Big Star's Third, Onstage in New York at Last

An all-star tribute to American power pop's finest, bleakest hour

Ari Picker: I kind of spend a lot of time in that place where classical and rock 'n' roll meet, and there is a bit of tug-of-war there, but they also kind of balance each other out. Whereas classical music could be considered crusty and, you know, reserved for concert halls and classrooms, and rock 'n' roll is debaucherous club stuff, I think when they meet, they kind of balance each other out and you kind of get a different world altogether.

Stamey: I think it's that combination of the freedom of the rock players and the discipline of the orchestral players that does connect with the vibe of the record. That has a lot to do with what that record was about.

***

Chris Stamey, lifting up the room
Daniel Coston
Chris Stamey, lifting up the room
Jody Stephens, the sole survivor.
Daniel Coston
Jody Stephens, the sole survivor.

Mills: We did run into Alex really early on. We played a place called Tupelo's Tavern, which I think was in New Orleans. And Alex came by and hung out before the show and, you know, our rider at that point consisted of exactly one case of Budweiser. So we went onstage and said, Look, Alex, we've got to play. Feel free to join us if you like—otherwise, we'll see you afterward. And when we got back to the dressing room, there was no Alex and no beer. [Laughs.]

Sweet: I think of Alex a lot. He's like a John Lennon–type guy because of that breadth of emotion in the types of things he would do.

Stephens: While he was an intellectual, I think he led with his emotions.

Stamey: I learned so much from Alex. I had learned a little bit about music before I met him, and all of a sudden, it was so much beyond anything I had imagined. What he knew about recording, you know, it was mind-blowing to me. And about songwriting and about life. It's all been a great gift.

***

Mills: It's such a personal record. It's so much about Jody and Alex and everything they had gone through and everything they were going through. It was more, I think, a catharsis for them as much as it was trying to make a rock 'n' roll record like the first two. It has a personal weight.

Stephens: It was such a brilliant snapshot of where Alex was in his life at that time. I didn't appreciate it so much at the time [laughs], because it was a pretty dark period, but in retrospect, Alex was a pretty brilliant guy. I mean, pretty amazingly creative and such a free spirit when it came to being in the studio and just sort of letting loose. You know, there's some pretty wild sounds that go on in the Third album.

Sweet: It's funny that you say Altered Beast, because that really reminds me of Big Star's Third, because it's like I was losing my mind, kind of. And I sort of feel like Alex has gone off the deep end or whatever in the extremes of Big Star's Third. So I can see that.

Stamey: After the fact, we know it was like a muse record, that it had a lot to do with him and Lesa Aldridge trying to work out who they were. And those muse kind of records tend to have a different flavor, and I think that also got through to me.

Stephens: I was dating Holliday and, you know, Alex was dating Lesa. They aren't twins. I mean, they've been reported as twins, but they weren't. They were a year or two apart. And so hence the name Sister Lovers.

***

Stamey: There are moments on the record that used to always amaze me. I think "Kanga Roo" was the high point when I first heard the record, and maybe remains so. After I'd been playing with Alex for a while, he pulled that one out one night and we did it a few times, you know—just the four of us, and it was really great—so "Kanga Roo" has been a special thing, and I consider it the linchpin of the concert, really.

Easter: It's totally fun to play "You Can't Have Me" because it's just a flat-out bunch of chords, you know, and it's got such a great kind of groove to it. I mean, you don't even have to think to play that one. By the time we get around to "You Can't Have Me," I feel like I'm in total natural mode and just flail, you know? A lot of the record requires a bit of subtlety and that one doesn't.

Mills: I love to play "Jesus Christ." That's the one I sing. We've done it as a Christmas single for R.E.M. That one sort of connects with me a lot as a performer, just because I get to sing it.

Tift Merritt: When I think about Big Star, I think about this intense intimacy that they were able to create and that Alex Chilton was able to convey. I mean, you just feel really moved by this sort of intimacy that he's creating, but I think "Thank You Friends" makes me feel the way I feel about being in a band or about being a musician in this sort of collection of friends that you've had over the years that you've played with or shared music with, and I think that's such a beautiful moment.

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2 comments
Mzamar
Mzamar

To see a new interview of Mitch Easter talking about his involvement in the Big Star’s Third shows in North Carolina and NYC this weekend go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Mzamar
Mzamar

To see a new interview of Mitch Easter talking about his involvement in the Big Star’s Third shows in North Carolina and NYC this weekend go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

 
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