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LPs from the Attic: Moby Grape — Moby Grape Live

April 26, 2010

Listen, my friends

Listen, my friends.

Moby Grape — Historic Live Moby Grape Performances 1966-1969

I’ll cut to chase when it comes to the Moby Grape bio: they were possibly the greatest band to (not quite) make it on the San Francisco music scene. Yes, that means that they musically rivaled the Grateful Dead. If you are fan or a Deadhead (an entirely other breed of fan, as you know, to love or hate or both), you know that means quite a bit.

To put a point on it, it means Moby Grape:

  • Featured excellent instrumental interplay in an electrified rock ‘n’ roll setting by way of three excellent guitarists
  • Made good use of the group’s singing skills in the form of multi-part harmony from several capable vocalists
  • Frequently produced songs of great beauty and expressive skill
  • Put on a dance- and freak-out friendly live show of legendary status

I’m not writing to argue one over the other. I couldn’t win that argument from either side, for one. For another, it doesn’t interest me because I love both bands.

That love propels me to gush a little over the recent Sundazed release of the Moby Grape Live double LP.

I first discovered the Grape thanks to a short HBO interview with Robert Plant during his Fate of Nations tour in 1993. Ole Percy spent some time talking about his influences, among them Big Bill Broonzy, Elvis, and this Moby Grape band. Having heard the name in some other Zeppelin-related context, I went on the hunt for some Grape music.

That wasn’t easy in 1993. One: I had to look for CDs. No internyets in Eastern Kentucky homes such as mine (or any, really), so no online shopping. Two: Eastern Kentucky. Record stores = mall record stores = no obscure 60’s psychedelic rock, unless Cypress Hill sampling “The Wizard” counts (hint: it doesn’t).

So, my only real option for finding out more about a band that inspired one of my favorite rock heroes was something that time seems to have forgotten: Columbia House The Record Club.

Lo and behold, they carried what was then a brand new Moby Grape compilation: the fantastic Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape. I listened and listened, trying to see what it was that influenced Robert Plant and Led Zep in the craft of their music. I’m not sure I got it, but I liked it. It was an interesting, differently melodic counterpoint to all the Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, and Smashing Pumpkins I listened to then, to say the least. I became a huge fan, especially to the mournful “Sitting by the Window,” galloping “Fall On You,” and the cascading acoustic arpeggios of “Someday.”

And that was about all I had to listen to, even if it was a great collection of album cuts and outtakes from their small handful of proper releases. Very little of their highly viable output made the transition from vinyl to CD. Ain’t that a shame.

Flash-forward to a scary number of years later: 2010. In the years between then I now, I’d amassed a small collection of Grape artifacts, pretty much what there was to get with the exception of expensive import tomfoolery that I don’t have the time or energy (or money) to track down. But I’d found (probably legally shady) CD copies of their first two studio albums, vinyl copies of 20 Granite Creek and Wow/Grape Jam. YouTube had partially satisfied the Grape craving with a tiny clutch of live performances.

So, I thought I had seen about all I could see, heard about all there was to hear. The band didn’t stay together as a fully functioning unit for too long in the first place, and mental illness and botched marketing ploys dragged down sales and morale to the point of defeat. Sporadic reunion tours and albums didn’t always include original personnel (read: crazy diamond Skip Spence) or necessarily inspire (read: Grape Jam).

And then this Sundazed double-LP set hits me out of nowhere.

What a revelation! Other than the tiny handful of live tracks on Vintage and the smattering of low-quality YouTube videos, I’d never experienced much of the breadth of the Grape catalog performed live. These performances provide such an exciting document of the group’s prowess as a rock act very much of their time. To finally hear them do “I Am Not Willing” with its sorrowful acceptance of lost love…and then try to fit unreleased guitar epic “Dark Magic” into my conception of their oeuvre…was a rare, much-appreciated treat.

And now…now. Now-now. I’m practically giddy thinking that this means that there will be more Grape releases coming from whatever paisley-adorned stash they found these recordings in. Personally, I hope the archivists pull something magical from the Skip Spence years before too long. I can’t wait 17 more years to have this feeling about music again.

Recommended listening:
Ain’t No Use
Someday
Omaha
I Am Not Willing
Fall On You
Dark Magic

It should be mentioned that this exciting discovery was made possible by the national observance of Record Store Day. Because I ventured outside and manipulated tangible objects occupying three-dimensional space.

Check out exclusive, previously unreleased audio for “Sitting By the Window” and LP-track “Rounder” at the Sundazed website. While you’re there, order their stunning multi-LP Velvet Underground live comp, re-discovery of lost Love, and fine re-issues by The Meters.

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