Stacks: Midnight Oil – “Back on the Borderline”

I wrote about the strangely forgotten dance rock band Midnight Oil for Stacks:

Perhaps the greatest document of what made them so special is Oils on the Water , the name given to a televised concert from Goat Island in Sydney Harbor. This show, from January 13, 1985, is peak Oils, with frontman Peter Garrett at his most strident and the band at their finest balance of pop hooks and punk fury. The setlist is mostly from their best album, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and it’s only slightly lesser follow-up, Red Sails in the Sunset. It’s a veritable pre-Diesel and Dust greatest hits; “Best of Both Worlds”, “When the Generals Talk”, Kosciuszko”, U.S. Forces”, “Power and the Passion”, “Don’t Wanna Be the One”, “Read About It”, “Short Memory”, and “Back on the Borderline” all made it onto 2012’s Essential Oils.

Picking a track from that killer line-up was incredibly difficult. “Short Memory” is one of my all-time favorite Oils tunes, it’s constant pulse and haunting keyboard line the perfect amplifier to the horror of Peter Garrett’s litany of mankind’s atrocities. Pairing similar moods of music and lyrics was one of Midnight Oil’s common approaches; the other was not to amplify their screed but to contrast the sweetness of the music against Garrett’s polemics. for example, the sweet and catchy music is a fine foil to the imperialist message of “U.S. Forces”. Regardless of the compositional style they chose to employ, the common thread of Midnight Oil’s music is that they almost always get the head bobbing or the body moving. Rare is the artist that makes you want to dance while the world burns.


Stacks: Dio – “The Last in Line”

I wrote about the underrated Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 for Stacks. The 1987 version of “The Last in Line” is definitive.

By 1987, Dio was well established, headlining arenas throughout the world. There is less to prove for everyone involved, and the need for the legacy songs to carry the weight of the set has changed. This is ably illustrated by Dio cutting Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea” from a six-minute crowd-pleaser to a minute long intro to a hits medley; likewise, “Heaven and Hell” moves from the 11-minute centerpiece of audience call and response to a three-minute part of that same medley. This is about Dio, and while the nods to the past the present is the focal point.

Stacks: Lambchop – “What Else Could It Be?”

Lambchop have multiple live releases, which for some reason are mostly limited in availability and almost never discussed. Live at Merge XX is their easiest to find and might be their best. I scribbled some thoughts for the latest Stacks:

Lambchop has been described as many things, but rarely have they been called rollicking. But that’s exactly the word I’d use for this version of “What Else Could It Be Today?”, with it’s horn stabs and barreling jangle, it’s percussive piano, and soulful and heartfelt lead vocal from Kurt Wagner. The Nashville Nightcrawler (the comic book nerd in me has always wanted to call him that) is at his most emotive; breaking as he pleads, dropping low and cracking high. It sounds like he’s stalking the stage, eyes closed, as he throws his whole body into line after line. But the whole arrangement is that way, a full body charge that careens nearly out of control. In contrast to the reserved studio coolness of the Nixon version it sounds almost like another band.

Stacks: Little Feat – “That’s Her, She’s Mine”

My latest Stacks piece was inspired by the new Little Feat box set. Instead of going back to the Lowell George era, I wrote about the late 80s/early 90s comeback that has unjustly retreated to the back of their legacy.

It was a classic radio promotion; gather friends and some lucky winners as an audience, and broadcast the exclusive show out to the general public. And while the short set leant heavily on the classic hits, a few of the newer singles were played, and they burst to life when stripped of studio sheen.

“That’s Her, She’s Mine” is one such cut that blossomed in the live setting. The studio version on Representing the Mambo is buried under a thick gloss, the sound of 1989-90 in all it’s horrific glory; stripped and clean, it fits comfortably in with the classic songs from the Lowell George era (in fact, it segues directly into 1973’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub”, hence the edit). Hits like “Texas Twister” and “Let It Roll” are likewise transformed, and the separation of eras is virtually inaudible in their talented hands.

Stacks: Scorpions – “Speedy’s Coming”

I wrote about Tokyo Tapes,  the live coda to the unimpeachable Uli John Roth era of Scorpions, for Stacks. Get the four studio records, and then nab the live album when you get a chance. Not quite as impressive as the studio work, but it has plenty of charms.

“Speedy’s Coming” is a perfect example of all that is both wonderful and regrettable about the album. Roth’s sound effect guitar lead-in firmly stamps his place as the missing link between Hendrix and Van Halen, as do his soaring, bluesy leads and smoldering solo.Klaus Meine does his best to sound like someone who learned his English pronunciation from lip-reading a deaf mute, a trait he has endearingly kept through 40+ years of singing and conducting interviews in the language. No one else pronounces the word “poster” like he does (that’s the word at the end of the first line. Listen again and be befuddled).The rhythm section is a rock; though they’re starting to lose the swing and replace it with a more metal-edged power and punch, they’ve got enough shuffle left to keep the song at a fast lope instead of a gallop.

Stacks: Rush – “YYZ”

This week at Stacks I got out of my sick bed to write about the performance of “YYZ” from Rush in Rio, my favorite Rush album.

Few bands have as many live records as Rush, and few fan bases argue about their merits as vociferously. Unlike every other Rush fan I know, Rush in Rio is not only my favorite live Rush album but my favorite Rush album, period. Recorded in front of 40,000 rabid Rush devotees in Rio de Janeiro on the last night of the Vapor Trails tour, Rush in Rio is a single night’s performance instead of a compilation drawn from several shows. I’m fond of such documents; every concert has a singular energy, and though some songs may not be peak performances, there is a thread that ties a night together that no compilation can capture.

Stacks: The Georgia Satellites – “Don’t Pass Me By”

Wrote about one of the shoulda been huge bands, The Georgia Satellites. The Boardwalk: Live! is one of my favorite boots. Flat-out fun.

The band is white hot; from the opening moments of “Muddy Waters” to set closer “Route 66”, the Georgia Satellites tear through covers of the Rolling Stones, Eddie Cochrane, country classic “Long Black Veil”, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles, as well as a handful of their own tunes from both the debut and the then yet to be released follow-up. As familiar as “School Days” or “All Over Now” are to generations of rock and roll fans, one listen is all it takes to hear that in their hands they sound like Georgia Satellites’ tunes. They don’t change one lick of their own style to meet any cover even half way.

A note: I didn’t plan to write about a Beatles cover in the week of their bullshit anniversary, just as I hadn’t planned to write about Alice Cooper right before his birthday. Serendipity, folks.