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The Rockologist - by Glen Boyd

The Who's Tommy Re-examined On DVD

March 16th 2014 03:02
Music DVD Review: The Who – ‘Sensation – The Story of Tommy’



When The Who released their landmark double album Tommy back in 1969, the idea of "concept albums" was hardly anything new in rock and roll. That barrier had already long been crossed, most significantly by the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper in 1967.


Historically speaking (and contrary to popular belief), Tommy wasn't even the first rock opera. The Who were beaten to the punch for that honor by their own "A Quick One, While He's Away," a nine minute "mini-opera" which came out in 1966, and by the Pretty Things much lesser-known SF Sorrow, released a year before Tommy in 1968.



Even so, Tommy proved to be a pivotal moment for The Who, transforming them from a largely hit and miss "singles band," into the loftier status of being taken more seriously as credible album artists.

The commercial and critical success of Tommy propelled The Who from performing in mid-sized theaters and auditoriums, to selling out arenas (and even prestigious opera houses) overnight. Tommy also significantly elevated Pete Townshend's reputation as a songwriter, as he became regarded as a "serious composer" - a title only given to folks like Dylan or Lennon & McCartney, when afforded to pop musicians at all - for the first time.


To this day, Tommy is still regarded as a masterpiece.



Sensation - The Story of Tommy, a new documentary from Eagle Rock, re-examines the Tommy phenomenon, offering up some surprising new perspectives on the acknowledged classic. The film includes vintage interview and performance footage from the time period, as well as newly conducted interviews with surviving Who members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey (who have each also given the project their official blessing). Music critics like Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis and other key players like the Who's late co-manager Chris Stamp and album artwork designer Mike McInnerney are also interviewed.

Many of the live clips seen here will be familiar to Who fans, coming from sources like Woodstock and the amazing 1970 Live At The Isle Wight concert film. But there are also a number of nice surprises here, including rarely seen TV footage of The Who performing the early, pre-Tommy single "I Can See For Miles." Hearing it again all these years later, it's hard to disagree with Townshend's cocky self-appraisal of the song as "brilliant," and even harder not to second-guess why it hasn't been more of a staple in The Who's live shows ever since.



Although it does not overlook the contributions of the other members of the Who - in particular, the way that Roger Daltrey so uniquely inhabited the messianic rock star qualities of the Tommy character onstage - much of the focus of Sensation - The Story of Tommy is on Townshend, and wisely so.

While The Who collectively viewed Tommy as a critical, make-or-break turning point in the commercial fortunes of the band, Townshend's own creative process was more deeply personal. He reveals how the songs drew from his own memories of child abuse, but were also inspired by his spiritual experiences as a new follower of Meher Baba.



On a lighter note, Townshend claims to have written the song "Pinball Wizard" after spending time playing pinball with the rock critic Nik Cohn, and hoping to get Tommy a five-star review (which he did).

While Sensation - The Story of Tommy does cover a lot of familiar ground, fans will appreciate the new details (especially those offered up by Townshend), as well as some of the more rarely seen performance and TV footage. Speaking of which, the DVD and Blu-ray also includes a 33 minute bonus feature from the German TV show "Beat Club," which includes a Pete Townshend interview and The Who performing (well, actually lip-synching) several songs from Tommy.



*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.
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The Doors Video R-Evolution

January 19th 2014 04:31
Music DVD Review: The Doors - 'R-Evolution'



It shouldn't surprise anyone that precious little high quality footage of The Doors incendiary live concerts has survived the sixties. Even less has made it to official, commercial release - the most notable exception being Eagle Rock's beautifully restored Live At The Bowl '68 DVD/Blu-ray.

There isn't much decent footage of Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane or Cream around either.

But there has been no such problem finding video of The Doors numerous TV appearances, and original music films. Of all the great, original 1960's rock bands, The Doors seemed to uniquely grasp the idea of music video, long before there even was such a thing and certainly before there was ever a medium like MTV in the eighties and early nineties.



Again though, this really isn't all that surprising, considering that both Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were UCLA film students at the time they first met and formed the band.

The Doors R-Evolution, also from Eagle Rock, brings 19 of these original music films and TV appearances together in a single collection on DVD and Blu-ray. What becomes most apparent watching the earliest videos here - many of them from "teen dance" shows like Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Malibu U - is the band's initial discomfort with the still new medium marrying rock and roll with television. Yet, despite this, it is equally evident that the Doors were well ahead of many of their contemporaries, in recognizing the possibilities of music video.

For a band that was only on the national stage for about three years - from 1967 to 1970 - they adapted quickly. But first, they had to get around that initially shaky relationship - not to mention a certain charismatic, but notoriously erratic lead singer. Which, in hindsight makes for some bizarre, but often hilarious moments here.



For example, when Jim Morrison is a no-show during the Malibu U shoot for "Light My Fire," Robby Kreiger's obviously much shorter haired brother fills in for him (he is shot with his back to the camera), as the band plays from atop a firetruck on a beach ("Light My Fire," get it?). Front shots of Morrison, complete with his long hair blowing freely in the wind, were subsequently spliced into the final clip that aired on national TV, after he finally showed up a few days later.

But by the time The Doors made a 1968 appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for CBS, they had become much more comfortable with the medium. Morrison was even able to do a live vocal over a canned backing track for "Touch Me" (the sax solo was also done live), as opposed to the lip-synching more commonly used for "live" television back then.

