Peaches En Randalia #48
In our site feature with moe.’s Al Schnier, the guitarist talks about one fan’s favorite studio track is another fan’s bathroom break. Well, in a way. Not so much specifically, I suppose. But it turned on a light bulb in my noggin. So many tracks recorded by a jamband in a studio are mere blueprints for the majestic mansions of sounds which they will become when the tunes are played live over the course of months and years.
Schnier is speaking about the upcoming Smash Hits album to be released by moe. that will contain re-recorded versions of some of their best studio tracks. The musician mentioned the odd problem of not having a definitive statement to present to a new fan, or even a hardcore follower, which presents moe. in all of their studio glory.
And that is an interesting dilemma and something not necessarily unique to jambands, but quite common nonetheless within the legendary improvisational genre. If you are in a band which is known for epic and journey-filled live gigs, how does the fervent or casual observer see the group? Are the studio tracks even relevant? Are the aforementioned blueprints, just coffee-stained documents that are looked back upon as some sort of embarrassing doorway to What Will Become? Hmmm…I don’t think so. Numerous jambands have released albums of timeless durability. Hell, just looking at the cream from the Unholy Trinity, the jamband pioneers, psychedelic brethren whom occupy the ethereal throne, the first few Allman Brothers Band releases are still relevant, the Dead have their twin 1970 masterpieces American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, Phish has Junta, A Picture of Nectar, their magnum opus, Billy Breathes, to a certain extent, Farmhouse, and, to arguably another certain ragamuffin yet ballsy extent, Round Room.
The question here is twofold: whether or not these studio albums could have stood by themselves without the thought that “oh, these tracks are fine, but they’ll become SO much more when the band hits the road, cultivates their instrumental undercurrents and subtexts, and numerous colors are brought to the surface that weren’t even mentioned, or referenced, or hinted at in the studio.” The other thought is why do some tunes created by jambands in the studio strike some fans as essential listening, and others, as non-essential. And forgetting that latter group for the sake of this column, why is there an argument over whether or not a band HAS created a truly memorable studio track? Yes, there is the lazy, and often-unfortunate, opinion that jambands should stay out of the studio because they can never re-create the atmosphere which can only exist between artist and audience. I’ve always called BULLSHIT on that idea, and I blame the Dead themselves for not getting all of their diverse ideas on tape in a proper ‘creative process’ format. Hell, you’ve got African motifs from the drummers, an avant-garde touch from Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia’s Americana streak blended with Robert Hunter’s searing nowhere man lyrics, and Bob Weir’s left-of-everywhere unique anti-melodic musings. What went wrong? Well, a live band is a live band, but there’s no reason why an act can’t just see
the studio as some of their classic rock brothers saw it—a place to form and build songs that can truly withstand the winds of time, bending, but never quite breaking as if it will never become obsolete. And one is, obviously, thinking of statements like The Who’s Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, for a trio of examples from bands that were known for their sprawling live presentations, and occasional improvisational glory. Of course, Pink Floyd became quite scripted after the overwhelming success of DSOTM, and The Who, of course, would lose their spontaneous flair post-Keith Moon. Further back, The Beatles became a studio-only band, which served to dicotomically create a rift within members because, well, they weren’t really a band anymore. Same story for Steely Dan in the 1970s when they ceased and desisted on the stage, and merely became a studio duo, featuring Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, while employing a squadron of seasoned veterans to interpret their ideas.
Which brings us all the way back to moe., who have always had their foot in the classic rock pond, as well as a toe in the punk rock do-it-yourself ethos, and, like Umphrey’s McGee, a touch of the prog for good measure. moe. has created a handful of albums that can be played back to front, and stand on their own. My personal favorite, referenced in our site feature with Al Schnier, is Wormwood. Others may enjoy The Conch, or Tin Cans and Flat Tires, or Headseed, or, even Fatboy, for that matter. Regardless, it is interesting that a band could have this dilemma—“what ARE our classic hits? Did we produce studio gems that people can pull out to reference to the newb, or vet, as an example of when the band nailed IT?”
Actually, that is what I love about jambands. Yes, there are thousands of shows from numerous bands where the X Factor was and is in full bloom—improvisation flourished, and one and all had a magical evening. But there are also those tracks, created in the…shudder…studio, which can be listened to alone in a bedroom, or in the front room on the big stereo, or in the basement with the cans ON, or buds IN the ears, or on the good ole fashioned car stereo with the iPod jack plugged in for a long and memorable trip going somewhere anywhere at anytime, but always including THAT bag of heady tunes. The definitive track is out there, and there are infinite variations, as Schnier mentioned, of what that “definitive” word means to each fan, and that is fine, just fine. That is great and true, and another way to share in the experience of what a band can offer. Let the studio be a place where a band can create something unique, and not necessarily something to have beer spilled upon it in yet another venue on the road in America.