Saturday, December 01, 2012

Yeah I know, you want me to dispense with the usual introductory chin flap and get to the meat 'n gristle, right? Well, who says that I don't treat my readers for more (or less, depending) than they're worth anyway...


Like yeah, I wasn't gonna get it. And you all know why by now. With my limited monetary resources it ain't like I'm really up to buying recordings (no matter how life-reaffirming and essential they may be) that I already have in various formats. Nor am I that hot on all of these "special edition" releases featuring the same-old tracks that are finally getting the royal carpet treatment. And as we all know, these "new" and "improved" releases are only going to be upgraded even more within the span of a few years time so why buy 'em now? I mean yeah, if this 45th anniversary reissue of that all-time wowzer THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO is gonna be the ultimate last word in what this platter means in the annals of eternal rockism, then can you imagine what the FIFTIETH anniversary collection will have? Not to mention the 75th and 100th for that matter which really makes me wanna stick around to be 107 because can you imagine all of the money I will be saving by not buying these earlier special editions which just toss at'cha the same old mixes plus whatever newies might get discovered in the interim?

And so it comes, this time in a hard-covered book with almost 100 glossy pages covering the early Velvet Underground saga that's just chock brimming fulla photos showing our fave rave group creating art or just hanging around like all of our fave rave groups do. Not only that, but the cover comes complete with a peelable banana giving it even more class, and there's not one or two but six Cee-Dees filled with aural booty that captures the sound and aura of what the Velvet Underground meant and continues to mean for the countless number of fans out there whether they be sixties originals or seventies CREEM maniacs, or youngsters who just caught up with everybody else and think that this group's the neatest!

To which I say "so what!" We've seen all of those once-rare snaps over and over (and over and over even more in this age of instant internet), and it should be common fact that I and just about any Velvet cultist can write the entire story in our sleep complete with the obligatory nods to David, Iggy and Patti (and of course REM at least to endear ourselves to classic FM radio corporate interests), not to mention have to endure a re-re-repeat of that oft-quoted Eno blurb about how everybody who bought the 30-thou copies this album way back when were inspired to form their own band. In fact, let me try writing this book in MY sleep...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."Although highly reviled during their lifetime, the Velvet Underground have been noted by various people whose first names are David, Iggy and Patti to have sold 30-thou copies of their album which Eno blurbed influenced REM to form a classic FM radio corporate interest." Well, yeah, maybe I shouldnt't've taken all of those Ny-Quils before hitting the hay, though it does come off better'n some of the stuff I've written while conscious!

But hey, I chickened out and bought this, not only because I felt it was my own sacred duty to the aforementioned cult of the Velvet Underground (seed planted when that weird Swan-covered collection hit the bins at JC  Penney's) but because frankly there wasn't much else out there that was worth burning a hole in my pocket and I figured why not? And for once I made a wise choice, for THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO  45th ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE EDITION actually fills the bill not only for the nouveau Velvet Underground fanatic (who I imagine as some mid-forties upwardly-spiraled Jeannie Garofalo fan who still wets bed ecstatically over each and every one of the "new" Velvet Undergrounds that have been coming out these past ten or so years), but with the "old" and in fact "ancient" Velvets crazies (coots like us who first heard about 'em in the pages of CREEM or even CRAWDADDY for all I know and gave up on banking hope re. any "new" Velvets somewhere around the time A New Order came into the public consciousness).

First the book. Not bad actually, especially when I had an inkling that it was going to be yet another re-hash of histories I've already praised to the hilt over the years done up in a postmodern sickly fashion. Or worse yet, a sad-sack look through 45 years of rose-colored hindsight written by a scion of the "new" Velvets fandom who always seemed so frail that a light breeze'd topple him over. Ritchie Unterberger wrote this 'un, and although what he did jot down here is a far cry from the jam-packed, indulgent information he relayed to us in his VU day-by-day tome a few years back it's still vital enough with even some recently-uncovered mini-bits of historical tweaking that you'll be glad you found out about. The pix are basically the same 'uns we've seen over and over, but if you look hard enough you might notice a few outtakes from some of the more familiar photoshoots that'll have you doing headspins given your anal-retentive obsessive over the subject matter. Maybe not, but they're here for your eyeballing if you so desire to.

It's the music that we're really interested in, and as far as presenting it as it is supposed to be heard goes at least Polydor did a good job. Now, I don't really care for alternative mixes or mono vs. stereo or any of that HIGH FIDELITY AND STEREO REVIEW hi-fi nut stuff that seemed the realm of an early-sixties-looking guy in horn-rimmed glasses and a necktie who fiddled with his knobs in lieu of swinging a few on the golf course, so the first two platters here aren't anything special to me outside of containing some of the better rock 'n roll music to have been heard in the sixties or for that matter since. But they sound good in any fashion...mono, stereo or even quad if there was a mix of that around even though I can't imagine some long-hair sitting on a pad inside of four speakers listening to anything on these platters! The alternate takes and single versions that close out the disques do matter to me, and although there ain't anything on these that's so different from the original takes to make you wanna do a li'l shoplifting at least you do get to hear some of your favorite elpee moments once again before the disque clicks off, and the slight differences you may be able to notice will probably perk your ears up more'n Lassie's!

