Monday, August 10, 2015

James Gang - Live in Concert

I suppose I'm a dyed in the wool homer.  I like Cleveland and I like Ohio.  I think musically we really kill it, and some of the evidence of that is Cleveland's own James Gang. I know people that have actually never heard any of this stuff, which is where Joe Walsh proved that he was a certifiable Rock Guitar God.  Not with any disclaimers tossed in, either.  No one that's ever seen and heard Joe tear it up says he's a great guitar player, he's like toss your favorite in here but not quite as good.  You just don't say that about the guy.  When you see Joe play you can't imagine how utterly effortless his playing appears, like he was just born with a guitar.  He can pull out an acoustic guitar and play as pretty as anyone, and then just plug in and peel your face right off.

Live the James Gang stuff is mostly the peel your face off variety of Joe's playing.  That's my favorite stuff anyway, and Dale Peters and Jim Fox keep the bottom end hard and heavy so Joe can do his thing.  The beginning of side one always seemed kind of like one big song to me, but it's actually three.  These were what caught all of our attention when we were teenagers, hanging out in this one guy's room who had a sister that was a decidedly harder rocker than most people I knew.  These days the stuff she liked the best can be dismissed as Blooze Rawk or just lunkheaded stupidity.  I really don't care where the cool kids have decided this stuff falls when they plot out what is and isn't worthy.  I like plenty of critical favorites, but if you've never ripped a bong to Tend My Garden or Walk Away, then maybe you just haven't figured out what this Rock N' Roll stuff is all about.

Because Joe Walsh has always been fun, and he's always been smarter than he lets on.  He's written some stuff that's just kind of throwaway novelty things, but he's the guy that wrote Walk Away, and while it gives him plenty of room to play a big, fat riff it's also nothing he should be lyrically ashamed of, either.  I think it's kind of funny that of the biggest songs James Gang had, Walk Away is far and away the most popular that made it on to this record.  They left Funk 49 off.  They left The Bomber off.  you can kind of think, "What the hell!" but trust me, the closer on this record is killer.

The closer is the Yardbirds classic, Lost Woman.  You gotta have some confidence in your guitar playing when you decide to not only cover a song Jeff Beck unleashed on the world when he was a true rock god, but then to just annihilate your guitar for fifteen minutes on Jeff's song, well that takes real chutzpah.  Joe kills it, too.  Dale peters gets to do a bass thing for a bit and while it's not Chris Squire, it's certainly not the kind of thing that whatever the guy with the real long name at AllMusic  seems to feel Joe had grown out of.

I mean, this is a great 1970's live album, and yes, it has a goddamned drum solo on it.  But at least it's pretty furious and doesn't last too long.  The acapella part is kind of weird but it doesn't last long, either and at least it's kind of funny.  I never got to see the James Gang, and I really wish I had been old enough to see them.  I'm fine with who I am and how old I am and I don't really regret not seeing them, because I did see Joe solo when he was running for president, and he played a long time and killed it.

I don't know how long I've had this.  It's in really good shape and it sounds terrific.  All in all, definitely one I'll never be getting rid of.

Dire Straits - Dire Straits

Ya know, the late 70's were an interesting time to be a teenager.  Mostly because it wasn't horribly hard to hear new music.  You had to work at it to hear anything underground or local, but you could turn on one of the Rock radio stations and sandwiched in between the Zeppelin and Stones were plenty of new bands like Dire Straits or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  It didn't mean that all those new bands were good, or even worthwhile but at least when you turned on the radio you didn't hear the same shit your dad grew up with 24/7.  It's like people demanded to hear new things alongside of their old favorites and then one day those people all said, "Fuck it," and radio decided to just play what used to work and quit trying to expand their audience, or even try to stay interesting ot the kids that made Rock radio important in the first place.

That's a damned shame, too.  There's obviously a shitload of people interested in Rock music.  They're so interested in it that modern Country has appropriated the whole damned thing, power chords and all.  They're so interested in it that professional sports blasts those old songs out ad nauseam.  The interest is there, but the major labels have bought all the radio stations and they only play their own tried and true surefire moneymakers.  Heaven forbid some PD at a station in Akron, OH play a song that isn't thoroughly tested and proven to make .006 cents per listener per minute for three fucking minutes.  Someone might turn off the radio and miss the next nine minutes of tampon ads.

In 1978 Dire Straits were one of those bands that were untested, and they were kind of quirky and slow and mostly moody, but for some reason someone around somewhere decided to keep pushing them a little at a time and by mid 1979 Sultans of Swing was our new "classic" rock staple.  That song was everywhere.  Every station played it, to the point where I always figured I'd just be sick of these guys until the day I died.  Something happened, though.  I just never really get tired of these guys.  I have to be in the mood for them, but give me a nice summer night and a cold beer and a little peace and quiet and I can listen to some Dire Straits.

I think a lot of it is that while I don't think they have any truly great, monumental songs, they also don't have any truly shitty songs.  At least not on the couple of albums I have, like this first one.  It never sounded particularly fresh and new when it came out, but the music on this album has a remarkable quality of never sounding old and stale, either.  I guess this album is kind of like a good pair of jeans.  They fit pretty good but you've got better ones, and they just never seem to wear out.  that's how Dire Straits seem to me.

That's okay, too.  Everything doesn't have to be the absolute greatest thing that ever happened.  When did people quit appreciating talent and craftsmanship and demanding nothing but a handful of songs that most everyone agrees are the definitive statements of their era, not to mention deciding that one era was more or less deserving of any other?  I mean, I love home made ice cream, but I can appreciate and enjoy Dairy Queen, too.  There's so much stuff in the world that's so much better than average and people ignore these things because they aren't the "best."  Man, that's really stupid.

That's where Dire Straits is for me.  At least this album and another one.  They're better than most things.  The playing is terrific, and Mark Knopfler is certainly deserving of all the credit he gets for his playing (and probably more).  Sultans of Swing was a big hit, deservedly so, but Wild West End, Down to the Waterline and Six Blade Knife are maybe not Top Ten material, but there's a lot of meat on those bones and these are the kinds of songs that make for a solid, strong album.  The kind of thing that deserved the accolades it got at the time, and the kind of thing that was more than worthwhile for some PD to take a chance on.  I know those days are gone, but while everything people took chances on back then didn't work, when they did they paid off and paid off for years.  it's too bad people aren't like that anymore.

So I like this record.  I don't love it, but I like it a lot.  Mine is a Columbia House version, and it sounds terrific.  Super flat, super clean, super quiet and just as good as a record gets.  I think it was a quarter and I can't imagine that I've spent many quarters on many other things that are this good.