Although Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck recorded a number of singles as Choo Choo Train, Bag-O-Shells and The Springfields, they first came to wider notice as Velvet Crush with 1991’s In the Presence of Greatness. Critics and fans latched on, but it wasn’t until they released 1994’s Teenage Symphonies to God, with U.S. distribution by Sony, that they made their biggest splash. Three years and a change of producers (Mitch Easter replacing Matthew Sweet) between the two albums left a gap bridged by a few singles and an EP. The post-album afterward yawned even wider as the band mostly parked themselves, recording with Stephen Duffy, and didn’t re-emerge as Velvet Crush until the release of 1998’s Heavy Changes.
Omnivore’s sixteen-track collection helps fill the gaps, offering up Teenage-era demos and live performances. The first eight tracks cherry-pick demos previously released on the out-of-print Melody Freaks. Included are early versions of six album tracks, plus the otherwise lost “Not Standing Down,” and a cover of Three Hour Tour’s “Turn Down.” For listeners whose neurons have been organized by repeated spins of Teenage Symphonies to God, the demos provide an opportunity for renewal. You know these songs, but then again, you don’t. The pieces are there – lyrics, melodies and guitars – but not the final polish; but what the demos give up in nuanced construction they redeem in initial discovery. It’s the difference between a candid snapshot and a posed portrait – they each say something about the subject, but they also say something about each other.
Mitch Easter helped the band wring more out of their songs, and while the demos provided templates for the master takes, the album cuts provided the same for the live performances. The eight live tracks, recorded in a November 1994 opening slot at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro (and previously released on Rock Concert), show the band to be a ferocious live act. With Tommy Keene added as lead guitarist, the band goes all out to win over the crowd with their thirty minute set, and as Ric Menck said, “we got ’em by the end.” No small feat, considering they were opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. The live set includes numbers from both Teenage Symphonies and Presence (“Window to the World” and “Ash and Earth”) and a closing cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning.” This is a terrific companion to Teenage Symphonies, and an essential for the album’s fans. [©2016 Hyperbolium]