Today is Black Friday Record Store Day and The National released a three-cassette box set titled The National: Juicy Sonic Magic, Live in Berkeley, September 24-25, 2018. But this isn't a typical soundboard recording. The National commissioned archivist Erik Flannigan to record their shows using techniques developed by famed bootlegger Mike "The Mic" Millard who died in 1994. Millard's recordings of concerts by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones — which he never sold himself, although they were sometimes resold by others — are considered some of the greatest concert bootlegs of all time. Above, a short documentary by Flannigan and filmmaker David DuBois about Mallard's life's work and The National's release. The illustrations are by my pal Jess Rotter, animated by Eben McCue. In the liner notes, Flannigan wrote:
Millard's legend is built in part on the cunning and subterfuge he used to get his nearly 15-pound cassette deck and microphones into venues like the The Forum, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and The Roxy.
For years I have pondered what made Millard's recordings so good, and eventually I had an idea: What if you recorded a concert today with the same equipment Millard used in 1977? Would it sound like his tapes? Would it tap into his Midas touch?
The National was kind enough to let us test the Millard Method for two concerts at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California last September. These live recordings were made with vintage AKG 451E microphones and a restored Nakamichi 550 cassette deck which are identical to those used by Millard circa 1975-81. The idea was to see if we could recreate what Matt Berninger calls the "juicy sonic magic" Millard captured in his 1970s field recordings.