Archive for the ‘1989’ Category

I came across this CDR tucked in a box in our basement – a copy of another CDR that I received while a member of a Maria McKee email discussion group sometime in the…late ‘90s, I believe. It came with cover art created by whoever initiated the “CD tree”; you can see his (or her) original on this 45worlds.com page. I don’t believe it was ever a store-sold bootleg, just a fan-generated creation. He (or she), or a friend, snuck a tape recorder into this specific show, which is from the Bayou Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1989.

As I said, though, this particular CDR is my copy of the original, and dates to the early 2000s. In those pre-iPod days, I frequently made CDRs for the car and, for a time, also created the covers for them. Sometimes, just as whoever created the original artwork for the set, I snagged a picture off the ‘net and added the track list, such as with the Juliana comp I blogged about a while back. Other times, though, I used Paint Shop Pro to tinker with the image and/or create collages – it was a fun thing to do. And, too, as in this case, I powered up Poser and Bryce, 3D-image creation programs that I played around with at the time, and tried to develop something totally unique.

Of note, my image includes a picture lifted from a Kiss the Stone bootleg titled Breathe, which preserved a 1994 concert from somewhere in Europe, that I used on my old website for a time. I scanned the cover, loaded it into Paint Shop Pro and splashed color here, there and everywhere, and then cut out a picture scanned from one of Maria’s CD singles. I created a wall in Bryce, tiled the image and placed a reflective surface “water” in front, then positioned the cutout. The final image took hours to render. And I do mean hours. Reflections always added a wait-and-pray (that the computer doesn’t crash) drama to the process, given that mine was underpowered for the task. (You can see the original Breathe cover here.)

All of which leads to this: I also encoded the versions of “Shelter,” “Breathe” and “Into the Mystic” from the performance onto my computer’s 20-gig hard drive as “high” bit-rate MP3s: 192kbps. Maria’s rendition of all three were spellbinding.

My hope had been to feature five tracks from the show itself, but since only two are (apparently) on YouTube, I’ve expanded the theme to include all of 1989.

1) “Into the Mystic” – From the Bayou Theater in Washington, D.C.

2) “Over Me” – Another from the Bayou.

3) “Am I the Only One” –

4) “To Miss Someone” –

5) “Breathe” –

And two bonuses in one:

6) Maria with Van Dyke Parks and Stevie Ray Vaughan on Night Music performing “Troubled Waters” and “Sailin’ Shoes.”

If this morning was all Beatles, this afternoon has been all latter-day Paul McCartney by way of his mammoth Flowers in the Dirt deluxe re-issue.

The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. (Click on the picture to the left for a rundown of everything included.) The numbered deluxe edition (mine is 4714) also comes with high-res (24/96) downloads and three additional downloads of “cassette demos” with Elvis that could (and probably should) have been placed on the second disc.

It’s a lot to digest, obviously. The original album is now remastered; and, as I listened to it in full for the first time in ages (decades?), I have to say that it has more than held its own. It’s a near tour de force. Buttressed by four songs that were written with Elvis Costello (“My Brave Face,” “You Want Her Too,” “Don’t Be Careless Love” and “That Day Is Done”), the collection stands with the best of his solo/Wings work. “This One” and “We Got Married,” which features a guitar solo by David Gilmour, are both sublime; and “Figure of Eight” has a nice vibe.

I say “near tour de force” because there are a few songs that would’ve worked better as b-sides, such as “How Many People” and “Motor of Love” – and several of the b-sides included on disc four would’ve made the album even better if they’d been included.

One day I may A-B it against the original release to judge the difference in sound quality, but by the time I find the original disc – which is in a box somewhere – others will have beaten me to that punch. For now, though, I can safely say that it sounds great.

