Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Speaking in Code

Suppose you were married and one of you was a documentary filmmaker while the other was really into electronic dance music. You decided to combine your interests and make a documentary about the music. You then lined up an impressive list of people who agreed to participate in the film including DJs and producers Modeselektor and the Wighnomy Brothers, DJ, producer and founder and owner of the BPitch record label Ellen Allien, producer, co-founder and owner of the highly respected Kompakt record label Wolfgang Voigt, and Robert Henke aka Monolake, co-founder of Ableton, and co-designer of the original Ableton Live.

With these people on board, think of the documentary you could make about electronic dance music! You could focus on the music itself, or the technology used to make the music, or the business of making, playing and selling the music. Amy Grill, the film maker who made Speaking in Code, didn’t do any of these things. You first get an idea that Speaking in Code might turn out to be a great opportunity wasted very early in the film when Grill’s voice over tells you that she decided not to focus on the music but on the people. Okay, so you make a documentary that focuses on what life in the electronic dance world is like for the people who produce and play the music. Grill didn’t really make that film either. Instead she made a documentary that is largely about . . . Amy Grill and her then-husband David Day.

Speaking in Code is almost literally a pointless film. There’s no unifying idea that structures the documentary. It’s as if they had the idea to make a documentary about electronic dance music and that’s as far as they got. They spent a lot of money (Speaking in Code has many, many segments of Day (the husband) whining about the state of their finances), shot a lot of aimless film, and ended up with, well, a lot of aimless film. With no coherent ideas about the music, the production of the music or the business of the music to give their footage some structure they decided to make it about “the people” and the people they decided to make it about was themselves.

All of the people mentioned in the first paragraph above do appear in Speaking in Code but very little of interest is done with them. For example, in addition to interviews with Wolfgang Voigt it looks like the film makers were given fairly good access to the people and the business of at Kompakt Records. What we get in the film is someone leading Day through the Kompakt record store saying “This is the section devoted to X type of music and that is the section devoted to Y type of music” while Day looking awestruck says things like “Wow! This is the greatest record store in the world!”   That’s about as deep as the insight and analysis of the subject matter gets.

As far as what life in the electronic dance music world is like we get the camera following someone around who is saying things like “This is the room where I made this track” and “This is the new urinal we have in the bathroom” (I’m not making this up). We get a lot of “we’re all one big happy family” accompanied by film of the big happy family eating together. And so on.  It’s almost as if for all that they’ve immersed themselves in the world of dance music, the film makers really don’t know, or don’t want to know, very much about it.  It’s all “here we are with this famous DJ”, and “here we are in this famous DJs toilet” and “here we are in this really cool record store”, and “here I am on the plane flying to Europe to go clubbing (again . . and again . . . and . . .).

The film includes a segment of Robert Henke opening what appears to be a version of Henke’s Monodeck, a sophisticated midi-controller for live performance that looks like it might have been a prototype of Akai’s APC40 controller for Ableton Live. Henke is clearly excited about the arrival of the Monodeck yet Grill doesn’t ask him what it is, what it does or why he’s excited about it. She basically ignores it. A bonus feature extended interview with Wolfgang Voigt has him happy and interested to talk about electronic dance music in general, how it has developed over time, and how he sees Kompakt fitting into the larger electronic music picture. From this short segment you can see that you could have made an interesting documentary built around Voigt and Kompakt alone. Grill didn’t even include it in the film. One of the things Voigt talks about is the limitation on roles for women in the electronic dance music business. Grill conducts several interviews with one of those women, Ellen Allien, but doesn’t ask her anything about this.

Instead of anything that might be of interest to people who are interested in electronic dance music we get more and more focus on Grill and Day as the film goes on. More interview time is given to Day than to anyone else in the film – or maybe it just seems that way because his role in Speaking in Code is more about relationship drama than about music.  Even when other people are allowed to speak, Grill’s documentary voice over tends to be about what it all means for her and for her deteriorating relationship with her husband. Okay, if the film is going to be fundamentally about Grill and Day’s relationship, is there something especially interesting about the end of their marriage as documented in Speaking in Code? Not really. From what we see in the film it looks like they went through what very commonly happens when people get involved in a serious relationship when they are fairly young and fairly inexperienced in making a life with another, grow apart, find themselves unable or unwilling to make the adjustments and commitments necessary to come back together and deepen the relationship to a new level, and split up. While these events are of profound importance for the two people involved, they are also a common and unexceptional learning experience that many people have undergone for themselves.  Perhaps a suitable subject for a scripted film but this is supposed to be a documentary about electronic dance music.

