Eagles Of Death Metal: Heart On

hearton

I didn’t want to review this album. I didn’t like their first two albums, so I wasn’t very excited about there third. But then Ipecac went and released the vinyl version and I felt obliged.

In the meantime there was Bataclan, which has to be the most publicity Eagles Of Death Metal have ever received. Honestly, I was somewhat impressed they were big enough to be the target of a terrorist attack. And then, oh boy, and then…. Lead singer Jesse Hughes blamed the incident on France’s tight gun laws, I guess because the lax gun laws in the United States are so successful at preventing mass violence. Apparently the guy’s been a nutter for a while, hates Muslims, and supports Trump, and maybe this horrible thing just pushed him beyond the pale.

And it was actually after that happened that I realized I was going to have to review this. I can’t say the guy’s despicable comments (check out that link, he accuses Bataclan security for being in on it, and, to be fair, issues a very good apology later for same comments) didn’t affect my opinion of the album. But I don’t think it’s very good.

This is basically the same as EoDM’s last two albums. They put together some good riffs, but the sound is as thin as Hughes himself and they have a really hard time putting together entire songs. There’s what seems like a cheekiness in the lyrics and the ‘tude, but then given Hughes’ general weirdness you just can’t tell. Whether serious or a gag, though, it doesn’t come off well. I mean, the world didn’t need another song about masturbation, cheeky or not, but here EoDM are with “Solo Flights” singing the praises of self pleasure and oh god it was somewhat outrageous when The Divinyls did it 20 years prior but Jesus Christ, yeah, we all love jerking off.

From memory, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m going to go back and listen to them, this is a bit better than the band’s first two albums, maybe a lot better. I mean, I can kind of stand like a third of it. And I was able to find my old review of Death By Sexy…, and it got 1.5 [clowns], so there’s a little more evidence for the band getting better over time.

Still, that third I enjoy rarely consists of entire songs and/or requires I be in just the right mood for it to hit me in the right way. No, there’s no reason to spend any more time with this than my rules say I have to, and I can’t believe enough people want to own this on vinyl that Ipecac decided to put it out, but EoDM and vinyl are two things I am clearly not the target market for.

Rating:
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Like: “Anything ‘Cept The Truth,” “I’m Your Torpedo”
Meh: “Wannabe In LA,” “(I Used To Couldn’t Dance) Tight Pants,” “Secret Plans,” “Heart On”
Dislike: “High Voltage,” “Now I’m A Fool,” “Cheap Thrills,” “How Can A Man With So Many Friends Feel So All Alone,” “Solo Flights”
Hate: “Prissy Prancin'”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Beak>: Beak>

Great album for working to. Mood music.

Been working on this album forever, mostly because I can’t figure out if it’s three or three-and-a-half clowns. But it’s been months now, so time to just start writing and see where it leads me.

It’s at least three clowns, that much is not up for debate. I do like this CD. It’s atmospheric mood music, mostly very sparse, but a trio that for the most part plays bass, heavily affected guitar, and keys.

Minimalism meets popular music. The music is quite repetitive, atmospheric, as I said, but it drifts in small changes ever so slowly, sometimes almost imperceptibly. Often times, if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear just one note change in a recurring pattern and then, after that note’s been in there for a while, another note will change, and by the end they’ll be in a very different place.

Sometimes the changes can be more dramatic. Gradual, but still big changes, occur, for instance, in “Blagdon Lake,” which, by the time it’s over, is darned hear a headbanger with dramatic accents driving the beat home.

On the other hand, I just don’t see myself reaching for this that much. Just not my cup of tea, and after you get past the top five or six songs, the rest of it is kind of filled out with meh.

A rating of 3.5 often does mean a meh album that has some really good moments in it. But given that you really have to have some patience to get to many of those since they’re, say, the back half of a five minute song and can only really be appreciated after the full build, does this still count? For example, my favorite moment on the record might be the last one-and-a-half minutes of “Ham Green,” but you have to wait 4:45 just to get there.

On the other hand, a rating of three means that, while I do like the album as a whole, there are usually some pretty prominent flaws or real frustration I have with at least parts of it. I don’t really have that here. At worst I’m just maybe a little bored, waiting for a payoff too long in coming.

