Thursday, February 19, 2009

Proto-metal Report - Grand Funk Live

“Here’s the group you’ve been waiting to see, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD!” And with those words my life was never the same. It wasn’t until about 10 or 12 years ago that someone hipped me to the fact that there was a lot more to Grand Funk than “We’re An American Band,” “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home” and “Rock N Roll Soul” – all songs I still love to this day – but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of fuzz that is Grand Funk’s incredible LIVE ALBUM (1970).

As a 41 year old high energy rock and roll maniac, live albums are some of my favorite records of all time. I don’t drink coffee so when I’m tired and/or hungover in the morning I reach for Kick Out the Jams, No Sleep Til Hammersmith, Live & Dangerous, Tokyo Tapes, Strangers In the Night, Made In Japan, Live At the Regal, Live At the Apollo Volume 2, Double Live Gonzo, etc to get me moving. If I’m really dragging my ass, this is the album that puts me back on track.

I stumbled across this record completely by accident. I was on vacation in Austin, TX browsing the racks at the awesome Waterloo Records back in November, 2000. By complete co-incidence I was in Austin during the presidential election debacle. While that bullshit unfolded around me, I went looking for some Grant Green CD’s when I noticed LIVE ALBUM peaking out of the racks and decided to give it a try. In general I like to check out older rock bands through a live album rather than a greatest hits compilation. When I put the disc in the rental car’s player and started the engine the sounds of “Are You Ready” came blasting out at me. Within about 30 seconds I knew I had found a new favorite album. Hearing this thing for the first time while cruising around Austin is an experience I’ll never forget.

If you don’t know this record (or early Grand Funk) try to imagine Black Sabbath’s first album combined with The Sonics. Or imagine a less radical MC5 or a more soulful Ted Nugent. Grand Funk’s jams are extremely American. There’s no way a British rhythm section in 1970 could rock this hard. It’s obvious these guys spent many years playing “High Heeled Sneakers,” “Midnight Hour,” and “Uptight” at places where if the people don’t dance you don’t get paid. In the words of Homer Simpson, Mel Schaecher’s bass is indeed “bong rattling.” It’s so loud and distorted but his playing has a solid R&B groove. Playing with “96 Tears” over and over in ? & the Mysterians’ band probably had something to do with it. Don Brewer’s drumming is so tight and in the pocket and he has a great singing voice. Plus, his white man’s fro is 2nd only to Rob Tyner’s. Yes, even better than Handsome Dick Manitoba’s and years before Boston’s Sib Hashian.

And then there’s Mark Farner. He’s not a great guitarist but he plays with so much exuberance it’s inspiring. His tone is also completely unique. Back then he used a Messenger guitar that was made out of aluminum with a built in fuzztone. When he plugs that thing into those huge West Amplifiers they were using back then – look out! His use of fuzz with a wah wah pedal at the start of “Paranoid” is one of the most obnoxious sounds you’ll ever hear. (Incidentally, GFR’s “Paranoid” from their Red Album came out earlier in 1970 than Black Sabbath’s song of the same name). Mark’s got one of the best voices in rock. He’s mentioned many times that his favorite vocalist is the soul singer Howard Tate and you can really hear the influence. Mark’s one of the few white dudes who can really belt it out without sounding like he’s trying to be black.

After playing this thing to death I was able to track down a bootleg VHS copy of “Midsummer Night’s Rock” that was broadcast on TV back in the summer of 1970. Grand Funk opened a festival that also included Traffic, Mountain, The Stooges (the famous peanut butter show) and Alice Cooper. All this footage is easy to find on youtube now, but being able to see GFR in full flight is a revelation. During “Inside Looking Out” the shirtless crowd bust out of the stands and storm the baseball field to boogie. Mark’s busy sliding across the stage on his knees, blowing harmonica, playing guitar, screaming his ass off and GETTING DOWN! If it doesn’t move you, you must be dead.

The original LP and CD had the track listing in a slightly different order than the 2002 CD remaster. The latest version of the CD puts the songs back in the original order that they played them in concert. The album kicks off with lots of crowd noises and in the background you can hear Mark say “I’m getting shocks off this mic. It’s a hell of a rush but I don’t know how many more I can take.” You can tell the crowd is agitated and they want the Funk. After some square introduces the band, they kick into high gear with “Are You Ready” and the crowd goes nuts! I’m sure band manager/producer Terry Knight overdubbed some extra crowd noise at the start of the song but the band is as live as it gets. Grand Funk were playing about 250 shows a year back then so they didn’t need to overdub any of their parts.

