Archive for the ‘Opal’ Category

Beneath my desk is a box that, for the past 14 months, I’ve used as a footstool. Inside it are some hundred-plus bootleg CDs, including quite a few Springsteen sets that have become moot due to his ongoing archival releases, as well as some Neil Young concerts and assorted other oddities, such as this one on the TMOQ bootleg label. It’s a pristine soundboard recording of the early and late shows at McCabe’s Record Shop in Santa Monica, Cal., on May 24, 1987.

Unlike what the CD cover claims, the night’s participants were L.A.-area bands Downy Mildew and Love Tacos (of whom I can find no information); the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn; Opal; Peter Case; Natalie Merchant; and “Mystery Twins” Michael Stipe and Peter Buck. The single CD doesn’t present either show in its entirety, however. Substantial sections are edited out to fit the proceedings onto one disc. As a result, it’s something akin to a best-of.

Due to that, the participants featured on the CD aren’t one and the same with the night’s acts. Steve Wynn, Natalie Merchant, Downy Mildew’s Jenny Homer (misidentified as Jenny Holmer) and Charlie Baldonado are on it, as are Michael Stipe and Peter Buck, and Opal’s Kendra Smith. Wynn is afforded a large portion of the spotlight, but Natalie Merchant and the Twins get their due, too.

Cross-collaboration occurs quite often. For instance, Natalie is joined by Homer and Stipe for a cool rendition of “Hello Stranger” – you can hear the intro to it at the end of the “Don’t Talk” clip above; and Stipe and Buck are joined by Natalie, Homer and others for a fun mashup of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Sunday Morning.” 

Kendra Smith and Natalie Merchant join forces on Opal’s “Hear the Wind Blow”…

And here’s Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant on the “Wheel of Fortune/The Counting Song,” which I often ended compilation tapes with back in the day:

Unfortunately, those are the only clips I can find on YouTube from the night’s two sets.

For those curious, here’s the night’s lineup in full:

Early Show:
Downy Mildew: The Big Surprise; Floorboard; Your Blue Eye; Hollow Girl
Love Tacos: Border Patrol; Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White; Torn Away; Pleasure
Steve Wynn: Merritville; Drinking Problem; One More Cup of Coffee (with Bob Forres)
Steve Wynn and Russ Tolman: Galveston Mud; Solitary Man
Opal: Rocket Machine; She Moves Ahead; Magick Power
Natalie Merchant: Don’t Talk (with Downy Mildew’s Charlie Baldonado); Hello Stranger (with Michael Stipe, Jenny Homer and Baldonado); The Wind, the Wind (a cappella); Verdi Cries
Michael Stipe and Geoff Gans: The One I Love
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Welcome to the Occupation; Disturbance at the Heron House; Finest Worksong; Maps and Legends
Michael Stipe: Harpers; Damaged Goods (with Buck and Merchant)
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Leaving on a Jet Plane-Sunday Morning (with Wynn, Merchant, Homer and others)

Late Show:
Downey Mildew: The Kitchen; Floorboard; The Big Surprise; Hollow Girl; Your Blue Eye
Love Tacos: Border Patrol; Torn Away; Pleasure; Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (with Peter Buck)
Peter Case and Peter Buck: Walk, Don’t Run; Baby Please Don’t Go; A Million Miles Away; Blue Eyes
Steve Wynn: 50 in a 25 Zone; How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?; Killing Time; See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (with Buck)
Steve Wynn and Russ Tolman: Galveston Mud; Solitary Man; Stage Fright; Too Little, Too Late (with Kendra Smith)
Opal: A Falling Star; Rocket Machine; Supernova; Magick Power
Natalie Merchant: The Fat Lady of Limbourg (a cappella); Don’t Talk (with Charlie Baldonado); More Than a Paycheck (with Homer and Smith); Hear the Wind Blow (with Baldonado and Smith); Hello Stranger (with Stipe, Baldonado and Homer); Verdi Cries
Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe: A Campfire Song; Wheel of Fortune/The Counting Song
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Stretch My Hand; The One I Love
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills: Spooky; Disturbance at the Heron House; King of Birds/Finest Worksong; Fever; So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry); Red Rain

I should add that the shows have been bootlegged beyond my early TMOQ release, which is stamped No. 189; as evidenced by the artwork, the clips above come from bootlegs of the original bootleg. (From what I’ve read, the complete shows made their way into the collector’s world in 2006 – long past my bootleg-collecting days.)

Be that as it may, the single disc – regardless of how or where you find it – is a delight. The sound is perfect; and the performances are a lot of fun. Fans of any of the featured performers are sure to enjoy it. 

The track list:

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

On one or some enchanted day(s) or evening(s) in 1984, a ragtag group of Paisley Underground pals came together at the Radio Tokyo recording studio in Venice, Ca., for an endeavor said to have been dreamt up by David Roback, co-founder of Rain Parade. The idea: pay homage to those artists and songs that had inspired him and his compatriots.

I should mention that “pals” and “compatriots,” in this context, translates into members of Rain Parade, the Bangles, Three O’Clock and Dream Syndicate.

The Magnet article “One Nation Underground: The Story of the Paisley Underground” delves into the weeds of the scene, Rainy Day and Danny & Dusty’s equally cool and essential Lost Weekend (which, unlike Rainy Day, is available on Apple Music and Spotify). Two quotes stand out. The first is from the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, who explains himself and his friends: “We were all record collectors who played music. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was certainly a big deal to us.”