If I were being an objective critic, I’d give it 3.5, maybe even more, as reward for what feels like to me very good execution on vision. If I’m rating for myself, then I’m going to give it a three and likely not spend that much more time with it. When I first started blogging I tried to be more objective. Now, I don’t care about that so much and would rather leave a record of how it affected me. The funny thing about this record is that when I’m listening, I’m definitely at a 3.5. But I never want to listen to it. I don’t know, something about a 3.5 just doesn’t feel right. So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll be generous with the full hearts so that I remember I did like quite a few songs on here, but I’m going to leave the rating at an even three.

Rating:
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Mix: “Blagdon Lake”
– “Backwell,” “PIll,” “Ham Green,” “I Know,” “Iron Action,” “The Cornubia,” “Flax Bourton”
– “Battery Point,” “Ears Have Ears,” “Barrow Gurney,”  “Dundry Hill”
Song Notes: After the jump
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MadLove: White With Foam

Boy this sounds like The Book Of Knots. I spent a lot of time trying to find some way to link this to The Book Of Knots. I couldn’t. I think the main similarity is in the tonalities and the female vocalist. Who is not very good…she has a hard time singing on key. At first I thought that was an artistic choice, and maybe it is, but it came to bug me more and more as I listened to it. I think the album lost a full clown during the review period.

It’s still a pretty good listen. I bet it’s the most straight-forward thing Trevor Dunn (Trio Convulsant, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas) has ever done. There are plenty of twists and turns, especially harmonically and rhythmically. But it’s also accessible, darkly-tinged verse-chorus-verse guitar/bass/drums/vocals/sometimesKeys(?) rock. It’s like a goth-prog kinda thing, like a less weighty Type O Negative or a stripped down Rush. (“The Mute Number” has strong “YYZ” influences, especially at the beginning.) Also Björk-y in several places.

To tell you the truth, I’m getting a bit sick of this one, and so I’m kind of cranking out a review before it gets too old. Her voice just works against my enjoyment, and the album is better served by close listening than background. Not many bad songs, it just gets tiresome.

Rating:
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– “Rats With Wings,” “Dirty,” “As Sad As It Was Beautiful,” “All The Nerve Endings”
– “Thread,” “Absence & Noise,” “In Love (In Theory),” “Broke,” “Left With Nothing,” “Knowing,” “Art Of Denial,” “The Mute Number”
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Sax Ruins: Yawiquo

So I’m going along listening to this Ipecac album by Sax Ruins. And it’s made up of multi-tracked sax and frenetic, also-possibly-multi-tracked-but-I doubt-it drums. And it’s got these crazy track names like “Czerudmuntzail” and “Djubatczegromm.” And the compositional style is one of very intricate melodic runs, often involving a lot of parallel movements, complex harmonies, and stop-and-start rhythms. And I think, man, this reminds me of Ruins’ 2002 release Tzomborgha, also on Ipecac. Cuz that has the same compositional style, but its instrumentation was bass and drums. Huynh, that’s funny…

And it never even dawned on me until I looked it up that they both had Ruins in their name and, of course, Sax is just acting as a modifier here, it’s Ruins but with Sax. The drummer’s the same guy, he just swapped out his bassist for a sax player. Duh.

So this is awesome, and I don’t really feel like tying everything together, so some thoughts….

If you’re gonna do really frenetic, free jazz stuff like this, you’d better be hella virtuosic. Like, if you’re going to be this abrasive and break this many rules, you’d better know what you’re doing, both compositionally and performatively. And they do.

The first thing about this that is hardest to love are the really free, squawky parts. And they almost treat the first track or three as a weeder-out class in college. They bring the most abrasive stuff right up front, as if to say, “This is what we do. If you don’t like this, stay away.” It fades into still-abrasive-but-much-more-palatable-and-structured stuff later in the album.

