Musicasaurus.com excavates the best concerts on DVD…
A new review will be posted every two weeks, on Sunday evening.....All of the DVDs reviewed here are (or were!) commercially available for purchase. We will list a few highlights from each of the DVDs, having mined them for the moments that make endorphins flow, pleasure centers pop, and smiles break wide.
(Next post: Sunday, June 18, 2023)
Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio.....a documentary released in September 2013; written and directed by Chris Gilson & Carolyn Travis.
1.) As seen on PBS, this revelatory tale begins with the early days of AM Radio in the U.S.A., and the impact that early disc jockeys--and their pioneering playlists of rhythm & blues “race records”--had on the American music scene and society at large.
2.) Interviewees include the regional disc jockeys from the late 1950s and early 1960s who first championed black music to their listening audiences--Dick Biondi, “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem, among others. There is also footage of deejay Alan Freed, who organized the first shower-of-stars type concerts that brought out fans across the color lines.
3.) Also covered in the documentary: the payola scandal which kneed Freed to the ground...the rise of the Top Forty format and FM radio...the effect of corporate influence...and the birth of satellite radio.
PETER GABRIEL / SECRET WORLD LIVE
As Gabriel is due in Pittsburgh four months from now on September 23 (at PPG Paints Arena), this would be a good time to seek out a copy of the DVD entitled Secret World Live.
This DVD is a product of Geffen Records/Real World productions and consists of a concert filmed in 1994 in Modena, Italy as part of Gabriel’s 1993-1994 tour. This is my personal favorite of Gabriel’s concert releases on video/film from the standpoint of artistry in design, production and execution.
Gabriel created and mounted one for the time capsule here—the perfect synthesis of musicians playing as one, a brilliant stage set, and seamless, sensitive editing that captures all of the emotion inherent in a live music experience.
Though an artist of vision in his own right, Peter Gabriel collaborated with Quebec City’s Robert Lepage--a playwright, actor, film director and stage director--in the creation of the Secret World Live tour. Lepage is one of Canada’s most honored theatre artists; among his other triumphs: Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas show entitled Ka, and Quebec City’s The Image Mill, the latter constituting the largest outdoor architectural projection ever made in the world.
The Secret World Live band: Drums – Manu Katche.....Bass, vocals – Tony Levin.....Guitar vocals – David Rhodes.....Keyboards, vocals – Jean Claude Naimro.....Violin, vocals – Shankar (not Ravi, in case that name gave you pause).....Vocals – Paula Cole.....and Vocals, keyboards – Peter Gabriel.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended tracks:
* The opener, “Come Talk To Me”...Start the DVD from the very beginning to get a true sense of the wizardry at work. Peter and Paula are locked into a powerful musical and philosophical exchange.
* “Steam” and “Sledgehammer”...Some of Peter’s more recognizable songs from the MTV glory days. Here you can bask in the band’s prowess and could easily overlook the masterful editing—but don’t.
* “Don’t Give Up”...Another beautifully expressive piece that is once again Peter and Paula (the latter taking the vocal part that was originally Kate Bush’s on the 1986 Gabriel album entitled So).
* “Secret World”...A track that unfolds quietly at first. This song musically and lyrically reflects an artist’s inner journey and it builds to a full unleashing near the end—just as the band members exit the stage in unique fashion, one by one.
* The best track: “Shaking The Tree” (written by Peter Gabriel and Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour)...One could approach this song knowing very little about Peter Gabriel’s work and come away indelibly changed in terms of discovering a heavenly convergence of song and performance, sound and vision. It doesn’t make you wish you were there; you ARE there. The joy is inescapable. Trust Musicasaurus on this one.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS?
Released to theaters: March 24, 2023
Release date streaming: Available currently via Roku
Directed by: John Scheinfeld
Produced by: Dave Harding, Peter S. Lynch II and John Scheinfeld
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 73% on the Tomatometer ... __% Audience score (no audience information yet, as of this date’s posting)
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You—to watch, or not to watch:
Michael Rechtshaffen - L.A. Times: “Equal parts international intrigue, concert film and VH1-style ‘Behind the Music’ cautionary tale, the documentary raises some interesting if ultimately unanswerable questions as it compellingly inhabits its very specific place in time.”
Calum Marsh - New York Times: In 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears, the enormously popular nine-piece jazz-rock group, undertook a tour of Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland under the aegis of the U.S. State Department, inadvertently outraging the progressive, college-age fans whose enthusiasm had made the group such a stratospheric counterculture success. To make matters worse, upon their return, the members of the band--who had headlined Woodstock and spoken out against the war in Vietnam--now decried communism as ‘scary,’ professing gratitude for freedoms they’d previously taken for granted--quite the about-face. As David Felton wrote acidly in a 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, it sure sounded like ‘the State Department got its money’s worth.’”
Owen Gleiberman -Variety: “The band that’s on tour, the mighty but fraught Blood, Sweat & Tears, was full of great musicians who most people didn’t know by name. Yet as fronted by the intoxicating huskiness of lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, they had emerged from the embers of the counterculture to become one of the first true supergroups. By the time their 1970 tour arrived, Blood, Sweat & Tears were the most popular rock band in America, with a number-one album and a trio of hit singles that remain iconic: ‘And When I Die,’ ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,’ and the joyfully bombastic and lurchy ear worm that was ‘Spinning Wheel.’ Yet the story of what happened to BS&T in 1970, as the band was coming off its second album (the one with all the hits) and preparing to launch its third (which was peppered with terrific songs like ‘Lucretia MacEvil’ and their disarmingly soulful cover of ‘Fire and Rain’), remains a singular piece of rock history, even if hardly anyone knows about it. I didn’t know about it, but now that I’ve seen the film I’d call it essential.”
Anthony Lane - The New Yorker: “Why did they go? Blackmail, of a sort. The lead vocalist, a Canadian named David Clayton-Thomas, had a voice of tremendous rasp and rumble. He sounded like a volcano making conversation. He was also in danger of losing his green card, and, to avoid that fate, the band’s manager struck a dark deal with the U.S. State Department, which wanted American performers who could spread the word, or the groove, behind enemy lines. So the band was dispatched to hot spots such as Zagreb (where the audience was sullenly unresponsive) and Warsaw (the opposite). Scariest of all was Bucharest, where the concert was officially deemed ‘too successful,’ where cops with German shepherds were on hand to quash the crowd’s delight, where one enthusiast was taken away and beaten for requesting an autograph, and where ‘people don’t enjoy the privilege of spontaneous outburst,’ as Clayton-Thomas reported, back in L.A. He added, ‘It’s given us all a new appreciation of various freedoms that we took for granted.’”
This time, a special edition of Dancing With Mr. D...VD: Instead of providing a review of a streamable music-related film of some kind, I am hearkening back to the days of DVD players (you’ll likely remember them; if not, Google up a picture). I turned to my music DVDs that are sittin’ on the shelves at home and thought, “Gee, why don’t I just grab a handful and list a little clump of my alphabetically-arranged collection?”
And so below is brought to you by the letter “G”….
- Gabriel, Peter.....Secret World Live.....A must-have, even if you don’t own a DVD player any longer (preserve it for posterity). One of the best live representations of an artist’s vision, translated through impeccable musicianship and, post-concert, some incredibly skillful editing.
- Gabriel, Peter.....Growing Up Live.....A concert filmed ten years after Secret World Live; Gabriel is grayer but still great.
- Gaye, Marvin.....The Real Thing / In Performance 1964-1981.....A collection of Gaye’s American and European television appearances spanning three decades.
- Glass Harp.....Live! Circa ’72.....Reportedly this in-studio concert with a small, certainly ‘70s-looking crowd of fans was recorded and broadcast simultaneously on PBS and on some FM stations (a first of its kind). Production values: not so hot. Musicianship: hotter than Hades. Phil Keaggy is the lead guitarist of this rock trio and channels a heavenly talent.
- Grappelli, Stephane.....Live In San Francisco.....A concert recorded at Paul Mason Wineyard in Saratoga, California on July 4, 1982 and at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco on July 7, 1982. Grappelli is the French jazz violinist who founded Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1934, one of the first all-string jazz bands. Here he is in concert with three other skillful musicians on acoustic guitars and double bass.
- Grateful Dead.....Downhill From Here.....I took a stab at owning a Dead DVD; after all, there are 80,000 “out there” of varying quality in Deadhead collections and God knows where else. This particular show was recorded in 1989 at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre (capacity 37,000; located in East Troy, Wisconsin).
- Griffin, Patty.....Live From The Artists Den.....Americana artist Griffin and her band perform at the Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts on New York’s Lower East Side, in February 2007. Griffin went on in her career to hook up with Robert Plant for his Band of Joy project, which recorded and toured in the 2010-2011 timeframe.
- Guster.....Guster On Ice / Live From Portland, Maine.....Alternative pop-rock band from Boston, captured live at the State Theatre in December 2003. Infectious smart pop pervades the set; standouts include “Happier” and “Demons.”
SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS
Release date streaming: April 23, 2021
Directed by: Lisa Rovner
Produced by: Anna Vaney, Marcus Werner Hed and Anna Lena Vaney
Runtime: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes’ Brief Synopsis: Sisters With Transistors is the remarkable untold story of electronic music's female pioneers, composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to utterly revolutionize how we produce and listen to music today...the film maps a new history of electronic music through the visionary women whose radical experimentations with machines redefined the boundaries of music and restored the central role of women in the history of music and society at large.
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 97% on the Tomatometer ... 62% Audience score
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You—to watch, or not to watch:
Claire Shaffer - Rolling Stone: Sisters With Transistors treats both its subjects and audience with care and intelligence, and its form takes cues from the very genre that it centers on.
Charlie Brigden - rogerebert.com: A crash course about how women were often the pioneers of the unknown frontier still defined by the names of men such as John Carpenter and Edgar Froese, Sisters with Transistors introduces ten of these incredible women—Clara Rockmore, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, Wendy Carlos, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel—using archival footage and audio to tell the fascinating accounts of how they influenced what is today one of the most popular mediums of music, accompanied by narration from artist and composer Laurie Anderson. It's a story about rebelling, freedom, and establishing new cultures and languages in a world with strict rules on how things are done, especially when it comes to women.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas - awfj.org / Alliance of Women Film Journalists: [Commenting on the documentary’s narrator Laurie Anderson] With her warm, familiar, soothing and yet somehow simultaneously always provocative voice, Anderson herself forms a bridge between the pioneers of yore who laid the groundwork for women in electronic music, and so many of the women flourishing in the field today, amongst them–and obviously not limited to–hugely diverse artists ranging from Cosey Fanni Tutti to Björk to Diamanda Galas to Gazelle Twin to FKA Twigs to Lady Gaga.
Katie Walsh - Los Angeles Times: While “Sisters With Transistors” is an important tribute to these women and their influence, it’s also a cinematic experience that melds the visuals to the abstract, hallucinatory sounds of their compositions. Working with archival footage, Rovner depicts the spaces that influenced their work: the air raid sirens of the blitz in Coventry, planes taking off in Nice; the psychic environments of the antiwar movement of the late 1960s, the Cold War, the dream of liberation through technology. As Anderson, in the beautifully-written narration, says, “the spirit of modern life was a banshee, screeching into the future.”
IT MIGHT GET LOUD
Released to theaters: August 14, 2009
Release date streaming: December 22, 2009
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Produced by: Davis Guggenheim, Peter Afterman, Thomas Tull, and Lesley Chilcott
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 79% on the Tomatometer ... 85% Audience score
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You—to watch, or not to watch:
Andrew Pulver - The Guardian: Guitar nerds will no doubt be queuing round the block for this summit of legendary axemen from across the generations: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge and Jack White of the White Stripes...Of the three, Edge comes off as the deepest thinker, and the one with the most interesting things to say about musicianship; White, you feel, is wilfully cryptic, while Page is cheerfully inarticulate as befits a balls-out rocker of the old school.
Derek Adams - Time Out: The film might have benefited from a trim and a more linear approach, but mostly it fulfils its role as an illuminating homage to both the protagonists involved and, above all, the guitar as popular music's most timeless icon.
J.R. Jones - Chicago Reader: Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) shows how each man bonded with his instrument and broke with the prevailing sounds of the day, and there are revealing glimpses of the players’ practice spaces and other locales that figured in their careers (the country house where Page and company recorded Led Zeppelin IV, the secondary school where the teenage members of U2 first rehearsed).
John Anderson - Washington Post: Depicts wood, lacquer and hardware the way Hugh Hefner depicts Miss September. Guitar nuts will be turned on, but everyone else will have a good time, too.
Elizabeth Weitzman - New York Daily News: What Guggenheim really does is make the case that each man deserves his own movie; this one feels like an especially well-produced VH1 special.
Betsy Sharkey - Los Angeles Times: The film culminates as the three finally come together on an empty soundstage in Hollywood for a conversation and a raucous jam session that is remarkable for its intimacy and its passion.
Stephen Whitty - Newark Star-Ledger: Even longtime music fans are bound to pick up a fresh fact or two. But if you really want to enjoy this music, close your door, crank up a CD and whip out that air guitar.
THE FLAMING LIPS SPACE BUBBLE FILM
We have here a historical record of how one band “solved” the problem of performing during the onslaught of COVID, and this film is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel. This is actually a good reason to sign up for Criterion as the channel offers, per the description on its home page, a “streaming library of more than 1,000 important classic and contemporary films, plus a constantly refreshed selection of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent films from major studios and dozens of independent distributors.”
THE FILM: The Flaming Lips Space Bubble Film
DIRECTED BY: Wayne Coyne and Blake Studdard
RELEASED: November 1, 2022
STARRING: Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and Jacob Ingalls
RUNTIME: One hour, twenty-six minutes
SYNOPSIS (per criterionchannel.com): This blissful concert documentary tells the story behind an ingenious spectacle devised by psych-rock legends the Flaming Lips in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the Space Bubble Concerts, in which band and audience members alike were encased in individual, transparent orbs. Starting simply as an image that Wayne Coyne, the leader and visual artist of the band, drew as a funny reflection on life in 2020, the idea captured the imagination of fans and media alike and the band soon proceeded to make the COVID-safe space-bubble concerts a reality. THE FLAMING LIPS SPACE BUBBLE FILM chronicles the myriad logistical challenges of putting on the show at the height of the pandemic and the glory of music created by a band connecting to an audience in a joyous, safe, and socially distanced way never tried before.
SOMETIMES WHEN WE TOUCH
Release date streaming: On Paramount+ ... debuted January 3, 2023
Executive Producers: David Gale, Floris Bauer, Barry Barclay, Joanna Zwickel, Chuck Thompson, Lauren Lazin, Bruce Gillmer and Vanessa WhiteWolf
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: Tomatometer and Audience scores not yet available as of this particular Musicasaurus posting of 2/26/23
Film Review Snippet from Rottentomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You—to watch, or not to watch: This 2/26/23 Musicasaurus post is way early in terms of being able to round up, from Rottentomatoes.com, a number of critics’ reviews of the documentary. Right now there is only a single review there, and it is a 1/24/23 write-up by Johnny Loftus originally on Decider.com, part of that websites’ “Stream It or Skip It” section.
Here is what reviewer Loftus said:“ Sometimes When We Touch [on Paramount+] is a three-episode docu series that explores soft rock, the super seventies genre of pop music that blended sensitive lyrics, feathered hair, and open-collar rayon shirts with smooth harmonies, piano leads, and memorable melodies. The MTV Studios production combines narration and archival footage with contemporary interviews, both with those who were there and those who still remember the songs, from Kenny Loggins, Marilyn McCoo and Toni Tennile to Sheryl Crow, LA Reid, Big Boi, and Stewart Copeland.”
The first episode is Reign; Rottentomatoes’ provided summary: “As America gets in touch with itself, major artists of the era and today relive 1970s soft rock.”
