Getting the band back together…

During the final planning stages of our wedding a hair over ten years ago now, aside from the song for our first dance and a few specific requests and genre preferences, our DJ was given only one hard and fast rule: “no fucking ABBA”.

Now, I know I’m in a minority here and I’ve read plenty of posts within my ‘blogging circle’ to cement that knowledge, but I can’t stand them.

So imagine my chagrin when I had the misfortune to hear the tail-end (enough to leave a bitter aftertaste) of the ‘new’ ABBA song on the radio recently, or the twitching of my eye when the approach of their new album release means I’m hit by sponsored ads on the one social media site I still use, or posts from record stores I frequent promoting the opportunity to pre-order said pile of festering shite in a multitude of colours.

However, rather than turn this into a rant about the evils of septuagenarian Swedes phoning it in (I mean, they’re not even gonna bother going on their own tour, they’re asking people to pay to watch fucking holograms!) to grab cash to feather their retirement beds one last time… I got to thinking of those bands which would make me cry hallelujah should they decide to get the band together, even for just one more ride round the block.

So, without wanting to overstay my welcome I’ll keep it at five though I’m sure I’ve missed a good few


They went out on a high with Collapse Into Now which seemed like the perfect way to end it but didn’t tour that album, instead leaving us with a reminder of just how great they were. They needed to do it after Around The Sun saw them floundering. but their last album and the recent re-releases of their seminal albums (including the soon-to-hit New Adventures In Hi-Fi) are proof positive that the Athens, Georgia band had bags of the good stuff and with all members still around and involved in music (save for Bill Berry who has stuck with his retirement from the music industry since 1997) it feels like this is one that really could still happen and live albums such as Live at the Olympia demonstrate their concert draw.

Led Zeppelin

It’s a no-brainer, right? News of a Led Zeppelin reunion, even without the whisper of new material, would be lapped up like nothing else. They, too, would be minus their original drummer but it’s been done since: 2007’s show at the O2 Arena as part of The Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert saw John Bonham’s son Jason fill the stool for a roof-devastating sixteen-song blast that’s easily stated as the best final concert they could have given…. except of course it’s left everyone clamouring for more. Even the band wanted more. Except, that is, Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham were rumoured to be working on new material together and with Plant not having it, auditioned singers including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (which, according to Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ was not only a shambolic performance but caused further havoc one strained relations in his own band) but nothing came of it.

While it used to be a case that rumours would fly up regularly, Plant’s decisive and inarguable statements that it won’t happen (“I’ve gone so far somewhere else that I almost can’t relate to it. It’s a bit of a pain in the pisser to be honest. Who cares? I know people care, but think about it from my angle – soon, I’m going to need help crossing the street.”) and his desire to keep working on new material has meant they’re less frequent now. Still, as new documentaries and re-releases of their back catalogue prove, the public desire is as strong as ever… it’s a slim one but we can dream.

Sonic Youth

I know… this isn’t gonna happen. They had a brilliant run but with Kim and Thurston’s divorce it was curtains. Thurston has kept schtum on it but Kim’s ‘Girl in a Band’ seemed just as much as a way of airing their dirty laundry in public as it did her emphasising everything in her life non Sonic Youth as though and draw as clear a line under it all as possible and comments over the years but it as a done deal.

But.. hey; this is a ‘we can dream’ list after all and there are bands out there with divorced members (probably best not to mention the on-going drama that is Fleetwood Mac but the list still includes the White Stripes) and all members are not only still putting out some great music but often working together to do so… hell, Thurston Moore’s latest By The Fire shows he’s got Sonic Youth style tunes for days.

Screaming Trees

Of all those albums I forgot back in my post about great last albums, Screaming Trees’ Dust has got to be one of the biggest ‘d’oh’s. It’s such a strong album it’s pretty much perfect, easily their best effort. And yet… The album was already four years on from their previous – Sweet Oblivion – and Dust stalled on the album charts. Following another hiatus for Lanegan to work on his third solo album, the band went back into the studio in 1999 but couldn’t find a label with interest in the demos the sessions yielded. A few shows in 2000 still failed to garner label interest in the group and they called it day.

Always seemingly the undercard of the scene, Screaming Trees have a back catalog that’s stuffed with great tunes and even the recent-ish Last Words – The Final Recordings had plenty of solid contenders and it a reunion would be welcome, except that like so many bands Screaming Trees too seem pretty dysfunctional and relationships have only strained since.

