Recently, I had a couple of writing assignments that required me to stretch my listening in some new directions. The focus was 90’s electronic music, specifically the "remix" phenomenon. I’m still trying to tap into the aesthetic of guys making new pieces of music out of aspects of old pieces and calling it dance music, but I suppose it’s no less confusing that the notion of anti-war rants and distorted guitar riffs being considered pop music.
Doing those projects, I picked up on some cool music and heard some edifying stories. After a while, though, I went back to some comfort zones. One of those was Phish. A few weeks ago, a new soundboard emerged of their show on 7/10/00 at Deer Creek, the show after the only show I’d heard (both in person and on an official release) from that tour. I’d never heard any of the three nights at Deer Creek that summer, but heard the reports about how the second night had the "Moby Dick"-infested second set, the third night had the "Curtain With" revival, and the first night was…the first night. Now, this music gets a new chance from that peculiar soundboard perspective, a view of the music which shuts out the glowstick wars and "hood" chants and puts you alone in the middle of these four musicians.
A change of source can make the difference between an average day and one to remember. In Dead circles, more than one guy has suggested that no one would notice 5/8/77, the common choice for best show, if the punchy, crystalline board tape hadn’t replaced the average audience tape which was all that could be had from this night in previous years. It seems to me, though, that the folks who say that should ask themselves how many of their favorite albums, especially rock-era stuff, would hold up if we only had boombox demos of the songs.
The source issue is not limited to concert recordings. Last week, someone put the mono mix of Zappa’s We’re Only In It For The Money on the net, so now I have four versions of this album the two first mixes (mono/stereo), the demo version and Zappa’s notorious 80’s version, which pasted on new bass and drums but also gave us all of the material his philistine 60’s label censored from the original releases. Many of those remix tools which those aforementioned 90’s electronic artists used have trickled down to amateur fans, a few of whom, in the Zappa community, have tried to make the perfect version of that album. Until we are allowed into the vault, though, I suspect this will be one of those albums that sound better in my head than on any single disc.
Bigger news, of course, is when a source emerges of music that didn’t circulate at all. Recently, a new Led Zeppelin 1977 soundboard appeared from a show which was unavailable in any form, and I read one person commenting that "this could make or break the ’77 tour." A heavy burden for one night’s work. On the other hand, Kind Of Blue had much to do with what has happened in improvisational music in the last four decades, and Miles and company may have spent less time recording the album than Zep did playing that show.
New sources can lurk in unpredictable places. A week or two ago, I read about a 1945 live recording of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie that had just been discovered in an antique store. Someone should check the yard sales of Noblesville to see if any tapes fell out of Phish’s bus in 2000 on the way out of Deer Creek.
Thanks to reissues and technology, we now have more than one version of just about any notable performance of the last few decades. A lack of sources can still make people nervous, though. The Dead have announced a release of the complete Fillmore 1969 recordings, converting what was once a 2-LP Live/Dead experience into a 10-disc bonanza, but one fan reaction has been concern that the bass won’t be loud enough. Perhaps when there are no more new Dead shows to sell, the technology will be in place for their merchandisers to let everyone have the 16-track masters and create their own mix. And perhaps by then the Phish archivists will have each show remastered with the option to include as many or as few extra-musical factors in the mix as you wish. Perhaps that will be considered dance music by the time we get to that decade, too.