In the first of what will hopefully be a series of regular features, Darius Drewe looks at twelve (because ten is never enough) of the greatest songs in the catalogues of several underrated artists, and how the original studio recordings differ from their live performances.
This week: former Union Carbide Productions and Soundtrack Of Our Lives mainman Ebbot Lundberg (now leading The Indigo Children) comes under the microscope. Naturally, with a back catalogue as varied (not to mention consistently high-quality) as his, narrowing it down to a mere 12 was always going to be difficult: however, what we’ve tried to do here (as we will with all future subjects) is concentrate on his current live set, contrasting the various classics our scribe was fortunate enough to see aired with other tunes the Swedish psych master either (a) hasn’t played enough of late or (b) has never played at all.
Anyway, enough of this banter- simply recline on your patterned carpet and dig the vibes. Skol!!
THE TOP TWELVE TUNES OF…. EBBOT LUNDBERG
- CALLING FROM HEAVEN
ON Record (from For The Ages To Come, 2016): A near-perfect demonstration of the Swedish master’s peerless juxtaposition of swirling, psychedelic rock and jangly, indie-inflected tunesmithery, this 6-minute epic (actually a cover of a Spanish-language ‘60s psych track, but entirely reworked in Lundberg’s own idiom) proved to be one of the highlights of his latest release. And, although he didn’t write it per se, his trademarks (rising and falling melodic cadences coupled with an ever-present ability to arrange uptempo, positive material in an outwardly melancholic, minor key) are all over it. Heaven indeed.
LIVE: (last seen Upstairs at the Garage, London N5, Dec 2016): In a gig setting, the otherwise gentle, breezy nature of the song finds itself infused with a far more exploratory, free-jamming vibe akin to that which one might generally experience at a Grateful Dead, Amon Duul or Hawkwind show- yet it never loses sight of its plaintive melody once, resolving itself beautifully in a Who Sell Out-style climax that strips away the last five decades in two minutes. Even more amazing is the improvisational skill of the musicians involved: not one of Lundberg’s backing group, the Indigo Children, is at time of writing any older than 18, yet they possess more onstage intuition between them than both his previous bands (The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and Union Carbide Productions) combined.
- MANTRA SLIDER
ON RECORD (from Welcome To The Infant Freebase, 1996): For those that never witnessed the Carbines in action – a contingency which, seeing as I was both far too young and far too obsessed with hair metaaaaal at the time of their disbandment in 1992, sadly includes me- this song, which opened the Soundtracks’ first full length album (and at 20 tracks long, fuck was it full length) was the one that started it all. After slowly blinking into view with the drone of a distorted shenai (an instrument generally more familiar to fans of of ’70s jazz-prog crossover behemoths like Soft Machine and Colours) the song assaults the listener with (in turn) rumbling bass, twin slide geeetar and drawling vocal musings on such random astrological mumbo-jumbo as “golden dawns” and “astrological burnouts”: finally, it kicks into full throttle with the arrival of gospel-tinged barrelhouse piano and the best freewheeling percussion this side of Bonham, Baker and Bill Ward, and we’re off. Aided at the time by a heavily-rotated video depicting the freshly bearded, berobed and longhaired combo playing Apple-Corps style atop an extremely tall building, it made sure we knew that not only was this a markedly different outfit from its key members’ previous band, but that it was one to keep a serious eye out for.
LIVE: (Upstairs at the Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) For several present, it was not only a great surprise, but an unbridled joy, to hear this tune revived as the encore of an already cataclysmic set: though possibly the better of the two performances, Ebbot’s earlier London show that year (at the Half Moon) had omitted it entirely. And, though the Indigo Children’s interpretation is undoubtedly a fresher, heavier and more loose-limbed take, it still evokes memories of the classic TSOOL shows I witnessed between 2000 and 2003 (their peak period of popularity, if they ever really experienced one outside their Scandinavian homeland, in the UK) and still showed Lundberg playing the role he nails better than anyone else: the crazed, mike-swinging preacher-monk of rock’n’roll, a demented 21st century Iggy, Beefheart, Arthur Brown, Viv Stanshall or Ian Anderson with the post-indie sensibility of a Lee Mavers, Julian Cope or (early) Richard Ashcroft. As he practically (in no small part due to the intimate size of the venue) bellows the line “we’re gonna give you back your eyes so you can see” in several people’s faces at once, it’s evident that a blind man would have difficulty not taking immediate notice.
