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Posted May 27th, 2010 (1:16 pm) by Joseph Bogen

This week’s column will be the first series of comprehensive live recording reviews here at Inyourspeakers. I realized the need for this feature as I started creating spreadsheets to keep track of which concert recordings were worth keeping, and which ones should be discarded. This may sound obsessive and nerdy, but it was essential to making sure that the good concerts were remembered and that I did not waste time with poorer quality recordings.

After listening to the 46 Acid Mothers Temple concert recordings currently available, my love for this band has been put to the test. I am pleased to report that I have come through with a more nuanced and fuller appreciation for them. I can also help other diehard fans find the best concert recordings more easily. For the casual fans, these pieces may be a bit obtuse, but the recordings featured will always be a good place for the curious to begin.

Acid Mothers Temple was one of the first bands I started downloading. Much of their live material is radically different from their studio albums, and few songs are played the same way twice. They are also one of the best live bands I have ever had the good fortune to experience. To fully appreciate them, their live performances must be appreciated alongside their insanely prolific studio output. Nonetheless, sorting through their unofficial live recordings can pose a bit of a challenge. While a more song oriented band may be able to deliver a performance that overcomes poor recording technology, Acid Mothers Temple cannot. This isn’t their fault because so much pleasure of an Acid Mothers Temple performance is derived from the entire auditory experience. A poor recording, whether it suffers from a bad mix, muddy sound or uneven levels, can ruin the entire experience. Other bands like The Mekons can sound great even with terrible sound. This is not the case for Acid Mothers Temple. Just finding a set-list is not enough to evaluate a show. You have to dig deep and find the best performances.

All of the concerts reviewed here are contained within The Live Music Archive. Some recordings can be found at dimeadozen.org and NYCTaper.com, but the best recorded shows can all be found at the Archive.

1998-2001: The early years

While great live albums have been released from this era (Live in Japan and The Day Before the Sky Fell), the early live recordings that you can find are among the least essential available. At the time, the band was newly formed and not covered as thoroughly by tapers as they are today. As a result, there is not enough coverage to get a solid idea of what any one tour was like. However, there is still plenty of material to interest longtime fans like myself. The two earliest recordings available and– both radio performances in 1998—include a lot of material that sounds improvised and has not been heard since. The San Jose recording also features the only straightforward version of "Speed Guru," the opening jam of the first Acid Mothers Temple album. Since then, “Speed Guru” has basically become the title of the final minutes of every show when the entire band plays really fast and Kawabata swings his guitar around. The sole recordings from 1999 and 2000 and feature live versions of “Blue Velvet Blues” from the Pataphysical Freak Out MU!! album, and while this song has since been replaced by stronger material, it is among the band’s earliest epic tracks. Except for the recording of a performance at New York’s Knitting Factory, all of the shows from this era are surprisingly engaging. Nevertheless, these shows only hint at the heights the band would later reach.

2002: The first essential recordings

The live recorded history is best started at AMT’s 2002 recordings. I would go straight to the Chicago and Philadelphia shows recorded in October of that year. Both shows have some of the best sound of any AMT recording I’ve heard, and both include the only live performances of “In C” and “Soleil de Cristal et Lune De'Argent”. Chicago also includes the only live versions of “Loved and Confused” and “Blues Pour Bible Noire,” available. The live versions of “Soleil de Cristal et Lune De'Argent” and “Blues Pour Bible Noire” –both from Univers Zen Ou de Zéro à Zéro, one of my favorite AMT albums—are fantastic and substantially different enough from the album versions to warrant real attention.

2004 and 2006: Two very similar tours. Acid Mothers Temple refines their set to perfection.