The inclusion of Nico's CHELSEA GIRL as disque #3 might have been inspired, but like you I already have this 'un so the question is...why? True, this is as important to the early-Velvets canon as all of those weirdities like "Loop" and "Noise," but I wish more would have been added to pad out the platter into something that would have been a little more...cohesive? (Break out your own thesauruses to find a suitable way to express my, and probably your, disappointment that more wasn't tacked on to at least bolster the CHELSEA GIRL credo the way it should have been.) At least disque 4 has not only the oft-bootlegged Scepter Studios tracks but some of the Andy Warhol Museum rehearsal tapes, and they sure sound fab! Not a skip or crackle to be heard here, and even with the noise-reduction and editing hijinx these sound a whole lot better'n they had on the reams of bootlegs we've been buying over the past few decades. (I will admit that I did notice some awkward editing on "Waiting For My Man" but I don't want to go gettin' anybody involved with this 'un in trouble so mum's da woid!) Gee, I thought that the issuing of any more Velvet rarities was being held up in court...well, at least the presence of these tracks gives me hope that all of those rumored rarities from the early Falling Spikes and Warlocks-era rehearsals to a studio "Sweet Sister Ray" will be eventually released, and post haste as well since it ain't like I got all day!

Closing out the set are two platters taken from the infamous Valleydale Ballroom in Columbus from December of 1966, and after giving these a listen all I can say is TECHNOLOGY TOTALLY TRIUMPHS once again! Dunno what they're doing nowadays, but these recordings actually sound rather clear and distinct compared with the previous bootlegs and cassettes that have been flying around for years, even to the point where you can hear someone yelling for a "Doug" (undoubtedly Doug Snyder of DAILY DANCE and Sick Dick and the Volkswagens fame) at some point during the festivities. Now these tapes don't sound crystal clear to the point where you can hear the pimples forming on Lou Reed's forehead during a particularly stirring solo, but they're close enough for a legitimate early-mid-sixties live platter and that's more'n good enough for me!

Hokay, it ain't the totally-enveloping selection of ne'er before heard songs and stuff so rare even Lou forgot about it muckity muck we've given up hoping for, but it's nice enough a tribute you'll feel good enough plunking your filthy lucre down for. As far as it adding to the legend goes, well I don't know if the legend really needs anything more added to it since it's already larger than any of us would have imagined, so let's just say that this 45th anniversary blowout compliments everything we've loved about the Velvet Underground with perhaps a few more bonus points tossed in for good measure. Only real beef with this package is that the Cee-Dees are packed tightly in these inserts in the back of the book, and it can be a real struggle to try to get 'em out w/o marring the precious disque surface! Somebody shoulda thought of that beforehand, unless the folk at Polydor just thought this was a book for showin' off and nobody'd even think of playing these things once let alone over and over again in a thousand years! And given what Lester Bangs once said about people who owned WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT just because it was a hip thing to do even though they never actually played it well, I wouldn't doubt Polydor's actions one bit!
JOHN CAGE SHOCK VOLUMES 1, 2 and 3 CDs (EM Records Japan, available via Forced Exposure)

Those of you who were concerned that I wasn't going to get the triple Cee Dee version of the two-LP JOHN CAGE SHOCK collection which I reviewed awhile back feel free to exhale, for I was able to snatch up the scratch for the complete set of recordings made during the infamous Cage tour of Japan during the month of October in the year of 1962. It's a dandy too...unfortunately the recording of "Fontana Mix" with Ms. L herself Yoko Ono I've been wanting to hear ever since reading about it in LENNON DISMEMBERS ain't on here, but we do get to hear some additional trackage which'll slay ya even if none of it was composed or performed for that matter by Mr. Cage. Fans of Karlheinz Stockhausen will surely like listening to his "Klavierstiik X" performed by the tag team of David Tudor and Toshi Ichiyanagi, while Christian Wolff  gets his "Duo For Pianist & Violinist" worked out for perhaps the first time ever in the annals of history. The comparatively unknown Toru Takemitsu and Michael von Biel are also represented on these platters, and if anything their efforts prove that they coulda been as well-known and as popular as the likes of Cage or Stockhausen if they had only hit the right art patrons at the right time. But they didn't, so it's zilch string for alla 'em bub!
Paul Flaherty/Sam Gas Can/White Limo-MYSTERY TRIANGLE LP (Feeding Tube Records)

