|Boombox Bootlegs - Tape 4|
|Written by Gaz E|
|Sunday, 19 February 2012 05:30|
Y'know how people discover that an important figure from their past, a youth club leader perhaps, maybe a football coach, had a dark secret - kiddie fiddling, generally - and, though you have great memories of the person that you thought that you knew and feel like you should defend, deep down you realise that the monster that they have now turned into is an unforgiveable, and shit stained, shadow of their former selves? Well that's how I feel about Kerrang! magazine.
While that once great, and wholly important and influential it must be stressed, publication treads water nowadays by filling its glossy pop pages with identikit fashion victims and unhealthy lashings of beige boys in tight denim shorts and boating shoes, it was the only place to find out what was happening in the rock world in that curious pre-internet age when only the people in your house knew what you were having for dinner and a sprinkling of snow in winter didn't result in a moronic horde of finger-on-pulsers taking photos of their gardens and car dashboards.
No, in the dark ages we struggled to survive by seeking out great albums and gigs by great bands. Kinda like now. But with a touch of grammar still alive and well in the United Kingdom.
One of those great bands that I, and very possibly you, discovered in the once-coveted pages of the one mighty K! was The Black Crowes.
Listening, at the insistence of The Dogs D'Amour and Quireboys, to the Faces and the Stones 24/7 and pretending that our hair metal blip never happened, The Black Crowes, and their stunning debut, 'Shake Your Money Maker', couldn't have fallen into our wanton rock 'n' roll laps at a more perfect time.
Making their European live debut at Holland's Pink Pop festival on June 4th 1990, alongside the likes of The Mission, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Melissa Etheridge and Texas, The Black Crowes hit UK shores for the first time three days later, playing the Marquee on the first of five headline dates that preceded a three night stint supporting The Dogs D'Amour.
The final night of the Dogs' tour was at the Astoria on June 15th and, alongside several handsome gentlemen who trouble you with their cultured thoughts on rock music on this very website, I was there, front and centre to see The Black Crowes (and no disrespect is intended towards the headline act, who I loved) blow the Dogs off the stage with a startling support set. This band, led by an incredible voice made flesh who wore the feathercut hair that we all wanted to get but were to afraid to chop our flowing locks into, were on fire. Forget the maudlin deadhead jammed bollocks that the band slooooowly turned into, if you saw the band on that first UK tour then you would have to have been a deadhead already to not have that voice and those tunes move you.
Prior to those three dates with Tyla, Bam, Steve and Jo, Nottingham Rock City and Manchester International 2 shows preceding the Astoria date, the band followed their Marquee debut with shows at Walsall's Junction 10, Goldwyn's in Birmingham, Newcastle Riverside and Glasgow Barrowlands: I know, just hearing those venue names again rather than HMV this and O2 that is heart warming. I have a VHS bootleg from the Crowes/Dogs Manchester gig but I just couldn't bring myself to take my VCR out of mothballs, where it resides alongside those two thousand Phantom Menace toys that, seriously, are gonna fund my retirement. No, there was no need for the visual as I had in my bootleg tape archive, on a cool as fuck black Memorex dB 90 cassette, the penultimate headline show in its entirety.
The Black Crowes - Newcastle, Riverside - 11th June 1990
Live shows from The Black Crowes were usually famous, and beloved, for one major reason: Chris Robinson's vocals, ad-libbed and of the moment, really made you feel that every time that a song was played that it was truly unique, that the album version of songs was just that take at that time. That feature is present on this vintage piece of rock 'n' roll history, perhaps not as predominantly as at other times, but that is not the reason why this tape holds so much interest. Those 1990 Crowes shows saw a young band growing and learning as they went along with many songs debuting at various points during the world tour in support of the debut album, covers and originals, some of which would never be recorded and some of those that did get recorded doing so in very different form.
The Memorex kisses the ear with a snippet of the intro tape; the Elmore James tune from which the Black Crowes stole their debut album title. 'Thick 'N' Thin' opens and the first thing that hits is the fact that this is a really well-recorded bootleg - good work, audio thief!
