Friday, March 09, 2012

The Move's "Live At the Fillmore 1969"

I didn't buy the Move's Shazam album the first time I saw it.

As I've recounted elsewhere, I'd been obsessed with the Move for over a year, having read about them first in Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning, then in a Rolling Stone review John Mendelsohn penned of the two albums that followed Shazam. But on the day when I first beheld Shazam's sky blue cover, with cartoon figures of the band in superhero costumes below the album's title, I allowed the older guys in the music store where I bought records back then -- Buddy the bespectacled redhead and Johnny Lum, the oldest son of the family that owned the Chinese restaurant up the street, who was reputed to be a shit-hot jazz guitarist, although no one had ever heard him play -- to talk me out of it.

"You won't like it," they said. "It's not heavy and there's no guitar." On their suggestion, fool that I was, I bought the first Led Zeppelin album instead. It wasn't until after I'd heard Message From the Country -- the Move's 1971 terminal opus, which, when reissued in 2006, inspired Robert Christgau to quip, "No other band better evokes a giant mechanical lizard" -- that I summoned the guts to cop Shazam, take it home, and realize those older guys were talkin' out of their necks.

Heavy? Shee-it. The Move were from Birmingham, the Detroit of England, home of Black Sabbath (with whom Move/ELO drummer Bev Bevan toured for a minute in the early '80s), and one of the Move's sonic signatures from alpha to omega was elephantine basslines. As for "no guitar," while there wasn't an iota of blooze influence audible in Roy Wood's rides on squiggly wah-wah, jangly 12-string, or a weird hybrid of banjo and sitar, there was plenty of extemporization on a Live At Leeds level, with Bevan and bassist Rick Price hot on Wood's heels every step of the way. His proximate models appeared to be Roger McGuinn (the only rock guitarist about whom the contemporary Lou Reed had a kind word to say), classical music (quotes from Bach and Tchaikovsky popped up in "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited"), and an extremely idiosyncratic Brummie take on Indian ragas (although Wood dismissed his own instrumental prowess in a '71 interview as "boing-boing Eric Clapton stuff").

On top of that, you got Wood's quirky songwriting, a collective gift for interpretation, and a vocal blend that encompassed Byrdsian harmonies and the contrast between Wood's reedy menace and Carl Wayne's showbizzy croon -- still magical, but a shadow of the original five-piece lineup's sublime vocalismo (as I'd learn later). Although it wasn't released until February 1970, a convincing argument could be made for Shazam as the last great album of the '60s.

Little did my 13-year-old self realize that Shazam and the first Zep LP were both basically studio documents of live shows -- Zep's the set that they had to play twice because they didn't have any other material when U.S. audiences demanded more after they'd wiped the floor with the Vanilla Fudge, the Move's the set they put together for their belated maiden voyage to the States after a season on the cabaret circuit, postponed by founder member Trevor Burton's departure the very week "Blackberry Way" hit number one in the UK. (In a masterpiece of poor planning, they drove all the way across the country to play three cities -- Detroit, L.A., and San Francisco -- after which they chose to head back home to Brum rather than stick around Stateside to play New York and Chicago.) While the Move were pop stars at home, they were considered "underground" in the States (much as T. Rex and Slade would be later), so they took the opportunity to present an evening of the kind of long jams they reckoned 'Meercun audiences would appreciate, while tipping their lids to the American bands they clearly loved.

This brand-new 2CD release (on UK-based Right Recordings, an imprint with which I'm unfamiliar) of the board recording from the Move's stand at the Fillmore West in San Francisco at the end of the tour is the realization of a dream and a labor of love for frontman Wayne, who went on to a career as a jingle singer, actor, and radio presenter before replacing Allan Clarke in the Hollies, but never gave up carrying the Move torch. As instrumental as he was in reissuing the Move's catalog in the CD era, it's unfortunate that he never got to see this set -- from tapes he carefully safeguarded for years -- released before his death in 2004. I downloaded a bootleg of some of these songs a few years ago (before iTunes took a dump and sent it to the widowmaker), but this has more songs and sounds loads better, not to mention being licensed from and sanctioned by Wayne's widow. (Two tracks also appeared legitimately on Salvo's 4CD Anthology 1966-1972 box set.)

Starts out with a surprise: a cover of "Open My Eyes" by the Nazz, the 45 of which I must have spun hundreds of times back when. You can tell that Carl and Roy really dig that bridge from the way they reprise it (not once but twice), and you get some heavy Bev crash 'n' thump before and behind Wood's Yardbird-era-Page-esque solo in place of the jazzy, Electric Flag-ish accompaniment to Todd Rundgren's ride on the original.

You get versions of three Shazam songs from two different nights, thankfully on different discs so you don't feel like you're being brainwashed: "Don't Make My Baby Blue," "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited," and "The Last Thing On My Mind." While the takes don't really differ that significantly, it's still nice to have 'em. (Was there a '60s band that sang better live than the Move? I think not; the proof's here. Just check the version of Goffin and King's Notorious Byrd Brothers highlight "Goin' Back." And dig Roy's fingerpicking facility on "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited.") "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" -- their greatest single, for my money -- is heard in an extended version that features a drum solo from Bev and musical quotes from "Born To Be Wild," the bit from "1812 Overture" that was quoted in their debut single "Night of Fear," and the Peter Gunn theme, among other wonderment.

"Fields of People" opens the second disc, with Carl still getting comfortable with the flow of the words and Bev providing more sympathetic accompaniment to Roy's raga than he would on Shazam. (In fact, I'd say that Fillmore 1969 features some of Bev's best trap-kicking ever.) "Hello Susie," recently covered by Dallas' Backsliders, rocks out nicely, pointing in the direction Roy would follow in the '70s after he started painting his face green (a shy man's way of getting up the nerve to front a band). Another Nazz cover, "Under the Ice" -- the sheer audacity of covering another band's two best songs! -- breaks down into a lengthy jam wherein Wood (making with the octave runs like a Brummie Wes Montgomery) essays snatches of various Beatle tunes, and the band revisits instrumental gambits they'd employed before (the patented dinosaur shuffle from "Wild Tiger Woman;" the jazzy 5/4 they used on the instrumental break of "Stephanie Knows Who" from their live-at-the-Marquee Something Else EP).

While I got my copy via Amazon UK, Live At the Fillmore 1969 is now Amazon-available here in these United States. If you're a Move newb, I'd probably direct you first to Shazam, either on vinyl or in Repertoire's 1998 CD reish, which also includes the live '68 Something Else tracks, and some sort of greatest hits collection, since you _most_ hear "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" and "Fire Brigade." If you're already a fan, of course, you're probably listening now. If not, what are you waiting for?


Blogger Fast Film said...

Concur, concur, concur! Earle Mankey, when starting his own producer/engineer career used to reflect that he wanted to emulate The Move who profered extreme heaviness in the studio despite being limited to 4-track production.

P.s.I wish you could have witnessed first hand J. Mendelssohn spontaneously bursting into song with "All at once through flowered skies, thirty thousand butterflies, glorify the room around my bed!" or other Move ditties in restaurants, at film premieres, et cetera...

4:08 PM  

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