I’ve got a hard time blaming the reigning Sultans of Slack for putting out a piece as unnecessary as this barely-rearranged live recording of Sunbathing Animal. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a soft spot for ’em, maybe it’s because it makes a certain cynical sense that everyone’s favorite angry, lazy punk rockers would so quickly push out a live record that’s little more than a re-release of their last major release with a few excisions and additions, or maybe it’s just because I dug the holy hell out of that same album and don’t mind a chance to listen to rougher versions of songs that were recorded maybe a little cleaner than they deserved.
So “Raw Milk” unspools from its four-minute studio version into a long, trailing ten minutes, and what of it? The fun in listening to a song so woozy is in watching it stumble around for a while, wondering how and when it’s going to collapse. That it’s not got a whole lot of direction and nobody in the band’s striving to give it one until the very end ain’t a block but a boon! It’s like after years of being described as “sloppy”, all the while knowing they were as tightly wound as springs in a Swiss watch, the members of P.C. just got fed right the fuck up and decided to give the people what they wanted. Hence why they take a hatchet to the too-somber and too-predictable closer “Into the Garden” — still here but with almost two whole minutes chopped right off — and close instead on “Sunbathing Animal”, now just a few clicks slower and with a new ending just the right side of incoherent. It’s delightful to see these goons take the proverbial gloves off and get their hands as dirty as they always seemed to want them.
It’s a little less pleasing to see them slip the gloves back on in the middle of it all, though, as when they bust out “renditions” (using that term loosely, here) of “Dear Ramona”, “Bodies Made Of”, and “Instant Disassembly” that sound so much like the studio version you might swear the few seconds of crowd noise and banter before each was tacked on so you might miss the fact that, hey, wait, these songs sound like they were lifted directly off the album! Are they scared to cut loose? Or are they just so desperate to embody the other end of the slacker lifestyle that they decide, ya know, just keep it like we rehearsed? (The inclusion of the never-fun “Vienna II” and the momentum-sapping “Dear Ramona” suggest the latter. The absence of “What Color is Blood,” a song that begs for a live version, suggests the former.)
A live CD doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be good, but it’s gotta distinguish itself, lest it end up redundant. You hope the limits of a live set will give the music a kick, or at least get the artists, now unable to hide behind the illusion of perfection granted by the studio, a chance to fuck up gloriously, to play against the audience, to maybe get exhausted, get angry or get bored and start kicking against the music for a moment. There’s a hint of this in “Duckin’ and Dodgin’”, a moment when whatever glue it is that holds Andrew Savage’s dusty vocals together has gone dry and there you sit, fingers crossed, hoping it might all fall apart and force Andy into something new. Maybe he’ll just collapse in a wheeze. Maybe he’ll start coughing up the lyrics with a brand new and completely uncharacteristic scream. Or maybe the song’ll just move on as normal. You stuck the landing, Andy, and great for you, but you’ve already done that and I’ve got the recording to prove it! Surprise me next time, upset me — hell, frighten me! — but just don’t you bore me like this again.