Music / Bob Dylan — Ten of Swords

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Last week­end, my friend Greg invit­ed me over to lis­ten to his copy of Ten of Swords, the clas­sic 20-side Dylan boot­leg. It con­tains a com­pre­hen­sive — no, exhaus­tive — selec­tion of live shows, alter­nate takes, and demoes from Dylan's most ground­break­ing years — 1961–1966. The high­light is the infa­mous Man­ches­ter show from 1966; it's filled with mur­mur­ing dis­ap­proval of Dylan's elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and reach­es a cli­max when an audi­ence mem­ber shouts "Judas!" right before the band kicks into "Like a Rolling Stone." (A side note: One of the most sat­is­fy­ing things about No Direc­tion Home, Mar­tin Scorsese's biopic of Dylan, is the rev­e­la­tion that Dylan, after hear­ing the taunts, shouts to his band: "Play it fxxk­ing loud!" as they launch into the song). Since the release of Ten of Swords, many, if not most, of the tracks (includ­ing the entire "Judas!" show) have been mined by Colum­bia and assem­bled into offi­cial releas­es (with bet­ter sound qual­i­ty, it should be said), but this didn't damp­en the thrill of hear­ing tracks like "I Was Young When I Left Home" on the orig­i­nal, illic­it vinyl. All I could think after­wards was: Thank good­ness there was no eBay dur­ing the height of my Bob Dylan craze. UPDATE: An infor­ma­tive Salon arti­cle about the 2004 release of the Rolling Thun­der bootleg.UPDATE: Damn you, eBay! As I was get­ting a sense of what Ten of Swords might cost nowa­days — curios­i­ty, noth­ing more, I swear — I noticed a Bea­t­les boot­leg set called The Com­plete BBC Ses­sions, a sort of Bea­t­les-ori­ent­ed Ten of Swords in response to the offi­cial ver­sion called Live at the BBC. The num­bers: 10CDs, 239 tracks and a vari­ety of chat­ter on the Com­plete Ses­sions to 2CDs, 60+ tracks, a lit­tle chat­ter on the offi­cial release. This NYT cri­tique of Live at the BBC issues some point­ed crit­i­cism at the Bea­t­les' label: "While Apple has fid­dled and lit­i­gat­ed, boot­leg­gers have catered plen­ti­ful­ly to col­lec­tors inter­est­ed in these things."

music the ancient past

Silver Jews / 27 goes into 50,000

In the Sil­ver Jews song "Trains Across the Sea," there's a line that goes: "In 27 years, I've drunk 50,000 beers, and they just wash against me like the sea into a pier." That's 5+ beers a day from birth until your 28th birth­day. If you start at 16, you're drink­ing a 12-pack a day to get there. (I didn't account for leap years, actu­al­ly, so you'd have 2–3 days to let your liv­er recov­er dur­ing those 11 years).Recently, I came across a diary I kept in 1994, the year I moved to Cal­i­for­nia. I was clear­ly obsessed with the Sil­ver Jews at the time, and I'd done a lit­tle math in the mar­gin to cal­cu­late how I matched up to them, beer-wise. (I was 22 at the time). Shock­ing­ly, I found that I had to cram rough­ly 40,000 beers into the next 4.5 years. That's a lit­tle over one case per day, every­day, i.e. a true 24x7 sort of endeav­or. Did I make it? Short answer: No. How­ev­er, I did pre­dict that I'd be get­ting there by the time I was 33, my cur­rent age. Am I there yet? In my esti­ma­tion, no. Prob­a­bly not, any­way. My revised cal­cu­la­tions put me at the land­mark some­where around my 43rd birth­day. I'm com­ing for you, Dave Berman! Watch your back!

music tip

Dust it off / XTC, Skylarking


Here's my ques­tion: How did this become the "Dear God" album, con­sid­er­ing at least half the songs on it are as good or bet­ter? Damn you, Sarah McLach­lan. I hadn't lis­tened to it since maybe 1995, when Ted and I played the shit out of it. We both loved the Bea­t­les, and I had a fond­ness for the syn­thy 80's style. This album com­bines these qual­i­ties, and adds a lit­tle indie rock sen­si­bil­i­ty as well.Now that the Cars and Hall & Oates have been on heavy hip­ster rota­tion for the past year or so, I'm sur­prised that XTC haven't seen some props, espe­cial­ly for this album. Com­pared to oth­er XTC albums, the vocals are more blend­ed with the rest of the sound, rather than held above it, which reduces the sac­cha­rine edge of lat­er albums (Oranges & Lemons, for instance). Maybe XTC just doesn't have the kitschy cache of oth­er 80's bands, who knows?Incidentally, you can read more about the most well-known song on the album. Here's a fan of Sarah, explain­ing why it's okay to love Sarah even if she ques­tions the exis­tence of God: "I do not believe that you should rule out a whole singer or album just because of one song that you do not care for."

music tip

Dust it off / Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One

All Hands on the Bad One, baby

Most of my records, CDs and tapes sit idly in crates and on shelves, so here's what I'm going to do: Every so often, I'm going to dust one off and see what it sounds like. Dredge the archive, and take a good long lis­ten to some­thing I haven't heard in 2+ years. 

