Sunday, February 26, 2012

R.E.M. 9 June 1984 Passaic, NJ SBD - analogloyalist master

Ask me what my favorite live era is for R.E.M. and depending on the day (and my mood) it'll vacillate between their 1984 (Little America) and 1985 (Reconstruction) tours.  On the one hand, in 1984 they are, at the base, still the garage band of their pre-I.R.S. days playing garage punk folk.  On the other, in 1985 what they lose of that garage sense is made up for by increased mysticism and atmosphere.

I'm not sure if Peter Buck changed his rig between tours, but the 1984 sets feature that signature jangle crunch, perhaps at its finest, while 1985 saw Buck's tone gain a fair bit of range (it sounds like he discovered chorus pedals, that is).  The difference is there, though - any of the band's pre-Fables material, when played on the Reconstruction tour, does sound markedly different in terms of guitar sonics.

So depending on my mood and mental place I'll either reach for an '84 soundboard, or one of the many '85 gigs.

 Of late I've been studiously evaluating my catalog of '84 soundboard recordings.  I guess one would place, from a pure sonic perspective, the July 7, 1984 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago (Brawlroom as we lovingly/hatingly referred to it, my relationship with that venue tends more to the hate side than love, but that's a story for another day) - as released on the Reckoning Deluxe Edition - at the top of the heap, with the others ranked against it as the baseline.

While there are rarer sets than today's feature, or more interesting from a setlist or performance perspective, there are - in my humble opinion - no greater-sounding sets than the band's one-off (for MTV) gig June 9, 1984 at the Capital Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey.

This set was a one-off arranged for MTV, for their "Rock Influences: Folk Rock" episode.  As such, and the band still relatively tight from having recently come off an European tour, the band wasn't as sloppily loose as sets from this era could be.  It's obvious that the band is intent on delivering a knockout punch, both for the TV audience and for the assorted celebs/heroes that were in attendance, because the last three songs (not included here, as they were not broadcast/on the master reels) featured various Byrds and others guesting.  It's a wonderfully tight, smooth, well-executed gig by an amazing rock band.

So as not to be completely professional, the band chose this spotlight to debut not one, but three new tracks: "Hyena", "Old Man Kensey" and "Driver 8".  Except "Hyena" which is - moreso than the others - clearly a work-in-progress, the new tracks sound as if they could have been in the set for years.

I'm not sure the provenance of the tape/source used for this post, as I've had it in my collection on CD-R for years, but it's certainly not a recording of the TV broadcast, and not an after-the-fact radio rebroadcast either.  I would bet a hundred Bucks (Peter) that this is copied from the actual master or a first-generation dub of it.  There's no hallmarks of FM or TV lineage, it's got full frequency range up to 22.5 kHz (FM cuts off at ~17kHz, and TV even lower), and it doesn't have that classic FM compression feel to it.  It also is thankfully lacking in that high-frequency "smearing" (usually audible in the cymbals) characteristic of FM broadcast.  Nearly all the other circulating soundboard sets of '84 R.E.M. are ultimately broadcast-sourced, or Nth-generation tape dubs of pre-broadcast radio show LPs (such as the Seattle "The Source" gig), and come nowhere close to sounding as good as this.

How does this Passaic set compare to the Chicago set used on the Reckoning Deluxe Edition?  I think it's of a piece with it - while I disagree with the mastering on the Chicago set, I have no quibbles with the performance or overall sound.  I would just rather listen to this gig than the Chicago set.

I spent a fair bit of time touching up this Passaic set to the point that the band could lift this set from this blog and release it tomorrow, and nobody would know it was mastered by some dork in his bedroom office.  It's *that* good.  You can put that (put that put that) on your wall.

I don't care if you've grabbed this gig in the past from any other place on the Intarwebs, this version here is the definitive version.  I place my reputation on it.


9 June 1984
Capital Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey

For MTV's "Rock Influences: Folk Rock" episode
mastered February 2012 by Analog Loyalist

Soundboard reel -> ? -> FLAC -> analogloyalist mastering -> you


01 ...intro...
02 Pale Blue Eyes
03 Second Guessing
04 Hyena *
05 Letter Never Sent
06 Harborcoat
07 Seven Chinese Brothers
08 Pretty Persuasion
09 So. Central Rain
10 Gardening At Night
11 9-9
12 Windout
13 Old Man Kensey *
14 Sitting Still
15 Driver 8 *
16 Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)
17 Radio Free Europe
18 Little America
-- So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star (w/Roger McGuinn)**
-- Do You Believe In Magic (w/John Sebastian) **
-- Gloria (w/Roger McGuinn) **

* - live debut.
** - not broadcast, and not included here. (I've never seen these on any soundboard set from this gig; it appears only an audience recording captured them.)