In 2003, singer/keyboardist Cotton Casino left Acid Mothers Temple. In 2004 and 2006, the band toured for the first time as a four-piece; playing very similar sets both years. As a result, I can recommend one superb recording from 2006. In 2006, the band had perfected “Pink Lady Lemonade,” “Dark Stars in the Dazzling Sky” (Sometimes called “Dark Star Blues”), and “La Novia,” the three anchors of their set. If you had to listen to anything from 2004, I’d suggest either the LA show, which features the only available live recording of “Electric Love Machine” and a unique version of “La Le Lo.” Or the San Francisco show which has excellent sound, and a rousing version of “La Novia.” But easily, the best concert from these tours belongs to the performance at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Not only is the set amazing, but it includes an encore I have never heard anywhere else. Frequently, the band will come back on stage at the end of the show to sing a folksy rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," but on this night, they turn it into a ten minute monster jam complete with dueling guitar solos. Even without the encore, this was a fantastic show, but the encore puts this show over the top as perhaps the best captured Acid Mothers Temple concert.

2005: Introducing- The Cosmic Inferno

In 2005, Acid Mothers Temple became more than a band name. It was a brand. Band leader Kawabata Makoto had since formed several different groups, all with the name Acid Mothers Temple. Until this point, the band had always toured and recorded under the name Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paradiso U.F.O. In 2005, they toured as Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno. The Cosmic Inferno and Melting Paradiso U.F.O. is the same band with two notable lineup changes: bassist Tsuyama Atsushi of the Melting Paradiso was replaced by Tabata Mitsuru for the Cosmic Inferno, and the Cosmic Inferno would include a two-drummer line-up that now includes Pikachu from Afrirampo. Unfortunately, that dual drummer line-up did not make it to America in 2005. The whole band had difficulty securing visas and had to cancel some early dates. It’s a good thing they made it because this was the first tour I was able to catch and they blew my mind. The only show I recommend downloading from this tour is the Atlanta performance. San Francisco and Seattle probably have better and longer performances, but the sound quality of the Atlanta performance blows the others out of the water. It’s the only recording where Kawabata’s guitar reached through the speakers and ripped my head open.

2007: A Great Tour, Poorly Captured

In early 2007, Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paradiso U.F.O. added a new female singer to their lineup, Kitagawa Hao. She left shortly after the U.S. tour in 2007, and the Melting Paradiso returned to performing as a four-piece. I considered 2007 one of the band’s best years. They released two outstanding albums and the two New York shows I saw were fantastic. Unfortunately, none of the recordings from that tourquite match the shows I witnessed. In fact, every performance from that tour appears to have been substantially different. Baltimore show includes a version of “Pink Lady Lemonade” that turns into “IAO Chant from the Cosmic Inferno.” Something I never heard repeated. And the versions of “La Novia” that conclude the Buffalo and San Francisco shows are both substantially different from each other. The version at the end of the Santa Cruz show was the most similar to the performance I saw. San Francisco and Buffalo are probably the best downloads from this tour, simply because the versions of “Nam Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo,” which has only been played on this tour.

Acid Mothers Temple returned later in 2007 as Acid Mothers Guru Guru. This lineup consisted of Kawabata Makoto, Tsuyama Atsushi and Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru on drums. The performances were heavier on improvisation and feedback than typical Acid Mothers Temple performances. The only song I recognize is the ever-present “Pink Lady Lemonade.” Neither the Minneapolis, nor the San Francisco performances are good representations of this tour; however, these shows don’t reach the same highs as previous tours.

2008-2010: A band in decline

Throughout the tours, “Cometary Orbital Drive” replaced “La Novia” as the closer. In 2008, the tune was taking form; I think it was even conceived on that tour. By 2009, it had been recorded and released on an album that never saw the light of day in the U.S and in 2010, they finally perfected the jam. But there are some substantial differences between the tours. 2008 featured a dull version of “La Novia,” where it was not played at all in 2009 and 2010. It was also the only time the band opened with a slower jam. “Dark Stars” has been performed on all three tours, but in 2009, it was altered with a quieter beginning and in 2010, it was only performed in the encore.

Nevertheless, these shows all belong together because they clearly show a band in decline. All you have to do is look at the set-times. By 2010, you’re lucky to find a performance over 90 minutes. Out of all of the shows, I recommend the performances in Chapel Hill, Carolina. I don’t know how Chapel Hill managed to get the best performance of the tour 3 years in a row, but they did. The sound is fantastic for all three shows.

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