Cheap Trick

Various Live Albums

img_6735Cheap Trick – Various Live Albums

I’ve been a huge Cheap Trick fan for a long time. In this blog that’s only a couple of months old I’ve written about their new album, a biography on them and a couple of their studio albums. I have always enjoyed their records but when thinking about the band recently I realized how much I love them live. This is really no surprise, they are known as a superb live band and a live album, Live At Budokan, was their break out success. So I decided to check out a bunch more of their live records to see how well they capture the essence of seeing and hearing Cheap Trick live.

Two of the CDs I received are official Cheap Trick releases.  Their second live album after Budokan was 1998’s Music For Hangovers. It is a pared down selection of tracks from the band’s four nights at Chicago’s famed Metro, where they played each of their first four albums in their entirety, one per night. While the CD sounds great it’s hard to get very excited about this album knowing how heavily edited it is. I very much would have preferred a box set with all four complete shows. Silver is their third live album, taken from a 1999 show in the band’s hometown of Rockford, IL where they were performing in celebration of their 25th anniversary. This release comes in several versions. I got the CD/DVD combo.

The remainder of the discs I ordered are all, shall we say, “unofficial”. They cover many different time periods and range in quality greatly. They are all taken from radio broadcasts so while the sound is never terrible it’s never quite as pristine as the official releases but honestly that’s ok with me. In my book Cheap Trick are always better with a little buzz and hum than slick and clean. Here is the rundown of the releases –
Rockford Armory – Rockford Armory, Rockford, IL 1977 (edited show)
Raising Hell – 4 discs, Rockford Armory, Rockford, IL 1977 (full show) / International Amphitheater, Chicago, IL 1979
On Top Of The World – Capital Theater, Passaic, NJ 1978
Auld Lang Syne – Forum, Los Angeles, CA 1979
Turn On The Radio – 2 discs, Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI 1982 / Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI 1987
Live In Wisconson (yes it’s misspelled for some reason) – Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI 1994
In The Joint – Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV 1995
So the shows represented here run from the year of their first album all the way through to their twelfth. They are great documents of some incredible concerts and an amazing addition to my Cheap Trick shelf.

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Cinematic Titanic

The Complete Collection

img_7090Cinematic Titanic – The Complete Collection

After the original demise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1999 the principal players from the series eventually coalesced into two distinct camps. Mike Nelson (Mike Nelson), Kevin Murphy (the second Tom Servo/Bobo) and Bill Corbett (the second Crow/Observer) formed first The Film Crew and then Rifftrax.  The remaining talent, Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson/series creator), Trace Beaulieu (the first Crow/Dr. Forrester), Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank), J. Elvis Weinstein (the first Tom Servo/Dr. Erhardt) and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) became Cinematic Titanic. I am a big fan of all these incarnations as evidenced by my recent post on the forthcoming Mystery Science Theater 3000 Trading Cards. In truth I have watched one of the groups in one form or another nightly since January of 2000. I know that sounds impossible and ridiculous but its true. I can’t overstate my love of movie riffing!

Cinematic Titanic began as studio versions of the cast playing themselves being forced to riff on movies in an effort to preserve them from erasure due to some event that was destroying all digital media. This was all taking place in some underground bunker controlled by a company or the government. Not too many details were provided but it was obvious Joel intended to build a new mythology similar to that of MST3K. After 7 studio releases the DVDs switched to live recordings of their touring show for the final 5 DVDs of their 12 (there were two more live shows that don’t seem to have ever been recorded sadly).  Joel commented many times that he came to realize that the vibe of CT was really in its live riffing. It was on these tours, performing the riffs live to a theater audience that Hodgson and the crew got a chance to connect with fans and see the real immediate effect of live riffing as well as the adoration for their legacy. Certainly in many ways this helped pave the path for the return of MST3K as well as the recent live MST shows with the new cast.

I actually already had all of these movies individually since I ordered them from Cinematic Titanic as each of them debuted. I picked this up because I thought it would be cool to have them collected together and the set does have a few small additional extras added to the original releases. In the end though, as much as I love all of those involved, to me CT was never equal to the sum of its parts. I can’t explain exactly why but it never quite seemed to find its stride to me. Maybe 6 performers is just too many riffers, or maybe it was that some of those involved were actually new to riffing having played other roles on MST3K. I’m not sure in the end but while I enjoyed these movies they aren’t my favorites compared to MST or Rifftrax but are very much worth having, especially when the complete set of all 12 films is so affordable.

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The Complete Collection from Shout Factory
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Reign The Conqueror

DVD Set

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Reign The Conqueror – DVD Set

Known in Japan as Alexander or The Alexander War Chronicles, the 1997 animated TV show Reign The Conqueror was a bold, intricate, engaging, visually stunning and sometimes overwhelming feast. The best way I can describe it is this series tells the story of Alexander the Great in a sci-fi/fantasy setting filled with battles and mysticism, political intrigue and philosophical overtones. The complexity of the plot and the intensity of the esthetic of this show is on a level I have never encountered before. You know you are in for an involved story when the DVD booklet features a illustrated family tree of the characters to help viewers keep track of who is who.

