DVD Reviews2

To the reviews index
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS –
Concert For George
WSM / Warner Bros 2003

See the CD

“If I had a ‘special’ I would like to have a few people who meant something to me”: a year to the day after his leaving, George Harrison’s vision came true.

Emotion and devotion are what that event was about, as almost everybody on the Royal Albert Hall stage knew the Quiet One personally, so their feelings, shared by those in the seats, come from the screen as thick as the smell of incense Olivia Harrison lights while mantra being chanted before the evening of George’s music begins. These two DVDs, one featuring the actual live footage and the second the version edited, with additional material, into a movie, come like two different angles complementing each other to provide the ultimate experience of what was going on that night at the Royal Albert Hall. And it was something very unique.

It’s a compelling spiritual spectacle, Anoushka Shankar conducting the Indian ensemble and London Metropolitan Orchestra thus making the East and West meet, and Eric Clapton chipping in on acoustic and taking it to the blues, seamlessly stitching two music worlds George loved so much. To take it down to Earth even further to reflect another side of Harrison, on-stage come reuinted Monthy Python who spill their peculiar sort of humor all over the place to turn bitter tears into sweet and then back, when the Monties, Tom Hanks among them, salute to young George’s portrait. A touching gesture, yet the great artiste’s presence is palpable not only because of Dhani looking uncannily like his father whose spirit clearly is here.

This spirit helps Joe Brown shed off the years with “Here Comes The Sun” to show the emotional load on “That’s The Way It Goes” and makes Sam Brown, a gorgeous stature and a gorgeous voice, jump – and isn’t it a pity that her take on “Horse To The Water”, the very last song George wrote, doesn’t appear on the CD? Well, some of Harrison’s friends didn’t go up to perform – there’s Steve Winwood sitting behind Gary Brooker who gives his all with “Old Brown Shoe” – but others just couldn’t come not, like Klaus Voormann appearing unannounced when Paul McCartney puts all of his love into “All Things Must Pass”. Paul seems too humble in that spirit’s presence, and it’s up to Ringo Starr’s, a great showman, immediacy to lift up what heaviness there might be Beatly joking about Jelly Babies and others being taller than him and getting behind the drums to add up the Beatly beat to the proceedings.

A celebration, that’s what it all was, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Joe Brown, Ray Cooper and others revealing new layers of their late pal’s songs, a celebration of life of someone whose songs can make people happy when their sad about him. That’s how he must be remembered.

*****
 

DEEP PURPLE –
Masters From The Vaults
Intense Media 2003
Swing that neck – a gory glory of tracking back the Purple trickles.

This video collection have been in circulation among the fans for quite a long time, but an attempt of anthologizing the television output of DEEP PURPLE’s second shaping that’s considered the best feels more than welcome. Not less for inclusion of Granada’s “Doing Their Thing” programme which makes its DVD debut here, although intercut between other clips. The earliest of those is “Hallelujah”, the unique one, shot in black-and-white for German Beat Club in 1969 right after the Mk II was born and, perhaps, the most restrained of all, because what’s obvious here is the band’s total indifference to the surroundings: they always gave their all even thrown in a TV studio.

So no matter if “Highway Star” and “No, No, No” are marred by dodgy psudo-psychedelic coloring and Ian Gillan forced singing, it’s made up for with a funny improvising – Mickey Mouse gets namechecked in both cuts, while lyrics to the former seems being done on the spot and the solos aren’t proper, as the glorious piece still had to be honed and recorded; what a nerve they had to present it on TV before that! All this only proves the fact that the show aspect of DP’s appeal lay in their musicianship: it’s how they they play, not act, that’s hypnotizing, although not many artists performed such antics in a studio like Blackmore did during “Speed King” which kicks in right in the middle, when Richie goes soloing, or in the midst of the “Wring That Neck” mayhem, when he deliberately, instead of resolving a passage, breaks into folky potpourri to make the audience, Manchester United legend George Best among the throng, burst with laughter. A great treat, then, and something for connosseurs, too, because “Child In Time” marks one of the last occasions Blackmore used a Gibson before ultimately picking a Fender Stratocaster as his instrument of choice.

The glaring omission is not that of “Hush” indicated on the cover – the version which fans used to have in this collection dates from 1987 – but of “Fireball”, yet that one would stand apart from the rest because the band mimed to the studio recording then. Well, Ritchie didn’t even pretend, but it’s another story… Another story is an additional footage here of Ian Gillan’s solo versions of several PURPLE classic,- but why not if it gives a DVD more value?

****1/2
 

MOSTLY AUTUMN –
At The Grand Opera House
Classic Rock Legends 2003
Back home for the circle to be unbroken.

