The Pixies: Live, Acoustic and Electric
RIYL: Nirvana, The Replacements, Jesus & Mary Chain
Here’s a nifty Blu-ray two-fer for the indie rock purist in your life. “Acoustic” and “Electric” were released individually in 2006, but are smartly paired together here, along with some footage of one of the Pixies’ first gigs at the legendary TT the Bear’s.
The acoustic show, recorded in 2005 at the Newport Folk Festival, was certainly a unique affair for both the festival and the band; the band had never done a full acoustic show before, and the festival organizers never had an artist that could claim to have influenced Nirvana, but there they were, plugging through a well-balanced set of alt rock hits (“Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Here Comes Your Man”) and large chunks of their debut album Surfer Rosa and their 1989 breakthrough Doolittle. It’s cute, though forcing guitarist Joey Santiago to play an entire set without an electric guitar is a crime against nature, something that the “Electric” set rectifies. Recorded at the tiny Paradise rock club in Boston only a few days after the Newport gig (Frank Black and Kim Deal are even wearing the same shirts), “Electric” is the Pixies as they are meant to be heard. Black even goes off the set list at the beginning and begs drummer David Lovering to do “La La Love You” because his mom’s in the audience. The band scarcely lets up from there, and Santiago gets his ya-ya’s out on a blistering version of “Vamos” where he plays his effects pedals like a synthesizer.
There isn’t much in the way of on-stage banter – after the first couple songs, they just tend to play and play – and for some reason they had no use for “Dig for Fire,” one of their best-known songs – but they get credit for mixing up the set lists and covering 37 different songs between the two shows. And with the holidays fast approaching, this is the kind of thing that someone is probably reluctant to buy, but would love to get. (Eagle Vision 2010)
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Posted in: Alternative, Artists, CD Reviews, Concert DVDs, Indie, Music DVDs, Rock
Tags: Acoustic & Electric, David Lovering, Frank Black, Headlines, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, Newport Folk Festival, The Paradise, the Pixies
Jackson Browne: Going Home
RIYL: The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley
In 1994, Jackson Browne released I’m Alive, a strong collection of songs that was a return to personal songwriting after years of political. In conjunction with that release, the Disney Channel, when they still offered programming that would appeal to adults, presented this documentary, “Jackson Browne: Going Home.” The 90-minute production captures the artist performing live with his great band from the ’90s, as well as footage of Browne, mostly at his home, sharing stories about his life, his career and the process he goes through making music. Interspersed with the concert and backstage footage are rare photos and filmed performances that span his career up to that point.
The live concert production is tight and immaculately produced. Like many of his Laurel Canyon 1970s singer-songwriter comrades, there is an attention to detail when Brown performs that makes you appreciate the professionalism of the artist. No note is out of place; what has been recorded on the record is duplicated perfectly in concert. However, Browne is also one of those artists who knows how to connect with his audience, making each concert unique. So, whether singing live in front of 20,000 or in a sterile TV studio for a small number of fans, it never feels like he’s going through the motions.
The abundance of music in the documentary seems far too much for only an hour and a half, but it all fits and everything sounds fantastic. The song selections must represent Browne’s set list in the early ’90s; mixed in with ’70s classics like “These Days,” “The Pretender” and “Before the Deluge,” are standouts from his late ’80s period like “In the Shape of a Heart,” “World In Motion” and “Sky Blue and Black.” There are also some excellent deep cuts, like “Farther On” and “Birds of St. Marks.”
Many of Browne’s famous friends show up. David Lindley, Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Don Henley, Jennifer Warnes and the rest of the Eagles all make appearances, with Lindley, Crosby, Nash and Warnes performing live with Browne and his band.
