(Apologies for the length of this review, but this CD truly deserves it! I hope you can spare it a few minutes of your time.)
REVERB NATION!! What we have here is something truly special: a compilation of live performances from the 2017 Surf Guitar 101 Convention held at Alpine Village in Torrence, CA. Let me first start by saying that I'm obviously not an impartial outsider when it comes to this wonderful CD. The Madeira played at this convention and we are featured with two tracks - "Caravela" and "Farthest Shore", NEITHER on our "Center of the Surf" live CD, recorded at the same occasion by the same team. (If you add them to those on "Center of the Surf", you will have our entire set from that day.) I'm very, very proud of our performance at that show, including these two tracks - I personally think they sound pretty awesome, but that's probably just my bias showing.
The SG101 Convention has been held every August since 2008. The Madeira was part of that first one, and then again the 2012 one. It's one of our very favorite gigs, playing where this music was born, and in front of a sizeable audience of fellow surf nuts as well as many, MANY old friends! It's really a family-like occasion, and it's so nice to now have it immortalized!
Possibly the most notable thing about this entire CD is its phenomenal, downright GLORIOUS sound! Every band was playing through the 'proper' early '60s Fender amps and Ludwig drums, giving each band a powerful, warm and authentic sound. That of course wouldn't mean much if it hadn't been recorded properly - which it certainly WAS, by triple-Grammy-winning producer Mark Linett who's worked with the who's-who of popular music over the past nearly 50 years, including Frank Zappa, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and most notably Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. He has a deep and abiding love of surf music, and in fact this entire recording was his idea, as he approached Jeff Hanson AKA Big Tiki Dude, the main man behind the convention since its beginning, and offered to record all the bands and then arrange for the subsequent release of a compilation of live performances. This really needs to be emphasized - this entire project was ENTIRELY a labor of love for Mark, and he's put in an enormous amount of work to make it happen, from arranging the recording logistics on the day of the convention, communicating with all the bands, mixing the tracks and mastering the full album, pitching the project to labels, to finally arranging all the last details with the label behind the CD (Entrée Records). This was an enormous amount of work and it shows a pretty incredible level of dedication by someone of his stature. It's actually quite remarkable, really. And I have to emphasize: the CD sounds just UNBELIEVABLE, as one would expect!. I think for most bands featured on this CD, these are their best-sounding recordings ever. The only thing that gives it away as a live CD is the applause in-between the songs and the verve of the performances, something that's difficult if not even impossible to capture in a studio recording. Playing in front of a fairly large and highly enthusiastic audience will ALWAYS kick a band into a higher gear! And that's, folks, what was captured on this CD! A truly special day that will now live on forever - and in sound quality that can actually transport you there, if you crank the CD and close your eyes!
Demonstrating the deep roots of modern surf music, the CD appropriately opens and closes with '60s classics, as well as being anchored by them in the middle! The first band on the CD being the Surf Rockers whose Dick Dale tribute ("Death of a Gremmie" and "Misirlou") was ridiculously DEAD-ON! More Dick than Dick! It then goes to one of today's greatest trad-surf tribute bands, Outerwave, whose version of the Original Surfaris' super-classic "Surfari" captures not only its sound but its teenage energy and enthusiasm remarkably well. (They throw a bit of a fun curveball by also covering "Desert Bound" by the Looney Tunes, an early '90s trad-surf band from Germany - and it also sounds like it came right from '63!) In the middle of the CD we get the Surfaris tribute, with the all-star lineup (featuring John Blair on lead guitar), doing "Wipe Out" (of course!), and "Point Panic", both again performed with deep love and reverence - and completely nailing it! Finally, the CD closes with the El Caminos (from Japan), performing a vibrant and highly authentic version of a fairly obscure first-wave classic, "Jet Stream" by the Breakers, followed by Venturesmania with another all-star lineup: Deke Dickerson (the Untamed Youth) and Garrett Immel (the Ghastly Ones) on guitars and Mel Bergmann (the Phantom Surfers) on bass, doing two mid-'60s Ventures classics, "007-11" and "Walk, Don't Run, '64," and my God, this again sounds more Ventures than the Ventures did in '65! The sound is not only completely faithful, but it's somehow even taken up a notch or two! You can tell these guys REALLY 'get' this music, understand it on a deeply instinctual and emotional level, and play it with incredible passion - but then, that really also applies to all five of the above bands!
The CD also features some of the finest modern surf bands (10 altogether, in addition to the tribute bands) from the past 20+ years, performing their own originals, many of which are destined to be future classics, I firmly believe! The Volcanics, Par Avion, the Tequila Worms and Insect Surfers demonstrating effectively the great variety of surf sounds in SoCal today, from completely trad to highly progressive. I love in particular the Insect Surfers' "Delmarva" and "Black Sea" - what a great sound and instrumental interplay on those two! Another SoCal act is the legendary first wave band the Lively Ones, here featured not with one of their classic '60s songs but rather with a new (to me, at least) laid-back original track "Southern Surf", its languid feel turning it one of my unexpected favorites on here. And then there are four leading surf bands from around the country and even the world: the Exotics from Milwaukee doing their brand of highly rhythmic surf groovers; Atomic Mosquitos from Washington, DC with an amazing, all-out, super-high-energy blast, seasoned with some crazy theremin work by Stephen Blickenstaff; the Mystery Men? from Atlanta, with their unique three-guitar mix of trad and prog surf, providing another of my favorites from the CD, the intensely melodic and textured "Cassandra Complex", as well as the moody "Order of the Black Sun"; and finally, the Kilaueas from Germany, widely thought of as one of the best surf bands in the world today, playing their highly dynamic and personal take on trad surf music, with another couple of my favorites, the Boss Martians'-flavored "Bernard of Hollywood" and the dark and exotic "Zambesi Nocturne". As striking as the classics played by the tribute bands are, here we see irrefutable evidence of the continued vitality and ongoing development of surf music, making it a viable and fascinating musical genre long after its commercial heyday of the early '60s. These songs are just fascinating to hear together, showcasing the breadth and diversity of approaches and contributions to modern surf music. It's just damn cool, methinks!
Finally, huge kudos to John Blair for providing a great deal of assistance to Mark Linett in this project, including writing the excellent liner notes. I know from our personal communication how much effort and dedication he also put into this project, and all I can say is that it's absolutely paid off - this truly is a modern surf music classic and a must-have!
There's a lot more I could write about this CD, but if anybody's still reading this far, I've probably tested your patience enough! Bottom line: if you consider yourself a surf music fan, you've GOTTA have this CD! There's just no discussion! It's the best evidence yet that the state of surf music in 2018 is about as strong as it's ever been, and probably even on its way up, up, up and away! Get it!
Last edited: Sep 13, 2018 15:57:21