Saturday, November 20, 2004

i heard it through the vine

Last month I had the enormous joy of seeing Cowboy Junkies play live numerous times.

They make music of such grace, dignity, darkness, stillness, and intelligent ornate melancholic beauty, they hold a place in my heart that's all their own. If you don't have The Trinity Session and The Caution Horses then I feel a bit sorry for you having such a void in your life.

It was their first UK tour in twelve years, so I felt compelled to follow them around seeing them night after night, suppressing my feelings of 'Following a band around on tour? What is this, 1990 and New Model Army?'.

It's a rare band indeed that you can get as much from seeing the fifth night as the first. The unfailing magic Cowboy Junkies generated was so profoundly enriching that right now I still feel like someone's put a layer of fluffy cotton wool under my boots.

The tour was made doubly wonderful by the support act being Vic Chesnutt. Perfectly matched for the Junkies, such grace and yet so unpretentious, odd songs from weird places that sound simple yet stick with you and open up layers of potency and meaning with each listen.

Having once seen the fuckin Wolfgang Press (one of the worst gigs I've ever endured) supporting the Pixies (one of the very best), I was deeply grateful for Vic who is another one of that rare breed who give you as much night after nihgt. I could've had to sit through the Wolfgang Press five nights in one week. Thank fuck for Vic Chesnutt.

Bands like Spearhead have been actively encouraging fans to share live recordings for ages. The Junkies have a system that works in a way that's new to me.

One of the five sections of their message board is dedicated to people swapping live recordings (mostly of the Junkies, but some other artists too).

The system is called vines. When someone has a recording they would like to share they start a vine by posting a message saying they've got the live recording (CDR is the usual format, though DVD-Rs are appearing too). They make a copy and then post a message describing the recording. Everyone who wants a copy then posts in the same message thread, leaving their email address.

The original copy is then mailed from person to person, in order of when they posted. When the first person receives it, they make a copy, then email the next person on the list, get their address and send on the original copy.

As someone who spent much of the 1980s listening to dodgy cassette bootlegs, this is utterly amazing.

No more tentatively listening to the hiss at the start of the tape, hearing it build up as it shows how many generations of copies it is from the original. The hiss on some of my REM 1980-81 tapes is actually louder than the music.

No more splashing out untold wads of cash to leechy profiteers on eBay (the CDs of Bowie at Glastonbury went for 50 quid to start with, though admittedly that's not so bad cos it was unquestionably the best gig in the world by anybody ever).

No more dodgy downloads that turn out to be shoddy copies or not even what they're labelled as.

Everyone gets to rip and burn from the original for the price of the blank discs and mailing it on.

This is so simple and so generous, so clearly for the love of sharing music. Here's hoping it catches on in a big way for sharing all bootlegs.

Full explanations and etiquette are explained here.

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