That’s an awfully vague title for a post that promises to be all over the place. I’m sure that tweeting a title like that is going to bring in droves of readers.
First and foremost, to answer the question that must be burning the minds of my readers… no, I have not listened to that entire Yes box set. I’m still working my way through it. But I only have one more concert to get through. And it’s been a lot of fun.
It’s been incredibly easy to not blog for the last two weeks. There have been a lot of things going on. School ended for the kiddo. This week she’s been in Girls Rock Camp which is an awesome program that puts together a band in a week. Her band is Triple Berry Magic and she’s the singer. Their song is a timely tune about the California drought. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree here. She’s been musical from a very early age.
Which leads to the recent loss of my musical mojo that I blogged about recently. I’d been going to an open jam session at a weird little dive bar behind a weird little strip mall in a weird little town near mine. My playing has not been very good, but I kept trying to get back on that horse. This week, for whatever reason, I was just on. And it felt really good to be in that zone where my fingers just knew what to do to keep the groove going strong. And the other bassists there were also very complementary. Since I had last been there, the music licensing people had been in there to make sure that no cover tunes were played live. Dicks! Nobody can ruin art as much as business types trying to squeeze every last dollar they can out of something that they have neither the ability or soul to do themselves. But that said, the constraint of having to come up with original material on the fly really forces improvisation and creativity and that is exactly the sort of musical environment in which I thrive. But the music licensing people are still dicks. Anyway, getting out there and playing well in front of people really gave me the boost I needed and made me feel very much alive.
Two Mondays ago, my excuse for not blogging was that I was too busy writing my novel. I got about another thousand words written and moved the plot along through this second act slump. Last Monday I had no such excuse. I really need to just block out a certain time where a I write, no matter what it is and whether or not it’s any good. A week off can easily turn into a month which can turn into years if you let it. And I don’t want to let it.
Other than last Saturday night, I can’t even think of what I was doing that kept me from writing. I think I’ve just been letting work really burn me out again. Saturday night, however, was a great deal of fun. I did something that I haven’t done in around twenty years. Tabletop Role Playing Games! I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as a kid and teen, and then we had a great ongoing game in my 20’s for a while (my character was a drunken fighter named Flav who had a weakness for wine and tasty biscuits). I forgot how it came up among my local friends, but it was decided that we needed an adult game of Call of Cthulhu! This campaign starts at the reading of a will, and my character is a paranoid psychologist who has a patient who insists that the deceased is not in fact deceased, and also raves about some horrors out at sea. We didn’t play long enough to get into the really scary stuff, but it’s going to be great to have an ongoing game again.
So, dear reader, you’ve made it through a long post about things and stuff, and if you don’t know me in real life of even in cyber life, you were probably bored to tears. But you got through, and that in itself is an act of endurance. You should probably give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie. I promise to try to be more interesting next time.
“A river, a mountain to be crossed…”
That is the first line of South Side of the Sky, a heavy deep cut from Fragile, which appears not once in the fourteen disc box set that Yes just released, yet describes this set perfectly. Fourteen discs of music is a mountain to climb. And this isn’t a vast assortment of different career-spanning songs like most box sets (not counting the ones which are complete studio sessions for one album which are an entirely different beast altogether). This one is seven complete concerts from one tour in 1972. Now, if you were to take seven concerts from one tour of a band like the Grateful Dead, you would still hear an awful lot of different songs. But Yes have never been a bunch of California hippies who like to noodle and see where things end up. They are Englishmen, creating very precise, composed music. And when they tour, they play the same set every night. That’s not to say there is no room for improvisation within the precise structure of these songs. But it’s hard enough being able to perform such challenging music night after night let alone being up to speed on an entire catalogue of challenging music which could be different each night.
The idea of a collection such as this gives a casual listener a fright! Even progressive rock giants like Yes, who have a devoted following that eats this sort of thing up, has plenty of casual listeners thanks to classic rock radio putting songs like Roundabout on heavy rotation, and also thanks to their more accessible 80’s “hit,” Owner of a Lonely Heart. But a set like this is not made for them. Even for a fan like me, the sheer volume of music, let alone the fact that it is the same set of songs, is intimidating! A river. A mountain to be crossed. Indeed.
