Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Record Review: Mars "Live At Artists Space" LP

"Am I glad that a previously unheard performance by the iconoclastic no wave group Mars has been issued. YES.

Am I thrilled with the quality of the presentation. NO.

This LP, released by Feeding Tube Records,  features both sets by Mars from the May 6th, 1978 bill shared with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks during the mythic five-day Artists Space festival that essentially spawned the classic "No New York" compilation LP (Antilles, 1978).

Although the press for this release is replete with obligatory hyperbole ("revelatory", "this is Mars at their most glorious", ad nauseam), all you've really got here is a good performance buried in flat, muddy sounding amateur audio and a generic, unimaginative record cover only one layout step beneath a bootleg. (The previous live Mars release sounded like cardboard too, but at least there were pretty colors on the booklet.) The A side was recorded by the gig soundguy Perry Brandston with several microphones run into a portable cassette recorder. The B side was recorded by Lust/Unlust Records majordomo Charles Ball with the same sort of binaural microphone system the group would track their final recordings with. Don't get your hopes up from these technical descriptions though: the fidelity is uniformly crappy enough that one will really have to use some imagination to acheive the mandated state of "revelation" the label promises. Did they honestly listen to this record more than once themselves???

Given the source tapes are old and crudely recorded, we cannot expect that much more, BUT, the second thing I did (after spinnng the disc on my better than decent Technics SL1200 MK2 turntable) was make a 24- bit recording of the disc to remaster to a modicum of listenability. I quickly filtered away the ugly tape hiss and the pops and clicks of the vinyl. Next, I re-EQed the entire program in an attempt to recoup some of the missing treble frequencies innately lost with this kind of source material. The entire midrange needed to be sculpted to remove the blurry muck hiding the "gloriousness". It took a few suspenseful minutes, but after I gave this thing a quick spit and shine, I could actually HEAR what was going on. It turns out the band played well - too bad the sets weren't professionally recorded, because THEN maybe our minds would have been truly blown instead of someone telling us it is supposed to happen.

Truth told, the performances aren't terribly more inspired or lively than the "No New York" studio recordings from the same period, but they do have a slightly more extroverted oomph that does warrant hearing if one is a fan. The fidelity is guaranteed to try your patience though. Good luck enduring all 40 minutes without reaching for a Tylenol.

Don't Mars deserve better? Couldn't the old pre-mastering engineer give the reels just a little more elbow grease or did the producers want this record to turn out crappy as an "aesthetic" agenda? Couldn't we have had slightly snappier graphics instead of a Microsoft Word template with a few photos plunked down on it? Maybe it is asking too much? I suppose we will never know. All I know is this product doesn't do much real justice to a great, underdocumented band.

I would posit that the "revelation" of Mars is best found on the collection of their complete studio releases available on the used marketplace in both vinyl and CD format.

This release is for no-wave completists and those trying desperately to be painfully hip ONLY."

- Stanley Eisen, 12.8.11

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see what you did there. Hew more.