Mark Lanegan recently sent an angry retort to a tweet suggesting he was up for just such a reunion: “I don’t know how many different ways I can say it but any Screaming Trees reunion, show, rehearsal, lunch or fistfight will not include me” which has lead Gary Lee Connor to ponder: “I really question what his motives were the whole time, though. Did he just use us to get famous? I thought it was about making great music.”

Still, if bigger hatchets can be buried I’m sure there’s still a chance…. right?

Dire Straits

Yep, I’d love to see this one but chances are it ain’t gonna happen. Mainly because I’m quite specific here: I’m talking the ‘classic’ Dire Straits lineup so chances are even slimmer.

Mark Knopfler couldn’t take the grief that came with touring on the scale that the last Dire Straits go-around had reached- after a break of five years, the On Every Street tour seemed determined to play on every street with 229 shows across a year and a half into 1992 and an era where the radio landscape was very different to that in which Dire Straits had their peak. For all its strengths both the album and the live document On The Night felt like it was time to stop and so you can’t fault Knopfler for doing so – it was too big to live.

But that was almost 30 years ago and I can’t help but think that a new Dire Straits tour done on a scale akin to Knopfler’s solo outings, where he’s not exactly playing garden sheds, might not seem so objectionable anymore and would be a much better way of saying ‘thanks and goodnight’ – especially if it were to feature Pick Withers who drummed for the band from formation through to Lover Over Gold (their finest) on a few tracks. It’d be unlikely that Mark’s brother David would be involved, though, but I kinda hope those two can at least get back on speaking terms… just take a listen to the difference in quality between their two live albums On The Night and Alchemy and the case for a better send-off is clear.

Bruce Springsteen – Live Archive Cuts

Note: I was going to call this post “Is there anybody alive out there?” but that seemed a little… off given the times we find ourselves in.

Additional note: Yes, I’ve heard Gigaton – I think it’s awesome but I’ve nowhere near enough digested it to offer a cohesive review – it’s easily better than their last two albums at least.

Once upon a time (not so long ago), there were only a couple of live Bruce Springsteen albums out there: the comprehensive and benchmark-setting Live 1975-85 and the poorly mixed Live in NYC which mashed up the reunion tour’s final nights at New York’s Madison Sq Garden. Given that Springsteen had only toured with the E Street Band once prior since the release of 75-85 there was a slight whiff of cash-in about it, albeit the vital addition of new songs ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ and the still-best release of ‘American Skin’.

But – just as Pearl Jam lead the way from their 2000 tour onwards by saying ‘enough’ to the bootleggers and making every show available at a professionally-recorded quality, Springsteen has joined the ever growing list of artists to do so via sites such as Nuggs (I’m still not sure what that is to be honest) and his own Live site. Not content with capturing new shows, Springsteen and his team continue to make choice ‘classic’ concerts available to us to either download or fork over a little too much cash considering and get it on CD.

Much like I have with Pearl Jam, I’ve got quite a few of these shows in my library – a couple paid for a fair few… acquired otherwise. So with concerts everywhere currently on hold – not that The Boss was gonna hit the road this year – and a little more time on my hands (cheers for the economy fuck, Covid-19) I thought I’d cherry pick a dozen or so of my favourite cuts from Springsteen’s concert archive to lift the spirits with what the man himself refers to as “the power and the glory of rock and roll!”

There’s no Spotify links for these as they’re not label releases but if you hit me up in the comments I can sort you out for sound. I’ve also steered away from going for too many tracks officially released on the aforementioned live albums.

Point Blank – September 19, 1978; Passaic, NJ

The River was still two years away but Point Blank was already in the set list from ’78 and this version is a ‘beaut.

Prove It All Night – September 20, 1978; Passaic, NJ

The omission of ‘Prove It All Night’ from ’75-’85 was a big ‘wtf?’ from fans because, live, the song had grown beyond its original structure to become an 11-minute epic with a new, screaming guitar over piano intro and organ / drum outro. The version that was released on NYC barrels along but wasn’t the beloved version featured here from the second night at Capitol Theatre.

Night – December 31, 1975: Upper Darby, PA

’75 was a pivotal year for Bruce, the year of Born To Run and he capped it off with a New Year’s Eve show in Philadelphia. How ‘Night’ – their set opener – was omitted from live releases is beyond me.

