Mad Season – “River of Deceit / I Don’t Know Anything (live)”

I wasn’t planning on going to look for Record Store Day releases today. It’s “Black Friday”, and I didn’t feel like being out there on the roads with a bunch of half-crazed Walmart bargain hunters who have been on the go since sometime last night. That crowd is bad enough when working on a full night sleep. Plus there was only one thing I really wanted, the Mad Season “River of Deceit / I Don’t Know Anything (live)” limited edition 10″ single. My local record shop wasn’t carrying it, so that meant going to Seattle… and this being the home of Mad Season, I figured my chances were about zero of getting a copy without standing in line in the cold and rain for two hours. I even contemplated buying a copy someone had on eBay the night before the release for $29.99, but figured there would be more chances to pick it up online cheaper after the event.

But Holly was persistent, and with the promise of lattes from Uptown Espresso regardless of our level of Record Store Day success, it seemed worth a shot. So we got in the car and drove to Easy Street Records in West Seattle, getting there at 7:15 AM, just after they opened. Lo and behold, the group crowded around the Record Store Day section was small, and I was able to pick up a copy of the Mad Season 10″ (#1,767/2,000 on red vinyl, and only $6.99!), along with a mono 180 gram re-release of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”. I also picked up a collectible used record I’m super excited about that will appear in a future blog. Stay tuned.

So… Mad Season. For those of you not familiar, this band formed in Seattle in 1994 and was a bit of a super group, featuring Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Barrett Martin from the Screaming Trees, and bassist John Saunders. They released their only album, Above, in 1995, and I personally was blown away by it. It’s heavy and dark, and the songs perfectly fit Staley’s vocal style. I played the hell out of the CD for a year or so, before shelving it for over a decade. When I came back to it, it sounded just as amazing as it had before, if not more so. Unfortunately Staley’s heroin addiction limited the band to just a handful of live shows, and he couldn’t get it together enough to work on another album. Saunders died of a heroin overdose in 1999 (ironically he met McCready in rehab prior to the formation of Mad Season), and when Staley too succumbed to addiction in 2002 this dashed any hopes of a future album. However, in 2012 there was a reunion concert, and allegedly there is a new album coming in 2013 with Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees doing some of the vocals.

I was excited about this 10″ because of the live version of “I Don’t Know Anything” (the A Side “River of Deceit” is the album version). This is only the second live track I’ve come across, the other being, ironically, a version of “River of Deceit” appearing on the 1996 compilation, Bite Back – Live at the Crocodile Cafe. The difference between the two is that this vinyl track was recorded live in studio for radio in January 1995 prior to the release of Above, while the other was actually live from a show the band played at Seattle’s infamous Crocodile Cafe. This radio version of “I Don’t Know Anything” was supposedly part of Pearl Jam’s Self-Pollution pirate radio broadcast, which Mad Season contributed along with “Lifeless Dead,” which will hopefully see the light of day on another record someday. The track is of good quality, though it doesn’t sound like Staley’s voice was at it’s best. There are some moments when you can really hear that classic Staley power and delivery, but overall it doesn’t capture his essence as well as the song on Bite Back does. And that’s too bad, really, because few singers could plumb the depths of emotional despair the way Staley could.

There is also a VHS of Mad Season Live at the Moore, and this will supposedly come out on DVD in 2013 around the same time as the new Mad Season album. Any chance to get some more live Mad Season songs is one I look forward to. And I’m sure I’ll pick up the new album as well, but much like the post-Staley Alice in Chains album, replacing Staley will likely prove a daunting if not impossible task.

I’m disappointed that I never got a chance to see Alice in Chains or Mad Season live. The opportunities were certainly there, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Staley was yet another Seattle heroin casualty, and we lost an amazing musician way too soon. You can hear his pain in some of the Mad Season songs, most notably (in my opinion) “Wake Up”, just as you can in many of the Alice in Chains classics. It’s a shame that no one was able to reach deep enough to help him with that pain before it was too late.