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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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)

Click here to purchase Classic Albums: Damn the Torpedoes from Amazon

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!”
(Time-Life 2010)

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)

Click to buy The Kings: Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder

Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression

A definite step above the other unauthorized biographies in Sexy Intellectual’s catalog but not yet on par with the Classic Albums series, this look at the metamorphosis of Depeche Mode from cult electronic act to one of the biggest bands in the world makes one hell of an argument for the band as a worthy inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Featuring interviews with several of the band’s producers (Gareth Jones, Dave Bascombe, Daniel Miller) and electronic peers (Thomas Dolby, Gary Numan, OMD’s Andy McCluskey), the documentary focuses on the band’s rather gutsy decision to explore darker territory, beginning with 1986′s Black Celebration and ending with 1993′s Songs of Faith and Devotion, by which time the band was topping the US charts. The claim that the documentary features interviews with the band members is a tad dishonest, as they merely include clips from the short films that Mute assembled for the reissues of the band’s catalog in 2006 (and only one clip per member at that). They also gloss over the reasons behind Alan Wilder’s departure from the band, a move from which the band has only recently begun to recover. However, there is enough here that will thrill fans of the band in particular and of electronic music in general. Who knew that Andrew Fletcher was a fan of heavy metal? (Sexy Intellectual 2009)

Click here to buy Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression

Return to Forever: Return to Forever Returns: Live at Montreux 2008

Of all the reunions pianist Chick Corea has participated in over the past few years, last year’s resurrection of the classic Return to Forever lineup – Corea, guitarist Al DiMeola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White – turned out to be the most musically rewarding. The guys play as if it were still 1976, and Corea even took a vintage Rhodes to the stage to keep it authentic. If anything, the group is even better now with age and wisdom – DiMeola’s guitar runs sparkle with soul, Clarke’s and White’s rhythms are even earthier now, and in spite of these musicians having so distinctly honed their identities over time, Chick is still the masterful glue that keeps it all together. Though known mostly for their electric work, RTF’s acoustic side is on display for almost half of Live at Montreux, with Chick’s solo improvisation before “The Romantic Warrior” (with Clarke and White as a straight-ahead trio) proving that RTF, for all their fusion tendencies, were always, deep down, a jazz band. (Eagle Rock Entertainment 2009)

Return to Forever MySpace page

Dear Mr. Fantasy: A Celebration of Jim Capaldi

In January of 2007, a very distinguished set of musicians put on a concert celebrating the life and work of Jim Capaldi, a founding member of Traffic who died in January of 2005 of stomach cancer at the age of 60. The DVD capturing the event is pleasant enough and features performances and contributions from musicians who worked with and were inspired by Capaldi’s spirit, songwriting and musicianship. The list includes Steve Winwood, Capaldi’s Traffic bandmate, who delivers a solid version of the Traffic classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and other luminaries such as Joe Walsh, Paul Weller, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) and Deep Purple alum and keyboard genius Jon Lord. The house band supporting these stars during the show included Bad Company alum Simon Kirke on the drums and multi-instrumentalist and band leader Mark Rivera (Foreigner, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel). The artists offer competent versions of Traffic and Capaldi solo material while adding a wrinkle or two of their own. Islam sneaks in a refrain of “Wild World” during “Man With No Country” and Walsh, ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and Jon Lord deliver a bluesy, soulful rendition of “Living on the Outside.” Solid, mellow and entertaining without a ton of bells and whistles, the concert delivers a fine tribute to a respected artist and his work from those who loved him the most. (Eagle Vision)

Click to buy Dear Mr. Fantasy: A Celebration of Jim Capaldi

Talk Talk: Live at Montreux 1986

Is it just us, or is Talk Talk one of the most underrated bands of all time? Seriously, is there another band on the planet that had the growth trajectory over its first five albums that Talk Talk exhibited? (Your results may vary over the course of Talk Talk’s last two albums, but you cannot deny that they refused to do the same thing twice, come hell or high water.) This video catches the band both at their commercial peak (their third album, 1986’s The Colour of Spring) and on their last tour, playing Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival and bringing a small but packed house to its knees. Singer Mark Hollis was not one for small talk with the audience, or even doing much more than walking between the mic and the drum riser (or taking off his sunglasses, indoors), but when he starts singing, he shakes like a man possessed by the Holy Ghost, and with perfect pitch to boot. Even the band’s earlier, more synthesized fare is fleshed out by the eight-piece band, giving some unlikely songs a little welcome breathing room (“Call in the Night Boy” in particular). The set list is near-bulletproof – all the big hits, from “Talk Talk” to “Living in Another World” and “Life’s What You Make It” are here, along with their It’s My Life album in its entirety, save one song – though we wished that they had made room for “Happiness Is Easy” in the 14-song set. Then again, the band did what every great band does: they left us wanting more. This is a must-have for any fan of a criminally unappreciated band. (Eagle Vision)

Click to buy Talk Talk: Live at Montreux 1986

Video Vault – Paul McCartney, “Pretty Little Head”

I’m not the only one on the Bullz-Eye staff who loves Paul McCartney’s oft-maligned Press to Play album, but what I don’t know is if I’m the last one to see the video for one of its songs, “Pretty Little Head.” Macca was all over the place on this album, stylistically speaking, and this particular track really doesn’t sound like anything else he’s ever done; even more unique, however, is the video mix of the song, which ups the ante and makes it way more single-worthy than it did on the album. (If anyone knows where I can find a copy of this version, let me know!)

As to the video, it’s actually pretty damned impressive…or, at least, it would’ve been considered such in the ’80s, when it was originally made and released. I still can’t believe I’d never seen it until I picked up the new McCartney DVD set.

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