Friday, October 21, 2016

Queen- Live At The Rainbow (March 1974)

Queen- Live At The Rainbow, March 1974: Released in 2014 (But recorded in 1974) for Virgin EMI Records
Best Song- Liar
In case you didn't know, Queen were a FANTASTIC live band, one of the best in the business. Between their improvisation skills, incredible energy, and Freddie Mercury's stage charisma, Queen were among the best. And this concert proves, even at this early stage, that they were great. This concert was recorded at London's Rainbow Theatre on March 31, 1974, on the final gig of the UK leg of the Queen II Tour, their first as a headlining act. It was supposed to be released back in 1974, as their third album, but was shelved. It circulated as a bootleg for many years, before finally seeing release in 2014 along with the November show at the same venue. 

And it's a great one! The setlist consists of 12 songs, 5 of which are from Queen I ("Son And Daughter", "Great King Rat", "Keep Yourself Alive", "Modern Times Rock N Roll", and "Liar") and 5 of which are from Queen II ("Father To Son", "Ogre Battle", "White Queen (As It Began)", "The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke", and "Seven Seas of Rhye") with the other two being a cover medley ("Jailhouse Rock/Stupid Cupid/Be Bop A Lula") and the non album single "See What A Fool I've Been". A crap-free setlist, though given their only bad song at this point was "Jesus", it isn't really hard.

As for the performances themselves, they're top notch! The band is on fire, playing all the songs with incredible power, energy, and intensity. Equally top-notch is Freddie's singing, as he showcases power and force that was only HINTED at on the studio takes. As a result, we're in for a fantastic album. Well, MOSTLY, there is one problem, and that is the problem of AUTOTUNE! Yes, Freddie Mercury, my favorite singer of all time, gets the T-Pain treatment. Also, the show is incomplete, as their covers of Shirley Bassey's "Big Spender" and Little Richard's "Bama Lama Bama Lou" are cut out. Otherwise, though, this is a great live album!

The album starts with a tape of "Procession" (Which works well as a tape opener) before going into the first song, "Father To Son". The opening riffage explodes out of the gate, Brian's guitar tone is much more powerful then the studio. Most of the song is a standard performance, not much better then the studio, but the heavy part is FAR better then the studio, thanks to Brian's much rawer guitar, Roger's more powerful drumming, and Freddie's powerful vocals, and the outro also boasts more power. The fade-out outro is cut, but oh well. "Ogre Battle" follows. The song is introduced with a cool, eerie feedback intro, replacing the backwards part on the studio cut, and it does a great job of building tension. The main song is much better then the studio, the guitar and drums are much louder then on the more subdued studio version. We also get some humor, midway through the band STOPS the song and Freddie asks "How do you like the show so far?" before returning to the song without skipping a beat, which also shows the band's great instrumental skills. 

Next on the agenda is "Son And Daughter" which is extended from 5 all the way up to 9 minutes. It MASSIVELY exceeds the studio version. The guitar parts are even heavier and more crushing then the studio, and Freddie's vocals get a boost to match, adding the right amount of rasp to his vocals in the right places. But the extension comes after that, as we first go into a great jam section, with Brian providing great guitar parts and Roger drumming wonderfully, then we go into a guitar solo, with Brian by himself. Now, i'm not the biggest fan of extended "show-off" soloing, but this one is better then most, it follows a clear melody, and isn't too long, some parts even have the riff to "Working Man"! After around 2 minutes, we return to a reprise of the main song, which ends with a KILLER slow part. A fantastic performance, one of the best.

"White Queen" (As It Began) follows. The crying guitar intro from the original is cut off (No!) but the rest is great. Freddie delivers a great performance, the heavier riffs are MUCH more heavy and powerful then the studio, and the verse sections are performed fine (not any better, though). The instrumental break is also powerful. "Great King Rat" is next, and it ROCKS. The opening shredding section is played with much more intensity then the studio, and in the verse sections, the acoustic strumming of the beginning is now a powerful electric, adding much more energy. Freddie's singing is great as ever. The guitar soloing is blazing and powerful, and all sections of this multi-part epic are powerful, intense, and excellent. Next up, comes a holy grail of Queen recordings: A LIVE performance of "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke". To date, this is the ONLY live recording of the song (It was played frequently on the tour, as well as once on the Sheer Heart Attack Tour, but no recordings exist). It has no harpsichord (BOO!), guitar and piano fill it's place, and while it loses some charm, it gains power in it's place. Unfortunately, the autotune is REALLY apparent here, listen especially to when he sings "soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, plow-boy". Still a good performance, though nothing special.