1972 is the year that I was born. And it was the year that Yes released their fifth album, Close to the Edge. It’s the third and last album they made with what has been considered the classic lineup of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford. Bruford left after recording Close to the Edge to join King Crimson, giving Allan White only three days to learn it all before going on this tour. He rose to the occasion to be a part of a band at its prime, playing sold out stadium shows around the world. Other recordings later in this tour became the 1973 Yessongs live album.
At this point I have listened to the highlight set which compiles songs from the different concerts. This is two additional discs, sold separately for those unwilling to commit to the whole shebang. And I’ve listened to the first two discs of the box set (Halloween, 1972, Toronto). I’m enjoying hearing the different approaches to the same parts of the same songs. The song structure remains the same, the vocal harmonies are tight (though even only hearing two versions you can tell that sometimes they’re tighter than other times). Wakeman and Howe each get solo pieces, though the lack of a Squire solo piece is a very notable absence. The playing is all very fierce and raw. This is a band on fire, tearing it up and having fun doing it. I’d need to give it a more serious listen if I were setting out to write a review but the point here is how I, as a fan, can really properly digest this sheer volume of performances. Today, for instance, I listened to some of it while out riding my bike, some of it in the car with my family as background to various conversation, skipping the Wakeman solo and not yet finishing the encore of Yours is No Disgrace. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of it, noticing little bits that particularly pleased me, some snippets of tasty guitar or a moment of outstanding keyboard flourish that doesn’t happen on the studio version, or a vocal line that really touches me. I wish I had the time to set aside and really geek out on it, note for note. But however I get to take it in, I sure look forward to enjoying the ride.
If you want a more in-depth review of each show by a guy who sat down and listened to the whole thing in a day, there’s this.
I used to be a pretty decent bassist. I’m no Jaco by any stretch, but I wasn’t half bad. But these days I can barely muster up the enthusiasm to pick up my instrument, and when I do, my playing feels kind of limp and somewhat forced, and generally not very good. The last band I was in ended badly for me. I don’t want to go into the details of this split, but I wound up feeling extremely hurt and betrayed and it seems to have shaken my mojo to the very core.
Back when I enjoyed playing, a night of music left me feeling energized and refreshed and generally good. Even on the nights where it was more work than fun, it felt like something was accomplished. I’m not really feeling anything like that so much right now. And I’m not sure how to get that back. And I’m also not sure I want to get that back yet.
The idea of finding new people to play with isn’t even all that appealing to me. Making music with others is an intimate act. It’s almost kinda sorta like being in a relationship. If you play from the heart, you’re sharing that with others, and it can create a strong bond. When that bond is shattered, it’s hard to put the pieces back together again.
So last night…
Afghan Whigs were one of my favorite bands in the 90’s. In a musical landscape of a lot of divergent genres of music, many of it exploring very new at the time sounds and taking influences from each other, this hard edged band from Ohio started incorporating elements of old soul music. Their first couple of albums were good, but then Gentlemen came out in 94 and took it to a whole new level. This album was pure perfection from the first note to the last. The lyrics would break your heart and put it together again. This was emotional on a level that would put the emo kids to shame. It comes from a place in the heart that most people don’t even have. Many of the Gentlemen b-sides were straight up soul covers, like Dark End of the Street and My World is Empty Without You. While staying true to the originals, they brought darkness and a punk rock sensibility to it all. They continued in that vein on their next album, Black Love, which I can only describe as dirty white boy soul. They released one more album after that, 1965, which I haven’t really given as much of a listen to as the others, and then broke up, only to reunite a couple years ago for some reunion gigs. And now they’ve got a new album coming out in April. Here’s the first single with a really cool looking video!
I can’t believe the Grey Album is 10 years old. 2004 was shortly after I had moved to California, and the new exciting thing the kids were doing with music at the time was mashing up songs together. Many of them were amateur, but there were some that were plenty of professionally made ones. And then Jay Z released an a capella version of The Black Album and a bunch of people mashed that up. The best one was Dangermouse’s mashup with the Beatles’ White Album to create The Grey Album. Helter Skelter and 99 Problems are both classics, and they go very well together.
Just for the hell of it, here are two more 99 Problems mashups after the jump… Continue reading