If a homecoming concert really put a pressure on York’s ensemble, as they admit, that perhaps made the show more intense. They come on like a band of Gypsies, Heather Finlay shaking a ribbon-adorned tambourine, cut in with “Caught In A Fold”, catching a bull by the horns, and by singing, “All I’ve down is good”, submit a brash report of what’s been done before that brought them there, to the Grand Opera House stage. And the place obliges, no less, to flesh out the group’s strong blend of hard rock, folk and – yes – prog with a string quartet and, on “The Gap Is Too Wide”, a choir. It’s spectacular, especially when “Passengers” unfurls with a cosmic on-screen projection, truly majestic. In this mix hides an innocence, very clear on the “Goodbye Alone” rehearsal footage, and, somewhere deeper, a sexiness too, with of all the angles from an intrusive cameraman – who prowls about the stage as it was his show – some focusing on Heather’s, er, backside. Which is just another extra of MOSTLY AUTUMN’s many strata, as well as the mighty strut of “Never The Rainbow” rocking at full tilt on Bryan Josh’s guitar pyrotechnics. What’s wrong, then, is the summoning of his influences’ hits, “Comfortably Numb” and “Smoke On The Water”, that add just nothing to this celebration, a one step closer to the dream, as Bryan puts it. The step is made, the circle’s full – a new era dawns…

****1/3
 

WISHBONE ASH –
Almighty Blues
London & Beyond
Classic Rock Legends 2003
With “Godspeed and help from below”, Ashes still burning.

“There’s no easy money, there’s no easy road”, goes the band’s classic, and this film which follows ASH’s concert trek from a rehearsal room to an open-air festival with main bulk of the footage coming from the London’s “Mean Fiddler” stage is a perfect illustration to that old maxim. But they like it, and even though Andy Powell says here, “I’m working harder now than ever before in my life”, no sign of weariness can’t wipe away his and his mates’ sheer excitement. Powell may have lost his hair but not his feel for kicking arse, and if now he looks not as fragile as before – hey, that’s almighty blues!

Which doesn’t mean there’s no changes, because in some way the looks and music are related, and Andy being the sole lead singer nowadays places him in both vocal and focal center – with twin guitar attack still firmly solid. And if sometimes the quartet play quite relaxed – “Warrior” sounds not as belligerent as before and “Throw Down The Sword” sprawls more peaceful than ever – “Changing Tracks” makes up for that: a great heavy blues number which rolls on the group’s jolly groove. There’s no dwelling on the past glories: plucking five out of the twelve tracks from their latest album, “Bona Fide”, the group peppers the rest with rare gems like “Standing In The Rain” off the obscure “Strange Affair” and “Underground” from the “Number The Brave” LP, reconnecting their roots with here and now.

“Can you feel the love tonight?” asks Andy in “Faith, Hope And Love”, and the answer is pulpable enough to render the question rhetorical. There was more to this brilliant gig, so – until the next chapter.

*****
 

JACK BRUCE
AND FRIENDS –
Live
Classic Pictures 2002
O the sun was in their eyes, Jack-of-all-trades leads a high-flyers band in the groove.

This was the supergroup: three giants gathered around the British blues legend, arguably the best group Jack has ever gathered, yet it’s not the best of performances Bruce, Clem Clempson, Billy Cobham and David Sancious were capable of, and the fact that the picture’s rather muddy for German “Rockpalast” TV programme’s 1980 standards only adds up to the irritattion. But impression of the musicians struggling with the opening blast of “White Room” lifts off – once it becomes clear that they are grooving both musically and emotionally despite there’s just an occasional smile seen on their faces. And the music is really breathtaking.

It’s a sign of their class that the music’s complexity doesn’t show visually, but it’s hard not to notice how Jack’s grip of the instrument’s neck betray his mastery of cello he began with. Cello and piano – and “Theme For An Imaginary Western” sees Bruce relocating to the grand piano, while David delivers a guitar solo and Clem handles the bass duties. And when Clempson and Sancious trade licks on “Living Without You” which Cobham plays stood up to go unison in “Politician” that’s like watching a sparring match – an arresting spectacle.

That may take a second watching to grasp it all, but – unlike with many music videos – it’s all worthwhile to reveal an enjoyment enclosed in there.

****
 

PAUL McCARTNEY –
Live At The Cavern Club
Image Entertainment 2000
No tutti frutti and lollipop, Big Mac and buddies do the rock.

The Fabs never returned to the cellar they brought the noise from into the big world, and though after the legendary club opened its doors again across the street from where the original one was and this rock Mecca started hosting gigs, a thought of Paul McCartney homecoming concert down there have hardly crossed even the most imaginative of minds. Except from Macca’s of course. But when he unleashed his demons to flee and dug out his rocky roots with his peers alongside, the timewarp had been set to an extension of scouse popping out in Paul’s talk in the accompanying interviews on making the “Run, Devil, Run” album and going back to Liverpool.

So that was a wonderful experience for him as well, not only for those 300 who were there, among them a McCartney’s relative who demanded to play “Satisfaction” – as if though somebody didn’t feel this satisfaction. It’s pouring from the footage, even though the size of the stage determined some awkward camera angles, which is no excuse, though, for showing David Gilmour’s hands while Mick Green is soloing, and vice versa. And if old Pirate Green and fantastic pianist Pete Wingfield are famous for delivering such stuff, to see the PINK FLOYD guitarist Gilmour and DEEP PURPLE’s Ian Paice doing simple rock ‘n’ roll is really unbelievable, knowing what elaborate music they usually play. Why, maybe that was just a tad cathartic even for them, not just for Paul looking refreshed, slim and young – and rocking like he’s still young.