A document of a festival I have the feeling very few readers of this blog would have cared to attend. As for myself I probably wouldn't want to either, but that's only because I've become too much of a bedroom-bound ball of blubber these past few decades to consider making it outside of the Tri State Area even if it were to go see the Electric Eels reunite on a bill with the Sidewinders (also reuniting) opening. But still it sounds as if it were a mighty fine time...Paul Flaherty wails a whole side of free avant garde sax splat not as studious as Anthony Braxton or guttural as Roscoe Mitchell but still better'n many of the newer players who seem to be lacking a little more than heart and soul in their embouchure. Sam Gas Can on the other han' make such an annoying electronic barrage (with some rather creepazoid vocalese thrown in) that only a fan of latterday Dredd Foole could appreciate it (and I must admit that I do as well), whilst White Limo don't do much better with their manipulated tape conglobuating but I'll take it over 1986 college radio playlists any day! You can tell a fine time was had by all, though whether or not you'll be able to face the music remains to be seen.
Amon Duul II-DANCE OF THE LEMMINGS CD (Mantra, France)

If you don't think my plunking this 'un outta the collection and givin' it a spin was not inspired by the Lester Bangs writeup mentioned in last Wednesday's review of the EUROCK collection you're in an even sadder state than I've originally given you credit for! And maybe it's because I used to stare at this 'un while perusing the import section of White Wing Records in Niles Ohio that I have such an affection for it not only because the double-disc set had such a hefty price tag on it and I'd never be able to afford the thing given my depression-era wages, but the credit listing on the back had such a nice array of instruments next to the various musicians' names and just seeing all of those instruments, no matter how humble and  lowly they may be, really hit me hard right inna labonza!

And of course who wouldn't want to know what tracks sporting titles as mind-consuming as "Dehypnotized Toothpaste" and "A Short Stop at the Transylvanian Brain Surgery" sounded like? Not to mention "The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church"??? Yeah, maybe you could take it or leave it a good four decades after having seen it all, but what if you were a sixteen-year-old loathsome blob of jangled nerves and pustules like me? Yeah, if any album on the earth was created for a species such as myself it would undoubtedly have to be this!!!

So all these years later, and a good twenny years after eventually picking this up on Cee-Dee all I can say is that if I had heard this 'un back '76 way it probably would have affected me more than WOLF CITY (which was more or less the concepts of the first four Amon Duul II albums boiled down to steady song structures and perhaps even some radio play) or even the krautpunk fantasies of CARNIVAL IN BABYLON and VIVE LA TRANCE which were cutout classics by that time yet not quite as energetic or powerful which is why they ended up on the sell pile within a few years. It's rather obvious that Bangs was right and Julian Cope was wrong about this particular item which contains some of the best sprawled out mindshatter that used to get classified as "psychedelic" until that became too overused a cliche to wrangle, and as it stands LEMMINGS is perhaps one of the closest examples of krautrock outside of Can (even more so than Faust!) which not only summed up all of the better aspects of late-sixties rock trends, but predicted what was gonna be comin' down the line within a few short years (Pere Ubu anyone?). And although you've heard it from me and many others for years on end until you can recite it in your nightmares, let me reiterate that this has as much power and conviction in its grooves that sure adds up to it being more than Germany's answer to the Airplane or Dead, but a bona-fide Velvet Underground to Can's Stooges and I don't know where Guru Guru fit in but it's sure gonna be fun sorting out the whole influence and correlation mess these outta-the-way scenes sure can generate!

Regarding this '63 Mingus platter, Lester Bangs said "This was IT! Babies being born, taxicabs honking, people fucking, couples fighting, the cries of lonely anguish that no one else hears in solitary rooms, children laughing, insurgents and guerrillas clashing, people of all sorts crying, shouting and whooping for joy, stunned at the crossroads, and some of them dying." Hokay, I know I've been using the memory of Bangs as way too much of a crutch these past umpteen years (even though Wayne McGuire has usurped him on many a level) in order to unsuccessfully support my own theories and opines regarding music as a clarion call to the disaffected and downright frothing...after all if you won't listen to me you might listen to him...but right now I'm having what'cha'd call a severe pain in the right kneecap of my creative impulses and boy do I feel lame in the spirit enough that I could try out for the Raymond Burr role in a remake of IRONSIDE, or at least Tiny Tim in a local grade school production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL that always features the goofiest boy with the buckest teeth playing Ebenezer Stooge.

I can see Bangs' appreciative nod to this 'un, and in fact can imagine his fifteen-year-oldness spinning BLACK SAINT repeatedly on some battered Victrola while his mother was waiting tables unaware her spawn was playing hookey. I mean, what better way to spend a carefree day off while all the other kids were probably learning the finer points of Hugo Winterhalter in music class that very minute. But yeah, this is a great long sprawl that goes from mood and style faster'n Anastasia Pantsios used to change pads, with a blast of hotcha avant garde jazz here before sweeping into Duke Ellington wash there and tone poems all over the blasted thing. Sure it was stuff those stuck up pseudointellectuals would listen to, but it was a load lots better'n the Brothers Four or even lumpy ol' Joan Baez as far as outer realms of a person's own hotcha mettle went. Anybody who'd tell me they were spinning Mingus in those proto-protest days will earn some boffo no prizes in my book, while those who'd admit a Baez affection probably still live in treehouses and make gravestone rubbings while reciting Chaucer in the wilds and that's no jive, Clive!

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