Big Star’s third album, Third/Sister Lovers, has long been revered by artists and critics as one of the most influential albums ever produced. Written and recorded when the legendary 70s band was primarily a studio project consisting of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, the third album was never been performed in public with the original string and wind orchestrations. That changed in December 2010, when an all-star band unearthed the original scores, assembled an orchestra and performed Big Star’s Third at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC. Performers that night included Jody Stephens (Big Star), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Chris Stamey (the dB’s) – the creative genesis they experienced prompted plans for a historic concert in New York City. Tickets go on sale Thursday, February 17th at 11am.
On March 26th, a mind-boggling array of indie rock all-stars will gather to perform Big Star’s Third at Mason Hall. Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Tift Merritt, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Will Rigby (the dB’s), Matthew Sweet, Chris Stamey (the dB’s), Jody Stephens (Big Star) and M. Ward (She & Him) will be joined by The Lost in the Trees Orchestra with Jane Scarpantoni, Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony), Brett Harris, Sidney Dixon and Matt McMichaels to recreate the original scores and breathe life into a bittersweet album that has impacted generations of musicians. Some very special guests will be announced in the days to come. As the evening unfolds, Chilton and Stephen’s musical ideas that were far ahead of their time 35 years ago will resonate in the hands of a collective of sympathetic, top-notch musicians. “We have been trying to create a concert piece that can have a life in years to come, trying to keep the spirit of the music and make it come across with the right emotions live,” Stamey told Indy Week. “There’s something about this record that connects with my generation, and apparently many generations.” [Details after the jump]
ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: BIG STAR. It has been said that the genre of power pop – frail white man-boys with cherry guitars reinvigorating the harmonic convergence of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds with the caffeinated rush of youth – is the revenge of the nerds. Big Star pretty much invented the form, which explains the worshipful altars erected to the band in the bedrooms of lonely, disenfranchised melody-makers from Los Angeles to London and points in between.
Though they never came close to fame or fortune in their time, the band continues to hold a sacred place in the cosmology of pure pop, a glittering constellation that remains invisible to the naked mainstream eye. Succeeding generations of pop philosophers and aspiring rock Mozarts pore over the group’s music like biblical scholars hunched over the Dead Sea Scrolls, plumbing the depths of the band’s shadowy history, searching for meaning in Big Star’s immaculate conception and stillborn death.
Big Star was the sound of four Memphis boys caught in the vortex of a time warp, reinterpreting the jangling, three-minute Brit-pop odes to love, youth and the loss of both that framed their formative years, the mid-’60s. Just one problem: It was the early ’70s. They were out of fashion and out of time. Within the band, this disconnect with the pop marketplace would lead to bitter disillusionment, self-destruction and death. But that same damning obscurity would nurture their mythology and become Big Star’s greatest ally, a formaldehyde that would preserve the band’s three full-length albums – No. 1 Record, Radio City and Sister Lovers/Third – as perfect specimens of classic guitar pop. That Big Star’s recorded legacy would go on to inspire countless alternative acts is one of pop history’s cruelest ironies–everyone from R.E.M. to the Replacements to Eliott Smith would come to see Big Star as the great missing link between the ’60s and the ’70s and beyond.
There is a dreamy, pre-Raphaelite aura that surrounds the legend of Big Star. Like the doomed, tender-aged beauties in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides, the tragic career of Big Star would unravel in the autumnal Sunday afternoon sunlight of the early 1970s. The band’s sound and vision hinged on the contrasting sensibilities of songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. In the gospel of Big Star, Bell is the sacrificial lamb–fragile, doe-eyed and marked for an early death. Chilton is the prodigal son, returning to Memphis after traveling the world, having tasted the bacchanalian pleasures of teen stardom with the Box Tops in the 1960s.
Where Bell was precious and naive, Chilton was nervy and sardonic, but the band’s steady downward spiral would set him on the dark path of personal disintegration–booze, pills, violence and attempted suicide. Years later, he would reinvent himself as an irascible iconoclast and semi-ironic interpreter of obscure soul, R&B and Italian rock ‘n’ roll. Drummer Jody Stephens, the wide-eyed innocent of the group, and bassist Andy Hummel, the sly-grinning sphinx with the glam-rock hair, were the shepherds in the manger, midwives to the miracle birth. In the aftermath of Big Star’s collapse, Stephens would become a born-again Christian, and Hummel would go on to design jet fighters for the military, anonymous and happy behind the wall of secrecy his job would require. – JONATHAN VALANIA
COLONEL REMEMBERS: From 1967 to 1976, Jerry’s Records, was the hippest record store in Philly. It was located at 1107 Market Street. It was the first store I ever saw where the hot lookin’ cashiers went braless. It was the first store to sell bootlegs. If you were a musician or a student, you made up your work own schedule to accommodate gigs or mid-terms. Jerry’s carried everything, except country and opera, because nobody ever asked for it. If a customer did want something Jerry’s didn’t carry, it would be special ordered. I worked at Jerry’s part time when I was a student. My first job was to sweep the floor and get the manager coffee. A few years later, that manager was hired by Larry Magid to manage Electric Factory Concerts. Consequently, I was promoted to manager. Some of my customers were a young Angelo Amorosi, and a thirteen year old kid, who came in my store at EXACTLY 11AM every Saturday. His name is Mike Hoffman, now the owner of a.k.a. Music. (At this point. JV is asking, “Why the fuck is the Colonel telling me this). As I said above, if we didn’t have it, we’d special order it for ya. One thing we NEVER had, and NOBODY EVER asked us for was anything by “Big Star.” How could the hippest store in town, with the hippest clientele have NEVER heard of … Big Star ??????? Out at Penn, students are constantly reminded of their course requirements. Many times a student must be admitted to a course, even though it is filled, because he is a senior, and he needs the class to graduate. In other words, an academic resume must contain certain sectors of study in order to get a degree. Sometimes I think that knowledge of Big Star is requisite listening for all hipsterati. — COLONEL TOM SHEEHY
PREVIOUSLY: Alex Chilton RIP
The assemblage will perform Third/Sister Lovers in its entirety – fans can expect additional Big Star and Chris Bell songs as well. “It’s easier as time passes to revisit that album because it came out of such a dark period,” Big Star drummer Jody Stephens told the Raleigh News and Observer. “There were brilliant moments in the studio, especially Carl Marsh’s string arrangements, which really take it to a whole other world. But it could be emotionally difficult to watch certain things happen. I was so close to it at the time that I could not see what it was.” Preparing for the performances was a challenge. “The original written scores for the record were long missing,” Chris Stamey says. “But John Fry at Ardent Records was able to supply us with elements of the original multitrack tapes. Composer Carl Marsh, who wrote the ground-breaking charts for the original record, used these tapes to precisely re-transcribe his arrangements. And I’ve orchestrated anew some other elements of the recordings for the players, in order to recreate live some of the aleatoric studio effects.”
BIG STAR THIRD
Baruch Performing Arts Center (at Baruch College)
17 Lexington (enter on 23rd St bet Lexington & 3rd Ave.)
Box Office: (646) 312-4085
Tickets go on sale at 11:00am Thursday, February 17th
Doors @ 6pm – Show @ 7pm
Profits from the concert will benefit both the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and El Sistema NYC.
For more information on Big Star Third visit: www.bigstarthird.com