Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Toasters: Live at CBGBs

MVD Audio

Ah, the live record...such a tricky proposition. On one hand, a band isn't worth its salt unless it can put on a good live show--a host of shortcomings can be hidden in the studio. Yet no concert performance is without its warts (despite our adulation, the musicians are only human), and capturing and conveying the vibe of a particular night in a club is difficult: you, the listener, are not in the crowd hearing, seeing, and feeling the same things everyone else is at the show. Let's be honest, listening to a concert CD can be a sterile, almost alienating experience (you're not soused, sweaty, and packed sardine-like in front of the stage, you're just probably doing something mundane at home or in your car or at work). And when we listen to a CD or LP, we kind of expect to be hearing something close to perfection from a band, whether it is a concert or studio recording, right? (Hell, the only time I'm really excited by a live recording is when the band's performance is freakin' sublime and they have altered the song in some way that greatly improves upon the original studio cut.) When you are at a gig, you're more forgiving of the band's mistakes, especially after you've had a beer or two.

The Toasters have released a number of live recordings over the years, most of them pretty good, though I'd always pick the experience of seeing them in person over Memorex. They always put on a good show. Simple as that. This brings us to The Toasters: CBGB Omfug Masters: Live June 28, 2002, The Bowery Collection. What makes this a notable recording in their extensive catalogue is that it was the last time The Toasters ever played CBs (before it closed in 2006) and the band hadn't played there since ska and hardcore were banned from the club around 1990 due to too much violence at gigs (going to a ska show in the early nineties was sometimes risky business--batteries were thrown at the band on stage, fights broke out on the dancefloor--stupid, depressing stuff). The performances here are mostly good--though there are a few bum notes (ahem, horn section) and botched lyrics (Buck totally flubs "2Tone Army" and then asks the band if they can do a song he knows the words to!). Also, the crowd that night sounds pretty lame (Sledge even asks them if they have ever heard "Run Rudy Run" before), but The Toasters make the best of it.

Since this was 2002, the band was road testing tunes in support of Enemy of the System ("Sitting on Top of the World" and "Modern World America") that sound good and the rest of the set list is made of up of a string of hits: "Shocker," "Shebeen," "Mona," "Run Rudy Run," "I'm Running Right Through the World," and one of my all-time favorites, the first Gulf War-era "Ploughshares into Guns." Trombonist Buford O'Sullivan even squeezes in his drinker's lament, "Can I Get Another?"

The CD packaging is pretty sad--mostly pictures of the skanky interior of CBGBs and a tribute to Hilly Kristal by Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators--nothing about The Toasters (this recording is part of a series of live performances at CBs by various bands, so the label is saving some cash on the booklet and tray card). Also, a major complaint: the CD ends before the last song is finished; it simply fades out before they are done. Not cool.

All in all, this is not an essential Toasters recording to own, but it sounds like it was a fun night to see 'em. Obviously it's a must for Toasters completists; and if they never tour near where you live, it's the next best thing to being there. Just turn the stereo up loud. (B/B+)

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