Tonight, I begin the exper­i­ment with a ran­dom­ly select­ed record: Sleater-Kinney's All Hands on the Bad One, which I'll admit I haven't lis­ten to in three years. Maybe four.

Here's the thing about Sleater-Kin­ney and me. I'm prob­a­bly one of the very few San Fran­cis­cans (of a cer­tain age and neigh­bor­hood) who *likes* them but doesn't *love* them and some­times wish­es they would cool it with the too-often shrill vocals. But of course every­one knows they're polit­i­cal­ly-active fem­i­nists who play punk rock, so what's my problem?

Let's talk about Bad One. It's got great moments: the title track and "The Pro­fes­sion­al" are rockin and fun — even after five years, they're a cou­ple of the all-time great songs to lis­ten to while rid­ing a bike. The prob­lem is that, for the most part, this album is huge step away from their ear­ly, raw sound, which had a lot less Heart-esque pow­er bal­lad voice. Songs like "Milk­shake n Hon­ey," and "Bal­lad of a Lady­man" fea­ture this voice, which for me is the ele­ment of their sound that rocks the least. (It comes down to this: If Car­rie Brown­stein har­mo­nizes with Corin Tuck­er on a song, chances are that I'll like it).

I'll say some­thing nice about them: I saw them move the crowd in a seri­ous way at Dolores Park one sum­mer. Their fans were freak­ing out, and the band itself was hav­ing fun and sound­ing good — even songs I didn't like were pret­ty great. I real­ly wish their albums cap­tured this bet­ter. But like any­thing, their sound can't be all things for all peo­ple, and they seem to please some group of peo­ple every­time they put out an album, so more pow­er to them.

music reviews san francisco

Music / Konono #1 lights it up

Last night, Konono #1 played the Palace of Fine Arts. Before the show, I was a lit­tle wor­ried that their scruffy, off-kil­ter sound may get washed-out by the fan­cy sound-sys­tem of the PoFA, and that they may end up sound­ing like lame-ass Ashke­naz-style "world music."But from the first moment, they total­ly ruled, and their sig­na­ture sound — with home­made elec­tric pick-ups for their ikem­bes (thumb pianos), dent­ed met­al discs serv­ing as cym­bals, and MASH-style mega­phones as a PA — was faith­ful­ly recre­at­ed. The PoFA is a cham­ber-music-style venue with cushy seats and lit­tle room to boo­gie, but most of the crowd was stand­ing and danc­ing by the third song, and groups crowd­ed at the sides of the stage to impro­vise a lit­tle dance floor. Their final song was an epic, 45-min­utes trance-induc­ing jam that had every­one clap­ping and chant­i­ng along with the track-suit-clad front man.Most remark­able was the vital­i­ty of it all, the sense that there was some­thing essen­tial and healthy and real being cre­at­ed. Each band member's intense, insis­tent pres­ence was spell-bind­ing, espe­cial­ly the old­er guy in the blue base­ball hat who trad­ed off with Mingie­di (the leader, pic­tured) on the thumb piano and per­cus­sion. He was locked into a seri­ous groove the whole night, bang­ing out pre­cise rhythms, and belt­ing out crisp, deep monot­o­ne har­monies that were jar­ring but some­how per­fect. It's not often that San Fran­cis­co crowds get up and shake their ass­es, so it was espe­cial­ly impres­sive that Konono #1 made danc­ing in a con­cert hall on Sun­day night seem total­ly natural.

music san francisco

Music / Oakland blown up by Japanther.

Kill em all

A bunch of us jour­neyed to Oak­land to watch Japan­ther kill em all at a house par­ty. 50 peo­ple + 12'x12' liv­ing room + 40's & Crown Roy­al = sweat & may­hem = just anoth­er Mon­day night in Oak­land. Also on the bill: XBXRX (wore match­ing orange leo­tards, broke the stage), I Hate You When You're Preg­nant (per­formed in a speedo), some pre-teens in drag, Jeto­mi, and a trio that fea­tured some punk rock sax­o­phone freak-outs.