Speaking in Code comes across as the kind of film you get when a Facebook-addicted, it’s-all-about-me kind of person makes a documentary. If you get a voyeuristic thrill out of watching the sad decline and dissolution of a marriage, Speaking in Code might get you off. If you’re interested in electronic dance music, be forewarned.  If Speaking in Code had been made with an idea about some aspect of  electronic dance music that could have given the film structure and coherence, it could have been a very interesting documentary.  But it wasn’t, and it isn’t.
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08/06/2010 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The T.A.M.I. Show

One time I saw James Brown play in a theater.  It was the kind of place that has a U-shaped corridor between the doors into the theater and the seating area.  You buy your tickets and enter the theater, walk through the corridor and find the door that opens into the part of the theater where your seats are located, and then enter the seating area, find your seat and sit down.  After we had been sitting for awhile waiting for the show to start we heard this ghostly sax coming from somewhere else in the building.  We thought it was the band starting to warm up but it was only one sax and it didn’t sound like it was coming from behind the curtains.  As the sax continued to play more and more people in the audience heard it and quieted down.  Soon everyone was quiet and it became clear that the doors to the theater from the corridor had been closed and the sax player was walking back and forth through the corridor.

Once the audience had completely settled down one of the doors from the corridor was opened and the sax player, who was Maceo Parker, stepped into the room while he continued to play.  By this time he had been playing for awhile and the motherfucker was wailing.  The door opened, Maceo’s sax burst forth and the audience exploded which drove Maceo to new heights.  For the next ten minutes or so he walked through the audience, playing alone and on fire.  He tore the place up and as good as James Brown was,  Maceo had upstaged him.

Upstaging James Brown is no small thing.  Brown played at the T.A.M.I. show in 1964.  He didn’t have Maceo Parker to deal with but he faced an even greater challenge from the other acts on the bill.

The T.A.M.I. Show is a film of the concert which took place over two nights in late October 1964.  Free tickets were distributed to local high school students and the best bits from the two shows were combined in the film.  The acts ranged from The Barbarians, basically a novelty act featuring a one-armed drummer who played with a prosthetic limb, to the Rolling Stones who headlined and closed the show.  Jan & Dean were the emcees and they performed “Here They Come (From All Over the World)”.  Jack  Nitzsche was the music director who led the house band which included Glenn Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.  All of the music was performed live.

In order of appearance, the bands and groups were Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, The Barbarians, James Brown and the Famous Flames and the Rolling Stones.  Think about that line up for a minute.  James Brown wasn’t likely to have too much trouble with the Barbarians, Leslie Gore or Jan & Dean.  But Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones on the same bill?  Are you kidding me?

The concert took place relatively early in the careers of some of these artists.  The Miracles weren’t yet Smokey Robinson and the Miracles although watching their electric performance you can see and hear why they soon would be.  The Supremes were not yet Diana Ross and the Supremes even though they performed their two current back-to-back #1 hits “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?”.  The Rolling Stones still had Brian Jones in the lineup, Keith Richards was the pretty one, and “Satisfaction” hadn’t happened yet.  Their big numbers were “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now”.  On the one hand, maybe these groups hadn’t realized the full extent of their powers, on the other they had to work the audience to make it on performance alone, not reputation and inflatable stage props.  These are the performances that made them what they become.

The Beach Boys performance which had been removed from previously released versions of the film after its initial run in theaters is restored in this new DVD version.  Almost all of the performances are terrific.  This was a special event that was designed from the ground up to be released as a feature film.  The bands approached it as just what it was intended to be, a marketing tool which could have very positive and very lucrative consequences.  They wanted to shine and they had to do it sharing the stage with some of the most accomplished performers of the day.  They had to bring their A game and they had to bring it live.  They did.  The show is tremendous.

So what about James Brown?  The Stones had the choice spot closing the show but Brown came on right before them.  Could he outshine the likes of Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys?  Could he put on a performance which the audience would still remember once the Stones took the stage?

It was no contest.  James Brown owned.  He owned the Stones, he owned the Supremes, he owned all the other groups, he owned their entourages, he owned their mothers, lovers and pets.  In later interviews Keith Richards would say that following James Brown at the T.A.M.I. show was the single biggest mistake of their careers.  No matter how well they performed, they had no chance.  If you’ve ever wondered why James Brown was called “the hardest working man in show business”, watch this movie.  His performance alone is worth the price of the film.  And he puts this on with only a short spot to work with.  Imagine what it would be like after an hour’s show where he left 10 lbs of sweat on the stage before he got to what you see in the T.A.M.I. show.