The second episode is Ruin; Rottentomatoes’ provided summary: “Trashed by the music press and ridiculed in pop culture, soft rock hits rock bottom in the 1980s; Air Supply and Rupert "Piña Colada" Holmes deal with milquetoast accusations as careers plummet and soft rock descends into irrelevance.”
And the third episode is Resurrection; Rottentomatoes’ provided summary: “The fantastic resurrection in music history begins when Warren G samples Michael McDonald then Yacht Rock sets sail; a staple of hip hop, movies, TV and social media, soft rockers are finally getting the respect they've always deserved.”
While filling my shopping cart recently on Amazon.com, I decided to put my near-future satisfactions in the hands of the Police...So I bought the following two concert DVDs, curious about what a gap of 24 years might look and sound like in terms of two different tours, that many years apart.
- Synchronicity Concert / DVD released in 1984 - From their 1983/1984 Synchronicity tour.
- Certifiable: Live in Buenos Aires / DVD released in 2008 - From their 2007/2008 reunion tour.
When the shipment arrived, musicasaurus.com did a quick experiment right out of the box (or boxes, technically). I took one song, and not any of the hits which have nestled sometimes too well into our consciousness; to seek some measure of objectivity, I chose a track from the band’s first studio album Outlandos d’Amour from 1978--“Hole In My Life”.
It’s been a favorite album track of mine through the years, all punky and propulsive. How would the songs compare? In this corner: The Police during their initial 9-year ascension to global superstardom. In the other corner: The Police reunited after 21 years apart--and was it for Love? Or was it for Money? Was it for Love of Money?
Comparing the Two Performances of "Hole In My Life" (performed live, 24 years apart):
- ’84: Bassist/Vocalist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland look hungry (in terms of putting every bit of energy into the song). They’re animated and focused.
- ’08: The trio tries, but to musicasaurus.com’s eyes and ears, there’s just a bit of a lag in the song’s rhythmic energy.
- ’84: The song has an irresistible one-word chant of “YEAH!” that crops up on the choruses. Various fist-pumping audience members are seen--in quick, one-second edits--energetically providing these “yeahs”.
- ’08: Sting attempts to get some yeah, yeah, yeahs from the crowd, but it doesn’t appear to completely “rock the house” as it did 24 years earlier.
The On-Stage Look:
- ’84: Sting has a cockatoo haircut (perhaps each time record sales spiked, he did so to his head). Plus he’s wearing some kind of multi-colored tattered and fringed vest that looks like Big Bird’s been chased down by a kindergarten art class who were running with scissors.
- ’08: Sting’s in a black T-shirt and jeans; no fashion excess this time, just confidence on display.
- ’84: The video isn’t in high-def, no duh, but the overall quality isn’t too bad on DVD...The edits help propel the song; they don’t fall prey (as some do) to a tendency toward extremely dizzying cuts and distracting camera angles.
- ’08: The big news here is on the stage itself: The reunion tour had the buck$, so the band has huge on-stage video-screens to benefit the poverty-stricken ticket holders at the back of the venue (tickets ranged from $50 back there, to $225 up front--kind of a crime, but useless to call The Police.)
Released to theaters: May 13, 2016
Release date streaming: July 26, 2016
Written and directed by: John Carney (who also directed the films Once and Begin Again)
Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Martina Niland and John Carney
Running time: One hour, 46 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 95% on the Tomatometer ... 92%Audience score
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You—to watch, or not to watch:
Ann Hornaday - Washington Post: Warm, ingratiating, with a beat you can dance to, Sing Street is a feel-good movie that never demands to be liked. Instead it asks, politely and irresistibly.
Geoffrey Macnab - Independent (UK): For at least half its running length Sing Street is tremendous: a coming of age story set in early ‘80s Dublin that has the comic poignance and truthfulness of a Gregory's Girl or a Son of Rambow.
Katie Walsh - Los Angeles Times: A sweetly funny, charming and poignant depiction of this very specific time in life--at once universal and specific--when anything seems possible. And with killer pop tunes to boot.
Christopher Orr - The Atlantic: I could scarcely be more delighted to report that Carney has rediscovered the magic of Once with Sing Street, another tiny, winsome charmer set in Dublin.
Sara Michelle Fetters - Moviefreak.com: Sing Street, while not telling a tale that could be labeled as anything close to original, still crackles with an innovative vitality all its own, making its climactic leaps into the starry-eyed unknown all the more wonderful because of this.
Ryan Gilbey - New Statesman: If anything, it's even better than The Commitments because it doesn't go in for the slick manipulation associated with that film's director, Alan Parker.
Moira MacDonald- Seattle Times: Carney has an uncanny way of telling a story through music. Sing Street reminds us of being young and lost in a song, realizing with a jolt that someone else had the same feelings we did.
Released to theaters: August 17, 2018
Release date streaming: November 13, 2018
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa and Jeffrey Soros
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 83% on the Tomatometer...74% Audience score
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
Joe Reid - Decider: Author and screenwriter Nick Hornby feels like he’s been gravitating to something like Juliet, Naked for his whole career. His previous books-to-movies have included High Fidelity, where a record-store proprietor mourns his romantic failings amid a life obsessed with mixtapes and playlists and conflating music taste with self-worth, and About a Boy, whose movie version excised a lot of the original’s time-specific material about the death of Kurt Cobain but still tells the story of a feckless bachelor with too much time and money on his hands.
With Juliet, Naked, brought to the screen by director Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother) and screenwriters as notable as Tamara Jenkins (The Savages; the recent Private Life), Jim Taylor (Sideways), and Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams), the classic Hornby notions are all there.
Wendy Ide - The Observer (UK): Adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby Juliet, Naked deftly shifts the perspective of Hornby’s perennial themes—music, obsessive male fandom—and looks at them through the eyes of the long-suffering woman who has to live with them. For Annie (Rose Byrne), the charm of the boyish enthusiasms of her partner, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), has long since worn off. Duncan is obsessed with Tucker Crowe, an enigmatic rocker who vanished from the public eye after having released one slightly drippy-sounding album. But even as Annie’s relationship crumbles, she strikes up a transatlantic email friendship with none other than Tucker himself (Ethan Hawke).
Moira MacDonald - Seattle Times: Juliet, Naked is basically what would happen if you put Almost Famous and You've Got Mail in a blender and then poured the contents out in a picturesque English seaside town; none of which is a terrible idea.
LIVE AID—July 13, 1985.....Various artists; staged simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.....DVD released in November 2004.
Live Aid distilled down to its essence is...Bob Geldof. If ever oh ever a Wiz there was, Geldof was, because because...because of the wonderful thing he did: originating and orchestrating a famine-relief concert of unbelievable scope, directly benefiting sub-Saharan Africa and directly injecting, with a higher purpose, a billion and a half people who in part or in total watched this televised, multi-continent concert on July 13, 1985.
In 1985 no mobile phones existed...no email...computers weren’t a part of most people’s lives, and fax machines were just on the rise...and Geldof almost singlehandedly mobilized and mounted this historic event that was beamed across the globe, raising both funds and moral consciousness in a quest to alleviate human suffering in Africa, where millions were dying from a famine that had swept across that continent.
Geldof was also behind the fundraising-for-Africa song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” a multi-artist sing-along released as a single in Britain and the U.S. in November 1984. This was the precursor to Live Aid, as Geldof felt he had to do more to raise funds and awareness.
There is a book you should read: Geldof’s autobiography entitled Is That It?, published in 1986. It’s his life-long story from an Irish upbringing through 1985’s Live Aid, and his post-concert, politically-charged watchdog efforts to ensure that the funds directly benefitted those in need.
Some years ago I gift-wrapped a couple of copies of Is That It? and presented them to my two daughters on Christmas morning. The book itself is 352 pages; the last 100 of them deal with Geldof’s awakened state, his take-no-prisoners approach to establishing the Band Aid Trust (beneficiary of the November ’84 fundraising song and the July ’85 Live Aid event), his laser-focus on enlisting the bands and skilled supporters of every stripe, and his absolute refusal to be swept aside, turned away, or misdirected from his goal. It is required reading for the soul—and so said the inscription I wrote inside the cover of each of the book copies that I gave to my daughters.
Geldof never intended for there to be a filmed record of the event and the performances, due to the anticipated legal wrangling and virtually no time to fully bring that particular concept to fruition. So this DVD is a bit of a miracle itself—footage from the BBC and MTV was discovered, examined, and assembled, some of it requiring “surgery” and other performances—like Zeppelin’s “reunion” and a highly-hailed Bob Dylan-Ron Wood-Keith Richards set—lost for all time.
According to the liner notes in the Live Aid DVD package, all of the performers appeared at Live Aid free of charge, and also waived any royalties/fees for having their performances included in this DVD set.
Last but not least: In 1985, Live Aid raised over $80 million dollars for African famine relief.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended tracks:
* “Bad” – U2.....Do you know the Mullet Man, who lives in Ire-land? Bono on a bad-hair day leads the band through a hair-raising version of “Bad,” and at one point in the song he makes a direct one-on-one connection with his massive stadium audience.
* “Roxanne” – Sting.....Sting does his thing with just Branford Marsalis assisting on soprano sax.
* “Slave To Love” – Bryan Ferry.....The former lead singer for Roxy Music performs a song from his 1985 solo release Boys and Girls. David Gilmour from Pink Floyd provides the haunting guitar work.
* “Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits and Sting.....This match-up delivers “live” what was once committed to wax on Dire Straits’ 1984 album Brothers In Arms (the song was a huge hit for the band and the MTV video flourished as well).
* “Radio Gaga” – Queen.....Mercury rising, for sure...The Wembley Stadium audience is enraptured by Freddie’s charismatic front-man moves, and it is a staggering sight when his entreaty to rhythmically clap along is answered—in perfect unison—by the approximately 80,000 fans in attendance.
* “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – The Who.....One of the best live bands ever performs a song from Who’s Next, and though original drummer Moon had risen to the skies seven years prior, new kit basher Kenny Jones powers the band along led by the windmill moves of guitarist Pete Townshend and the microphone hurling of vocalist Roger Daltrey.
* “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Mick Jagger & Tina Turner.....A great pairing, this is chockfull of Mick’s moves and manic expressions, and—alliteratively speaking—tantalizing Tina titillates.
* “What You Need” – INXS.....This performance by the Australian band was part of “Oz for Africa,” which ran the same day as Live Aid in Philly and London. The band cooks, and lead singer Michael Hutchence exudes Jagger-like confidence in his stage strutting and singing. A powerful performance.
* “I Don’t Like Mondays” – The Boomtown Rats (Bob Geldof’s band).....Geldof and his band deliver an impassioned performance of this classic song from their 1979 release The Fine Art of Surfacing. The song is based on the true account of a January 1979 school shooting in San Diego, and the teenaged girl who perpetrated the crime famously offered up that excuse. There is a line in the song that says “...and the lesson today is how to die”—and when Geldof gets to that particular line, the stadium of concert-goers begin to roar with the recognition that the meaning has a deep, double resonance that day. It is a chilling, up-the-spine moment to see Geldof stopped mid-song by the outpouring from the many, many thousands in attendance.
*Rotten Tomatoes describes it as “a cinematic odyssey exploring Bowie's creative, spiritual and musical journey. From the visionary mind of Brett Morgen, Moonage Daydream features captivating, never-before-seen footage and performances spanning David Bowie's 54-year career. The film includes 40 exclusively remastered Bowie songs and is the first film ever sanctioned by the Bowie Estate, with local access to the artists' archives.”
- Released to theaters: September 23, 2022
- When & where streamable: currently on VUDU or Prime to either rent or buy.
- Written, produced and directed by: Brett Morgen
- Running time: two hours and 14 minutes
- Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 92% on the Tomatometer...76% Audience score.
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
Adam Kempenaar - Filmspotting: Moonage Daydream is a documentary about David Bowie that does all it can to avoid being a typical documentary--and it succeeds. It isn’t a cradle-to-grave investigation of the performer’s life, even though most of it follows chronological order. It isn’t a concert film, even though there is a lot footage of him on stage. All facts about the man come straight from the horse’s mouth, via old clips, yet half of them contradict one another. Still, you come away feeling that you saw a side of this beloved artist you never knew about before. It’s quite a feat.
Christy Lemire - FilmWeek (KPCC-NPR Los Angeles) from a review on a podcast: This is an experience. This is an immersive, kaleidoscopic fantasia of David Bowie, and his life and his career and his art. This is the first movie about Bowie that his estate has said “yes” to. They turned over to [director] Brett Morgen five million pieces of material; all this video, all these interviews, never-before-seen footage, recordings, artwork, writings, and so it took him five years to edit this thing. It took him eighteen months just to edit the really cool, trippy graphics and the visual interludes that go in between them.
Carl Wilson - Slate: If Morgen’s previous music documentary, about Kurt Cobain, was titled Montage of Heck, this one might be called Montaged as Fuck. The crossfades and superimpositions are almost perpetual, and too often the effect is to slurry the material into a sinking quicksand. The grist is often great--little-seen concert footage, alternate versions of songs famous and obscure, clips from earlier documentaries, acting roles, and so on--but their potency can’t survive being mashed and VFX’d into a two-hour-and-20-minute music video. What could?
Stephanie Zacharek - TIME magazine: Morgen begins with the artist’s Ziggy Stardust persona circa the early ’70s: he was a slender reed of a man with a choppy strawberry-red haircut, eyes rimmed with stark eyeliner. The concert footage Morgen chooses from this era is electrifying: Bowie is part butterfly, part untouchable glitter god, a creature of splendid beauty whose remoteness is part of his appeal. The crowd of English kids who turn out for his concerts can’t get enough...What’s fascinating about this early section of the film is how devoted these young people are to a figure who held himself safely away from them, even as he gave his all during performances...Morgen also includes archival clips of Bowie appearing on talk shows both in the States and the U.K., and, in his shy, awkward way, explaining his ideas about gender fluidity, long before there was an accepted term for it...These early sections of the film are the most affecting, capturing how extraordinary Bowie was for his time. No wonder those kids, in their ragtag finery, adored him.
*Released to theaters and streaming November 18, 2022
*Directed by Tim Sutton
*One hour and 38 minutes
* Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 64% on the Tomatometer...96% Audience score.
* Cast includes: Machine Gun Kelly, Maddie Hasson, Demetrius "Lil Meech" Flenory, Ruby Rose, Scoot McNairy and Lil Tjay
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
Noel Murray - Los Angeles Times: The actor and musician Colson Baker--a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly--plays a depressed, drug-addicted pop star named Cole in writer-director Tim Sutton’s arty indie drama “Taurus,” which blurs the lines between expressionism and docu-realism in its portrait of the pressures of fame. Set across the course of several doomy days in Cole’s life, the film sticks uncomfortably close to him as he stumbles through a swirl of personal drama, promotional appearances, fan adulation and decadent indulgence, interrupted by the occasional jolt of actual creativity. The movie’s insights into celebrity don’t penetrate far below the surface and they sometimes seem to skew dark for darkness’ sake. But Sutton and his cast do craft some sequences that really hum, particularly in the combative give-and-take between Cole and his long-suffering assistant Ilana (Maddie Hasson). At its best, “Taurus” captures the tumult of the artistic process, where happy accidents and unpleasant truths are perpetually in conflict.