It’s a relentless torrent of emotion – from the opening “Honey Hush” to the closing “Party” through tearfully tearing ballads “No Other Baby” and “Lonsome Town, “Twenty Flight Rock” that introduced McCartney to Lennon, and “I Saw Her Standing There”, the only song of theirs Paul felt appropriate to fit in there with the ’50s classics and his own “Try Not To Cry” immaculate stylization. What’s great is that there’s no a sign of reverence from the Liverpudlian crowd, which makes it a real gig celebrating not the city’s famous son but music that opened the big world to him. Out of The Cavern comes primeval energy that brings a revitalisation with it, and going full circle makes it all wholly sublime.

*****
 

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR –
Godbluff Live 1975
Classic Rock Productions 2003
Deux ex Machina: calling the bluff for the art’s – and shock’s – sake.

“Godbluff” was as close to masterpiece as it could be after the British band called it quits before uniting forces once again for coup de grace. The mercifulness of the quartet’s second coming can be measured by comparing two parts of this DVD. It’s better to start with a 1971 performance, featuring an intimidating gang of crooks hellbent on wreaking aural havoc and feed(back) off it, and then switch to 1975’s version of the ensemble – the art one, very tuneful and post-break-up tight.

Even during the former section Peter Hammill looks like a nineteenth century poet sweating at his desk, barefoot and singing “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers” lyrics from the sheet torn off the LP, but until he gets behind the electric piano the other three indulge in “Theme One” compelling pop before fusion dissolves into a bad dream. In a candlelight, Guy Evans, crouched over the drum kit, seems poised to go at some throat, while David Jackson, an embodiment of lunacy, tortures his saxes, and only Hugh Banton is cool, working on his keyboards as if not belonging there. And that’s all live in a studio, all too calm for such a beast with a genuine intellectualism that shows.

By 1975, though, when we see the four at Charleroi doing the whole of “Godbluff”, the intellectualism reigned the show, and if method was the same, delirium and playfulness had gone – whether it was good is up to one’s taste. Immersed in music, they’re too busy playing to act – which is emphasized by a camera taking individual shots of each one’s inspired face and there’s only a rare shot of the whole stage set – but for “The Sleepwalkers” Hammill stands up to actually stalk the stage to and fro. Deranged this time the ensemble seem not, and the looks loom as large as the sound and tunefulness, yet the wandering spirit of this human machine feels to have moved on. There was “Still Life” ahead – still, the historic value of this rare footage makes all desires vain.

***4/5
 

STEVE HACKETT –
Hungarian Horizons –
Live In Budapest
Camino Records 2003

See the CD

Acoustic lace over the Danube river – the magic flows on.

That’s an unexpected delight: who would think that an acoustic trio could bring such a joy? There’s something magic being borne out of gentle tapestry that guitar, flute and keyboards weave, a sight so riveting it’s difficult to take the eyes off it. The set has been compiled “with a view that it’d be easily performed”, says Steve in a documentary on his 2002’s visit to Budapest, “Ironically, none of it is that easy to play”. If there’s any effort, it doesn’t show and the mood is light from the very beginning once, with a nod and a smile inviting everybody to recognize “Horizons”, his calling card, Hackett picks up a microphone – not to sing, it’s all instrumental this time, but to address the audience, sometimes in Magyar. Quite intense, the atmosphere’s darker than pastoral yet lighter than intimate and, thus, riveting.

And there’s fun it it, too – sometimes, like in relaxed if energetic “Bacchus”, Steve’s fingers gently caress a guitar, which then gets beaten like a drum, when his flautist brother John takes a lead. Basically, it’s a show of two Hacketts who share the spotlight, as quite often Steve merely accompanies John who draws a solo, “Firth Of Fifth” the good example. And even though John and keyboardist Roger King play to the music charts with sketches from the "Satie" album projected on the backdrop, there’s no chamber feel about it, and all three clearly have a lot of fun passing the melody around in “The Chinese Jam”. Rock ‘n’ roll’s way are strange, indeed, if it can transmogrificate into something like this. Classical and top class.

*****
 

JOHN LENNON –
Lennon Legend
EMI 2003
Dearly loved and much missed – a chance to strip the myth from the man.

If one’s life deserves to bear a ‘legend’ tag it’s certainly John’s, but that’s a double-meaning word. Whereas the audio compilation of the same title presented Lennon as a music icon, the video collection sets apart the myth from the man. Thanks to executive producer Yoko Ono who, unlike the people who deal with the Fabs’ legacy, never tried to embellish what remained unfinished and, thus, re-write history, so here we see the real John. And hear him too: some of the cuts are included in their unedited, full form, like “Stand By Me” the singer ended with “Bless you!” as if he was passing his rock ‘n’ roll to the next generation.

This was Lennon bidding farewell to the public, who had to remember their him as a consummate rocker humorously belting out primeval “Slippin’ And Slidin'”, and a rebel playing “Imagine” on acoustic guitar before the chewing audience accompanied by musicians wearing two-faced masks, because it was the “Salute To Lew Grade” concert, celebrating the man who owned THE BEATLES’ publishing and rode the gravy train. The original “Imagine” is here as well, the only video that came about with the artist’s immediate involvement – and John was the artist: not only his animated drawings became an illustration to “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”, but he could also turn his being with the family or a simple walk into a performance, this recently uncovered footage which goes along with “Mind Games” being perhaps the best scene of all the DVD.