"Wow, it's fucking hot in here," says Chris Robinson, seriously lacking in the onstage patter department at this early stage of the band's career, before a really meaty guitar introduces 'You're Wrong'. Now, this song might not be wholly familiar to the casual Crowes fan but if I told you that, with a complete lyrical overhaul, it appeared in its reworked form as 'Sting Me' on 'The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion' then you may well understand. That, though, is not the reason that this particular song resonates with me. In the pre-Google days of yore, when homework was done by humans on the last night of the summer holidays, trying to work out the title of a song that had never been released was quite the chore. 'You're Wrong', my esteemed colleague Johnny H would argue, was actually called 'Yellow Door'. Yes, he would sing it over the chorus (after I had copied this tape for everyone I knew, Johnny Colt threatening to kick my parents' front door down and sue me for every penny, Ulrich-style) to prove it in a classic turn of failure that he will no doubt deny, claiming forgetfulness given his cricket score of an age. Apart from a timeless faux pas at the Kiss reunion show at Donington in 1996 which me and my hetero-life-mate Matt Blakout still giggle over to this day that revolved around a punter wearing a Kiss 'Deuce' shirt that JH claimed was great apart from the fact that it had the wrong lyrics on the back (even though the lyrics were correct and he had simply grown up singing them incorrectly behind his bedroom [yellow] door) this Black Crowes misfit would entertain me for years....and now you.....
"By the way, we're The Black Crowes," Robinson says before a line of vocals sets up the guitar intro to 'Twice As Hard': "You like that one?" he asks. "I believe you...." A song from the debut's sessions that never got recorded follows: blessed with some cool backing vocals, 'Kick The Devil Outta Me' motors along in a cleaner, slightly more commercial fashion, reminiscent of the polish that Jim Cregan had sprayed over the Quireboys' barroom at the time. It might have been left off the record for a reason then but, with a severe dearth of snappy tuneage from the band these days, finds like this are the rock 'n' roll equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"Young Rich" opens up the great 'Sister Luck' which evolves into one of the finest performances captured on this relic of audio excellence. This is the song where Chris Robinson really lets go with that voice of his and, changes all over the shop, nails a fantastic alternate take on an already fine song.
"I was dreaming of the past...." kisses the PA and the guy in the crowd next to the bootlegger can hardly believe that the Crowes' version of 'Jealous Guy' is upon him. He sings every word, not too shabbily either, but nothing in comparison to Robinson who, seriously, makes this the best version of the song since the original, ably assisted by a gorgeous Cease guitar solo. "You could say I was jealous again," Chris adds to the song's end, although it would be some time before that classic hit the air.
"I'm too skinny to be sweating like this," he says before cool drums and slide guitar introduce the mysterious 'You're Such A Pity'. This song would, with a tempo and complete lyric (the chorus excepted) change, become 'Tied Up and Swallowed' which appeared on early editions of 'Amorica' as a bonus track before finding its home on 'The 'Tall' Sessions' disc of 2006's 'The Lost Crowes' rarities release. The early version here is cool though its riff finds it edging towards Little Caesar territory which, although that band had a keen ear for seminal cover tunes themselves, bordered on the street metal sub-genre which was showing its dirty face at the dawn of the new decade.
Another song from the '...Money Maker' sessions follows: 'Waiting Guilty' was familiar to some, one of the paying punters caught on tape when the song is introduced seems particularly pleased, as it had appeared on the UK single release of 'Jealous Again'. Swathed in slide guitar, the song suffers from a lack of a memorable hook of any kind and its positioning as a B-side seemed just about right. On the subject of singles, Robinson tells the Geordie faithful that they should pick up the tempo and with a quick "Ya ready to sing some?" 'Hard To Handle' is filling the auditorium with popular Nineties hit. Strangely, Robinson's worst vocal performance of the whole show accompanies the band's famed cover of the Otis Redding standard. He misses more words than Vince Neil who, let's be honest, if he missed oncoming vehicles like he missed lyrics would have left the rock 'n' roll world in a much better position, rhythmically.
The show's brief low point is followed by a couple of tunes from the debut, 'Could I Have Been So Blind' and 'Stare It Cold', which are solid yet unspectacular before Robinson tells everyone that they're "about to get Jealous Again," knocking out a great version of the hit single before leaving the stage, a clichéd "...and we're outta here..." the best the stage patter is gonna get.
Yes, The Black Crowes grew up way too quickly and became your piss-smelling uncle who sits in the corner of family gatherings being avoided by everyone, but don't hold it against them. Everyone changes, everyone moves on. If the thought of a ten minute bearded jam drives you to despair then do what I do: pull that loft ladder down and spend half an hour with the spider skeletons and Grange Hill annuals pulling out those shoe boxes of cassettes that might not fit handily in your pocket, might not sit easily with a thousand of their mates on your iPod, but house a million cool memories.