Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Vault Package # 10

I should probably review Vault packages more often. Just a brief little jotting down of my thoughts on the most recent offering from Third Man's subscription service. I've been a subscriber since the beginning and I've never found nothing to like in a package. Maybe I'll retrospectively take a look at the packages of the past. But for now I'll have a look at the fun but rag-tag tenth package.

The Raconteurs - Live At Third Man Records

What I should get out of the way first are the sound issues that have mired this LP in controversy. People have been complaining of distorted and inconsistent sound as well as a strange whirling. This is a shame considering that the Live at Third Man LPs are highly regarded for their wonderful analogue quality. My copy of this LP starts off pretty badly, the volume goes and up and down for Consoler of the Lonely and the first three tracks all badly clip. I'm pretty sure that this is at least partly to do with some issue that occurred during the actual recording as the sound clearly points towards mics not being able to take the noise. However, all things said and done, this isn't really a make-or-break issue. The first song is sort of lost and the second two are a bit below standard but the rest of the LP sounds absolutely solid particularly when you consider how hard to record the Racs are live (this is a story to get into if I ever talk about the Live In London LP).

The album itself is pretty great with some ace moments. Having a live Racs album that is well balanced with Patrick Keeler nicely out in front is by itself something to celebrate. Jack's voice, while hardly poor, is not the best its ever been but he and Brendan still give a really good performance. There are some great jam moments such as the I Can See For Miles excerpt at the end of Hands, the little boogie outro to Broken Boy Soldiers and the numerous sing-alongs and guitar doodling during Steady As She Goes. The best moments of the LP are when the band just 'click' together, most notably on Many Shades of Black and The Switch and The Spur, both helped by some raunchy live horns. The songs are propelled forward by some note-perfect Jack solos and amazing drumming by Patrick Keeler. In fact, it's Keeler who really owns this album. With his drums placed front and centre in the mix we can really enjoy his playing, which, tonight is above par even for him. Speaking of Patrick Keeler...

Devil's Night At Third Man Records

Everyone who's not Elvira or a Greenhorne, get out of the fucking hall.

You gotta to hand it to Third Man on this one. Their track record on Vault DVDs is less than stellar but here they've really given us a fully loaded disc of goodies that wouldn't feel out of place as a general release. And even more extraordinarily, the black and white feels fully justified.

The documentary 'feature' that is advertised as the meat of the disc (lengthwise it's not) is quite well done in terms of direction and editing. The content features nothing revelatory but has some very cute moments. There's a particularly sweet scene where Brendan calls bullshit on Jack's astronaut costume and another where Jack yells at everyone for blocking the hallway. (Perhaps I just love seeing Third Man artists swear). Jack provides the slightly cryptic, often sarcastic, commentary on the origins and motives for this big ass halloween party while Patrick Keeler gives a fairly straightforward narration of The Greenhornes and their role at the party. The prosaic 'fly on the wall' scenes are contrasted with the very over the top party sequence which intercuts the performances with sword swallowing, fire breathing and various ghoulish audience members. It's a nice and polished product that hits the mark of what it wants to do.

The Black Belles performance is actually very good, rising above my expectations. The set is, probably for the best, kept short but the few songs that get showcased are performed with lust and lustre. The show is helped along by some more outstanding recording work by Vance Powell, the in-house engineer at the Third Man blue room. The stand out is a cracking cover of The Sonics' classic The Witch (inexplicably sans-bassline) that underlines the garage/gothic fusion niche that the Black Belles are carving out for themselves.

The full Greenhornes performance, which makes up the majority of the DVD, is the real meat and potatoes here. To be honest I only gave it a passing look and pretty much just ripped the audio straight to iTunes for continuous play. The Greenhornes aren't a particularly engaging band visually although they do provide some laughs in this instance with a few ZZ Top send-ups. The most important thing about this show is that it is (as far as I know) the first pro-recorded Greenhornes live show. I've seen them live and know that they have a ferocious sound on stage so I desperately wanted document of it. The sound is good although it doesn't capture the full punch that the Greenhornes should have. Still it's a marvellous performance, well recorded, that features some true gems. The songs from the then-forthcoming **** dominate the set but I think that those songs got stronger as the tour went on (from what I saw in early 2011). The real highlights are the covers, particularly Going To The River and the live staple Lost Woman which is finally given the fidelity it deserves. The other major highlight is Shelter Of Your Arms, a song overshadowed by The White Stripes cover, but one that is always a highlight live and probably stands out as the bands strongest original. I was sad to see Go Tell Henry and I'll Go Crazy but I have the more than sufficient LP versions to appease me. All in all this is a disc that I'll revisit, at least in audio form, time and time again. A real keeper.

The White Stripes/Dead Weather Remix Single

I'll be honest: I'm yet to hear a remix I love. But I entered into this with an open mind and unfortunately was disappointed. It's silly to say that 'remixes are stupid, why bother?' before hearing the tracks because the intentions here were noble and creative but both attempts fall flat on their face.

Beck's redux of The Hardest Button To Button has a few glimmers of excitement where you can here sketches of how he's toyed with the original track in a creative way. Unfortunately the final product just sounds like a completely generic dance remix, almost, and it pains me to say this, like a DJ for hire remixing on the spot. The song just goes a bit faster and has a whole lot of stop-start and breakdown moments. It really just sounds like Beck took the time to ably disassemble the song and then awkwardly pieced it back together in a rush.

The Dead Weather remix is far more interesting but still falls short of the mark. The Mark Lanegan vocals add a dark new angle to the song but it doesn't all mesh well. The minimalist use of Jack's floor toms and Allison's echoed voice is smart but it doesn't play with dynamics in a nuanced way at all and the breakdowns, when they come, feel completely out of place. The transitions in both pitch and tempo are so awkwardly handled that this very ambitious remix falls much harder and further than it rightfully should.

Summing Up

This is far from the best the Vault has given us but it still justifies its price tag. The LP and DVD are nice mementos even though they don't go that far back into the actual vault itself. It's sort of like Third Man's spring cleaning of projects that needed to be released before they were dragged into obscurity and irrelevance, although this not necessarily a bad thing. The remix was clearly meant to be a treat for fans but it was probably a misjudgement of the fans' wishes. Still, good on them for trying something new. I'm glad I own this, like every Vault package, and if you see it on eBay and are curious I'd snatch up. But if you missed out I wouldn't cry over it.

1 comment:

  1. Really good post. Super excited for Jack to release his solo debut. Ive already pre-ordered and all! http://jackwhiteiii.com/. Jack's work in all his bands have been rad. Betting money "Blunderbuss" will be too!

    ReplyDelete