The second quote is from one of those friends, the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn: “We were all big music fans and pretty diligent about the things we thought were cool or weren’t cool. We felt more like messengers for music that matters than rock stars.”

That’s evident on the Roback-produced Rainy Day collection, which was stamped onto vinyl in 1984. It curates classic – but, “Sloop John B” aside, not necessarily well-known – tracks from the Beach Boys, Big Star, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan (by way of Nico or Fairport Convention, most likely), Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground and the Who.

Here’s Susanna Hoffs fronting “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” for example.

In today’s world, one can learn about most songs in seconds. For instance, the Wikipedia entry explains that Bob Dylan wrote “I’ll Keep It With Mine” in 1964, and never released it until decades later; Judy Collins issued it as a single in ’65; and Nico covered it on her 1967 album Chelsea Girl, followed a few years later by Fairport Convention, who recorded it for their What We Did on Our Holidays LP and also released it as a single.

In the ‘80s? It could take weeks, months and even years to figure out a song’s recorded history, let alone track down and hear the different versions. Nico’s Chelsea Girl was long out of print by then, after all; to acquire a copy meant one had to hope an area used-record store had it in stock.

Back on point: Just like Chelsea Girl, few folks actually bought Rainy Day. It was released by Llama Records in the U.S. and licensed by Rough Trade for the U.K., and though some of us recognized – or would soon recognize – the names of the players, most folks had no clue as to who they or their bands were.

Make no mistake, however: It’s a sheer delight.

Another highlight: Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” one of two Neil Young-written songs on the collection:

That’s Kendra Smith on lead vocals. At the time, she was in Rain Parade with David Roback; they’d soon leave that band and start Opal. Speaking of Roback, his rendition of “On the Way Home” (the second Neil-penned tune) is also a marvel:

Another highlight: the cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” the second track with Susanna Hoffs singing lead:

By 1989, when the collection was issued on CD, Susanna Hoffs was likely the best-known entity thanks to the success of the Bangles. But she’s far from the only reason to search for this gem; each of the nine tracks adds something unique to the original.

Here’s the track list:

I’m sure it won’t stick around YouTube forever, as it was uploaded by a user and not the label, but here’s the album in full…enjoy it while you can.

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Last night, with some time to kill prior to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I found myself surfing the algorithmic waves of YouTube thanks to a hankering to hear Best Coast’s title song to their 2015 album California Nights. I’d never heard of the band until reading a review of the album in, I think, Mojo; and I was instantly smitten with that trippy song’s thick and hazy tones, which creep in like a dense fog at dusk. I ordered the CD the same day and, a few days later, featured it in this post – while mentioning its similarities to Opal and Mazzy Star.

And after listening to it yet again last night, I found myself diving head-first into Opal’s sonic undertow. Their 1987 Happy Nightmare, Baby album, as I’ve said before, is a true lost treasure. For those unaware of them, the band had its roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, and – if they’d stuck together – could’ve carved out a Sonic Youth-like career. But, while on tour promoting that LP (their one and only), lead singer Kendra Smith quit the band and, after releasing a few albums over the next few years, disappeared into the woods of Northern California, never to be heard from again. A true shame, as she was a talented artist and that version of the band was intense.

Dave Roback, Opal’s remaining musical architect, recruited Hope Sandoval to step into the void in order to finish the tour. They were already friends, having worked together on never-released recordings for Hope’s folk duo, Going Home. (In the clip above, that’s her to the right of Roback in the studio intro.) Here’s a full set of that version of Opal in 1988 Italy –

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I’m sure it was difficult to sub for Smith on such short notice, but Hope pulled it off – and then some; and, as the decade faded into the next, the group morphed into Mazzy Star. While they maintained the same languid shoe-gazing psychedelia, Hope’s vocals are far more dreamy, ethereal and inviting than Smith’s. And, too, the dark-hued dissonance was imbued with splashes of color. (Or something like that.)

Here’s “Halah,” from the 1990 Mazzy Star debut, She Hangs Brightly.

Three years later, they released the So Tonight That I Might See CD, home to a classic song that (almost) everyone of a certain vintage will remember: “Fade Into You.”

There’s far more to the story, of course; and the Wikipedia entry does a thorough job in explaining it. For the purposes of this post, though, while jumping from one video to another to another last night – such as this one, “Flowers in December,” from a 1994 appearance at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert –

– I discovered that, last year, Hope collaborated with Massive Attack (for the second time) on the song “The Spoils.”

She also released the album Until the Hunter with her own group, the Warm Inventions – which will likely be most of what I listen to for the next few weeks. Now that I’ve listened to it not once, but twice, I can say: It follows the Opal/Mazzy Star blueprint; and is, in a word, amazing. Here are two songs from it:

For those who aren’t familiar with Opal, which is one of the great lost rock bands of the ’80s, they were the precursor to Mazzy Star (“Fade Into You”). They released a few EPs and one LP, Happy Nightmare, Baby, which is where these two songs hail from.

The album is long out of print and not available on the streaming services, but is well worth tracking down. “Soul Giver” is just tremendous –

And “Supernova” is, too.

For anyone who wants to check out the album as a whole, someone uploaded it to YouTube: