The bootlegging of concerts has long been a fly in the ointment for the recording business. Academically, the illegally recorded and sold albums can represent important musical documents: missing links, alternate performances, developmental studies. The biggest problem is that the artists don't benefit from their sale financially (nor do the record companies, but that's another issue). With the advent of the internet and improved digital recording technology, some bands have taken matters into their own hands.
In ancient analog times, the Grateful Dead simply allowed their shows to be recorded (audience recordings are generally of poor quality.) The band then began a deluge of material with the Dick's Picks series and various live boxes, catching up with the compact disc revolution. In 2000, Pearl Jam and Sony made the bold move to release recordings of an entire domestic concert tour (72 two-disc volumes) to address bootlegging issues. This was an expensive endeavor that resulted in a lot of mediocre material seeing the light of day, seasoned by a few classic performances.
In a similar manner, The Who captured their 2002 tour and marketed it as The Who Encore Series through themusic.com. The band have gone on to do the same for their 2004 and 2006 tours. Following in themusic.com's footsteps is another enterprising label, Instant Live, who have released live recordings parallel to a given act's major label contractual obligations on behalf of the Allman Brothers Band, the Black Crowes, and Collective Soul. These types of arrangements are well suited to jam band performances, whose improvised-heavy concerts differ, sometimes dramatically, from night to night.
Add to the mix, MunckMix, a further evolution in the live recording paradigm. MunckMix sports a stable that includes Little Feat, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Weir's Ratdog, and performances from the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. MunckMix do the actual recordings themselves.
MunckMix is considered a music merchandising company and not a record company, label, artist agency, booking agent, publisher or mail order house. The outfit's mission is "to help musicians merchandise and sell their music to the public in such a cost-effective and convenient way that they can make a decent living off their art while offering a great value to their fans.
MunckMix accomplishes their task by wedding innovative marketing with cutting edge digital technology, and eliminating most of the overhead costs associated with large record companies. MunckMix acts as a conduit between musicians and fans, through on-line sales of CDs or downloads. This eliminates distribution expenses by doing away with production and inventory costs.
But enough of the technical stuff, what about the music?
Little Feat are foremost a live band who like to stretch things out. Even under the relatively tight reigns of Lowell George on Waiting for Columbus, the band exuded an improvisatory air suitable for the nom de guerre jam band. The band have released several live recordings since launching their Hot Tomato Records, including, Barnstormin' Volumes One And Two, High Wire Act Live In St. Louis, Down Upon The Suwannee River and Live At Rams Head. What all of these recordings lack are the cover tunes that frequently show up in a standard Little Feat show, like the one I witnessed at Little Feat Live At the Wildwood Park For The Performing Arts. MunckMix remedied this.
Brescia, Italy, June 30, 2004
This Italian show contains all of the usual suspects: "Dixie Chicken, "Old Folks Boogie, "Down On The Farm, "Willin'. The ingenious thing is how these songs are arranged and seasoned with cover material. "Time Loves A Hero becomes "Day and Night as it did on Waiting For Columbus, and "Spanish Moon becomes "Skin It Back as it often has. But in "Down On The Farm, Mississippi John Hurt's "Candyman gets slipped in, providing Paul Barrere the chance to show off his blues chops. Peter Tosh's "Get Up, Stand Up emerges from "Fat Man In The Bathtub and in a perfect marriage, the Dead's "Tennessee Jed follows Feat's "Oh Atlanta within the carcass of "Dixie Chicken (along with "Dark Star and "So What teasers). Such a polyglot musical attitude makes for an exciting show.
The post-Lowell George Little Feat continue to grow with their newer material, represented here by "The Daily Grind, "Cajun Rage and "Cadillac Hotel. No matter the source or period of the song, the band likes to stretch things out with extended introductions and solos. Paul Barrere and Bill Payne have firmly assumed the creative throne of the band, graciously permitting all involved to contribute equally (something George was loath to do on occasion). Of note are the Shaun Murphy vehicles "On Your Way Down and "Daily Grind.
This particular release has the poorest cleanup of all the MunckMix products I have heard. But in saying that, the post-concert production retains the reality feel of the performances. The vocals are way out front and are unmolested. No reverb, delay, or echo. Warts and all, this is how music really sounds.
Portland, OR, March 12, 2005
Perhaps slightly more appealing than the Italian show is this Portland, OR show from a year later. Paul Barrere gives a slide guitar seminar, beginning with "Rocket In My Pocket and ending with "Oh Atlanta. Out of the ordinary are the infrequently played "Rad Gumbo and "Stomp. Bob Dylan's "Train To Cry is completely possessed by Shaun Murphy (and almost every other jam band playing). "Rock & Roll Doctor, played with force and momentum, is also sung by Murphy.
