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The Rockologist - by Glen Boyd

Music DVD Review: Eric Clapton – ‘Planes, Trains And Eric’



Over the course of his legendary career, Eric Clapton has produced so many live albums – between the likes of Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and of course his many concert documents as a solo artist – that it’s easy to lose track of them all. Some of these have been pretty great, while others perhaps not so much.


Among these too numerous to count live recordings, one that has always stood out among the best, is the now barely remembered 1970 live album Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton. Clapton wasn’t even the star attraction here (his name was probably added to the title in order to ship a few more units).

But performing somewhat out of the spotlight, as a sideman in Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s high-octane, southern R&B revue, brought out some of the best live performances of his career up to that point. Clapton particularly seemed to jell with the rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon, as well as with keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. The chemistry there was apparently so good, he stole them away to form Derek and the Dominoes and record the classic album Layla.

On the new concert DVD Planes, Trains And Eric, Clapton taps into that same energy nearly 45 years later, and captures magic in a bottle once again. Not surprisingly, the band seems to have everything to do with it. While this DVD presents itself as more of a documentary style film chronicling Clapton’s 2014 tour of the Mid and Far East (including his 200th concert in Japan), it is the 13 full-length live performances featured here, rather than the interviews and backstage footage, that make this one a real keeper.




The recording quality is so pristine, that it literally puts you front row center, and this particularly compliments the rhythm section. Nathan East’s bass rumbles like thunder, and you hear every cymbal crash and snare crack of Steve Gadd’s drums clear as a bell. The two studio veterans lay down a thick, funky groove throughout, serving as the foundation for several soaring Clapton solos.

The usual Eric Clapton standards – “Layla,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Wonderful Tonight” and the rest – are all here, and hearing them yet again is perhaps a bit redundant.



But what sets Planes Trains And Eric apart from other live Clapton recordings, and makes this DVD a must-have, is how this particular band seems to have lit a fire under him. His solos on songs like “Pretending” and Robert Johnson’s “Little Queen Of Spades” bring to mind the Clapton of old, and the one that quite frankly, we haven’t heard enough from recently. The latter also features a fabulous keyboard exchange between former Joe Cocker bandmate Chris Stainton and Paul Carrack (best known as the voice behind Squeeze’s “Tempted” and one-hit wonder Ace’s “How Long”).

Speaking of Joe Cocker, the band also summons the spirit of his Mad Dogs And Englishmen period with Leon Russell, performing a ferocious cover of “High Time We Went,” highlighted by Carrack’s spot-on vocal. Unfortunately, all you get is the audio performance (no video). However, it sounds so good that it’s worth sticking around for the credits roll.



Eric Clapton’s Planes, Trains And Eric, from Eagle Rock Entertainment, will be out on DVD and Blu-ray on November 4.

*Article first published on Blogcritics.
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Queen Rocked Once. Yes, "That" Queen

September 7th 2014 07:43
Music DVD Review: Queen - 'Live At The Rainbow '74'



Although they are historically more associated with the pomp of songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the flamboyant fabulousness of their late lead singer, at one time Queen were one of the more kick-ass bands in rock and roll.

Yes, “that” Queen.

The complex, intricately synched harmonies that became their eventual calling card, anchored by Freddie Mercury’s pitch-perfect voice, were still very much in evidence on the early albums Queen, Queen II, and Sheer Heart Attack.

But they were matched by a primal, ferocious style of slightly proggy, but undeniably hard rock that nearly disappeared altogether by their fourth album, the breakthrough megahit A Night At The Opera, and all else that followed. If those early records created a sense that the wheels could come flying off the wagon at any moment, once that train left the station it was gone for good.



Drummer Roger Taylor and criminally underrated bassist John Deacon laid down the hammer that powered this engine, while Brian May’s thunderous riffage mowed through the din like a buzzsaw. May’s playing remained brilliant throughout the band’s latter, more commercially successful years even as Freddie Mercury proceeded in getting his full Liberace on. But it became much more measured in short, staccato blasts of power, than the way he used to simply let rip on Queen’s rawer, early records.

Sadly, in particular for those of us who remember and miss them most, this seems to be the Queen that history has largely forgotten.



Recently unearthed and restored to perfection by the fine folks at Eagle Rock, Live At The Rainbow ’74 seeks to rectify this by making one of Queen’s most legendary performances available at long last commercially. Although Queen had recorded their March 1974 performance at London’s Rainbow for a proposed live album (four of the songs from that show are included here as DVD extras), they were a much more formidable live band by the time they returned later that same year for the sold-out November show that comprises most of what is seen and heard here.

When the footage is viewed back-to-back, the differences between the band who had just come off a tour opening for Mott The Hoople in March, and the triumphant headliners on the verge of much bigger things by November are palpable. Playing with the same high level of intensity they had just months before, but with the new found confidence and polish that comes when you know that destiny has just come calling, Queen’s performance on this set is literally off the charts.

Even more astonishing though, is the way that Queen recreate the dense layers of sound heard on those first three albums in a live setting.

Long before “Bohemian Rhapsody” became the most difficult to sing karaoke song of all time, and “We Will Rock You” became the anthem of choice at many a professional sports stadium, Queen’s trademark was this thickly layered wall of sound. This same aural density was made even more inexplicably impossible for the fact that it was recorded by the traditional rock and roll lineup of just four guys with guitars, drums and voices.