After that comes the aforementioned “Paranoid.” This song is HEAVY acid rock that sounds like Mountain playing “1969” by the Stooges. Actually, this song sounds like the Butthole Surfers around “Locust Abortion Technician” era, too. Don’t believe me? Track down the Buttholes official Double Live album from 1989 where they do a cover of it. When the Butthole Surfers signed to Capitol Records Paul Leary said he was thrilled to be on the same label as his favorite band Grand Funk Railroad!

“In Need” is probably my favorite on the entire record. It starts off as a 2 minute pop song boogie before turning into a humping, bass driven rock feast. Mark and Don trade some vocals before Mark goes nuts on the guitar. His extended solo is great for pissing off the neighbors. I can only imagine how many joints were lost because of someone’s mom pounding on the door screaming to turn it down. “Heartbreaker” is a ballad for the ladies where Mark gets introspective. It’s a good song but I usually skip it because I want to get back to the heavy jams. But before we can all boogie there’s “Words of Wisdom” – a spoken word piece from Mark telling the brothers and sisters in the crowd to be careful of bad dope getting passed around. Grand Funk always said they against “hard drugs.” With that out of the way we can all get down with “Mark Says Alright” – an instrumental stone-gett off that makes girls want to pull off their halter top and groove on their boyfriend’s shoulders. Oh yeah, the Butthole Surfers also had a song called “Mark Says Alright” with sampled vocals from their dog named “Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad” (his full, legal name). After Mark literally says “alright!” the band crashes into “T.N.U.C” (read it backwords), a killer rocker with Don’s long ass drum solo in the middle where he shows off his awesome rolls, flams and paradiddles.

We’re in the home stretch of the LIVE ALBUM experience and GFR really puts the people into a frenzy with “Inside Looking Out” – a twelve & a half rendition of an old song by the Animals. Mark changes some of the words and the crowd goes berserk when he mentions nickel bags. Who doesn’t like nickel bags? Get high or go home! The rhythm section plods along at a snails pace while Mark teases the crowd with guitar noise and insanity before it finally explodes into a heavy rhythmic groove. Mark asks the crowd to “get down with me” and then turns Mel loose on them. Rather than kill them with more guitar solos, Mark busts out a harmonica and preaches the blues on it. When this thing finally ends the band and the crowd sound exhausted.

But they’re not done yet! It’s time to get “Into the Sun.” It starts off innocent enough before they rock us back into bad trip territory. Mark basically plays 1 chord for most of this one with tons of fuzz, wah and filth. The huge speed boogie jam at the end can kill a narc at 50 paces.

Bands just don’t play like this anymore. They don’t have to. An audience today wouldn’t know how to react to this much intensity. In Jauary 2001 a friend of mine dragged me to see a new band he was really excited about – The White Stripes. I left after about 20 minutes of their lame show and went home and cranked this muther.


Buy here:Live Album


Larry said...

Dude, you are 100% right on; GRAND FUNK was the greatest live band ever! Rock on,Larry

Dimaension X said...

They were so under-rated it's ridiculous - such an exciting live band - And definitely one of the best live albums ever.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pro-Metal,

Welcome to the club...your assessment of Grand Funk Live is spot on. I nearly blew my 15-year-old mind in 1971 when I got the album set as a gift. I spent hundred of hours playing the record over and over learning first the bass parts and then the guitar parts. If you truly like live recordings here's another one to look for: Steppenwolf Live (double album) from about the same time as G.F. Live. Go beyond "Born to be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride". They don't rock like Grand Funk but it is an awsome collection from various live shows...their guitar player is totally under-rated. He has some sweet and catchy licks. Cool spacial feeling too, unusual for old live recordings, best with headphones.


Cruizinsuezin said...

NICE to meet someone who "get's it"

GFR were great when they were together as the original 3 plus keys!

Good blogging!

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah - saw GF live in 1971, on the E Pluribus Funk tour, when Farner was using Peter Frampton's old white SG/Les Paul Custom,as the Messenger had given up the ghost. This was their last tour as a 3-piece, before bringing in Craig Frost on keys.

The Steppenwolf Live album is also killer - recorded on the same tour with Three Dog Night ("Live at the Forum"). Larry Byrom's leadwork is stunning on "Pusher".

Captain Sensible said...

One of the best live albums ever.... wildly exciting, whips the crowd into a frenzy as all good rock n roll should.

And I can speak from personal experience having caught their set at Hyde Park.

Great stuff.

Marulk said...

Man, if there ever was a band that played and rocked this hard I would travel anywhere to hear it! /D

Kerry said...

They were a quintessential live band. They could do things on the road and duplicate it in the studio. It wasn't that complex for them. I think they just had the heart and soul to do it. They put EFFORT into it.

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