The second thing that’s hard to love is all the parallel movement. What this means is that the multi-tracked saxes are all playing the same exact melodies just at different intervals. It sounds to me that it’s even intervals like perfect octaves and fifths. Having two voices move the same amount in the same direction when they are at a perfect fifth or octave apart is a big no-no in traditional multi-part composition. It is, of course, a rule that should be broken and is often. So much so that we hardly even think about it now. But when you have a band doing basically just that for an entire album, the effect gets a little tiresome and you start to realize why it’s a “rule.” Maybe it’s intentional…keeping the contrapuntal action minimal (non-existent) while the rest of the album overloads you with complexity.

You might expect that hearing an entire album of just squealing sax and drums would get fatiguing, but it only does just a little bit. They’re able to keep it interesting enough that you don’t really mind the monochromaticism of it.

Very stimulating, very interesting, really rocking. Cool album.

Rating:
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– “Pallaschtom,” “Zworrisdeh,” “Komnigriss,” “Gravestone,” “Epigonen,” “Pig Brag Crack,” “Yawiquo”
– “Korromda Peimm,” Zuma Taksim,” “Hydereomastgroningem,” “Czerudmuntzail,” “Snare,” “Nivaftopoftz,” “Znohjmo,” “Bupphairodazz,” “Djubatczegromm”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Dälek: Gutter Tactics

I am coming into this with no expectations. I mean, after so many Dälek albums where I tried so hard to get into it only to be so disappointed, I just don’t feel like the band is going to change its tune at this point. They’ve found the formula they like, why would they be moving in my direction?

So, does the band non-meet my non-expectations? The beats and rhymes aren’t anything new. They’re same old same old. However, the sounds are much more inviting. They’re still cutting edge, aggressive; just not as antagonistic. It sounds much more pleasantly dissonant and noisy. And it’s those improved, more inviting sounds that have me negging the beats, because now that I’m not hung up on bracing to force myself through the music, I can focus more on what’s being said and how it’s being said. And it’s just kinda meh.

What I do pick up in the lyrics seems very anti-The Man, anti-The System, etc. And he hates me for not liking him and/or doesn’t care. And oh god, still with this? It’s like a really unfortunate mix of hip-hop machismo, liberal holier-than-thou indignation, and the me-against-the-world attitude of teenage boys.

It’s surprising then that one of the most appealing moments on the album is the opening track, which is Jeremiah Wright’s infamous speech (or at least a big chunk thereof) that drew so much lightning from the right during both of the last Presidential campaigns. At first I hated it because it was so angry, but then I started to hear it as music, and Wright has a keen sense of rhythm, tension, and crescendo. When you combine it with the music that Dälek masterfully puts under it, it kinda kicks ass. (Leaving aside, in this forum, the content of the speech, let alone its pragmatics.)

There’s still too much repetitiveness and too much blah. (If only they would forgo the rapping part.) But for the first time I can kind of tune that stuff out and just get lost in long stretches of the band’s soundscapes, and kind of look forward to listening to this. Maybe the band is coming around…. Nah, better keep my expectations minimal.

Rating:
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– “No Question,” “Gutter Tactics”
– “Blessed Are They Who Bash Your Children’s Head Against A Rock,” “Armed With Krylon,” “Street Diction,” “A Collection Of Miserable Thoughts Laced With Wit,” “Los Macheteros/Spear Of A Nation,” “2012 (The Pillage)”
– “Who Medgar Evers Was…,” “We Lost Sight,” “Atypical Stereotype”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Tori Amos: Abnormally Attracted To Sin

Yizzow, this is awesome.  Amos retreats from the harsh sounds of her prior album, American Doll Posse, exploring, in large part, complex, ambiguous sides of the human experience with gorgeously welcoming music.  Songwriting-wise it’s like The Beekeper but thematically coherent and without the scattershot experiments with Caribbean- and African-influenced songs.  It’s like the lyrics of American Doll Posse or Boys For Pele with the music of From The Choirgirl Hotel or To Venus And Back.  It’s her best album since Scarlet’s Walk and contends for her best yet.

There’s very little piano here, but if you still think of Amos as primarily a pianist you haven’t paid attention since the mid-90’s.  The orchestration is expert, with rich, immersive textures enveloping you for the entire disc.  From start to finish, Amos drugs you, hypnotizes you, seduces and enchants you, guiding you through a fantastical, sensuous world of dreamy harmonies, enrapturing melodies, and evocative lyrics, characters, and stories.