Making people happy was the very essence of Lennon. Everyone around him smiles – children, adults and, in “Nobody Told Me”, George Harrison, Andy Warhol, Fred Astaire and Miles Davis – for John used to bring an element of happening into reality: see “Power To The People” march supporting the “Oz” mag with him shouting into a megaphone, or “Instant Karma!” shot in incongruously glitzy “Top Of The Pops” props conceptualised with Yoko’s blindfolded knitting. This concept hasn’t been ruined in “Jealous Guy”, where “I’m sorry that I made you cry” line is stressed by ’80s image of Yoko’s with tear running down her cheek – all due the universal appeal of Lennon’s songs. What seems strange though is Brian Epstein’s picture in “Mother”: nobody’s ever seen the man who made the boys Fab as a father figure.

Adding the pain, maybe? Yet “Happy Xmas” is filled with too much pain to convey its real meaning, and there’s no John in it, which makes the video the least interesting. Sometimes photos are enough to catch the attention, “(Just Like) Starting Over” done in “Free As A Bird” style is a good example. As far as technology goes, the pictures start to move, and the most striking feels the alternative “Working Class Hero” video: sidelined to the ‘extras’ section, it squeezes Lennon’s life into some minutes of music interspersed with interview snippets. A great attempt of doing the biography. Not of a legend but of man. Sing “Imagine” to the instrumental track in a photo gallery, equally stark in its black-and-whiteness, and feel it.

*****
 

COLDPLAY – Live 2003
EMI 2003
“Marry me!” screams the girl in the audience, and that’s about sums up the seductive atmosphere of the Brits’ world-spanning trek.

The hysteria comes hard to understand. The rock comes later, whereas opening the show with “Politik”, Chris Martin – crouched over the upright piano, “MakeTradeFair.com” inscription on his left arm bashing the keys – spills his tortured soul unto the audience. They seem to devour this pain and feed off it, so the emotional pitch set high from the off, yet it’s not the kind of feeling one waits for to be entertained.

The boys, still, are actually having fun on the road, and if there’s an occasional glimpse of weariness in the “Tour Diary” documentary, it certainly doesn’t show when the quartet’s on stage. The singer jumping so much during “In My Place” that his leg hurts, though most of the time all looks static, the band freezing everyone to the barenaked “See You Soon”, shot in black-and-white-and-yellow, and drawing a FLOYD comparisons in “A Rush Of Blood To The Head” once Jonny Buckland rolls a slider over the strings. There’s not much communication between both the band members and the punters, but the mutual understanding from everyone is pulpable, and visual enstrangement is deceptive.

Perhaps, it’s out of this that the exaltation is born when excitement finds its way into the show only to make Martin ask the audience to cool down for “Trouble” and then join in on the chorus. And if the blues, which is “Everything’s Not Lost”, brings hope, that explains the rapture. Which you can even take in you car – on the bonus CD.

****
 

STEVE HACKETT –
Somewhere In South America…
Live In Buenos Aires
Camino Records 2002

See the CD

No tango, just boiling tempers and high temperature.

Over the last ten years the public haven’t seen much of Steve Hackett’s performances, so his proper return on the road was long overdue. Still, one hardly expected the comeback would be such a blast. Oh yes, Hackett himself, he knew, so the effect of seeing the veteran dressed all in black with a black “Les Paul” and seemingly unfazed by what’s the band is doing has been well counted on, yet with an ensemble like this there could be no worrying anyway. In “Somewhere In Italy…” feature shot in 2000, a year before the Buenos Aires concert, Steve’s praises “the band that could play many different types of material”, and the quintet that hit the stage in Argentina was blistering indeed.

The musicians look quite restrained while unleashing the wreak of “Mechanical Bride” and, let to their own devices for a solo, demonstrate a highest level of mutual understanding with only an occasional eye contact. And that’s about the only communication there is, the leader even rarely announces the numbers. Likewise, there’s not much of show in terms of visuals, but watching Hackett’s hands work on the instrument is a riveting spectacle in itself – not only for guitarists, who should be in awe of his amazing technique and know he was there with scratching and tapping way before Van Halen. At the same time, the atmosphere feels like that of a classical concert: seated, Hackett plays “Horizons”, where acoustic demands a stool, as well as frenetic “Watcher Of The Skies”. Then, a shadow of a smile on the artist’s face lets on a possible joke in all this – is this why drummer Gary O’Tool smiles blissfully during the quieter passages, as in “Serpentine Song”?

Maybe, one should have in mind that it’s just a regular concert for Hackett, and if that’s nothing special – what is? Here lies the greatness of the old school.

****1/2
 

QUEEN –
Greatest Video Hits 2
EMI 2003
Born to be Kings: Princes of the Universe in all their glory. Maginifico!

There’s an episode in “Radio Ga Ga”, when a family of the future, faces hidden in gas masks, opens an album with the “Favourite Years” inscription on the cover to reveal snatches of QUEEN classic videos of the ’70s. Yes, the ’80s might seem bleak in comparison – surely in terms of musical inventiveness – but not from the visual point of view, so growing “tired of all these visuals” feels unlikely. Especially when the band humorously reprise the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody” shot now and again, like in “I Want To Break Free” and “One Vision”. Their vision was singular, indeed, and that comes well-illustrated on this DVD with mind-boggling morphing of one musician into another and then into four-headed hydra from “The Miracle” cover.

