Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Overshadowed by the story behind the collapse of founding member Alexander 'Skip' Spence, this long neglected San Francisco band imploded quickly. Countless pages have been filled in praise of this album, though not many people have actually listened to it, except for Robert Plant. You won't hear any of these tunes on classic rock stations, either.
Despite fine writing and playing from each member, there is nothing that reaches beyond "well done" to the level of GREAT. Make no mistake, this is a consistent set of songs, but memorable or extraordinary are tags that just don't apply. Based on many spins, to me, "Moby Grape" has definite high points ("Omaha") though I don't hear cause for why "important" rock critics lose their minds over it.
Faint traces of the lysergic experience ("Indifference") creep in, mixing with countryish material ("Ain't No Use") but it all lacks "Marv Albert bite". The Grateful Dead later used "Hey Grandma" as a musical template for "Truckin" , but Jerry and company remembered to write in a hook. That's the crucial element lacking here.
These guys also had an uphill battle in having their artistic statement released simultaneously with "Sgt. Pepper", which dominated the airwaves in the summer of '67. Next came a suicidal PR tactic that saw five singles put out all at once, with only "Omaha" charting, trudging to number 88.
Subversive cover art didn't help their case. Don Stevenson is flashing the naughty middle digit, which is funny to me, though still taboo in terms of public display over forty years on. Once Spence disappeared into a drug induced ether that involved an attempt to chop up one of his band mates and ended with forcible confinement in a mental facility, the door to any success slammed shut.
I would still recommend giving this one a shot, if you can find it. Each selection is fairly short which is a plus, though they stretched things out when playing live. This is really where they were in their element.
Mike Douglas show appearance = Very tight.