When Morphine leader Mark Sandman collapsed and died in July of 1999, music lost one of its most unique and talented voices. During the band's four album career (the final studio album, The Night, was completed before he died but released soon after his passing) the trio of saxophone, bass, and drums created a sound so singular that any attempt at recreating it will sound like the worst sort of theft, a musical pillage. Sandman's songs reflect a dark perverse soul, brooding and laughing in the same instant, light-hearted yet heady. His bass style, played on two strings with a slide, swoops around the saxophone lines of Dana Colley to create a dense, enveloping music that grabs the listener like a hug on a humid night.
While their studio records are classic works of art, they only hint at the power of Morphine live. In concert, Sandman's smirking wit and teasing bass played second fiddle to Colley's sax. When he would propel a melody line on his baritone saxophone, the walls would literally shake. It was more than loud -- it was engulfing, a tsunami of sound. This CD, a "lo-fi recording by a Fan in the Audience St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit Michigan March 7, 1994," gives only a brief tease of a live Morphine experience. In the first place, it's only 40 minutes long, or about half as long as a typical show. Secondly, no matter how great the recording, no live album replaces -- or even approximates -- the feeling of actually being there. Gone is the feeling you get when Sandman's bass would begin a song like "Candy" or the way your breath would stop as the band would crash into the ending of "Thursday" or "Buena," headlong off a cliff of mood. Perhaps the only way for those listeners who never had the chance to see Morphine live to come close to the feeling would be to recreate the atmosphere of the show. Drink a few beers in a humid, smoky room, hold the one you love very tightly, and play this CD. It will be a satisfying moment, to be sure, but only a pale reflection of the actual event. Because Morphine was magic. And magic cannot last.
Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970; http://www.rykodisc.com; http://www.morphine3.com