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And now there are two

For a long, long time, I've assumed that the great guitarist Jeff Beck was sui generis.

But a few weeks ago, I bought the Mahavishnu Orchestra's second album, Birds of Fire, and I have to say that John McLaughlin sounds like Jeff Beck even more than Beck does. McLaughlin is ear-poppingly amazing. His tribute to Miles Davis in the song "Miles Beyond" is incendiary.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 22nd, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
While I prefer their debut album, Inner Mounting Flame, I can appreciate Birds of Fire, although there is some excess here. As the Brits would say, a bit too much wanking.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
I only know Birds of Fire. That's because it's the one the cool kids (I was not one of them) played in the dorms my freshman year.

And besides, when you put the words "wanking" and "Brits" in the same sentence, I immediately think of In the Court of the Crimson King.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
I don't put King Crimson and Robert Fripp into that category -- Fripp's playing can be quite sparce as seen with his Eno collaborations (like "Evening Star")-- or beautifully dissonant and harrowing as on King Crimson's "Red."

I'm thinking more of the technically adventuresome and over the top playing of a Joe Satriani, Steve Vai or Mattias Eklundh. Music that has a WOW factor in that you can't believe how fast and clean they play, but is so excessive in that, in the end, the music is soulless. These guitarists aren't artists -- they're technicians. Admittedly, brilliant technicians, but heartless and cold.

Jeff Beck is never soulless, never cold. I think this is because of his being raised on the blues in the late 50's and early 60's. You can always hear the influence, even on "Blow by Blow" and "Wired" -- albums which I've listened to regularly for 35 years.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
I saw Vai about a month ago, and I can't recall the last time I saw a performer pay so much attention to his audience. The show involved much more than his playing: He had some gimmicks the likes I've not seen since Alice Cooper (although nowhere near as extreme). Now, given a choice between seeing Robert Cray or Vai, I'm going to go see Cray and not think twice. But given the respect he showed for his fans, I'm not going to trash-talk Vai.

Having said that: I'll double down on King Crimson and say In the Court of the Crimson King is among the most pretentious albums in rock history. As for Fripp, I love his work on Eno's first album and on Bowie's Scary Monsters, to name just two projects, but if No Pussyfooting is anything but an inside joke between Eno and Fripp, then I'm the reincarnation of Albert Collins.
Oct. 23rd, 2012 02:02 pm (UTC)
King Crimson
I'll take that bet.


I can understand your feelings to some degree, however. Afterall, the mid-70's the punk scene stripped away the perceived excess of progressive rock. And while I'm a big fan of the Ramones and the Clash, I'm equally so of Yes (especially the song Siberian Khatu off of 1972's "Close to the Edge" and ) and the early Genesis of Peter Gabriel (1973's "Selling England by the Pound" is a nearly perfect album). Just depends on my mood that day. I think that's true of most of us. As fond as I might be of chocolate cake, I don't want it everyday.
Oct. 24th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
Re: King Crimson
I can't say I'm a big Yes fan, but that's probably because I lived and/or partied with a bunch of Yes fanatics and got tired of hearing the band. It was almost as if these guys were getting paid for playing Yes music.

My dislike for The Court of the Crimson King was acquired honestly, however. I didn't buy that album until just a couple of years ago, and I really, really wanted to like it. It might have sounded groovy in '69, but I don't think it has aged well at all.

I'm disappointed you didn't take the bait on No Pussyfooting.
Oct. 24th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
Music defines us
Sorry for not taking the bait -- but I saw it coming. "No Pussyfooting" is an early experiment in Eno's ambient soundscape music. But its droning wears me out. Years ago I thought I was suppossed to like it because, afterall, it was Eno and Fripp! How could I argue with their collective genius?! But the king wears no clothes. While I own the vinyl, it goes unplayed -- a footnote to the soundtrack of my youth.

I believe that's true for most of us. Years ago what we listened to defined us. We openingly, and unapologetically, staked out our territory in our dorm rooms. We declared ourselves to our classmates -- our music booming outwards to all shoppers as they walked down the hallways -- each room waving a different flag, offering a different taste. Grateful Dead and Doors, anyone? Try my CSNY and Jefferson Airplane? We've got Zepplin over here! And, when we went from room to room, albums in hand to share, we made sure that on top there'd be the band we wanted others to associate with us. Was it Zappa? Maybe Firesign Theatre? How 'bout something obscure like Osibisa? And, sometimes that outwardly turned album was just a prop. A facade.
Oct. 24th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Music defines us
I couldn't have written a better reaction to No Pussyfooting. When songs played backward are barely discernible from songs played forward, something is amiss.

I can't agree more when you say "what we listened to defined us." I still have a couple of friends from high school (I graduated 40 years ago) who, when we bump into each other (and it's not that often) call me "Zappa." But these days I'm a long way from Frank.

What I miss most about music from back then is something you note: the communal aspect of listening. A new album would come out, you'd jam six or eight people into a room, turn out the lights, light a few candles (and other flammable substances), put on the music and just—listen. In these days when music is just an MP3 on an iPad, easily portable, I don't think that kind of sharing goes on with college-age kids today. Back then, another thing that defined us was our stereo equipment, right? You owed it to your friends to have the best for those listening sessions.
Oct. 25th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
College and Stereos
Years back, we delivered my daughter to her college dorm. It had been years since I had spent any appreciable time on a campus. I was struck on how quiet it was. Yes, voices were evident everywhere -- but no music. No one had turned their speakers towards the quad. There was no battle of the bands -- or stereos. Sad. I missed the competition of someone declaring "Aqualung" better than "Morrison Hotel" simply by turning their amp to 11 while you had only chosen 9. Might makes right once again.

Stereo equipment was akin to your car (if you had a car; I didn't). Realistic from Radio Shack was like driving a Pinto or Vega. With Technics you at least were driving a "real" car. Marantz? Pioneer? Now you're talking. Your street cred was affirmed -- you had class.

But, there was a reverse corrolary, too. If you showed up with McIntosh and Bose 901's with their fancy pedestals, then you just drove up in a Cadillac -- and no one in college should be driving a Cadillac. While the equipment was revered (lusted after?), you just became public enemy number 1, and I was justified in not returning your red vinyl copy of Geils' "Bloodshot".
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