Posts Tagged ‘concert’

“Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer (1968)

Anyone who’s been attending rock concerts for 36 years might have trouble pinpointing the most memorable ones. But I sometimes give it a stab.

In November 2007, I paid all of $15 to gain entrance to the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh for something I’d wanted to do for decades: see Blue Cheer.

The re-formed version of the band had been touring here and there since the ’80s, and when I learned about the Pittsburgh show I canceled some other plans and headed to the South Side. The show was unfortunately sparsely attended, but those in the audience were treated to a memorable performance: a time warp of sorts, back to when a trio of musicians, their instruments and their amplifiers were sufficient.

That was rock at its most basic and, not coincidentally, its most exciting.

Blue Cheer was touring to support its first new studio album in 16 years, “What Doesn’t Kill You …,” a title that became chilling in the wake of subsequent developments.

On Oct. 12, 2009, vocalist-bassist Dickie Peterson, the one consistent in Blue Cheer since its 1967 formation, died of prostate cancer. Longtime guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald wrote on the group’s website: “Blue Cheer is done. Out of respect for Dickie, Blue Cheer (will) never become a viable touring band again.”

I still often wear the Blue Cheer T-shirt I bought at that Pittsburgh concert. And I still often listen to the album that put the band on the musical map, way back in 1968.

“Vincebus Eruptum” – the title is supposed to mean “controlled chaos” – is the least technically accomplished album on the Harry’s Hundred list. As Peterson wrote in the liner notes to a CD re-release: “To say the recording standards were primitive would be an understatement. ‘Vincebus Eruptum’ is what can happen when you set three young men in a room, give them all the gear they want and three chords. Then leave them alone … there are no rules and no holds are barred.”

The result is what may well be the birth of heavy metal. Watch this video of Blue Cheer mimicking Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” on a German TV show: Each of the guys is cranking it up as loud as he can, with Paul Whaley particularly bashing it out on the drums. (Fortunately, he was part of the band again as of ’07.)

“Summertime Blues” kicks off “Vincebus Eruptum” and also reached No. 14 on the charts as a single, probably because of the novelty of a band playing that hard and loud on what began life as a rockabilly song. The decision to play instrumental solos in lieu of some of the lyrics is questionable, but it’s kind of apropros to hear the line, “I went to my congressman and he said, quote, ‘Take this, boy!’,” followed by a wall of guitar feedback.

Next, Blue Cheer covers the blues standard “Rock Me, Baby,” with all the subtlety of a flying mallet (to borrow from the title of a Dave Edmunds album). Actually, in some places Whaley sounds as if he, indeed, is drumming with a mallet, providing minimalist backing to Leigh Stephens’ feedback-laden guitar stylings.

Peterson’s “Doctor Please” is purely and simply about drugs, as the singer implores: “Without your good livin’, Doc, I believe that I’ll be dead.” The song became a longtime concert staple, with extended instrumental sections.

Another original, “Out of Focus,” lyrically leans toward the psychedelic music in vogue at the time, with Peterson writing passages like: “And then from out of a mystic dream/There came an angel, she spread her wings.” But the instrumental backing continues to be pure sledgehammer, and outright chaos in a middle section during which none of the band members appear to be paying attention to what either of the others is playing.

Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” – Blue Cheer calls it “Parchment Farm” – receives the over-the-top treatment, as well, with Peterson seeming to particularly enjoy shouting the line, “I think I’ll be here for the rest of my life/All I did was shoot my wife.” Toward the end of the song, he switches it around for another drug allusion: “I’m sitting over here on Parchment Farm/All I did was shoot my arm.”

For anyone whose eardrums have sustained the onslaught to that point, “Vincebus Eruptum” concludes with one more original, “Second Time Around.” The lyrics pertain to a temporary break in a relationship, but they’re secondary to the instrumentation, which gives each band member a chance to solo during a lengthy outro that seems to fulfill Blue Cheer’s mission, according to Peterson:

“Our thing was to be so powerful that the music became a physical experience, to activate all the listeners’ senses.”

Since Blue Cheer’s inception, bands have played louder and they’ve played better. But if they’re playing what’s come down in history as heavy metal, their roots trace back to “Vincebus Eruptum.”

“Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower (1974)

In 2009, my friend Rich and I went to the Palace Theater in Greensburg, PA, to see a concert by a 64-year-old guitarist.

There was a long delay between the opening act wrapping up and the featured group starting to play. We joked that because of the guitarist’s advanced age, he might be having some trouble making it to the stage.

We learned after the fact that Robin Trower, indeed, had been suffering from some kind of health issues and an ambulance was called. But he recovered and put on a heck of a show.

As Procol Harum’s guitarist in the late ’60s, Trower kind of took a back seat to Matthew Fisher and his Hammond organ, especailly because the latter instrument is so prominent in thE band’s signature “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” In fact, Trower wasn’t even aboard yet when that song was recorded.

