Hey, the head man is out of town!

This is such a freakin’ good idea. See, when our “public servants” walk into office having “plans” and “introducing legislation,” they immediately start screwing stuff up, why is why Mayor Cass’s bold move should set a precedent, from POTUS on down to the local dogcatcher: once you’re elected and you have your inauguration (if you can get a zombie James Brown to play the inaugural ball, more power to ya), you take a powder for at least three months.

Godspeed, Mr. Mayor, but stay away from the drinks that have the umbrellas. You think they’re some sort of chick drink, but they will mess you up.

Now that I have the floor, I’d like to explain a little bit about how I became a citizen of Bootleg City, and how this week’s featured bootleg is a perfect example of why everyonr should live here. Actually, I’m not really a citizen, seeing as how I was here from the very beginning — I set my homestead here long before the city was a reality. They surrounded me. These guys came to my land.

And speaking of reality, it’s always been about live music for me. Seeing a band in concert playing their own music has to be the greatest thing in the world. I remember seeing a video of a thousand girls going nuts during a Beatles concert, yet I remember seeing the same girls going nuts when the Beatles got off a plane. Even early on, I instinctively knew that wasn’t about the music.

The first “live” songs I ever heard were on Frampton Comes Alive! (1976). The songs were nice enough, but I didn’t think they were anything special because I had no knowledge of the studio versions that came before. They were just songs on the car radio as my mom ran her errands and drove us kids around after school. I now know, of course, that very little was “live” about that album — it was more about selling an image (and, well, a record or two).

What sucked me in was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s One More From the Road (1976). I knew Skynyrd. The older stoner brother of a friend would play their albums nonstop in his room while the friend and I geeked out with comic books or something in another room. So I was familiar with Skynyrd, and I pretty much liked what I heard.

One day I heard songs coming through the wall that I recognized, but they sounded a little different; I realized that the guitar solo on “Gimmie Three Steps” was longer than usual. When it ended, I ran into the other room and asked my friend’s brother what it was.

“It’s the live version, little man.”

I wanted to hear the song again, so when it came around to the solo, I kneeled down to listen. I knew something was happening.

Then I heard it — the singer yelled out to the crowd, “Can he play?” as the extended solo began. I realized that when a song was played live, it was different. It was powerful. It was better.

But what sealed the deal was “Free Bird.” I know, it’s a cliche now, it’s a rock and roll joke. But you remember when you heard the live version for the first time, right?

“What song is it you wanna hear?” Ronnie Van Zant yelled. The Redneck Tabernacle Choir answered in unison: “‘FREEEEEEEEE BIRRRRRRRD’!!!”

If you think back, there was a silence in the crowd when Billy Powell started tinkling the piano. Playing those opening chords with a piano instead of an organ confused them, I guess. Then the audience recognized they were hearing the song they wanted and they fucking exploded.

I can still remember how I felt about that moment. It was the most fantastic thing I’d ever heard. Music, in a live setting, is an exchange between the band and the crowd, and those heartbeats between Powell kicking off “Free Bird” and the crowd realizing what it was changed my life.

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I lived for live albums. I bought the studio albums of the bands I liked and I listened to what my friends recommended, but as I heard the studio versions of songs for the first time, one thought was always going through my mind: I wonder how this sounds live.

In the ’80s I became a concert junkie. I saw 40 to 50 major shows a year, hockey arena-type shows and countless theater shows. And when I got old enough, I hit the clubs.

The big ones, they were shows. Seeing a 30-foot inflatable dragon run through with a sword brandished by a five-foot Ronnie James Dio was a show. Watching Dr. Righteous, Lt. Varnish, and Colonel Hyde throw fake guitars through a wood chipper on Styx’s “Kilroy” tour was a great show. Billy Gibbons told off-color jokes between songs, David Lee Roth did karate workouts during the drum solos. It was all about the show. The show was whatever it took for the performers to connect with the audience.

But it still boiled down to the music created in the junction between the crowd and the band. I still live for those heartbeats between the start of a song and the recognition. However, I quickly learned that a live album isn’t the show.

Hell, for a while I thought every live album was a recording of an entire concert (I remember thinking that the folks who went to that one particular Foghat show had to be pissed they only got to hear six songs). As I started to read liner notes, I learned that live albums were often recorded on several different dates, with the band’s touring lineup changing from night to night. That wasn’t a recording of the show, and I found that live albums sometimes didn’t even contain the music of a show, thanks to overdubs and various other studio tricks, which ruined the magic for me (even my Skynyrd was overdubbed, sob sob). This was not what I wanted to hear — I wanted the ups and downs of an entire concert.

So, I got into boots. In the ’80s, if you were into boots, you were into the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin, and the Dead, live, were great. (Zeppelin was hit-or-miss.) But I wanted more.

I quickly graduated to the local NYC and Connecticut radio stations that played that Sunday-night concert from Westwood One. I got to hear Ozzy with Brad Gillis playing a ghost’s music from Memphis. I got Supertramp from LA, the Stones from Atlantic City. I taped what I could and listened to them all over and over again.