Perhaps, there were only two rock ensembles that considered show equal to music, yet if PINK FLOYD always stood still, QUEEN were about action – they acted, and for them theatricality was something very natural, a paradox the key to which lay in total abandon and lack of stiltness. That’s why the band never fell into a self-parody, even with children standing in for them in “The Miracle”. Lesser imagination was put into the less imaginative “Hot Space” album videos, but the likes of “Back Chat” are also the least remembered – save for “Under Pressure” where the group don’t appear anyway – and, therefore, of some interest. So here they are, on the disc two which presents the less known moments of the group’s ’80s output, including the Montreux Festival performances, with QUEEN for some strange reason miming before the audience that they didn’t even try to fool – no plugging the guitars, not holding the microphones near the mouth. They just couldn’t: the quartet might not act on-stage, leaving this for “Top Of The Pops”, the band’s seen at doing “Los Palabras De Amor”, and turning all of this into a lesson of showmanship. The same can be said of “I Want It All”, shot when Freddie was already ill, as Brian and Roger tell in their commentaries, but he looks tired only in behind-the-scenes footage.

Well, Freddie was the motor, the consummate performer who really did the tricks visualised in “A Kind Of Magic”, where the world changes on his arrival and returns to rags once he’s gone, yet other three weren’t too far away, with Roger’s character in “I Want To Break Free” being as full of charm. QUEEN didn’t actually need all those fancy garment they wear in “It’s A Hard Life” or sporting clothes of “One Vision”: they exude cool sharply dressed in “Breakthru” or “I Want It All”, particularly stressing the hard rock rebel stance of the latter. Still, constantly pushing the visual element, in aforementioned “Under Pressure” the band reached the point at which they had to take themselves completely out of the picture to let a watcher focus on the song’s meaning. Another aspect of their greatness.

Maybe, watching some of these videos will also remind many of the fact that Mercury wasn’t the only singer in the quartet – each of their early albums had a couple of songs done by Brian and Roger, and here, in “Who Wants To Live Forever” and “I Want It All” May is shown weaving his solo vocal lines. More so, the DVD allows to splice your own voice over the QUEEN instrumental tracks of four songs and make your own kind of magic.

*****
 

ROBBIE WILLAMS –
What We Did Last Summer
Live At Knebworth
EMI 2003
Making his life complete – in a weird way.

No matter if you like Robbie Williams, there’s no doubt he’s one of the precious few who managed to cross over from their niche into the great wide open, which in this case is Knebworth. An all-round entertainer, Rob has taken the multitude by no force, a no mean feat the guy didn’t expect. He was ready though – “for the next two hours, your ass is mine” is some statement! – but so was the crowd. Williams took the challenge bravely, appearing on-stage hung head down and charged to change it to knees-up, not needing to beg “Let Me Entertain You” from the off. The show comes full-on: horns blaring out, band kicking back, the dancers strut their stuff, Rob’s striking poses, pulling faces and basking in the adoration, yet he’s clearly shocked by the amount of it, overwhelmed with emotions – you can see tears in his eyes. There can’t be a better illustration of what “Love Supreme” is, and there’s a genuine self-deprecation in “Come Undone” for which Williams picks up a fan for a brief dance and a long long kiss.

“Elvis, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”, this mantra seen in a “Moments Of Mass Distraction” documentary proves to work oh so well. Sure, rousing punters with a boppy scat and waving a cane-shaped mike stand are the tricks Williams learnt from Freddie Mercury, but “Mr. Bojangles” featuring Max Beesley on the grand piano – probably the first time ever that anyone serenades Knebworth with a swing piece – a massive karaoke the singer engages the audience in on “Strong”, and making a song on a spot are games of his own. There’s another game on the second disc of this set, which you need no skills at all to win, yet you have to play if only to see the singer in drag or perform with his erstwhile TAKE THAT mate Mark Owen. On the peak and still moving, now the import of Robbi as the greatest performer of the last decade can’t be denied.

*****
 

U2 – Go Home
Live From Slane Castle
Island 2003
Back on their stomping ground, a 20-year circle is unbroken.

“Tonight Slane Castle belongs to me”, sings Bono, and on September 1st, 2001, it was so. The site is where the quartet gloriously played two decades earlier, when they’d just stepped on the road to the world dominance, so it makes sense to have a look at “(The Making Of) Unforgettable Fire” documentary that takes us inside the same fortress to see four innocent boys, before breaking outside, to the battleground of Irish kings.

“Do you believe in me?” asks Bono in “Elevation” teasing the thousands of punters to erupt – and that’s just the first cut into the show, but he still isn’t really with the crowd, like several songs later, when the singer would stretch into the audience, mingling with the people, drinking water from a fan’s bottle. The first genuine emotion shines with a kiss to Edge, and sincerity comes out with the vocalist’s glasses taken off and the Irish flag wrapped around him to celebrate the soccer victory held by the national team that day. The band is an equal force to be reckoned with, the castle overlooking the site stressing the impression of them as the Apocalyptic riders – there’s no horns headgear on this time, yet Bono shows it with his fingers, and “Until The End Of The World” sounds quite threatening despite all the clowning.