Katie Rife - RogerEbert.com: Like all addicts, “Taurus” has its moments of clarity. Midway through writer/director Tim Sutton’s mind-numbingly indulgent character study of an uninteresting rap-rock musician, Cole Taurus (Colson Baker, a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly) sits down for an on-camera interview. Up to this point, the character has barely been sentient enough to form a full sentence. But once the reporter starts asking him questions, he comes alive, speaking intelligently and articulately about art, fame, and other big ideas. It’s enough to suggest that maybe there is more to this character, and to “Taurus,” than there appears to be on the surface. But the reprieve is brief. For the majority of this film’s 106-minute running time, Cole has all the charisma of a rag soaked in chloroform. At one point, he sucks nitrous oxide out of a metal canister, then sits with his eyes half-closed and his head flopping on top of his tattooed neck for nearly a full minute before picking up his phone and berating a woman who we soon find out is the mother of his child. We watch him pass out in a pool, on a couch, in the passenger seat of a car, and in the bedroom of an abandoned house he stumbles into while a girlfriend scores drugs across the street.
David Ehrlich - IndieWire.com: With “Taurus,” director Sutton casts musician and tabloid fixture Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) as a parallel universe version of himself: A wildly popular rap-rocker named Cole whose emergent mega-fame has loosened what little grasp of personal agency this beautiful and spindly 31-year-old drug addict once had left. In real life, Baker has been able to pull himself back from the brink, forge an identity on his own terms, and survive everything from a brutal cameo in “Jackass Forever” to a winsome lead performance in Cameron Crowe’s “Roadies” along the way (the latter as dangerous to his bad boy image as the former was to his body). The character he plays here might not be quite so lucky...The warts-and-all honesty that Baker brings to the table doesn’t prevent Sutton from repackaging his story as a simple cautionary tale about an industry--and a society--that will fatten people up just to eat them alive. At least it’s a tale that Baker lived to tell, and refused to let anyone else tell for him.
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY
- Directed by Eric Appel
- Written by Eric Appel and Al Yankovic
- Limited theatrical release date: November 1, 2022
- Streaming release date: November 4, 2020 on Roku
- Runtime: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
* Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 85% on the Tomatometer...85% Audience score.
* Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe in the title role...Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna...Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento...and Julianne Nicholson as Mary Yankovic.
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
Gregory Wakeman - Chicago Reader: The film’s playful parody of the genre is delightfully in tune with the legendary musician’s own work.
Thelma Adams - AARP Movies for Grownups: This feel-good life story lionizes the kinky-haired accordion player while simultaneously taking the piss out of him. It’s so Weird Al.
Nick Allen - rogerebert.com: A pop music phantasmagoria that’s equally egoless and entertaining.
Bilge Eberi - New York Magazine/Vulture: This fake Weird Al movie could have used some of the real Weird Al’s cleverness. Weird doesn’t feel like a parody; it feels like an impostor.
Melanie McFarland - Salon.com: The reality of a rock star's story is often more sobering than the fantasy built around them. Whether that's true of Yankovic may be revealed in another work. He's in control of this one, and we'll happily laugh along.
Amy Nicholson - New York Times: Radcliffe is winningly guileless in his performance, twitching his costume-y eyebrows and mustache like gentle bunny ears even as he lip-syncs “Another One Rides the Bus” with such commitment that his neck veins nearly pop.
Wendy Ide - Observer (UK): It’s mildly amusing, and Evan Rachel Wood is great fun as an evil Madonna. But one joke – even a joke as bizarre as this – is not enough to sustain a whole movie.
The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Volume I...released in 1997 (Automatic Productions/Columbia Music Video)
This is a collection of in-studio performances by a variety of artists, captured during Sessions at West 54th’s premiere season in 1997. The program ran on APT (American Public Television), a sub-group of PBS stations nationwide.
The production values are killer—digital video and Surround Sound audio; recorded at Sony Music Studios on West 54th Street in Manhattan.
The recording environment consists of a small (and reverent) studio audience, while on-stage it’s just the artist in his or her element—no dry ice, no flash pots, no laser lightshow. The performances shine through in this intimate set-up and setting so you get a real glimpse of an artist in the zone.
Musicasaurus.com’s Recommended Tracks:
* “32 Flavors” by Ani DiFranco
It’s DiFranco with just two other musicians, a bass player and drummer, and she weaves a spell as the camera unobtrusively captures her passion close-up. DiFranco’s garbed in blonde and pink tresses, tattoos, and nose ring, and might look to the uninitiated like she should be wielding a chainsaw as part of her act, but “32 Flavors” unfolds with quiet beauty and no flash or excess—just the artist and her exquisite voice, and her total command of mood, feel and vibe.
* “I Feel So Good” by Richard Thompson
Thompson is truly in his element—armed with just his acoustic guitar and his wicked wit, he snarls out a tune from his 1991 album Rumor and Sigh that is indicative of his vision of love: “I feel so good I’m going to break somebody’s heart tonight."
* “People Have The Power” by Patti Smith
Patti has the Power...Smith and her longtime band mates grind out a bewitching rendition of this “anthem for the people” originally recorded for her 1988 album Dream of Life. I first became aware of this lyrically inspiring call to action when Springsteen, Michael Stipe, Bright Eyes, John Fogerty and others employed it as the rousing, closing number on the Philadelphia stop of the 2004 “Vote For Change” tour.
* The Rest of the DVD includes...Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (“Back to Basics” from Blood On The Fields).....Suzanne Vega with acoustic guitar, backed by just cello, clarinet, accordion & bass (“Caramel”).....Ben Folds Five (“Smoke”).....Yo-Yo Ma (“Libertango”).....Keb’ Mo’ (“Just Like You”).....Daniel Lanois (“Orange Kay”).....Jane Siberry (“Love is Everything”).....and more.
SOUNDBREAKING / Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music (2016 PBS television series)
Here’s a gem if you missed it during its premier broadcast on PBS in the Spring of 2016, or through occasional rebroadcasts. It’s available now to stream on Prime Video (for a per-episode fee or a full 8-episode season charge) and via a few other such outlets as well, OR it’s obtainable on DVD in a four-disc set.
One doesn’t have to be a music insider to appreciate this close-up view of the march toward more innovation and creative freedom in the world of music production. Interest level is maintained throughout because of the masterful editing and the “sound" content—landmark recordings dissected gleefully by hands-on producers like George Martin (the “fifth Beatle” at all Abbey Road recording sessions) and Rick Rubin (who benevolently nurtured disparate artists from the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy to Neil Diamond and late-career Johnny Cash).
There are also quite a few artist interviews including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Devo, Ben Harper, Roger Waters, Dr. Dre, Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, The Black Keys and Annie Lennox, and a fascinating look at the initial springboard of recording technology in the 1960s and the innovations that followed, fueled by tech, trends and artistic creativity.
It’s all here…rock, rap, MTV, disco, Dylan-gone-electric, EDM, sampling, streaming, and what’s bubbling up. This fascinating 8-episode series was vetted by musicasaurus.com himself, but more importantly his non-music-industry significant other Mary Ellen who was used as the “control” in this experiment and whose enthusiasm jumped the baseline into something close to awe.
(Next post: Sunday, October 23, 2022)
NOTHING COMPARES...A Showtime documentary on Sinéad O'Connor.
Rotten Tomatoes scoring: 98% on the Tomatometer...91% Audience score.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Summary: NOTHING COMPARES is the story of Sinéad O'Connor's phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and how her iconoclastic personality resulted in her exile from the pop mainstream. Focusing on her prophetic words and deeds from 1987-1993, the film reflects on the legacy of this fearless artist through a contemporary feminist lens.
What the Critics Said:
Noel Murray - Los Angeles Times, 9/30/22: Director Kathryn Ferguson had remarkable access to her subject’s home movie footage and TV appearances, which she pairs with new interviews to tell the story of how O’Connor came roaring out of Ireland at the end of the 1980s, shocking the pop mainstream with her shaved head and her impassioned and thorny--but undeniably catchy--art-rock.
Nothing Compares stays confined to the six-year whirlwind when O’Connor was at her most famous, and steers clear of the decades of scandals that followed. This is clearly a conscious--and astute--choice by Ferguson, who means to show that even at the peak of her commercial powers, O’Connor was questioned, mocked and belittled. The film ends with a long montage of scenes from the past three decades of news reports about the issues the singer tried to called attention to, interspersed with images of modern pop stars who have taken stands without the same repercussions. The world may be more used to Sinéad O’Connor types now.
Richard Roeper - Chicago Sun-Times, 10/2/2022: Director Ferguson weaves together archival footage and some re-creations with an extended interview with O’Connor, 55, whose insights are delivered via voice-over. “There was no therapy when I was growing up,” she says, “so the reason I got into music was therapy. [So] it was such a shock to me to become a pop star, it’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to scream.”
Donald Clarke - The Irish Times, 10/7/22: If you are looking for someone to take Sinéad O’Connor to task, you have come to the wrong place. There are decades of tabloid headlines to do that for you. Kathryn Ferguson’s film doesn’t have a thesis exactly, but if it did--and, again, it doesn’t--it would be that O’Connor was right all along and many of us owe her an apology. But Nothing Compares is also here to celebrate a unique run in pop music. O’Connor’s recordings from 1987 to 1992 have--one unavoidable song aside--been unfairly overshadowed by the wave of controversy that reached its peak with her appearance on Saturday Night Live 30 years ago.
Susan Wloszczyna - Alliance of Women Film Journalists, 9/28/22: ...most infamously, this entertainer, then age 25 and a member of the Catholic faith decided to make a bold statement while performing on Saturday Night Live about how clergy members had a habit of sexually abusing children by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II. O’Conner was supposed to perform in Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992 where she was to participate as part of a gala to celebrate her idol Bob Dylan’s three decade recording career. She was to supposed to sing I Believe in You from the 1979 album Slow Train Coming. But she never got to deliver that rendition: boos and cat calls greeted her arrival. She decided to sing a cappella version of Bob Marley’s song War – the song she performed on SNL.
O’Conner, now 55, never quite hit the heights of her earlier career again. Still she has recorded 11 albums and continues doing live shows. Would this ever happen to a male pop artist? Who knows? But she did open the door a bit for other female singers to express themselves as artists and also be a sentient being worthy of thought, opinions, ideas and emotions.
POSTED SEPTEMBER 26, 2022
THE RE$ULT$ ARE IN!
MUSICASAURUS' ANNUAL FUNDRAISER TO HELP THE GREATER PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY FOOD BANK RAISED A GRAND TOTAL OF $37,315.50!
The “Tunes for Tables 2022” fundraiser benefiting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank concluded last night (Sunday, September 25, 2022) just before midnight, and the re$ult$ are in: In this one-week campaign we raised a grand total of $37,315.50 inclusive of the generous gift from the William Talbott Hillman Foundation (in honor of Margot Gloninger Jones (1952-2007), and also--notably--through many donations from people like you.
One hundred and four individuals, in donations large and small, helped us reach that astounding grand total--astounding because of how far this amount of money will go in helping our neighbors in need throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. This $37,315.50 will enable the Pittsburgh Food Bank to provide up to 186,577 meals.
And the demand “out there” in the community is undiminished. For the first time in two years, the need for food assistance has spiked back to pandemic highs. The reasons are clear: Inflation, the rise in gas prices, and percentage changes in the price of food from last year to this year--meat, poultry, fish & eggs, up 14.2%...dairy, up 11.8%...fruits & vegetables, up 8.5%...and on and on. And at this point in time, 1 in 7 southwestern Pennsylvanians face hunger and 1 in 5 children are in similar dire circumstances.
I give those of you who donated my sincere thanks, AND those of President & CEO Lisa Scales and her entire team at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
THE OTHER F WORD
Written and directed by Andrea Blaugrund...Released for streaming January 31, 2012...Runtime: 1h 38m.
The Director’s Synopsis of the Documentary from imdb.com: What happens when a generation's ultimate anti-authoritarians--punk rockers--become society's ultimate authorities--dads? With a large chorus of Punk Rock's leading men--Blink-182's Mark Hoppus, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, and Rise Against's Tim McIlrath--The Other F Word also follows Jim Lindberg, 20-year veteran of skate punk band Pennywise, on his hysterical and moving journey from belting his band's anthem “Fuck Authority” to embracing his ultimately pivotal authoritarian role in mid-life, fatherhood.
Film Review Snippets from Rottontomatoes.com That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
Kelly Jane Torrance - Washington Examiner: That unlikely image--of boys who have railed against authority turning into men who have it--is explored in Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' entertaining, even eye-opening doc.
David Noh - Film Journal International: Tired conformists or still staunch rebels, whatever you may think of these punk rockers turned parents, this lively, affecting documentary is a highly worthwhile, often hilarious investigation into the ultimate contradiction.
Mark Feeney - Boston Globe: Lindberg's throwaway self-description of himself as getting by during a tour "on Ambien and hair dye'' may be the best line in a movie full of good ones.
Matt Singer - IFC.com: Not just a fluffy portrait of dudes with tattoos and their cute kids.
Joe Heim - Washington Post: There are delicious contrasts between the musicians in full-on punk-rock mode and in full-on dad mode.
Steven Rea - Philadelphia Inquirer: Blink-182's Mark Hoppus has an especially good line about the all-consuming nature of being a pop: "It's like red matter from Star Trek. It just sucks everything in."
Cynthia Fuchs - PopMatters: As punk rock dads recall their own difficult childhoods, their absent fathers and abusive stepfathers, they assert their determination to "be there" for their own kids.
Amy Biancolli - Houston Chronicle: These cute little domestic interludes give The Other F Word a light humor and large awwwww factor that's unavoidable, understandable and entirely un-punk.
THE FILTH AND THE FURY
A documentary by film/documentary/music video director Julian Temple...originally released in theaters on March 29, 2000...Runtime 1 hour, 48 minutes...Distributed by Fine Line Features.
The MPAA rating for this documentary about The Sex Pistols is an R, and their justification is “pervasive strong language, drugs and sexual content.” Could a proper look at the Pistols contain otherwise?
Film synopsis by Nell Minow of Common Sense Media: Twenty years ago, director Julien Temple made The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, a documentary about British punk band the Sex Pistols from the point of view of their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who was presented as a Svengali who conceived and marketed the group. Now, Temple returns with another take on the same story, as the surviving Sex Pistols tell their side.
According to the band members, McLaren was incompetent and corrupt. He played no part in creating the band; all he did was market them badly and take all their money. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) talks about their origins as furious and iconoclastic working-class boys who wanted to make people think about what was going on all around them – and about what was not going on.
When the Sex Pistols formed, thousands were on welfare, and cuts in services left people feeling helpless. The Sex Pistols wanted the working class to question the system, and to fight back. They did everything they could to offend and enjoyed the horrified reactions. But there were a few things that they were not at all prepared to deal with, namely McLaren and band mate Sid Vicious' eventual heroin addiction. Speaking in shadows, Lydon breaks down in tears when he talks about how he could not save his friend.
Film Review Snippets That Will Help Guide You--to watch, or not to watch:
James Sullivan - San Francisco Chronicle: The Sex Pistols, the short-lived London punk band that took rock 'n' roll to the brink and dangled it by its ankles, are subjected to historic re-evaluation in Julien Temple's new documentary. The movie traces all the band's lurid trials--the pious condemnations, the knife attacks, the disastrous Sid Vicious. Above all, it makes one thing clear: This group was wickedly funny.
Roger Ebert - rogerebert.com: The saga of the Sex Pistols is told for the third time in The Filth and the Fury. Not bad for a band that symbolized punk rock but lasted less than two years, fought constantly, insulted the press, spit on their fans, were banned from TV, were fired by one record company 24 hours after being signed, released only one album, pushed safety pins through noses and ear lobes to more or less invent body piercing, broke up during a tour of the United States, and saw front man Sid Vicious accused of murdering his girlfriend and dying of a drug overdose.
Ed Kelleher - Film Journal International: Temple's visually inventive collage of newsreel footage, television commercials, weather reports and similar 'found art' fits neatly into the Sex Pistols saga.
