Green River – “Live At The Tropicana” (2019)

Lots of people hate on Record Store Day.  I sort of get it given all the re-releases of stuff that frankly didn’t need a 57th version entry into Discogs.  Many see it purely as a money grab.  To be fair, record labels and stores aren’t non-profits, and I for one like having some local record stores, so if this gets some extra people through the doors and helps them keep the lights on, great.  RSD also has had the positive effect of shaking loose some recordings that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.  A case in point is Seattle’s ground-zero-grunge-rockers Green River, the band that spawned Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam.  For RSD in 2016 we were treated to 1984 Demos and this year a recently unearthed live show from 1984, Live At The Tropicana.  I doubt anyone would have bothered with these if it wasn’t for RSD.

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Live At The Tropicana was one of my top two or three “wants” for RSD 2019, but unfortunately I struck out locally.  This isn’t a surprise since I live in Seattle and, well, it’s Green River.  I waited a few weeks for the post-RSD nonsense to die down (copies were selling for $60-65 on eBay on RSD) and scored myself an unopened copy for $30, just a bit more than the retail price.  And you know, it’s a damn good record.  The sound quality is surprisingly good for what was basically a punk show in 1984.  The only downside is that it’s so early that it lacks some of the band’s best material, which hadn’t been written yet.  I’m a bit surprised some of the stage banter was left in, like probably two minutes of Mark Arm asking if anyone had any duct tap (though I enjoyed the part where he said their next number was a dance song, so put on your leg warmers), but whatever – it’s still a fun listening experience and a chance to hear a young band coming into its own.

Green River – “Rehab Doll” (1988)

I’ve written about Green River a number of times, touching on their EPs Come On Down (1985) and Dry As A Bone (1987) as well as the 2016 RSD collection 1984 Demos, so I’ll make an effort not to re-hash all that stuff.  Let it suffice to say there is an argument to be made that Green River was the Patient Zero of grunge.  They were well known within the Seattle music community and their breakup led to the formation of some seminal bands, most notably Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam.  That’s some pretty good lineage right there.

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Rehab Doll was the band’s first and only full-length, nine songs of dirty, grimy rock ‘n’ roll.  The guitar work has a surprising amount of 1980s hard rock and NWOBHM to it, though things stay a bit slower and weightier than the more popular metal of the period.  You can almost feel what would become Mother Love Bone bubbling under in the music.  Add to that Mark Arm’s somewhat unorthodox, half-spoken-half-sung vocal whine and you get something unusual, something that didn’t fit neatly into a genre box circa 1988 (though it would very soon).

It’s interesting that Green River included “Swallow My Pride”, arguably their best known song and one featuring Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on backing vocals, on Rehab Doll.  The song first appeared on Come On Down three years earlier, so it certainly wasn’t new.  I’m not sure if this is a different version, and frankly I’m too lazy to check.  It may simply be a matter of putting their best foot forward on this, their first Sub Pop release.  My version is actually the one put out in Europe by Glitterhouse, which is notable because it includes an additional track that doesn’t appear on any of the Sub Pop versions, a cover of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”.

Green River – “1984 Demos” (2016)

Was this the moment that grunge started? (♠)

Record Store Day 2016 had some pretty big releases for Seattle music fans, including two live albums (The Sonics Live at Easy Street and KEXP Presents: Raw Power – A Tribute To Iggy & The Stooges) and the first ever official release of Green River’s 1984 Demos.  I was lucky enough to find all three at Easy Street Records a couple of hours after they opened on RSD, and I couldn’t be happier with all of them.

You can make a solid case for Green River being the first true grunge band.  Not only were they recording way before anyone was even using the term (♥), but when they eventually broke up in late 1987 members went on to form bands like Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam, each bringing a certain amount of Green River influence to their new projects, most obviously and sonically in Mudhoney (♦).  So if Green River isn’t grunge’s patient zero, I don’t know who is. (♣)

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Producer Jack Endino didn’t record these sessions, but he is the one who ended up with the tapes and was finally able to secure permission to master it for this RSD special vinyl release.  It comes with a reproduction of an early Green River gig flyer as well as a band sticker.  The edition was limited to 2,000 copies, and based what I’ve read online it sounds like 1,800 of these are black and 200 pink – but there’s no way to tell what color you have until you actually open the cellophane.  Mine is black, which I guess is a bit of a bummer, but whatever – I wasn’t buying this as a collectable; I bought it because I love Green River.  And after listening to it, I love them even more.

