It’s Friday, I’m in love…

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Hey, guys.  This is the final week of Liner Notes’ April collaboration with Indianapolis artist Jade Leetz. You can see more of her amazing work on Ello and Instagram. She’s @j_______z there. A big thanks to her.

This week’s playlist is rockier than some. Lots of new stuff from The Kills, Hinds, Lucy Dacus, Courtney Barnett, The Decemberists, Say Sue Me, Camp Cope, Flasher, Tokyo Police Club, Teen Creeps, Black Foxxes, Dinosaur Jr., Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Daniel Avery, Pinkshinyultrablast, Mitsky & Xiu Xiu, Rival Consoles, She Major, Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis, Eleanor Friedberger, Lykke Li, and Black Taffy. Old stuff from Red Red Meat, Sonic Youth (Dirty reissue), Garbage (Version 2.0 reissue), Rilo Kiley, and Cat Power. Oh, and there’s Prince’s own version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” near the end. Enjoy!

More soon.

JF

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It’s Friday, I’m in love…

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Hey, guys.  This is week three of Liner Notes’ April collaboration with Indianapolis artist Jade Leetz. You can see more of her amazing work on Ello and Instagram. She’s @j_______z there.

The playlist is great. (Greater than usual, I mean.) New stuff from Hinds (!!), The Orielles, Frankie Cosmos, Preoccupations, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Snail Mail, Father John,  Sidney Gish, Jenny Hval, Empress Of, Janelle Monae, Kali Uchis, Superorganism, Kamashi Washington, Rival Consoles, LUMP (feat. Laura Marling), CHVRCHES, and Neko. Old stuff from The Killers, Unrest, Joy Division, Interpol, Sonic Youth, Miles fn Davis & John fn Coltrane (from the new MD Bootleg Series box set), and Damien Jurado (from the new-ish Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country). Enjoy!

Have great weekends. Oh, and it’s 4/20, if you’re into that sorta thang. Find the bonus track, yo.

More soon.

JF

It’s Friday, I’m in love…

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Hey, guys.  This is week two of Liner Notes’ April collaboration with Indianapolis artist Jade Leetz. You can see more of her amazing work on Ello and Instagram. She’s @j_______z there.

On the playlist, new stuff from Band of Horses, Wye Oak (!!), Kali Uchis, Eleanor Friedberger, The Orielles, Black Foxxes, Sunflower Bean, Beach House, Chvrches, Janelle Monae & Grimes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Azealia Banks, Cardi B, Lizzo, Tyler the Creator, Hop Along, Frankie Cosmos, and Amber Arcades. Old stuff from Stereolab and Boards of Canada. Enjoy, and have great weekends.

More soon.

JF

An Introduction to Frank Zappa: Part 1, The Helsinki Concert

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So I listened to “Watermelon in Easter Hay” on Easter Sunday, highlighted on this very blog, and it sucked me back into a mini-Frank Zappa kick. Zappa’s catalog is one of the most diverse, challenging, and downright bizarre in all of music. There are plenty of articles out there on “Where to start with Zappa” and “What are Zappa’s most essential albums,” and you will struggle to find a consensus across them.

Today I’m going to make my own suggestion for an entry point into this strange world of music.

Back in the late ’80s, Frank released a series of live albums called You Can’t Do That On Stage. It contained six volumes, most of which were compiled from different shows from every different eras and many different incarnations of Frank Zappa. The result is a bit odd. You’ll get a few live tracks recorded in 1968, then jump to a song from 1984, and then head back to the mid-’70s, all on one disc. FZ was a perfectionist, so apparently he was restlessly looking for the best versions, rather than worrying about maintaining an artifact of one particular show.
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That’s why Volume 2 stands out. It’s billed as “The Helsinki Concert,” a single concert in Finland from 1974. In reality, it’s comprised of recordings from two or three shows, although what’s important is that it features the same ensemble over a two-day period. You get a consistent record of what arguably his best band sounded like at a precise moment in time.

