Archive for Rush

Back To Black: Headphone LPs

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by 30daysout

Koss headphones and a porn star mustache got the chicks every time.

Way back in the dark ages (the 1970s) I’d heard that a few albums sounded really great on headphones. Well, my parents had a stereo but we didn’t have headphones. They cost about $12 apiece then, which in today’s dollars would likely be a monthly mortgage payment.

So I borrowed a couple of albums from my good friend Randy Fuller and took ‘em home to experience “true stereo.” My homemade headphones substitute was putting two stereo speakers on the floor facing each other then turning them out at about a 45 degree angle, just enough to slip a pillow and my stupid head in between.

With the volume set real low, it was a great substitute – until a little brother sneaked into the room and jacked it up to threshold of pain level. I still hate those guys.

Back in the day, one used to see magazine ads like this.

Anyway, with Record Store Day approaching, I thought I’d pull out a handful of my favorite “headphone” LPs and give ‘em a spin. These records were best listened to on those big clunky headphones, like the kind the Koss company used to make. You really got good spatial separation and a sense of true depth by listening to rock albums over headphones, and they were great soundtracks to some, ah, chemical stimulation. Or so I have been told.

For me, the granddaddy of all headphone LPs was Fragile by Yes (1971), which was one of the albums I borrowed from Randy back then. It was the group’s fourth album and the first with new keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and these prog-rockers really explored the studio space. “Long Distance Runaround” and “Roundabout” got a lot of radio airplay, but hearing those songs on AM radio really didn’t do them justice. The extended jam “Heart of the Sunrise” would usually send me into space or more accurately, a deep sleep.

The progressive rockers were great for headphone music: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973), Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues (1967) and In The Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson (1969) are classics. Randy likes Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977) for its crossing, slashing guitars and in 1976 I went for Rush and 2112, considered by many a headphones classic.

Randy remembers Quadrophenia by the Who (1973) as a nice headphone experience, and I always used to go for Electric Warrior by T. Rex (1971). And for some reason: Phoenix by Grand Funk Railroad (1972) got a lot of headphone mileage, but maybe I was just too lazy to take it off the turntable. And let’s not forget: Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969), Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney (1971) and Best of Spirit (1973), all favorites of mine.

Our memory wavelengths converge on one act who always sounded great in stereo: The Firesign Theatre. Not musicians, this was a comedy troupe whose medium was the stereo album. Their stuff is multi-tracked and brilliant, and you can listen to their setpieces over and over again just like a great rock song. Their very best albums – Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (1970) and Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974) are rich experiences on headphones, but hands down their best for special effects and stereo is the futuristic I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus (1971).

Look at me, going on about all this stuff. I could talk about old records and music all day. And there’s a perfect day to do just that: Record Store Day, April 21 this year. Go out to your independent music store, grab up some special vinyl and see how many people are music freaks just like you and me.

MP3: “Long Distance Runaround” by Yes (from Fragile)

MP3: “Planet Queen” by T. Rex (from Electric Warrior)

MP3: “Flight Of The Phoenix” by Grand Funk Railroad (from Phoenix)

MP3: “A Passage To Bangkok” by Rush (from 2112)

MP3: “Sheep” by Pink Floyd (from Animals)

MP3: “The Breaking Of The President” by the Firesign Theatre (from I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus)

Live: Rush, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , , on September 26, 2010 by 30daysout

Rush onstage in Houston - our view from the hill

An alignment of the stars led to two tickets in our hands, to a Rush concert at Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.  I never have been a big fan of the Canadian prog-rock trio over the years, but I came away from Saturday evening’s performance with a respect for these great musicians and performers.

This is the band’s “Time Machine” tour with a handful of the band’s classic songs, a smattering of instrumentals, two new tunes from an upcoming album, and a complete performance of the three-decades-old Moving Pictures album.  Released in 1981, Moving Pictures was Rush’s most successful album, certified quadruple platinum with some of their best-known songs and radio favorites “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “YYZ.”

But they kicked off the show Saturday (9/25) with “The Spirit Of Radio,” which found bassist/singer Geddy Lee vocally not quite on the mark.  By the middle of the second tune, “Time Stand Still,” though, he seemed fine.  The first set included the rarely-heard-live “Presto,” and one new song from the upcoming Clockwork Angels.  “BU2B” (shorthand for Brought Up To Believe) is a guitar-heavy rocker that almost sounds like 1970’s heavy metal but with some of Rush’s trademark deep questioning in the lyrics.  That segued nicely into the radio hit “Freewill” and the first set ended strong with “Marathon” and “Subdivisions,” Lee playing synthesizer and bass pretty much simultaneously.

The current single, "Caravan" b/w "BU2B"

These boys are supremely talented musicians, and the show was designed to spotlight each member’s distinctive talents.  Guitarist Alex Lifeson played acoustic and electric guitars and even broke out a lute for one song, Lee plucked through his share of bass solos (and even led the band on the funky instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone”) but the most astounding spotlight was on drummer Peart.  Seated behind his massive drum kit (“The roadies must hate putting that together every night,” observed my son), Peart began his solo like all others, tapping out some polyrhythms while his bandmates took a smoke break.  But after a few minutes his drum riser spun around, and he launched into an exploration of rhythm on some electronic drums and finally it wound up with a jazzy big-band swing tune, complete with synthesized brass.

Lifeson took a spotlight on a 12-string guitar and his strumming introduced “Closer To The Heart,” another favorite, and finally the whole shebang wound up with a couple instrumentals from 2112, “Overture” and – in the encore – “La Villa Strangiato.”  To wrap the encore, Lee faked everyone out with a reggae version of “Working Man” that mercifully evolved into its more familiar, more rocking incarnation.  Very good show – I would say Rush won me over, but seeing them live is much, much different than merely listening to their albums, the best of which are decades old.

The only problem I had with the concert was with the three overlong filmed set pieces that opened the concert, introduced Moving Pictures after intermission and which wound up the show after the encore.  Each movie featured the band members playing characters (with lots of prosthetic makeup and fake facial hair) and featured different versions of the band (one was a trio of chimpanzees) playing weirded-out versions of Rush songs.

Ever self-effacing, Lee suggested that maybe the band was a little “self indulgent,” and I’d say those movies were just that.  But those are easily forgotten, especially when the music from these three great musicians starts to rock.  A three-hour show with a near sellout crowd under the Houston harvest moon and the planet Jupiter?  Can’t beat that!

YouTube: “BU2B” by Rush

Rush official website