- WHEELS OF BOREDOM
ON RECORD (from Origin Vol 1, 2004) Although its unprepossessing, negative title certainly hasn’t done it many favours, this beautifully evocative, wintry selection from TSOOL’s overlooked followup to their “near-breakthrough” album Behind The Music remains one of their most slyly seductive gems. Evoking the classic, harpsichord and dulcimer-driven sound of the Stones circa Between The Buttons and the Moody Blues around On The Threshold Of A Dream, yet fed through the mincer of “She Bangs The Drums”-era Stone Roses, its initially lethargic, depressive lyrical sideswipe at daily life is soon countermanded by an irresistible chorus that will have psych-heads everywhere searching for the nearest pair of maracas and climbing atop their living-room tables in their best paisley loons, singing out in full cry despite the wearisome troglodyte entreaties of their chav neighbours. “And I say yeeeeee-he-he-heah, sha la la la la la, la la la la, yeeeeeee—he-he-heah, sha la la la la la, la la la” quoth Thee Bearded One, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.
LIVE: Sadly, I can’t recall to my knowledge ever having seen this song performed live by Ebbot, either as a solo artist or with the Soundtracks. I wouldn’t even put my hand up and say I saw them play it on the tour of the album from whence it hails (although I was there- Electric Ballroom, 2005) However, I seriously believe it should be resurrected—apart from anything else, I’d love to see what the Indigo Children, particularly guitarist Rebecka Rolfart and keyboard player Elias Jungqvist, would make of it. The only trouble is, I might be so tempted to yell along with the aforesaid chorus that I might end up drowning out Thee Eb himself. Which would never do!!
- TO BE CONTINUED
ON RECORD (from For The Ages To Come, 2016) Like its counterparts Calling From Heaven and Backdrop People, this joyous, rousing number (skilfully placed at the end of the album, thus inferring the start of the next chapter) is yet another example of Lundberg’s skill for turning the simple into the sublime. Boasting a lilting, folksy melody that again, could just as easily have fallen from the annals of 1968 as it could 1982 or 1991, and a throbbing, hypnotic rhythm the listener can’t help but float on, this is modern psychedelia at its very best- the sort of thing Temples would love to write but haven’t quite got the hang of yet (Although, to paraphrase Whistler’s oft-cited comment to Wilde, “they will, Oscar, they will”)
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) Probably the most “communal” offering in the Indigos’ armoury, TBC is the number all Lundberg fans can join arms and sway to in the knowledge they belong to a truly special (although sadly on this occasion rather sparse, thanks to Jim Jones playing a free show just up the road) gang. Or failing that, at least nod, smile and wink at each other meaningfully. Placed towards the end of the main set in much the same way as it signifies the closure of the album, it should also (ideally, anyway) at last provide Ebbot with the one thing his otherwise untouchable songwriting skills have hitherto lacked- a singalong anthem. Granted, several Soundtracks numbers, such as I Believe I’ve Found, The Passover and Mind The Gap, nearly got there- but, thanks to the concurrent obsessions of co-writer/guitarist Ian Persson, they all emerged a little too close for comfort to his then-favourite band Oasis, pushing TSOOL into an area at uncomfortable odds with what their original “garage-prog” sound was truly about. Moreover, these tracks failed to win the approbation of the mainstream schmindie/Noelrock contingent anyway, effectively leaving the band perpetually stuck betwixt two stools. On his own, however, and with a band of younger players who truly understand him, Lundberg is now back on his chosen path- and thrashed out live, this song exemplifies that journey better than any other. As the lyric says, “it’s a story that will never end” one can only hope…
- GLAD TO HAVE YOU BACK
ON RECORD (from Financially Dissatisfied Philosophically Trying, 1989) One of the dirtiest, dirgiest riffs in the otherwise trebly-squeaky-clean canon of ‘80s rock comes to us courtesy of this little gem- a three minute distillation of everything UBC wanted at heart to be, and one of the greatest hit singles that never was (well, never over here- in Sweden, it did very well indeed) In the decade that followed, every two-bit, floppy-haired indie-garage act and cheesy sleaze metal band alike would claim to be “influenced by The Stooges”, but ONLY the Carbides- ironically, a band as geographically far removed from Detroit as it’s possible to get- truly pulled it off, and despite the slight reverbiness of the production that betray its otherwise well-hidden ’80s origins, this is one of the best examples of how they did it.
