by Nik Rainey
Ah yes, the posthumous live album. The time-honored means of squeezing a little more blood out of a fallen stone, another lash from the cat o’ nine tails on the deceased equine… such stuff as incrementally-fattened royalty statements are made of. Where there’s a will (and a cult-sized legend to exploit), there’s a way to flog some old board tapes to the grieving fans. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, ma’am, but before your husband died, he ordered this hissy recording made on a hand-held microcassette recorder for you – look, it’s even got your name engraved in gold lettering on the J-card. Now, I wouldn’t dream of asking you to pay for it, but…
Sorry, just being an old cranky hack again. Deadlines, lack of sleep, and bad coffee does that to a person. But it’s easy to be cynical when you’ve been burned as many times as I have. For every Velvet Underground Live at Max’s Kansas City I come across, there’s a dozen-and-one Slaughter and the Dogs Live From the Inside of a Broken Toilet Stall at the Electric Circus es. Fortunately, we’re talking Rykodisc here, and this live record of Boston’s favorite inertia quartet, Galaxie 500, from a recording made by Danish National Radio in the misty days of 1990, is one of those quality items that, while probably unnecessary to all but the fans who bought two copies of their recent box set just to make sure they heard it right the first time, serves as unassailable evidence that, however motionless and enervated they might have seemed in the studio, live they were… well, pretty much exactly the same.
That’s a good thing, really. Few bands ran with standing still as beautifully as these mugs did, which is hardly surprising considering that two-thirds of this combo hailed from the town (this ‘un) that Lou and the gang played more often than any other, and the other (Dean Wareham, late of Luna) is an emigré from New Zealand (where lo-fi was a necessity, not a privilege). For a band named after a muscle car, they sure spent a lot of time at the rest stop, but it’s powered by a diffidence engine that idles like a dream. (No tigers in this tank.) That said, there’s nothing neutral about the performance captured here. Playing in a tiny room to a buncha drunken Danes would be a nightmare for most bands, but it brought out the intimate best in these kids. The six originals at the front of the disc are wet with arc and ache, crystalline chords and beatific Zen (and the art of Moe Tucker maintenance) rhythms bathed in electric light even as they slouch in a denuded forest watching trees decompose. And the three covers at the back end pay drawn-out homage to a triad of key influences: the VU’s “Here She Comes Now” (you were expecting “European Son?”) for the joys of prolonged anticipation, Yoko’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” (beautiful vocal by bassist Naomi Yang) for that ever-important stasis/Fluxus blend, and Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste” as a tip of the Harvard painter’s cap to another enlightened-Cambridge-amateur-made-good. Like most unique tastes, this stuff was left in the bottle by the coarser tongues of its time (maybe the “500” referred to units sold), and if you haven’t savored the vintage yet, I’d point you to the Ryko studio re-ishes first (start with On Fire), then put a little Copenhagen between cheek and gum. Those of you who know prob’ly have the water running, the incense burning, the Mr. Bubble poised, and the whole schmeer on infinite repeat already. Whatta tub toy.