Friday, March 19, 2010

The Sound — The Dutch Radio Recordings

Ok, so I'm a huge fan of Adrian Borland and the Sound.

Just have a gander at my old reviews page to see how highly I think of them.

The London-based Renascent label has done a wonderful job of preserving the band's legacy over the years. Working at a local used record store in my late teens, I came across an old vinyl copy of In the Hothouse and it served as my introduction to the band. When Renascent issued the band's first three albums on deluxe edition reissue a few years later, I was right there, ordering direct from the label as soon as they were available. As the years have passed, I've recognized From the Lion's Mouth and especially All Fall Down as absolute Goliath-like figures in post-punk. I was generously allowed to hear the Sound as not one of my very first post-punk or new wave bands, but one of the first bands you dig into after you've digested the essentials. It was kind of like skipping straight to Don Cherry after digesting Miles Davis as my first instance of jazz trumpet.

And it blew my fucking mind.

No kidding when I say this, but: I will still recently hear some of Adrian Borland's songs and they will click with me. Even after roughly ten years of knowing and reciting them to myself. Just now, it's still all coming together.

To get to the point here: the Sound is one of my favorite bands of all time.

Well, a few years back, Renascent licensed a series of radio broadcasts that the band did for retail release. Because the Sound was always more popular in Europe proper than they were in England, all of the radio broadcasts were taken from Holland performances (where the band was most popular).

I, now regrettably, passed on these live recordings for years. Figuring that I'd heard it all on the records and on the proper live album, I passed, despite the unique setlists and the budget pricing.

Well, I finally just decided to go for it and ordered all five volumes of the Dutch Radio Recordings recently.

The package finally arrived, so let's just run through these treats. Before I get formally started, I should say that, no matter how great I make these performances seem, these recordings are for only the most dedicated of fans. I am devotee of the band's music, so these are less like new albums for me and more like studies in which to place the band's progression. But, just let this be known right away, given the right conditions: goddamn, are these worthwhile.

Volume 1: 8 March 1981, Amsterdam (The Paradiso)

So, this one is of interest because it was recorded before Lion's Mouth was released but contains quite a few tunes from that album. This was still early on and the band was still very punk-minded. So, if the bass was out of tune with the keyboards and Adrian was a bit afraid the microphone, who cared, right? Well, it makes for an admirably energetic, but less-than-great sounding performance. Clearly the passion is there and hearing early rough renditions of Lion's Mouth tunes is a treat, but there's something off about this one. Maybe it's the mix, maybe it's that the band was actually out of tune with one another, I don't know. It's very raw and the underproduced aspect of the whole thing comes to a head with two (count 'em) performances of "Heyday." I'd say everything comes together on the surprisingly urgent run through of "Unwritten Law." Otherwise, this is basically a very rough and nervous band struggling to find their stage presence. Still, there's a charm to it because of that.

Volume 2: 9 April 1982, Utrecht (No Nukes Festival)

A festival, so probably the biggest crowd the band ever played in front of. Adrian sounds rather pissed off the entire time, actually. Maybe there was some sort of dichotomy at work there: a guy wanting all that attention but seeing the hilarity in the idea of 'arena rock.' It's almost like he comes to that exact realization midset. He was not in the best of vocal performances on this evening (he seems to have a sore throat) and seems disgusted at the whole idea of festival sets. After a noisy and angry "I Can't Escape Myself" he asks the audience, "Is there anyone that doesn't like this?" A rather sizeable audience reaction in the positive prompts Mr. Borland to diligently shout, "Fuck off!" and the band launches into "Hothouse" like a group of the highest of professionals. I mean, even with Adrian's strained vocals, this is easily the second best version of the tune after the John Peel recording. And that's what's different about volume two: the band is tight. There are no musical mistakes to be heard here. As this was on the tour for All Fall Down, the material (disappointingly for me) only goes for three of the album's tracks, and shies away from the highlights (although there is an excellent "Where the Love Is"). Overall, it's hard to dislike this one, purely based on the sheer emotion Adrian emits throughout his performance and the between song bits. The two encore tracks, in the bigger picture, are worth it by themselves. An exploring, super emotional take on "Silent Air" and a purposely anticlimactic (and subsequently, entirely unique) run through of "Missiles" close out the set and it has you wondering how intimidated Bono may have been knowing he had to take the same stage later that evening.