Brief aside: I’ve heard Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell from Phish talk about how their more complex compositions would often give birth to their best moments of live improvisation. The idea being, a really complex song (think “You Enjoy Myself” or “Reba”) requires a high degree of band interconnectedness to nail in concert. But performing those compositions would lead to a mind-meld, so that when the band moved to an open section of improvisation, they were completely connected. Without the tightly knit compositions, you don’t get the highest level of improv.

The Helsinki Concert is one of the best examples of this concept I can think of. Zappa’s music is expertly arranged, loaded with unusual time signatures, and requires a mind-boggling level of synchronicity to pull off on stage. To perform these compositions live — and make them sound good — is a feat on its own. What Vol. 2 shows is how bursts of improv and spontaneity flared out of the compositions.

Now, I’m recommending the entire set, which features tons of great music and plenty of stage banter and the type of wacky antics for which Frank’s band was known. But for our purposes, let’s really focus in on the section that begins with “Inca Roads” and runs through “Pygmy Twylyte.” That’s six songs and roughly 40 minutes of music. Hopefully, it illustrates the point I’m trying to make.

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A quick note on the band. Zappa plays lead guitar, of course. You’ve got Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals and keys, Tom Fowler on bass, and Chester Thompson manning the drums. George Duke sings and plays wind instruments, and Ruth Underwood is on percussion. That’s six people, though often it sounds like twice that many are on stage. The songs are often decorated with sounds that are uncommon to a rock concert, such as Duke on the flute and Underwood plinking on the marimba. This band is famous from the live compilation release Roxy & Elsewhere, and the Volume 2 set contains many of the same songs. The difference is that by the time of the Helsinki shows, this band had gotten even tighter and meaner, absolutely mastering these songs with speed and precision.
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The show kicks off with the playful “Tush Tush Tush” and “Stinkfoot,” before transitioning to the section we’re going to take a closer look at. “Inca Roads” is a song about alien spaceship runways in the Andes, with a tightly constructed opening section that quickly leads into a searing Zappa guitar solo. The band lays down a solid foundation over which Zappa straight-up shreds. The band returns to the song, before breaking out into a jazz-fusion jam, anchored by the rhythm section and some great keyboard work, before concluding the song. “Inca Roads” packs a whole lot of music into just under 11 minutes.

We transition into “RDNZL” with Ruth Underwood stepping out front during the opening section, leading into another white-hot guitar solo from FZ. The composition shifts multiple times, finally releasing with a nice vocal interlude (“we could share a love”). This leads the band back into another jazz-fusion jam that’s similar to what we heard in “Inca Roads.” Somehow “RDNZL” packs just us much music into 8:43 as “Inca Roads” fit into 10:54.

“Village of the Sun” keeps the energy going, and the band knocks out the song before letting Duke take the lead with a sax solo. When I say “solo,” by the way, I mean that the sax is the lead instrument, but the entire band is ripping through this rendition, filling in every available space. A smooth segue lands us in “Echnida’s Arf (Of You),” containing some of the most complex music of this entire section. It’s a high-wire circus act of a composition, which culminates in an outstanding tension-and-release in its back half. Simply outstanding stuff.

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“Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” follows. They tear through it, with Frank bringing back a little stage banter. Finally, we get to “Pygmy Twylyte.” Another tight rendition, which unfolds into another favorite segment shortly after the 4-minute mark. The band lays down a slower groove, and FZ’s solo is gorgeously melodic.

To wrap it all up, you have a band that’s mastered some incredibly dense music, and was capable of performing layered compositions at breakneck speed. As a result, the improv explodes in barely conceivable bursts. The contrast is thrilling.

Let me know what you think. Take in the rest of the set. Go from there.

It’s Friday, I’m in love…

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Hey, guys. Happy April.

This month’s Friday playlists are a collaboration with the inimitable Jade Leetz. Jade is an Indianapolis artist, whose photography displays a rare blend of wit and depth. Imagine Richard Misrach with a sense of humor, or Joel Meyerowitz with a sense of gravity. William Eggleston with a more muted pallate. Lee Friedlander with a more vibrant one. And I’m sure none of those well-known men are influences for Jade.

