OK BG, you Big Goof, what gives? As of October 2000 the Official Aquarium Site has bestowed its belated approval on all sorts of whimsical BG side-projects, cheapo anthologies, magazine freebies and assorted clutter, but this minor masterpiece, available since last March, remains MIA. The Glorious Ruby-Encrusted Mandala of Official Sanction has been ignominiously withheld.
To this I think we must attribute the myopia of Genius. Being the uncontested Russian lyrical and musical genius of his generation, it would perhaps be expecting too much for BG also to grasp the big picture...to view his own multifarious phases and emmanations with an Objective Eye. After all, how can the full moon see itself? Which is to say, BG might not realize it yet, but Full Moon is simply splendiferous, the best full-band Akvarium live album in many, many a moon, since The Letters of Captain Voronin, in fact, if you overlook the anomolous 25 Years reunion album.
1) Mind-blowingly excellent versions of rarely heard or hard-to-find songs.
Disc 2, for instance, begins with the plaintive "Wildmen's Blues," a vaguely Neil Young-ish acoustic guitar and hammond organ fantasia that also answers the trivia question "What other BG songs mentions a unicorn?" Disc 1, for its part, begins with two gems off underated Bodhisattva favorite Ichthyology: the gently heart-rending "Homecoming," where a flute flutters bravely around a guitar, piano and violin; and "Strange Question"—funked up, sped up into a wry, sly, Jerry Lee Lewis flavored toe-tapper. And then there's "Guinevere," the half-forgotten Arthurian instrumental interlude off of Triangle that closes Disc 1. God love BG for randomly trotting out this airy, dreamy trifle 20 or so years down the road...
Nor are more recent compostions neglected. "The Fastest Airplane" comes across with a startling intimacy, as though BG were singing to us, and just to us, around a glowing campfire. "If It Not For You" follows, and though the song has never been one of my favorites, this is a substantial improvement on the album version found on Lilith. On Lilith BG was playing with The Band (capital T, capital B, of "Last Waltz" fame) in Woodstock and therefore seemingly couldn't resist channeling Bob Dylan: "Yesliiii byyyyyyyy neeeee tyyyyyy...." Here BG's much more himself and the song benefits from it, as well as from Boris Rubekin's sparky keyboard.
Speaking of the other Boris, the clear highlight among the rarely heard gems is "Silent Film," in which Rubekin's irrestibly groovy keyboarding supercharges a song that is exactly the kind of song that you wake up humming helplessly at 3:00 in the morning. Never having heard it before, and knowing for a certainty that it's not on any of the canonical albums, I'd assumed it was a new song...but no, here it is enshrined in Песни already in the "non-album songs" section! It's hard to think of another performer who could unearth a forgotten morsel this tasty out of his or her back-catalogue, like a babushka pulling a jar of succulent wild-strawberry preserves out of some dark, dusty cupboard. I'm awed.
2)Revelatory versions of new songs
Befitting a concert recorded in the early part of the this year (2000) Full Moon draws most heavily on the no-name-just-a greek-letter album: Ψ. What's interesting, however, is that rather than the meticulous album-faithfulness BG often maintains when playing new material (vid. Cyclone's Center) the songs are looser, freer, and—dare I say better?—than the album versions. I do know that I didn't really come to love Ψ until hearing the live Full Moon versions.
Stipped of studio effect, "Carpenter's Son" and "Bodyguard" become songs that wouldn't have been out of place on Equinox or Ten Arrows, as though 10 years after Radio Silence BG had at last truly found the "Long Way Home." For its part, "The Name of My Blues" also comes across great live...which comes as a bit of a surprise given the ethereal spookiness of the album version. Here it still manages to be spooky as all heck, but far more immediate, with BG's voice on top of the mix instead of half-buried by it. As for "Masha and the Bears"—that's just an outstanding song, however BG chooses to sing it. Ditto "Yoshivari's Flowers," whose lyrics are a wonderful exercise in Grebenschikovian crypto-religious allusive ambiguity:
I was at the bottom, but all the water drained away;
I went out onto the steppes; I was as bad as they come;
I asked for a drink, and they gave me a cup,
And came to the cross, but their nails were crap.
And now I'm here—plugged in to the current,
5000 volts—Comrade don't touch the wires!
I'm a father and a son, we're one and the same,
I would explain everything, but I don't know the true words.
3)Splendid versions of classics
Yeah, there's even a sprinkling of Akvarium songs that absolutely everyone (who's anyone) knows: "Fish," "I'm a Snake," "Babylon," "Ten Arrows." The last two mentioned are especially fine: "Babylon" because it's all mixed up with "Aristocrat" and goes on, oh, approximately forever. And you want it to go on forever. I hereby declare "Babylon" to be the greatest white-boy reggae song ever written. "Они поют для всех нас." "Ten Arrows", because BG has the cojones to mess with it, up-end it, and turn what could be an overfamiliar tune into a brand-new soundscape: the trilling flute and gentle violin dancing in dreamy reverie.
And, damn it, that not even all. There's "Tower," a chugging, propulsive new song, not to be found on any other recording (at least that I'm aware of). There's there loopy semi-calypso of "Don't Stand in the Way of Sublime Feelings," which is yet another better-than-album version. There's "Keys to Her Doors," a personal favorite, where an church organ-ish intro yields right of way to BGs wistful acoustic guitar backed by a soulful violin. And there's even more that I'm not going bother to mention...
What, then, is the catch?
None, really. There is a moment before "My Star" when some liquor-enhanced fan begins to bellow and moo like a steer about to be sledgehammered, prompting BG to observe dryly "What a voice." Afterwards, the Steer, apparently having stampeded his way onto the stage, uses his 2 nanoseconds of fame to say "I've dreamed of shaking his hand all my life." Here, I swear, you can actually see the sound engineer's thought bubble: "Good. Because when I clobber you with a sledgehammer five minutes after the show is over, you'll die having achieved your life's ambition." The whole episode, however, occupies only about 30 seconds out of 102 minutes (A 10-course meal! No Cyclone's Centerish skimping here!)and only adds "reality points." Live recordings that go off completely without a hitch always seem canned, too-slick-by-half, to me.
Then there's the "downloading problem." A certain Bodhisattva whose name begins with "D" couldn't get several of the songs to download fully. A fluke? Inadequate persistence? An early problem that has since been corrected? I don't know...but irrevelant. That it can be had is evidenced by the fact that I have it, have had it, and will continue to have it. If it can be had, it must be had. Go thou, therefore, and be enlightened: Get Full Moon Here! [Since the original posting of this review, the fine folks in Samara have added three more Akvarium-plays-Samara concerts to the same page. A veritable cornucopia for the spiritually acquisitive Pilgrim! -Ed.]
Tangentially Related Rant
And full credit to BG, by the by, for embracing Internet technology to an extent that should put most Anglo-American musicians to shame. How many other artists out there are allowing complete live performances (with liner notes and cover art, no less) to be posted on the web? Even if this album remains, for the time being, primarily within the purview of the cognoscenti, there's still the magnificent, fully-endorsed Prayer and Fasting acoustic set recorded in San Francisco in 1998. BG is practically his own Napster, and this is how it ought to be in The Best of All Possible Worlds. Молодец!!
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