Fade Away – December 31, 1980: Nassau Coliseum, NY

Five years later… Not all of The River‘s cuts were made to match the energy of Springsteen’s live show and you’d be forgiven for thinking the longer tracks wouldn’t work but as this version of ‘Fade Away’ shows, that album and tour were a great showcase for the band’s musicianship – I love the swirling keys on this.

Rendezvous – December 31, 1980: Nassau Coliseum, NY

It would be years before some of those cuts written for The River were properly released but tracks like ‘Rendezvous’ would often pop up in the set and would later feature on Tracks, much like other rarities such as…

The Promise – February 7, 1977: Palace Theatre, Albany NY

Both ‘The USA / AKA The Lawsuit Tour’ and ‘The Lawsuit Drags On Tour’ in late ’76 and early ’77 were Bruce’s only outlet at the time as the legal battle with former manager Mike Appel kept him out of the studio, the shows would stretch to the three or four hour mark and new songs would appear (some never to reappear) and older songs would see themselves drastically reworked. It would be decades before this much-loved cut properly saw the light of day, let alone made it back into setlists but this early version is a great take. Darkness on the Edge of Town was still over year away – this was from the ‘The Lawsuit Drags On Tour’ – and you can understand why fans were baffled not to find  it on the album when it did drop.

Something In The Night – February 7, 1977: Palace Theatre, Albany NY

Unlike this one which would make the cut but, despite its stateliness, never made the cut for a live album release. I can’t find a video of the version I have the audio for but this is nonetheless a great take.

Tunnel of Love, Roulette – March 28, 1988: Detroit, MI

One Step Up – April 23, 1988: Los Angeles, CA

Jumping forward a tour or two as much of the Born In The USA tour has been covered on 75-85. I’ve already featured one of these archival releases but it’s worth highlighting a few great cuts from it including another song written for The River – ‘Roulette’ and some of Tunnel of Love‘s greatest tunes that would very quickly disappear from regular rotation ‘Tunnel of Love’ and ‘One Step Up’.

Blood Brothers – July 1, 2000: New York, NY

Most expected it sooner in the Reunion Tour but Bruce saved ‘Blood Brothers’ for the last song of the night on the final night of the tour. It’s emotional and powerful as a set closure – he added a verse and you can see in the video that he and other members of the band are  caught up in the emotion – Bruce’s voice breaks as the final song of their first full tour together since the tour behind Tunnel of Love plays out. It’s a vital addition to the Springsteen live cannon for it’s import in the band’s history and made all the more poignant since the passing of Clarence and Danny.

Gypsy Biker – April 22, 2008. Tampa Florida

Tampa ’08 is a strange show. It was the band’s first since the passing of Danny Federici five days earlier. The band feel more like they’re playing for themselves on this show – finding comfort in making music together and the healing therein. As with all shows on The Magic tour (and the album) ‘Gypsy Biker’ is an immense centrepiece.

Kitty’s Back  – September 20, 1978; Passaic, NJ

What fucking numbskull thought it was ok to never put ‘Kitty’s Back’ on an official Springsteen live album?! Well, until they put out Hammersmith Odeon London ’75. Some people have got nothing between their ears…


Times of Trouble

I’ve been a little numb the last few days and wondered if I should even say something about events, if there could be anything I can even add in something so seemingly self centred as a blog especially as it wanders into the more personal than music / books but…

In the wake of Chris Cornell’s shocking departure my wife sent me over an article – some years old, I should add, rather than one of those disgustingly inappropriate “wrap Eddie in bubble wrap” statements of late – on “How Eddie Vedder survived“. It’s a good article – more about how he lost the tortured element and found a sort of coping mechanism rather than getting lost. But it touched on something my wife knew nothing of: the Roskilde tragedy in 2000 when nine Pearl Jam fans were killed, crushed to death as the crowd rushed forward.

As I tried to explain the events I still found recalling them upsetting. I remember when the news broke, how I – and I’m sure all fans – felt so horrified. I’d seen the band exactly one month previous and to know that fellow fans had lost their lives in an environment in which you always felt welcome and relaxed- lost in music with fellow fans – seemed so impossible. The idea that nine people who had gone out to watch their favourite band wouldn’t be going home, that there would be nine empty beds, nine families lost beneath the tidal wave of grief… it seemed so impossible.

