21
Mar
13

Fire in the Warehouse – The Smiths, 1983

Some of my best friends are bootleg recordings. Know what I mean? I’ve written before about bootlegs and the underground trade circles -hell I’ve been forcibly kicked out of them, even – so I’m no stranger to stuff that’s lo-fi, illicitly recorded and shows a different take on the familiar.

So I wasn’t just curious when a new recording of The Smiths showed up online a few days ago. I was hooked, even before I finished reading about it on Slicing Up Eyeballs. This is the kind of thing I live for sometimes: something new and unheard by a band I like. Sometimes it disappoints. Sometimes, under layers of hiss and crackles, it blows me away. This tape didn’t do either, but I still enjoyed it a bunch.

Make no mistake: this is a tape and was recorded back when taping was a thing. As I understand it, it was recorded onto a stereo microphone patched into a boom-box. It sounds intimidating, but it’s actually a pretty clean recording. I’ve gotten off on recordings that sound like they were recorded underwater.

It’s The Smiths at a high-flying early period, before they recorded their first album or had even signed to Rough Trade. Some of the lyrics are slightly dodgy but musically, the bands already there. It’s something of a revelation to hear how tight this band already was maybe a year into their existence: even this early, Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke were right in sync, although Marr’s is a dominant presence, and he’s arguably the best musician in the room. But this wasn’t something that’d change over the years, either.

And what about Mr. Morressey? He’s also all over, sometimes garbled, sometimes moaning and yelling into the microphone. His lyrics aren’t quite the same as the finished product, but by and large he’s already there. One example: on These Things Take Time, he’s changed the third and fourth lines of the first verse (“I’m saved, I’m saved, you took my hand,” I think he sings; it’s a little distorted). But he’s definitely in character, going up for high notes and adlibbing. This wouldn’t change over the years, either.

It’s worth pointing out that’s These Things… is point on the tape that really grabbed me: it’s more aggressive than the version on Hatful of Hollow, opening with a drum roll and with Marr’s guitar way more prominent in the mix. The band just rips through it, sounding as confident as they do anywhere on the recording. It’s a standout.

Another treat is an early version of Hand in Glove. It’s not really that different than the album version, just rawer. It’s another example of how good Marr’s guitar playing was (and still is); on the album, he’s been overdubbed and layered and it sounds like there’s three, four, maybe five guitars there. Here, I’m impressed by his rhythm work and how well him and Rourke complement each other.  It’s a shame that Rourke (and Mike Joyce, for that matter) never seem to get the same credit; they’re what really made the band work.

I’m not too familiar with any concert recordings from this era, but man, they must’ve been a hell of a live act even back this far. They certainly were years later, when they recorded Rank.

I think the main thing I’m impressed by is how professional the band is here. There’s nary a false start and only a few gaps. Maybe it’s the result of some editing and some were cut out, but the presence of a false start to Miserable Lie disqualifies that in my opinion. They were a tight band, recording this for a purpose: this was to help producer Troy Tate when he worked on their debut album. Of course, Tate ended up being kicked off The Smiths and a bunch of material was re-recorded, so who knows how helpful this recording was.

Still, it’s a welcome surprise. I don’t think it’s something that’ll change anyone’s tune on the band, but it’s an interesting look at the band’s first album, stripped down and pounded at with vigor. There’s a lot less polish, even excepting the occasionally muddled sound, but that’s part of the charm for a recording like this: it’s a warts and all look. Fans, if they haven’t already, should check this one out.

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