Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review - Three 1980 Beach Boys Live Downloads from "Concert Vault"

Something that has no doubt been up online for a while but I only just recently finally investigated is the availability of some live Beach Boys recordings from the “ConcertVault” website. They offer a myriad of live recordings, mostly from years past (it looks like a lot of 70’s and 80’s material), some of which is inherited from the old “Wolfgang’s Vault” website (which still exists as well; more on that a bit later). In terms of Beach Boys material, they offer some shows as streaming-only, while others are available to purchase as downloads. The following shows are available to purchase:

The Spectrum – Philadelphia, PA – April 18, 1980
Hampton Coliseum – Hampton, VA – July 3, 1980 (incorrectly labled as June)
Washington Monument – Washington DC – July 4, 1980 (incorrectly labled as June)
Penn’s Landing – Philadelphia, PA – July 4, 1995

Additional shows available for streaming-only are:
Fillmore East – 6/27/71
Nassau Coliseum – 5/14/79
Springfield Civic Center – 5/15/79

The two 1979 shows are severely truncated; I’m not sure about the Fillmore East ’71 show. It’s worth noting that the Fillmore East and Nassau ’79 shows have “circulated” among fans for many years sourced from soundboard/radio broadcast tapes. I don’t think the Springfield ’79 show had previously circulated. But again, it’s truncated. And more importantly, these are not available to download. 

In terms of purchasing the downloadable shows, here's how it appears the deal works: The three 1980 gigs and the 1995 gig are on both websites (“ConcertVault” and “Wolfgang’s Vault”). If you go to Wolfgang's Vault, no membership is needed and it's $7 per show (320 kbps MP3 files). On ConcertVault, it's $5 per show for the same shows, but you need a membership, which starts at $4 per month.

However, you get a 14-day trial on their memberships. So if you just want to get in and out and download a few shows at $5 each, you can do the membership and cancel it before 14 days are up. You’d also get access to those streaming shows if you’re interested in that.
For my review, I’ll be delving into the three 1980 shows. (I haven’t yet downloaded the 1995 show; I’m not sure if I will. It’s another commonly circulating show that was also aired in live TV back then; given that 1995 show’s rather standard setlist, watching the video of the show is probably more interesting and entertaining.)

A few thing on the specs on these shows. Only the Philadelphia show has individual indexed tracks; the other two consist of one long sound file with the entire show. As previously mentioned, all files are encoded as 320 mbps MP3 files, which is about as good as one can ask for outside of uncompressed/highrez options (which, given the sourcing/quality of these recordings, wouldn’t offer much added quality). These are indeed all soundboard recordings, just the raw house mix that, presumably in some if not most cases, aired live on the radio back then (that these shows were contracted to air on the radio is, I’m guessing, the legal loophole that allows the shows to be sold in the present day). So these shows sound way better than any audience recordings, but there are wonky elements to the live mix just like there probably were at the shows at the time.

First up chronologically is the 4/18/80 Philadelphia show. This aired on the radio (simulcast in several markets) back then and has been floating around for decades. Steve Desper reportedly was brought in to mix/engineer this live broadcast. As most previously-available versions floating around among collectors were sourced from tapes fans recorded off the radio (and in some cases were missing some songs), this version sounds better; really as good as it gets in terms of a master tape made from the live house/radio mix. The show is in true stereo. It even begins with five minutes of the DJ bantering with the resident "Beach Boys expert", who tries and kind of fails to highlight how good the band was sounding on this tour. (I have a soft spot for the 1980 band/tour; I actually think it has been maligned a bit over the years. But a creative peak it was not).

This show actually has some curios as well. A nice solo rendition of "Disney Girls" from Bruce, and the best-sounding recordings of the short period of time when "Goin' On" and "Livin' with a Heartache" were in the setlist (Mike insists that latter was getting a lot of requests at the time). The show is obviously heavy on “Keepin’ the Summer Alive” material, with the two aforementioned songs in addition to the album’s title track as well as “Some of Your Love.” The mix again starts off a bit unbalanced but evens out, although Brian's mic is not very audible through most of it. Sounds like Joe Chemay is at this gig on bass, with Ed Carter on guitar and Mike Meros on keyboards. Bobby Figueroa is on drums throughout; this was the tail end of Dennis' 1979-1980 exodus. Overall, a nice-sounding recording with some unique tracks. The band is generally tight musically. Vocals are good, occasionally a bit wonky (not trying to pick on Mike, but he flats on a few harmony bits here and there). Compared to other recordings from this era, it sounds like the band probably rehearsed a bit more than usual, knowing they would be going out to several markets live on the radio.