A horrible accident. A tragedy that shook the music loving world and nearly ended the band*. Then, a little under two years ago in Paris, a city that for a year or so was like my second home, 89 people were murdered at an Eagles of Death Metal Concert. No accident, part of a series of terrorist attacks in the city in which another 41 people would be killed.

Just a day  or two after talking about Roskilde with my wife, on Tuesday morning I woke up and, like, most other mornings, checked the news while waiting for the kettle to boil. I’ve never been to Manchester. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Ariana Grande song but this… this shouldn’t be happening. The idea that you could go out to a music concert and not be safe, not come home…. it should be unspeakable.

Now, I’m struggling to write this because we’re now at the point where it’s gone from being 22 dead to learning the names of those people killed. Learning that an eight year old girl was taken from her family. That parents waiting in the lobby for their excited children to come out of the concert were killed. That teenagers, still children, filled with joy and love for music and the experience of seeing their favourite musician live, many experiencing a concert for the first time, were killed. It absolutely breaks my heart.

I grew up at a time when the IRA were very much active and civilians were being killed by their bombs. I remember my father trying to explain what and why these things were happening, the senselessness of it. The media wasn’t so full throttle / constant exposure as it is now but I do remember the real threat of it – they bombed Manchester, too, in ’96, the biggest bomb the UK had seen since WWII but their phone warnings ahead had meant that 75,000 were evacuated and nobody died. I remember a lack of public waste bins when the International Railway station in my hometown was opened for fear of IRA bombs being planted ( I think Prince Charles was due to open it and, since Lord Mountbatten had been killed by the IRA he was a conceivable target).

When the news broke on Tuesday morning my own young son was fast asleep and I – like I’m sure countless others – worry about the world he’s growing up in. I worry about what, when he gets just a little older, he’ll see in the news now that it’s so all pervasive and how I’ll struggle to explain the senselessness of it all. I do hope that I won’t have to but I’m not naive enough to believe that.

What I do hope, though, is that when I explain these things to him – be it as historical or, as I dread, current – that I’m able to point to how people react and respond as (aside from the usual stupid suspects) they are doing so now, and did then, in the face of terror; not with anger and violence but with a sense of coming together in support and strength. Not giving in and living in fear, shying from what we love, but in holding hands and standing up.

With such thinking I’m impressed and heartened that – just as in Paris in 2015 – in the days following, bands and artists continue to take the stage and audiences and music lovers continue to come together and experience live music. It’s a hard thing to do. The natural instinct being to hide, I suppose. I imagine every parent who’s bidding their children a “safe and fun night” as they head out to a show will do so being that little bit more anxious for a while to come.  Just as Pearl Jam still routinely call a halt to proceedings if they think it’s getting too aggressive in the ‘pit’ and implore the crowd to take a step back and make sure everyone is safe, concert goers will be more vigilante of their surroundings but it must carry on. Music and the love for it creates a community – as this and so many other blogs illustrate – and that’s never as clear or better experienced than at a concert. Long may it continue.

As Sgt Esterhaus would say,  “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

*The band had made many a plea for the crowd to take a step back and, realising something was wrong, stopped playing. It was too late. Nine fans had been killed in the crush and bodies were being passed over the barricades. The remainder of the band’s European tour was cancelled and, for a while, they considered retiring. They couldn’t conceive how to go on after something so tragic had happened. The Danish Police even tried put the blame on the band for “encouraging the rush”. Vedder would ‘disappear’ for a year following the completion of the US leg of the tour but he and other band members would – and still do – reach out to the family members of those lost. When the band regrouped, the (not all as bad as it’s remembered) Riot Act album would feature two songs about Roskilde – ‘I Am Mine’ and ‘Love Boat Captain’ – as well as ‘Arc’ which features only Eddie’s voice, nine layers of it, as a lament for those lost.

Bruce Springsteen – LA Sports Arena, California 1988

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!

How? Well with a facebook post announcing that as it’s Mother’s Day in the US, Springsteen’s live archive series was available for half price – I’m still not sure I see the connection with the two but what the hell, I’d toyed with the idea of downloading one for a while and while the £ to $ ratio is a bit up and down depending on Maggie May or Putin’s Cock Holder, it still meant the idea of downloading a full concert for less than £4 was too good an opportunity to miss.

