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VARIOUS ARTISTS –
The 25th Anniversary Of
The Marquee Club

Angel Air 2007

A half of century at the door, a glance is cast back at the half-way of one of the most famous hangouts in the world.

If there ever was a template for a rock club, “The Marquee” was it. A launch pad for many music legends, the place has obtained a legendary status itself, but that’s hardly comes across from this documentary. Shot in mid-80s, the movie tracks back the establishment’s history through interviews with its founders, Harold Pendleton and Chris Barber, and such luminary patrons as Phil Collins and Kenney Jones. Their recollections are interspersed with the live segments, mostly from 1983, which are almost always out of the narrative context: NAZARETH, with their blistering cover of “This Flight Tonight”, come up right after Barber mentions Rory Gallagher.

Still, it’s amazing that not only rockers felt at “The Marquee” at home – it started as a jazz and blues hangout in the first place – but also such special artists as the voodoo charmer Dr John brewing up the gumbo of “Little Lisa Jane”, or those Ghana Jumbos, OSIBISA. Nothing could be out of place here… Well, nothing but Dave Dee as a presenter, ridiculous rather than hilarious. Yet that’s a part of the fun. There’s a little story told of THE ROLLING STONES thrown out of the club for being “awful”, and then there’s Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts backing the British Blues Godfather, Alexis Korner, on “Hoochie Kootchie Man”. Much to enjoy, then, from vintage STATUS QUO to CHERRY BOMBZ. A timely release for the institution, re-opened in August 2007.

***3/4

 
ANNIE HASLAM –
Live Studio Concert
Philadelphia 1997

Voiceprint 2006
See the CD

The RENAISSANCE lady having a gracious ball in the closest approximity of angels.

With no official video from her former band, this performance is a great gift for all the fans of Annie Haslam’s talent not able to experience her stage show. To call it a show would be unfair to the singer, though, as Annie’s just being her natural self here, good-humored and welcoming. Not that Haslam has a fear of “five thousand people” she’s joking about, but to sing before the friends always feels more pleasant – and challenging, too. Yet a warm, homey atmosphere with carpet-covered floor of the small studio adds to the impression of the concert being played in a living room, especially with the audience sitting right on the boards. Even the grand piano that Rave Tesar caresses brings no superficial grandeur to the proceedings, and it is captivating to see how Joe Goldberger and David Biglin build their perfect harmonies under the lead vocals in “Captive Heart”.

Clad in a black trousers suit, Annie nevertheless looks like a fragile, if self-confident, butterfly fluttering over the twilight bloom, which fits the music she plays so well, and the songstress’s little dance routine is so enthralling when it illustrates the nuances of the “Pool Of Tears” lyrics and melody. There’s great plasticity in “What He Seeks” moves as well, and that’s a showcase of Haslam’s solo output, with only three RENAISSANCE pieces thrown in, with “Carpets Of The Sun” opening out and “The Young Prince And Princess” for the finale. This might be a challenge again if it wasn’t so powerful; still, unlike many others, Annie doesn’t show any physical tenston when reaching for the highest notes which she harnesses with marvellous precision. Sometimes the lady seems to be lost in some sweet reverie, and it’s quite to easy to join Haslam in it because what she gives is a gentle, watercolor dream.

*****

 
MAGGIE BELL &
MIDNIGHT FLYER –
Live Montreux July 1981

Angel Air 2007
See the CD

“The other band” of the Glaswegian blues lady coming on strong but flying too low.

It’s a matter of time – and perhaps space – to position what you do right in order to succeed, and this British quintet appeared in limbo and went along with the flow. Their element was blues, not the most fashionable genre in the early ’80s, so not ready to move too far from the Muscle Shoals and not willing to be splashing on the shoal, the band decided to flex their collective muscle in rock ‘n’ roll. And what a mighty collective that was!

Drummer Dave Dowle, bassist Tony Stevens and, of course, Maggie Bell whose post-STONE THE CROWS solo career hadn’t been as successful as it should have been, all had immaculate credentials, and here the famous Swiss festival’s crowd gives the ensemble their due from the off, once the singer starts rocking from the hip with “Hey Boy”. But most of the time MIDNIGHT FLYER seem bored with entertaining the mob and trying to entertain themselves. They’re indeed having fun in “Danger Money”, with Tone Stevens and guitarist Ant Glynne reinforcing the vocal department, yet there’s a feeling that the band never show their abilities in full swing. They come alive in ballad “Rough Trade” where Bell fathoms the bottom of the heart, and Glynne operates the keyboards before unleashing a slide solo, and you wish they extend it and take it to the limit – but they don’t. Maggie doesn’t even care to announce the songs under the titles they have on the album – released 6 months earlier!

But that’s as close to blues as you could get, because even THE CROWS’ “Penicillin Blues” receives a speeded-up interpretation which incorporates guitar foray into Monti’s Csardas. Fortunately, there were two old masters on the bill that day who, in turns, join the band on stage to save the day. And it’s here, in a tremendous reading of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” with Taj Mahal and in fiery jamming with Albert Collins that the greatness of MIDNIGHT FLYER is revealed. And it’s a pity they occupied the wrong time.