FLACs to put on your wall, here.

What are your favorite - both in terms of performance, setlist and sound quality - REM soundboard sets from this era?  Anybody sitting on an unreleased soundboard from either Pageantry or the Work Tour?  Please share!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A petition to release Smiths "Sheila Take A Bow" (Porter version)

I've created a petition, for shits and giggles, encouraging Rhino/Warners (and Morrissey and Marr) to release the John Porter recording of "Sheila Take A Bow" (as found on the stellar Demos and Outtakes 2xLP bootleg) as a single.

Sign it!

Spread the word too.  Who knows, perhaps we'll effect change in Smithdom.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I love this band and the Live Series concept even more. I own their discography, worship at the 13 Songs/Repeater/Steady Diet/Kill Taker altar. But I simply cannot find a way into the other half of their discography. "Birthday Pony" on Red Medicine ruined that record for me, and while I do love "Arpeggiator" and whatever the first track is on End Hits, I can't really get through the whole thing. I simply have no memory of The Argument whatsoever. Convince me on their '95 and onward discography. Anyone have the Albini Kill Taker sessions lossless?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fixing Shitty Mastering: an occasional series

Deep in the recesses of my reptilian brain, I've had an idea for a semi-regular (longtime readers will know how much this blog sticks to a plan...) series of posts exposing really poor mastering, or other critical sonic faults with some of my favorite records.

This plan, at times grandiose, scaled itself back when I realized a lot of the records I'd critique - and post my fixes of - are still in print.  And nothing bugs me more than when I hear a "better" version of a favorite, but only tantalizingly brief, and therefore I can't get the whole thing.  Therefore, if I were to do this right for myself, meaning that it would satisfy me as a critical listener, I would want to post the entire thing.  So, with my mostly-solid stance on not posting full length in-print records, I would only be able to put up snippets of in-print records.

Which, while limiting the reach of this series, doesn't cripple it.  There are plenty of my favorite records that are in dire need of "fixing", and out-of-print.

What is a shitty mastering?  The ten-second version:  Band records a record.  Tapes are finished.  Stuff happens.  Record is manufactured, and you buy it.  It's the "stuff happens" in that process that really defines what the end product will sound like:  were the songs recorded in different sessions, with different studio characteristics?  Different personnel?  Different engineers/producers?  That "stuff happens" is mastering - whereby the discrete entity we call a "record" is assembled from the component parts being the "tracks".  One of the key, if not THE key, aspects of mastering is to give the record an overall feel and cohesion, a sense of the record being an "album".  It's hard to describe, but let's say you record ten songs, in ten different studios, with ten different engineers.  John Smith plays guitar on three tracks, Jim Bob on four, and your stepfather on the closing song.  Track six is your neighbors banging on their laundry tubs, with your guitar plugged into your Walkman.  While you could just take those ten final tracks and bang them in sequence onto your "record" as-is, they will sound like ten separate, discrete, non-cohesive sessions.  For some, this is what works (see Guided by Voices).  For the majority, though, the record isn't complete until various magic happens to give the ten discrete tracks a sense of unity, cohesion, and common (in as much as is needed) feel, a "record".  This magic is what mastering is, in this definition.

Sometimes mastering just doesn't happen because the band can't afford it.  Sometimes a record is mastered for a particular format (say, vinyl), and isn't really re-jiggered for different formats, as there is a distinct difference in what is needed for records mastered for vinyl, and those same records mastered for CD.  Sometimes it's just that, shitty mastering (did the mastering engineer forget to take out his earplugs?).

I have my own evolving list of classic indierock, "alternative", what-have-you records that meet one of the above categories, and sound worlds different when I get to work on them.  The list is smaller when in-print records are winnowed out - I really don't want to be DMCA'ed...

What would readers like to see worked on?  What do you think is sonically terrible, but you still suffer through it because the songs are just so damn good?  I'm curious to see if our opinions of shitty mastering overlap.