Have you ever had the misfortune of hearing that a band you like is coming to town, missing the show for one reason or another but thinking that it's alright, you'll just catch them the next time around, only to find out a while later that the band went and broke up while you weren't looking? Yeah, it's probably happened to you more than once.
That's more or less what happened to me with Masters of the Hemisphere. I got into the game late, only catching on to their grinning pop genius with the release of Protest a Dark Anniversary, but that disc became one of my favorites of 2002. Right about the time I was first getting into Dark Anniversary, I heard they were going to be playing a local show here in Denver. Of course, other things came up and I missed the show, but I wasn't too bothered. Then I discovered earlier this year that they'd broken up in November of 2002 and I would never have the pleasure of seeing the Masters live. So I chalked up another mark on my list of bitterly missed opportunities.
That is, until I heard about the release of Last Show Ever . The Masters decided to go out with a bang, knowing about the break-up with enough advance warning to plan a full gala performance as their last act. On 23 November 2002, Masters of the Hemisphere assembled a collection of fans far and wide at Athens, Georgia's 40 Watt Club to play their last show, a marathon event at which they planned to play a huge set spanning the career of the band, from their earliest releases and non-album cuts all the way up through the tracks from Dark Anniversary, with a promised 36 songs in the late-night set. The entirety of the show was recorded for posterity's sake, originally planned as a fans-only release, homemade and home distributed. However, when the time came, interest was enough to warrant a full-blown release, albeit limited, and the result is the well-crafted Last Show Ever live double-disc set.
All I can say is that I'm sure that I missed out when the Masters were in Denver so many months ago. Even if that show wouldn't have been filled with the "last chance to party" exuberance captured on Last Show Ever, the Masters were certainly capable of putting on a fun indie pop show. The band's sense of humor and playful attitude towards music were always evident in their studio output, but this record of their live demeanor shows that, if anything, Masters of the Hemisphere was about having a good time.
Last Show Ever is slightly anomalous among live albums. Because it is a record of the night and a farewell performance, the collection contains none of the slick production values and fancy editing that a mainstream live album relies upon. Instead, Last Show Ever is like the best bootleg ever, a complete audio recording of the evening from the moment the band takes the stage to the moment the show concludes (with a few minutes snipped out in which the musicians took set breaks). You get the complete record of between-song banter, the pops and screeches of the amps, the muffled shouts from the audience. You get Sean Rawls and Bren Mead's chatter, in-jokes, shout outs to friends in the crowd, and ramblings about the historical origins of the songs. It's the whole package.
As such, it's a bittersweet record as much as it is a pleasurable one. With the band cracking wise about their imminent demise -- including counting down the remaining songs, making claims about how they were behind the times, and assuring the 40 Watt Club that they'd never have to hear them again -- it's hard not to think that the Masters could have continued strong for years to come, that this was a band who quit at its peak. But it's also a party, and the recording captures the drunken thrills of a final goodbye with enough humor to keep it from being a long wake.
The bootleg style of the recording also comes with a few problems. The banter is muffled due to various microphone volumes, sometimes the guitar parts are bit grating, and there's a generally rough quality to the songs as they're performed. Likewise, the band is a bit sauced -- the two discs being appropriately labeled "Drunk" and "Too Drunk" -- and the vocals aren't exactly studio quality, voices cracking and hitting sour notes throughout the show. It's definitely not the disc you'd use to win over new fans for the Masters, but that's not the point here. Last Show Ever is meant to be fun, not clean or brilliantly produced, and it succeeds on that point for sure.
Still, the quality of the band's songs still manages to shine through, and if you're familiar with their music already then the album is full of thrilling moments. "Bat", "Saucy Foreign Lass", "Creatures (The Roper Song)", and "Everybody Knows Canada" are performed with all the joy that silly indie rock can muster, while all of the Freemdoom songs, especially "The Dog Who Controls People's Lungs" and "Mal Needs to Talk About the Things He Wants to Say", are played with an exuberance in defiance of the critics who shunned them. The Dark Anniversary tracks are brilliant, particularly "Anything, Anything" and "Give Me Something Clearly", and, contrary to their place late in the set and at the height of the band's drunkenness, are some of the best recordings offered here. Additionally, the set offers up plenty of Masters rarities ("Billy Mitchell", "Red Green Stables", "Uncola"), two covers (Fleetwood Mac's "Second Hand News" and New Order's "Age of Consent"), and ends on the first song Mead and Rawls recorded in their pre-Masters days, a goofy piece called "I Hate Mortal Kombat".
As a final goodbye, Last Show Ever is as satisfying an experience as can be expected. It's not a weepy and emotional gesture or quiet reflection, but a party recorded for posterity. If you're not already familiar with the Masters, then it's probably better to dip your toes in with any of their studio albums first, but if you're an established fan then Last Show Ever will completely satisfy. In fact, if you're in the latter group, you should move fast in picking this up, as its limited run guarantees its scarcity. You wouldn't want to make this a doubly missed opportunity, would you?