Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Two men, shootin' the s*#t, usually over beer, with music in the background. (Yep, it's Rocktober!)

Consider this a shameless, unpaid promotion of a product called Concert Vault, whose wares I rented for one year at $39.95 so that I could access them anywhere on iPhone, iPad, or computer.  Forget Spotify, that musical equivalent of the entire universe where you still only travel to the same planets.  I'm telling you, friends, Concert Vault is where it's at.

(But, I have to take a quick sidebar and say that all of the above is only true if you like live music.  My dancin' partner, Billy, God love him, prefers the studio to the stage, the Aphex Aural Exciter III to the natural sound of the human voice straining to hit the right notes, Garageband to a garage band.  But that's okay.  That's what keeps this blog running, the give and take between us makes Rocktober exciting, at least for me.)

Concert Vault has collected an ever-growing library of live shows from the distant past (1968 is the earliest I've seen, though I haven't looked through the jazz offerings) to the recent past (think 2012) in all kinds of popular genres from rock to country to jazz to pop to reggae to bluegrass to blues to...

There are four kinds of surprises--surprisingly good sound, terrific "liner" notes, reassessments (both of what you thought you liked and what you thought you knew), and there are simply gaps filled.  Early recordings from the Newport Jazz Festival or The Fillmore are often remarkably clean, and if the main instruments are acoustic, even better.  From all that I've sampled so far, I'm comfortable saying that most of these shows are not crappy recordings that exist just to document the historical record; most are easy to listen to.  Anyone who has entered the hit-or-miss world of bootlegs, even today, knows what I'm talking about.

The liner notes tell you everyone who is playing at the performance, as well as, sometimes, a bit of background history of the band, the show, or both.  They may even include commentary about particular songs or standout performances, troubles the band was having at the time, personnel changes, or what was about to happen.

Any number of shows lead you to rethink--people you once liked or didn't sound better or worse than the last time you checked in with them.  Understandings that you had of a particular tour or time period are undercut or enhanced.

Or maybe there are just iconic or not-so-iconic musical events that you never got to hear.  Maybe you've never heard James Brown live or Lennon or the reformed remnants of some "supergroup."  Maybe you didn't know how long or short a set someone played for a charity event or a Rolling Thunder review.  

Here's a sampling of what I've listened to, so far, that should appeal to a variety of constituencies:

James Taylor at Carnegie Hall, 1974.
The Kinks at the University Of Virginia, 1972.
We Were Promised Jetpacks at Outdoor Stage On Sixth, 2012.
Waylon Jennings at Opryland, 1983.
Aerosmith in Central Park, 1975.
Kansas at The Palladium, 1977.
Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival, 1955.
Dave Edmunds and Rockpile at The Bottom Line, 1978.
Gillian Welch at Newport Folk Festival, 2008.
The B-52's at the Heatwave Festival, 1980.
Taj Mahal at Ash Grove, 1967.
Eddie Money at Winterland, 1977.
Blitzen Trapper at Bottom Of The Hill, 2008.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears at North Mesquite High School, 1973.
Bobcat Goldthwait at the Warfield Theater, 1989.

Etc.  That's a smattering.  The breadth of artists is really impressive--you get Blue Mountain, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Rodeo, the Blues Brothers (yes, they toured), and Blues Traveler.  You get Dylan, Young, and Springsteen.

The collection is not perfect, is not perfectly accessible.  There are bound to be people whom you look for right away and discover that they are not included (yet).  There are a number of artists whose only entries are the Daytrotter recordings.  If you haven't been to that website, they bring people into their own studio and record them live, which gives a listener different takes, but the lack of audience and "warmth" makes for a different, if still enjoyable, "concert" experience.  And there are quite a few performances from Tramps (I'm assuming it's the club in NYC, though they appear to be in a number of different places throughout the world), which don't come with song listings and don't come with liner notes.  Some of those shows are also not broken down by song; you just click "Full concert," and proceed to listen from there.

But, all told, it's a stunning archive, an incredible resource, and the makings of a very fun party game where you just plug it into a speaker and let people flip through it to find the next song.  Come try it out.  Bring beer.  Happy Rocktober!


stowstepp said...

This sounds truly interesting. Your sampling has enough to have me check it out in more detail.

My first exposure to the Grateful Dead was suffering through brutal hissing bootlegs in college. I hated that band for years, solely due to those shitty recordings. Then I saw them live (I mostly went to see Dylan who opened for them, but he sucked so bad that day) and I changed my mind. That's how important recording quality can be.

Bob said...

stowstepp, there is plenty of good GD, as well as Jerry's band, Jerry's acoustic band, Jerry w/ John Kahn, Jerry w/ Merle Saunders, Bob Weir, Bobby and the Midnites, Ratdog, etc. on CV.