It seems like every Tori Amos review I write I have to deconstruct who she is and how she fits in to our cultural tapestry.  She’s emblematic, to me, of a relatively new kind of superstar.  In the last, I don’t know, 15 years or so, I feel like a new category of artists have emerged.  These artists have had their flashpoint moments, been feted as the new, now thing, yet have settled into a role of constancy in our hyper-charged media environment.  By constancy I don’t mean that their art stays the same; instead, I mean that they’ve found a loyal fan base and a new work by them merits mention for those paying attention, but for the most part they’re under the What’sHotNow radar.  I’ve made this comparison before, but I would put Pearl Jam’s last decade or so into this category.  Artists who are not in this category include U2 (too big, too much lavish praise for reinvention, plus No Line On The Horizon was very meh), Bruce Springsteen (sucks now), and throw a dart and hit a band that flamed out after an album or two or is still in the new and hot category.

What I’m building to here, and I’ve mentioned this before, too, is that these artists are hard to write about as a critic because they don’t give any easy storyline.  There’s no tabloid material about extramarital affairs, African child adoption, or hospitalization for “exhaustion” to contextualize the works.  It’s infinitely more satisfying to just appreciate an artist putting out quality work after quality work, developing their craft even if their voice was found and cozied into a decade or more ago.  However, these stories just don’t move paper.  We can’t congratulate ourselves on living a better life reading about their trainwrecked fairy tale while on the treadmill.

But Amos addresses this context as well.  “Curtain Call” seems to be about walks with fame and failure to avoid the machine that’s built up and tore down the Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohans of the world.

Then you ram your hand into your bag
For a little friendly substance
By the time you’re 25
They will say, “You’ve gone and blown it”
By the time you’re 35, I must confide
You will have blown them all

Of course, this is far more pertinent to female than male celebrities, and here we get to another area where it gets hard to write about Tori Amos: not only is her music laced with feminine themes, it’s wrapped in obfuscation and mysticism so as to deter me from venturing in.  I can’t get around it, though.  A big part of my interest in Amos is her complete control of her female personae.  She wears so many facets of the feminine throughout her catalog as to be simultaneously entrancing and off-putting, but always beguiling.  On Abnormally Attracted To Sin, she covers prostitution (“Give”), a mother contemplating suicide (“Maybe California”), female celebrity (“Curtain Call”), surveillance and voyeurism (“Police Me”), and pubescent drug use and sexual experimentation (“Mary Jane”).

And speaking of Amos’ female personae, this is the deluxe version of this album, which includes a DVD with videos of all the songs here except “Mary Jane.”  She plays her dolls from American Doll Posse in relevant settings (“Give” is in a nightclub, “Curtain Call” includes Hollywood’s Walk of Fame) shot in a grainy style.  It’s good and somewhat enlightening, but it has more value to me as a collector’s item rather than something I’ll watch often.

But, to wrap up the review of the music, feminism is all over all of Amos’ releases.  So what’s the story of this album?  I don’t think it’s one of the easy stories, like one of departure or of “best yet” (it may be her best yet, but that’s not the story), but rather one of synthesis.  Amos pieced together the best of what she’d done over the past 11-12 years and put it all into one fantastic package that’s instantly accessible but also revealing of greater depth upon examination.  And for those still paying attention, that’s more than enough.

Rating:
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“Give,” “Not Dying Today,” “Curtain Call,” “Abnormally Attracted To Sin”
– “Welcome To England,” “Strong Black Vine,” “Flavor,” “Maybe California,” “Fire To Your Plain,” “Police Me,” “That Guy,” “500 Miles,” “Mary Jane,” “Starling,” “Fast Horse,” “Ophelia,” “Lady In Blue”
Filed Between: Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk and Animal Chin (The Ins & Outs Of Terrorism)
Track Notes: After the fold… Continue reading

The Airborne Toxic Event: All I Ever Wanted: The Airborne Toxic Event – Live From Walt Disney Concert Hall featuring The Calder Quartet

Sometimes it’s impossible to top what Wikipedia has to say about a CD.  By way of introduction, let me quote liberally from the entry there.