I know you’re now reading this and saying, “Dude, this isn’t a basement tape. What the hell does all this have to do with the Cranberries?” Simple — you may come across a bootleg by a band you don’t necessarily like or “get,” but when you hear them in concert you suddenly become a fan, at least for that show. Which brings us to this week’s boot …

I never liked the Cranberries very much. First off, there was the enormous amount of audio processing, plus Dolores O’Riordan’s voice, which more often than not was double-tracked to give it even more presence. “Linger”? Well, let’s just say that song was aptly named.

The Irish band’s sounds were studio enabled. To me, a little Cranberries went a long way, but for a few years in the early ’90s they were indie champs, with crossover appeal and an international following.

Not being a big Cranberries fan, my knowledge of the band is mostly limited to this particular concert from October 24, 1994. They were in Europe for some warm-up shows before their first major headlining tour of the United States, and they’d recently dropped No Need to Argue, their second major-label LP. Some of the reviews weren’t pretty.

Although some of the songs from the new album had been performed live for nearly a year, the Cranberries sound like they’re still getting the live-arrangement kinks worked out on other cuts you hear on the “Songs Against War” bootleg. To top it all off, the whole thing was broadcast live on German TV and radio.

On a side note, does anybody know anything about Alabama Halle, the club where the band performed on 10/24/94? It’s been around for years, and I think it might be named after Skynyrd’s most famous song. (No kidding.) Did some ex-military man from the States go back to where he was stationed during World War II and start a club? I don’t speak German, and the English-translated website offers very little in the way of clues. If anybody out there knows anything about this place, let me know, will ya?

So, were the Cranberries a one-hit wonder about to suffer the dreaded sophomore slump? Of course we know now that that second album pushed them from the level of international stars into the upper echelon of Friggin’ Huge. But in October of ’94 they were unsure of where they stood; “Zombie,” the first single off No Need to Argue, was slowly creeping up the charts. Within a year, however, it would be the biggest hit of the band’s career.

If you ask my cynical self, “Zombie” is the work of a pragmatic producer: He stuck his head out the studio door during recording, wet his finger, and stuck it into the wind. The wind replied, “The kids are listening to grunge.” So Mr. Producer went back into the studio, dialed up the Big-Ass Marshall Stack Sound With Heavy Reverb setting on the mixing board, and “Zombie” was born.

On “Songs Against War,” thankfully, “Zombie” is allowed to breathe. Melody is so important in a pop song, and God only knows how many takes and edits were required to get O’Riordan to stay on key on the studio version. But in a live setting, melody takes a backseat to emotion. You can hear the anger and frustration in O’Riordan’s voice as she sings about the horrific subject matter.

“Dreams” was the Cranberries song you heard if you watched any kind of teen-angst TV show or movie in the mid- to late ’90s; here, it becomes a workout in discovering how much of a Celtic yodel is needed. And “Linger” is fantastic. It starts with a little intro that’s unfamiliar to me, but when the chords that actually start the song are played … well, like I said, those moments between the start of a song and the crowd’s recognition still make me smile.

All in all, each song presented here is far superior to any studio recording I ever heard from this band. There’s power here — band and audience worked as one to put on a show. And that’s why the live concert (and thus the “unauthorized recording” of it) is so vital to my listening pleasure. The Cranberries made me a fan, at least for one night, but just because that one night happened 15 years ago doesn’t mean it no longer counts.

At the tail end of ’94 the Cranberries were on the threshold of the biggest step of their career, with a just-released album that wasn’t universally accepted right out of the gate. They eventually became huge. Their lead singer eventually became the richest woman in Ireland. And for a while there in the mid-’90s you could argue that they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

But not here. On “Songs Against War” they make mistakes. They were still trying stuff out. But in the end they came out and did their thing, and this bootleg is the historical document of that moment, never to be repeated, nor could it be. Which is why it’s the best Cranberries recording I’ve ever heard — until I find another concert, of course.

Dreaming My Dreams
Daffodil Lament
I Can’t Be With You
I Don’t Need
Ode to My Family
Ridiculous Thoughts
Waltzing Back
Everything I Said
Not Sorry
So Cold in Ireland

I have some bonus tracks for you. (Consider it my payment to you for listening to me ramble.) While opening for Duran Duran on their first tour of America, the Cranberries were invited to play KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas shows at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California, on December 11 and 12, 1993. Perhaps the fact that their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, had just gone platinum had something to do with it. Enjoy the Cranberries’ unplugged five-song set from the latter date:

Ode to My Family

Thanks, Mayor Cass, for letting me take over for a bit and allowing me to wax philosophic about the glories that are live boots.

Now, as the Minister of Fast Food and Entertainment for Bootleg City, I’m off to see if I can convince Wendy’s to make me a triple Baconator. (Seriously, Wardlaw — Taco Bell? Ugh. Show some pride.)