***1/2

 
STONE THE CROWS –
In Concert,
Beat Workshop,
Germany, 1973

Angel Air 2007

Look up at the blue-sy skies. At the end of their flight, the Scottish finest still were the mighty firebirds.

“Shot down in flames” may not be the right description of the STONE THE CROWS sad demise as the band just ceased to be. Their soul started to wane in 1972 when Les Harvey was electrocuted on-stage, even though ex-THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN guitarist Jimmy McCulloch seemed an adequate replacement musically; for Maggie Bell the emotional gears shifted to the point of no return. Not that the finest female blues belter Britain has ever produced showed that in public.

Always a focal figure, this performance finds the singer hot and strutting but she doesn’t play up a sex card. Maggie’s a great ball of fire, her magnetism making it rather hard for other musicians to shine, but they rise to a challenge and while McCulloch looks rather shy, Ronnie Leahy fries a fine funky chicken on his organ on “On The Highway”. Young Jim, six strings blisteringly blazing, comes to the fore on the Freddie King classic “Going Down”, a visual testament to the band’s amazing ability to build a tension and then, on the very edge of frenzy setting it, to give a groove the rein. It feels just natural for them to switch from the climactic “Niagara” coda to the slow sadness of “Sunset Cowboy”, a move by which a rhythm section of Colin Allen and Steve Thompson demonstrate their subtle versatility.

The boldness is in play even in the choice of the material as the quintet stick strictly to their last record, “‘Ontinuous Performance”, save for another King’s cover, with no cut from the STONE THE CROWS’ previous studio efforts. The “Beat Workshop” TV programme feels a good place to do a small workout from “Penicillin Blues”, and if the band could put such an incendiary show in a television studio, it’s easy to imagine how inflammable they were in front of the crowd.

*****

 
STUART SMITH –
The Making Of Heaven & Earth

Black Star Records 2006

A hilarious yet highly informative stroll behind the scenes of one fine record.

“Stuart Smith is an unforgettable character”, says Keith Emerson, and this DVD testifies to the maestro’s words, even he’s not on the album which lies in its core. "Heaven And Earth", released in 1999, caused a bit of sensation in hard rock circles, as Stuart, seemingly a guitar prodigy out of nowhere, roped in the genre’s elite and reined the motley crue in to ensure his record’s integrity. The most amazing thing about this project is that Smith has managed to bring together not only great players but also great characters – to a man – so there’s not only a staggering amount of musicianship involved but an equal, if not much, personality. And most of the musicians involved are here, going down the memory lane with a loud laughter to scare off a casual ghost.

That’s how music DVDs should be made: even though the word “pre-amp” is muttered a couple of times, all the detail for the tech freaks and instruments geeks are in the extras but it’s not that boring anyway. Without delving too deep into the technical stuff, Stuart Smith and his heavy friends go to the heart of each song on that record, telling its story and showing how it’s done. Sometimes, like with the title song, the stories are bigger – and surely longer – than the piece itself, and why not? If the record has not-so-hidden in-jokes, its background sometimes took a real jokey turn – just note a twinkle in Joe Lynn Turner‘s eye when he recalls the first meeting with Smith and their night on the town in London. That was after one of the RAINBOW’s concerts, as Stuart’s an old friend of Ritchie Blackmore’s.

But how many madmen would dare to challenge Blackmore in his shenanigans, with some pranks documented on this DVD by way of home filming that makes a fine line with more than an hour of amateur live footage? How many people could get Turner write the lyrics and the melody for the song to be given to Bobby Kimball to sing? And how many guitarists will allow a fellow six-stringer – well, Richie Sambora was Smith’s brother-in-law at the time of the album’s recording – take a lead on their record? Stuart would, could and, most definitely, will. Why does he suck, then? Watch it all to find this out!

*****

 
IQ – Stage

Giant Electric Pea 2006

One band between two worlds, two shows one week apart.

There are many sides to the night – but how many facets can the different nights have? In July 2005, having just integrated a new drummer into their ranks, IQ set out for foreign shores, and in ten days crossed the Atlantic twice to play two festivals: the NEARfest, in the US, and, in Germany, Burg Herzberg. So the circumstances initially determined very different settings which could pose a real challenge for a lesser band but not this one. This one went along with the flow, mainly in the mood and the spirit of things, bringing on the musical goods according to the situation.

Thus, the show in Germany, at the open-air venue, feels quite informal with the frontline trio of Peter Nicholls, John Jowitt and Michael Holmes in playful mode and not-so-conceptual lighting, but that somehow adds up to a live atmosphere. The audience’s reaction, though, makes guess if the majority of the punters know the band’s music – a total opposite thing to the American concert. Well, NEARfest is a home away from home for prog rock artists, and there one must do his best to surprise. So, starting with “Sacred Ground”, IQ, dressed mostly in black, look gloomy and menacing – something that’s never been registered with this band before. The atmosphere of alienation, painted in the "Dark Matter" colors, warms up with “Born Brilliant”, where Nicholls employs his illustrative gesturing to stress the lyrics’ meaning, and sucks a watcher in to wake him to life with Jowitt’s bass-less dance on the pedals during “The Last Human Gateway”. Yes, it’s very human: just see – a touching detail! – Martin Orford taking away the empty bottles from the stage once the show’s over. Splitting screen allows different angles of the stage view mix with the background animation distilled for better observation of this humanity. A multi-dimensional experience of a multi-dimensional group.