On December 4, 2009, the Airborne Toxic Event played its final show in support of its debut album, giving a sold-out performance at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. The show was presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and was the last of 354 shows performed by the band on its debut album cycle. The group was accompanied by the Calder Quartet, the Lalo Guerrero Children’s choir, the The Belmont High School marching band, Mexican Baile Folklorico dancers, and a number of guest musicians, including horn players and an accordionist.

As I start off the review with a lengthy quote, so The Airborne Toxic Event also starts off this performance with a long quote: the beginning of the second movement of Ravel’s string quartet.  It’s a great piece, a great way to start off a rock concert, and flows really well into “Wishing Well,” giving a nice initial start to the show.  But who let the band plan the next part of the set list:  two of their songs only available as bonus tracks, the second of which is a slow ballad, and then an even slower ballad that’s a cover?  How are the fans supposed to engage with this?

The band’s sole album at the point in time of this concert had ten tracks on it, but this performance ends up with 17, and only eight of the songs off of The Airborne Toxic Event.  For the most part those songs are better on the record.  I heard (I think from WNYC’s John Schaefer who I think was himself quoting somebody else) that an album is like a love letter and a concert is like a hot date.  Which makes a live album a love letter about somebody else’s hot date.  That feels about right, where the hugeness of the event doesn’t come through to your home listening.

The Airborne Toxic Event does not do things like other bands.  They are relentless workaholics and always seem to be in ridiculously good cheer, belying the youthful angst of their lyrics, many of them so painfully publicly lived by lead singer Mikel Jollet.  The deluxe edition of their second album, All At Once, came with a DVD that featured a video for every song, each one recorded in an unconventional live setting.  For this concert they included a string quartet (the ensemble as well as the piece), a marching band, Mexican folk dancers, and a children’s choir.

Those new sounds pretty all add positively to the songs.  And violist Anna Bulbrook’s voice is way more prominent here than it is on either album, making me long for its gorgeous qualities more in the studio.  I bet it was a grand show, with even the classiness of an intermission thrown into the mix.  It might even make a great DVD.  With just audio, however, it comes through as kind of disjointed and overflowing, not tight.  As I said, the performances from the studio are usually the better ones.  In concert there’s too much applause and banter and attempting to add something grand to the song that ends up taking away from the punch that I loved so much on their debut.  Jollet’s emotions come through, but he can’t sing as well live as he does with the studio magic.

The band’s big hit, “Sometime Around Midnight,” is probably one of the best, in more than one sense of that word, example of the aggrandizing phenomenon.  Knowing it’s their epic emotional and accessible tune, it opens with an overwrought, slow opening riff on the band’s viola.  It’s a little much to take, but by the end things have picked up enough and it comes close to rivaling the original, even causing me to hear new meaning in the lyrics.

The new songs are a mixed bag.  On the plus side you’ve got the excellent “All I Ever Wanted,” which would appear on All At Once, but suffered there from horrid production qualities, making this the preferred version.  “Goodbye Horses” is the other best new song and was apparently in The Silence Of The Lambs.  There’s also a handful of B-sides from the band, the best of which is “This Losing,” which falls just shy of keep status.  Then there are a few more covers, of songs by The Magnetic Fields and Ramones, neither of which is head-turning.

There’s a lot to like here, but it’s also pretty bloated, with long stretches of wandering leaving the good parts disconnected from each other.  It’s fun to spend some time with, if you’re a fan, but I’m fine just taking the good parts and leaving the rest.