The full setlist:
1. California Girls
2. Sloop John B
3. Darlin'
4. School Days
5. In My Room
6. Do It Again
7. Little Deuce Coupe
8. Keepin' The Summer Alive
9. God Only Knows
10. Good Timin'
11. Some Of Your Love
12. Surfer Girl
13. Goin' On
14. Be True To Your School
15. Catch A Wave
16. Livin' With A Heartache
17. Lady Lynda
18. Disney Girls (Bruce solo)
19. Long Tall Texan
20. Help Me Rhonda
21. Wouldn't It Be Nice
22. Rock And Roll Music
23. I Get Around
24. Surfin' USA
25. Good Vibrations
26. Barbara Ann
27. Fun Fun Fun

Next up, the 7/3/80 Hampton, VA show. I don't believe this had ever floated around from a soundboard source before, and considering the next day’s show was simulcast to several radio markets, I would guess they didn’t air this one. I’m guessing sometimes (as evidenced by two consecutive shows being recorded on the 1979 tour for radio) the radio crew would record two consecutive nights for test/references purposes. In any event, the show starts during "California Girls" and has a more uneven, thin-sounding mix. It’s a pretty standard/barebones setlist without some of the interesting curios found on the 4/18 and 7/4 shows. I could swear Joe Chemay is playing bass on this one too with Ed Carter on guitar (one of the tiny tells is a specific bass pattern Carter always plays near the end of "Sloop John B"), but I'm not sure if Chemay was still in the touring band, as he wasn't at the show the following day in Washington DC.

The full setlist:
1. California Girls
2. Sloop John B
3. Darlin'
4. School Days
5. In My Room
6. Good Timin’
7. God Only Knows
8. Do It Again
9. Little Deuce Coupe
10. Catch A Wave
11. Some Of Your Love
12. Keepin’ the Summer Alive
13. Lady Lynda
14. Heroes and Villains
15. Surfer Girl
16. Help Me Rhonda
17. Be True To Your School
18. Wouldn't It Be Nice
19. Rock And Roll Music
20. I Get Around
21. Surfin' USA
22. You Are So Beautiful
23. Good Vibrations
24. Barbara Ann
25. Fun Fun Fun

Onto the most interesting and historic of the three shows: Washington DC, July 4th, 1980 show. This show is of course well-known to fans both for its historic nature (their first free DC gig; the largest crowd they had ever played to and perhaps still to this day the largest), and because an edited hour-long TV special was made from this show and aired on HBO back in the day (and also was released on VHS and DVD in Japan for a very short time). The show was noticeably overdubbed for that TV special. Though, to be fair, little has been re-recorded on that TV special. Rather, they simply beefed up the sound with, most noticeably, extra background vocals and additional keyboard overdubs. So all of the live elements of the performance are still there, though some are mixed differently of course.

This recording of course presents the live "house mix" that went out to radio. The mix starts out a bit wonky, nothing too bad, and then evens out as the show goes on. It is the *entire* show, with the exception of the last second or two of "Heroes and Villains" and "I Write the Songs", which is chopped up into several partial pieces; it also appears the PA went out during the song (Mike mentions this after the song), so only at the very end does it come in at full fidelity. Prior to that, the bits sound like Bruce's vocal and keyboard mic aren't getting directly mic'ed. I figure the guy running the tape deck cut the tape when the PA went out, or just really didn't like "I Write the Songs" (the crowd sounds restless as Bruce does the song; I believe I even hear Dennis telling the audience to shut up and let Bruce sing the song (very loosely paraphrasing)). It's still an enjoyable show, and it's the only decent-sounding (and only soundboard) live recording of the band doing "Santa Ana Winds." The band also offers up several other tracks from the then-new "Keepin' the Summer Alive" album. They also work up an odd one-time performance of the old folk song "Merry Minuet", adding to the politically-charged lyrics some additional, contemporary, deep insights into the political turmoil of the day (such as Mike ending the song with "the ayatollah is a shit.") The Iran hostage crisis was of course in the news at the time, leading to Mike's pontifications as well as Dennis several times mumbling incoherently about the hostages in Iran.

The band sounds pretty good overall, with a few hiccups here and there. Dennis actually drums pretty well. But he seems to be rather wasted by the time the show starts, and when he grabs the mic and starts talking several times, he's sometimes barely understandable between his shredded, raspy voice and his likely drunken slurring. Brian also runs out of batteries at one point despite barely participating. During "Wouldn't It Be Nice", after Al pep-talks Brian into singing, Brian starts out weirdly overly-enthusiastic, almost singing the song in his "Pied Piper" cartoony voice, and then near the end of the song, he literally runs of steam and trails off doing a perfect impersonation of a cassette player running out of battery power.

The full setlist (songs not included in the HBO TV special are in bold):
1. California Girls
2. Sloop John B
3. Darlin'
4. School Days
5. In My Room
6. Good Timin’
7. God Only Knows
8. Do It Again
9. Little Deuce Coupe
10. Catch A Wave
11. Hawaii
12. Merry Minuet
13. Santa Ana Winds
14. Some Of Your Love
15. Keepin’ the Summer Alive
16. Lady Lynda
17. Cottonfields
18. Heroes and Villains
19. I Write the Songs
20. Surfer Girl
21. Help Me Rhonda
22. Be True To Your School
23. Wouldn't It Be Nice
24. Rock And Roll Music
25. I Get Around
26. Surfin' USA
27. Good Vibrations
28. Barbara Ann
29. Fun Fun Fun

These downloads are fun stuff though overall, especially after years of wading through mostly wonky audience recordings. It's kind of a throwback to hearing concerts on the radio.

The Beach Boys/BRI should look at this model as a guide to releasing their HUGE archive of live shows.

1 comment:

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