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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Butthole Surfers: Double Live

BUTTHOLE SURFERS: DOUBLE LIVE (1989)

1) Too Parter; 2) Psychedelic Jam; 3) Ricky; 4) Rocky; 5) Gary Floyd; 6) Florida; 7) John E. Smoke; 8) Tornadoes; 9) Pittsburg To Lebanon; 10) The One I Love; 11) Hey; 12) Dum Dum; 13) No Rule; 14) U.S.S.A.; 15) Comb; 16) Graveyard; 17) Sweetloaf; 18) Backass; 19) Paranoid; 20) Fast; 21) I Saw An X-Ray Of A Girl Passing Gas; 22) Strawberry; 23) Jimi; 24) Lou Reed; 25) Kuntz; 26) 22 Going On 23; 27) Creep In The Cellar; 28) Suicide; 29) Some­thing.

Double Live? What is this — the Butthole Surfers tribute to the Golden Age of Progressive Rock? By all means, the length of this monster (130 minutes, give or take a few), which has since 1990 been available as a double live CD, not LP set, actually gives ELP and Yes with their triple albums a good run for their money. And in a better world, this record might be all the Butthole Surfers your record col­lection needs — a massive run through most of their highlights, a few of their lowlights, some on-the-spot stage craziness and stage sickness, and even an R.E.M. cover and a Grand Funk Railroad cover totally out of the blue (okay, so we already new Gibby was a Mark Farner «fan», but Gibby playing Michael Stipe is something else altogether). Unfortunately, the harsh reality is so harsh that I have a hard time not letting my tongue slip about how this album totally s... okay, we are not being objective here, so stop it, tongue.

Fact of the matter is, what they say is that Double Live was released primarily as an anti-boot­legging measure: since the Surfers weren't making a whole lot of cash from their studio albums (gee, I wonder why?), yet somehow the tapes of their crazyass live performances were in regular demand, they decided they would finally take advantage of that — by going all the way and re­leasing what really seems like their complete repertoire on this double CD monster. The only problem was, there was not a single tape in sight on which the Surfers would be professionally recorded: most of the tracks here are only very slightly above bootleg quality, and a few are quite solidly below bootleg quality. Not to mention that this is arguably the most awfully sequenced live record I've ever heard (granted, I'm not a big expert on underground live releases) — fade outs, fade ins, ugly sonic seams from track to track as if they were just cutting and splicing the tapes with glue and scissors. But the sequencing is really just a minor nuisance next to the con­sistently awful sound to which you are going to be subjected for over two hours.

Of course, seasoned fans of the lo-fi sonic crimes of the 1980's underground scene will not bother about such minor nuisances as the drums sounding like tin cans and the guitars sounding as if from under a thick slab of concrete — who knows, maybe some of them might actually feel that it adds to the experience, although I am not sure that Paul Leary himself, with his good ear for crazy guitar sounds, would agree. Too bad, because a track like ʽPsychedelic Jamʼ, which used to be a staple of the band's live show, features some awesome «guitar weaving» between Haynes and Leary, with the two occasionally flying off into space with more flash than the Grateful Dead and more fun than Cream, yet the recording does not properly capture the overtones to turn this into a truly blissful headphone experience.

Even worse, the mind-blowing sonic textures of the last two studio records, already seriously weakened due to the band's inability to reproduce them onstage (as far as I understand, they rely on backing tapes, particularly for all the distorted sound effects on the vocals), are further dama­ged by the sound quality, making this version of ʽJimiʼ nigh near unlistenable (in the bad sense of the word; not to mention that ʽLou Reedʼ, into which it promptly segues, seems to be a messy tribute to Metal Machine Music, nine minutes of dirty, crunchy, abrasive chaos that might have sounded cool back in 1975, or even way back in 1970 when the Stooges did it on ʽLA Bluesʼ, but hardly by the standards of 1989). ʽSweatloafʼ gains nothing by having its «regret» spoken bit replaced by a creative dirty rewriting of Morrison's soliloquy in ʽThe Endʼ, and loses almost everything by not even having the riff played distinctly, let alone everything else.

To cut a long story short — inevitably so, because I've only managed to sit through this once and have no wish to repeat the experience — if you want a shadow of some proper appreciation of the Surfers as a live band, please refer to Live PCPPEP, which was much shorter, much better recorded, gave a more distinct portrait of Gibby Haynes as frontman, and is available as a freebie with their first EP anyway. Double Live, on the other hand, has them dealing with the problem of reproducing all that crazyass studio experimentation on the stage, and bad sound quality does not alleviate that problem. As much as I like about half of these songs (and have little against most of the other half), the record gets a thumbs down — I am certainly not spending the next several years trying to get myself to like this attempt to convert carefully crafted studio surrealism into thin, muffled, wobbly psychedelic spontaneity.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, having watched the excellent live DVD "Blind Eye Sees All," which was recorded before this, I can attest to the fact that the vocal noise was actually done live: GIbby screws around with some type of echo and vocal distortion effects on the ground.

    This album can be regarded as a wasted opportunity, though. The DVD on the other hand: aww man. That's the real deal. A band high one drugs eating in a bed as Gibby gives nonsense answers that verge on religious parody. Leary deep throating the mic (like it was funny or something), the bass player honk honk, honking down the highway on a damn tuba, and one shot of his bobbing head popping up repeatedly throughout the damn thing, even during an interview segment.

    Confusing and stupid and the Surfers wouldn't have it any other way.

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