Which means that after something of a Bruce diet I found myself scrolling through the available shows and settling upon one from 1988 – from the Los Angeles Sports Arena, April 23rd to be precise. A 31 song setlist for less for around 10p a song.

Why this one, and not – say – the earlier peak-period concerts from, say ’75 or ’78? I reckon Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 and the live concerts captured on The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, not to mention Live/1975–85 do a pretty good job of covering that era while anything post re-union I fancy hearing is also well documented with the Live In New York City and Hyde Park releases. The thing about all of those post-Tunnel Of Love releases, though, is that not a single tune from that album is represented. Given that I believe these represent some of his best, most insightful songs of his career, getting a high-quality concert from that era seemed like a no-brainer for me.

So.. with that in mind; is it any good? First thing – the sound quality is spot on and I only plumped up for the basic MP3s. And, having spent a couple of days with it now I can tell you that yes, it bloody well is good. I wouldn’t call it an essential live album but it’s a fascinating and at times brilliant concert and I would call it essential listening for a Bruce fan.

I say fascinating because the Tunnel of Love Express Tour found Bruce in a transitional phase. He was seemingly tired of the E Street and Bruuuuuce of old and was trying – perhaps in an interest to keep himself interested as much as give the audience something different – to mix things up. The venues were smaller than the megadomes of Bossmania and songs that had been setlist staples were culled in place of obscure b-sides (opener ‘Tunnel of Love’ was followed not by a crowd-shaker like ‘Badlands’ but by the weaker* ‘Be True’) and covers, band members were shuffled into different places – Max Weinberg was moved from centre to the side and Patti Scialfa was bought to a more prominent position, becoming more of a foil than Clarence Clemons. The positioning and role of Patti Scialfa caused much conversation at the time for obvious reasons.

Oh and, in a further effort to distance the work and tour from his former music, Bruce added a horn section – The Horns of Love. Those horns aren’t something I enjoy listening to, I’ll be honest. They trample all over ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ and their toots and parps over ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘Glory Days’ don’t do anything for me. I reckon it would be a while before Bruce really figured out how to add the extended horn section into his live set-up**.

The shows on this tour were also stripped of on-stage spontaneity and the setlists were much more rigid. There’s also some strange moments – very rehearsed and repeated nightly – that make for odd listening. Whereas Live 1975/1985 featured the “Bruce’s Vietnam Dodge” story or tales about his relationship with his father, LA Sports Arena, California 1988 features a surreal 8-minute long ‘caper’ with Bruce and Clarence sitting on a park bench talking about ‘adult’ subjects such as marriage and kids in the build up to a horn-addled  All That Heaven Will Allow’. In fact the video below shows just that scene as well as the fact that it’s the same routine every night***.

But but but. Do not get me wrong. This is still a great live show. It’s fucking Springsteen after all and even with the sense of drama and fascinating confusion that shadow it this set is bloody good. Just check out the track listing:

Set One
“Tunnel of Love”
“Be True”
“Adam Raised a Cain”
“Two Faces”
“All That Heaven Will Allow”
“Cover Me”
“Brilliant Disguise”
“Spare Parts”
“War ”
“Born in the U.S.A.”

Set Two
“Tougher Than the Rest”
“Ain’t Got You”
“She’s the One”
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”
“I’m a Coward”
“I’m on Fire”
“One Step Up”
“Part Man, Part Monkey”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Light of Day”

First Encore
“Happy Birthday to Roy Orbison”
“Born to Run”
“Hungry Heart”
“Glory Days”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”

Second Encore
“Have Love, Will Travel”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”
“Sweet Soul Music”
“Raise Your Hand”

Yes; that is ‘Roulette’ sitting in there rubbing shoulders with a searing version of ‘Seeds’. Yes; that’s 8 songs from Tunnel of Love and they all hold their ground with some of the heavy weights of Bruce’s catalogue, specifically the meld of ‘Ain’t Got You’ into ‘She’s the One’. Video again taken from another night but…

There’s no ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Badlands’ and ‘Born To Run’ is the acoustic recasting that would also feature on the Chimes of Freedom EP later that year but, with his desire to present his newer music in a more serious, less Bruuuuce light seemingly sated toward the end of the second set, Springsteen’s classics deliver in the same crowd delighting way they always did and will – ‘Backstreets’ is dedicated to the fans and they react accordingly and when ‘Rosalita’ kicks in the roof is torn off (Bruce making a point by singing “you don’t have to call me lieutenant Rosie.. But. Don’t. Call. Me. BOSS”). The songs from Tunnel of Love were already well known to the audience – the album had been out a good six months by now – and cuts such as ‘Brilliant Disguise’, ‘One Step Up’ and even ‘Two Faces’  are met by rapturous applause and, with the band now well broken in on the tunes and their roles (this was still only Scialfa and Nils Lofgren’s second tour), delivered as strong as the deeper cuts. ‘Spare Parts’, once its oh-so-80s piano intro is done, rips along like the scorcher it is on record.