"Keep Yourself Alive" is up next. Freddie's singing is more powerful then the studio, but other than that, it's just a standard performance of the song (Which means it's great), except Roger's drum solo is lengthened. It keeps a solid groove, so there's that. Next up is "Seven Seas of Rhye", which exceeds the studio performance, due to more emphasis on the guitar, plus Freddie's powerful voice, and the great harmonies. I also love the pause between "And with a smile... I'll take you to the seven seas of rhye" It ends with a great guitar outro, replacing the "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" bit. Afterwards we get another MAJOR highlight of the album, the rendition of "Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll". It MASSIVELY exceeds the studio, the guitars are WAY more heavy and metallic, Freddie sings instead of Roger, giving a top-notch performance, and it's all performed at a faster tempo, giving us a truly magical speed metal experience. 

Finally, we close out with a great ending triplet. The band first starts off with the cover of Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock", with excerpts of other songs ("Stupid Cupid" by Neil Sedaka, and "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps). It's a burst of raucous energy, Freddie gives a great rock-n-roll vocal, and it's all great fun. Then, after two minutes, the band gets into improv mode, with Brian giving some fantastic guitar soloing, and Freddie letting the audience have some fun. Overall, a great performance of this '50s classic. But the BIG highlight of the album is up next, in a FANTASTIC performance of "Liar". Roger's opening drum-beat boasts way more power than the studio, as do Brian's guitars, especially the killer riffage 1 minute in. Into the main verse section, the harmonies are top-notch and dense, Freddie delivers a great, rawer vocal, and the guitars are great. The chugging riffage after the "Please, will you direct me, in the right way" line is extended, which sounds good. The jam is extended, with Brian pulling off absolutely WILD guitar soloing, some of the best he'd ever do, and the breakdown is also extended, with the tension escelating even more thanks to some guitar "bursts" and Roger drumming like a mad-man. The heavy riffs afterwards are also MUCH more powerful. A fantastic performance, the highlight of the show. 

We finally close out with a rendition of the B-Side "See What A Fool I've Been", where Queen does a song in the style of Led Zeppelin. It's VERY reminiscent of "You Shook Me", but that was good, so why not this? The bluesy riffs are great, Roger's drumming is strong, and Brian does some great soloing in the middle. Freddie also sounds good. A great end to the show.

Overall, a solid live album. The autotune drags things down, and some performances aren't too special, but it's a great one, you should get it. 4/5.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pink Floyd- A Saucerful of Secrets

Pink Floyd- A Saucerful Of Secrets: Released in 1968 for Columbia Records
Best Song- Let There Be More Light

A major change, and not for the better, though also not for the worse. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was a major success for the band. It charted number 6 in the UK (though only 131 in the US), and "Astronomy Domine" and "Interstellar Overdrive" would become popular numbers. The band would appear on lots of TV and radio shows, which would help drum up publicity significantly.

Unfortunately, there was a major problem. Frontman Syd Barrett's mental state was quickly deteriorating. The stress of touring, drug addiction, and other problems led to him going off the deep end. Live, he would frequently stop playing the guitar, and start detuning it instead! He would also never speak when asked questions in interviews, and his songs were starting to get more... out there (One of them, "Have You Got It Yet" was a cruel joke on the band members). As the tour continued, his illness got worse. The band members soon decided to hold auditions for a new guitarist, who would cover for Barrett live. They found one in David Gilmour, formerly of the band Joker's Wild. The arrangement would have been that he'd perform live, with Barrett in the studio, but it soon turned out to be unworkable. Barrett was released from the band in January 1968, with David Gilmour becoming the new guitarist, bassist Roger Waters becoming the lead songwriter, and keyboardist Richard Wright becoming the new singer, and they headed into EMI Studios to record A Saucerful Of Secrets, their second album. 

The album would start a new, and unfortunately, not very good era for the band, the "Lost Period". Over the next few albums, the band would hop from genre to genre, and try many things, with the results a mix between top-notch, good, bad, and downright unlistenable. This album is decent, and a step up from Piper, but it's still not very good.  Gilmour's guitar style is very good, and later on in the band's career would become spectacular, and Richard Wright has a solid singing voice, a pleasant, smooth baritone. The album is a patchwork of material, with 3 songs recorded while Barrett was still in the band, and the other 4 recorded with Gilmour. The album is a mix of styles, going from spacey rockers ("Let There Be More Light", "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun") to soft pop ("Remember a Day", "See-Saw"), to avant-garde ("A Saucerful Of Secrets") to just plain bizzare ("Corporal Clegg", "Jugband Blues") and while the first three tracks are all excellent, the rest range from ok to awful. 