Russell Smith - Austin Chronicle: For a band that lasted only a couple of years, cut just one proper album and failed miserably at their bombastically-stated goal of torching the fly-blown carcass of corporate rock music, the Sex Pistols somehow managed to create a legacy of surprising durability...The ultimate closing argument for the Pistols' artistic legacy is their music, which Temple documents at great length with clips from his own archives and other films of the era such as Don Letts' cult gem, The Punk Rock Movie.
FILLMORE: THE LAST DAYS
THE FILM WAS RELEASED 50 YEARS AGO IN 1972. THE RELEASE ON DVD CAME IN 2009.
This single-disc DVD is a music documentary about the final shows at promoter Bill Graham’s famous Fillmore West venue in San Francisco. The performances were recorded from June 30 through July 4, 1971 and showcase the acts that Graham put on stage through the years at this storied venue.
It ain’t no Last Waltz in terms of production values, but as a testament to the thriving music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it’s a keeper. The split-screen shots, a la Woodstock, add to the smile-inducing flashback effect of watching this now fifty-year-old film.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended tracks:
* “You Got Me Hummin’” by Cold Blood - The pint-sized lead singer for this rock and funk powerhouse of a band is Lydia Pense, and she growls and yowls a lot like her contemporary, Janis Joplin (who reportedly recommended the band to Graham for eventual booking). Cold Blood also features a sizzlin’ horn section, but it is Pense’s performance that raises temperatures, and almost the roof.
* “Uncle Sam’s Blues” by Hot Tuna - Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady anchor this blues-based outfit, and here violinist Papa John Creach gives the performance a saucy swing quotient as well.
* “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service - This guitar-driven outfit says “happy trails” to the Fillmore by playing one of their signature tunes from their fourth album Just For Love, a more rock-oriented record than the preceding Quicksilver releases that trafficked in more expansive music tinged with psychedelia, blues and jazz.
* “White Bird” by It’s A Beautiful Day - An interesting curio...The performance is so-so, and it is truncated and interrupted by some of Graham’s musings about the Flower Power generation, but it may be the only decent footage of this genre-blending San Francisco band that never quite ascended to widespread reverence and success like their San Franciscan peers.
* “Incident At Neshabur” and “In A Silent Way” - Santana - A percolating, percussion-driven jam that ebbs and flows, “Incident At Neshabur” is a song from the band’s classic 1970 album Abraxas. This is followed by a jazz-rock spin that Santana puts on Miles Davis’ classic composition “In A Silent Way,” and in a way, it foretells the future directions of Carlos Santana in his various side projects and exploits to come.
* Other Artists featured on the disc: Lamb, Jefferson Airplane, Jerry Garcia with The New Riders of The Purple Sage, Grateful Dead and The Elvin Bishop Group.
Rottentomatoes.com said this about the 2014 documentary Mistaken for Strangers which centers on siblings Matt Berninger of the band the National and his brother Tom Berninger: A suitably complicated look at fraternal bonds, Mistaken for Strangers offers more depth and insight than the usual tour documentary.
92% TOMATOMETER ... 85% AUDIENCE SCORE.
AND THE CRITICS SAID:
* Ann Hornaday of Washington Post (4/4/14): “The best thing about Mistaken for Strangers, a new documentary about the band the National, is that you don't have to be a fan to enjoy it.”
* Johnathan Romney of Film Comment (4/28/14): “After years of being wholly or partly bamboozled by documentaries that aren’t 100 percent bona fide, it may no longer be of much critical value to use terms like “mock doc”—but it’s clear that at the very least, Mistaken for Strangers turned at some point in its making into a very playful masquerade.”
* Sheri Linden of Los Angeles Times (4/3/14): “When amateur filmmaker Tom Berninger’s rock-star brother Matt, frontman for Brooklyn quintet the National, invited him to be a roadie on his band’s biggest tour, Tom had never even been on a tour bus. His lack of experience did not serve him well during his initiation into the business, but a funny thing happened on the way to the concert hall: Tom turned defeat into a documentary that’s insightful, sweet and often hilarious.”
* Susan Wloszczyna of rogerebert.com (3/28/14): “...a gently amusing and ultimately poignant Can and Not Able tale, about a rising rock star and his younger slacker sibling as they try to lessen the gulf between them created by one's great success and the other's countless failings.”
* Leslie Felperin of Guardian (6/26/14): “Charitably hired by Matt to work as a roadie, the feckless Tom struggles to do the simplest things he's paid to, like fetch towels and make sure the guest list gets to the venue's front door. Instead, he gets drunk, fails to show up on time, and noodles about with his camera compiling footage for this doc, much to the annoyance of his brother, the band and the management. The result is an amusing, and occasionally touching meditation on fame, sibling rivalry and ambition, with a sweet payoff.”
Jethro Tull – Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (released in 2004 by Eagle Vision).
- Clearly defining this band is a Tull order. English folk mixed with progressive rock? Jazz and Blues and Hard Rock? Even the Grammys were confused in 1989 when their brand new category of “Hard Rock/Metal Performance” pitted the following five against each other: AC/DC, Iggy Pop, Jane’s Addiction, Metallica, and Jethro Tull. The latter won, which surprised the hell out of Tull, and I’m sure they held tight to their plane luggage for years afterward if they spotted any Metallica worshippers in airports.
- Formed in England in 1967, Tull was fronted by the charismatic flautist/guitarist singer-songwriter Ian Anderson, and the band’s first couple of albums mixed blues, even a touch of jazz, with the heavy English folk influence and the propensity to rock.
- The band toured incessantly in the late 1960s and early 1970s in England and America and also on the festival circuits, winning converts through the music but also through Anderson’s stage style: You’d think he’d coined the term “Kickstarter” the way he pranced and high-stepped with his left leg, all the while blowing out mind-bending, aggressive flute solos above the solid rock fray.
- This concert DVD captures the band in 1970 at England’s Isle of Wight festival in front of a reported 600,000 people, and is a fine representative look at the early fury of a Tull performance.
- “Musicasaurus.com’s “IF I HAD TO PICK ONE...okay, TWO”:
- “My Sunday Feeling” illustrates their jazz and blues inclinations within their ever-present propulsive rock style...The studio recording of this song appeared on their debut album This Was, released in 1968.
- “Nothing Is Easy”, originally appearing on the band’s Stand Up album from ’69, is the tour de force here, a blistering performance with Anderson absolutely flute-frenzied while stage prowling like a mad minstrel. The band behind him—Martin Barre on electric guitar, Clive Bunker on drums, Glenn Cornick on bass, and John Evan on keyboards—locks into the ride, and overall this is a great time-capsule track that preserves for us the band’s sophisticated assault and their unique blend of hard rock, progressive rock, English folk and blues.
Musicasaurus is taking the day off here for the 6/26/22 post in “DANCING WITH MR. D…VD”--BUT BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE BRAND NEW POSTS IN THESE OTHER TWO SECTIONS OF THE WEBSITE: “Building A Mixtery” AND “A Day in the Life.”
Steve Hunter – Tone Poems Live...(DVD released in September 2014)
Most famous for his 1970s stints with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed (especially on 1974’s Rock n Roll Animal) and Peter Gabriel, this Hunter was not a gatherer—of fame, that is. At least not on a grand scale. His album/compact disc output through the decades has been sporadic but always worthwhile, and now he’s stepped out on his own for a first DVD of full-band instrumental performances.
His band mates here include 1) Tony Levin, a bassist most famous for his longtime association with Peter Gabriel; 2) Phil Aaberg, a keyboardist who early on was part of the new age label Windham Hill and who also has played with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Darol Anger, John Hiatt and Peter Gabriel; and 3) accomplished session drummer Alvino Bennett.
The vibe is “relaxed but laser focused,” shot entirely in a studio setting with the musicians all within eye-and-ear shot of each other. It’s a musical mind meld on display.
Best track is the unknown one: “222 W. 23rd”… If you have the time to afford, clear your mind and let this unspool. Beautifully slow, spacious and funky—and lightly skirting the edges of blues and jazz rather than, say, leaning R&B—the tune is very haunting at the same time due to the crystalline production and the interweaving of these skilled, intuitive players.
Musicasaurus.com’s honorable mentions: The rest of it! And besides the Hunter-penned tunes, check out these covers: “Riviera Paradise”, a Stevie Ray Vaughn composition; “Solsbury Hill”, Peter Gabriel’s underground FM hit from the latter’s first solo album from ’77 (on which Hunter played); and a beautiful reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
THE SPARKS BROTHERS…Directed by Edgar Wright…released in theaters June 18, 2021 and released for streaming August 31, 2021…Length: 2 hours, 21 minutes…Distributed by Focus Features.
Rottentomatoes.com posed this question in their brief synopsis of The Sparks Brothers: “How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright's debut documentary…takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band's favorite band.
Here are what some critics were sayin’ about the documentary:
Leonard Maltin of leonardmaltin.com: I am a newcomer to the Sparks phenomenon…But now that I’ve seen Wright’s new documentary The Sparks Brothers I’m a believer. Russell and Ron Mael—yes, they’re actual siblings—have been making their own kind of music for almost fifty years. Iconoclasts through and through, they’ve changed their style of music multiple times, refusing to repeat themselves and willing to alienate some fans by adopting radical new ideas. Through it all, they have remained true to themselves, often using sly, satiric humor to deal with issues of commercialism and loyalty.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian: I have to admit that I really knew little or nothing about Sparks before this, and for a long time I actually thought they were British, basically because Ron’s purse-lipped eye-rolling and grimacing at the camera reminded me of Kenneth Williams or Blakey from On the Buses. But Wright’s film has converted me…they are funny, perhaps uniquely so in genuinely fusing pop music and humour, in their extraordinary, surreal lyrics and brilliant album designs. There is a funny anecdote from Nick Heyward from Haircut One Hundred, who says that as a kid he saw them in the street and was so scared he wanted to hide.
Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times: “The Sparks Brothers” features a treasure trove of concert footage and TV appearances, as well as tributes from musicians who were influenced by them, including Todd Rundgren, Beck, Flea and members of Duran Duran. We also hear from fans such as Patton Oswalt, Fred Armisen and Jason Schwartzman—and most interestingly, we catch up with the Mael brothers in present day. They’re in their 70s and they’re as charming and self-deprecating and lovely as they’ve always been, and they’re still making music. (As one observer notes, if they had been a huge success, they probably would have broken up 30 years ago and wouldn’t be talking to each other.)
Ed Masley of The Arizona Republic [note to Pittsburgh readers: Ed Masley has been covering pop music professionally since 1991. He worked for a number of years in Pittsburgh writing for the Post-Gazette; he started at the Arizona Republic in 2007.]: Edgar Wright's documentary "Sparks Brothers" looks at the art-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, who perform as Sparks…When Sparks were starting out, while Russell was wooing the ladies with his boyishly handsome good looks and spectacular '70s “Tiger Beat” mane, Ron would sit behind his keyboards with a catatonic glare rocking a mustache you could safely say resembled Charlie Chaplin if you'd like…This is a band that performed their first 21 albums in their entirety over the course of 21 consecutive nights. Who does that? Some would argue that their most ambitious work can be a bit impenetrable. Most would grant you that they're weirder than your average pop star.
MUSIC BOX…From executive producer Bill Simmons…This series on HBO covers different subjects per episode such as a close look at music and film producer Robert Stigwood, Alanis Morissette, DMX, Woodstock ’99 and others.
THIS EPISODE OF MUSIC BOX: LISTENING TO KENNY G (premiered December 21, 2021 on HBO)
I remember a 1993 show at Star Lake Amphitheatre when I worked there as marketing director and Kenny G headlined a concert with opening act Peabo Bryson on Friday, June 11. I actually count this concert as one of my most memorable because of the look on the faces of most every man sitting in the pavilion during Kenny G’s performance. I can with some authority say that a lot of our male audience was there that evening out of love and respect for their life partners--or, of course, they were there because they had been threatened with reprisal or they had been whispered sweet nothings of inducement. The look on these men’s faces during the concert was the definition of horizontal; I did not see a hint of a breaking smile, nor a twitch of the lips heading down toward a frown. Hundreds of expressionless men, sitting beside beaming loved ones…
Er...sorry. Back to this particular episode of Music Box, Listening to Kenny G. Currently on rottentomatoes.com the tomatometer ratings are 96% (critics) and 83% (audience score), and a blurb entitled Critics Consensus points out that Listening to Kenny G won't convert skeptics of the famed musician and thankfully doesn't try to, instead delivering a thoughtful deep dive of music appreciation and criticism.”
Here are what some critics were sayin’ about the episode:
Carl Wilson of slate.com pointed out in his December 2, 2021 review that Kenny G--real name Kenneth Gorelick--first gained fame by appearing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1986, and though all parties had previously agreed that Kenny would perform his latest single, the musician switched to a song that he wanted to perform instead. Wilson writes that Kenny was given the finger by the talk show’s booker and the producers of the program subsequently cursed him out. But an Arista Records’ executive’s wife saw the broadcast and told her husband she had loved it. Arista’s mogul Clive Davis then championed the tune Kenny had played--a tune called “Songbird”--and it became a nationwide hit. Soon after that the Tonight Show asked Kenny back and this appearance gave him a huge shot in the arm; he was now on the path to become the bestselling instrumentalist in pop music history…But some of the public and especially jazz purists were unimpressed. According to Wilson, “…the jazz guitar star Pat Metheny went on a famous rant in 2000, after Gorelick inserted his own sax solos into Louis Armstrong’s recording of ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Metheny called Kenny G an at-best-mediocre musician who had committed ‘necrophilia’ and sacrilege against Armstrong and all the other great jazz artists of history, ‘a new low point in modern culture’ that ‘we ignore … at our own peril.’ Along the way, he threatened to brain Kenny G with a guitar if they ever happened to meet.”
Richard Brody of The New Yorker: “The movie tells the straightforward story of how Kenny Gorelick, a teen-age virtuoso in Seattle in the early nineteen-seventies, became the best-selling instrumental artist of all time…It also unstintingly parses the hostility that the musician has long faced from critics, scholars, and others whom Gorelick derides as the ‘jazz police.’ (Some of his detractors appear in talking-head interviews that prove both self-questioning and illuminating.) But, above all, Lane lets Kenny G do the talking, and the playing, and the displaying of his creative process onstage, at home, and in the studio, which comes off as the authentic expression of a distinctive personality—for better or for worse.”
Glenn Kenny of the New York Times: As a music industry story, Kenny G’s rise, engineered by the mogul Clive Davis but at times bucked by the artist himself, is fascinating. The analysis of the link between what makes Kenny G a star and what makes him annoying is spot-on — particularly in its treatment of his relationship to jazz. Celebrated artists in that genre like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk weren’t merely inspired players; they were bandleaders whose musical conceptions stressed instrumental interplay. With Kenny G, his sax is the thing.
Matt Zoller Seitz of rogerebert.com: “…when [the documentary’s director] Lane gets away from the man and focuses on the details of the business of music, a new frontier of understanding opens up. Kenny G recognized himself as a product early, embraced it, connected with his audience, and never looked back. Whether his music actually qualifies as any sort of jazz is beside the point. And even if it were germane to the conversation, you still gotta picture Kenny G reading the takedown piece from a raft in a kidney-shaped pool, behind one of however many mansions he's bought with the fortune he amassed giving the people what they didn't know they wanted.
Vinyl Nation…Directors and producers: Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone…limited release to theaters began on August 28, 2020 and the film was released to streaming outlets on April 19, 2022…distributor: Gilman Hall Pictures…One hour and 33 minutes in length.
On rottentomatoes.com, part of the brief synopsis of this documentary includes this: “Vinyl Nation digs into the crates of the record resurgence in search of truths set in deep wax: Has the return of vinyl made music fandom more inclusive or divided? What does vinyl say about our past here in the present? How has the second life of vinyl changed how we hear music and how we listen to each other?”
