Sound quality is always an issue with bootlegs. We’re not dealing with official studio recordings here. The music isn’t mixed separately, onto individual tracks. A record producer isn’t standing over a mix board going through the music note by note painstakingly manipulating the sound to produce the optimal sound.
This is in the moment, live music. A singer’s voice is unfiltered and raw. Guitarists hit wrong notes, strings break, and a myriad of other problems can affect the final product. Soundboard engineers must make decisions on the fly to get the best possible product to an audience.
Bootleg sound comes in all shapes and sizes. The best come straight from the soundboard, mixed for the band. Many bands record their concerts so they can be played back later, and the performance can be reviewed by the musicians – much like a sports team will watch game tapes.
Other times concerts will be recorded with the intention of a later, official release. These tapes are sometimes leaked into the fan base, or stolen and slipped into trading circles. The sound quality is pristine and the tapes are treasured by fans and collectors.
FM radio is a treasure trove of concert recordings. Live music has been a staple of radio since the first transmitter released its madness. It is also an easy method for fans to get their first bootlegs. Landing a pre FM version of the same show makes it even more stellar for the sound must be compressed a great deal before it makes the airwaves.
Taper friendly bands will often allow their fans to patch straight into the soundboard allowing phenomenal recordings of the show, recorded on DAT machines and then traded to the masses.
The worst sound comes from audience recordings. These come from microphones set up by fans smack dab in the middle of the audience. Depending on the equipment used, and the ability of the recorder these tapes can either give an excellent feel of what it was like to actually be there, or give an intimate portrait of the stoned out, screaming fan sitting next to the taper.
There are also mixes between audience and soundboard recordings called a matrix recording. This usually consists of a soundboard patch with an audience mike filtered in. When done right this can produce the remarkable sound of a soundboard tape with the live feel of being there on the ground with the rest of the audience.
The Rolling Stones
I only recently would consider myself a fan of the Rolling Stones. All I ever really knew of them were the radio hits. Tunes like “Honky Tonk Women,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” are classics songs and I would never have knocked them (though for my buck, Otis Redding blows the Stones out of their own water on “Satisfaction”). But, they are so overplayed by classic rock and oldies stations as to make them tired and old.
For reasons I can’t remember I started making my way through their catalog and was blown away by the sheer magnitude of their collection. I’ve still not found an album that I love all the way through, but there is enough incredible music on albums like Exile on Main Street to make me put them on a Beatles like level. I’m amazed that the radio only plays a handful of hits, when songs like “Rocks Off” and “Dead Flowers” are rolling out there all by their lonesome.
Watching the Stones at the Superbowl at what must be their twelfth final tour makes me roll my eyes in disgust. Mick Jagger working the crowd like a teenager in his 60 year old body just isn’t a pleasant sight. Keith Richards can still pack a power punch, but I still want to scream “Retire!” over and over.
This shows from 1973 shows the boys at what they could once do. This is a band at the top of their game, knocking the rocks off our collective socks. It is balls out thick and dirty sex rock. You can hear the lust oozing out of every pore of Richards proud lips.
They produce a rumble straight out of Thor’s gut.
The sound is from a soundboard, but you can tell it’s passed through a few generations. It’s a bit muddled in the mix and some external tape hiss is present, but what it lacks in sonic quality is made up for in the ferocity of the playing.
My copy is actually a liberated bootleg. Which is basically an illegal bootleg that has been released from its illegal bonds and passed through trading circles. Some punks got a hold of this music, threw a cheap cover on it and sold it for way too many dollars. Smart traders, and self-appointed police of the legal bootleg world, took the recording out of the thieves’ hands and passed it along freely through trading circles.
Because of this it is only a partial show, official set lists include four songs not included in my bootleg. What is included are scorching renditions of some hits, and those that should have been.