Although they could no longer make the same claim with some of their later records, the early Queen album covers always proudly boasted that the music heard within contained “No Synths!” Appropriately, they are now, decades later, able to repeat that braggadocios statement with Live At The Rainbow ’74.

Not surprisingly, they do.



As a document of its time, Queen’s Live At The Rainbow ’74 is a long overdue historical reminder of just how much these guys used to rock prior to adopting the more pompous, grandiose, and some would argue, pretentious sound that made them jet-setting zillionaire rock stars. Not that some of Queen’s early music didn’t have its own pretentious lapses into ogres, faeries and assorted other manner of prog-rock lyrical silliness.

They just rocked so hard that it could be overlooked.

But as a performance, this set is nothing short of stunning. Hearing these guys rip through the early classics like “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Ogre Battle,” “March of the Black Queen” and the rest, it’s hard to fathom that this is even the same band later responsible for all those campy, showy tunes about bicycles and fat bottomed girls.

I suppose a lot of that can be blamed on Freddie Mercury.

But he sounds nothing short of magnificent here, particularly on songs like “Father To Son” where his range soars high above the glorious racket being created all around him in ways that would swallow other, less gifted singers whole. With barely enough time to catch his breath, Freddie then rips through the borderline speed-punk of “Stone Cold Crazy.” It’s an undeniable early display of the star power that would manifest itself so much more fully a few short years down the road.

Available in a variety of formats including Audio CD, DVD and Blu-ray, anything that captures both the visual and audio elements of the show is the way to go here. But however you choose to get this, just make sure that you do get it.

You will then discover for yourself one of the best kept secrets in rock and roll: Queen – yes, “that” Queen – were once a kick-ass rock band. The evidence is right here.



*Article first published at Blogcritics.
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Music Review: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - 'CSNY 1974'



When Crosby Stills Nash & Young reunited in 1974 for the stadium juggernaut that would come to be historically known as the "Doom Tour," it was definitely a huge deal.

But several reports from the road at the time were an equally mixed bag. After a very promising start in Seattle - described by most who were there (including this 18 year old at- the-time observer), as an epic four-hour blowout - many later accounts from the tour focused as much on the clashing egos and all-around backstage excess, as they did on the music itself.



By the time of the final shows, much of this had spilled over to the performances themselves.

Besides those four famously harmonizing voices starting to show certain signs of road-wear, the tension between them - by this time, Neil Young was traveling separately from the others - began to manifest itself onstage as well. Some shows, despite production values (particularly in sound and lighting) which were state-of-the-art at the time, were also reportedly just plain sloppy.

Which coming 40 years after the fact, makes CSNY 1974 a particularly remarkable achievement.



Like the "Doom Tour' itself, a lot of what you get on this 3-CD boxed set (which also includes a bonus DVD featuring eight of the performances) is hit-and-miss to be sure. The harmonies are not always as perfectly in synch as you'd like, and occasionally the music meanders a bit too ("Wooden Ships").

But for the most part, this boxed set manages to bottle the magic, both of the time and of CSNY themselves, pretty well. The audio quality, overseen by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, is mostly immaculate, particularly considering both the vintage of these recordings, and the size of the venues they were sourced from.

The oft-reported onstage bickering from the tour, is replaced here with a sense of warm - albeit possibly manufactured - camaraderie between the four men. While there may be a legitimate suspicion of some revisionist history in the editing room going on here (they did have 40 years to work on this, after all), there is also no question that for purposes serving this project, it works, and in that sense, that it's also appropriate.



The really good news here though, is that some of these performances are also positively stunning. With each of these four individuals bringing fresh, new solo material to the table, CSNY had a wealth of great new material to choose from for their 1974 reunion tour. The Neil Young songs represented here sound particularly good, including rarities like "Pushed It Over The End" and "Love Art Blues."

But on the title track of his then current solo album On The Beach, Neil turns in the single greatest performance of the entire boxed set. He really leans into the vocal here, bringing a rare intensity and stretching his range far beyond what you hear on the studio version. He even improvs a few new lines, such as "that may mean nothing to you, but I was alone at the microphone." There is also a fiery, if regrettably brief, exchange of guitar fireworks between Young and Stephen Stills near the end.



If there is any legitimate complaint to be made here, it's that you don't hear more of that on CSNY 1974.

In addition to "On The Beach," you do get a few more tastes of those storied guitar shoot-outs on Young's "Revolution Blues" and "Ohio"; Stills' "Black Queen"; and Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair." Curiously, although you can find several lengthy jams from CSNY's 1974 tour simply by searching them out on YouTube, you'll find nothing here that matches the epic versions of "Carry On" and "Southern Man" heard on CSNY's first official live album, 1970's 4-Way Street.



As a pristine sounding, if likely somewhat sanitized document of the historic "Doom Tour" though, CSNY 1974 works much better than it has any right to. It also makes you wonder what might have been, if they'd only put the egos and the substances aside, and made that third studio album back then.

Sadly, we'll never know.

*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.
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Music Preview: Nils Lofgren - 'Face The Music' (Box Set)


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The Who's Tommy Re-examined On DVD

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


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The Doors Video R-Evolution

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


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US Festival 1983 Immortalized On DVD

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


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Book Review: '27: A History Of The 27 Club' by Howard Sounes


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