The Lovin' Spoonful
Before he had to make up his mind
The Lovin' Spoonful: Greatest Hits (Buddha '00)
So what happened to John Sebastian, anyway? Was it the drug busts, the drugs themselves, group hassles, mob-based management? All these and more, but listening back to this slight improvement on Rhino's Anthology, I infer something more fundamental. Figure the reason no one was better at translating the flowery optimism of the middle '60s into folk-flavored pop song‑-"Do You Believe in Magic," "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," "Daydream," "Summer in the City," "Rain on the Roof," just look at those titles‑-was as much spirit as talent. Figure he was so eager, so well-meaning, so fun-loving, so warmhearted, such a simpleton, that when the times demanded cynicism this John‑-unlike natural-born reprobate Phillips or designated reality principle Lennon‑-didn't have it in him. The three-four-five dogs among this album's 26 selections barely slow down its historical mission of evoking the balmy upsurge to the Summer of Love like no other body of music. A MINUS
The Lovin' Spoonful: Do You Believe in Magic (Buddha/BMG Heritage '02)
The great originals‑-keynoted by the title song, which commenced their 1965-66 run of seven straight top 10 singles‑-are all on the best-of. But on their debut album the filler was prime too, because unlike the Dylan-chiming Byrds, their folk-rock revved a jug-band strain that was plenty lively to begin with. Their "Blues in the Bottle" owed the Holy Modal Rounders and contended with them. And on the best bonus track, Will Shade sneaks away from Beale Street to mastermind the Hollywood Argyles. A MINUS
- Greil Marcus sure can drum!
- I was surprised how naturally Morello fitted in. And how much his voice sounds like Bruce's!
- The Clemons tributes (we had two) were very moving, especially the moment where Bruce hung his arm out in the empty air a la Born to Run cover.
- Audience participation up the wazoo. We had ~10-year old kid take the mic, only to get nervous and forget the words. Bruce takes him to the side of the stage, then they sprint across together and take a full speed powerslide. Later a woman gets her sign request obliged by being invited up to dance with Morello (guess during which song). Crowds were surfed, selfies with the Boss were taken. Some songs he held the microphone to the crowd, a trick that usually grates me, but they were enthused and made it the whole way through surprisingly in tune.
- Can't complain when you get three hours of music at less than $1/minute.
- Highlights: "Wrecking Ball" and "Downbound Train" back to back.
- Greil Marcus sure can drum!
EDIT: fixed a typo.
Alan, thanks for the prompt. I and my bride went along with another 17,000 to Hanging Rock on Sunday to see Bruce and the very extended, earth shaking, "Viagra takin'" E Street Band. It was a seriously Great Day (and night). Possibly the best "rock" show I have seen, at least since he was last here, ten years ago. I venture to add, a better show this time.
Kicked off by local act The Ruebens, who were told not to fcuk up by promoter Michael Gudinski, and didn't, the crowd were rev'd by Jimmy Barnes, whom I'd seen solo and with Cold Chisel during my pub-goin' days, and to my surpise did a really good 1hr set. Former Chisel guitarist Ian Moss joined for a couple of numbers and always sets the place alight. While no songwriter, Moss is still one of Australia's best and distinctive singer-guitarists, for non-locals, well worth checking him out.
Anyway, to the main prize, Bruce played 29 songs with a good mix from Wrecking Ball, the first two albums, The Rising and the welcome standards and hits in-between. Magic and Working on a Dream got suitably schneidered. Surprises were "Because the Night" and "Tougher than the Rest" (duet with Bansey) and a great "Ghost of Tom Joad". Someone on EW recently mentioned that "Promised Land" was as one of the best songs of the 70's. After Sunday, I can't disagree.
Having a sneak at the set list from Saturday night, I would happily have swapped a few of Sunday's choices such as "Candy's Room" and "Something in the Night", for Saturday's "Atlantic City", "Prove it all Night" , "Johnny 99" or "If I should Fall behind" , but I am being incredibly greedy. Anyway, many song choices were taken from crowd placards.
