Santa Monica 1971 (Sigma 237)
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA, USA – October 16, 1971
It has been nearly ten years since the Sigma label released Santa Monica 1971 (Sigma 50), at that time there was only one source for the concert, a very good audience source that was nearly complete. Since then a second source has appeared and with it a new evaluation of the performance and recordings from that evening in mid October. The Sigma label have pressed a fan man project that made its debut on the Yeeshkul site, a wonderful 6 disc set that covers both recordings plus a matrix of both tapes, the Ultimate Santa Monica 1971.
Disc 1 (41:28) Careful With That Axe Eugene, Fat Old Sun, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
Disc 2 (43:42) Tuning and Announcement, Atom Heart Mother, The Embryo, Cymbaline, Blues
The new source is referred to as PA Recorder, aka Recorder 2. This new source was taken from an unknown generation reel to reel that was for sale on Ebay. The listing stated it was a soundboard recording which caught the interest of the Yeeshkul community, they made the decision of basically crowd funding the cost of the tape. Like most things in life there is good and bad. The good was they rescued an unknown source of the concert, the bad was it was obviously not a soundboard. After the transfer was complete an evaluation of the tape was done:
This sounds like a microphone placed in front or very close to one of the front main PA speakers. There are telltale “soundboard recording” elements – but as captured nearly directly from the speaker with a mic instead of plugged in directly. There are also open room sounds and nearby people. There is a layer of saturation like you might expect from recording a PA speaker with a 1960’s dictation quality recorder and mic. At the same time this preserves an up close detailed and dynamic capture vs distant audience recording sound. Calling this a soundboard would have been an honest mistake since the sound is recorded nearly directly from the PA speaker connected to the soundboard. It sounds more soundboard-like than not. The open room sounds and conversation give it away that it isn’t.
The sound of this recording is very good to near excellent quality for a recording of this nature. The balance is good with organ, guitar, vocals, and bass being very clear in the mix, the drums are at times a bit buried. There is a small amount of distortion that seems to emanate from Roger’s bass and you do get a feeling of hall ambiance as well. I agree with the assumption of this recording being done very close to the stage as the sound of the audience sounds behind you. The recording is incomplete, there is a small gap during Fat Old Sun from 11:26-11:39 that is filled with the audience source, the first :03 seconds of The Embryo are missing and filled with the audience source and the tape ends 2:04 into Blues.
Disc 3 (76:08) Careful With That Axe Eugene, Fat Old Sun, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Atom Heart Mother, The Embryo
Disc 4 (67:19) Cymbaline, Blues, Echoes, A Saucerful Of Secrets
The sole recording from this concert has circulated for many years. It was recorded by Al who was 15 or 16 at the time of this concert. It is not known what kind of equipment was used or his location but judging from the sound, he was probably in the middle of the auditorium. For someone so young, probably making his first recording, the sound quality is not bad. It falls into the good to very good range. The sound is a bit distant yet clear enough to hear the individual instruments and vocals cleanly, there is a small amount of tape hiss as one would expect and has a limited frequency range. This is the same tape that was pressed 10 years ago as Santa Monica 1971 (Sigma 50). This, however, is a different transfer of the tapes that was used for this new title. When comparing the two, Sigma 50 has less tape hiss, this new title has better frequency range, the upper and lower range is much better and is clearly from a better generation of the tape. This is one of those tapes that the sound quality improves over the first few songs. Eugene is a bit muffled compared to the rest, but once it clears is a nice ambient recording.
Recorders Stereo Matrix
Disc 5 (77:25) Careful With That Axe Eugene, Fat Old Sun, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Atom Heart Mother, The Embryo
Disc 6 (67:29) Cymbaline, Blues, Echoes, A Saucerful Of Secrets
This is where the hard work came in. The Yeeshkul team handed the tapes over to Jimfisheye, who has done several remasters and matrix projects, I believe he is a sound engineer by trade. There were actually three transfers done of the PA source, different studios from what I gather and all three were able to be aligned and then a matrix was done with the audience source and the result is incredible. Like many well done matrix projects, the blending of the different tapes opens up the soundscapes and allows them both to breath (in the air), like breathing new life into them. It should be noted that the matrix only goes as far as Blues, the rest of that song, Echoes, and A Saucerful Of Secrets are the audience source only. When this project was first released there was also a 5.1 surround sound version available, nothing was spared. For me, this new stereo Matrix is the best way to listen to this concert.
Like Gerard noted in his review of Sigma 50, this concert finds the band playing rather slow and thus heavy versions of the songs, that is not a bad thing as the concert is very well played. It should also be noted that the exact song order is not known, it seems like the Blues encore was moved between Cymabline and Echoes based upon a transfer of a low gen copy of the audience tape done in 2016. It is in the deeper epics where this tape really shines, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is stunning in this recording, as is Atom Heart Mother. The 16 minute version of the song is tight dynamic and the 13 minute version of The Embryo that follows features the band stretching out and jamming even as Roger begins the main bass line about nine and a half minutes in, Richard Wright seems in no hurry to directly follow and instead ad libs until they break back into the main theme, very nice exploratory version.
The sound separation during Cymbaline is great, you can hear almost a heavy breathing at times, the soundscapes are beautifully entwined with Richard’s organ and some really nice Space sounds from Dave leading into the footsteps section. The mix of PA and audience tapes gives a wonderful ambiance to the section, always nice to hear the audience reactions to this. From what I have read they would shut off the lights and the footsteps were done in quadraphonic surround sound to the unsuspecting audience, it certainly gets a nice ovation from the crowd. I love the audience reaction to A Saucerful Of Secrets, just before Roger starts the piece someone shouts “Interstellar Overdrive”, they would not get that song but in my opinion, one better. The song is the epitome of “Space Rock”, the audience source thankfully features Nick Mason’s drums clear in the mix, an essential piece of the Syncopated Pandemonium section heard here in all its glory. Having a complete version of ASOS is always a good thing.
The packaging is typical for Sigma, this time it is black and white photos from the era, looking striking against a background of white. The first two CDs have pictures of Dave, third and fourth have Roger, five and six a combo of both of them and some copies come with numbered stickers, all housed in a fat boy jewel case. Again all marks go to the Yeeshkul team for purchasing the tape and the marvelous work done to make this project so special. This is a nice collection gathering together both recordings and the matrix, the proverbial last word on Santa Monica 1971.
Thanks very much for this spot-on review. I got it in late December, but my first thought when the release was first announced on the Lighthouse site was that there’s no way in hell I’m going to pay so much $$$ for as many as 6 discs. But once I took a more careful look at what it actually is, I changed my mind very drastically & quickly and just had to get it!