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) The moment Lundberg announces the impending arrival of said track, the hardcore fans present (ie, more or less all of us) are in full-on grebo-punk overdrive heaven: much as we all loved TSOOL, we all hoped that one day, some UCP tuneage would surface in the set again, and now it has, it’s obvious Ebbot enjoys it every bit as much as we do. Though again extended to twice its original length via the insertion of some space-age improv, and despite That Riff now emanating from keyboard as much as guitar, it’s still a pounder- so, for anyone who thinks the Swede lost his rock’n’roll chops sometime between Behind The Music and Origin, think again. For which reason, naturally, the title should be sung by us to him as much as by him to us.
- SIDE EFFECTS
ON RECORD (from A Present From The Past, 2006) Like The Wildhearts, Manics and Suede, the Soundtracks often hid much of their “gold”- to whit, their greatest, most transcendent material- on the backs of singles, EPs and web-only releases. By the mid-00s, they had amassed enough such rarities (32 tracks- yes, you read that aright, THIRTY FUCKING TWO) to fill a double album: and, despite perhaps a slight over-reliance on mellower numbers, it actually captures for many fans the essence of the group at their very best. Indeed the cover, depicting the band silhouetted against a dimming autumnal sun in a rural meadow, is for me a perfect summation in a single image of their softer oeuvre: thusly, if I were to choose a single song with which to represent that side of their personality, it would undoubtedly be this (closely followed by their sophomore album’s implausibly beautiful Jehovah Sunrise and the atypical, piano-led Tonight from the third). Gentle, dreamy, drenched in phased guitar, icy keyboards and sad harmonies, it could easily be the Moodies, early BJH, Pearls Before Swine or Buffalo Springfield: yet these are balanced by a dark alt-country air that suggests a Low or Smog influence, and there’s still something intrinsically Scandinavian about the whole affair (conjuring up images of bearded chappies and their flowery-dressed partners sitting trying to resolve their drug-induced differences round Odinic bonfires) that, lest the constant comparisons make you start to think TSOOL were no more than a retro-pastiche band, is 100% of their own making.
LIVE: Another song I’ve never seen Ebbot do either alone or as a bandmember. However, I’m sure he can be persuaded: what’s more, having seen how well both Rolfart and her fellow axe-slinger Billy Cervin handle harmony vocals (and, more importantly, given that they named their other band after the bloody song!!) I think they’d do it proud. Particularly the bit from the third verse that goes “I’m caught in a trap, I know I got no place to run…” Gives me chills just imagining it.
- DON’T BLOW YOUR MIND
ON RECORD (from For The Ages To Come, 2016) The other cover on the latest waxing (although again, reworked in such a manner that only true aficionados would recognise it) the originators of this doom-laden ditty are none other than one Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper) and his first band The Spiders. Yes, this one dates back even further than when “Alice” was a band- to 1966, in fact, the very year Mr Lundberg himself was born. By which accounts, his decision to cover it- drawing out the relatively tinny riff of the original into the kind of crushing monolith Blue Cheer and Sir Lord Baltimore deafened audiences with a couple of years later- surely represents the acknowledgement on his part of a milestone. The title also has to be supremely ironic, as if your mind isn’t blown after hearing it, then there surely has to be something wrong with you.
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) As one might imagine, it’s even more intense onstage than on CD, the sledgehammer pummel of its slow-fast-slow-fast-slow riff battering listeners squarely in the face whilst its insane, cloaked conductor towers above his cohorts on an improvised platform. Music, at its best, can move you, inspire you or change your life: it can also incite a group of otherwise sensible middle aged people to frantically thrash at air guitars like the entrants in a Pete Townshend impersonation contest, and this is very much the spontaneous effect DBYM has here tonight. It’s also the closest this otherwise familial gathering has seemed thus far to intimidating: basically, I’ve got a man twice my size and weight, dressed like Mocata off The Devil Rides Out, standing in front of me glaring and yelling at me to not blow my mind, but unfortunately, I know it’s already too late. Whatever shall I do?