Jade is street, but not; she’s landscape, but not. Her effortless compositional eye makes genres irrelevant. I said inimitable? The Cambridge Dictionary says that means “impossible to copy because of being of very high quality or a particular style.” And Dictionary.com says it means “so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique.” Jade’s work fits both definitions.

So LN is honored to feature her photos over the next four weeks. You can see more online at Ello and Instagram. She’s @j_______z.

The playlist is a slightly more eclectic than usual. New stuff from Sons of Kesmet (whoa), Soccer Mommy, Car Seat Headrest, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Hop Along, Frankie Cosmos, Sunflower Bean, Amen Dunes, Stars, Wye Oak, and The Decemberists. Old stuff from Herbie Hancock, Fela Kuti, Peter Tosh, Thin Lizzy, Television, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Bob Mould, Blur, Wire, Stereolab, Fever Ray, FlyLo, Public Enemy, Yo La Tengo, and Frank Zappa. Enjoy.

Thanks to Jade Leetz. More from her next week. And as always…

More soon.

JF

Grateful Dead Monthly: The Centrum – Worcester, MA 4/4/87

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On Saturday, April 4, 1987, the Grateful Dead played a show at the Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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Located forty miles west of Boston, Worcester is the second biggest city in New England. The Centrum (officially, Centrum in Worcester) opened in 1982 as a multi-purpose venue. Over the years, it has hosted minor league hockey, arena football, college basketball, and, obviously concerts. The Dead played there twelve times between 1983 and 1988, including a three-night run in 1987.

1987 was big year for the Dead. The prior summer, guitarist Jerry Garcia had fallen into a diabetic coma that nearly killed him. He returned for a handful of “hometown” Oakland shows in December. In January, the band entered the studio (actually, San Raphael’s Marin County Veterans Auditorium) and recorded their album, In the Dark, over a week. By March, they were back on the road and rejuvenated.

With its “I will survive” chorus, an unofficial anthem for the Dead at that time was Touch of Grey, which debuted in 1982 and later appeared on In the Dark. Touch of Grey often opened or closed shows. It opens 4/4/87, and sets an energetic tone for the entire first set. Althea absolutely smokes here, as do Tennessee Jed and Cassidy.

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(Iko Iko – 4/4/87. Photo credit: Robbi Cohn.)

The second set is where the magic happens. A lively version of Iko Iko leads to a sort of Playing in the Bandwich – a really great segment of Playing in the Band > Comes a Time > Willie and the Hand Jive > Drums > Space > Truckin’ > Playing in the Band Reprise.

ECM (@31daysofdead) and I couldn’t find any other blog write-ups of this show, and the Live Music Archive reviews were just so-so. But Ed found something better – a guy who was there. This guy is on our massive GD email chains, and he offered some recollections to use in this post:
  • He went to all three nights at The Centrum. This show was the final night. It was a Saturday.
  • He attended this show alone – most of his friends opted to go to a party on Cape Cod, instead of seeing this show.
  • He loved the setlist and said he could not have written a better one himself
  • The album, In The Dark, had not been released yet, but the band was playing Touch of Grey a lot. It was their calling card in 1987 and that was probably due to Garcia “surviving” a diabetic coma 9 months prior. However, for many fans, Touch was starting to wear out its welcome. But it was okay this evening.
  • The band played some of his most-loved, first-set tunes (Althea, El Paso, Jed, Cassidy, and Box of Rain).
  • The second set was stellar. Immediately after the show fans attached a tagline to it: Iko-Playin-Comes A-Willie
  • Comes A Time: He never thought he would see it (it was a rarity, which was only played one other time in 1987 and only played six more times in the band’s history). He called it “mind blowing.”
  • Willie and the Hand Jive: Like many in the audience when the song started, he thought it sounded like Women Are Smarter, until he realized that it was actually “Hand Jive.” This was also a rare treat. The band had played it only five times in 1986 (two of them with the Neville Brothers). This was its final performance.
  • The back-end of the show – Truckin’ > Playing Reprise > Morning Dew – was also mind blowing.
  • Post-Show, he drove to the party on Cape Cod in the pouring rain. The windshield wipers were not working properly, and he started seeing rainbows. When he arrived at the party it was late. Most people were sleeping throughout the house – beds, couches and even the floor. He eventually went outside, laid on the grass where he had a great view of the ocean, and saw one of the most beautiful sunrises he had ever seen.