It may get heavy, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” turning into an anger-filled wishful-peaceful incantation which sees the singer transformed to an entranced shaman calling out the victims’ names and conjuring up their souls in “Wake Up Dead Man”. A striking contrast to mellowness of “New Year’s Day” or brisk rendition of the group’s debut single, “Out Of Control”, imbued with heartfelt thanks to the four’s parents for the money that helped U2 start their amazing journey which brought the four to the Slane grounds, where the intimacy mysteriously looms large. Why “Mysterious Ways” has been excised of the show to be included as a bonus track remains another mystery. And with a mystery lies a miracle.

****
 

THE BEATLES –
Yellow Submarine
Subafilms 1968, 1999
“Nothing is Beatle-proof”: indeed, the sea of time has made the movie a masterpiece.

Let’s admit it: the storyline of The Fabs’ full-length animated picture is rather weak, and whether it’s the music that holds everything together and on such a high ground – or deep underwater – remains a question. Almost all the songs included in the movie had been heard before its release upon which, back in 1968, “Yellow Submarine” overturned and drowned – to hit the surface again now. Since then, the movie immensely grew in its cultural status, which it wasn’t crowned with originally. In the end of the ’60s, the world lived its psychedelic dream and hardly needed those images coming on-screen, and even many children found it boring and couldn’t really value the Beatle-ish wordplay beginning with “Once upon a time – or maybe twice”. Today, the movie became something different: DVD allows to fully dive in it with the sounds and visuals, amazingly stereo-panned and sync’ed-up, eventually creating a fantastic colorful whole it was meant to be.

Good vs Evil, the Fab Four against the Blue Meanies – all this may seem banal, if not for undercurrent that creates another dimension overshadowing an unexpected 3D effect in the “Eleanor Rigby” episode. Just like it must be in a good children’s picture, even the nasty characters look rather pretty as well, the Bulldog being the cutest, so there’s no major surprise that the Chief Blue Meanie’s cousin appears to be the Bluebird of Happiness. What comes as a surprise is how many miraculous things had been put in there to make the picture a BEATLES’ film. The lonely-and-wandering Ringo was flown in from “A Hard Day’s Night”, thus anchoring the Fabs’ cinematic experience, while the other three are presented as public perception saw them at the time – John as a Frankenstein, Paul a ladies’ man and George a Sage on a hill – which justifies a decision to not recreate their voices but do the ‘images’ of those. It’s very easy to compare the ‘images’ with the real ones’ tones in the closing “All Together Now” featurette.

In 1967, having lost a good part of themselves, the band showed little interest in “Yellow Submarine” during the eleven-month work on the picture, but even if they didn’t appear in it in person at all, that wouldn’t change anything, because they’d already composed a world of their own, where the fairy-tale Fabs could live. That’s why the full-length movie wasn’t a continuation of their animated TV series: the makers wanted the film to be funny yet in a different, non-caricaturesque way, so that everyone would sympathize all the characters – except, perhaps, those Nazi-like – and not only cherish ‘know’ getting reduced to ‘no’ or ‘glove’ to ‘love’, but also have a laugh at phrases like ‘senile delinquents’ and ‘lever-puller’ as Liverpooler, reflecting THE BEATLES’ special kind of humor. And then, the music, a huge part of this world and a real saving grace.

Saving literally – Lord Mayor ‘unbonks’ to ‘a little snatch of a tune’, a particle of “Think For Yourself” that made it to the film and, therefore, in its entirety, to the new version of its soundtrack, or ‘songtrack’ , but an edit of “All You Need Is Love” shouldn’t go unnoticed too. Remixing the songs started much earlier than a time came to tackle the picture for a re-release, but the new mix is spectacular – again literally so – considerably augmenting different styles of drawing applied to different songs, or even over a ‘one minute’ illustration sequence in “When I’m 64”. Thankfully, this time all songs are in their appropriate places, with “Hey Bulldog”, one of the best scenes,restored in its barking glory. You cannot help but love the doggie. And dearly love the underdog “Yellow Submarine” is no more. Now, everyone of us has all we need.

*****
 

TRIUMPH –
Live At The US Festival
TML Entertainment 2003

See the CD

Revisiting the land of hope and glory – twenty years down the line.

“The boys’ club with only three members”, that’s what the Canadian trio was like in their own words, yet those boys could make the noise, and that’s what this film is about. US festival that took place in 1983 in California was a mammoth one, it took a mammoth effect to organize – seeing a man behind the event, Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers, as a presenter is a treat in itself – and it must’ve taken a mammoth stamina from all the bands which played there. Still, TRIUMPH revelled in the heat they were adding to, and flying into the battlefield on a helicopter was not yet a moment of triumph for them.

