Going to Unwound shows was a once-a-year given/religious experience for me between the years 1994 and 1998. I saw the band every single time it came within 600 miles of wherever I was. Sometimes multiple times. To say that I was a fan is a gross understatement. Back then bands released records every year and then toured relentlessly. The lag now averages about two to three years between releases for most stable bands, which just seems ridiculous, especially when you think back to James Brown’s day. That guy would release so many albums in a year his record company could barely keep up with him. Ah, but the music industry is not the same. Anyway, Unwound’s final album came out three years after its predecessor, which was not only uncharacteristic but weirdly ominous. You just knew it was going to be the band’s last. It was a double album. It was ambitious. It veered off course from the trio’s signature maelstrom of energetic mania, and I didn’t like it at first. Unwound was at its best for me when it could crawl into tiny blissful pockets of tuneful serenity and then explode into splintering shards of distortion, angst and melody. It was the way in which this band controlled its chaos that made it special. They weren’t the best singers or players or even songwriters. But the energy that the three of them could create in a room was unlike almost anything I’d ever seen. And I was the right age at the right time to experience it. I’ve grown to appreciate Leaves Turn Inside You over the years, but I don’t think of it as an Unwound album, even though some consider it to be the band at its pinnacle. It was more of a celebration of the band’s previous work with an awkward attempt at maturation that I’m still not sure quite suited. Bands have to grow musically, otherwise, what’s the point, right? It’s easy to write off several early Unwound records as being “samey,” which is why Leaves Turn Inside You seemed so momentous by comparison. I think people got caught up in that mentality and the zeitgeist grew from there. Don’t get me wrong: I love Leaves Turn Inside You. I think it’s a great record. It’s the record the band had to make in order to continue, but it’s not Unwound’s best album. It’s the best Unwound album for people who don’t love Unwound. Still, the release of this double live LP over ten years after the band’s demise is exciting. I miss the band so much I’d take anything at this point. But just as Leaves Turn Inside You is not Unwound’s best album, this tour was not Unwound’s finest hour in concert. I saw Unwound for the last time six days after 9/11 at the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia. It was an eerie time. The show felt weird for so many reasons. Five musicians played these more complicated songs, as opposed to the core three. The energy I had felt so many times before was missing. It felt forced and flat and almost anachronistic. I knew at that show that I’d never see Unwound play again. It was over. And, sure enough, a few months later the announcement came. I haven’t heard this live album yet. I pre-ordered it today, but I’m hesitant to listen, despite it being one of my favorite bands of all time captured live for the last time. [via KRS]
Singer/guitarist Justin Trosper describes what that time was like from his perspective and how this album came to be:
In 2001 we released what was to become our final studio album, Leaves Turn Inside You. It was our most ambitious effort: a double album produced by ourselves in a home studio that we built from the ground up (with much thanks to those who helped us, of course). We decided the best approach to translating the album live was adding some new players to the mix: Brandt Sandeno, Unwound’s original drummer and a contributor to much of Leaves, became our live keyboard player; David Scott Stone, an old time compadre from Los Angeles and recent Melvins tour “gun-forhire,” our second guitar player. This was no small task. The logistics of adding two members to a band that normally was a three piece was daunting. We weren’t quite prepared — but then again, we rarely were. Unwound was really good at just winging it and barely making it out alive. As we often said, “We’ll see what happens.”
Brandt started performing in early 2001, before the bigger tours that were to follow. When Dave came up from LA that summer, we practiced hard for a couple of weeks, putting together a set that would represent as many songs from the new album as possible while incorporating a few older pieces we thought would benefit from the new lineup. “Lifetime Achievement Award,” for instance, had never been performed live with vocals. “Corpse Pose,” a song that featured a signature keyboard riff when it appeared on Repetition, was finally given its due.
To help keep this mess together we hired Dave Doughman, a soundman we’d used on previous tours. Luckily, he was a fellow with a good sense of humor. Not long into the tour, a friend I had met while on the road with the Melvins decided to come along and record all the shows. This was Mike Zeigler, aka “The Kid,” infamous Nirvana fan and rock n roll bootlegger. It’s his tapes that have been distilled into what you’re about to hear.
I’m the first to admit that Unwound was not a consistent live band. Some of the shows on this tour were rough. We nearly broke up two weeks in, after 9/11 threw everything up in the air. You may notice that most of the shows represented on this compilation occurred after 9/11. Prior to that, we had good energy, but we were still working out how to play the songs as a five-piece. Then, for whatever reason, we rocked hard for like a week in the south. Survival instincts kept us alive for a bit afterward, but during the California leg of the tour we self-destructed, and eventually we decided to cancel our European and Japanese tours.
Let’s be clear: this compilation isn’t trying to rewrite history. Listening through hours and hours of tape from this time, I cringed frequently. But there were also sublime moments where I was touched. Think of it as a gift from us to you — we did the hard work of culling the good stuff from a few dozen shows. Now you can just sit back and listen (at a loud volume, please). I was often surprised by what I heard; I hope the same holds true for you. Believe it or not, this is long overdue. We’d originally planned on putting this out in 2002! So, if you’re an old friend, welcome back. If you’re new — here’s to you. Thanks for finding us.
With that: Live Leaves.
–Justin Trosper, Kamilche, WA. June 2012.