All great questions--and the answers vary. The record buyers of today are of a couple of types: 1) There are some older folks who long ago had turned in their last pile of original 1960s-1980s albums to their favorite used record store (for a piddling amount of cash, most likely). But now they’re out there again, scooping up (among other things) the re-releases of the things they had cherished decades ago. And 2) There are also quite a number of younger people--a multicultural mix of both males and females--and these “newcomers” are exploring the warmth of the vinyl sound, and the tactile pleasures of easing a 33 1/3 LP out of its protective album sleeve and gingerly laying the disc on a turntable with tonearm at the ready. These young people then sit back and let the music unfold, as their eyes pore over those things called liner notes…
Here are what a few critics said about Vinyl Nation:
* “The clichéd word that’s most bandied about by vinyl enthusiasts really does apply to the movie that’s been made about it: 'warmth.'” - Chris Willman, Variety
* “Visually stunning and populated with a pleasant set of talking heads who walk viewers through each stage of a record from pressing to purchase, there’s a strong sense of the human element surrounding music, whether the focus is on the production or the consumption. During our America’s current discord, Vinyl Nation is a friendly reminder of this community. - Becca James, Chicago Reader
* “Filmmakers Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler spend most of their time talking to the "passionate weirdos" who love vinyl records, who break their backs lugging their collections from home to home and who make up the lifeblood of the vinyl industry and its resurgence. In doing so, they go after a wide selection of people — young and old, male and female, black and white — rather than sticking to the typical long-haired, middle-aged white guy types who tend to be the stereotypical vinyl consumers. In reaching beyond that demographic, they provide a well-rounded picture of who is collecting vinyl — from the aging hipsters to the Gen-Z Billie Eilish fans to the pre-K set just starting their collections with Disney picture vinyls — and why.” - Adam Graham, Detroit News
The Wrecking Crew – distributed by Magnolia Pictures…initial wide release in March 2015.
In a review of this documentary in the March 12, 2015 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the publication’s film critic Kenneth Turan started out his assessment this way: “To Beach Boys guru Brian Wilson, ‘they were the ones with all the spirit and all the know-how.’ To Nancy Sinatra, they were ‘unsung heroes,’ to Herb Alpert, ‘an established groove machine.’ And to celebrated songwriter Jimmy Webb, they were simply ‘stone cold rock and roll professionals.’
"If the history of rock music means anything to you, you know the individuals in question could only be the Wrecking Crew, a legendary group of Los Angeles-based studio musicians, and though their story has taken decades to reach the screen, it has been worth the wait.”
So…“a legendary group of Los-Angeles-based studio musicians,” saith Kenneth? Uh, UNDERSTATEMENT. The Wrecking Crew, a periodically assembled core group of between 15-20 versatile musicians in Southern California, were responsible for literally hundreds and hundreds of pop masterpieces throughout the 1960s and very early 1970s—and remained largely unheralded until this documentary set the record straight.
The hold-up, really, on this recognition stemmed from a wrangling over music rights to be able to tell the full story. Initial efforts to make the film began in 1996 and it wasn’t completed until 2008 when it finally debuted at SXSW (South by Southwest), Austin’s long-running and prestigiously hip film and music festival. Lacking the funds to secure the music licensing, the producers could only ply the festival circuit back then versus mounting a full-scale theater release, but by 2013 they came up with funding streams that ultimately unshackled them and the film finally saw release in theaters in March of 2015.
The documentary consists of interviews of Wrecking Crew principals including Tommy Tedesco, the father of the film’s director Denny Tedesco, who obviously was deep into a labor of love. You NEED to check out this film, and I’ll leave you now with a list that will get you primed for this story of these quite ready for primetime players—some of the pop radio classics from that ‘60s-‘70s era that the Wrecking Crew arranged and played on.
- The Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”
- Sonny & Cher “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe”
- The Association’s “Windy”
- Buffalo Springfield’s “Broken Arrow”
- Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country”
- The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”
- The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Good Vibrations,” and “God Only Knows”
- The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”
- Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”
- Cher’s “Half-Breed”
- Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel”
- Bread’s “Make It With You”
- Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”
- Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring”
- The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and “I Saw Her Again”
- Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night” and “You Send Me”
- Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” “Summer Wind,” and “That’s Life”
- Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix”
- Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”
- Mason William’s “Classical Gas”
- The Carpenters’ “(They Long To Be) Close To You”
- First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
- Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” and “Cecilia”
- The 5thDimension’s “One Less Bell To Answer” and “Wedding Bell Blues”
- Elvis Presley’s “Return To Sender” and “Viva Las Vegas”
- Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)”
- Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were”
Julia Fordham – That’s Live... (released in 2005 by Vanguard Records).
- Fordham is, in radio terms, an adult contemporary singer-songwriter with a startling range of lows-to-highs, and she also surrounds herself with top-drawer talent when committing her works to wax (okay, wax has waned--I meant digital recordings.)
- This British songstress began her recording career in the UK in 1988 and had mid-level commercial success in the Isles, but then relocated to The States in time for her fourth album, 1994’s Falling Forward. Her co-producer on that record was musician Larry Klein, at the time Joni Mitchell’s husband.
- Fordham and Klein reconnected for 2002’s Concrete Love (Fordham’s sixth), and he also plays bass in the incredibly gifted ensemble that supports Fordham on That’s Live. (Klein also serves as musical producer.)
- “That’s Live” captures Fordham in concert in 2004, over two nights at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, California. The level of musicianship is sterling, and the audio production and video editing are first-rate.
- The players include:
- Julia Fordham - vocals, guitar
- Larry Klein - bass.....Klein has played with Joni Mitchell and Freddie Hubbard, among others.
- Vinnie Colaiuta - drums.....Colaiuta has played with a ton of artists, including Zappa, Sting and Jeff Beck.
- Dean Parks - guitar.....Parks is perhaps best known for his work on many of the Steely Dan albums including Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho.
- Mark Isham - trumpet.....Isham wears a lot of hats, and wears them well, straddling the worlds of composing, recording, and performing jazz & new age music...writing and recording a number of successful film scores...and touring with titans like Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Suzanne Vega, The Rolling Stones, and XTC.
- Musicasaurus.com’s “IF I HAD TO PICK ONE”: “Foolish Things” is musicasaurus.com’s favorite performance on this disc, and it ably represents Fordham’s deep talent and extraordinary passion. The track is a mid-tempo piece with masterfully fluid moves by her supporting musicians, including Isham at the outset and conclusion, and additional vocalist Amy Keys starting midway through...Fordham’s performance style is just slightly unusual; she’s sometimes suddenly wide-eyed, and her hand gestures seem just the slightest bit calculated instead of flowing directly from the heart, but these are just observations and not criticisms--her amazing vocal instrument, her projection of passion, and her stellar band and song arrangements all add up to a towering performance piece.
TOM DOWD AND THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC
A lot of people in the music industry likely pride themselves on some single major achievement during their careers. And then there’s Tom Dowd. He excelled in two critically important areas of the music business--he significantly advanced the technology related to recording studios, AND he produced the albums of legendary artists, coaxing out of them their very best performances for posterity.
This documentary, directed by Mark Moormann, premiered in some theaters in January 2003 and then became available on DVD and for streaming in August 2004.
Here are some observations about the film from some noted critics:
Stephen Holden of the New York Times (8/13/04): “The real history of pop music over the last half-century is as much a story of technological innovation as it is a star-driven genealogy that connects the usual legends in an elaborate family tree of styles and influences. To hear the producer and recording engineer Tom Dowd describe his pioneering role in the evolution of studio recording, from monaural to stereo to multitracking to digital, is to begin to understand the degree to which machines, as much as performers, have shaped the changing sound of pop. Machines, of course, are useless without human engineers to operate them. And Mr. Dowd, who is profiled in Mark Moormann's admiring documentary Tom Dowd & the Language of Music, comes across as a musically sophisticated sound technician whose respect for musicians always took precedence over his fascination with gadgetry.”
Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle (8/13/04): “Recording engineer Tom Dowd was the secret weapon behind records by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and so many others. As a teenager, he helped build the atom bomb, but after World War II, he abandoned nuclear physics in favor of the science of recording. This wise and warm man, who died in 2002, is captured in all his glory by the remarkable documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. Dowd is the person who dragged recording kicking and screaming into the 20th century."
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post (8/13/04): “Interviewing the consummate storytellers [Ahmet] Ertegun and [Jerry] Wexler, as well as artists such as [Ray] Charles and [Eric] Clapton, Moormann creates a straightforward portrait of his subject, throwing in a few tasteful re-enactments and some terrific archival footage of Coltrane, Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MG's. Throughout Tom Dowd & the Language of Music, viewers come to learn how some of the greatest hits of the past 50 years were created, including the distinctive tom-tom beat of ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and the classic Clapton-Duane Allman duet on ‘Layla.’
Legends Live At Montreux 1997 – Eric Clapton, Steve Gadd, Marcus Miller, Joe Sample and David Sanborn... (released in 2005 by Eagle Rock Entertainment).
- If you’re a fan and you’re contemplating Clapton, as expected Cream will rise to the top. But if you’re looking for some of his departures and diversions outside of traditional rock and blues, then Montreux is a must.
- This DVD captures a performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 4, 1997, and it’s an incredible balance of virtuosity and musical kinship. In this setting, the assemblage reigns supreme--Clapton is but another band member, one of five talented musicians locking into each other in order to transcend their individual contributions.
- The Montreux performance was actually one of eleven total European jazz festival stops that this unit made in the Summer of 1997.
- Ultimately, the treat is this: Clapton can’t (or won’t) fully sublimate his blues-rock inclinations, so it’s a uniquely enjoyable setting to have him playing alongside and out in front of four other esteemed players from the world of jazz...
- The players:
- Eric Clapton - guitar
- Steve Gadd - drums.....Gadd has played drums for a number of rock and jazz acts including Steely Dan (most famously on Aja), Bob James, Eric Clapton, Chick Corea and Paul Simon.
- Marcus Miller - bass.....Miller’s been with Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, and more.
- Joe Sample - keyboards.....Sample co-founded the jazz group The Crusaders, as well as guested on numerous jazz and rock releases from artists like Anita Baker, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan, George Benson, and The Supremes.
- David Sanborn - alto saxophone.....Sanborn’s a successful solo artist and has also been on board as a session player with Hubert Laws, George Benson, Todd Rundgren, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, James Taylor, Elton John, and scores more...
- Musicasaurus.com’s “IF I HAD TO PICK ONE”: “Snakes” is musicasaurus.com’s favorite due to the searing solos of Sanborn and an often climactic Clapton...
- Musicasaurus.com’s RUNNERS-UP:
- “In Case You Hadn’t Noticed” is slow and easy with Clapton on acoustic guitar, a Marcus Miller workout, and then Sample and Sanborn solos--all along, there’s a lazy, sophisticated groove.
- “Put It Where You Want It” is a cover of an Average White Band song, and it’s loose and funky--and here again, Clapton follows Sanborn, each nicely ascending before the pass-off to the next player...
- Musicasaurus.com’s DEBATABLE PICK: “In A Sentimental Mood / Layla” - The latter half of this track is Clapton on acoustic guitar doing his trademark tune with the other band members chiming in, but it seems a bit lifeless and almost “too cocktail hour”--I guess I have Duane Allman on the brain, and will live and die by the original recording from Derek & The Dominos.
It Was Twenty Years Ago Today (British made-for-TV documentary)
Directed by John Sheppard, written by Colin Bell, and distributed by Granada Television. Released in June 1987 in the UK.
NOTE THAT THE DVD IS NOT AT THIS POINT READILY AVAILABLE, SO ONE MAY WANT TO SCOUR YOUTUBE TO FIND AND VIEW!
Below is the Top Review of this documentary (submitter/author unidentified) as currently posted on the website IMDB.com:
THE classic documentary on the 1960s…I recorded this documentary off of the Discovery network. I played it at least a hundred times and showed it to everyone I knew. Then in about 2003 I found out there was an even longer version of the film which an acquaintance had taped from PBS. It is based on a book of the same name by Beatles publicist Derek Taylor. It really isn't just about the Sgt. Pepper album but uses it as a platform to discuss a variety of experiments in the counterculture. Having only been 10 years old in 1967, I was clueless about these social changes. It goes into everything: experiments in the Netherlands, Hoppy Hopkins arrest for marijuana in the UK, San Francisco culture, mass arrests in L.A., the Diggers, the underground press in the UK and the US, the anti-war movement, the levitation of the Pentagon, pot and LSD, the influx of Eastern religions, psychedelic art and music, happenings, the Monterey Pop Festival, the San Francisco Be-in, and of course Sgt. Pepper.
I've watched anything I could get ahold of about the 1960s (including the 6-hour PBS special Making Sense of the Sixties) but nothing comes close to this film in capturing the range of ideas being explored at the time or the exhilaration of it. The film features many important participants of the times: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Kantner, Peter Coyote, Ron Thelin, Barry Miles, Chet Helms, Allen Cohen, and so many others. The role of Sgt. Pepper was to put a small slice of the counterculture in the bedrooms of millions of kids around the world. It took the counterculture from a cult interest to a mainstream interest. If you haven't seen this film and you are a sixties buff, it is essential viewing.
We have seen a few countercultures since this time, like the punk movement and the rave scene, but neither of those seem to have had the breadth or heart of the 1960s breakthroughs. I think this is why the 60s counterculture is a reference point for youth of each succeeding generation. It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is an excellent introduction to the 1960s and the Sgt. Pepper album.
APPALACHIAN JOURNEY LIVE IN CONCERT – Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor...Sony Classical (2000).
- The appeal of this disc is beyond any one genre and captivating as hell, if your ears are open to amazing musicians in a setting that’s a triple-threat sum of its parts.
- Recorded in April of 2000 in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, this performance yields thrills to a degree that you’ll berate yourself for never having followed up on those childhood music lessons—or if you ARE a performer today, you’ll likely ponder instrument abandonment as you genuflect before the viewing screen.
- Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, upright bassist Edgar Meyer, and fiddler Mark O’Connor originally teamed up for CD releases Appalachia Waltz (1996) and Appalachian Journey (2000), and in this beautifully recorded live appearance, they predominantly recreate the magic of their Appalachian Journey CD while mixing in a tune or two from the earlier release.
- The musical performances are exhilarating, and beyond the trio’s pieces, a couple of guest musicians contribute as well...
- Musicasaurus.com’s Recommended Tracks:
- “1B”.....By far, my favorite track. Superb interplay, and like the rest of the performances herein, this is a tantalizing mix of individual prowess and collective intuitiveness, all in service to songs that blend classical music and Americana...
- “Emily’s Reel”.....With credit to Steve Martin for coining the term, I get “happy feet” from this one, just shy of breaking out in full square dance delirium.
- “Slumber My Darling”.....And lo, the holy triumvirate was visited upon by an angel...and this is in the form of Alison Krauss, who acquits herself nicely in a sensitive reading of this Stephen Foster song.
- “Hard Times Come Again No More”.....Stephen Foster is mined once more by the threesome, this time joined by James Taylor on acoustic guitar and vocal...Though not quite as magical as Krauss’ moment in the spotlight, Taylor fits like a glove with the string trio and one can see there’s a strong mutual admiration here.
- The Rest of the DVD: Includes...“Misty Moonlight Waltz”...“Indecision”...“Fisher’s Hornpipe”...“Appalachia Waltz”...and more.
SING ME BACK HOME: THE MUSIC OF MERLE HAGGARD
Tribute concerts with a variety of artists performing one man or one woman’s song catalogue are sometimes overdone and underwhelming---but not THIS one. The focus is Merle, and this one’s a pearl.
Somehow I missed news of this particular all-star event that took place in Nashville in April 2017. The taped concert featured country stars, alt-country artists and rock ‘n’ rollers all paying tribute to Merle Haggard, and now there is a DVD and streaming opportunities available for one and all.
