Sunday, August 26, 2007
Snakefinger's History Of The Blues - Live In Europe
Our first offering is a slightly belated memorial to the late Philip Charles "Snakefinger" Lithman (Jun 17, 1949 - Jul 1, 1987). The fact that you even stumbled on this blog in the first place means that I probably need not to bother with rehashing the perfectly adequate bios available here, and here, or any of the info linked via least two different MySpace tribute pages.
I was fortunate enough to see Snakefinger play on three occasions -- once with his most notorious collaborators, The Residents, on their 13th Anniversary Tour, and twice with his own band, The Vestal Virgins. One show in particular cut a deep, jagged and permanent groove into my nascent musical consciousness, a Ralph records package tour in 1986 that also included the largely forgotten band Rhythm & Noise and guitarrorist Eugene Chadbourne. Excited by the prospect of seeing Snakefinger's own band for the first time, I dragged my girlfriend at the time down to Chicago's Vic theatre at least a couple hours early, convinced that our unreserved seats would surely put us at the far back end of the room once the place reached sellout capacity. In fact, we arrived so early that soundcheck was commencing, so we sat ourselves down right in front of the stage where, to our surprise, no one even looked at us askance. The run-through was dazzling so we guarded our seats with our lives, sure that a standing-room-only crowd would soon form around us.
As the witching hour approached, the most adventurous musical ears in Chicago has gathered in that room. It was a spectacle that left us dumbfounded: by showtime there were at least.... fifteen people in the audience -- maybe even seventeen! Actually, to this day it leaves me dumbfounded. Less than two fistfuls of audience were present, but that did nothing to deter the Virgins, who treated the faithful to a blistering yet intimate, full-length and full-energy set. And oh, how it fried my little brain. I'm sure the poor promoters took a bath, and I can't help but wonder how the band members felt that night, or remember it now; but after a lifetime of literally thousands of concerts and performances of all stripes, it remains one of my all-time favorites. Maybe you had to be there, but I've always wanted to thank everyone involved for that night, and whenever I've met anyone responsible for it, I've done so. By some small miracle the show was videotaped, so you can see a couple samples for yourself:
The Model (yes, it's a Kraftwerk cover):
Trashing All The Loves Of History:
But I digress.
In the years after his death, all of Snakefinger's recordings have been made available again in one form or another (if only intermittently) -- the aforementioned show was released on CD and VHS, and even a Chilli Willi rarities set materialized a while back. But one recording has remained elusive. In 1984, Rough Trade Germany released a limited-edition document of Snakefinger's History Of The Blues tour, which played a handfull of dates in Europe and the US the previous year. How scarce is this little gem? Well, when it was released, I held a copy in my hands at Rave On records in Glen Ellyn, IL, but for some unfathomable reason, did not buy it. And that, dear friends, was the last copy I ever laid eyes on. Anywhere. No one I know -- and I know some world-class vinyl fetishists, let me tell you -- possesses this album. For over twenty years I've searched for a copy, to no avail. But! Lo and behold! Thanks the Interwebs, I recently lucked into a full set of mp3s, ripped from a good-condition vinyl copy, which I humbly present to you here, including artwork scans, no less. I've even included a bonus track not found on the original LP, a cover of Elmore James' It Hurts Me Too that only surfaced on the Vestal Virgins' original Night Of Desirable Objects CD in 1986, and a UWEB ("Uncle Willie's Eyeball Buddies", an early-90s Residents fan club) Snakefinger tribute CD, both long out of print.
Rest in peace, Mr. Lithman. You are sorely missed.