It’s hard to believe that “Going Home” was shot in 1994. Aside from some graying hair and additional wrinkles here and there, Browne doesn’t appear to have aged at all in all of these years. Moreover, his voice continues to sound as youthful as ever. A nifty video montage of “Doctor My Eyes” edits together performances that range from early in his career to the ’94 show. So often with these type of DVD releases, only hardcore fans will buy them. However, this is one release that stands on its own as a quality film whether you’ve been following Jackson Browne for years or just heard of him yesterday. (Eagle Records 2010)
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: Classic Albums: “Damn the Torpedoes”
When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the studio to record their important third album, 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, they hired Jimmy Iovine, the brash New Yorker who had been involved with several other important third records, like Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (as an engineer) and Patti Smith’s Easter, to co-produce the album. Iovine’s drive and perfectionism were ideal for bringing out the best in the band and capturing the Heartbreakers’ blend of British Invasion rhythms and Byrds-like jangle and help them rise beyond cult favorites to superstar status. The making of Damn the Torpedoes would become an enormous challenge for the band, not only in the studio, as egos clashed, but with their record company, who at one point threatened not to release the album. The story behind this important album, one that is credited with “saving rock ‘n roll” from disco, is laid out in this superb Classic Albums DVD from Eagle Vision, another in their long line of excellent documentaries about important records in rock history.
You know the songs: “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Even the Losers.” To this day, these songs are played constantly on rock radio. What’s fascinating about this DVD is learning how those songs came together, to hear Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and Iovine discuss the methods they went about piecing the songs together from riffs, to getting the band to play them just right during the recording process. It’s also nice to hear from the engineer on the record, the legendary Shelly Yakus, on how he came up with some of the record’s signature sounds, including the distinct quality of Stan Lynch’s drums.
The feuds between Lynch and Iovine were constant, with the producer grinding the band’s drummer about the way he played. At one point, Lynch left, was fired or quit. As Tench makes clear, many talented drummers came in to audition, but none of them were right for the Heartbreakers – none of them were Stan Lynch. Unfortunately, Lynch is the only original member of the band who did not provide a current interview for this DVD. As we understand it, he has a “been there done that” attitude about discussing his days with the Heartbreakers (he wouldn’t even get involved with “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” the monumental Peter Bogdanovich-directed documentary from 2008). However, the producers dug up some old interviews with Lynch to insert at the right moments so that the accounts of making this historical album were not one-sided. It was also nice to hear Tench and bassist Ron Blair speak so fondly about Lynch, with Blair even holding out hope that someday he may jam with them again.
In addition to the details about the making of Damn the Torpedoes, getting to watch the band members listen to the original tapes for the first time in years and to have Tench explain how he and Yakus happened upon some of the beautiful textures Tench added to the mix, there is the history of the band’s struggles with their record company. When the band’s original contract with ABC records was sold to MCA, Petty refused to just join the new label (especially a huge corporation) without his consent. At one point he filed for bankruptcy as he battled MCA, who threatened to not let him release Damn the Torpedoes. Fortunately, Danny Bramson’s fledgling label, Backstreet Records, stepped in to help foster a deal between Petty and MCA and things were smoothed out.
Of course, the album was released to great critical acclaim, it spawned numerous hits, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers broke through to the mainstream. The DVD captures all of the joy and excitement of the band’s success and is a must-see for any fan of the Heartbreakers and good music in general. (Eagle Vision 2010)
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Posted in: Artists, CD Reviews, Music DVDs, Pop, Rock
Tags: Benmont Tench, Damn the Torpedoes, Headlines, Jimmy Iovine, Mike Campbell, music documentaries, Ron Blair, Shelly Yakus, Stan Lynch, Tom Petty, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The Best of Soul Train (3 DVD)
RIYL: ’70s soul, really bad fashion, Afro-Sheen
Prior to MTV (to say nothing of the network’s lack of acceptance for soul and rap music for half a decade or so) and BET, or for those of us who just didn’t have cable for a long time, “Soul Train” was the primary destination for soul music lovers looking to check out their favorite artists. Running for over three decades, just about everyone who was ever anyone in R&B or hip-hop stood on the hallowed “Soul Train” stage and performed as dozens of young, stylish dancers showed off their latest moves.
