Play It Again, Live
Every time this column makes even the tiniest mention of the Grateful Dead or offers on its web version, a download link for one of their concerts, there is one guy, a friend, actually, but also a virulent critic of that band, who makes it a point of making a snide remark. There are many people who consider the Dead’s fans as drug-addled hippies who get lulled into a happy, semi-comatose state by the band’s improv-heavy meanderings. That certainly amounts to gratuitous stereotyping.
I’ve met hard-nosed lawyers who’ve never even inhaled second-hand cannabis smoke; strait-laced professors with nary a hallucinogen ever passing through their veins; bodybuilders who are hopped up on whey protein; and many, many more unlikely fans of the Dead. And then, of course, there have been the celeb Dead fans – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton (who self-confessedly never inhaled), Barack Obama (who may have); and even hard-core punkster, Henry Rollins, whose band, Black Flag, played music that was as far away from the Dead’s genre as you can get.
I don’t want to whine any more about the anti-Dead critics nor shall I make too much noise about why I like the Dead – I don’t only like the Dead, by the way. Instead, since the Dead made their best music when they played live, I’m going to list a few live gigs by other bands that I’ve downloaded recently and that I would recommend highly.
First up, is a Rolling Stones concert that you may have missed. The year was 1979. My anti-Dead friend (he’s a huge Stones fan, by the way) was eight, I think. And the gig was happening just after Keith Richard’s arrest for possession of cocaine and heroin in Canada. Keith had to pay a fine and the band had to play this concert at Toronto’s Oshawa Civic Auditorium on April 22 to make the money for the fine. The first part of the set features bassist Ronnie Wood’s ephemeral band, The New Barbarians. The setlist for the gig is impressive. The Stones do around 15 songs, including Beast of Burden, Star Star, When The Whip Comes Down, Prodigal Son and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. To make things even better, the downloadable recording (see link in web version) is of great quality. Plus, there is a rib-tickling introduction by John Belushi, which alone is a good enough reason for downloading the show.
I’m going even earlier than 1979 with my second recommendation. It was 1969 and the Velvet Underground, New York’s pre-punk rockers who were once managed by Andy Warhol, were at the top of their game, with Lou Reed fronting it but after John Cale, another co-founder of the band, had been eased out. Although a New York band, the concert I’m recommending (via the Aquarium Drunkard blog) is a bootleg audience recording in Boston that is 43 years old. For its vintage, the recording is good, if as the blog recommends, you crank the volume up high. The show apparently featured everyone – bikers, Harvard professors, students and models. The Velvet Underground were New York’s edgiest band but they really didn’t get the kind of popularity that they deserved. I can think of a ton of bands through the past few decades that have been influenced by VU. And this gig’s a great one to have. There’s a 21-minute version of Sister Ray. You should download the concert just for that.
The third gig that I found was from 1982. It was an era when Neil Young used to do word-of-mouth concerts in the California Bay Area and this one is from somewhere in Palo Alto. It’s a concert that you can stream from the Internet Archive and has some of his best songs, including Comes A Time, Old Man, Mister Soul, Hey Hey My My, Cinnamon Girl and (this is one that stands out), the very first performance of Rockin’ In The Free World. You may not be able to download this gig but you can stream it. And it’s well worth that.
Just to make sure that you don’t think I’m on this old nostalgia trip, digging up frayed old concerts from when most readers were probably not born, here’s the last one for this installment of DC and, guess what, it’s barely three years old. It’s by Tame Impala, the Australian alt-rock outfit, which makes dreamy, groovy music and whose two albums – 2010’s Innerspeaker and this year’s Lonerism – have received critical acclaim. I’ve heard both albums and found them both great growers. Lonerism is the better of the two and in Tame Impala’s sound you can hear influences of everyone – The Beatles, art-rock’s The Flaming Lips, and a host of others – yet the trio have a trademark sound. So when I came upon a live recording of a Melbourne concert, I sprung for it and wasn’t disappointed. They sound great live. Like most good bands, including the Dead!