Designed by Peter Chung of Aeon Flux fame and adapted from a novel by celebrated Japanese author Hiroshi Aramata, Reign explodes in a post modern, art deco, psychedelic hail of imagery. This would have been the perfect crew to realize Jodoworsky’s vision of Frank Herbert’s book Dune. Also of note is the fantastic theme song, “Worthy Of Your Soul” by DJ Milky and b-nChant-d featuring Rachel Pollack. I would love to see Chung return to his signature animation style to produce another series as remarkable as this one.

Though it is animated this is not a show for kids as it contains many violent and sexual sequences and a plot they could never comprehend.

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Reign The Conqueror on IMDB

Reign The Conqueror from Amazon

Reign The Conqueror theme Worthy Of Your Soul on Youtube

Washed Out

Mister Mellow

img_6388Washed Out – Mister Mellow

About 5 years ago I stumbled across Washed Out’s first full length release, 2011’s Within Without, and became an instant fan of Ernest Greene’s, the guy who is anything but washed out. He truly upped his game with the release of Paracosm a couple of years later. It made my top 10 list for 2013 easily. And now the seemingly long wait for new material is over with Mister Mellow, a name which brings to mind the smooth jazz mid-’70s trumpet of Maynard Ferguson. While this album isn’t that much of a departure for Washed Out it does have a different feel than his previous work.

All of Washed Out’s material seems to drift almost aimlessly and effortlessly between styles and genres, creating a musical journey that can sometimes feel collage-like while somehow staying within the realm of the chill wave genre. The biggest difference with Mister Mellow to me is how even when it morphs into an upbeat segment it is still very laid back in its production and approach. The album is so much this way that I’m not sure if its best listened to late at night as a come down or on a lazy sunny morning, so I’m going to go with both! In the past I’ve been asked to describe Washed Out’s sound as I was waxing poetical about them to an uninitiated listener. I finally settled on saying “Imagine The Beach Boys being remixed by The Orb” (yes, I know I’m strange). Well even stranger I said that repeatedly a number of years ago and it feels to me to be truer on Mister Mellow than ever.

Another cool aspect of this record is that included with the CD (and on his website and YouTube) is a DVD of a visual version of the album. I like that they are not called music videos for the songs because they are much more abstract than that. The material runs the gamut from weird stop motion animation to trippy collages to what appear to be old home movies. All of the visuals from the stunning to the mundane compliment the music nicely creating an enjoyable alternative way to experience the album but they are not essential and, sorry Ernest but this is a compliment, will never be the equal of the mental imagery his music creates for me all by itself.

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Rick Wakeman

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Deluxe Box Set)

img_6394Rick Wakeman – Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Deluxe Box Set)

This package is the perfect snapshot of prog rock at its glorious art-filled high-concept, somewhat self indulgent, zenith. Inside you will find a musical journey based on a Jules Verne book complete with narrator, choir, symphony and progressive art rock backing band, all overseen by a blonde tressed man in a cape behind a wall of minimoogs and mellotrons. It may be hard to believe today that an album such as this was a groundbreaking, Grammy-nominated, gold selling, chart topping smash but sometimes truth is stranger than art school fiction class.

In 1974 Rick Wakeman, known for his stints with progressive rock giants Yes and session work for Bowie, T. Rex and Elton John put his career and life-savings on the line to stage two live shows of his concept art piece. Performing to sold out crowds at London’s Royal Festival Hall, a venue more inclined to classical performances than keyboards played over adventure film projections, he recorded this live masterpiece.

This is actually the middle record of his concept album trifecta comprised of 1974’s The Six Wives Of Henry The VIII, 1975’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (live) and 1976’s The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table. These albums had a profound impact on the development of my arty side when I first discovered them as a pre-teen in the late ’70s. I had never heard anything like it and was frankly blown away that someone could combine rock music, orchestration, singing and voiceovers to tell a story. Simply put it rocked my small world and expanded my young mind.

This new deluxe box set contains a freshly remastered version of the album with a extra bonus track. Also included are two additional full live recordings of Journey, one from Boston in 1974 as well and another from Buenos Aires in 1993. The set’s fourth disc is a DVD audio quad surround sound mix and a hi-res stereo mix of the original album. That’s a hell of a lot of prog rock goodness. The new master sounds incredible, the Boston show was taken from a bootleg and is a bit echo-y but the Buenos Aries disc is a great document of how updated technology can capture much greater dynamics from a live performance. Roger Dean of fantasy art and Yes album cover fame provided original artwork for this set which also comes with a mini-replica of the original Japanese tour program and booklet documenting the recording of the album along with some great period photos.

All told this album has sold upwards of 15 million copies worldwide, spawned a 2010 re-recording and a 2013 sequel and whether you think it is bloated and corny or an achievement of high art it deserves a listen as a document of a time before punk and disco came along and washed all remnants of prog (other than Pink Floyd and Rush) from the mainstream.

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Rick Wakeman Website
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Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Deluxe Box Set) from Amazon
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