Rating:
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Keep:
“String Quartet: II – Assez Vif: Très Rythmé,” “Wishing Well,” “Something New,” “Goodbye Horses,” “Sometime Around Midnight,” “All I Ever Wanted,” “Innocence”
Like:
“This Losing,” “A Letter To Georgia,” “Duet,” “Gasoline,” “Happiness Is Overrated,” “Intermission,” “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?,” “Missy”

Song notes:

  1. String Quartet: II – Assez Vif: Très Rythmé – Modern.  Flows right into next one.  That piece itself is pretty awesome, but this seems a bit more muddled.  Well the hall’s just so darn big and it’s recorded in that way, so you lose a lot of the crispness of a good studio recording recorded in a smaller room.  And the audience applause gets in the way (I’m assuming that’s when the rockers walk out on stage).  I like it a lot, though, so I guess I’ll keep it, though if I ever get a copy of a more traditional version I’ll probably drop this to like.
  2. Wishing Well – From The Airborne Toxic Event. Would have been a great transition if not for the bit of silence Zune Music Pass puts in there.  Strings are sweet.  His singing just isn’t as good live as it is on record.  This is done well enough that I want to keep it.
  3. This Losing – It’s listed as a European Bonus Track on The Airborne Toxic Event on Wikipedia.  This is an okay song.  Mostly inoffensive.  Props for not putting it on the main album; I’m always saying bands should leave off their non-killer stuff.
  4. A Letter To Georgia – Slow ballad.  Mournful.  Not very good.
  5. The Book Of Love – Dedicates to his grandma who had died a week earlier.  It is by The Magnetic Fields and it seems Peter Gabriel covered it, too.  Has its moments as a song, but I don’t like his imitation of his grandma’s voice at the beginning.  I’m glad I listened to the original; that’s quite a good song.  This, though.  I wish he would have made more his own.  His voice can’t carry that slow mourning thing that the original does, so it just comes off weird.  Plus by adding in so much instrumentation and making it a bit longer, grander it distracts from how well the lyrics cohere across the song and change in minor ways from verse to verse and chorus to chorus a la Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”  Ditch.
  6. Something New – Man, the violist (Anna Bulbrook) is nailing the vocals this night.  Gorgeous here.  Features accordion, which adds some nice color.  Really not crazy about his voice, and I like the uptempo version better.  Still, I love her vocals.
  7. Duet – This show is really quiet, slow.  Really taking a while to get going.
  8. Gasoline – Is this where the pace is going to start picking up?  Female backing vox are so sexy, pretty.  Totes feel the rush of blood.  This is a bit of a sloppy version.  It’s faster and just not tight.  But gawd do I love those backing vocals.  They almost make it keep, but like.
  9. Happiness Is Overrated – “I’m so sorry/I really lost my head”.  Definitely loses its mix status right off and probably its keep status due to the banter-y stuff at the beginning.  Plus it kind of seems like a country version.  Ends with banter into intermission.  This is nice with a very strong end, even maybe a bit more powerful than the original, but the silly banter keeps it down at like.
  10. Intermission – It’s the marching band playing some intermission-y music while the crowd claps along.  Like.
  11. Does This Mean You’re Moving On? – Horns throughout.  That’s a nice touch, but the studio version, a mix, is still superior.  Like.
  12. Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio? – I guess it was by The Ramones.  Pretty typical Ramones stuff.
  13. Sometime Around Midnight – From The Airborne Toxic Event.  This is so obviously about an ex.  How did I never get that?  Why did I think it was about a stranger-cum-object-of-desire?  This is too slow/epic at the beginning–they’re really playing up it’s big hitness–but it’s very good.  Keep.
  14. Goodbye Horses – I’m digging this.  Apparently, this is by Q Lazzarus and was in The Silence Of The Lambs.
  15. All I Ever Wanted – From All At Once.  At least like…this song is just so good.  Actually, this may end up being my better version of this song.  It is.  The studio version was keep, but it sounds like ass, particularly at the huge end where the dynamic compression gets to be way too much.  This performance isn’t as nice or as clean (in areas other than dynamic compression), but it sure is nice to have a version that doesn’t run off the tracks at the end.  Man, that album’s sound is a tragedy.
  16. Innocence – This version is over ten minutes long.  Banter up top.  Super slow at start where they tack on a completely new part that seems to be about suicide.  I really like this, though.  Found myself rockin’ out to the end pretty hard, so we’ll keep it.
  17. Missy – I remember them ending at least the first of the two shows I saw them do with this song.  A children’s choir.  The marching band plus the choir are freaking awesome.  But there’s like a minute where there’s just a vamp and then there’s all the introductions of the band members, so it stays at like.