Blackbird Presents--a leader in the production of concerts, broadcast specials, TV series, music festivals and more--was the driving force behind this project, and from their website I picked up this tidy summary:
“Sing Me Back Home: The Music Of Merle Haggard, an all-star concert event which was taped at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, took place on Thursday, April 6, 2017 in honor of what would have been Merle’s 80th birthday and the one-year anniversary of his passing.
“This one-night-only concert event taping brought together fans, friends, and music icons to honor the life and songs of music legend Merle Haggard. Sing Me Back Home: The Music Of Merle Haggard featured performances by Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, John Mellencamp, Dierks Bentley, Sheryl Crow, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Toby Keith, The Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Ronnie Dunn, Alabama, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Jamey Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Miller, Jake Owen, Chris Janson, Aaron Lewis, John Anderson, Bobby Bare, Tanya Tucker, Connie Smith, and Ben Haggard.
“In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Merle Haggard racked up an astounding 38 number one country hits and every major award imaginable. Songs like ‘Mama Tried,’ ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’ and ‘The Fightin’ Side Of Me’ continue to inspire new generations of artists and fans alike, and as we approach what would have been a major milestone, the time has come to celebrate his truly remarkable career. He was an iconoclast who refused to bend to country music convention and helped create the indelible Bakersfield sound. He gave voice to outlaws and outsiders in a way that few, if any, have ever equaled.”
You’ll find streaming opportunities on Amazon (i.e., the movie to rent or to own) at this website address: https://www.amazon.com/Sing-Me-Back-Home-Haggard/dp/B08YCRLF44/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2AFQIKUS2ANUP&keywords=merle+haggard+sing+me+back+home&qid=1642799076&s=movies-tv&sprefix=merle+haggard+sing+me+back+home+%2Cmovies-tv%2C54&sr=1-1
…OR if you’d like to grab the physical DVD, check out the following link: https://blackbirdpresents.com/shop/sing-me-back-home-the-music-of-merle-haggard-3-disc-cd-dvd-pre-order/
LIVE FROM ABBEY ROAD – Best of Season One...Fremantle Media Enterprises (2007).
- Channel 4 in the UK started up this in-studio series of artists’ performances in 2007. Beginning with Season Two, the show was reportedly available in America via the Sundance Channel.
- The DVD contains a full segment with each performer, including interviews & performances; the latter is filmed without an audience to help capture and then convey the true spirit of a recording session.
- Musicasaurus.com’s Recommended Tracks:
- “Love Foolosophy” by Jamiroquai.....By far, this is the nicest surprise on the DVD especially if you’re not intimately aware of this particular British band...Jamiroquai started up in the 1990s, and is a blend of white R & B, soul and funk, and club music. (It’s similar to Stevie Wonder’s best funk-ified material from his 1970s heyday). The track reveals a very tight band with great punctuation from the horn section (though all of the musicians have razor-sharp timing throughout this groove); above it all are the soft yet soaring vocals of lead singer Jason Kay.
- “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne.....This is simply the singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar on a stool before the microphone. As with the rest of the DVD, this performance is expertly shot and unobtrusively edited, and it’s in HD—great viewing along with the clear and crisp audio.
- “Can’t Find The Moonlight” by LeAnn Rimes.....The spotlight here is on Rimes’ voice, and it’s gloriously out front with just light percussion and acoustic guitar accompaniment.
- “Vultures” by John Mayer.....A track originally from Mayer’s 2005 live trio album AND from 2006’s studio record Continuum is performed here, revealing Mayer’s penchant for heartfelt, tasty blues-based material. Nice lead picking and chorus falsetto by Mayer on this mid-tempo slice.
- “On An Island” by David Gilmour.....Just what you’d expect from Gilmour—a compelling performance with great musicians; no Floydian slips here...Gilmour’s band includes fellow Floyd alum Richard Wright on keyboards, and ex-Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera who joyously trades licks with Gilmour in the song’s midsection.
- “Smiley Faces” by Gnarls Barkley.....Cee-lo Green and Danger Mouse lead a shimmy party in the studio while knocking out this tune from their 2006 St. Elsewhere album...The song is pure pop, and the video portion is a treat on this one as well—handclaps explode all around, and the musicians include four female string players dressed in their “retro finest” which lends even more color to the proceedings.
- The Rest of the DVD: Includes Damien Rice.....Gipsy Kings.....Iron Maiden.....The Zutons.....Josh Groban.....Primal Scream.....Norah Jones.....Amos Lee.....Corinne Bailey Rae.....and more; 25 artists in all on this 2-DVD set.
12/26/21 IS A HOLIDAY BREAK FOR THIS DANCING WITH MR. D…VD SECTION OF THE WEBSITE...
BUT NOTE THAT THERE ARE NEW POSTS IN THE A DAY IN THE LIFE AND BUILDING A MIXTERY SECTIONS OF THIS WEBSITE AS OF DECEMBER 26TH!!!
SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY
WHAT THE DOCUMENTARY IS ABOUT:
In her July 12, 2017 review of this 2017 film from director Matt Schrader, Seattle Times art critic Moira Macdonald sums up its essence: “Schrader walks us smoothly through a primer on film-score history: Originally intended, in silent films, to cover the noise of a projector, film music was revolutionized by Max Steiner’s 1933 score for ‘King Kong.’ (Its grandeur made the film less schlocky and more frightening.) Orchestral scores were popular for several decades, followed by a rise in more jazz-flavored music in the ’50s and ’60s (Alex North’s score for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’; Henry Mancini’s theme for ‘The Pink Panther’; the James Bond theme by Monty Norman). John Williams, in the ’70s, ushered in a new era of orchestral scoring, with his sweeping music for ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Superman,’ ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and many more.”
WHAT OTHER REVIEWERS HAVE SAID:
*** “Score: A Film Music Documentary is a celebration of the artists who create the musical heartbeat of the movies we love.” - Richard Roeper / Chicago Sun-Times
*** "‘Score’ does leave you with a real respect for these people, and their tireless search for ways to turn emotion into sound. An honest appreciation for their literally invisible work.” - Stephen Whitty / Newark Star-Ledger
*** “Score may be little more than a superficial primer on a dizzyingly expansive subject, but Schrader offers just enough to satisfy both film-music novices and dyed-in-the-wool fanatics.” - Kenji Fujishima / Village Voice
*** “For the modern era, almost everyone you would want to see and hear from is represented, from Hans Zimmer to Danny Elfman. (There is also great archival footage of John Williams working with Steven Spielberg.) Schrader doesn’t miss a beat (pun intended): his eloquent subjects include Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Thomas Newman, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, John Debney, and Marco Beltrami.” - Leonard Maltin / leonardmaltin.com
*** “Inordinate time is spent with Hans Zimmer [editor’s note: Zimmer’s film scores include, among others, “Rain Man,” “The Lion King,” “No Time To Die,” “Inception” and “Dune”] whose symphonic-synthesizer scores define the current action-spectacle template. But he rightly says film composers are ‘one of the last people on earth’ who regularly employ orchestra musicians. ‘Without us,’ he adds, ‘the orchestra might disappear,’ which would be ‘such a loss to humanity.’ And who can argue?” - Andy Webster / The New York Times
A TRIO OF PRINCELY PERFORMANCES ON DVD…
1.) From the DVD Rave un2 the Year 2000—Prince’s direct-to-video concert film that actually aired as a pay-per-view broadcast on New Year’s Eve 1999—check out “Purple Rain” which eases into existence with interpretative dancers and Prince’s low-key entrance partway in...Rapturous guitar work, of course, peppered with some religious exhortations.
2.) From the DVD Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas, recorded in December 2002, look into the duet Prince does with American funk/soul/blues singer Nikka Costa on the song “Push & Pull”…Soulful throughout, and explosive in vocals (she) and guitar (he) at the scorching conclusion.
3.) And for the pièce de résistance of a Prince guest appearance, seek out the DVD Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum LIVE (released in 2009). The track to bathe in is a 2004 all-stars-on-stage tribute to inductee George Harrison, a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which features Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne (of ELO), Steve Winwood, and George’s son Dhani Harrison—until halfway through the song, when Prince unobtrusively slinks on stage and then takes the tune spiraling up to Heaven.
ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS (2015 documentary)
Dinosaur that you are, if you are still occasionally purchasing DVDs you might want to check out this flashback documentary about Tower Records.
I personally recall many memories from my teens and twenties of being deliriously, deliciously lost in reverie, rooted with singular focus before many a stacked-to-the-gills record bin in department stores and little indie record shops—and my fingers were always flying.
There was an art to this, the flipping of albums forward from the front of the bin to the very back, with my thumb as stabilizer and my pointer and middle fingers systematically scrambling atop, flicking each album quickly into and out of view so my brain could rapidly process the ones that were new and yet unexplored…
Obviously it was the album cover art that spoke to me as the first real clue to the potential treasures within. If the album had a visually arresting illustration or photograph or overall design, my right hand would overrule the flying fingers and pluck the record up and away from the rest so that I could study its cover, turn it around to read the song titles and liner notes, and then agonize within as to whether it should join my nearby small pile of must-haves.
Ahhhhh…Let’s pull ourselves together now, and move ahead…
Below is some guidance from a handful of critics who reviewed All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records.
These and additional reviews are available in the “Critic Reviews” section of this page on Rotten Tomatoes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/all_things_must_pass_the_rise_and_fall_of_tower_records
“Colin Hanks makes his feature directing debut with this irresistible documentary about the evolution of the music business.” - John Hartl / Seattle Times
“But Hanks wisely limits the celebrity talking heads in this rise-and-fall story. Instead, he focuses on the people who built the company from a Sacramento drugstore annex to a global brand, creating a ragtag family in the process.” - Sheri Linden / Los Angeles Times
“Solomon's skills as a raconteur, the employees' unabashed love for their work, and the constant stream of rock music playing in the background advance the film into something much more than a talking-heads documentary.” - Marjorie Baumgarten / Austin Chronicle
“It's loving and lovely, but goes too easy on the hubris and greed.” - Matthew Lickona / San Diego Reader
“As Bruce Springsteen says in the film, ‘Everybody in a record store is a little bit of your friend for 20 minutes or so.’ And he's right - including all the ups and downs that friendship entails.” - Bill Goodykoontz / Arizona Republic.
“This movie makes you appreciate anew the one-on-one social dimension lost in the music industry's headlong switch to digital downloads.” - Andy Webster / New York Times
One Cream is Quite a Dream…The Other Might Make You Scream
Let’s set the stage: Cream rises to the top in ‘66, but then things go sour in ’68 and the band members—guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker—go their separate ways. Thirty-seven years later they return to the Royal Albert Hall, the site of their original farewell performance.
And so whadda we got? Two in-concert DVDs from Cream that are years and worlds apart.
One is beautifully captured in sound and vision, and the band exudes a tremendous power that is almost transformative---and then we have the DVD of the ’68 concert.
Both of these DVDs--Cream / Royal Albert Hall / May 2-3-5-6, 2005, and Cream Farewell Concert / November 28, 1968--were released simultaneously in October 2005 but by different DVD companies. With all of the hoo-ha over the Cream 2005 reunion show, the distributors of the other DVD must have had a carpe diem-for-dollars moment when they decided to push that unpolished puppy “out there” for the unsuspecting fans who were still all aglow from the May 2005 performance.
The Cream / Royal Albert Hall / May 2-3-5-6, 2005 DVD is uniformly praised. As elder rock statesmen at that point, they were still far from wizened though age had taken its toll a bit in mobility (take note of Jack Bruce in particular, who parks his butt on a heightened stool every now and again while playing). The music, execution and editing, though? Excellent. [Editor’s note: Both Bruce and Baker died in the month of October—the former in 2014 and the latter in 2019.]
The Cream Farewell Concert / November 28, 1968 DVD is lacking--a LOT. And rather than go to critics, I spot-checked a review on the purchase page and there was Sam Graham’s right after the Product Description. Great to see some truth in advertising: Graham calls this DVD release “sub-par” and says “The sound has been digitally remastered, but the audio is still a turgid sonic sludge. The visuals are even worse, with director Tony Palmer jerking the camera around as if this were an episode of NYPD Blue.” This 1968 Cream farewell concert on DVD, as already mentioned, came out in 2005 and it should be noted as well that a “Restored Extended Edition” of this same show was released eight years later. Reviews of this particular money-grab were frankly not much better.
One of television's music incubators, starting in 1975...
Saturday Night Live / 25 Years of Music / Performances and Sketches......released on DVD in 2003 (Warner Reprise Video)
This five-disc DVD set contains over fifty musical performances from a wide range of rising stars and established artists, covering the years 1975 through 2000 on Saturday Night Live...
The disc also contains key SNL comedy sketches, some musically-oriented...but we’re hear to talk tunes.
- Musicasaurus.com’s Absolute Favorite Track from Each of the Five Volumes in this Set:
- From Volume One (1975-1980) - “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker.....Okay, this one actually breaks out into a skit, as John Belushi—garbed identically to Cocker—walks out on stage after the song has already started, and joins Joe note for note and limb-twitch for limb-twitch...Belushi really struts his inner Cocker-doodle-doo, pulling off a mesmerizing and manic bit of mimicry....Priceless.
- From Volume Two (1980-1985) – “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp.....This is Mellencamp and band in an energizing performance of this FM Radio classic, and it is contagious fun—Mellencamp and musicians walk that fine line here between “loose” and “polished,” and the band is anchored by the mighty Kenny Aronoff on drums. The cramped stage area only adds to the effect; it is as if we’re spying in on “band practice” in one of the guy’s garages, where passion is the fuel and songs are rehearsed unceasingly so each time one sees the light of day, it’s the absolute best that it can be...
- From Volume Three (1985-1990) – “We’ll Be Together” by Sting.....For this 1987 performance, Sting brought together a particularly turbocharged back-up ensemble, this time consisting of eight musicians including a wailing Branford Marsalis on sax...It’s a jazz and funk roll-out typical of Sting live in concert; he always brandishes the best players when going into battle.
- From Volume Four (1990-1995) – “Free Your Mind” – En Vogue.....En Vogue is Em Powerment, plain and simple (“Free your mind and the rest will follow / Be color blind, don’t be so shallow”)...It is a riveting performance by the four leading ladies, who spit out this challenge with sass and conviction, all in great voice (and all in great outfits, I might add). The four are backed by a grinding, muscular five-piece band that fuels the funk and amplifies the message.
- From Volume Five (1995-2000) – “Special” by Garbage.....This is a propulsive alt-rock song that implores you to hop on board and hang on...Garbage is a band fronted by Scottish singer Shirley Manson, and drummer Butch Vig is best known as the producer of some landmark alternative albums including Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream...The performance here is all power chords & pounding, an assault on the senses. The band is absolutely locked into full frontal delivery; it’ll take your breath away.
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE / A One Night History of The Blues.....DVD released in March 2005.
In an effort to capture the blues masters and their acolytes in concert together, and to simultaneously tell the tale of origins and torch passings, executive producer Martin Scorsese and director Antoine Fuqua teamed up in February 2003 and staged a celebration-in-song of this treasured art form.
Filmed at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Lightning In A Bottle features some truly tantalizin’ testifyin’, and gives us some killer collaborations between the old—uh, sometimes the very old—and the new.
Backed by a talented house band (including musicians such as Dr. John), these venerated performers tore into the material, taking the audience from Africa to the Delta and then up into Chicago, tapping into a wellspring of deep emotion and ritualism.
Slight warning: A few of the tracks are interrupted by commentary and/or clips...My favorite interview snippet: Son House, the Delta blues artist (1902-1988) who inspired both Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, is shown in an old taped interview speaking about the meaning of the blues: “Ain’t but one kind of blues, and that consistses (sic) between a male and a female that’s in love.”