Tunnel of Love was a near-perfect album that captured Bruce at his most insightful and human. The tour that followed marked not only the live casting of these songs but an artist trying to recast himself too. This tour would be the last time he would play with the E Street Band until 1999, he would shortly divorce his wife and begin a lasting relationship with Patti Scialfa, spend time attending to his personal life and his inner turmoil, taking a five year break from his career in the process. As such LA Sports Arena, California 1988 makes for a fascinating and captivating listen capturing the end of an era, the closing of the first chapter of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I’ll be listening again for sure, £4 well spent.

*In comparison to the wealth of B-Sides he could’ve chosen but then I believe it was part of the ‘relationships’ theme of the show.

**I still don’t think they’re necessary. Live the E Street Band is one of the unstoppable, unbeatable things that doesn’t need padding out. It tears the roof off when in no-frills mode.

***Again, nothing that new, I read a piece in Rolling Stone from the Magic tour rehearsals that detailed that all of the gestures and interactions are pre-rehearsed rather than ad-libbed but then that’s not an 8 minute ‘bit’ involving a park bench.

Don’t Owe You A Thang

Sometimes hype exists for a reason.

The last Foo Fighters album has – in my opinion – one turd on ii: What Did I Do? / God As My Witness. However, that song features a guitar solo that saves it from being complete tosh. I found out that that solo is thanks to Gary Clark Jr. I mentioned in my blog about the album how when it came to recording it, Grohl says that Clark:

…walked into the studio and didn’t even bring a guitar. He just took one from Pat Smear – Pat hadn’t even played it yet and it still had a tag on it – and does three takes and that’s it. Pat said, “Just fuckin’ keep it.”

IMG_4017So who’s Gary Clark Jr? I asked myself. A little browsing revealed a lot of hype. A little listening on Spotify revealed that hype to be justified, I listened to a snatch of last year’s Live album and my leg couldn’t stop from bouncing.

This guy is amazing. End of.

I grabbed the album on vinyl this weekend, it’s played through a couple of times. I’ve got it in the car. My little son dances away every time he hears a bit of it.

Bluesy virtuoso, undoubtedly likely to continue drawing comparisons to Hendrix but with – for my money – a better voice and less anger / destructiveness (not that you’ll ever hear me fault Jimi). Damn fine natural guitarist.

I know already that this is going to be one of the albums I listen to a LOT this year.

Play Rock ‘n’ Roll! Or – When Jocks Attack

So I was in the process of preparing a post on the ultimate Pearl Jam set list (I should point out that Pearl Jam are on that list of Bands Who Can Do No Wrong) were time and times not a factor when I came across a particular rendition of Bu$hleaguer and this post was born as a stopgap.

Now not only am I lucky enough to have caught Pearl Jam live back on the Binaural tour (they haven’t really played here much since when I’ve been able to catch a show) but I’m also lucky enough to have a wonderful wife who kitted me out with the full set of merch surrounding the PJ20 film last year – the soundtrack and book. While reading through I came across a more detailed account of something that I’d only really heard a little about – the negative response the band would get to the song.

For those that don’t know the tune here it is:

Quite the Bush-baiting track with a pretty decent guitar phrase and a nice touch in the sinister “black out weaves its way through the city”… it’s a pretty decent tune on an album (Riot Act) that was overlooked despite having it’s fair share of them.

Anywho. The track didn’t go down at all well with the Republicans among PJ’s fanbase and on April 30th the band played it at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale with Vedder in his shiny suit and Bush mask. It doesn’t go down well at all. From the PJ20 book:

Matt Cameron: There was a hail of quarters being thrown at us, and that was the first time at Pearl Jam show where, like, I felt the crowd was really mad, and they were trying to hurt us.

