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The Monterey International Pop Festival, June 16-17-18 1967 Box set
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Over a single weekend in June 1967, Monterey entered history as the very first rock festival. The paucity of official releases over the intervening years led to Monterey--like the Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus--becoming as much a figment of rock & roll myth as hard fact. Finally though, in 1994, the British company Castle Communications put together this beautifully assembled 4 CD box set. Unfortunately, some acts (Simon & Garfunkel, Grateful Dead)--perhaps feeling their performances were below-par--refused to license their material. But with over four hours of music, this set still presents a vivid snapshot of the event. For once, the packaging is as important as the music: a booklet is bound in, complete with memorabilia, previously unpublished photos, and first-hand reminiscences from performers like David Crosby, Dennis Hopper, Steve Miller, Eric Burdon and John Phillips.
The core of the music here remains the incendiary performances of three acts: the Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience, who both made their American debuts here, and Otis Redding, just a few months prior to his death. The Who and Hendrix were both scheduled to top the bill, so they flipped a coin to decide and the Who went on first. With the two bands determined to top each other, the tension is evident, even on disc; but it was Hendrix who just edged ahead with a blazing performance that reinforces his position as the best electric guitarist in rock history. Otis too pulled out all the stops ("I've Been Loving You Too Long", "Shake") for the peace and love crowd.
This was the moment when bands like Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and The Beach Boys bitterly regretted turning down Monterey--realising, too late, that it could have helped them reach a new audience. The Beatles were keen to be there, but were busy with a little album called Sgt Pepper; and the Rolling Stones were in jail. Still, the weekend was a real watershed--marking the emergence of a new direction for rock & roll as well as paving the way for Woodstock two years later--and most of the music that made Monterey so special can be heard on this box-set, which stands as an object lesson in how to commemorate such an important event. Big Brother & The Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) made their first real impact, and there are generous excerpts from those performances. But the festival was also about musical diversity, and acts such as Ravi Shankar, Hugh Masekela, Booker T & The MGs and Lou Rawls can be heard amid the stirrings of rock & roll revolution. --Patrick Humphries
Top Customer Reviews
First and foremost it's a historical document, charting the rise of the bands and personalities who really broke big in the US because of their performances - primarily Hendrix, Joplin, the Who. But this also includes the frankly unlikely figure of Ravi Shankar, who went on to play Woodstock to far less effect two years later.
Secondly, it sorts out who can play and who cannot. You get to hear 1967 pop morphing - somewhat reluctantly- into rock, and the bands who get caught out in the middle, all tinny guitars and off-key harmonies.
There are some shockers here - especially the Byrds set, but taking in the reverential rhythmn blues rehashes of Canned Heat, Butterfield Blues Band, the Blues Project and the like.
But for me the real and unexpected highlights are two bands now largely forgotten by history - the Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane. The Mamas and the Papas sound gorgeous, and Cass Elliot's wry and self deprecating stage banter a delight. The Airplane always walked the thin line between ragged vocal work and inspired jamming, but here they really catch fire. Grace Slick's voice is in tune and on target. Awesome! If you need any more convincing check out Lou Rawls, too. Oh yes, you're going to have fun with this one. And guess what ? It has a live version of "if you're going to San Francisco.." (and yes, the man could sing! )
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First off, the big exception to the rule is Jimi Hendrix's amazing set, his first performance in the states. This should really be available on it's own - the musicianmanship is top-notch, the song selection is definitive, the engineering is flawless (I'm pretty sure Eddie Kramer himself was on hand to capture this performance) and the closing performance of Wild Thing IS historic AND breathtaking as Jimi smashes his axe to pieces, the trusty stratocaster making noise till the very end. The Mamas and Papas follow Jimi with a surprisingly funky, punchy festival closing set.
Unfortunatley, most of the performances preceding Jimi's set are entirely dispensable and NON-definitive. Don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE fan of bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds, but their sets here are rather sloppy - the likes of which you would never really want to hear twice. These bands are encountering the same problems the Beatles were a year or so earlier: the increasing complexity of their music begins to render it impossible to re-create on stage (at least with the resources they had at the time). This is not to fault the bands in any way; but at the height of the psychedelic era, spending hours in the studio perfecting individual parts, carefully mixing ,and experimenting with new sounds via electronic methods was the norm, leaving the musicans ill-prepared for a live translation of the groundbreaking recordings they were releasing.
This is especially evident in the vocal harmonies. Listen to how AWFUL some of the harmony sounds when the Association tries to pull of "along comes mary" or when the Byrds struggle thorugh "rennaisance fair". It's not because they can't harmonize, but when your used to the cozy acoustics of a studio, and then you try to pull off complex three-party harmony in a huge outdoor venue like Monterey - well you get the idea.
There are exceptions to this besides Jimi: Lou Rawls, a seasoned live performer, turns in an incredibly soulful set. The Who, and Big Brother also prove that they rock out best on stage. But even these tight performances are undermined by the second big problem: sound quality.
Kudos to the engineers for capturing such an historic event on tape - it's definitley no easy task. The main problem here is balance and mixing (a technical note: the "mix" heard on most of these recordings probably reflects the live mix at the time as it was captured on two-track, or maybe four-track tape, therefore making the balance irreversible). Too often the guitars just sound horribly thin; the bass if often barely audible; the drums lack any punch; the vocals are generally placed WAY forward in the mix; when horn sections are used, they sound very close and compressed.
So what's the verdict? Well, I'd say just over a quarter of the music here (the bulk of that being Hendrix) is top-notch, rousing, sixties-revolution-in-full-effect. Also, the booklet is gorgeous. I'd say 'buy it for the pure historical value', but in truth, if you compiled all the Studio versions of every song here, you'd have a much clearer picture of the musical contributions and innovations of these artists (try it!).
Before 1967, there was counterculture rock, but no one gave this a name. There were a lot of bands that, suddenly, did not fit on top forty radio--bands that played in clubs, that gained fame by word of mouth. There were, progressively more and more. Hendrix, Doors, Jefforson Airplane, Blues Project. So many in fact, that FM progressive radio was invented, since AM would only play, if at all, edited versions of these tracks.
The Monterey Pop Festival was the introduction for many of these new bands. The counterculture was arriving, and so was its music. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin made it and got famous overnight. The new guard had arrived. The Beach Boys missed it--Brian was getting more and more sick mentally--and sank from one of the most inventive bands in the world to what seemed like an oldies act, almost overnight.
"You'll never hear surf music again," said Hendrix during his set.
Actually, Hendrix was wrong. You well could have. I found interesting that with Jimi and Janis, you also had The Association, Lou Rawls, acts that had little to do with the underground, along with the Mamas and The Papas, who bridged the pop and rock, the AM and FM.
The lesson reinforced here is not in counterculture rock, but in the all-encompassing view of music that made the 1960s so fertile, and the formats and marketing labels have make modern mainstream music so vapid. You probably were never going to see the Letterman on the guest list, but being able to see Ravi Shankar and .Otis Redding and Simon and Garfunkel in the same place should tell you a great deal--about how we SHOULD think of music.
There are deficits: Country Joe and the Fish's "Section 43," perhaps the most daring and experimental piece of the whole weekend, is not here. Neither is the Animals violin version of "Paint It Black," another proto-art rock gem. You can get "Section 43" on the Monterey International Pop Festival.
But these are particulars. If you want to understand the start of counterculture rock and why 1967 was so important for rock in general, buy, listen, and consider this box.