****1/2

 
ANATHEMA –
A Moment In Time

Metal Mind 2006

The sombre Liverpudlians caught in the act between heaven and hell.

You can’t remain unchanged being from the Merseyside, and this band has made a natural – for them and, it seems, for their fans, too – shift from doom metal to progressive rock. That didn’t make the group fall from grace in the eyes of those hooked on heavy music, which is nicely documented on this DVD shot in March 2006 in Poland, at the Metalmania festival stage. The title has it all wrong, though, as there should have been “the” instead of “a”, because it was a special performance, with ANATHEMA accompanied by BACCHUS STRING QUARTET. Not a full-on rock ensemble plus orchestra combination, which is not a rare thing these days, the two collectives’ sounds blend perfectly. Albinoni’s “Adagio” is a very chamber beginning that emphasises the importance of the event, but if sometimes the acoustic instruments get drowned in electric storm, in “Balance” it turns into a magnetic – and magnificent – blizzard spiked with vestiges of the Liverpool band’s metal past.

As if the enforced instrumentation isn’t enough, vocalist Vincent Cavanagh plays not only guitar but resorts to the keyboards when it’s needed, as do his brothers, bassist Jamie and guitarist Danny. When it comes to the attack, there’s enough of this to bring the singer to his knees during “Closer”, yet the music remains cold throughout no matter how comfortable the string envelope is, and the plush dog that sits on John Douglas’ drum kit doesn’t make the atmosphere too cozy. To sum it all up – and to proudly wear their influences on the collective sleeve at last – the concert closes with PINK FLOYD classic “Comfortably Numb”. And with some amps bashing to boot which makes the public roar even more

Other than musical, there’s almost no interaction between the players and, for that matter, between the band and the public: so while the crowd is enthusiastic and joins in for “One Last Goodbye”, the group are self-contained to the degree of being uninviting to the uninitiated. Two years before, in 2004, they were more edgy, as seen in the additional material on the DVD, but still demonstrated a rare sensitivity by covering FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Albatross” and pre-facing “Fragile Dreams” with a quote from FLOYD’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. That wasn’t anything unusual, whereas this moment in time is.

***1/2

 
BLACKMORE’S NIGHT –
Castles & Dreams

SPV 2005

Raise your hats and your glasses too, go and dance the whole night through.

If there’s a band caring about their fans, it’s BLACKMORE’S NIGHT. Awaited for long and delayed a couple of times, this DVD exceeds the expectations as it turns out to be not only a different concert than the one previewed on "Beyond The Sunset" collection but comes on two discs. The second contains a good ton of additional features that can be seen as a tour around a medieval village that you have to explore to find the hidden gems. Among them are interviews, acoustic live performances and nicely directed videos, and even the private cam footage which captures the band playing to themselves in a castle to the sounds of thunderstorm. But it’s the first disc documenting a November 2004 peformance in a German castle, Burg Veldenstein, that holds the real magic.

The band may act as if they’re in a play but they are anyway, and they go down their own penny lanes, strolling along lantern-lit alleys blowing penny whistles. The medieval environment is perfect for the Renaissance music the minstrels’ troupe play, yet the music is not chamberly perfect, the show brings on the jolly fair atmosphere where the audience takes as important a part as the band. Twists and turns abound, the thing BLACKMORE’S NIGHT do doesn’t find Ritchie Blackmore re-thinking his idiom so much as it may seem, the guitarist’s parts are really a continuation of his work with “one or two bands Ritchie was in before this one”, as his fiancee puts it. Harking back to the distant past, he doesn’t refuse to cast a glance at not as faraway years to mould “Soldier Of Forrtune” and “Child In Time” anew, in a crucible of the ensemble’s own, the latter enchased in the courteous “Mond Danz”, and to be back for the encore with a crowd call of “Black Night”.

On the closer look, the complaint of the guitar being less prominent these days appears to be unfair. Sure, it comes from Ritchie’s old fans who initially formed the basis of his new endeavor’s audience, but now their marvellous folk-pop embraces much wider circles. Still, Blackmore seems to be more at ease with his creme Stratocater on than with acoustic guitar he masters no less great or mandolin that provides the base for “Village On The Sand”. Now it’s almost impossible to say he’s a leader, now Ritchie’s a real team player. Sometimes Blackmore looks as though he’s playing to himself while the rest of the lot do a tune but his lace always weaves an elaborate texture in the tapestry which can, like in “Queen For A Day”, amount to something like a highly charged rock ‘n’ roll, the one adorned with Candice’s woodwinds.