Central to this set is the waist-deep "Willin' medley. The band deftly navigates through "Don't Bogart That Joint, "Long Black Veil and "The Weight, the latter two vehicles used by The Band. Clocking in at just under 19 minutes, "Willin' offers an exciting microcosm not captured on the standard label live releases. One gets the impression that this truly is a Little Feat show. Arkansas-native Fred Tackett's mandolin is featured as well as Bill Payne's organ and piano. Relaxed and ready, the band weaves the same magic again with "Dixie Chicken, assimilating "Dark Star, "So What, and "The Mosquito Wars in a 30-minute rock orgy. Sensible excess might best describe the result. This is Little Feat perfectly captured in the 21st Century.
Bruce Hornsby began his successful career as a 1990s Christopher Crossa sensitive, piano-playing, composer-singer capable of spinning pastoral tales of love, loss and dreaming. In Hornsby's case, something happened along the way. Hornsby performed with the Grateful Dead, produced Leon Russell, and had written songs for Huey Lewis And The News ("Jacob's Ladder ) and Don Henley ("The End Of The Innocence ). All of these experiences caused Hornsby to evolve into the smartest, most savvy jam band leader to emerge from the ashes of the Grateful Dead.
With no fear, Hornsby began to rework his old material, write new material and transform other's material nightly on stage. He infused his shows with his jazz jones, making the shows events rather than concerts. Hornsby has updated the be-bop practice of using existing Tin Pan Alley harmonic structures for the scaffolding of improvisation, by simply substituting his own existing canon for that of Tin Pan Alley. By doing so, he built a potent following much like that of the '70s and '80s Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic and the String Cheese Incident.
Using MunckMix, Hornsby has released numerous shows from the past four years. Considered here are a November 6, 2004 show from the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA and an August 20, 2005 show from The Biltmore Estates in Ashville, North Carolina.
Philadelphia, PA, November 6, 2004
Hornsby opens his November 6, 2004 show with an elaborate solo take on The Soul Stirrers' "How Far Am I From Canaan. Using both acoustic piano and synthesizer, Hornsby brilliantly spins the Prophet's thoughts as:
. . .the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. Deuteronomy 34:4-5
Following a solo "Night On The Town from his 1990 recording of the same title, Hornsby brings out his bandkeyboardist John Thomas, reedsman Bobby Read, bassist JV Collier, guitarist Doug Derryberry, drummer Sonny Emoryand a score of extras who just happen to show up from appearance to appearance. Hornsby and band explore their musical corpus well with seamless, extended performances that often combine original compositions with rare music associated with Hornsby's long career, creating flowing tone poems. A memorable example is the fiddle tune "Drunken Hiccups used as an introduction to "Jacob's Ladder.
Hornsby isn't shy of changing his top 40 fare into barely recognizable new incarnations. It's this transmogrification that makes jazz as exciting as it is. With Hornsby's almost endless musical imagination, the approach mostly works. Judging from crowd response, it always works.
If Hornsby's early music was smart, his later music is smarter. His most recent studio recording, Halcyon Days, donates several songs to performance, including, "Gonna Be Some Changes Made, "Lost In The Snow, and "Hooray For Tom. These are crafted songs full of wit and intelligence. The band turns out to be less a group of soloists than an ensemble speaking with a solo voice. Hornsby and band operate on the same high level as the best jazz ensembles.
Ashville, NC, August 20, 2005
These Ashville sets have no solo material on them. Hornsby and his band blow and blow over the entire three discs. Electrified and sanctified, Hornsby performs his quasi-bluegrass in "Big Rock Candy Mountain, which morphs into its brother "Candy Mountain Run. At the audience's request, the band plays the old "Changes ("The Changes, a deft little jazz tune) and the new "Changes ("Gonna Be Some Changes Made. ) An inspired "Mandolin Rain consumes "Row Jimmy and then is presented in a minor key. An extended "White-Wheeled Limousine tells the tale of a Groom's indiscretion on his wedding day, while "Jacob's Ladder hugs "Pig In A Pen and "Stranger In A Strange Land.
Permeating all Bruce Hornsby performances is his largely percussive piano playing. Hornsby's musicianship is subtle and could be mistaken for all sounding the same. But, gentle listener, train your ear. There are many rewards in Bruce Hornsby's music, as summed up in the set closer, "Across The River dancing with "Morning Dew.
The New Orleans Jazzfest
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 29, 2004
MunckMix has documented the annual New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival since 2004 by recording all major performances and assembling a Jazzfest Live Compilation for each year. This fortuitous partnership resulted in the last live recording of Clarence "Gatemouth Brown's final concert, just a month before Hurricane Katrina and his subsequent death in the fall of 2005. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Aural documentation also includes Allen Toussaint, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters, the Black Crowes, the Meters, and the Neville Brothers. Local talent Tab Benoit has also been an annual presence at the festival. Considered here is his April 29, 2004 performance in the Blues Tent.
