On the Way Downtown
As a kid in the ’70s, I used to stay up late on weekend nights to listen to the live concert programs. I wasn’t in a big enough radio market for artists to play on our local station, but there were syndicated shows like the King Biscuit Flower Hour that gave us an impression of what bands were like in concert. A lot of those bands never made it to the part of Michigan where I lived, so this was as close as I got to seeing them. I tried recording some of these shows on cassette, they didn’t sound that great. I mention this because there were (and are) a lot of radio shows dedicated to live performances. These shows are an alternate history of rock and roll. Not bootleg recording and yet not official releases. They’re sort of the grey market archive that’s been more or less out of reach until recently.
On The Way Downtown brings two live on the radio performances by Peter Case out of the closet and into legit circulation. Case has been a fixture around the L.A. music scene since he hit the scene with the punk band, The Nerves and later led the power-pop group the Plimsouls. Since 1983, Case has been a solo artist digging the fertile Americana genre. The recordings collected here come from two sessions on KPFK’s Folkscene program. The 1998 session was a full band performance featuring songs from the Full Service, No Waiting album. The 2000 session was just Case and violinist David Perales.
Of the two sets, I prefer the stripped down duo performances. The duo format is more compatible to the live in studio format. It’s a looser set that feels like a living room jam session. The set really showcases Peter as a singer and storyteller. Perales provides just enough color to fill out the sound. I really like the country blues of “Icewater” and the tag line, “people in hell want icewater.” “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” is performed as a country rave up begging to be turned loose as a rocker.
The full band set is good too. The group turns in a relaxed, confident set. I really like the way the twangy lead guitars really shine on “Honey Child” and “On the Way Downtown”. “Crooked Mile” has some really nice slide guitar work and “See Through Eyes” is a great showcase for Peter’s inventive word play. The set shows a different side of Case. I get the impression that the band is holding back so as not to overpower the room. It’s just a reality of playing a live to air gig.
There are a lot of cool performances sitting in tape vaults all over the world. It’s nice that more and more of these recordings are coming to light.