Most live records are kind of lame. They often lack the immediacy that comes with actually being at the recorded performance. Sometimes the playing is ragged. Sometimes the singing is ragged. Sometimes the recording quality is ragged. Sometimes all of the raggedness of a live recording gets covered up by studio lip gloss, thus defeating entirely the concept of a “live” record. You thus are left essentially with new, likely inferior, studio versions of old songs you probably already have. Why bother?
None of that applies to the live released earlier this year by The Grip Weeds called Speed Of Live. The Grip Weeds are a New Jersey band that took their name from John Lennon’s Private Gripweed character in the 1967 film How I Won The War. That, plus a short list of some of the songs they’ve covered in the past, will give you an idea of the musical spectrum from which they hail:
- “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” — The Move
- “Down To The Wire” — Buffalo Springfield
- “She Don’t Care About Time” — The Byrds
Does that mean The Grip Weeds are hopelessly retro and mired in the good old days of the 60s? Not really. They are, first and foremost, a rock and roll band. And they sure can rock. But they are a rock band steeped in the virtues of melody and multi-part harmonies like, well, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. And, like those bands, the guitars occasionally jangle and sometimes sound like they came from somewhere in the Middle East.
All of these virtues are evident on Speed Of Live. Immediately after the announcer introduces “this band” as “one of my favorite bands” to start the record, Speed Of Live then proceeds to deliver powerful renditions of thirteen of the band’s best known tracks, and two covers, performed in small clubs in the Northeast. This is hardly a document of cigarette lighter-raised arena rock bloat, replete with endless noodling and solos. It instead shows just how good the band is “in concert.” The singing is sharp. The playing is concise and tight throughout the fifty-seven minutes of bass, guitars and drums.
I can listen to the live version of “Salad Days,” with its occasional “Taxman”-like bassline, over-and-over again. “Infinite Soul,” already one of my favorite songs by the band, has an intimate feel on Speed Of Live as if it was recorded in my living room.
The soaring “Speed Of Life” sounds at least as good live as it does on the band’s last “proper” studio recording, 2010’s Strange Change Machine. “Love’s Lost On You” goes on for six minutes on Speed Of Live, without wasting even one of them. Here’s a shorter version of the song, recorded live in the studio:
The two covers on Speed Of Live? “(So You Want To Be A) Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by, of course, The Byrds. This version seriously rocks, with absolutely perfect harmonies, spectacular guitar playing and lots of “la la la’s.” They also do one of the best versions of “Shakin’ All Over,” which has been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Guess Who and The Who.
Speed Of Live is not a live record that is just “not lame.” Its fifty-seven minutes go by in what seems like an instant. There is not a single weak song in the collection, or a dull interlude in any of the fifteen songs. The record sounds great whether you are listening with headphones, or driving around in traffic at the end of a tough day at the office. In other words, Speed Of Live is just great rock and roll by a band that deserves a whole lot more attention than it receives. Go out and get it.
[This appeared originally in the now-defunct MT Weekly]