Endino notes that he hears Alice Cooper and Black Flag influences on these demos, and I certainly agree – I definitely hear some of the slow heaviness of My War‘s B side on songs like “Leeech.”  I also get a ton of The Stooges and just general hardcore.  But what I love is how they blend different elements together.  “Means to an End” is mostly a hardcore song, but Turner does some little guitar start-stops that would have never flown in a typical hardcore song, fitting more into a straight forward rock style.  “New God” takes that heavy psych quality of early Black Sabbath, but with an Iggy Pop-ish approach to the vocals.  “Against the Grain” opens with a drum beat that has you convinced you’re about to get some hair metal, but then is joined by Turner’s guitar and you start thinking, “OK, this is some kind of prog rocker”… until Arm comes in sounding like The Sweet’s Brian Connolly on “Ballroom Blitz”… and that’s all before the song pounds forward into what can be best described as a early UK style punk number… but, you know, one with tempo changes…  I think that song just broke my brain.  The closest Green River come to a prototypical grunge song on 1984 Demos is side B’s “Take Me,” reminding me more than a little of the frenetic pace of early Soundgarden an Mudhoney.

What’s crazy to me is that the 1984 Demos material pre-dates Green River’s debut, the 1985 EP Come On Down, and yet of these nine demo tracks only “Tunnel of Love” made it onto that record – so basically the band recorded an entire album that it never used.  Endino is right when he refers to 1984 Demos as “Green River album number zero.”

1984 Demos is a flat out killer record.  That’s all you need to know.  Go buy it!

 

(♠)  Look, a lot of people, including a lot of Seattle musicians, hate the term “grunge”.  I get it.  I really do.  But at the end of the day, that’s the label that was slapped onto the type of music that came out of here in the mid to late 1980s, so it’s a convenient term as much as anything.  Sure, you could call it punk, but at that point you’d have to call it “Seattle punk” to differentiate it from the New York, Los Angeles, and DC styles, not to mention the stuff coming out of the UK and Europe.  So for our purposes, I’m just going to call it grunge.

(♥)  Of course, future Green River frontman Mark Arm famously used it in a letter to the zine Desperate Times in 1981 to criticize his own band at the time…

(♦)  And not just because of Mark Arm’s unique voice.  To my ears Mudhoney is like Green River v2.0, with that muddy, intentionally sloppy style that defines their sound.

(♣)  Unless you want to argue for Arm and guitarist Steve Turner’s pre-Green River band, Mr. Epp & The Calculations.

Record Store Day 2016

It’s finally here – Record Store Day 2016.  The much anticipated, much debated, much maligned celebration of vinyl and your local indie record store.

It’s been interesting to watch the development of RSD over the last few years as it morphed from a great idea about how to get people to visit indie record shops into what often seems like a creepy dude trying to reach into your front pocket and get his paws on whatever cash you might happen to have at the moment.  I’ve read a number of critical articles by record store owners who feel like the whole thing has turned into more of a negative than a positive, from the really little guy who can’t afford to buy RSD product to the store hung with a bunch of crap that it can’t sell once the day has past, effectively negating the profit he made on the stuff he was able to sell.  And lets not forget the small labels and bands who can’t get their vinyl pressed in the months leading up to the big day since all the very limited record pressing plant resources are eaten up by the bigger labels as they churn out overpriced, unneeded product.  And what about the long lines for shoppers, and the people who start lining up the day before so they can get all the rarest, most desirable items and immediately take them home to post on eBay in search of a quick profit?  Gosh, is there anyone left who actually likes Record Store Day?

Well, this guy does to some extent.  Yeah, I hate standing in lines too.  But you know what?  A few years back Holly and I got to talking to the guy behind us in the hour-long checkout line at Easy Street, and today we consider that guy a good friend of ours (hey Travis!).  I certainly have empathy for the struggles of the small business owner too… which is part of the reason why I still go out there and stand in those lines and give them my cash, because if we don’t support them and instead sit at home and save $2 by ordering something online, there won’t be any more record stores to go to.  Look, I don’t know why the world needs some of these releases… but hey, if someone else wants to buy that stuff, let them.  It’s easy to sit around and talk crap about this year’s Justin Bieber Purpose picture disc, but let’s not forget the dude has sold a bajillion albums and singles over the years, and if someone wants that, let ’em have it.  It’s their money, and they’re enjoyment.

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This year I was excited about some very Seattle-centric limited releases, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on all three over at Easy Street this morning.  These included the first 12″ version of Green River‘s 1984 Demos and KEXP Presents:  Raw Power – A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges, a live event played last year on the roof of Pike Place Market featuring an all-star Stooges cover band.  But the big one was The Sonics Live at Easy Street, a limited edition vinyl release of the show The Sonics performed at our very own Easy Street Records on RSD 2015.  This is the first time I can think of that a live album has been released of a show that I actually attended, so I’m kind of excited about it.  Plus Easy Street put their own spin on the copies for sale in their shop, creating their own individually numbered sleeve and including a ticket from the show, a photo copy of the set list, and a few other goodies, which made convinced me to cough up some cash even though I already pre-ordered a signed copy a month or so ago.  I can’t wait to give this one a spin.

