Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bob Dylan Live 1966
Various Artists Love and Circuits: A Cardboard Records Compilation (From Aa to Zs) 2CD
John Bender I Don't Remember
John Bender Pop Surgery

The May 17, 1966 Bob Dylan electric set at Manchester Free Trade Hall is legendary of course (it's the "Judas" one) but I think the solo acoustic set that opened the show is just as monumental. In fact, I think the explosive reaction during the electric set was just as much of a response to the acoustic set, which was just as challenging, but in a context where the audience did not feel like they could respond. First of all, they were supposed to be comfortable with acoustic Bob Dylan, but he was playing these songs with a terrifying trance-state laser precision that no one could have expected, digging at the audience slowly and steadily with sharp otherwordly enunciation of mind-boggling lyrics and utterly daring free-falling harmonica solos. No one wanted to be the first one to say anything about it - the setting was too quiet, too churchlike - but when the electric band came out with their amps blazing, not only was the challenge doubled, the audience suddenly had all the permission and context they needed to voice their discomfort, and that's what they did, infamously. Seriously though, I don't know where to begin as far as assessing what Dylan was doing with these acoustic sets. I could talk about how (according to Clinton Heylin in Behind the Shades Revisited) he was snorting heroin before these sets (and how it actually worked for him... just listen to the music, and as the man later said, "Drugs were never that big a thing with me, I could take 'em or leave 'em, never hung me up..."), or how those mad harmonica solos remind me of contemporaneous free jazz innovations, or the way his heartbroken voice makes "Just Like A Woman" not a putdown song (if it ever was) but a song of complete and total sympathy for the helpless childlike state this otherwise strong grown person has been driven to... but I just can't assess this performance in a mere blog post and I hope I'll never be able to because I'd rather just listen. The Cardboard Records thing is just too big and sprawling (57 artists) and I'm not very good at listening to comps. I think I listened to all of Disc 1 and really the only thing I can report on at all is the very first track, by Aa. This might be the first time I've ever heard 'em, and it was nice, bouncy and hepped-up world-music avant-pop, like only the good things about David Byrne (there actually are some) amped up for the 2000s. Other than that I have nothing specific to say but there are a lot of notables on here: Bipolar Bear, Ecstatic Sunshine (wait! I remember their track, it was a near-flamenco guitar duet, unexpected and refreshing), Fat Day, Fuck Buttons, Gowns, High Places, Japanther, Lovid, Numbers, The Oh Sees, Oneida, Parts & Labor, These Are Powers, Zs.... I like all the John Bender albums but his first one from 1980, I Don't Remember Now, remains my favorite. It's got the most spaced-out laid-back synth patterns and chill nervous vocals. From there he got a little more self-consciously dark and weird and odd, I think, more like something on Ralph Records. His third full-length Pop Surgery (1983) is still a fine album though. Here's an interesting John Bender fan-site type thing, which, on this page, reveals a fascinating historical connection - the original 1981 LP issue of the Velvet Underground Columbus 1966 Valleydale Ballroom recording was done on Bender's label Record Sluts (referred to only as RS... click here for a cover image and some more info).

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