- PSYCHOMANTUM X2000
ON RECORD (from Extended Revelation For The Psychic Weaklings Of Western Civilisation, 1998) Between the eclecticism of TSOOL’s debut offering and the blatant commercialism of their third came the snowy, October-like mellotones (and mellotrons) of their second: despite constantly producing work of high calibre, with each subsequent release including intermittent returns to similarly blatant pastoral psychedelia, they would never sound again as consistently and authentically steeped in mysticism as they did here. Granted, about 80 percent of said mysticism is actually, when examined closely, pure gibberish: for a start, a “psychomantum”, much like Steve Miller’s “pompitous” or Spandau Ballet’s “instinction” doesn’t exist (a psychomanteum, which I believe is a kind of mirror-chamber designed specially for contacting the dead, does, but I don’t think that’s what the lyrics are referring to) yet nonetheless, it’s as perfect an example as any of the grandiose sonic tapestries the band were capable of weaving once their liberty-caps were screwed firmly on. Detractors have said it sounds contrived, but not to me: whatever the fuck they’re singing about, they sound like they believe in it. And, more importantly, so do I.
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) As far as perfect show-openers go, they don’t come much more perfect than this: starting with a lone Tomorrow Never Knows-style drumbeat and synth chord, then slowly adding first a supple bassline, then one clanging surf-like guitar, then another, then finally vocal, it allows each Indigo Child (clad in matching robes and deliberately parodic sub-Kiss makeup) to mount the stage in processional order before their beknighted leader joins them. Having done so, he beckons the crowd forward, the lyrics (“…it’s coming closer all the time”….”welcome to my universe…..”…..”everybody’s seeing RED!!!!”) seeming less like cod-Leary ramblings and more like genuine portents of some imminent Rapture or epiphany only available to those of some form of higher state: though I’m pretty sure not one single person in the audience is “on” anything stronger than overpriced Guinness, a mere three minutes of this are all it takes to persuade us otherwise. Of course, it’s all an illusion. But it’s a thoroughly pleasant one.
- CONFRONTATION CAMP
ON RECORD (from Welcome To The Infant Freebase, 1996) Alongside Retro Man and Galaxy Gramophone, this bouncing, bottom-heavy fist-puncher (structurally lifted from Bowie’s Jean Genie and The ‘Oo’s Armenia City In The Sky, but also imbued with more than a slight touch of neo-contemporary ’90s Mancunianism) represented perfectly the ard’n’eavy side of the band’s early work, albeit with a Britpop-friendly tinge, and often found itself spun in ’90s rock clubs alongside tracks from other rockin’ Swedes like the Hellacopters, Hardcore Superstar, Backyard Babies and (pre-McGee era) Hives. In fact, with its buoyant, repetitive riff and deliberately clichéd rawk lyric (“A paranoia strikes my brain, and all my friends are all the same, I’m on a traaaaaaaaaaaaaaaainnnnnn, please tell me where I have to get off…’cos I can’t sleep and I can’t walk, and I can’t stand to face your talk”) it very nearly sounds like an intentional riff on the whole sleaze-rock sound that, despite the rest of the world seeming obsessed by grunge, remained very popular in the band’s native land during the ’90s. Either way, a classic- and one which, more often than not, used to end Soundtracks’ live shows.
LIVE: Back in the late ’90s-early ’00s, if you hadn’t stood in a venue somewhere watching Ebbot “testify” to this, his long-lead mike permitting him a full audience intimidation walkabout whilst the other five Soundtrackers headbanged, sauntered and pouted in unison, you simply hadn’t seen the best rock’n’roll show in town. These days, unfortunately, Mr L seems to have locked it away in a box: obviously, as with all great artists, we respect his need to move on, and several newer songs make more than adequate replacements for it, but it is missed. Maybe one day.
