Welcome to our May edition of Detour’s Picks!
This month we decided to go with live performances!
With the summer fast approaching me and the guys have been reminiscing about the great summer shows and festivals we’ve been able to take part in and to see. This got us thinking about some famous live recordings, and led to us deciding to showcase some here in our monthly round up. And when it comes to live shows, it’s hardly fair to compare any other show to a Grateful Dead show. The Dead are arguably my favourite band, and having countless legendary shows it was pretty obvious which artist I’d be showcasing.
Since this roundup is for the month of May, what better show to choose than one that took place in this month. 08/05/77 at Barton Hall remains one of the most iconic Dead live shows, as well as being a model representation of this era of the band. Boasting an impeccable setlist with mythical status songs such as St. Stephen, Scarlet Begonias/Fire On The Mountain, Jack Straw, Brown Eyed Women, and more. It’s pretty hard to choose just one song from the show, but I’ve selected Deal from the middle of the first set, although Morning Dew gets an honorable mention. I strongly recommend putting on the whole entire show though.
What I really love about the Grateful Dead, and why it was a no-brainer to include them here, is the energy and purity of their music. Their blend of blues, folk, rock, jazz, funk and everything in between is just a perfect display of the best aspects of modern western music. Combine this with the absolute blast that they have every single night, having a party on stage with every member of the band getting in on the fun. Their long improvisations and jam sections allow the songs to be like living beings, adapting and changing and never the same. This draws you back every time, waiting to see what magic they conjure up, whether it be your favorite song or a detour to a new song that makes you appreciate it even more. For example the song Morning Dew I mentioned earlier, begins slowly and delicately, tentatively teasing the climax that eventually blossoms with an epic guitar solo and group improvisation.
Similarly, Deal, although a more traditional blues/rock song, begins with a rolling and tumbling groove that you can’t help but move along with. Then builds up to an amazing crescendo (after an equally epic guitar solo) with everyone joining in on the vocals repeating the refrain “Don’t you let that deal go down”, which is just a contagious energy and vibe forcing you to join and sing along.
Since we decided to look at live performances for this month’s theme, I had to pick one of my all-time favourite examples: U2’s The Fly, live from the 2001 Elevation Tour in Boston. I remember watching this video online as a teenager and realizing just how much the live element can transform a song. The studio version of The Fly, from 1991, Achtung Baby, was a track I always enjoyed, but would never have considered to be the standout tune of its album. That same record featured famous songs like Mysterious Ways, Even Better Than the Real Thing, and One, leaving The Fly somewhat overshadowed. This live performance adds so much to the song, giving it new dynamics and intensity, and a larger-than-life presence. It’s such a big change that It’s honestly difficult for me to go back to the original studio version.
It starts with a slow, subdued intro that presents a completely different feel from the album’s version of the song. Edge’s quite guitar and Bono’s vocals stand alone, and the massive screens that make up the stage’s backdrop are dark. Then, the arena lights up as the rhythm drops, and that familiar guitar riff kicks in. Bono’s voice throughout this song is as great as ever, and his performance here has what I’d almost call a theatrical quality. He talk-sings through the verses, strolls about in an exaggerated manner, reaches out into the crowd, and at one point even runs full tilt around the enormous stage.
But as fun as Bono’s antics are, they’re not the reason I picked this performance. At around 4 minutes in, this video features what I consider to be Edge’s greatest guitar solo. He’s a master of the pedal board, and he shows it here, playing a piece that’s a perfect example of his unique style. It’s simple enough, but so clear and powerful, and merges beautifully back with the chorus vocals. U2 have a sound that I’ve really never heard duplicated by another band, and this performance shows that they don’t need any help from the studio to bring that sound to life.
I just love the raw musicianship on Where The Light Is, and it was a perfect pick for this month. John Mayer, Pino Palladino, and Steve Jordan make up the John Mayer Trio, playing the first half of the show. Then once the song Vultures kicks in, they slot into the full John Mayer band for the rest of the night. Stand out tracks are Who Did You Think I Was, Vultures, Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, Gravity, and I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You). That last one is my favourite track from the show.
I Don’t Trust Myself opens on a super extended intro with its own self-contained groove, then Steve Jordan fills into the groove on a deep tuned, really open snare. The groove is so laid back, and Pino is actually playing bass fills in between the full band bass player, with slaps and diads all over, giving so much more harmonic texture and complexity. John’s affected guitar and all the layers amongst the guitars are so well slotted in. There’s an end jam with John ripping over it, a key change in there somewhere, it’s a great song.
Vultures has such a driving groove, and Pino and John just weaving in between each other to build the progression is such a cool tone. There’s a special appreciation, too, for the backup vocals and horns that are all over this show, and they are super tight. I mean every musician on that stage is among the most experienced and highest skilled in their respective instruments but those little ear candy moments filled with horn lines and vocal stacks are so in the pocket and flawless that you won’t get tired listening over and over, if just for those moments. If you’re a guitar lover, John’s playing is undeniable, and I can’t stop talking about how great all the session players are in this performance. Where The Light Is, Live at the Nokia Theatre is a masterclass in musicianship.
On January 30th, 1969, on the rooftop of the Apple Corporation Building in London, history was never the same. For this month the lads and I, missing live music so much and manifesting it will be back soon, decided for our May song picks to be our favourite live performance. If you don’t know what I was hinting at, and what happened on that London rooftop in 1969, please immediately go do some Youtubing. What you will find is possibly the most famous live concert in Rock and Roll history, the last time The Beatles played live as a group. Online you can find a million articles and websites that have talked and reviewed this performance a thousand times over, so I’ll just stick to the actual performance rather than the history.
One of the greatest things about the whole performance is the fact it feels almost like a last minute decision. At least for the public it was definitely not advertised whatsoever. The four of them, accompanied by Billy Preston on keys, started what would be a 40-minute set of recent, never before heard material. What is so amazing to me, is that even with all the rumours and possible bad blood and stress that was reported to have been going on within the group at the time, they look like they are absolutely loving it up there together. The harmonies from John and Paul are spot on and they still very much have that connection between them that people grew to love. On “Don’t Let Me Down” Paul and John rip into some amazingly tasty rasp vocals and Billy is just going nuts on the keys. As he riffs off in the ending chorus, it really fills out the sound. He fits in so well with the other four on these never-before-played live versions of the songs. One of the best light hearted moments is when you hear John admit he’ll need to see the lyrics when about to go into “Dig a Pony” which leads to a young man kneeling down in front of him with a clip board of the lyrics sheet for the full length of the song. George gets a kick out of it and kneels down with him momentarily to play to John. When the crowd starts building on the street and people start climbing up various rooftops to view the fab four the cops then do come into the picture. This is interesting, when they are finishing up with “Get Back” the cops are seen coming on to the rooftop and having a discussion with a rep for The Beatles, who then relays what the police are saying to George and John. All the while Paul and Ringo continue to play without missing a beat, eventually John and George join back in and they all sing the chorus “Get back, get back, get back to where you once belong” in unison as the cops are see leaving the roof. And if that isn’t Rock and Roll, I don’t know that is.