Tab Benoit hales from Homa, LA, deep in French Cajun country. Benoit's particular brand of the blues reflects this. There are heavy slathering of all things Cajun and Zydeco in his music. His 2004 performance at the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival illustrates this. The show starts out with the Cajun rage, "I Got Loaded, from Benoit's 2002 recording, Wetlands. All that is lacking is a squeeze-box and washboard. His Cajun flair is also apparent in the gumbo mainstays of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya and the traditional "Iko, Iko.
The place where Benoit and his Telecaster sensibilities shine the most is on the slow blues. Benoit's superb original, "Nice And Warm, is given a superb 10-minute workout. The standard "Too Many Dirty Dishes is likewise treated to a callisthenic performance, with Benoit's chops fully exposed and exercised. This is a nice live document of Benoit, who truly deserves a wider audience.
Little Feat: Brescia, Italy, June 30, 2004
Tracks: CD1: Introduction; Cajun Rage; Time Loves A Hero; Day Or Night; Daily Grind; Down On The Farm-Candyman-Down On The Farm; Sailin' Shoes; Cadillac Hotel; Spanish Moon-Skin It Back; Old Folks Boogie. CD2:On Your Way Down; Dixie Chicken-Dark Star Tease-Dixie Chicken-Bass Solo-Keyboard Solo-Oh Atlanta-Tennessee Jed-Dixie Chicken; Fat Man In The Bathtub-Get Up, Stand Up-Fat Man In The Bathtub; Willin'.
Personnel: Fred Tackett: vocals, guitar, mandolin, trumpet; Paul Barrere: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Bill Payne: vocals, keyboards; Richie Hayward: vocals, drums; Shaun Murphy: vocals, tambourine; Sam Clayton: vocals, percussion; Kenny Gradney: bass guitar.
Little Feat: Portland, OR, March 12, 2005
Tracks: CD1: Rocket In My Pocket; Time Loves A Hero-Day Or Night; Rad Gumbo; Rock & Roll Doctor; Cajun Girl; Willin'-Don't Bogart That Joint-Long Black Veil-The Weight-Willin'. CD2: Stomp; Train To Cry; So What Jam-Dark Star Jam-Dixie Chicken-Mosquito Wars-Dixie Chicken; Happy Birthday Bill Payne; Old Folks Boogie; Oh Atlanta.
Fred Tackett: vocals, guitar, mandolin, trumpet;; Paul Barrere: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Bill Payne: vocals, keyboards; Richie Hayward: vocals, drums; Shaun Murphy: vocals, tambourine; Sam Clayton: vocals, percussion; Kenny Gradney: bass guitar.
Bruce Hornsby: Philadelphia, PA, November 6, 2004
Tracks: CD1: How Far Am I From Canaan; Night On The Town; Lost In The Snow; Funhouse; Preacher In The Ring Pt. 1; Preacher In The Ring Pt. 2. CD2: Stage Banter; Gonna Be Some Changes Made; The Way It Is; Hooray For Tom; Across The River; Mirror On The Wall; The Tide Will Rise; Drunken Hiccups > Jacob's Ladder. Disc 3: Resting Place; Fields Of Gray > That's Where It's At; Rainbow's Cadillac; Dreamland; King Of The Hill; Mandolin Rain.
Personnel: Bruce Hornsby: keyboards, vocals; other musicians not identified.
Bruce Hornsby: Ashville, NC, August 20, 2005
Tracks: CD1: Big Rock Candy Mountain-Candy Mountain Run; The Good Life; The Changes; Gonna Be Some Changes Made; Defenders Of The Flag; Mandolin Rain-Row Jimmy-Mandolin Rain; White Wheeled Limousine. CD2: The Way It Is; Big Rumble; Mandolin Rain (In Minor Key); Fortunate Son-Comfortably Numb-Fortunate Son; Jacob's Ladder-Pig In A Pen-Stranger In A Strange Land-Jacob's Ladder; The Valley Road; Disc 3: End Of The Innocence; Swan Song-Across The River-Morning Dew-Across The River.
Personnel: Bruce Hornsby: keyboards, vocals; other musicians not identified.
Tab Benoit: New Orleans Jazzfest, April 29, 2004
Tracks: I Got Loaded; Travelin' South; Nice And Warm; Her Mind Is Gone; Away Way Too Long; Too Many Dirty Dishes; Sew, Sew, Sew; Encore Introduction; Jambalaya-Iko Iko-Jambalaya.
Personnel: Tab Benoit: guitars, vocals; other musicians not identified.