And that’s a lot of fun, sentimental “Once In A Million Years” (ah, just watch the end of the video that’s on the second disc!) and “Ghost Of A Rose” tugging at the heart strings as strong as singalong of “Home Again”, where Blackmore breaks into some unexpected folk bits like way back at the DEEP PURPLE shows, or “Under A Violet Moon”. There’s scintillating humor with a deadpan face – Ritchie’s face, of course, as Lady Night charms with a smile and a small chit chat, and even engages her deceptively surly man in a little dance. Too bad, BLACKMORE’S NIGHT don’t make the charts all the world over: if the world danced to these Pied Pipers’ tune, it would be a better place.

*****

 
QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS –
Return Of The Champions

Queen Touring 2005

Still a royal act to come down with thundebolt and lightning, they do it all right now.

When it was announced that QUEEN would tour again, many thought it was a joke – but their new singer’s name convinced everybody in the seriousness of the intent. Whether Brian May and Roger Taylor with skilful extras are still QUEEN is questionable but there’s no question theirs is a fantastic rock show, though now it’s much more straightforward rock than before. Instead of theatricality and prancing there are muscularity and athletics. Paul Rodgers is not a mere stand-up for the great Fred, which is impossible, and not a part of the line-up: he’s ‘plus’ as he’s special. Brian and Rog couldn’t have made a better choice for a singer’s place than Paul, well-respected vocalist and a legend in his own right by the time when his new collaborators were only starting, so he’s one of the few warblers not influenced by Mercury and, therefore, able to handle QUEEN material with his own bluesy inflections.

More so, now Taylor and May receive their due as singers, because over the years their late friend’s vocal prowess overshadowed their voicing on the early albums. While they obviously feel insecure a bit, Paul’s a really intimidating position, as there’s no safety net of a one-off event that was Mercury Memorial Show where if one screwed up, people could forget about it )Robert Plant nixed inclusion of his take on “Innuendo” in the DVD release) but Rodgers is not of a feeble kind, and it’s him who starts it off with “Reaching Out” that he and Brian recorded in 1996 before the band kick in for “Tie Your Mother Down” to rock on mightily from there on.

The harmonies are still majestic, be it “Fat Bottomed Girls” or creepy “The Show Must Go On” that Freddie never got to perform outside of studio, and perhaps, FREE’s “Wishing Well’ never packed such a punch before. And there’s a genuine integrity that’s stressed up when Brian and Paul take identical guitars for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. A lot of grumbling that’s been heard when the tour was announced turns into the punters’ roar now, a sign of approval; there’s more participance from the audience these days, they’re so enthusiastic singing “Love Of Life” for Mercury’s mother who was among them in Sheffield, where the show was filmed. But Fred is here too, with a clever resolution for “Bo Rhap” to be played along with Mercury’s Wembley tape and Rodgers stepping in for the heavy part of the song.

As for new material, there’s none, and even “Under Pressure” has been omitted from both DVD and CD. Still, the major complaint may be the stage lights, too contrast for both the artists and those who watch the concert. No extra additional material, too, except for “Imagine”, where verses are shared between the three protagonists, from the Hyde Park. Well, the triumph needs no extras.

*****

 
THE GREAT KAT –
Extreme Guitar Shred

The Great Kat 2005
See the CD

Shock and rock, and then some schlock. No purring for The Kat

Even if you’re familiar with Katherine Thomas’ music, nothing prepares you for The Great Kat visuals. She plays a marvellous mix of classics and heavy metal, and you can hardly expect to see the lady in the full evening garb, so for her to be scantily clad is quite alright – that’s humorous rock after all! – and she doesn’t play erotic card as much as she could have, but… But to see The Kat doing Alice Cooper shock routine with the make-up on and the horror imagery in these six short videos makes you wonder if it’s the teenagers who make up The Kat’s primary audience. Her music appeals to everyone, not so with the videos. Well, cod-patriotic “Zapateado” with its American insignia is funny enough, but too much gore in other clips might be off-putting, and “Live In Chicago” fragment gives no real indication of what’s The Kat’s show is like. That’s what you’d like to see on a DVD.

**

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS –
Strat Pack

Eagle Vision 2005

If guitar is a symbol of rock, so the more “rock” guitar of all is Fender Stratocaster, and the 50th anniversary of its introduction is a great cause for a celebration.

September 24th, 2004 saw much more stars at Wembley than there ever was in Hollywood’s notorious Rat Pack, and here’s a great document of the event, though there could be much more Strat-wielders running with the pack…

The start is glorious. No matter how Buddy Holly’s missed, THE CRICKETS don’t need their late buddy – nor, for that matter, Albert Lee and Brian May – to rock on, especially when they’re led by Sonny Curtis, the first rock ‘n’ roller to record with a Strat, into the brilliantly militant “I Fought The Law”, now claimed back from the late great Joe Strummer. Strumming away, May’s not the most prominent Strat user, but he’s good at being not pretentious just like Ronnie Wood who joins in for “That’ll Be The Day” is. But what a presence Hank Marvin still has coming down with so powerful a twang in “Apache” – some strut with a Strat! – while Gary Moore, having left home the legendary Gibson, does a bang with passionate “Red House”.