Transport to the Charlie Miller remaster of the FM simulcast of this show HERE.

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More soon.

JF

Phish Monthly: The Island Tour (20th Anniversary) – 4/2-5/98

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On April 2-5, 1998, Phish played four shows – two at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York, two at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island – that have become known as The Island Tour.

The first two shows were the band’s debut at the Nassau Coliseum, but their debut at the Providence Civic Center came four years earlier. LN has covered the former venue three times already – GD 3/15/73, GD 5/14-16/80, and PH 2/28/03. The latter venue was built in 1972, and is currently known as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Other details seem less important than what happened there and then.

And what happened there and then is nothing short of legendary. A-Phish-cionados have waxed prolifically and elegantly on the music of the Island Tour. Well-respected blogger Mr. Miner has covered the four shows three times. Here are his thoughts in 2009 on the first two shows; here are his thoughts in 2009 on the second two shows. Those blogposts are essential reading, and contain excellent video clips. Mr. Miner revisted the run a year later, too. Here are his thoughts in 2010 on all four shows. And last year, Jam Base revealed ten obscure facts about the run, along with some additional video clips.

I can’t out-do what’s been done elsewhere – I won’t even steal ticket stubs, photos, or videos. But, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Island Tour, LN’s in-house Phish working group convened recently to discuss the music and its lasting importance. Fun afternoon at HQ. I hadn’t seen OM, or the rest of the guys, for a while, so that was great. And loud music and beer in the conference room with an increasingly edgy Trevor lurking just outside and dying for an invite inside the glass doors (OM eventually relented and let his sidekick in to hear Roses Are Free) was even better. Anyway, via email, OM, BW, and ECM offered their insights. With light LN style manual edits (thanks, Jane), here they are…

OM:

The Island Tour occupies a unique place in Phish history. In some senses, it’s a bridge from the deep funk explorations of 1997 to the groove-based improvisations of the late ‘90s and beyond. But at the same time, the sound of the Island Tour remains one-of-a-kind. Nothing else sounds quite like these four shows. In our jam spotlight, we’ll look at one jam from each night that illustrates that unmistakable Island Tour sound.

4-2-98 Twist

Aliens are real, and they live among us – or at least they did during the 4-2-98 Twist. Here’s a great example of how the band’s sonic palette was expanding. Page and Trey go heavy on the sound effects, so much that the guitar and keys often mingle together. Gordon’s bassline is incredibly melodic, and he anchors the jam amidst the swirl of effects around us. A gorgeous and unique jam, one that could provide the perfect soundtrack to an alien abduction.

4-3-98 Roses are Free

Speaking of unique jams, I present the Island Tour Roses. Rightfully, this Roses are Free takes its place alongside the band’s great all-time jams. I consider this the pinnacle of “four-way jamming,” where the band eschews any sense of soloing and each musician is playing something that’s both separate and totally connected to everything else that’s going on. You can focus on one band member for only a moment because as soon as you do, your attention is drawn to what someone else is playing. Yeah, you might be locked into Mike’s groove, but did you just hear that descending line Page threw out there? Or Fishman’s drum fill within Trey’s funky chording? It’s all here, folks.

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All about that bass. Gordon and Fishman are tightly intertwined throughout the spacey disco jam. This version starts off as a pure Phish dance party. Trey begins layering on the delay effects halfway through, building the intensity on top of the tight groove that never relents.