The first track, "Let There Be More Light", is a spacey rocker composed by Waters, with Wright doing lead vocals (With Gilmour in the choruses) and it's the clear highlight of the album. The song starts off with an AWESOME funk bass riff, Wright's organs then join in, playing more incredible spacey riffs, as well as Mason with his drums, and they go into a cool, spacey jam session with Wright's noodling on his organ, Mason contributing some occasional drum strikes, and Waters continuing the bass riff underneath. After a minute and a half, a cymbal roll from Mason brings us into the main song, and it's equally excellent, led by a menacing guitar/organ riff and equally menacing Wright vocals (With Waters whispering in the background) that create a great, ominous atmosphere, with a chorus that consists of very cool, reverb-heavy drumming, and great guitar lines backing Gilmour's vocals. Each of these parts are very short, and repeat a ton. There's also a GREAT instrumental outro! Gilmour plays some excellent trippy guitar parts, Mason's drumming with force and power, Wright's going wild on his organ, and the whole thing is drenched in echo to create an excellent psychedelic experience. Overall, a fantastic start.

None of the other songs are quite as good, however. But that doesn't mean all are bad! "Remember a Day" comes next, a Wright-composed and sung ballad recorded at the end of the Piper sessions. It's a great, gentle ballad, completely atypical of any other Pink Floyd songs. We start with some neat, trippy guitar noise, followed by a gentle piano solo. The main song is top-notch: the piano/drum groove is neat, we get some wacky guitar parts, and great singing from Rick. More piano solos are in between verses, they're quite pretty, part-classical solos that add to the song well. The song slows in tempo, with some cool beeping noises in the background, before going into an instrumental break, led by Mason's powerful drums, trippy guitar by Syd (This was before the rest of the songs) and all sorts of cool sound effects and whispering, then it's back into the main song, before another spacey instrumental break closes things out. A great one overall.

The most famous song on the album comes next, the ultra trippy, Waters penned rocker of "Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun", and it's a excellent one. The song starts with a trippy, repeating bass riff, before Mason's powerful, loud drumming enter, weird electric piano and organ, and all sorts of cool sound effects, backing Water's menacing, whispered vocals which further add to the mood. Then there's the AMAZING electric piano/organ solo in the middle of the song, a PERFECT representation of space. The song could be said to be overlong (It's 5 and a half minutes and there's little build or variation) but does it really matter when the basic theme is so good? 

So the opening trio makes it look like it's set to be a top-notch album, does it not? However, the rest is much, much weaker. Water's psychedelic riff-rocker "Corporal Clegg", the first of his many, many anti-war songs follows, and I like about half of it. The half I like: The main riff is menacing as hell, the vocal alternation between Gilmour, Wright, and NICK MASON (The ONLY singing part he'd EVER get) is top-notch, with tons of weird effects put on their voices, Nick's drumming is loud and forceful, and there's lots of trippy keyboards backing. The chorus also has some cool wah-wah guitar lines. The half i don't like: There are two kazoo solos, and while they're funny, they're also pretty ridiculous and stupid. And the final minute and a half of the piece is just awful. Over the second of the kazoo solos, the piece dissolves into cacophony, with tons of screaming, sound effects, and noises that have no coherency, rhyme, or reason. So that's 2 minutes of good music and 2 minutes of bad, averages out to be, well, average. 

It's still a masterpiece compared to the next track, "A Saucerful of Secrets", a 12 minute, 4 part song credited to all four band members. There is NO melody, coherency, rhyme, reason, or ANYTHING in the first 9 minutes of the song, it's just meaningless, directionless NOISE. I won't bother going into details. However, the last 3 minutes are INCREDIBLE! Richard Wright starts playing an eerie, EPIC, ULTRA-atmospheric slow organ chording, before the SPINE-CHILLING harmonies enter, combining to create a BREATHTAKING finale to such an awful song. Overall, a TERRIBLE song, and if not for the finale would be a strong contender for their worst.

Up next is another Wright-penned and sung ballad, "See Saw". And it's the ONE start-to finish good song out of the last 4. A pleasant ballad, starting with some nice acoustic guitar parts, before going into a lush, orchestrated section, a crashing sound, and then we go it all again. Wright's singing is great, and the orchestrated melody is beautiful, nice piano lines are also featured, and some good guitar as well. While it's quite simple, it's still good, and a relief from the last song.

Unfortunately, the album ends on a terrible note. "Jugband Blues" is Syd's last composition for the band. Lots of people praise the song as being a tear-jerking look at his mental illness. That may be true, but that doesn't change the fact that the actual music is just awful. The opening acoustic melody is just bland acoustic strumming, with nothing engaging about it. The "I don't care if the sun don't shine" section has a good melody, but then it gets drowned out by a COMPLETELY NONSENSICAL, well, "jugband" playing a nonsensical, ridiculous melody, and then turns from THAT into a cacophony of noise. However, the end part is a gentle acoustic melody, and the closing lyrics of "And what exactly is a dream/and what exactly is a joke" are incredibly haunting in context. Still, a few nice bits can't salvage that song.

Overall, a very patchy album. Some bad, and some good, creating something overall decent. 3/5.