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended tracks:
“I Pity The Fool” – Shemekia Copeland joins Robert Cray on this 1954 song originally performed by Bobby “Blue” Bland.
“Turn On Your Lovelight” – Another “Blue” Bland tune, this one is performed by 70-year-old soul pioneer Solomon Burke, who passed away in October 2010.
“Sittin’ On Top of The World” – A song originally performed by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930, and also famously covered by Cream on their 1968 album Wheels of Fire; here, it’s a short and sweet root-sier rendition by James “Blood” Ulmer with Alison Krauss.
“St. Louis Blues” – W. C. Handy’s 1914 composition, covered here by Natalie Cole.
“Can’t Be Satisfied” – Buddy Guy—often credited with being the bridge between Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and the later blues-rock disciples Clapton, Page and Beck—performs a 1948 Muddy Waters tune.
“Sweet Sixteen” – 78-year-old B.B. King sits and sweetly, stingingly delivers his own 1960 composition joined by Lucille—that’s his guitar, and he knows how to make her sing.
Here’s a Double Shot of Required Viewings...And a Standout Track from each:
1.) LEON RUSSELL AND THE NEW GRASS REVIVAL (self-titled release)
- Oklahoman Leon Russell is a renowned singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who did a ton of session work in the 1960s with The Byrds, Gary Lewis & The Playboys (“This Diamond Ring”), Glen Campbell (“Gentle On My Mind”) and a host of others...In the 1970s he mounted and then played musical ringmaster for Joe Cocker’s famous Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, and also had a noteworthy solo career throughout that decade...In 2010, he recorded an album with Elton John called The Union, and this brought Leon deservedly to the forefront one more time...
- This DVD was recorded in 1981 while on tour with the legendary bluegrass band The New Grass Revival (featuring mandolin and fiddle player Sam Bush and John Cowan on bass).
- The Standout Track: “Wild Horses”.....The Rolling Stones song from their album Sticky Fingers gets a bluegrass overhaul with Leon’s trademark vocal sneer and stellar playing from The New Grass Revival. The song isn’t so much revived as re-imagined, and it stands surefootedly on its own as a classic.
- The rest of the DVD: Includes “Prince of Peace”.....“Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”...“Stranger In A Strange Land”...“Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”...“I Believe To My Soul”...and more.
2.) SUZANNE VEGA / LIVE AT MONTREUX 2004
- A Barnard College lit grad and veteran of the Greenwich Village folk scene, Suzanne Vega combines her incredibly rich talent for penning lyrics with performance aplomb...
- Her commercial success in the late 1980s and early 1990s is widely thought to have opened the doors—or at least widened the doorway—for other uniquely talented female solo artists who were peers or were soon to follow, like Sinead O’Connor, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Indigo Girls and others.
- This DVD was recorded in 2004, capturing Vega’s second appearance at the Montreux Festival. This time out she appeared with a full band, and it’s great to see her as frontwoman of such a powerful, disciplined touring unit.
- The Standout Track: “Solitude Standing”.....Vega is all power & poise as her backup band rips through this title tune from Vega’s second album, which was released in 1987. The essential ingredient to this song’s success: Her inestimable lyrics, which add to the menacing wall of sound built up behind her: “Solitude stands in the doorway / And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette / By her long cool stare and her silence / I suddenly remember each time we’ve met.” Chilling...brilliant...and with the band wailing behind her, it’s mesmerizing.
- The rest of the DVD: Includes “Marlene On The Wall”.....“Luka”...“Tom’s Diner”...“Left of Center”...“The Queen And The Soldier”...and more.
Amnesty International Presents RELEASED! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 - A 2008 MVD Entertainment Group release
- I spied this prize on Amazon.com a few Christmases ago and quickly snatched it up. I had heard about these concerts, being a fan and admirer since the late 1970s of Peter Gabriel, who has championed great events through the years including his own creation WOMAD (World of Music, Art & Dance festivals), and causes like Amnesty International.
- Amnesty International was born out of the 1948 United Nations charter called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The charter was adopted with the hope that ALL nations would then uphold the thirty articles that guaranteed basic rights to their citizens. However--as we all are painfully aware--human rights abuses continued in pockets all around the world, and so in 1961 an activist British lawyer named Peter Benenson called for and helped mount a one-year campaign calling for universal amnesty for all political prisoners. This campaign led to the formation of the permanent human rights organization Amnesty International, now a worldwide movement of over 3 million supporters who strive to draw attention to abuses whenever and wherever they occur in an effort to hold the applicable governments responsible...
- Some key musicians have played a role in most of the Amnesty concerts through the years, including Peter Gabriel, Sting, U2, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, South African legend Youssou N’Dour, and more...
- This multi-disc collection holds the original films of the 1988 “Human Rights Now!” tour; the 1990 concert in Santiago, Chile; and the 1998 Paris concert. Additionally, over five hours of performances from the 1986 “A Conspiracy of Hope” Giants Stadium concert have been restored and included in this set. AND...special “companion material” on the discs include incisive interviews with Springsteen, Sting, Pete Townshend and others, and also additional stage and studio performances (1979-2012) by a plethora of acts, among them Jeff Beck, Coldplay, Green Day, Mumford & Songs, and Seal (to name a few)...
- There is so much to ferret out from these discs, but two performances alone are worth the price of admi$$ion if you are inclined to buy this collection, and the two are of the same exact song—Dylan’s 1964 composition “Chimes of Freedom”. A stirring song in its own right, the tune is performed on the 1988 tour on its Buenos Aires stadium stop, and it features the E Street Band behind singers Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N’Dour. On a different disc in the set: Another performance of the song--this one from the Los Angeles show--which again features the E Street Band and the aforementioned five singers--but now also joined by Bono and Joan Baez. Powerful, inspiring stuff; good on the ears, great for the soul.
A trio of must-haves for your DVD collection...
THE CORRS / UNPLUGGED
- The Corrs are Andrea, Caroline, Sharon and Jim—Irish siblings who craft pop magic from their heritage.
- This DVD was recorded for MTV’s Unplugged series, at Ardmore Studios, County Wicklow, Ireland on October 5th, 1999.
- Perhaps the best track:
- “Lough Erin Shore”.....This traditional instrumental highlights the true musicianship of the close-knit Corrs, aided by an orchestra which give it grand, but not grandiose, backing on the tune. If this doesn’t get your Irish up, then shite, I don’t know what will.
- The rest of the DVD includes covers (“Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac; “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M.; “Little Wing” from Hendrix; and Thin Lizzy’s “Old Town”) and Corrs’ hits “Only When I Sleep”...“Forgiven Not Forgotten”...“Radio”...and more.
MY MORNING JACKET / OKONOKOS
- My Morning Jacket came together in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998, and after some interesting and reverb-soaked first few records, they produced their album called Z in 2005. Eight of the tracks on this DVD come from that particular release.
- This 2006 DVD captures the pure power of this rock/alt-country band who have amassed a deserving reputation as one of the best live bands around—in a league with Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Pearl Jam.
- Signally out the most irresistable track:
- “It Beats 4 U”.....This is a driving tune that embodies classic rock fury in performance, but of course it’s in the hands of this late-'90s band who is clearly marking their territory while also paying homage to an upper echelon of live-in-concert legends like The Who, Led Zeppelin, and the aforementioned Young and Pearl Jam.
- The rest of the DVD includes “Wordless Chorus”...“Gideon”...“What A Wonderful Man”...“Lay Low”...“Dondante”...“Anytime”...“Mahgeetah” and more.
RAY CHARLES / O-GENIO: LIVE IN BRAZIL, 1963
- Ray Charles (1930-2004) was perhaps immortalized for the younger generation in Taylor Hackford’s 2004 film Ray, starring Jamie Foxx. In the 1950s & 1960s, Charles pioneered a path to modern soul music with his blending of rhythm & blues, gospel, jazz and blues, and even country; his landmark vocal style is oft mentioned in the same breath as Elvis and Billie Holiday—good company to keep.
- The video that makes up this DVD was unearthed by Charles in his tape vault only a few years before his death. It’s in glorious black & white with Charles in his big band setting, filmed for Brazilian television in Sao Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963, just a day before Charles’ 33rd birthday.
- The track to savor:
- “You Are My Sunshine”.....This song features some amazing vocal interplay between Charles and one of his Raeletts, Margie Hendricks. Her out-front testifyin’ in this tune is brief, but it’s spellbinding as she continually sings and sets her jaw in determination to reach a pinnacle in “preaching” along with Brother Ray...About Hendricks, Charles had this to say: “Aretha, Gladys, Etta James—these gals are all bad, but on any given night, Margie will scare you to death.”
- The rest of the DVD includes “What’d I Say”...“Take These Chains From My Heart”...“In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)”...“You Don’t Know Me”...“Hit The Road Jack”...“Hallelujah I Love Her So” and more.
TWO DVDS WORTHY TO PLACE ON TOP OF YOUR PILE (should you still be buyin’ discs instead of streaming or YouTubing)…
1.) Back To Front: Live In London – Peter Gabriel.....I saw a 2012 Philly stop on the tour that produced this new DVD, and the musicians that backed-up Gabriel during his 1987 So tour were all present and accounted for. For any Gabriel-period Genesis fan and/or solo career follower, this would be a fine addition to your concert video collection. Gabriel is noted for high-performance shows that have a real creative spark in execution and style, and that carries forward to the editing and final time-capsule nature of his released concert films.
2.) The Dukes Of September – Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs.....This one holds a treasure trove—the “hits” of Steely Dan, McDonald’s Doobie Brothers and signature solo stuff, and Scaggs’ time-honored material from his overwhelmingly popular Silk Degrees album. As with Gabriel, I happened upon a live show from this outfit in 2012, and was rewarded with great material (including old R&B classics like Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love T.K.O.” and The Isley’s “Who’s That Lady”) and stellar musicianship from the backup band. The sum effect here is mesmerizing because of the HD quality and the pristine sound capture—so enjoy!
Johnny Winter - Live Through The ‘70s - A 2008 MVD Entertainment Group release
This DVD has gathered up both live-in-concert and television performances (1970-1979) from Texas blues guitarist Johnny Winter, ranging from appearances in Denmark, Germany and London to native soil gigs in Chicago and Waterbury, Connecticut.
* “Frankenstein” - from a 1970 performance...Albino blues brothers Johnny AND Edgar play on this instrumental that Edgar later on parlayed into a monstrous hit (he first released it in studio form two years later, via his 1972 album They Only Come Out At Night). The setting is a small stage in a low-ceilinged, firetrap-lookin’ teen club in Denmark, Copenhagen and the jam includes not one but two drum solos (one by Edgar, who jumped over from keyboards to drum kit perhaps to prove his “multi-instrumentalist” tag was warranted). Admittedly, the song as performed here is not entirely captivating; it’s just worth a peek because of the look and feel of a young and hungry blues-rock band bangin’ it out in a club setting.
* “Be Careful With A Fool” - This is more like it. From that same 1970 Denmark club session, Johnny stretches out on a B.B. King composition and plays heartfelt blues-rock riffs punctuated by his own guttural growls that seem to goad his flying fingers. This is the Winter of my content—the more straight-ahead blues before he blossomed into an arena headliner a few years down the road, sometimes wearing (as he did on a ’73 Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert appearance), a top hat, cape and platform shoes.
* Also on the disc: Winter with bandmates Randy Jo Hobbs (bass) and Richard Hughes (drums) appear in performances circa ’73 and ’74, the time period that—on vinyl—Winter was also pushing out albums like Still Alive And Well and Saints & Sinners, both featuring guitarist Rick Derringer as well. Still Alive And Well, a release so named marking Winter’s personal emergence from a heroin habit, is especially a treat. Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau says of that album: “Winter will never be an especially personable singer, but I like what's he's putting out on this monkey-off-my-comeback: two late-Stones covers, plenty of slide, and a good helping of nasty.”
SOUNDBREAKING / Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music (2016 PBS television series)
Here’s a gem if you missed it during its premier broadcast on PBS in the Spring of 2016, or through occasional rebroadcasts. It’s available now on DVD in a four-disc set containing all eight episodes, and one doesn’t have to be a music insider to appreciate this march toward creative freedom and innovation in the world of music production.
Interest level is maintained throughout because of the masterful editing and the “sound" content—landmark recordings dissected gleefully by hands-on producers like George Martin (the “fifth Beatle” at all Abbey Road recording sessions) and Rick Rubin (who benevolently nurtured disparate artists from the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy to Neil Diamond and late-career Johnny Cash)…a multitude of artist interviews including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Devo, Ben Harper, Roger Waters, Dr. Dre, Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, The Black Keys and Annie Lennox…and a fascinating look, of course, at the initial springboard of recording technology in the 1960s and the innovations that followed, fueled by tech, trends and artistic creativity.
It’s all here…rock, rap, MTV, disco, Dylan-gone-electric, EDM, sampling, streaming, and what’s bubbling up (hold onto the handrails).
A great collection, vetted by musicasaurus.com and his non-music industry couch mate Mary Ellen, who was used as the “control” in this viewing experiment and whose enthusiasm jumped the baseline into something close to awe…
Here’s a real find from the underground—the DVD of The Best of Bluegrass Underground, Volume 2.
This compilation, from a taping 333 feet below the surface in Tennessee’s 32-mile long Cumberland Caverns, holds performances household names in the Bluegrass realm, and some a bit more recognizable. The concert area proper is called the Volcano Room amphitheater and the acoustics are marvelous.
The Volume 2 Best Of DVD features a fairly wide-ranging bunch of artists, old and new, including Leon Russell, Lucinda Williams, Old Crow Medicine Show, North Mississippi Allstars, Jason Isbell, Del McCoury Band, The Civil Wars, David Grisman FolkJazz Trio, and more.
The highlight of the line-up is a performance by Andrew Bird entitled “Danse Caribe” (originally from the 2012 album Break It Yourself). A four-piece acoustic band (inclusive of Byrd) is poised and pitch perfect on the instrumentation as well as on voice. Eyes closed, lead singer Byrd absolutely swings with the flow of the four-piece's perfectly nailed notes.
DAVID BOWIE.....A REALITY TOUR.....DVD released in 2004.
Recorded in November 2003 in Dublin, Ireland, this is everything one would expect from the now much missed, multifaceted Mr. Bowie. The band is a stellar assemblage of talent and it’s hard to single them out for individual praise, because this seems to me very much a band effort rather than a singular showcase for Bowie, and I mean that in terms of the total effect on the viewer. If I HAD to, though, I’d point out the pure-bliss delivery of the two guitarists who barnstorm with sophisticated assaults but then lay back and spool out amazing shadings as well; Gerry Leonard is one of the guitarists and is also the band leader, and the other—the essence of punk rock cool—is shades-adorned Earl Slick, a longtime collaborator from the Bowie studio and touring stables.
The DVD liner notes, under “Show Production,” list a little over 50 names associated with the recording of this concert and production of the DVD. This might give you a sense of the quality of the finished product; the sound & vision are excellent.
The song selections span over thirty years of Bowie’s recording career, from 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World through 2003’s Reality. If you were a big fan of Bowie back in 1972 and were counting on some classics from that era, you’ll be gettin’ Ziggy with it—the last three songs on the DVD are “Five Years,” “Hang On To Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust.”
Also laudable is the cinematography—some DVD concert recordings are cringe-inducing in terms of special effects that, in the end, decidedly detract from what is intended to be delivered. This is not the case with A Reality Tour; there is a perfect blend of intelligently, judiciously applied “touches” and these augment the viewer’s emotional payoff.
Lastly, there are a couple of songs included that are not pure Bowie compositions, but rather are the result of collaborations with other artists. These are tracks that shine—see below.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended tracks:
*** “Sister Midnight” – A song originally written by Bowie, Iggy Pop, and guitarist Carlos Alomar, it first appeared in a studio version on Pop’s 1997 debut The Idiot. Here, it’s a blistering and powerfully pure rock song; again, I have to cite the Slick guitarist who takes this song to the finish line with a sonic power wash like I’ve rarely heard or seen.