Time-Life has recently opened the “Soul Train” vaults and unleashed a nine-DVD set containing hours of performances, interviews and legendary routines, and even more recently, some of the all-time classic performances have been compiled onto the “Best of Soul Train” DVD.
This 3-disc set contains performances from some of the all-time greats of soul music, and almost all of them come from the show’s first few years, 1971-1979. (Stevie Wonder provides the only content coming from a later date, with a 1991 medley of his hits.) Although many of “Soul Train’s” guests lip-synched, this set is heavy on the rare live performances. They include a sweaty run through “That Lady” by the Isley Brothers, riveting performances of “Use Me” and “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, an impromptu duet of “Ooh Baby Baby” by Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, and a performance by Barry White and a huge orchestra that must have required Don Cornelius’s production company to expand the Soul Train stage.
In addition to those performances, you get mimed but still incredible performances by the Jackson 5, the Commodores and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (featuring a frighteningly dressed Teddy Pendergrass). There’s also interview footage from those shows (worth the cost for the Marvin Gaye segment alone) as well as several dance routines that show how ahead of their time the Soul Train dancers were (in addition to how horrendous some of the fashions of the time were). You also get to see some of the groundbreaking commercials that ran during the Soul Train episodes, among the first ads to feature products geared exclusively towards a black audience. Bonus footage includes interviews with Soul Train creator/host Don Cornelius, the legendary Smokey Robinson, and Soul Train dancer-turned-Grammy winning singer Jody Watley.
As an admitted “Soul Train”-aholic, I’m hoping that eventually the highlights from every episode (up until the mid-Nineties, when I pretty much stopped watching) gets released. However, if you are a fan of soul music in any one of its incarnations, you need to have this DVD in your collection. So throw on your tightest bell-bottoms, pick your afro, and take a ride on the funkiest train in music history. As Don famously stated at the end of each episode, “you can bet your last money that it’s gonna be a stone gas, honey!”
Posted in: CD Reviews, Funk, Hip Hop, Music DVDs, Pop, R&B, Soul
Tags: Aretha Franklin, Barry White, Best of Soul Train, Best of Soul Train DVD review, Bill Withers, Don Cornelius, DVD review, Eat Sleep Drink Music, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Headlines, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, The Jackson Five
The Kings: Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder
Strange that we would see two releases in the same year about Canadian rock bands that hit their commercial peak in the early ’80s but continue to soldier on, but the entertainment business is funny like that (see: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”). However, the Kings, who owned Friday afternoon drive time on rock radio for years thanks to their bouncy “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” and its “Nothing matters but the weekend” battle cry, did not assemble “Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder” to inspire sympathy; rather, this collection of the band’s music videos and live performances, combined with a 40-minute documentary of the band members describing the origins of “Beat/Switchin’,” is a sweet love letter to both its fans and even casual admirers of their big hit. Singer Dave Diamond, who at times recalls Martin Short, does most of the talking (though that is likely because guitarist John Picard, a.k.a. Mr. Zero, is shooting the interviews), and he’s refreshingly aware of the Kings’ place in the grand scheme of things; when he talks about working with mega-producer Bob Ezrin (just after he finished The Wall, no less) or appearing on “American Bandstand,” he’s not sticking his chest out as he does so, thank goodness. The interview footage is admittedly not professional quality (Zero financed the movie himself, shooting and editing it over a three-year period), but no one buying this video is looking for slick production. In fact, the DVD is worth purchasing for the opening clip alone, where Zero splices footage from dozens of performances of the band’s big hit and creates one monster performance video. Good for them for seeing this video through to its completion. Now, if you’ll politely oblige, your presence is requested by Diamond and Zero in the Mercedes. (Dizzy Records 2009)
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Posted in: Artists, DVD Quicktakes, Music DVDs, Rock
Tags: Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder, Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder DVD review, Dave Diamond, Mr Zero, Switchin' to Glide, The Kings, The Kings DVD review, This Beat Goes On, This Beat Goes On/Switchin' to Glide