4-5-98 Cavern

Cavern’s a predictable song, you might think. And yeah, that’s mostly true, except when you’re talking about the 4-5-98 version. The final night of the run was a mini-celebration of a great mini-run, and it’s all encapsulated in this funk workout. As Trey says, “for those of you who want to take off, take off. But for those of you who just want to dance to the funk, we’re gonna stay around and keep groovin’.”

BW:

The band was recording The Story of the Ghost, and they got the itch to play and booked these four shows. Having just seen the phenomenal Madison Square Garden New Year’s run shows, I was extremely excited, especially them playing Nassau for the first time.
The Tube opener was a sure-fire signal that we were in for something special. 12-7-97 was a turning point for the song, and for the next several years the song became a potential jam vehicle for some of the best Phish had to offer during the era. The unfinished Stash went at out there and touched on some of that space funk that would be the primary band sound for all of 1998.
Set 2 on the 4-2 was just a non stop funk affair. Punch You in the Eye —> Simple second set opener. Debuts of Birds of Feather and Frankie Says were certainly exciting, as both showed very different sides of the band we loved. Yet, the meat of that set – Wolfman’s Brother > Sneakin’ Sally from the Alley > Frankie Says > Twist was a different Phish that pounded us with start/stop funkin’ 1997. This was more atmospheric for lack of a better word, and, man, was it delicious. I recall being very excited that Sally was sticking around after its recent revival at 12-30-97. (And reprised!)
4-3. What more can be said about what is certainly in my Top 5 Phish shows of all time? I was on the floor to the left of the soundboard and remember every note of this show unfolding and getting even more giddy at every selection. The band could do no wrong.  From the roar of the crowd as Mike’s Song cranked from the speakers to open the show, to the near perfect Reba, I was more than pleased with the first set. Little did I know what the second set had in store. I was lucky enough to have heard their new (at the time) cover of Ween’s Roses are Free during the MSG NYE show shortly after the band debuted it at their 12-11- 97 Rochester show. I had no inkling that it would become the vehicle for launching the band into one of the best sets of their career. I can’t describe the Roses > Piper jams with words. It all fit together like a puzzle. I can practically sing the notes as I relisten to the jams. It’s a style unique to this run – the pefect melding of space and funk. The stage crasher during Run Like an Antelope added an element of humor as Pete Carini chased him down, causing the band to build the lyrical section around the “Carini’s gonna get ya” theme. The Carini (fitting and very exciting for its second U.S. appearance) >Haley’s Comet >Tweezer Reprise encore was as loud as I have ever heard an arena be for a Phish encore. The unexpected Reprise caught me unaware, as they hadn’t played Tweezer! 4-4 answered that question.
I want a time machine. These two shows were special, and both deserve [repeated] listens.
ECM:
I attended the two shows on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum. I had a very different experience from most. I didn’t like them. Blasphemy, I know. I have since seen the light,  but it just goes to show how much one’s mindset can play into the experience. For me, I had just seen what I consider the best Phish show ever – 12/30/97 at Madison Square Garden. It was the show where the band played past curfew. It was the show where the band played an epic 30-minute AC/DC Bag and a Harpua for the ages with a Lost In Space sequence, Pentagrams, olive loaf sandwiches and an appearance by Tom Marshall. It was the show with a wild 4-song, 30-minute encore that included the U.S. debut of Carini (only second time ever played), the reprise of Sneakin’ Sally in the Alley (busted out as the show opener, last played in 1989), and a Frankenstein with a digital delay loop and a vacuum solo. Just completely insane stuff. In my mind, 12/30/97 was untouchable.
That was my mindset going into the Island Tour. And when the band repeated Carini, I was [disappointed]. How dare they dishonor the almighty 12/30/97! Clearly, I thought, they had lost their creative edge. The other factors that affected my negativity were poor seats both nights, a closed mind to the new songs, and a distracted mind from being in law school with final exams looming large. It wasn’t until months later, after I had a chance to relisten to the shows, that I finally saw the light. The Island Tour was magical, indeed. That being said, 12/30/97 still rules!
A phan named Zach Davis-Price has compiled all four shows into a Spotify playlist. Enjoy.

More soon.

JF