***“Under Pressure” – Bass player/singer Gail Ann Dorsey (session musician in the alternative rock scene, and frequent Bowie band member since the mid-1990s) tackles the original Bowie/Queen collaboration and hits the Mercury highs. This is an enveloping treatment of the tune and Dorsey soars.
***Also recommended – Lead-off track “Rebel Rebel”...“Sunday” (an atmospheric, “deep cut” kind of track from Bowie’s 2002 album Heathen)...“I’m Afraid of Americans”...and “Fame.”
Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio.....a documentary released in September 2013; written and directed by Chris Gilson & Carolyn Travis.
1.) As originally seen on PBS, this revelatory tale begins with the early days of AM Radio in the U.S.A. and the impact that early disc jockeys—and their pioneering playlists of rhythm & blues “race records”—had on the American music scene and society at large.
2.) Those interviewed include the regional disc jockeys from the late 1950s and early 1960s who first championed black music to their listening audiences—Dick Biondi, “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem, among others. There is also footage of deejay Alan Freed, who organized the first shower-of-stars type concerts that brought out fans across the color lines.
3.) Note: There is a website that was launched to accompany the documentary, and part of it is dedicated to the aforementioned on-air jocks who broke ground and broke down barriers. Of particular interest to Pittsburghers is the section that covers Porky Chedwick (Feb. 4, 1918 – March 2, 2014) who first started to spin his sounds in 1948. Chedwick, the self-described “Daddio of the Radio [editor’s note: the latter, in this case, was pronounced “rad-ee-o”], was the first white deejay on the Eastern Seaboard to exclusively air rhythm & blues music. He also helped launch the careers of a number of artists including but not limited to Bo Diddley, Little Anthony, and Smokey Robinson. To access Porky’s info, go directly here: https://www.theairplaychannel.com/the-deejay-lounge
4.) Also covered in the documentary: The payola scandal which kneed Freed...the rise of the Top Forty format and FM radio...the effect of corporate influence...and the birth of satellite radio.
Glastonbury - A Julien Temple film - A musical documentary (BBC Films / HanWay Films / TH!NKFilm) released as a two-DVD set in June 2007.
- Glastonbury is a long enduring English music festival that started up in 1970, and with just an occasional year off here and there, has largely endured through present day. It is always held on a farm near the village of Pilton, in the county of Somerset in southwest England.
- Director Julien Temple (who early in his career made an arresting 1979 documentary about the Sex Pistols called The Great Rock And Roll Swindle) used amateur video footage from past festivals, clips and full performances from artists, and his own 2002-2005 filmed material to fashion a historic record of the event.
- Glastonbury the film also features extended interviews with founder Michael Eavis, who traces his own evolution as a Methodist farmer-turned-music festival activist. The festival itself evolved as well, and the audiences & artist line-ups (over stretches of years) has essentially mirrored the socio-political changes going on in Britain and beyond.
- In an interview with the BBC’s Helen Otter after an April 2006 screening of his new film, director Temple said “I wanted to create a sense of being there at Glastonbury...A feeling of being there with the crowd, and of what it’s actually like to be at the festival.” He succeeded in that quest, right down to his down-and-dirty segment about the cleaning of the loos (toilets). Temple told Otter, “That part of the film grounds you...You’re on an exhilarating trip throughout the festival - you get so inspired by the sounds, the music, the people you meet...But then you have to remember that when that many people come together, they are human beings, and they do have to go to the loo. And the loo is not a good place to go.”
- The average attendance of the nearly yearly festival? Approximately 175,000.
- The film contains clips from Bowie, Bjork, Joe Strummer, Morrissey and more, and the set’s second disc has uncut performances--full songs from The Foo Fighters, Kaiser Chiefs, The White Stripes, The Killers, Goldfrapp, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Paul McCartney, R.E.M., Radiohead, and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds...This two-DVD set is a solid one-two punch: Historical Significance meets Music & Mayhem.
TWO DVDs OF PERFORMERS FLYIN’ HIGH: The Robinson brothers taking flight (as Crowes tend to do), and Chick Corea back on the mothership!
1) Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson / Brothers Of A Feather - Live At The Roxy.....released on DVD in 2007.
The Crowes collectively (hmmm…should we call them a “band,” a “flock” or a “murder?”) were on a break from recording and touring in the early 2000s, and before the band took wing again, the Brothers Robinson toured together in 2006 in a largely acoustic duo setting.
This DVD was released a year later, and what peaked musicasaurus.com’s initial interest was discovering that they cover Little Feat’s song “Roll Um Easy” (originally on Feat’s Dixie Chicken album).
I checked a few reviews from Crowes fan-atics on Amazon and they were all positive, of course. The disc features stripped-down versions of a few key Crowes tunes in addition to a few covers. Besides “Roll Um Easy” the cover songs include “Over The Hill,” originally written & performed by Brit folkie John Martyn, and “Polly,” a song popularized by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss on their 2007 album Raising Sand, but originally written and recorded by folk artist and one-time Byrds member Gene Clark.
2) Return To Forever / The Mothership Returns - A 2 CD and 1 DVD set.....released in 2012.
The jazz fusion group Return To Forever’s mainstay founder is keyboardist Chick Corea, who started up the band in 1971 as largely a Latin-influenced jazz ensemble (another founding member was bassist Stanley Clarke).
The band went through some personnel shifts from there and had its greatest success (commercially speaking) with the more muscular jazz fusion mid-70s line-up of Corea, Clarke, Lenny White on drums and Al Di Meola on guitar. This foursome reunited once on stage in 1983 and then—25 years after their original disbandment—again in the summer of 2008.
In 2011 a reformed and reconstituted Return To Forever toured again, this time without Di Meola but substituting in guitarist Frank Gambale and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.
The DVD included in this The Mothership Returns CD/DVD set has interviews, etc., but most tantalizing are the two complete song performances on the disc, one captured in Austin (“After The Cosmic Rain”) and the other at Montreux (“The Romantic Warrior”).
Currently in another section of this website—in A DAY IN THE LIFE—we explore the key album releases from the year 1978 including The Band’s The Last Waltz soundtrack and of course the landmark film from which it came, directed by Martin Scorsese.
So at this time in DANCING WITH MR. D…VD, we thought it appropriate to turn to another Scorsese achievement, this one from 2008—the rock doc called Shine A Light. This film captures the Stones in concert at NYC’s Beacon Theatre as part of the Stones’ 2006 A Bigger Bang Tour.
It was released to DVD in July 2008…
Martin Scorsese had previously done the film The Last Waltz, one of the best rock documentary/concerts of all time starring The Band and assorted musical guests. Here, he deploys his team and employs his craft to deliver a time capsule piece on the enduring power of the Stones’ live performances.
There are many highlights on this disc and the Stones invite along, on certain performances, the likes of Christina Aguilera, Jack White and Buddy Guy. But it is the Stones’ own material and performances that put the real glow in Shine A Light, and these reliable, rousing relics include “Live With Me,” “All Down The Line,” and “Faraway Eyes.”
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended track: “She Was Hot:" On the DVD, there is a brief snippet of a 1960s television interview with Mick Jagger in which he is asked by the interviewer “How much longer do you give yourself doing this thing?” (i.e., releasing records, because at this juncture the Stones had but two albums out). Mick replies that he never thought he’d be doing it for even two years, and goes on to say “I think we’re pretty well set up for at least another year.”
The track kicks off right after that, and there’s wizardry at work in front of and behind the cameras. Scorsese’s editing and the Stones’ balls-out performance of this track (from their 1983 album Under Cover) is amazing. We all look for moments in a particular live performance that give us that endorphin rush and irrepressible elation, and here it comes at just shy of 4 minutes in, when Jagger is engaged in a provocative, raise-the-bar exhortation with his backup singers, particularly Lisa Fischer. Suddenly the Stones’ front man cuts loose in a mad rooster spin that is somehow timed to a blistering crescendo from Keith Richards and the rest of the band—it’s all of a few seconds, but the moment is a lightning bolt directly from heaven to your rock and roll soul. I’m just glad that it is preserved forever for all of us—thank you, Mick and Martin!
A COUPLE O’ MICKS FOR YA…
1. From the 25thAnniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts.....Two four-hour shows at Madison Square Garden on two consecutive nights.....DVD released in September 2010.
On October 29 and 30, 2009 chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and Rolling Stone editor & publisher) Jann Wenner—with the help of an august steering committee—brought to life TWO nights of unforgettable rock and roll performances at NYC’s Madison Square Garden.
The two concerts featured amazing collaborations of reigning, retro and retired rock artists with the event’s driving purpose to raise a permanent endowment for the Hall. The two-night celebration ended up raising around $5 million dollars. Jagger was a surprise walk-on guest because the Stones were unable to attend as full band. He guested on U2’s performance of a Stones classic as well as joined in with Bono & company on a U2 song.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended Mick track: “Gimme Shelter”...It’s an atmospheric and artistically successful reworking of the time-honored Stones song by U2, and it starts off with special guests will.i.am and Fergie on stage. As Bono and band wind up to the opening vocals on the tune, Jagger suddenly rooster-struts onto the stage and sings out “Well, a storm is threatening…”
Mick is at his best here, sharing the spotlight and lead vocals with Bono, but it is the Fergie interlude that raises the stakes—and the temperature. Fergie masterfully steps into the role of Merry Clayton, the original voice on this now fifty-two year old track from the classic Let It Bleed album, and the former wails merrily along so that the tune doesn’t veer off its righteous path for even a few seconds.
2. From the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.....A 1968 made-for-TV special starring the Stones, plus special guests.....DVD released in October 2004.
This vintage TV special was long delayed to home video reportedly due to one or more of the Stones not being satisfied with the band’s performances. The original broadcast was in December 1968, and it wasn’t until almost thirty years later (1996) that it finally appeared on VHS; the DVD was then released in 2004. The special also featured The Who, John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithful, and Eric Clapton.
The performances were a bit uneven. The Stones performed a number of tracks from the just-released Beggar’s Banquet album (“Parachute Woman,” “No Expectations” and “Salt of the Earth”) and Jethro Tull unfortunately lip-syncs their one contribution.
Musicasaurus.com’s recommended Mick track: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”...In front of the live studio audience and the television cameras, the Stones roll out a relaxed but really quite powerful performance of this track from the soon-to-come 1969 release Let It Bleed. Twenty-five-year-old Mick plays to the cameras—which ain’t a crime but he IS quite the mugger—and he delivers a lock-up-your-daughters, sleazy-cool performance of this landmark Jagger-Richards composition.
20 Feet From Stardom.....2013 Oscar-winning Documentary available now on Netflix, home DVD, etc.
The film is just 90 minutes long, and it is a beautifully edited work that provides an emotional wallop.
The film explores the impact of individually unheralded backup singers who, through their participation and extraordinary talent & passion, have helped shaped our collective appreciation of some major musical artists’ recordings.
Back-up singers who reveal their hopes, dreams and challenges most notably include Merry Clayton and Darlene Love, but also lesser-known but no less talented performers such as Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, Táta Vega, and an incredible should-be-a-star named Lisa Fischer. The latter almost steals this documentary’s thunder through a short but spine-tingling session with Sting in the studio...
The whole film is a work of art and a tale that needed to be told...and Clayton’s story may be the best of the lot. In a June 2013 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Clayton told host Terry Gross about getting the call (literally) to do a vocal cameo for the Rolling Stones back in the Fall of 1969. The song that she recorded late that night with the band was “Gimme Shelter."
“Well, I’m at home at about 12–I’d say about 11:30, almost 12 o’clock at night. And I’m hunkered down in my bed with my husband, very pregnant, and we got a call from a dear friend of mine and producer named Jack Nitzsche. Jack Nitzsche called and said ‘you know, Merry, are you busy?’ I said ‘No, I’m in bed.’ He says, ‘well, you know, there are some guys in town from England. And they need someone to come and sing a duet with them, but I can’t get anybody to do it. Could you come?’ He said ‘I really think this would be something good for you.’”
(Musicasaurus.com’s interjected comment here): So Mary, who was tired, pregnant, and had NO idea who the Rolling Stones were, gets out of bed and rushes down to their studio where she first runs into Keith Richards, who explains what they would like her to do.
Mary continues: “I said, ‘Well, play the track. It’s late. I’d love to get back home.’ So they play the track and tell me that I’m going to sing–‘this is what you’re going to sing: Oh, children, it’s just a shot away.’ It had the lyrics for me. I said, ‘Well, that’s cool.’ So I did the first part, and we got down to the rape, murder part. And I said, ‘Why am I singing rape, murder?’…So they told me the gist of what the lyrics were, and I said ‘Oh, okay, that’s cool.’ So then I had to sit on a stool because I was a little heavy in my belly. I mean, it was a sight to behold. And we got through it. And then we went in the booth to listen, and I saw them hooting and hollering while I was singing, but I didn’t know what they were hooting and hollering about. And when I got back in the booth and listened, I said, ‘Ooh, that’s really nice.’ They said, ‘well, You want to do another?’ I said, ‘well, I’ll do one more, and then I’m going to have to say thank you and good night.’ I did one more, and then I did one more. So it was three times I did it, and then I was gone. The next thing I know, that’s history.”
TEN YEARS OF LATER...30 Great Performances (A BBC Production on Warner Music Vision)
This late Friday night BBC music program hosted by Jools Holland has been on the air since 1992, and this one-disc DVD retrospective released in 2002 contains some highlights from the show’s first decade. The show is currently still up and running on Britain’s BBC Two network, and stateside has most recently run on Ovation.
The performers on the program are a mix of the well-known and the maybe-more-deserving, and there are five per program. Holland leads off each episode with a short jam session involving all five artists and there are some brief interview sessions as well.
Pianist Holland also occasionally plays with one or more of the bands when it’s time for the individual performances. The band gear set-ups are interestingly arranged; they’re situated in a circle with audience members peppered in between.
This particular DVD contains 30 individual performances and as stated, all are culled from the shows that aired between 1992 and 2011.
Musicasaurus.com’s Choice for Standout Track:
“No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige.....This is incendiary, inspirational, and you may have to watch it several times at first sitting to actually believe your eyes & ears—this track builds with an intensity that is unparalleled. (I know. This is high praise. But praise the Lord, Blige delivers.)
Musicasaurus.com’s Other Recommended Tracks:
“Down By The Water” by PJ Harvey (1995).....Kind of a chameleon from album to album, English singer-songwriter and musician Harvey donned a black dress, red lipstick and teal eye shadow to perform this enticingly bizarro alternative tune. She’s not for all tastes, but stands tall as a real creative force in music (two of her records are in Rolling Stone Magazine’s“500 Greatest Albums of All Time”).
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve (1997).....Lead vocalist Richard Ashcroft and band are appropriately backed up by a 7-piece string section for a stirring version of this track.
“The Star and The Wiseman” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1998).....Introduced to many of us via their appearance with Paul Simon on his Graceland CD and DVD, Ladysmith is ten gifted African Americans who deal out the sweetest a cappella gold.
“Babylon” by David Gray (2000).....Backed up only by drums and electric piano, Gray plays acoustic guitar and performs a fetching rendition of his 1998 hit “Babylon.”
“Wahira” by Ibrahim Ferrer & Cachaito (2001).....Afro-Cuban singer Ferrer and Cuban bassist Cachaito were members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Here, they are backed by percussionists and horn players who follow in that tradition.
The Rest of the DVD: Includes performances from Portishead, Massive Attack, Paul Weller (formerly of The Jam), Oasis, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Coldplay, Orbital, D’Angelo, Diana Krall, Morrissey, Moby, and more.