I picked up some other RSD titles as well, plus found a few used nuggets in the New Arrivals bin including Bob Marley’s Legend and The Biggest Blow – A Punk Prayer by Ronnie Biggs.  As an added bonus, by time we arrived about 2.5 hours after the shop opened, there were no lines and we were in and out in no time.

Regardless of how you feel about RSD, make sure to get out there and support your local record store.  Yeah, I know that you can usually find something a bit cheaper online, and you still have to make smart buying decisions with your money.  But if you don’t help ’em out, you don’t get to complain about how there are no more record stores for you to go visit.  Shop local, shop indie.

“Another Pyrrhic Victory” Compilation

Sub Pop certainly signed more bands and survived the demise of grunge to emerge a pretty powerful label, but for my money Seattle’s C/Z Records put out the best cops from the grunge era, period.  Their first ever release, way back in 1986, was called Deep Six and included the likes of Green River, The Melvins, and Soundgarden, they got Nirvana for their 1989 Teriyaki Asthma 7″ comp, and put out regular releases by bands like Skin Yard, Coffin Break, and 7 Year Bitch.  That, my friends, is quality.

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I recently came across a vinyl copy of their 1989 Seattle comp Another Pyrrhic Victory, and as soon as I saw that Malfunkshun was included there was no question that I was buying it.  The front cover says it all – “The Only Compilation Of Dead Seattle God Bands.”  And these are the bands that died two years before Nevermind came out, put grunge on the map, and pissed off one of my friends for kicking off flannel and hiking boots as a fashion trend among the girls at his midwest high school.  Trust me, he’s still mad about it to this day.  But he can’t blame the bands on Another Pyrrhic Victory, because they were all long gone by time grunge took over music.

Some call me Georgie-boy,
Some call me Landru…
— “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun

So opens the first track on Another Pyrrhic Victory, the trashy “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun, led by bassist and vocalist Landru, aka Andy Wood the future frontman of a little sleaze band called Mother Love Bone.  You can hear a bit of that future in “My Only Fan,” though Wood’s vocals advanced by leaps and bounds by time Mother Love Bone’s first EP came out in 1989.  Green River follows that fancy guitar, high pitched rocker the way that only they could, by slowing it down, way down, with plodding weight and Mark Arm’s moaned vocals on “Bazaar,” a song I’ve never heard before.  In fact I’m almost positive I’ve never heard any song on this comp before.

Things get really interesting for me with the next two bands on side A, 64 Spiders and My Eye, neither of which I’d heard of before.  64 Spiders keeps it slow and heavy for the first minute or so of “Bulemic Saturday” before the song kicks into high gear… and then slows it down again, all part of an up-and-down pattern.  Their second song, “They Ain’t,” immediately follows the first, a raspy, angry, driving number that reminds me a bit of early Tad (which is ironic, because Tad is a member of one of the bands on this comp… but it’s not 64 Spiders!).  My Eye closes out the side with another slower track, and the lead singer sounds like he’s channeling his inner tormented Alice Cooper.  This one kicks into gear for a bit as well and is a decent rocker.

H-Hour (featuring one Mr. Tad Doyle on drums) opens up side B with the most interesting song on the comp, the 10+ minute “Medley,” which sounds like a more rock version of The Cure.  And I mean that in the best way possible, because I think it’s killer.  Musically the band is tight as a drum, keeping a steady driving pace for vocalist Johnny Clint, whose voice is what drives this to the top of my list.  They contribute a track to another C/Z comp called Secretions, and I may have to try to track it down just to hear more H-Hour.

Next up is Landru’s second appearance with Malfunkshun’s “Shotgun Wedding,” a much less sleazy song than their first track, but still a bit of dirty little rocker.  My Eye then steps forward with another decent number before we get to the pièce de ridiculousness, Green River’s irreverent version of the Christmas song “Away In a Manger,” which is preposterously awesome.  Words can’t do it justice.  They don’t change the lyrics or anything – it’s all in the presentation and attitude and impertinence.  My favorite part is the one that sounds like an old-timey country song…. which is immediately followed by some Jimi Hendrix style guitar work.  If you’re easily offended by the idea of someone mocking this religious Christmas song, I’d suggest you skip this one.

Another Pyrrhic Victory might be the best early grunge comp out there, every bit as strong as Deep Six, so if you find it, buy it.