If you like the music from this period, see this movie.  It’s great.

06/20/2010 Posted by | DVD reviews, film reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967

The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 is a two CD +  one DVD collection released by Time-Life to comemorate what was an extraordinary year in music.  The DVD is entitled “My Generation” which is Part 6 of Time-Life’s 10 DVD The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll set.  The CDs are labeled AM and FM and are supposed to capture the different types of music being played on the two radio formats at the time.  The collection comes with a booklet that contains an introduction by Jorma Kaukonen the lead guitar player for Jefferson Airplane and fluff paragraphs on each of the songs included on the two CDs.  As a set devoted to the music of 1967, there’s good news and bad news here.

The good news is that the collection contains a lot of good music that people who were into rock and pop music at the time will remember and enjoy.  Although the set is called “The Summer of Love”, it doesn’t focus on either the San Francisco music scene or tracks released in the summer.    Anything released in 1967 is fair game.  (See the Tuned In To Music podcasts on 1960’s San Francisco Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for a more thorough coverage of the SF music scene.)  The AM set includes often collected songs such as “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” (Scott McKenzie), “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harem), and “Happy Together” (The Turtles) along with some less common, and therfore more enjoyable to hear again tunes like “Talk Talk” (The Music Machine), “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” (Spanky and Our Gang), and “Little Bit o’ Soul” (The Music Explosion).  Other tracks on the AM disc include “Darling Be Home Soon” (The Lovin’ Spoonful, a personal favorite), “Creeque Alley” (The Mamas and the Papas), “Gimme Some Lovin'” (The Spencer Davis Group) and “Let’s Live for Today” (The Grass Roots).

Splitting the collection into AM and FM discs was a good idea in that it was around this time that FM radio became a home for exciting music programming that featured album cuts and few if any ads.  As you would expect, the FM disc is more varied but it’s also more hit or miss.  Among the hits are “I Feel Free” (Cream), “Friday on My Mind” (The Easybeats), “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” (The Blues Magoos) and “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (The Byrds).  Among the misses are “It’s a Happening Thing” (The Peanut Butter Conspiracy) and “Paper Sun” (Traffic, a miss considering the great “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is on the same album).  In general, the FM disc is a disappointment as many of the tracks such as “Somebody To Love” (Jefferson Airplane’s biggest selling single) and “Brown Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison) should have been on the AM disc or that cuts like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (Vanilla Fudge) are presented in the sub 3 minute AM radio version rather than the 7+ minute version that was regularly played on FM stations at the time.

The bad news comes when you realize the extraordinary music that was released in 1967 that is not included in the collection.  It is almost certainly the case that legal barriers prevented the inclusion of almost all of this music.  Still, when you take into account what is missing, The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 looks weak indeed.

Soul music and R&B are particularly poorly represented.  We get “Reflections” (Diana Ross and the Supremes) and “I Was Made to Love Her” (Stevie Wonder).  Which sound fine until you realize that Aretha Franklin released “Respect”, “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman”, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”, and “Chain of Fools” all in 1967.  In addition, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Gladys Knight and the Pips), “Funky Broadway ” (Wilson Pickett), “I Second That Emotion” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles), “Soul Man” (Sam & Dave), “Tramp” (Otis Redding and Carla Thomas) and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) all came out in 1967.

Other genres of music don’t fare any better.  On the AM side of the equation 1967 saw the release of a number of important singles that are not in the set including “Ode to Billie Joe” (Bobbie Gentry), “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher), and “Groovin'” (The Young Rascals) among many, many others.  And, of course, there’s that 800 lb gorilla we haven’t mentioned.  The Beatles released “Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “All You Need is Love” and “Hello, Goodbye” as singles in 1967.  Yikes!

When you look at albums, the omissions in The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 become even more apparent.  1967 saw the release of debut albums from The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth”), David Bowie and The Doors (“Light My Fire”).  The Doors and Buffalo Springfield also released their second albums in 1967.  Other important and unrepresented 1967 albums include Disraeli Gears (Cream), Forever Changes (Love), and Days of Future Passed (The Moody Blues).

