Genesis: Three Sides Live
Continuing on with my series of posts about the conversion of some of my old vinyl into mp3s; hey, nostalgia is in short supply in this world, amirite?
Three Sides Live by Genesis is an odd duck, any way you slice it. This 1982 double album, at least in its North American incarnation, delivers exactly what the title promises – three sides of live concert recordings. A fourth side of what I guess would be “bonus” studio recordings, at the time representing some of the band’s newer material, was included on the American release, whereas the UK version featured a fourth side of rather more obscure live material (see the Wikipedia entry for this album). I don’t know of any other double album that mixed live and new material in this way, at least not off the top of my head.
Evidently recorded by the band at the tail end of their tour in support of the Abacab album, there are points on this album that depict Genesis at the height of their post-Gabriel musical powers. The record has its moments, for sure; the opening track, for example, is a version of Turn It On that almost physically compels me to begin earnestly playing air drums. Similarly, the version of Misunderstanding included on the record is arena prog-rock at its best; I can’t make it through the whole track without belting out the lead vocal, proof positive in my book that a classic rock tune has hit the mark.
The record also contains some foreshadowing about the direction the band would travel in the future, propelled by the force of Phil Collins’ will. The (North American) fourth side’s opening track, Paperlate, is catchy and horn driven. It could easily have been included on Collins’ solo album Hello, I Must Be Going (also released in 1982). I happen to have a soft spot for that record, but there can be no doubt that Motown-influenced bounciness and gentler rhythm and blues grooves represented a significant reinvention of the band’s identity, and not ultimately for the better. Genesis was on its way to becoming virtually indistinguishable from Collins’ solo act. It would only be a matter of four short years before Genesis would – in the wake of Collins’ mid-decade solo megahit No Jacket Required - inflict the abomination that was Invisible Touch upon an unsuspecting record-buying public. Shell-shocked, confused and still wondering what the hell a “Sussudio” was anyway, most of us would never be able to feel the same way about our relationship with the Collins/Genesis monolith after those unfortunate episodes.
For me, this record recalls the summer of 1985. My parents and my two brothers were travelling in England that summer. I stayed at home to work, earn some cash for my upcoming first year of university and – it must be said – to drink some beer with my buddies. I turned 19 in July of that year, and one of the things I did was move my enormous stereo – Kenwood amplifier and turntable, a sixteen band stereo eq and two humongous Koss speakers – down to the basement rec room. I set the unit up at one end of the room on the tile floor and pointed the speakers directly at the pool table. I remember clearly playing this record a number of times that summer, and I remember that Three Sides Live was the record that revealed the fatal flaw in my treasured audio system: the speakers couldn’t handle the juice the amp cranked out at high volumes, causing fuses in the speaker enclosures to trip and cut the sound entirely. I was devastated; the system I had so carefully selected at age 16 or 17 with money carefully scrimped together from my job busing tables had been revealed to be incapable of dealing with the demands I placed upon it.
Now, to be sure, from a purely objective standpoint – presently twenty-five years removed, with the benefit of the wisdom and experience bestowed upon me by age – it must be noted that my setup, flawed as it was, nevertheless remained quite capable of creating an enormous fucking racket. That is to say that the technical limitations discovered in this way lie somewhere near the extreme end of the tolerance of human hearing; it wasn’t that the thing wouldn’t play loudly, for it surely did that. I am fairly confident that the unfortunate neighbors, if you were to speak to them about it at the time, would have drawn deeply on a cigarette to soothe their jangled nerves, then sworn upon a stack of Bibles that my system roughly approximated the sound pressure generated by a moderately powered jet engine. I was upset, though, because I wanted to hear three or four jet engines at the same time.
What followed, in that time period, was several weeks of highly experimental exploratory work to determine the precise outer limits of the system’s technical capability, with Phil Collins’ drums serving as the test track, and numerous cases of beer supplying the nutrition and motivation. Several evenings featured extended sessions of minute volume-knob manipulation, with Collins’ kick, snare, toms and cymbals exploding over and over again in the darkened basement, all in an effort to discover the absolute highest level at which we could run the amp without losing sound entirely. We were beer-soaked test pilots of a sort, courageously exploring the boundaries of a sound barrier of our own, all in the name of science. There were crash landings, to be sure, but there were also a great number of successful missions flown that thunderous July.
When I set the record on the turntable tonight to record some .mp3s from this album, it so happened that Spouse was away from the residence. It akso happens that I have the USB turntable hooked in to my mixer, which is in turn connected to a Behringer EP2500 watt power amp and two humongous Elite loudspeakers. I couldn’t help myself; when the thrum of Turn It On began to pulse through the speakers, and my arms succumbed to the overwhelming urge to twitch spastically in a grotesque approximation of a rock drummer, I turned my current system – which suffers from no such technical limitations – up just a wee little bit.
I am reasonably certain that the resulting vibrations were detected by seismologists around the world. People in Hawaii: that tsunami warning is almost certainly my fault.
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