- FOR THE AGES TO COME
ON RECORD (From For The Ages To Come, 2016) OK, it’s not his best composition by a long chalk- it’s not even the best on the album. However, as a statement of intent (and a re-affirmation of Lundberg’s status as Sweden’s resident neo-psych overlord) it sets out its stall perfectly. Beginning as a mid-paced, sedate folk number at the Lee Hazlewood-inflected bottom end of his vocal range, reflecting much the same lyrical concerns as classic Soundtracks cut All For Sale (“everybody’s keepin’ up with what there’s left to buy”) it soon explodes into a throaty yet melodic yell extolling the possibility of a brighter future- and while Ebbot, much like Steve Harley or Ian Astbury, has never been possessed of the greatest number of octaves ever heard on a frontman, this is a fine case of him using what others would find limiting to his greater advantage, his cracked, torn delivery essential to his powerful selling of the song.
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) Like more or less every deceptively laid-back number he’s ever laid down on record, For The Ages comes alive in the most spectacular manner imaginable in concert, the shift between its sombre, hymnal verses and boisterous choruses (the latter reprising a regular theme of “making it easy for everyone else to get by”) serving as the launch pad for much in the way of aggressive emphasis and improvised theatrics. If we weren’t all such a bunch of self-conscious Londoners, we’d almost certainly all have waved our lighters in the air…
ON RECORD (From Swing, 1992) It was a close call betwixt this and its Syd Barrett-infused album-mate Anytime, but in the end, this raunchy, swaggering, piano-thumping, free-jazz-sax-squealing riff-driven rocker from the Carbides’ final album- effectively, their parting shot- had to make this list. Running almost a full ten minutes in a true Funhouse style, and featuring elements of every diverse influence they ever scrambled into their uniquely overdriven, filth-dripping melange, if it was the sound of a band on their way out, then they were leaving on the most devil-may-care, fuck-the-torpedoes-in-the-arse note of their career to date, with the singer wailing more throatily than ever before or since.
LIVE: To my knowledge, the Indigoes haven’t thus far had a crack at this one: the very thought of what they could do with it makes me drool with anticipp-p-p-p-pation, but as Ebbot has also reformed UBC a second time (following 2003’s brief Scando-only resurgence) on the side for several European festival dates this Summer, it may not be long before audiences get a chance to see it played the way its creators intended it to sound. Having said that, no British dates have been announced, so I won’t leap up and down for joy until I split my corduroy keks just yet…
- SECOND LIFE REPLAY
ON RECORD (From Communion, 2007) Possibly the apex of TSOOL’s recorded output, this (relatively) late-career highlight, hidden behind what at first seems yet another of their typically obtuse titles (Interstellar Inferiority Complex, Embryonic Rendezvous, the terribly-punned Dow Jones Syndrome) actually achieves something maybe no other rock song (with the exception of Elton John’s sarcastic I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself) has ever achieved- namely, the creation of something uplifting, soaring and ultimately positive out of the lyrical subject matter of suicide. Low key, funereal bass drum, glockenspiel and guitar set the scene, before Ebbot’s earthy intonation (“I killed myself today, for second life replay, yes I killed myself today…I had too many lives, so I did it to survive”) imparts the worldview of one all-too familiar with the facile failure of modern-day existence. But then, just when all seems lost, a chiming three-minute interlude of 12-string and wordless choral vocal that serves more as a foreboding than any form of “build-up” is interrupted by a sudden Moonie-recalling thrash of snare from drummer Fredrik Sandstrom and a screech of defiance from the man himself, dragging the track screaming into a thunderous charge of revenge before ending on a note of positive resolution (“but I’ll return tomorrow…..alive to leeaaaaaaaarn agaaaaaaainnn”) no-one saw coming. Quintessential listening for an anguished century.
LIVE (Upstairs At The Garage, London N5, Dec 2016) As intrinsic a part of the Lundberg live experience as it is of its parent album, SLR tends these days to mark the end of the set proper, its doom-laden introduction slowly fading into focus as the last echo-laden reverberations of its predecessor slide out. The minute Rolfart strikes the opening chords, applause fills the room: every line is accorded equal scrutiny, and as the Indigos ominously chime their way through the aforementioned middle section (now extended, like most oldies, to double its original length) the knowledge of what’s about to quite literally explode our eardrums is the closest thing I’ve experienced at any rock show this century to an edge-of-seat moment, a Won’t Get Fooled Again for the millennial generation and their immediate forebears. Indignant fury, a melody to break hearts, and a Jesus Christ pose- what more could you want?
Find Ebbot Lundberg’s work here.
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