Less blues and more soul pours in with Mike Rutherford plainly plonking until it comes to “I Can’t Dance”, whereas Paul Carrack, his partner in crime, goes on to pay tribute to two great guitarists in the sky, George, with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Jimi, with “All Along The Watchtower”. Sure, Hendrix made the Fender model very popular, but some perfomers took this connection too far on that night. What with Theresa Andersson being more of an added attraction rather than a showcase for the celebrated guitar she’s holding, unless the young lady takes a fiddle to play around fabulous Albert Lee’s “Country Boy”, Jamie Callum’s no picker at all: an ivory tinkler, he pitches in “Angel”, reading from the lyrics sheet. Thankfully, there’s a real guitarists’ singer and one hell of a guitar slinger himself, Paul Rodgers, who brings on Brian May and Joe Walsh and, after a couple of FREE and BAD COMPANY classics, Ronnie Wood, and rams it all home with a scincillating take on the FACES’ “Stay With Me”. Before that, though, the EAGLES’ man does his bit including “Life In The Fast Lane”, and Phil Manzanera, having smoothed the mood with “6 PM”, brings on David Gilmour who eshews FLOYD perennials for less known pieces.

No Clapton or Blackmore there, which is a pity – but one can only wonder how many guitarists there were in the audience except for MOSTLY AUTUMN’s Brian Josh.

*****

 
STEVE HOWE’S REMEDY –
Live

Classic Pictures 2005

When the heart rules the mind, the YES-man comes down for a grind.

Steve Howe is one of those lead guitarists who’s never actually led a band – except when it was their musical turn – although he undertook some tours on his own, so “no expectations” could be the principle by which he came up on-stage with REMEDY. Yet what could be a good excuse in case something goes wrong, appears a great cause for throwing in some surprises.

Whereas "Elements", the group’s first and, to the date, only studio outing doesn’t quite differ from Howe’s solo albums, each one a mixed bag of genres, the live performance demands much more integrity – and at this concert, shot in 2004 in Newcastle, the ensemble do deliver. It’s not only that there’s a unique mutual understanding between Steve and his sons, drummer Dylan and keyboard player Virgil, and a strong bond with bassist Derrick Taylor; the maestro wasn’t afraid to offer the rhythm guitar duties to no other than great Ray Fenwick he engages in blistering duel with on “Lost Symphony”. Howe might be the least showy of all the six-string wizards, an occasional leap just a reflection of overwhelming emotion, he’s only performing miracles, nothing more than that, and REMEDY project a warm vibe – starting with “Small Acts Of Human Kindness” which is a great depiction of what’s going on.

What may seem strange – like hearing Paul Simon’s “America”, a YES single – turns out as a vehicle for Steve to come across at his most rocking since the days of TOMORROW whose “My White Bicycle”, for which the guitarist dons his psychedelic multi-colored jacket, is also revisited. Strat and Telecaster – and there’s another Fender, lap steel – aren’t the guitars associated with him but they serve well to stress that he’s a rocker. An intensity is pulpable in “Country Viper”, a rockabilly with a jammy feel, and “Where I Belong” where Steve’s unpretentious singing gets everyone in a frenzy; on the other side of that is acoustically driven “Close To The Edge”, very touching, down-to-earth without Jon Anderson‘s outworldliness. Yet there’s been a criminal act committed, of cutting the acoustic section out of the concert to make a separate feature that could have worked much better in the context of the show. A minor chord in a major performance.

****4/5

 
MAGNUM –
Live At Birmingham

Classic Pictures 2005

The dusk before the dawn brings no pomposity while magnificence glistens still.

It’s home where a rock group famous worldwide can still be a local band and go down with a triumph even in the hardest of times. That’s how it was for the Brummies bunch called MAGNUM back in 1992, three years before the ensemble called it a day, but what’s preserved on this video is their night. Not a Storytellers’ night, though it’s tempting to picture it so, as the gauze of mystery which had shrouded Tony Franklin‘s music before just isn’t here. With music graciously big and the stage set mininal, the five plod through their set nicely, though, the Christmas eve feeling flowing, and “All England’s Eyes” gets the punters going from the off. Yet there’s a certain gloom in the obvious fatigue that shows in Bob Catley’s look, the post-’80s bad-hair replacing the singer’s usual enthusiasm, no matter how lightly he flies around the stage, while Tony Clarkin anchors his riffage stone-faced. The game is good, still: maybe it wasn’t the most fashionable thing for early ’90s, with Mark Stanway‘s keyboards all aurally frontal, but his boogie solo in “You’re The One” heats up the groove and loosens it for Catley to swing during “Stormy Weather”. On “Kingdom Of Madness” Bob appears from behind the audience for people to search where the voice comes from and cheer – that’s what home is.

It was over soon for MAGNUM – fortunately, not for long. The “Another Chapter, Another Verse” documentary sees Clarkin, Stanway and Catley reminisce on the past and ponder the future. And the future is to bring another DVD the glimpse of which shows this future just is.