Volume 3: 1 January 1983, Arnhem

Well, if the last one that also documented the All Fall Down tour was a disappointment in terms of the lack the then new material, then consider this one the crowd pleaser. It, perhaps oddly, begins with "Skeletons" and then launches into a mixture of Lion's Mouth and All Fall Down favorites. There's two rarities performed here for obsessives like me to cream over: the otherwise unheard "Oiled" and what I knew as a bonus track on All Fall Down, "Sorry" (titled here, "Who's Sorry Now"). I mean, you get "Monument," "Where the Love Is," "In Suspense" and "Party of the Mind." What else can you ask for? A bunch of stuff from Lion's Mouth and "Heartland" at the end? Yeah, it's all there. Truly, they sound like they're at the top of their game here. 100% pure awesome.

Volume 4: 1 July 1984, Den Haag (Parkpop Festival)

Leading off with the comment, "We don't do 'Missiles' anymore; we never do the obvious thing," you just know that Adrian was a bit agitated for this one. A unique, vampy build up into "Unwritten Law" and this one is a lot better than its setlist would propose. Amidst early run throughs of "Total Recall" and "Counting the Days," you get a drum machine-less (and arguably definitive) version of "Monument" and an actual calling of names when Adrian declares, "Fuck off, Jim Kerr!" at the beginning of "The Fire." Overall, undeniably strong stuff; and wonderful to hear them so fully formed and ending things so assuredly with an old favorite from All Fall Down. Great stuff.

Volume 5: 9 April 1985, Utretch

As this was recorded closest to In the Hothouse, the band sounds absolutely pro for the duration here. Few surprises occur, but when they do (namely on the All Fall Down songs), it's magic all over again. The focus is on the Heads and Hearts material and the band faithfully and competently renders the songs as though they were warming up for their live album. The highlight here is the long and meditative rendition of the old song "Silent Air" in which Adrian seems to be in a sort of trance. The song already feels poignant and important, but this version seems to reach for something even greater, something stratospheric. It's the sort of thing I mine vault recordings like these for. Stunning. The rest of the performance is dutifully good. "Missiles" receives a nice climactic encore performance and "Party of the Mind" sounds uncomfortably right as the closer as Adrian introduces it with, "I'm really sorry; I really am ill, this is the last one tonight, okay?" A fantastic, rousing run through of the tune and then they're done. The performances are straight and (besides "Silent Air") expected, but it feels like they have the highest of faith in their most recent Heads and Hearts material and the performances are anything except drab. A strong installment in the series, for sure.

Overall, I have to ask myself: Why did I wait so long?

These should have been immediate purchases for me. Especially knowing the fate of the Renascent label's license on the band's Korova, Warner and Statik albums (FYI: it has expired in all cases and the Renascent versions of the albums are highly collectible). For a band as mystic and shadowy as the Sound has been for a kid who discovered them in the late 90's, this series of live recordings shreds away the cold demeanor they possessed on their studio albums and exposes them as just a working band who was not perfect, but was entirely human.

Maybe that explains the enduring appeal.

Well, if I couldn't say it before... I can say I've got "everything":

At least as long as Renascent continues to procrastinate on this one:

(from the insert that came with the 1996 Shock of Daylight/Heads and Hearts CD remaster)

If nothing else, the Dutch Radio Recordings have cemented for me that the Sound is clearly one of the top tier post-punk groups to have existed.

That, and they totally play a not caring at all, feedback filled, worth for the price of admission by itself, epic 9+ minute version of "Glass and Smoke" on volume two.




peterjon said...

There my all time fav band too. I was there at the No Nukes festival AND The Vrije Vloer show. Not bad 2 out of 5 :)

Great f.....g review. I felt young and present there again.

Austin said...

Cheers! Thanks for stopping by!

Would love to hear an in-depth say on those shows from someone who was actually there...!


Franco58 said...

Nice to find someone who likes one of the best kept secret of the 80's.It was and it is a shame they never got the attention they deserved,but maybe they really never cared :).I discovered them in 81 and i just fell in love with them,my C90 cassette with From The Lions Mouth(what a cover !)and Jeopardy never left my player for months on end.Imagine my joy when one day i saw this poster advertising a The Sound concert.This was in Florence sometime in early 83,at the show i was standing literally at 1 metre away from the stage,they played a terrific concert,i was blown away,and you know what ? One year later they played at the same venue again,so what can i say,i will never forget those concerts and The Sound !!!! It is a pleasure to meet someone who appreciate their music and thanks for the great review.

Austin said...

Thank YOU sir for stopping by and sharing!

Wow — two shows at the peak of the band's live years. What a treat!


Michael Reuss said...

The Sound and Adrian Borland are also my all-time favourites. I only saw them once live: 1984 in Munich, Alabama Halle. The Sound remain the most underrated band of the 80ies. But they live on in our hearts, minds and ears...