Mike McCready pointed out that there was “one fireman in the front row, and he was, like, showing me his badge. He looked at us like, “you’ve betrayed us”. I felt like, as Americans, we should have the right to say what we have to say.”

Of course I went straight to the PJ20 soundtrack where said performance is captured and it’s true you really can hear a wave of hostility (even though it was just a small part of the crowd that weren’t digging it) being fired back. Problem is that the track cuts off after Vedder’s “I busted out the nice suit for you, yeah.”

pj-bushleaguerThankfully I then decided that given how many amazing live shows the book documented, it might be worth seeing if I could get some of em on the Bootleg series. Bit pricey but never fear, the internet is here and there’s an amazing site – Pearl Jam bootlegs – that had an amazing array of the band’s live shows so I could listen and download until my iPod exploded. Among those shows is the April 30th 2003 show at the (ah, this might explain a bit more of the Republican feeling) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale.

On the bootleg the track isn’t cut and what you get is the full 4 minutes after the tunes last bar. What you get is Vedder trying to talk to a crowd while still Bush-baiting – “maybe you like him cos he’s gonna give you a tax cut, maybe you like him cos he’s a real guy that relates to you cos he’s so ‘down home'” – while they’re still booing. He goes as far as to point out that, of course, he’s pro-USA and for the most part the crowd lap it up but what gets me… and I guess what got them too.. is that there’s one guy who’s voice is so cutting it sounds way too high in the mix. Not only is he booing but he’s chanting something repeatedly: PLAY ROCK N ROLL, PLAY ROCK N ROLL…

Now, I can imagine this guy as being what the American call your typical jock. A meat head who thinks that music should be devoid of message and meaning and should be just mindless, thumping music to chug beers and get out of your head to. I’m not sure what that is (though I have a suspicion it’s Nickleback and Ted Nugent) but I’m pretty sure it’s not Rock N Roll. Hell, look at when rock n roll started – it was pure rebellion. It was something purely for teenagers, it was anti-establishment before Punk was even conceived and it’s spirit is about freedom and challenging the rules. Why else do you think it made such a stir?

The strangest thing is how well Vedder keeps his cool. He has the vast majority of the crowd on his side, he also has the microphone but rather than doing, say, a Josh Homme (have you heard him tackle a heckler on Monster In The Parasol on Over The Years? “Hey cock-smocker, eat a bag of dicks…. you cock-smocking fuck hole”), he tries to reason and calm. Then again he’s clearly pissed off – you can hear the anger in his voice when the band breaks into Know Your Rights next (seriously, how Rock N Roll is that – playing an even more anti-government song after being booed for playing your own?) and then calls it quits after another – Rockin In The Free World – two songs early.Pearl Jam Riot Act

Surely the frustration isn’t so much the fact that they were booed – and had quarters thrown at them – they’ve had it before (“shoe the shoeless” in a youtube will give you some smiles). I think the frustration is that they’re still getting these jocks in their audience some 12 years in. It’s a common thing really with similar bands. I’ve seen and read enough biogs on Nirvana to know that they were equally surprised and frustrated to see these jocks appearing in their crowds because certain tunes had a bit of rock muscle on radio. The recent Grohl biog even points out that when they all heard Alive for the first time they expected Pearl Jam to be those big high school jock types.

Of course with songs like Alive stocking up the mainstream radio it was unavoidable that people would love the power and the rock in it (and there’s no harm in a bit of rock) without paying attention to the songs lyrics but after 12 years? It’s not like during those ten years Pearl Jam put out a cover of Cat Scratch Fever. No, they deliberately went underground in comparison. They made records like No Code and Vitalogy as non-rock as possible. Their political voice may not have been too loud at that point but surely nobody goes to the trouble of buying a Pearl Jam ticket without knowing more than one song from their albums or even giving Riot Act a cursory listen? I guess this guy did, I guess he went expecting them to simply stand still and play the hits.

Anyway it did create magic because that track got new life live as a result of the tension it would breed – some of the tunes best performances followed the night at Nassau – and the power of Know Your Rights following it also makes for a standout performance:

Or check out the whole show at PJ Bootlegs

I’m not sure what Mr Meathead was after, something soulless, something that doesn’t challenge the rules, didn’t make you think, doesn’t make you want to get up and DO something – anything. I’m not sure what that is but it isn’t rock n roll.