***

 
YES –
YesSpeak /
Yes Acoustic

Classic Pictures 2005

Affirmative and convincing but not ultimate, a celebration of their anniversary sees the progmeisters nowhere near the end.

“I know I mean a ‘Yes’ but it’s all wrong, that is I think I disagree”, sang John Lennon, and he was right as the YES have the ability to positively confuse people. The very epitome of progressive rock, 35 years since the band’s inception the English quintet are still on top of the game of taking it all over the top, they still are a great experience, and this DVD brings forth a question of how you experience your YES. It comes in two ways, where “YesSpeak” can be either devoured in its 3-hour-long glory – which takes a lot of stamina or just being a fan – or served twice as short yet topped with an unplugged icing of the visual cake. The second, a later edition, is no doubt aimed at general public, as it’s a cimena version, while the first pretty much reflects what YES is: a dinosaur of a film about the dinosaur of a band – but “Jurassic Park” is entertaining, isn’t it?

“YesSpeak” is a literally telling title, because music plays a secondary role here – after all (or rather before all) it’s the music that makes one watch the film, and knowing the music a time comes to get more personal with the personnel who make it and get into their collective enigma as well. “We have the stage presence”, say Jon Anderson explaining the group’s longevity and it shows in the live performance snippets, “All Good People”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Heart Of The Sunrise” perfectly scoring the YES’s history that unfurl in the musicians’ tales, a time in words. Still, the Roger Daltrey-voiced narrative isn’t a history as such, although the key events get mentioned, but a five-way view of it with only a meagre glimpses of historical footage. The focus is the ensemble’s current line-up – the ultimate one! – so other eras are mentioned just slightly, but it’s interesting to hear Rick Wakeman say he’d love to have been part of “90125” album as he thinks Trevor Horn, not Eddy Offord is the best producer the band have ever had, and listen to Chris Squire‘s yarn of how the British postal strike influenced the success of “The Yes Album”.

We see the five both on-stage and at home, and it’s the private moments – the revealing science – that show the group in somehow different light. In this light, Rick Wakeman and Alan White’s Spinal Tap-ism of searching a way to the stage is less touching than seeing Rick help Chris to take off his triple-neck guitar and hug him – there’s a genuine friendship which runs parallel to all the players’ legendary virtuosity. These days, many things look different: now Wakeman has a cuppa tea – no curry! – during the bass solo, and Anderson dances with his wife while the others play their instrumental workouts. Sound, though, may be an issue with the DVD – in longer version the concert bits come with voiceovers that get in the way of music just like the music gets in the way of the interviews, yet in the shorter variant it’s all fixed. For purists, that double-disc edition feature a live audio-only section sprinkled with a slide-show, but in the later one, balancing the mammoth magnificence is an acoustic performance beamed by satellite to the cinemas right after the “YesSpeak” screening. What could’ve been something chamber came off very humorously, especially in Rick’s comments to the rehearsal footage; “Roundabout” stripped to its boogie riff can be a key to understanding the ensemble’s core mechanics. “There’s always been a Yes”, says Wakeman. And always will be, it seems.

*****


RICK WAKEMAN –
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Classic Pictures 2005

The glory road to the core of the genius – from down-under and the world over.

There’s the keyboard wizard caught in his prime: on February 4th, 1975 when Rick Wakeman played Melbourne he was only 25 – and performing miracles. Later on, things went awry but here Wakeman looks magnificent, if shy, even though it’s him who rules the show. And it the show, deceptively static yet deeply moving. Rick’s hypnotic – and hypnotised with the music, eyes shut and mouth open in some aural reverie. Still, an air of fun covers the stage, with equal focus on both The Wizard and his ENGLISH ROCK ENSEMBLE, backed up by the orchestra and choir. How much fun it was off-stage, can be seen in a bonus footage shot on tour by one of the band’s singers, Gary Pickford-Hopkins, and spiced on the Anniversary Edition DVD with the comments from five members of that line-up reunited 30 years to the date after the Australian gig. Another singer, Ashley Holt, is still with Wakeman, and the magic between the vocalists is so obvious now that it’s a pity they don’t deliver gentle “Guinevere” together any more or dig out the dramatics of “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” in all its glory.

It is glory in terms of music, as inflatable dinosaurs popping up don’t add much to the full power blow that’s hard not to go along with. There’s no visual division between Rick’s ensemble and The Melbourne Philarmonic Orchestra: it’s the entity which Wakeman’s close-shot fingers’ art leads for all to enjoy. No wonder the audience thank the musicians with a standing ovation each time the band leave the stage to cajole them back on-stage for one more assault on “The Six Wives Of Henry VIII”, yet to be released “King Arthur” and “Journey”. It’s amazing how improvising the maestro could be, as the encore reprises demonstrate, within the rigid structure of working with an orchestra! Not effortless – an occasional grimace on Wakeman’s face betrays the hard work – but easy on the ear anyway. That’s a unique insight into a great wizardry now long gone with the youthful times.

