Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Modern Lovers – Precise Modern Lovers Order – Live in Berkley and Boston

Modern Lovers’ bassist Ernie Brooks worked with record label Rounder to compile this much-anticipated live set by the Lovers. Brooks includes the liner notes, which explains that he thinks that these cuts, while energetic and enthusiastic, are from shows plagued with technical difficulties and so are far from the band at its peak. But this is still a terrific find for fans of this group whose output is so small.

This set opens with “Someone I Care About”, from the studio album, and has reasonably good sound and plenty of passion – I especially love the group chanting towards the end of the tune. Richman interacts with the audience in between songs and this sometimes seamlessly segues into the beginnings of the next number. “Dance with Me” is a new one, and starts – and remains - extremely quietly (unusual for so early in the set), with sparse chords from Jonathan and keyboardist Jerry Harrison.

The volume is back with vehemence for “She Cracked”, one of Richman’s hardest rockers, with a wonderful, somewhat extended staccato, dissonant chord stomper in the solo before blasting into the final chorus. Subdued again for “Hospital” (with an odd spoken intro about “the Jewish princess concept”), but with the powerful repeating bridge (reminiscent of the Stooges’ “1969”), Jonathan sounds particularly vulnerable here. Also previously unrecorded is “Womanhood”, a simple, short, pop ditty, not unlike his later solo work.

Wrestling at times with depression, but still realizing that suicide is not the answer, he wants us all to live to be “Dignified and Old”. Again, fairly faithful to the recorded version is “Girlfriend”, with its hilariously misspelled chorus and nice, melodic guitar solo which blends into a duet with the keys to great effect. Showing his love for the Velvet Underground, the group takes on their “Foggy Notion”, which highlights the similarities between the two bands. An extension of “Roadrunner” is “Ride On Down the Highway” – a little poppier, but thematically the same (even lyrically, at times) and musically not unlike the better known number.

“Pablo Picasso” is a bit more dissonant and caustic, but pretty close to what we’ve heard before, though with a bit more extended guitar lead. Another unknown is Richman’s romantic (despite him telling the girl to “just shut up” and that he “doesn’t want to hear about her stupid cats”) “A Plea for Tenderness”, a slowish number that would not have sounded out of place on VU’s Loaded. It has a truly cool vocal build-up before breaking down again and changing once more – this time reminiscent of “The Ocean” – and ending. Neat arrangement!

The real joy of this release is the wealth of unheard tunes and “Walk Up the Street” is another, though it sounds like a less frenetic “She Cracked” – still very cool. More unique is “Fly Into the Mystery”, another slow-to-mid tempo tune that, unfortunately, does not really stand out. A long monologue begins an early, more vicious “I’m Straight” that is nowhere near as conciliatory as the studio take and still has “Hippy Ernie” as the character that Jonathan rails against, before he changed the name to Johnny so that people would not think he was talking about his bassist. This is powerful, emotional and excellent.

Showing again that the Velvets were not his only influence, he takes the chord riff from the Stooges’ “Loose” for “The Mixer”. With clean guitars and a bit bouncier bass line, this has a more groovy, 60’s vibe, as Richman harangues men & women who play relationship games. “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste” gives a musical nod to “Girlfriend” and a lyrical nod to “Dignified and Old” – he didn’t mind revisiting themes. The record closes with Richman telling the audience that the band will overcome its technical obstacles and get back to “precise Modern Lovers order”, which never quite happens, but they do give an intense (though slow) “Roadrunner”, with verbal mania ending the tune.

Obviously, anyone who has not heard the MLs before should first get their studio album, but once you have that, you will want more, and this is a fun collection. I still can’t imagine what Boston crowds (most likely more familiar with Aerosmith, the J. Geils band and hard rock cover groups) thought in the early 70’s when these cats hit the stage!