But it was not for glory that the threesome came on-stage, it was for having fun – you can tell this by the way they’re dressed, bassist Mike Levine looking essentially Spinal Tap-esque with a cap over a mane of hair and moustache, and if Rik Emmett has a sportswear on, it’s OK for jogging across the stage with fingers running over the fretboard of his semi-acoustic guitar, when it’s drummer Gil Moore’s turn to take the vocal lead. Moore does a formidable job of singing and bashing at the same time, and hitting the skins is as solid as the show which goes with it. Still, show-off it isn’t – Emmett’s solo on “Rock & Roll Machine” accompanied with some dancing routine too, – a “Canadian thing”, as Rik points out in contemporary interview footage, means no “extracurricilum activity” around the music. People in the rear of this sea of heads didn’t see that anyway, though there was a small screen above the stage.

There’s no usual lighting rig or pyrotechnics that are proudly demonstrated in the “Inside The Rock And Roll Machine” documentary, more a period piece than a band’s story, so we get to see the real, unadorned TRIUMPH – a real effort is the reason for all this to stand the test of time.

***
 

STEVE HACKETT –
The Tokyo Tapes
Live In Japan
Camino Records 2001

See the CD

You can’t get better than that, a supergroup cast their heavy shadows over the Rising Sun.

Supergroups are usually short-lived, but this one was originally meant not to last, so here’s a chance to witness a very special concert, Steve Hackett turning his gig into a heavyweights’ match. A fruitful yet strange decision – but no less strange is seeing John Wetton, one of the most adventurous bassists, sing GENESIS’ “Watcher Of The Skies” free-handed, while Ian McDonald handles bass lines on keyboards. Still, what you hear more than compensates for what you (don’t) see. Here’s an astounding rapport between the five, especially between Steve and his ivory-tickling sidekick Julian Colbeck, and though it’s Hackett’s “very careful hands” – as Wetton puts it when the guitarist sits down with an acoustic for a transcendental minute of “Horizons” – that run the show, there’s a total democracy. In “Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite” everybody has a solo spot, the main man taking the bluesy harmonica for one of his own bits.

Watching masters at work feels like true magic – Chester Thompson immersed in music and opening his eyes during his drum extravaganza in “Shadow Of The Hierophant” only to give Wetton a nod to step back in; John wielding the instrument for “Riding The Colossus” and prowling the stage like a big cat, whilst Steve sends notes flowing in the air; “Firth Of Fifth”, where Steve, John and Ian weave their solo into one another’s, McDonald switching from guitar to flute and back; or “Heat Of The Moment” played on three acoustics. And they’re having fun too, letting loose with reggae groove of “I Know What I Like” with Hackett acting a happy bee – who’s to say that humor doesn’t belong to progressive rock? Still, those five have long surpassed the prog confines, that’s why this performance is so mesmerising.

*****
 

COLOSSEUM – LiveS
The Complete Reunion Concert
Angel Air 2003
Those who are about to live salute to their future.

Having existed for mere three years, from 1968 to 1971, COLOSSEUM’s impact on the popular music course is immense: the ensemble simply invented a genre called jazz-rock before imploding due to the critical mass of the talents in the ranks. The band members tell this story in a 90-minute documentary that creates a nice time-warp evolving around the sextet’s reunion in 1994. The main feature though is the Cologne show, the second concert of the re-formed line-up which everybody’s considers best – here, perhaps, the seasoned musicians are even better than before. Starting with “Those About To Die”, a life-affirming jazz piece for setting the mood, they come full-on, the consummate performers who know where their forte lies – in music.

The band leader Interview with JON HISEMAN may take the role of compere and tell he was writing his name under the “Valentyne Suite” sleevenotes the very same minute Neil Armstrong’s feet touched the Moon, but playing their masterpiece in its entirety, vibes, gongs and all, COLOSSEUM let the music speak for everything – the skills and the camaraderie apparent in perfect three-piece harmonies of “Tanglewood ’63”, where Clem Clempson and Mark Clarke splice their voices with Chris Farlowe’s, while Dick Heckstall-Smith and Dave Greenslade add their instruments in unison demonstrating the highest order of mutual understanding.

From this springs also the visual element: Clarke’s spectacular bass handling, Hiseman’s mind-boggling “Solo Colonia” – not so a showcase yet something he’s clearly enjoying, at least that’s written on his face. though there’s a great deal of drumsticks juggling – or Heckstall-Smith’s trick of simultaneous blowing two saxes, straying and getting back to the “Theme For An Imaginary Western” main melody. But if Dick breathes the air all around him, Clem, soloing, gradually steals it for himself to turn blues into rock and make spellbound Greenslade shake his head to the friend’s groove. And then there’s Farlowe’s magnific presence, he’s a gracious bear of a man, playful on funky “Elegy” and menacing for “Machine Demands Another Sacrifice” – still, this well-oiled music machine demanded no sacrifice from its members, maybe save for some courage. In Hiseman’s words, that was a victory, and it’s impossible to argue.

*****
 

THE BEATLES –
A Hard Day’s Night
Miramax 2002
Don’t be sleeping like a log! There’s a whole encyclopedia of one little movie.

A long overdue thing, but it was worth the wait. If there’s anything lacking from these two discs it’s the absence of the Fabs in the additional material. Suffice, though, the guys gave the world a magnificent pop artefact back in 1964, so what new they could have said of this? The embodiment of the Beatlemania absurdity and its weapon, “A Hard Day’s Night” is both a reflection of that psycho-social phenomenon and an instrument which helped raise all the hoopla onto the next level. More than that: as director Richard Lester points out, the band had to play not the muskateers but themselves – not THE BEATLES but the Beatles. Not the Fab Four but four individuals, normal people entrapped in madness which blooms wherever they go.