The previous edition of the DVD contained an abriged bonus CD of the concert for those who want not to be distracted from the music, yet “The Lost Journey” documentary makes the 30th Anniversary re-issue indispensable.

*****


EMERSON LAKE & PALMER –
Pictures At An Exhibition

Classic Pictures 2005

The masterpiece in motion: a history of the mystery.

Those always wondering where the roots of ELP’s mid-’70s gigantic antics were, should look no further than here. To the date, the British super-trio’s take on Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” classic suite remains the largest-scale cover version of all. Still, the piece everybody’s familiar with came from Newcastle and was recorded in March 1971, already quite polished to make it into the vinyl; this film, though, committed to tape in December 1970, feels different: rougher and rawer. But, being much wilder, it’s also rather intimate – a long way from arenas the band conquered at later stages. Back then, ELP were only beginning to stage a show which was supposed to never end, and the three look very close to each other. Physically. The distance had to grow yet, the music already didn’t need to.

Physical, not only dynamic, is this unique performance, caught in the space where Keith Emerson’s machinery a menace and Greg Lake’s acoustic moments a bliss. More precisely, there’s several shows in one: Emmo adjusting the Moog and swinging the Hammond, Carl Palmer pulling faces and smiling, Lake vocalizing serenely. And there’s a revelation: if Palmer’s note-perfect drumming has always been clearly heard, the music sheet tagged to the keyboards means that, with all the improvisation on display, the band followed the written structure. Or a grand scheme of things.

Here, this scheme takes in a deceptive chaos. Emerson, dressed in a shiny green suit, moves cartoonishly, waltzes with the organ, rubs a “remote control” board againts his bum during “The Old Castle”; it becomes clear why there was a plot for the trio to team up with Jimi Hendrix. Naive psychedelic visual effects may reflect the music to an extent but much more amazing is close-up of those fingers frenetically flying over keys and wires. Quite a contrast to Palmer who, following every Emmo’s move, calmly hammers the vibes and Lake, vocalising shyly and doing miracles on guitar and bass. That’s picturesque!

Moving from the visual to the aural, the bonus feature of the 35th Anniversary Special Edition is the “Pictures” orchestral arrangement played by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, whereas the previous version had a CD layer on the DVD’s other side. Which is extra, the core’s still the core.

*****

 
IQ -1020:
The Twentieth Anniversary Show

Giant Electric Pea 2004

“What became of us, mysterious and ageless?” asked the band, and here they answer the question themselves – in style.

It is received wisdom that there’s neither humor no real fun in progressive rock, that it’s so clever to allow only verbal anecdotes in its lore, yet this band’s name bears enough grey cells in it to let the musicians let their collective hair down. Well, they’re not as great in the hair deparrment after two decades of hard work, so some wigs – plus bell-bottoms and platform shoes – are required to cut back to the pre-IQ times of THE LENS and open in this guise for themselves. Enough to set the right mood for a celebration: fans get it in a wink, baloons thrown in during “Human Nature” revealing real humanity of the men behind some big concepts – but “State Of Mine”, plucked off the "Subterranea" context, rocks off, while “Erosion” spills out real emotions. As much real as the feelings shown in the WINGS’ “Jet” and ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” that makes everybody laugh. The latter was recorded not at the anniversary show, yet there’s a whole lot of additional material, including the tour documentary and even the stage projection animated pieces: a wonderful presentation. And a very intimate, too – unlikely for prog that’s usually distant from a regular punter. IQ are different; clowning about as much as the seriousness of the music allows – okay, maybe a little more – they’re close to their audience and to the audience’s heart.

What about music, then? It comes from all of the ensemble’s history eras – “Headlong” is played for the first time ever in the 1985 line-up, with Tim Esau on bass – still, the things is this double DVD is not about music, but about becoming ageless by losing misteriousness.

*****

 
Inside PINK FLOYD –
A Critical Review
1967-1996

Ragnarock 2004

A vivisection of a legend which leaves it still obscured by mythical clouds.

That’s mostly a television fodder: people who have no connection whatsoever to an artist try to get under his skin to see what makes him tick. PINK FLOYD with their atom heart might be the hardest case to crack and, therefore, the stronger is a draw. But there’s a catch, as the opinions laid out here are hardly more valuable as the guy’s next door, and learning that Syd Barret was a driving force behind the awesome foursome is hardly a revelation. Still, pinpointing certain moments of a mystery is a dignified goal, so Classic Rock’s Bob Carruthers and the lot do their best in order to convey their feelings towards each of the FLOYD’s albums trying to veer away from the basic facts to show us where it hurts. And it hurts – especially when MOSTLY AUTUMN keyboard player Iain Jennings not only dissects the music into its components, all those B sharps and E flats, but also muses on Syd’s thoughts as if he knew what went on in that sauserful of secrets. FLOYD have always been suspended betwixt the thought and the emotion; that’s why, perhaps, AUTUMN’s Heather Findlay puts it all more smoothly and more informative than any of the professional critics. Some points are mooted ones: was “The Wall” really conceived as a film soundtrack? does “The Final Cut” really deserve three stars out of five? Still, is our opinion more worthy than theirs?

