Beating The Bootleggers At Their Own Game
The bootlegging of concerts has long been a fly in the ointment for the recording business. Academically, the illegally recorded and sold albums can represent important musical documents: missing links, alternate performances, developmental studies. The biggest problem is that the artists don't benefit from their sale financially (nor do the record companies, but that's another issue). With the advent of the internet and improved digital recording technology, some bands have taken matters into their own hands.
In ancient analog times, the Grateful Dead simply allowed their shows to be recorded (audience recordings are generally of poor quality.) The band then began a deluge of material with the Dick's Picks series and various live boxes, catching up with the compact disc revolution. In 2000, Pearl Jam and Sony made the bold move to release recordings of an entire domestic concert tour (72 two-disc volumes) to address bootlegging issues. This was an expensive endeavor that resulted in a lot of mediocre material seeing the light of day, seasoned by a few classic performances.
In a similar manner, The Who captured their 2002 tour and marketed it as The Who Encore Series through themusic.com. The band have gone on to do the same for their 2004 and 2006 tours. Following in themusic.com's footsteps is another enterprising label, Instant Live, who have released live recordings parallel to a given act's major label contractual obligations on behalf of the Allman Brothers Band, the Black Crowes, and Collective Soul. These types of arrangements are well suited to jam band performances, whose improvised-heavy concerts differ, sometimes dramatically, from night to night.
Add to the mix, MunckMix, a further evolution in the live recording paradigm. MunckMix sports a stable that includes Little Feat, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Weir's Ratdog, and performances from the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. MunckMix do the actual recordings themselves.
MunckMix is considered a music merchandising company and not a record company, label, artist agency, booking agent, publisher or mail order house. The outfit's mission is "to help musicians merchandise and sell their music to the public in such a cost-effective and convenient way that they can make a decent living off their art while offering a great value to their fans.
MunckMix accomplishes their task by wedding innovative marketing with cutting edge digital technology, and eliminating most of the overhead costs associated with large record companies. MunckMix acts as a conduit between musicians and fans, through on-line sales of CDs or downloads. This eliminates distribution expenses by doing away with production and inventory costs.
But enough of the technical stuff, what about the music?
Little Feat are foremost a live band who like to stretch things out. Even under the relatively tight reigns of Lowell George on Waiting for Columbus, the band exuded an improvisatory air suitable for the nom de guerre jam band. The band have released several live recordings since launching their Hot Tomato Records, including, Barnstormin' Volumes One And Two, High Wire Act Live In St. Louis, Down Upon The Suwannee River and Live At Rams Head. What all of these recordings lack are the cover tunes that frequently show up in a standard Little Feat show, like the one I witnessed at Little Feat Live At the Wildwood Park For The Performing Arts. MunckMix remedied this.
Brescia, Italy, June 30, 2004
This Italian show contains all of the usual suspects: "Dixie Chicken, "Old Folks Boogie, "Down On The Farm, "Willin'. The ingenious thing is how these songs are arranged and seasoned with cover material. "Time Loves A Hero becomes "Day and Night as it did on Waiting For Columbus, and "Spanish Moon becomes "Skin It Back as it often has. But in "Down On The Farm, Mississippi John Hurt's "Candyman gets slipped in, providing Paul Barrere the chance to show off his blues chops. Peter Tosh's "Get Up, Stand Up emerges from "Fat Man In The Bathtub and in a perfect marriage, the Dead's "Tennessee Jed follows Feat's "Oh Atlanta within the carcass of "Dixie Chicken (along with "Dark Star and "So What teasers). Such a polyglot musical attitude makes for an exciting show.
The post-Lowell George Little Feat continue to grow with their newer material, represented here by "The Daily Grind, "Cajun Rage and "Cadillac Hotel. No matter the source or period of the song, the band likes to stretch things out with extended introductions and solos. Paul Barrere and Bill Payne have firmly assumed the creative throne of the band, graciously permitting all involved to contribute equally (something George was loath to do on occasion). Of note are the Shaun Murphy vehicles "On Your Way Down and "Daily Grind.