It means, they have to have fun in these claustrophobic compartments to break free in the end of the day. Still, the lads don’t look unhappy – except for Ringo, the one always in the back being the band’s backbone. Starr’s the first to leave the theater and lead the others, to set a chain of events to develop while he, a little Napoleon, is enjoying his freedom on the riverbank. Ringo didn’t even had to play sadness, the hangover played a part itself. And there’s much acting naturally: one minute Harrison rolls over his amp at the rehearsal, the other he loses a shoe when running for the helicopter.

The latter scene had been cut off, though, as well as McCartney’s solo episode. Paul was the toughest actor of the bunch, too much enjoying the whole process, which would result in the “Magical Mystery Tour” disaster three years later. Not so with Lennon who fully embraces his cynic persona, yet even if it’s John who asks for permission to “surge with the girls”, one should not miss George say, “Look at the talent”, pointing at the girl to be the one let into a room where the band play cards and “I Should Have Known Better”, as it’s Pattie Boyd, Harrison’s future wife.

All this outlines each character, entwined in a whole no stranger could penetrate, and it’s the major wonder how Lester, given a string budget and a couple of months, before the band would be over as many presumed, managed to catch the essence of their world. A wonderful one, colored with ad-libs non-prescripted by Alun Owen, such as the Fabs’ tailor Dougie Mullins’ involvement – and now there’s a unique chance to read the original script.

Many of that spontaneity came from the lads’ inability to reproduce what has been done once, hence their music’s magic and a need for two cameras in order not to miss a moment: a new thing and just one of many the moviemakers invented setting the standards – the angles, close-ups etc – for the modern concert video. All this distanced “A Hard Day’s Night” from the earlier rock films The Beatles hated so much they initially didn’t want to delve into the thing. Yet they loved it, judging on the footage of the four learning the parts which would be enhanced with a special Liverpudlian humor to an extent where one’s forgiven to forget it was Ringo who John serenaded with “If I Fell” – quite a revelation for those watching it for the first time.

There are more revelations, the people behind the movie telling many a curios anecdote for the fans to know where the phrase “clean old man” sprang from and, in George Martin’s own words on how “Can’t Buy Me Love” was being born. Interviews, CD-ROM archive and a documentary are a real encyclopedia to the window into the ’60s. The air’s still fresh.

*****
 

PAUL McCARTNEY –
Back In The U. S.
MPL 2002

See the CD

“I can handle it if you can”, says Paul, and the excitement is so intense that the grown-ups cry.

Quite a conundrum: where does all this energy come from? Forty years on since the long Hamburg nights, Macca still rocks, generating so much power it flows from the stage into the audience and into each who experiences the concert on the DVD. For McCartney, it’s like conquering America again, if only America – and the rest of the world – wasn’t already at his feet with a vestige of Beatlemania exposed and very real. Perhaps, too real for Paul who’s set to create another world where there’s no such thing as age: “Hello Goodbye” for a start, and Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas are awestricken enough to let their hair down, which is more telling than Brian Wilson’s after hours – after two hours, to be exact – compliments.

Complementing the sense of wonder is the show, or two – one to whisk the people away off the street and in the realm of music, and the other that unravels on the various screens and displays, none distracting from the central figure down on the stage though. Central, yes, yet Paul fools around and feels very much part of the band rather than a star and an entourage. He may have a fabulous dressing room, “the inner sanctum”, and be seen there showing “Here, There And Everywhere” to Emmylou Harris, while vocals warm-up takes place at the gents – for better acoustics but, most certainly, for a thicker air of fun.

Everybody ‘s having fun on the tour: the public, the musicians and the crew members who, adoring Macca, crouch in the front row on the last night and raise paper hearts – on seeing these, Paul, tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, almost breaks down during “The Long And Winding Road”. But he clearly enjoys all of it to let himself go at the soundcheck with punk version of “Hey Jude” and “San Francisco Bay” sung Roy Orbison-way, while there’s no barriers hold when a venue’s brimful, McCartney telling anecdotes, like “I was in Tokyo – not that time”, referring to his stint in jail, explaining the “Blackbird” background, and making people happy.

They might be amused by “Every Night”, not as familiar as hits both solo and from The Fabs era. Now, totally in peace with his overbearing past, Paul’s glad to incorporate THE BEATLES footage in the show, and it’s rather poignant to see him so young once “Fool On The Hill” hangs in the air – as well as see George Harrison’s pictures projected while McCartney takes ukulele to deliver “Something”, although “Here Today” isn’t accompanied with John Lennon’s portraits. That would mean too much heavy feelings, when all the heaviness there is is left to the band, the best and the most spectacular combo Macca’s ever had, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. nearly stealing the show on-stage or off-stage, once the ensemble head for research center to play music with apes.

Paul looks like a big child there, not the man who takes a solo in “Matchbox” and masterfully trading licks with Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson in “The End” – three lead guitars doing turns – although he remains playful throughout, even doing sad numbers. Can people have enough of silly love songs McCartney dedicates to them? Surely, not – that’s why it’s so good to see him back.

*****
Top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.