Yet the moments that make up a dull story tick away once the music breaks in. Not even the interview excerpts, pinched from various sources, where the great quartet members tell it as they thought it was, but the music. The precious clips with “Grantchester Meadows” played by Roger Waters and David Gilmour on two acoustic guitars and orchestra-less “Atom Heart Mother”, both recorded for TV, are great history pieces. And here the modern take on the latter, arranged by Jennings for THE CLASSIC ROCK STRING QUARTET, works a treat contrasting the band’s heavy stomp. The narration, as straight as it is following the PINK FLOYD history, is good, too. For a casual fan two DVDs and a book tackling each of the ensemble’s pieces might present an information overload and for an aficionado it might be of no real interest, yet as a package it works fine. Very fine. Although you’ll still never know which one was Pink…

***

 
URIAH HEEP –
Classic Heep
Live From The Byron Era

Classic Rock Productions 2004

Fantasies long realised come to life to our surprise.

For a band whose success brought forth a term “Heepsteria”, the British quintet’s ’70s peak left too little footage-wise, so for many years fans were desperate to find some of the recordings rumoured to exist and circulating in meagre snippets of appalling quality. Finally, the search resulted in material that’s enough to fill a DVD – or two, yet the second disk of this set is for real Heepsters only, supposedly containing performances less acceptable in terms of picture and sound quality. Quite a moot point but on it, later, because it’s the content that matters.

Those who saw David Byron on-stage unanimously praise his showmanship, yet in 1973, at the very high, there are moves rather naive – even when the singer, squat on a Marshalls’ stack, unwinds like a spring from a slow blues into a rock ‘n’ roll medley or sings sprawled on the floor as if the Budokan was a beach. He turned into the legendary figure two years later, as the footage from the “Return To Fantasy” and 1976’s Pinkpop festival suggests, and though by that time the vocalist was burnt off – eyes sunken, voice not as strong – his performances look really heroic. More often than not, Byron prances just for the hell of it and mars the effect of the song, but what’s always been lost in his shadow is how wonderful the rest of the band could come off: grotesquely menacing Mick Box crawls on the floor, stoically riffs with a plaster cast on his broken arm and shakes tambourines with Gary Thain, Lee Kerslake sings as much as David, jumping up on his kit and drumming stood, and Ken Hensley sits with a plastic glass in his mouth while his hands are busy on the Hammond and leaves the organ to Byron to deliver a wild slide guitar solo on “Shady Lady”. And all this a mere exterior of great music.

There’s much fun in it, so John Wetton couldn’t keep from grinning at David grimacing, falling headfirst from the drum riser onto the stage and kissing ladies’ hands. The emotional bond between the two is obvious when Byron makes Wetton kneel together at Pinkpop, while wrapping Box in serpentine at Budokan shows a gentle core of the band founders’ friendship. The soundtrack to the Japanese shows, though, was rather worse than the footage – thankfully, the quality bootlegs made it possible to perfectly synchronize it to visuals; there are original audio on the second disk, and it’s not that bad revealing some fabulously flat singing on “Look At Yourself”. Surprisingly, not so rare 1974’s footage from the Shepperton studios is horribly rendered this time and comes painful to watch. And that’s about the only letdown of the great set. The fans are on the seventh heaven, the rest of the lot should approach it with caution in order not to ruin the legend.

****4/5

 
MANFRED MANN –
The Evolution Of

Creature Music 2003

Read the interview

See the CD

From primeval beat to sophisticated bliss: the King’s Road.

It’s a biography of sorts, in that the DVD comes off as the main man’s chronologically built interview interspersed with videos from different eras of MANFRED MANN and MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND. It may come difficult to have a full picture if you’re a complete stranger to this British musical phenomenon, but a stranger would hardly want to watch some old muddy footage anyway. For those with only a slightest interest in the ensemble, this is a thing to cherish.

Manfred is a fabulous storyteller with a great sense of humour, and there certainly could be much more anecdotes than one about Chris Thompson appearing for the audition in Zappa T-shirt – with love to Frank’s music having set Mick Rogers apart from the rest of the lot – and the other of how “Blinded By The Light” almost flopped. But Mann’s not the only one to delight; this band has always contained natural born entertainers, as seen in Paul Jones swirling and shaking his bongos in “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and Mike D’Abo’s borrowing Manfred’s spectacles to play the character of “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James”. Unfortunately, there’s no footage from the Mick Rogers-fronted ensemble, yet “Blinded By The Light” heroically delivered to the Budapest crowed by Chris Thompson and topped with Mann’s vocal counter part and one-hand runs makes up for that. A very special treat, though, is a stripped-to-the-bone performance of “For You”: just Manfred on keyboards and Chris at the microphone in an empty studio – the emotional impact of this is much greater than that of well-directed “Nothing Ever Happens” video and on par with funny “Fox On The Run”, with all its “Penny Lane” similarity. Still, the visuals never seemed to be important for this band.

Not so for the fans – to them, the MANFRED MANN’s evolution is an amazing artefact.

*****

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