Both sets of demos are interesting. The first (disc 2) are just McCartney and Elvis; the performances, all recorded in September and October 1987, are basic sketches (guitar/piano, vocals). The songs are fully formed, just not fleshed out – and it’s quite a joy to hear them. The next batch (disc 3), recorded the following February, are fleshed out thanks to the presence of Hamish Stuart on guitar and Chris Whitten on drums; they’re a blueprint for an alternate Flowers in Dirt. One gets the sense, in listening to them, that they’re less demos and more a road not taken, in other words. The performances are all phenomenal.

The b-sides and remixes are as b-sides and remixes go: some (“Back on My Feet,” “Flying to My Home” and “The First Stone”) would’ve made Flowers in the Dirt a killer set. The others are non-essential, though the Bob Clearmountain mix of “Figure of Eight” is solid. But how many remixed versions of “Ou Est Le Soleil?” does one need to hear? The three bonus songs (“I Don’t Want to Confess,” “Shallow Grave” and “Mistress and Maid”) are well worth the download; as with the original demos on disc 2, they’re just McCartney and Elvis.

I haven’t watched the DVD yet – hey, it’s only 3:30pm as I write! – but even without seeing any of it, I can say that the deluxe set is well worth it for any avid fan.

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Oct. 25, 1989: Rows of folding metal chairs lined the floor of the Chestnut Cabaret this Wednesday night, a fair autumn evening if ever there was one – after a high of 77, temperatures plummeted into the 40s overnight. Two weeks before, we’d caught Lenny Kravitz’s Philadelphia debut at this same West Philly club; and a week later we’d see Syd Straw (with Dave Alvin on guitar) open for Camper Van Beethoven there, too. For those concerts, we were situated on one of the raised sides, where tables and spotty service could sometimes be had. Tonight, however, we were down in the valley (so to speak) – and in the front row.

The headliner: Texas-bred singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith.

James McMurtry, then known primarily as the son of Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry, opened with a solid set drawn from his stellar debut, Too Long in the Wasteland, which was one of my favorite albums that year. He was backed by a crack band; I remember the drummer pounded those skins like his life depended on it.

nanci_stormsAt the time, Nanci Griffith was riding high – and winning a smattering of new fans – thanks to her sublime Storms album, which embraced a slightly sleeker pop sound than her previous country-folk works. Produced by Glyn Johns, it featured guest turns from Phil Everly, Bernie Leadon and Albert Lee and such songs as “Listen to the Radio,” “If Wishes Were Changes,” “Drive-In Movies and Dashboard Lights,” the title track and “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go.” To my ears (then and now), Storms is a stone-cold classic.

Although I already liked her music, I’d never seen her live, so I was psyched; and her 90-minute set didn’t disappoint. I believe she opened with the charming “Love at the Five and Dime,” complete with the sweet story that leads into it…

…but I could be wrong. The night’s songs are something of a jumble. I remember she played a wondrous rendition of “If Wishes Were Changes,” one of my favorite songs by her…

…and “There’s a Light Beyond These Words (Mary Margaret).”

“Listen to the Radio,” complete with a wonderful run on the keys by James Hooker, was another highlight.

And, of course, “It’s a Hard Life,” a song I’ve probably heard her sing dozens of times in the years since.

Okay, so dozens is a tad hyperbolic, but in the decades since that autumn evening, Diane and I have seen Nanci more times than either of us can count – basically, whenever she’s played the Philadelphia area. We’ve seen her at the Chestnut Cabaret, Penn’s Landing, TLA, Keswick, Tower Theater, World Cafe Live, even the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., where she was accompanied by the Crickets (as in, Buddy Holly’s Crickets).

Anyway, here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer’s review of the same concert: Cogitation, Country-style, at the Chestnut.

IMG_1132Spin magazine began life in the mid ‘80s basically as a more inclusive Rolling Stone, aiming not for the middle-aged rockers who made up much of RS’s readership, but young ‘uns who could, theoretically at least, be their kids, though they were more apt to be their younger siblings. The focus was college rock (aka, alternative before alternative was thusly named), hip-hop and other newer acts usually ignored by staid Rolling Stone.

