles give an indication as to general theme. Its hard to pick favorite songs from this LP, but if forced to do so I would choose "Running Shoes" ("Fixed on the front of her Fassbinder face / Was the kind of a smile / That only a rather dull child could have drawn / While attempting a graveyard in the moonlight"), "Sexual Revolution" ("I woke in a fever / The bedclothes were all soaked in sweat / She said `You've been having a nightmare /And it's not over yet'") and "Go Fishing" ("F*** it then / Take the kids back to town / Maybe I'll see you around").

If you haven't heard this LP (or haven't listened to it in some time), I encourage you to give it a try. Ultimately, this was the last important LP by Roger Waters. "Radio K.A.O.S" was a decent LP with a few good songs, but it does not begin to approach TPACOHH. Ditto the Water-less Pink Floyd LP "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" released a few years later. "The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking" is the last great LP from any member of Pink Floyd.

Standout songs: All. Ok, that's a cop out (and some songs are linked to above), but you really should listen to the whole thing: grooveshark, and Rhapsody.

Full LP on Youtube.

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final rating: 10/10.

P.S. YouTube user "gravesing" has released animated movie versions of the first four songs: 4:30 AM, 4:33 AM, 4:37 AM, 4:39 AM. They are simultaneously pretty cool and slightly disturbing. Hopefully other installments are forthcoming. 2010-11-29 edit: 4:41 AM, 4:47 AM.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Schon & Hammer - "No More Lies" (forgotten song)

Once again we return to the realm of forgotten videos from the early days of MTV. Schon & Hammer was a collaboration between Neil Schon (lead guitarist for Journey) and Jan Hammer (of Miami Vice Theme fame). "No More Lies" is the first song on their second (and final) studio LP, 1982's ironically titled "Here to Stay".

The song is ok with a decent hook, but it's at best a guilty pleasure. But there are several larger issues that make this fun to revisit.

1. The video is a perfect early 80s time capsule and seems to come from one of the 4-5 video "templates" available at the time. For example, watch the video, then watch Ric Ocasek's "Something to Grab For". The resemblance is uncanny.

2. You have to love that 1982 was a time when Jan Hammer -- bald, mid-30s, and remarkably unsexy, could be featured in the video (as the image above captures). Neil struts around giving the viewer some beefcake, but it is as if neither Jan nor the video producer noticed that Jan doesn't look like Neil.

3. Finally, this is a perfect example of a common phenomena: a hard rock / heavy metal guitarist trapped in "pop" band. Listening to Neil Schon solo during Journey songs, I always got the feeling that while he knew his current gig was paying the bills, he really just wanted to shred. Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon and Tommy Shaw* of Styx are two other prominent examples. The ballads sell, but they don't rock. "No More Lies" rocks a little harder than your average Journey song.

I recall seeing this on MTV just a couple of times. And while it was hardly a staple (few probably remember it at all), it is interesting how sometimes the lesser known examples actually produce more nostalgia.

Link: YouTube.

* "`But Kilroy -- what about the young people?' ... I'm going to die in Texas."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Weezer - "Pinkerton" (LP Review)

I'm a big fan of Weezer. Unfortunately, it is written somewhere that Weezer fans have to think Pinkerton is Weezer's greatest LP of all time, no discussion necessary. Problem is, I don't think this is their best LP. It might only be their third or fourth best LP. Those kinds of heretical statements will get you excommunicated from the Weezer fan club pretty quickly.

Released in 1996, Pinkerton is their second LP and represents a decided break from their first LP ("the blue album") with a heavier, darker sound. Pinkerton has none of the highly polished power pop songs (and Spike Jonez -directed "novelty" videos like "Undone - the Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly") that made their first LP such a popular and critical success. Where their first LP had the clean precision of Ric Ocasek as producer, Pinkerton is self-produced and, perhaps, more self-indulgent.

Two well-known facts about this LP should give you pause: 1) Pinkerton is the remnants of an unreleased concept LP "Songs from the Black Hole", which is described as a "space-themed rock opera" and whose legend inevitably invites comparisons to "Smile", The Beach Boys' mythic unreleased LP, and 2) Pinkerton is roughly inspired by Puccini's Madame Butterfly, but instead of being a Lieutenant in the US Navy, the character of Pinkerton is college-age rock star (in other words, Rivers Cuomo). That's an awful lot of "concept" for a college rock band ca. mid-90s.

But I'll forgive the Madame Butterfly inspiration (if you catch me on a good day I might admit to liking it), but what ultimately limits this LP is that the song writing is not up to their usual standards. Songs like "Tired of Sex", "Getchoo" and "Falling for You" are nearly brilliant, but are missing that undefinable something that typifies their earlier -- and later -- songs. Don't get me wrong, they're good songs, but they come across as incomplete demos and not fully polished. It is almost as if in their desire to make "heavier" songs, they've left something out. I can't exactly say what is missing, but it's missing.

Having said that, this LP does contain two of their best songs ever: "Good Life" and "Pink Triangle". The latter is a song of our main character's unrequited love for a woman who turns out to be lesbian and features two of the cleverest lyrics you'll ever hear: "We were good as married in my mind / But married in my mind's no good" and "Everyone's a little queer / Can't she be a little straight".

When you listen to the other songs on the LP in light of "Good Life" and "Pink Triangle", you can't help but feel a little disappointed and wonder how good this LP would truly have been if they had all been at that level.

Stand out tracks: "Good Life", "Pink Triangle", "Tired of Sex", "No Other One", "Why Bother"

Skip 'em tracks: "El Scorcho" (a fan favorite, but I can't get into it), "Butterfly" (not a bad song and it resolves the concept, but I often turn the LP off at this point).

Final score: 8/10 -- narrowly avoiding a 7/10 on the strength of "GL" & "PT".