After Fisher left Procol Harum in 1969, Trower’s guitar became the dominant instrument for the subsequent releases “Home” and “Broken Barricades.” The latter directly focused the spotlight on Trower with his heavy-duty fretwork on “Simple Sister” and Hendrix-influenced playing on “Song for a Dreamer.”

Trower went solo after “Broken Barricades” and gained a modicum of attention with his debut, “Twice Removed from Yesterday.” Then came his magnum opus.

“Bridge of Sighs” started to move up the charts following its 1974 release on the strength of “Too Rolling Stoned,” an FM-radio hit that combined the elements of a catchy riff and chorus, exceptional vocals by the late James Dewar, an extended Trower guitar jam and, of course, the cool title.

Listeners soon discovered other gems: the opening “Day of the Eagle,” the closing “Little Bit of Sympathy” and the spooky title track, on which Trower really defines his effects-laden style. And the guitar is well-positioned in the album’s mix, thanks to the efforts of the producer, none other than former bandmate Fisher.

The album ended up peaking at No. 7 on the U.S. charts, making Trower (briefly) a superstar; by the time of the followup, “For Earth Below,” popular tastes in music had started shifting far away from guitar-based rock.

But he still has plenty of fans into the 21st century: The Palace Theater was packed the night he almost didn’t make it to the stage.

Last night I drove past the venue of my first Grateful Dead concert, and my post about that show received a good bit of feedback.

So how ’bout my last Dead show.

In the summer of 1992, I was pushing 30, which seemed to be ancient at the time. (Yeah, right.) The Dead was playing two nights at the Star Lake Amphitheater, a Monday and Tuesday. Because of job obligations, I could attend only Tuesday.

When I found out what the band played Monday, I was kind of upset because none of those songs would be played the following night: “Deal,” “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire On the Mountain,” “The Other One” and even a snippet of “Dark Star.”

Tuesday started in a promising manner with “Help On the Way!” -> “Slipknot!” -> “Franklin’s Tower,” and the first set ended with “New Speedway Boogie,” which I hadn’t heard live before. The second set, though, kind of leaned on some material I hadn’t heard before: “So Many Roads,” “Long Way to Go Home,” and “Corinna,” for example. In retrospect, I should’ve enjoyed the new tunes, but I was still irritated about not being present for “Scarlet-Fire” and the like.

As the band played a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” I could sense this would be my final Grateful Dead concert.

And as I heard the first notes of “Brokedown Palace” for the encore, I started walking toward the exit, muttering about how many times I’d heard that one.

Then … I couldn’t find my friends anywhere, and it started to pour down rain. I hitched a ride to where my car was parked. My friends showed up eventually, lambasting me for disappearing. Can’t blame ’em.

Kids, that’s what life was like before cellphones!

Anyway, I should have appreciated what I was witnessing instead of focusing on the negative. Three years later, it all was over.

At least I have the memories.

Associated listening: “Singles Collection: The London Years” by the Rolling Stones

When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, he pretty much looked like he was 40. Sure, there was a little bit of graying in the beard. But the rapid aging process that characterized his last decade or so hadn’t kicked in yet.

When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, I saw my first Grateful Dead concert. That applied to most of my friends in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA, and my college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We converged on the Coliseum at West Virginia University for the Dead’s show on April 10, 1983.

The concert was on a Sunday, and we departed the night before, for reasons I can’t remember. I do recall hooking up a couple of decent-sized speakers in the back of my VW Rabbit and listening to, among other fare, “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces. The cockney narrative during the “Happiness Stan” saga really blew our friend Ed’s mind …

OK, enough with the esoteric ’60s psychedelic references.

Anyway, we arrived at our fraternity’s house at WVU, and the brothers said we could sleep in some kind of TV room. It was freezing cold, but fortunately someone had left behind a sleeping bag to spend the night elsewhere (young lady?), so I didn’t suffer from hypothermia.

We killed time prior to the concert the next day by watching television … hey, we didn’t have to move. Dudley Moore as “Arthur” was on HBO. Wowee Zowee.

Finally, we made our way over to the coliseum and discovered why, indeed, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

Among the songs the band performed was “Touch of Grey,” for only the sixth time, as far as I could tell. Jerry and the boys kind of butchered it, as later listenings to the show reveal, but we thought it was great! I remember my old roommate Mike and I discussing how, if the Dead released that tune as a single, it just might be a hit.

Four years (and one Garcia diabetic coma) later, our prediction came true.

Part of the song’s success was the associated video, which gained heavy airplay on MTV and revealed Jerry to have way more than a touch of gray in his mid-40s. I remember some high-school kids at the time saying something to the effect of, “There’s this 80-year-old guy singing, ‘I will survive!'”

Anyway, I happened to be driving through Morgantown this evening and took a quick shot of the old Coliseum just as the light was turning green. It’s a more than a little fuzzy … but so were a lot of people back on that night back in ’83.

Associated listening: “In the Dark” by the Grateful Dead (1987)