Sonic Grade: C
Ten or fifteen years ago we did a listing for this Mobile Fidelity pressing as a Pseudo-Hot Stamper. Here is what we had to say about it at the time:
This is actually a pretty good sounding record, all things considered. We put this one through our cleaning process and gave it a listen. Although our Hot Stamper copies do sound better, they’re also quite a bit more expensive. This copy had the best sound we heard out of the three or four we played, which makes it a Hot Stamper I suppose, but we are instead just calling it a Very Good Sounding Copy.
Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.
We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.
This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.
I have a theory about why their approach to mastering tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others, which goes like this. MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered back in their early days, pretty much regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to prefer. I was one of those guys and I know I did.
Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.
The Bottom and the Top
But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you.
And the top isn’t quite as good as I always thought — you can hear their standard 10k boost on the cowbell at the opening of Fat Man in a Bathtub. That cowbell just does not sound right. The typical original gets the cowbell even more wrong, but that’s a good reason not to settle for the typical copy and to find yourself a Hot Stamper. Or let us find one for you. This one should do nicely.
Many of Little Feat’s earlier albums are difficult to find with good sound. (I won’t say they were badly recorded; I was nowhere near the studio at the time and have no idea what the real master tapes sound like. All I know is their records usually don’t sound very good.)
But this is a BEAUTIFULLY recorded concert, and the versions they do of their old material are MUCH BETTER than the studio album versions for the most part. Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world. You will have a hard time listening to the studio versions of these songs once you have heard them performed with this kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity. This is some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue.
One of the greatest live rock and roll album ever made, by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play, now sounding better than ever! Three words of advice: Turn It Up. Especially side three.