In that sense, it was a good magazine. And, yet, I had a love-hate relationship with it, much as I did (and still do) with Rolling Stone. Whereas RS was staid and predictable, Spin sometimes radiated a hipster mentality with all the negative connotations therein. As a result, I usually read it at the newsstand. I brought this issue home, however, because of the cover story (by Jonathan Van Meter) on Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, who’d just released Blind Man’s Zoo. They were, as I’ve written before, one of my favorite groups.

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Van Meter writes: “At 25, Natalie Merchant, in front of her band, 10,000 Maniacs, has become one of the more compelling figures of American pop music. Her big ethnic lips, kicky little hair cut, insinuating alto (which seems to have developed its own not-of-this-hemisphere accent), and whirling dervish-child stage persona have become an obsession for white people everywhere, and caused boy critics, both here and in Britain, to gush. But for all it’s worth, that’s really just icing. What rivets is the band’s music, and even more, the powerful short stories of Natalie’s lyrics.”

IMG_1135In the article, Natalie reflects on her musical heritage: “Because my parents were fans of music,” she says, “there was always music in the house. My grandfather played mandolin, guitar and accordion. He always claimed that back in Italy one of his cousins was a famous opera singer. My other grandmother on my mother’s side claims her grandmother was named Byron and that we’re related to Lord Byron. She’ll swear to it until the day she dies. Byron had an incestuous relationship with his half sister so she always told us we were the bastard children of Byron, and don’t forget it. My grandfather on the other side was Irish and he was a piano tuner and sang in a barbershop quartet. I took piano training for a while, and voice training, but I never really pursued it because it was too intimidating—the teachers and recitals. So I stopped everything, but I kept playing the piano.”

Anyway, onward to today’s 10,000 Maniacs-themed Top 5, with Natalie’s comments on the songs lifted from the article:

IMG_11361) 10,000 Maniacs – “Please Forgive Us.” “I’ve taken upon myself the obligation of making a public plea to Central America for forgiveness for what has been done to their country by all of the money that’s been provided for military aid to rebel groups there. I’m not apologizing to the Sandinistas. I’m apologizing to the people who have been caught in the cross fire, whose lives have been permanently disrupted by the loss of family members. the loss of their homes, the torturing of their children. And all done with our tax dollars. And I just…my heart doesn’t bleed for either side. What I’m concerned about is the people who knew absolutely nothing in that country and just found themselves in the middle of a war zone….”

2) 10,000 Maniacs – “Poison in the Well.” [It] is a very obvious song, especially now, with what’s happening in Alaska. [The Exxon Valdez oil spill.] But It was writing about Hooker Chemical Company in Buffalo and the Southern Love Canal, which everyone looks at as ancient history now. And it’s not ancient history where we live, because it’s still very much in the press. It’s a horrible event. Many people died of cancer. Many women to this day cannot conceive children, cannot stay pregnant.”

3) 10,000 Maniacs – “Eat for Two.” “[It] is about a young woman who doesn’t think being pregnant is her best option right now. But she’s five months along, so I avoid the abortion question, which is something that I really didn’t want to write about in a song. It’s a warning. Because the last verse is ‘Young girls should run and hide instead of risk the game by taking dares with yes.’ She’s saying, ‘Don’t be like me. Look at what a mess I’ve made of my life.’ And now it’s going to be the most public mistake she could ever make. I hope people don’t misinterpret it as a pro-life song.”

4) 10,000 Maniacs – “Hateful Hate.” “[It] is about the situation in [South] Africa and its historical context—what led up to what’s happening there today. There’s this intolerance of the differences between races and cultures that the colonial Europeans express towards—that they were primitive and savage. But this is all tired. Everyone knows what their attitude was.”

5) 10,000 Maniacs – “Trouble Me.” Well, the above four songs are the only ones singled out in the article, but no mention of Blind Man’s Zoo can be complete without this classic song…

 

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