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The Major Lift

By Erik Hage

As we head into the crucible of the holiday season, it’s probably best to stick with the tried and true when purchasing music for others. (Now is probably not the time to bounce the new Rihanna album off of Aunt Carol, for example.) Fortunately, a lot of blue-chip musical giants are weighing in—with recent releases that include a couple of live records, a remastered classic, and an inter- generational supergroup.

Paul McCartney capitalized on the sort of instant nostalgia he embodies—and provided a rare bright spot in the Mets’ season—by releasing his summer 2009 Citi Field concert on audio and DVD formats as Good Evening New York City. (The show was, obviously, a nod to the Beatles’ hallowed 1965 Shea Stadium concert.) The live collection is heavy on well-executed and hyper-polished takes on McCartney’s signature Beatles songs: “Eleanor Rigby,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Hey Jude,” Lady Madonna,” and “Yesterday.” There are also some interesting surprises, however, including “Day Tripper” (with sour flatting on the vocal) and “A Day in the Life,” both which allegedly haven’t been played live since their recording.

He also unleashed a touching tribute to George Harrison via “Something,” which swells from a quaint opening (with Macca on ukulele) to the kind of rock histrionics the song calls for. The set also pulls in the Wings standards “Jet,” “Band on the Run,” and “Live and Let Die,” as well as more recent solo fare such as “Only Mama Knows” (2007) and “Flaming Pie” (1997). While this is a controlled and immaculate performance—even the once-blistering “I’m Down” never quite hints at raw feistiness—McCartney still puts on a great live show. The only true clinker is “I Saw Her Standing There,” with its Billy Joel guest spot.

Rush have also released a new live set, Working Men, but it should generate a whole lot less excitement than Mc Cartney’s, mostly because it’s a compilation live set culled from their last three, very recent live albums, Snakes & Arrows Live, Rush in Rio, and R30. I mean, Snakes & Arrows came out in 2008, for crying out loud—this seems like some hasty repackaging. Add to that the fact that Rush in Rio came out in 2004, and R30 in 2005, and one can safely assert that the market is glutted with Rush live albums. And let’s not forget that the classic and definitive early-Rush live set, All the World’s a Stage, is still out there. Nevertheless, as a point of interest I would like to bring up the Socratic question that Stephen Malkmus once put forth on a Pavement album—“What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?”—and point out that Lee’s still freakishly high concert voice is actually down a register from where it once was. But enough funnin’ on Rush. This album is clearly redundant; like the group or not, however, their continual snubbing by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a real head-scratcher.

If live retoolings of super-familiar songs aren’t one’s cup of tea, perhaps David Bowie’s 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Space Oddity will hit the gift sweet spot. Originally released as Man of Words/Man of Music, the album has come to mark the beginning of Bowie’s identity and sound shifts. Here he presents to us as psychedelic folk-rocker, with the masterful title track offset by the indulgent, pessimistic, and purely psychedelic “Cygnet Committee”; the cheesewad, flutes-and-toadstools pomp of “Occasional Dream”; and more bracing fare, such as the rocked-up “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” and the appealingly delicate “Letter to Hermione.” Overall, however, the album still comes off like a two-years-late hangover from the psychedelic London of 1967. And this is a dated reality that the added demos, B-Sides, BBC sessions, stereo versions and punched-up remasterings can’t alleviate. An album for extreme fans only.

Some folks may prefer their nostalgia to be shot through with a bolt of something new; in that case, consider the self-titled debut of Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup power trio consisting of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Josh Homme (best known for Queens of the Stone Age), and Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl, who here occupies the drum stool he once held in Nirvana. Clearly, the primary mode is ’70s-styled hard rock, with “New Fang” calling to mind Rick Derringer and “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” funneling dark Doors-y sludge. But some of this is also outright disappointing—“Reptiles” and “Caligulove” seem more suited to one of Scott Weiland’s recent group outings. I’m sure that Grohl and Homme were looking for any platform and excuse to work with Jones, though, and that joy and gratification does seep through the grooves in many spots.




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