Go Gonzo at Budokan (7/24/98)

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Walking Into Clarksdale (Atlantic 1998) - Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, the esteemed guitarist and frontman for Led Zeppelin, have reunited for their first new studio album since 1979's In Through the Out Door. The result is a project that stays true to their hard-rocking roots.

Actually, Page and Plant made a triumphant return with their 1994 release, No Quarter, which was drawn from a live MTV special entitled Unledded. The new release builds off the touring band assembled by Page and Plant, and includes bassist Charlie Jones and drummer Michael Lee.

Recorded at the renowned Abby Road studios in London, the album was produced by Steve Albini, known for his recording work with Nirvana, the Pixies, and other alternative favorites.

Walking Into Clarksdale continues on the Zep theme, with expanded songs (such as "When I Was a Child") and solid rockers (such as "Upon a Golden Horse"). One of the rock world's best-known duos, Page and Plant are always welcome.

Soundtrack to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Geffen 1998) - The soundtrack to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas features 16 tracks drawn from the new film by director Terry Gilliam. Ranging from classic 60's rock to surreal 50's Americana, the album contains "recalls a simpler time when the nation was safe for wild-eyed, anarchist freaks to drive madly around the country in fireapple red convertibles in search of the American Dream" (according to the press notes).

I've never been able to sink my teeth into the book by Hunter S. Thompson, the father of "Gonzo journalism," which was originally published in "Rolling Stone" magazine in 1971. Gritty and twisted, the book is a long look into the underbelly of drug and alcohol excesses.

But I dig the 60's and 70's rock tracks, including "One Toke Over the Line" (by Brewer & Shipley), "Mama Told Me Not to Come" (performed by Three Dog Night), and Bob Dylan's, "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" (from the classic 1966 release, Blonde on Blonde).

The album also includes cuts by the Yardbirds and Jefferson Airplane(predictably, "White Rabbit"), as well as a gem by Booker T. & the MG's, "Time is Tight." Consisting of Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson on drums, Booker T. & the MG's was the house behind the classic Stax Records sound, and backed such greats as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett.

In the end, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas contains music that is just too good to forget. And that's the redeeming strength of the soundtrack.

Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick at Budokan (Epic/Legacy 1998) - For the 20th anniversary of Cheap trick's legendary Budokan show, Epic has issued a deluxe anniversary edition, digitally remastered and containing nine songs not on the original chart-topping release. I have mixed feelings about the set.

Let's start with the good news. Live at Budokan remains one of the finest live recordings in the rock world. Live at Budokan turned out to be the biggest charting album in Cheap Trick's catalog, with such favorites as "I Want You to Want Me," "Oh Caroline," and "Big Eyes." Also included is one of the best-ever covers of Fats Domino's, "Ain't That a Shame."

Hailing from Rockford, Illinois, the four members of Cheap Trick (Robin Zanderon vocals, Rick Nielsen on guitar, Bun E. Carlos on drums, and Tom Petersson on bass) were ready to light their rocket. And in Japan, everything came together.

Here's a side note: The band's fourth studio album, Dream Police, was already recorded when Live at Budokan started leaking into America on import releases. Delighted by the success of the import edition, Epic pressed for domestic release of Live at Budokan, thus leaving Dream Police stuck in the can for more than a year.

Here's another side note: Another famous native of Rockford, Illinois, is Ginger Lynn.

Here's the counterpoint. Like any purist, I'm uncomfortable with when a label tinkers with a classic recording. Thus, I have mixed feelings about the nine new tracks, including "ELO Kiddies" and "Lookout." Yet I find "Goodnight" to be a delightful counterpart to the album's opening track, "Hello There."

A second major issue concerns the remastering. The album is brighter, and sounds "different" on my home speakers. Yet, in my car, the new mix sounds terrific. So I ask - why mess with a classic?

Live at Budokan remains a great recording, and deserves its esteemed status.

Randy Krbechek © 1998

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