Both of these albums are part of a just-issued new batch of live recordings from Sony/Legacy called the Setlist Series. It also includes concert compilations from a variety of top-selling artists from the Sony and RCA catalogs, ranging from classic rock and metal acts like Kansas, Quiet Riot, Judas Priest and Ted Nugent, to country artists like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Alabama.
In theory at least the Setlist series seemed like a pretty good idea, particularly given Legacy's normally decent-to-excellent track record with these sort of collections of repackaged material.
Of the numerous Legacy repackages out there which spring immediately to mind, I'd point towards the remastered editions of classic albums by Willie Nelson (Stardust) and Cheap Trick (the Budokan! box set) as two recent examples where the sort of loving standards you hope for were not only realized, but were actually exceeded. Each of them featured superior remastering jobs, deluxe packaging, and the sort of unreleased live performances, outtakes and rarities that made them worth their inflated price. Hell, the Cheap Trick box even has a rare DVD of the live performance from Budokan.
Not so with the Setlist Series, or at least with these two entries from Cheap Trick and Jefferson Airplane. The fact is — at least from what I've seen thus far — everything about this series seems closer to the sort of "Special Products" offerings that wind up in cut-out and overstock bins and on late night TV commercials than the sort of consideration you normally expect from Legacy Recordings.
The problems here begin with the packaging. While I am all for the Green, eco-friendly sort of packaging that saves trees and protects the environment, the trend towards cheap, non-user-friendly CD sleeves that are prone to scratches is one I've become increasingly uncomfortable and irritated with.
Both of these CDs are packaged in cheap, fold-out cardboard jackets with minimal artwork and liner notes, which looks to be the template for the entire series. Frankly, I've seen better looking packaging on some bootlegs. Worse though, the CD itself is very difficult to remove (at least when it doesn't just finally fall out of the sleeve altogether). Scratching is pretty much a guarantee here, and probably sooner than later. Whatever happened to the both eco and user-friendly digi-pak anyway?
As for the albums themselves, they seem to be very hastily thrown together collections with very little real care or thought behind them.
Of the two I've listened to, the Cheap Trick set probably fares the best. But this is hardly surprising since it contains material that has all been previously released in one form or another — which also begs the question: What's the point?
Fans will already have all of this stuff anyway, and for newer converts seeking a definitive live Cheap Trick album, Live At Budokan already covers that in spades — especially if you go with the box set. Still, I suppose having live versions of everything from "Surrender" to "The Flame" to somewhat rarer tracks like "Mrs. Henry" all assembled in one place serves some sort of purpose. Anyway, it's cheaper than the box, right?
The Jefferson Airplane set is even more problematic though. Because the Airplane went through so many incarnations over the years, drawing randomly from such opposing sources as 1969's amazing Bless Its Pointed Little Head, and later, mostly inferior live albums like 1973's Thirty Seconds Over Winterland just doesn't paint a fair or even accurate picture of the Airplane as a live act. We're talking about two completely different band lineups for one thing.
Of the high points here, a previously unreleased live performance of "White Rabbit" from 1966 at the Fillmore is decent, but marred by a very flat sounding recording. There is also a previously unreleased 1967 performance of "It's No Secret" from the Fillmore, which suffers from a muffled recording that all but buries Marty Balin's vocal (curious, since they could've just as easily gone with the superior version from Pointed Head — as they thankfully did with "Plastic Fantastic Lover"). Come to think of it, if you want a great live Jefferson Airplane CD, just go with Head. You can't miss there.
Forgive me for saying so Legacy, but if these two albums are any indication, this Setlist Series has knockoff written all over it. As for calling either release the "Very Best Of," well, that's just false advertising. Hopefully though, this is just a blip and nothing more.