Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Moby Grape

  • Moby Grape [Columbia, 1967] A-
  • Truly Fine Citizen [Columbia, 1969] C+
  • 20 Granite Creek [Reprise, 1971] B+
  • Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape [Columbia/Legacy, 1993] B+
  • Live [Sundazed, 2010] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Moby Grape [Columbia, 1967]
The country-rock harbingers, especially on side two, are depressing at first, but you realize soon enough that this stands as a classic pop rock and roll record, recalling a time when "pop" was a concept conducive to the kind of raving intensity three guitars and five voices tuned all the way up are (or were) good for. A-

Truly Fine Citizen [Columbia, 1969]
In which what should have been America's greatest rock group gasps its last. Quite mediocre, despite a couple of lovely Peter Lewis songs. C+

20 Granite Creek [Reprise, 1971]
At first I thought this reunion album lacked magic, but these guys sound remarkably whole for a band that failed to take over the world in 1967. You can hear the country undertone now, but you can also hear why you missed it--at their most lyrical these guys never lay back, and lyricism is something they're usually rocking too hard to bother with, though their compact forms guarantee poetic justice. Full of hope as they foresee their doom, stoned and drunk and on the move and yet always together, and above all intense, they should have at least taken over the country. All they really lacked was a boss, and what could be more American than that? B+

Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape [Columbia/Legacy, 1993]
They were quintessentially inauthentic--three bar-band honchos, a showbiz kid, a hippie head case, and a svengali with a specialty in indentured servitude. Their accomplishment was nothing less and nothing more than the invention of El Lay country-rock--in San Francisco, where they were dismissed as phonies and interlopers. The Eagles would have happened without them, Poco too, but these guys got to the hyper harmonies and amped-up licks before they constituted any kind of copout. They also played the blues, jammed supernaturally hard, and put 14 loopy, optimistic songs that saw beyond the provincial counterculture of the Haight on a debut album ineptly overhyped by a label that still doesn't know what to do with it. The canard that they never cut another decent track is no more absurd than said label's assurances that they have two-and-a-half hours of memorable music in them. Yet only on this two-CD set can you purchase Moby Grape. Conveniently, it comprises the first 14 cuts. And typically, the sublime "Fall on You" is wrecked by a minute of producer gab even more justly unreleased than the rest of the crap that fills out the package. De trop, de trop, de trop--their motto and their curse. B+

Live [Sundazed, 2010]
Was there a more galvanic live band in Haight-era San Francisco than this biz-fabricated quintet of Seattle and LA interlopers, who coalesced to record a dynamite debut they spent the rest of their lives trying to wrest from their manager? Maybe not. The Detroit primitivism of Big Brother's James Gurley rode the jazz-schooled beat of David Getz, and for quite a while there the Dead's Bill Kreutzmann was just a kid. But the chops of these doomed young pros, every one of whom could sing and write terse, catchy, well-structured songs, were powered by one of the scene's few true rock drummers, Don Stevenson. So as five voices trade leads on 19 selections from five 1966-69 gigs (including their forgotten opening slot at a Monterey Pop Festival they should have been smack in the middle of), their controlled distortion and power melodies obliterate the wet noodling and wispy lyricism of the "ballroom" ex-folkies who considered them phonies. Here be a B.B. cover, long and short versions of the ecstatic "Omaha," and a freakout that proves how much they wanted to fit in. And everywhere there's Stevenson, reminding them to keep it loud as they keep it moving. Quicksilver Messenger Service was never like this. A-

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