Share LIVE – Moby Grape (Sundazed)
When he was still a teenage sci-fi geek turned pioneering rock scribe, Paul Williams opined in "Crawdaddy!" that Jefferson Airplane’s "After Bathing At Baxter’s" – an album I still deeply love, even though my sweetie dismisses it as “damn hipi music” – was the crest of the wave of folk-based American rock that included the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Myself, I’d pick the first Moby Grape album for that distinction.
hrown together by manager Matthew Katz, who’s tied the surviving members of the band up in litigation for years, thwarting every attempt to re-release their catalog, the Grape looked almost too good to be true. All five bandmembers sang and wrote, and they worked their asses off to sound tighter and tougher than any of their San Francisco competition. A key factor was the presence of a couple of Pacific Northwest expats, Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson, whose previous band, the Frantics, had gone head to head with proto-garage maniacs like the Kingsmen, the Raiders, and the Wailers.
Released in 1967, "Moby Grape" hit like a folk rockin’ Ramones, with many of the songs in the two-minute range. Their vocal blend featured four distinctive lead voices -- Jefferson Airplane refugee Skip Spence’s exuberant yelp, bassist Bob Mosley’s soulful wail, stage kid Peter Lewis’ more prosaic balladeer’s voice, and Miller’s bluesy country twang – while guitar-wise, Spence’s driving rhythm deftly intertwined with Lewis’ intricate fingerpicking and Miller’s B.B. King-influenced single-string lines.
Ultimately, they were sunk by Columbia’s heavy-handed hype (five singles released at once, as if they were the Beatles or something, by the label responsible for the odious “The Man Can’t Bust Our Music” ad campaign) and Spence’s acid-fueled unraveling (which resulted in the bent psych classic Oar). But they continued making worthwhile music and remained a potent live force until folding the tent in ’69.
Sundazed now has all of the Grape’s original albums except the first in catalog (thanks, Mr. Katz), as well as the anthology of previously issued outtakes "The Place and the Time". "Live", however, consists entirely of hitherto unheard material: hot sets from San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival, and a Dutch radio broadcast (sans Spence) from near the end, plus a 17-minute jam from late ’66 called “Dark Magic” that’s as focused and powerful as any extended psych jamming you’ve heard – as strong as the "Fillmore East" Allman Brothers or Gov’t Mule. Overall, this stuff is incredibly well played and recorded, and not just “for its time,” proving that these guys really had the goods and making this the archival release of the year. - Ken Shimamoto
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