The Beatles, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” (2016, Capitol Records; 1977 original release): Mom’s back from Liverpool. Of course, she went for the Beatles. She's That Generation, after all.
I ask her if she ever saw ’em at the Bowl. “Yes,” she says. I tell her I’ve bought the new reissue but can’t make her out in that sharp, orgasmic sea crashing over L.A. “Oh, I wasn’t screaming,” she assures me. “I was sitting calmly, trying to hear the music.”
Well, ma, thanks to Giles Martin, son of late producer George Martin, that is finally possible. Although still frighteningly audible, the hysteria’s now garnish on the periphery, acknowledgment of the Beatles’ seismic effect on the culture. The band’s mostly front-and-center in a celebration of its chemistry and power in the summers of 1964-65.
These are the Beatles of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” — caught between pinup evanescence and revolution (John Lennon drolly introduces a note-perfect “She Loves You” as an “oldie”), with peeks at the quartet that crushed clubs on a repertoire fat with early rock ’n’ roll; there’s a charge to hearing Paul McCartney puppy-dog “All My Loving” then summon his inner Little Richard to ravage “Long Tall Sally.”
Bonus tracks restore “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” George Harrison’s irreverent swagger on Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby” and perhaps the best version of “Baby’s in Black” you’ll ever hear — even if, allegedly, the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves. (Target)
Jefferson Airplane, “Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Live at the Fillmore East 1969” (2007; Sony Legacy) and “Live at the Fillmore East” (1998; BMG Recordings): I want to admire the Airplane, if only for their significance, but knowing them primarily for their decline into multi-monikered dross — oh, I'm so conflicted. “Well, you gotta hear ’em live,” I was told, and actually, I have: “Woodstock,” “Gimme Shelter” (the infamous Rolling Stones extravaganza at the Altamont Speedway where Airplane’s Marty Balin got knocked out TWICE by Hell's Angels), and a showcase on Dick Cavett’s program recorded the day after Woodstock.
My feelings remain unchanged after touring these ’68-’69 Fillmore East-ers, where the band embraces its meal-ticket singles (“White Rabbit,” “Volunteers,” “Somebody to Love”) like they’re weird, diseased uncles and stomps the rest of its catalog into maundering jams that expose Balin and Grace Slick’s deficiencies as vamps. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen proffers tapestries upon which to build monuments; instead his singers yelp “baybuh” down each other’s eyeholes until someone finds the next song by accident. Paul Kantner shudders quietly, knowing the '80s are out there ... waiting. ... (Amazon.com)
KISS, “KISS Rocks Vegas” (2016; Eagle Rock/Universal): As proud harborer of “Alives” I through MCMXVII, I casually emptied my wallet for yet another Kabuki sweatjob, this one recorded during a month-long 2014 residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in the City of Sin, where even the lowliest prey wallows in gloss. Among set-list evergreens lurk such swerves as “Creatures of the Night,” “War Machine” and “Parasite,” but I wouldn’t miss never hearing dud-sputters “Psycho Circus” or “Hell and Hallelujah” again.
The current roster, bolstered by “Revenge”-era drummer Eric Singer and ex-gofer Tommy Thayer swathed in Cat- and Spaceman getup, respectively, rocks solid yet somehow looser than the meticulous “Alive IV” (2003; Peter Criss was still around, but Thayer’d replaced Ace Frehley, stiffening his solos and riffs) — “God of Thunder” lurches sloppily, groggily, gloriously; however, encores “Shout It Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Nite,” parched from over-reliance, prove anticlimactic, anthems from the boneyard juiced once more into sentience.
Paul Stanley tames his banter for the liquid rollers and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gene Simmons spits coins. Half-exuberant, half-obligation, “KISS Rocks Vegas” is watered-down two-drink-minimum rock — try the pink tacos, and don’t forget your American Express. (Fred Meyer)
Tesla, “Mechanical Resonance Live!” (2016; Tesla Electric Company Recordings): To mark its 30th anniversary, the band unpacked its 1986 debut on the road, jogging its sequence and lineup (original second guitarist Tommy Skeoch excused himself in 2006) slightly. The resulting performance jettisons frills for efficiency: Tesla sprints into numbers sans chatty prelude; six-stringers Frank Hannon and Dave Rude concentrate on synchronous precision with bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta. The only wild card: Jeff Keith’s scalded-panwater vocals, unpredictable on “Gettin’ Better” and “Changes,” but “Love Me” is nearly as punchy as its studio counterpart.
The material’s aged well overall, despite its fruition during glam-metal’s bonanza, although let’s be honest: Tesla was hardly a polished box of sweets, even in its youthful prime. One hopes a similar fate befalls “Mechanical Resonance’s” follow-up, “The Great Radio Controversy,” in 2019. (Full disclosure: I existed in blue-collar Albany during the 1980s, and Tesla was essential to the teenage experience.) (Amazon.com)