Even so, Morrison manages to blow his vocal cue for the second verse (he misses the "come on, come on, come on" part by a mile). But after a brief and somewhat uncomfortable pregnant pause, he recovers the dropped ball quite nicely. Robby Kreiger is also seen sporting a mysterious looking black eye in this clip.



In addition to these television appearances, R-Evolution also features several of rock's earliest ever original music videos. Here in particular, it becomes clear just how far The Doors were ahead of the curve. Perhaps owing to the film school backgrounds of Morrison and Manzarek, early music films for The Doors singles "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" and especially "The Unknown Soldier" display an eerily prophetic understanding of just where the medium was eventually headed.

In the latter, the stark, original 16mm images of Jim Morrison being tied up and shot, convey the antiwar message of the lyrics as effectively as anything seen on MTV some two decades later. If nothing else, R-Evolution provides documented proof that The Doors were considerably ahead of their time, at least in terms of their foresight in seeing the future of music video.

In addition to its 19 original music films and TV appearances, The Doors R-Evolution also contains "Breaking Through The Lens," a documentary that ties together the stories behind their creation with commentary by surviving Doors members Robby Kreiger and John Densmore, as well as the late Ray Manzarek. There is also live performance footage of the Doors performing "Break On Through" at the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival, restored and edited by original director Murray Lerner.

*Article first published at Blogcritics.
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US Festival 1983 Immortalized On DVD

December 11th 2013 10:15
Music DVD Review: 'US Festival '83: Days 1-3'



It's a little hard to believe it's been 30 years since the 1983 US Festival, and even harder to imagine that I was actually there, among the 300,000 or so fans in attendance at the three-day, Memorial Day weekend blowout in that scorching, God-forsaken Southern California desert dustbowl.

The US Festival doesn't get as much historical recognition these days as its more famous predecessors Woodstock and Monterey Pop, but in some respects it was just as significant. Unlike the present day, where festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella and Sasquatch have all become permanent fixtures on the summer concert circuit, rock festivals were not only uncommon in 1983, but also considered by the hipsters of the day to be fossilized leftovers of the sixties hippie era.



The conditions were also far from perfect. Aside from the music, what I remember most is that it was really hot, really dusty, and that the bathroom facilities were pretty disgusting.

But the talent lineup for those three days was pretty amazing - a virtual who's who of 1983 Rock, New Wave and Heavy Metal. Most of the bands were MTV staples of the day - back when the network was still playing music - and not surprisingly, few are still performing today. But at the time, "New Wave" bands like Missing Persons, Berlin, Men At Work and the Stray Cats were all a fairly big deal, and the rising stars performing included INXS and a young U2.

The three main headliners - The Clash, David Bowie and Van Halen - also each made history in their own way, with their closing sets. Bowie previewed his then new Serious Moonlight show. Van Halen's David Lee Roth invited the entire crowd back to his hotel, and traded public insults with the Clash.

The Clash themselves famously broke up onstage.



'83 US Festival: Days 1-3 is the first officially sanctioned record of the "Woodstock of the eighties" to be released on DVD and Blu-ray (though bootlegs of most of the performances have circulated for years). The video source for this DVD appears to be from the same film that first aired on Showtime, and has since popped up occasionally on cable channels like VH1 Classic.

Although the video quality is decent, it doesn't represent a significant improvement over the original film, and has a distinctly VHS look to it. The sound quality is slightly better, although the crowd noise occasionally drowns out the music (particularly during the Scorpions and Judas Priest).

Van Halen and Bowie are both missing in action here, along with several other artists who were there like Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, The Pretenders and Little Steven (presumably due to copyright issues). The Clash are represented only with their blistering version of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?," while their historic onstage breakup later that night is curiously absent.



Fortunately, U2 did make the DVD cut - including Bono's death-defying climb up the stage scaffolding to hoist the white flag during "Electric Co." The only thing more fascinating than watching Bono perform this insane stunt (and of course, that stunning mullet), is the sense of history, witnessing one of rock's all-time greatest bands during a key moment in their early career. Other highlights include Michael Hutchence from INXS demonstrating his best Mick Jagger moves during "The One Thing," and Stevie Nicks casting her trademark, witchy woman spell during "Stand Back."

Admittedly, a lot of the other stuff here sounds a little dated today. But you can also start to see a clear connection between 1983 and right now in some of the best performances.

When The Stray Cats turn a dusty festival bowl of 300,000 fans into an atmosphere more resembling a rockabilly dance party in a sweaty nightclub, the parallel lines between them and The Black Keys are tough to miss. Likewise, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine at least some of Lady Gaga's more visual ideas coming from original Missing Persons' frontwoman Dale Bozzio, and her strategically placed fishbowls.



'83 US Festival: Days 1-3 isn't a perfect document, but it's nice to see this overlooked, but nonetheless historically significant event finally get some overdue props with an official release. It is worth owning for U2 and the final performance of The Clash alone, but also as a nice capsule of its time for folks like me who were there.

*Article first published at Blogcritics.
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Book Review: '27: A History Of The 27 Club' by Howard Sounes


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Music Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Boxed Set’


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Music DVD Review: ‘Springsteen & I’


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Some Sympathy For The Devil After All

October 18th 2013 00:11
Book Review: ‘Mick Jagger’ by Phillip Norman


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Peter Gabriel's Moment

September 15th 2013 11:15
Music DVD Review: Peter Gabriel – Live In Athens 1987


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Music Review: Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10


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Concert Review: Paul McCartney at Safeco Field, Seattle, WA, 7/19/2013


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