The extended E Street Band, while never able to cover the history and spirit of Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt and Danny Federici, were red hot and Tom Morello from RATM will make SVZ a little nervous. Bruce appeared to lean more to Tom than Nils, especially for the pyrotechnics. Clarence's nephew Jake sounded eerily like his uncle. While keeping the chugging beat, the presence of percussion seemed to loosen up Mighty Max.
The spirit (a word that comes up with Springsteen as much as "mystic" with Van) is what the night was really about and the ability to make a large venue seem like an intimate setting is a Bruce trademark as much as his Telecaster. Signifying this audience relationship was much of the night spent amongst the crowd and especially when a young girl of 6 or 7 was lifted from her father's shoulder's to sing "Waiting on a Sunny Day" solo on stage until she demanded "Come on E street Band", which promptly fired up the band again. She was given an acoustic to strum along with Bruce and was followed by tears of laughter and joy by everyone. Tears of sadness followed later in a tribute to Clarence and Danny in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. A finale of a funky "Twist and Shout" summed up the night nicely
Special kudos to the venue, at the foot of Hanging Rock, surrounded by gumtrees and Mount Macedon. The purpose-built stage was nearly as high as the Rock, which was lit up beautifully for the night. Even the weather gods were kind. This is only the third time that Hanging Rock has held a rock concert, the first two being Leonard Cohen and Rod Stewart. I hope there will be more, but not sure how many performers could make this venue their own for the night.
Edit: said bride wants front row standing for next Springsteen concert in Nijmagen in June.
"Your order of "Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian..." has shipped!"
As you may recall, I sent an email to Rhino on 3/20 suggesting they produce a Peter Stampfel box set and just now I got a response:
Thank you for the Peter Stampfel suggestion. I will forward your message to our suggestion box.
Awk! I don't know why I thought this was so unavailable (not for sale from the Smithsonian, but so what?). Not a whole lot of them around, though.
I'm not suggesting you change your heading again, Joe, but your #4 pick is a soundtrack. Recorded by Byrne prior to the show and none of the cast members had anything to do with it. Great choice, though.
My favorite presentation of recorded Broadway was the sumptuous Smithsonian boxed set that originally came out in 1989: *American Musical Theater: Shows, Songs, and Stars*. That's when the Smithsonian music operation was absolutely wailin' -- set came out on LP, cassette and four CDs with a picture- and information-packed 132-page booklet. Recordings from 1906 to 1964 (made a persuasive case that an era came to an end with *Fiddler on the Roof* and that after a considerable decline in fortunes, the subsequent revival of musicals had a different approach and feel.)
Yeah, greatest-hits format (much of the time), yeah, intended for libraries. But you could get a top-notch introductory education by listening and reading. Filled in my sketchy knowledge of pre-1950s musicals. Shame that the Smithsonian music program is in such tatters nowadays, with only the Folkways collection maintained (which sure as hell ain't nothing, but not like the old catalog). For a while you could get *Shows, Songs, and Stars* as individual discs (I don't know about liner notes), but now it seems to have disappeared altogether. Sad.
I've seen my share of Broadway musicals and the deal is that the context in
which the songs are performed trumps listening to the same songs on
an album. At least thay's my experience. Does that extend to rock and roll?
In some cases probably. Possibly "Quadrophenia" would be an example.
Given I recently saw The Who perform it in it's entirety and was moved in ways I'm not
sure the album ever achieved. Just one example. Of couse maybe The Who were simply
hitting on all cylinders that particular night.
Top 10 Musical Theatre Original Cast Recordings & Soundtracks
1. Threepenny Opera (1954 cast, CD-avail w/1 bonus track - Lotte Lenya singing Mack the Knife)
2. Randy Newman's Faust (1995)
3. West Side Story (1957 with Chita Rivera)
4. David Byrne: Songs from the Broadway Production of The Catherine Wheel (1981)
5. Guys and Dolls (MCA 1951)
6. South Pacific (1949 with Mary Martin)
7. Tango Argentino (Atlantic 1986)
8. Passing Strange (Ghostlight 2008)
9. Threepenny Opera (New York Shakespeare Festival 1976)
10. Guys and Dolls (RCA 1992)
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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