Some thoughts on volume 1 of Darin Cappe’s Static Journey “box set” retrospective on the Rheostatics (you can get it here):
- I was a little disappointed initially that the first track in the set – position of primacy, very important – was not in fact a Rheostatics track, but rather the Introduction for the band that was sung by Dave Bookman (accompanied by Steve Stanley) prior to the band taking the stage on the evening of the last concert. It all made sense though, right near the end of the track when you can hear the first thunderous applause as the band takes the stage; it sent chills up my spine again, just the way it did on that night, thinking of all the Sprouts assembled in the grand old concert hall. I remember it occurring to me that this last show was likely the first time ever that all the Sprouts were together like that at one time, just to see the Rheos (most club shows were good for maybe 200 attendees at most, and even the Bathurst Street Theatre shows in ’97 couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 hundred at most, and at Maple Leaf Gardens or Molson Park Canada Day shows – well, those of us who were there had tickets to see other bands too, so that doesn’t count).
- The chills continued as track #2 kicked in, the familiar strummed opening chords of Saskatchewan (also from the final show). The beginning of this song was usually a thrilling enough moment for me at any Rheos show, but it was all the more poignant at the last show – Martin Tielli was suffering from a wicked case of laryngitis that night, and his struggle to croak out the melody so familiar to all the Sprouts is heart-wrenching and a truly memorable moment for me from that show; from the second I heard Martin’s game efforts to deliver the goods, I was emotionally up there on stage with him, willing him on to as much success as he could find in that cigarette-smoke besotted voicebox of his. I am so glad that there is a decent recording of this part of the show – it’s right up there for me in my all-time list of great Toronto moments, along with Game 7 of the ’93 NHL Western Conference finals (awesome except for the final goal from Gretzky off Davey Ellett’s skate from behind the net [around 0:53 of the linky clip], the most historic hockey game I ever saw in person) and Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the ’93 World Series.
- I had never heard many of the very early Rheostatic tracks that follow. I knew that, in the beginning, the Rheos had played with a horn section known as the Trans-Canada Soul Patrol, but had never heard any recordings of the material, except perhaps for the excerpt of Satellite Dancing grafted on to Me and Stupid on 1994’s Introducing Happiness. Some of the stuff obviously sounds a bit dated, with some humourously low-budget keyboard bits added in. These tracks are of interest only to completists and to those interested in tracing the musical history of the band. For my part, I thought it was interesting to hear how downright funky some of the stuff sounded, particularly the cover of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready.
- Inclusion of the segments from Brent Bambury’s CBC Series Brave New Waves is genius. Pure genius. Darin Cappe, you are the Ken Burns of the Rheostatics! Or something much better than that! I remember the buzz beginning about The Ballad of Wendel Clark – that’s how I came to know about the band, but I had no idea that the Leafs themselves had listened to the track in their dressing room during their ’87 playoff series against the Red Wings.
- The three tracks from Greatest Hits (the Rheos’ first full album) were well-chosen. Ballad of Wendel Clark and Crescent Moon, in particular, though drenched in too much reverb, provide glimpses of some of the trademark overtone blasts of the incendiary-but-somehow-wet-as-liquid-goo-can-get Tielli guitar work. Public Square provides another harbinger of a major feature of the future of the band’s catalogue, a more or less straight ahead country romp with no apologies, some interesting harmonies and flat-out fun.
- Good on the Uptake makes explicit the notion that the band was already hitting their creative stride in 1987 and exhibiting many of the features of the music that would make Melville and Whale Music classics – without all the reverb from Greatest Hits’ production obscuring the sound the band is making, Tielli’s guitar soars and the band chugs compactly along in a manner that is not at all dissimilar to the end portion of say, Horses from Melville (1991). Much the same can be said of Crystal Soup, parts of which (especially some of the guitar riffs) would be nicely at home alongside 1992’s Dope Fiends and Boozehounds. There has been some (mild) debate, on Fish Mailin’ (the Rheostatics-dedicated Yahoo! news group) about whether any album tracks ought to have been included in the set, but for me this question has already been resolved in this way by the juxtaposition of the the Greatest Hits tracks with the other circa-1987 recordings; for the first time, while listening to these tracks, I’ve heard precursors of the band’s eventual classic style. Kudos to Darin.
- The first volume ends fittingly with an early recording of People’s Republic of Dave, a perennial show-closer quasi-novelty (this old chestnut seemed to be more likely to be tacked on to a show-closing encore when the band had consumed more alcohol than usual).
All in all, an excellent beginning to the project. The sound quality is a lot better than I expected, and I really had fun listening to this set – so much so that I’ll forgive Darin for mis-spelling Wendel Clark’s surname on the blog page describing the songs in the set. Like I say, though, it was fun to listen to; a little like being a fly on the wall while the band practiced in Dave Clark’s mom’s basement. Sorry ’bout the mess, Mrs. Clarkie, I gotta go home – my Mom is making mac and cheese for dinner and the streetlights are on.
Update (Feb 25th): Not to harsh too much on the engineering/producing team for Greatest Hits, but it occurred to me last night while I was lying in bed that – as discussed above – the final few tracks in this collection prove that the Rheos had their chops together and were ready to do something like Melville or Whale Music as early as 1987. It took the addition of the platinum producing ears and golden knob-twiddling fingers of Michael-Philip Wojewoda to present the band’s true genius accurately and beautifully to the world. I don’t want to take the point too far – to be fair to the Greatest Hits production/engineering team, the prevailing indie production ethos in and around 1987 made extensive use of reverb – my recollection is that MPW’s own band, the Plasterscene Replicas, released an album that sounded quite similar in and around that time, so MPW wasn’t always all about the glistening Rheos sound – but maybe the Plasterscene Replicas didn’t have the chops to make that kind of sound work. The point is that the Rheos did, MPW saw it, and the result was a series of classic recordings.