All of this pales into insignificance , however, when you realize that three of the most influential albums of the modern era were released in 1967 and none of them are represented on The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 .  In 1967 we were treated to Jimi Hendrix’s debut album Are You Experienced? (as well as his second, Axis Bold as Love), the Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled debut album and perhaps the most important of them all, The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  All those iconic singles and Sgt. Pepper’s?  The Beatles alone made 1967 a watershed year.

We found the DVD mildly interesting.  It focuses more on the American counterculture symbolized by the term “Summer of Love” than the CDs and, although shallow, it attempts to provide some social and political context for the music.  There is some brief but great footage of Jimi Hendrix.  You can also watch Keith Richards throw a TV off of a hotel balcony as a stunt for the camera and Pete Townsend be a belligerent whiny asshole if that’s the kind of thing that turns you on.  I don’t expect I’ll watch it a second time.

1967 may well have been the most extraordinary year for recorded music of all time and it’s hard to fault The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 for not doing it justice.  Even if you were able to get all of the necessary releases, there’s no way this unbelievable year could be effectively surveyed on a two disc collection.  The Time-Life set is likely to have the most appeal to listeners who were listening to AM and FM radio at the time and who will find almost every track in the collection familiar.  Listeners who were not there and want to hear what was current in 1967 would do better to seek out the material that isn’t in the set.  I’m not an “oldies” listener who is mired in the music that was current when I was young, there’s too much good music coming out every year for that.  However, to this day, I return to many of the songs and albums of 1967 on a semi-regular basis.  But almost all of the ones I return to are the ones left out of The Summer of Love, The Hits of 1967 .
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08/10/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: On Stage at World Cafe Live: Jennifer Glass & Daniella Cotton

This is more of a warning than a review.  The reason it’s not a review is that the sound quality of this DVD is so bad we couldn’t stand to listen to it and you can’t really review something you haven’t seen or heard. TheOn Stage at the World Cafe disc opens with Jennifer Glass, a singer I haven’t heard before, but we went straight to the Daniella Cotton segment thinking we’d go back and listen to Glass later.  Didn’t happen.  No matter how bad I think something is I’ll try and listen at least several times before I write a review but we got midway through Cotton’s second song and decided we couldn’t stand to listen to any more.  Cotton’s voice, as heard on her album Rare Child, is extraordinary.  On this DVD it sounds like she’s singing through a large-diameter metal pipe that’s about a block away.  The lead guitar is waaaay too high in the mix so that it drowns out almost everything else.  The bass is inaudible most of the time.  The drums are fairly well recorded but the mix is so bad it doesn’t matter.  Strictly amateur night at in the recording booth.

The problem isn’t our sound system which is a fairly good one and is kept in line with electronic room correction and regular speaker balancing using an SPL meter.  The problem is that Cotton’s set is so poorly recorded that the DVD is best avoided.  Cotton is too good, much too good, to be listened to like this.

07/11/2008 Posted by | DVD reviews, music | , | Leave a comment

Review: Control

Control is a film about Ian Curtis, the singer and songwriter for the foundational band Joy Division.  As most readers will know, Joy Division was one of the most influential bands in the UK around 1980 spearheading Controlthe move from punk to post-punk.  Sometime during the early-morning hours of May 18th, 1980, the day the band was scheduled to leave for its first tour of the US, Curtis hung himself.  The remaining members of Joy Division rechristened themselves as New Order and proved equally influential leading the way from post punk to the dance and house music that fueled the UK’s rave scene. 

Joy Division did not make happy music, Ian Curtis was not a happy man, and Control is not a happy movie.  Curtis is first portrayed as a melancholy and alienated teenager who impresses his future wife by quoting the poet Wordsworth at length.  Moody to begin with, he becomes increasingly despondent, frightened and confused as his personal life descends into chaos and the success of Joy Division demands more of his intense, epilepsy-fueled performances than he is able to give.  Like the protagonist of Joy Division’s famous “She’s lost control”, Curtis has no control of his personal and professional lives.  So he ends them.  It’s a bleak story whose mood is enhanced by director Anton Corbijn’s decision to shoot the film in black and white.

Control is a film about Curtis, not about Joy Division.  Joy Division is going on throughout most of the film but the focus is clearly on Curtis, not the band.  Part of the reason for this may be that Control is based on the book Touching From a Distance by Deborah Curtis, Ian’s widow.  Understandably, she is more interested in Curtis’ personal life as a husband, lover and father of their child than she is in his professional life as the singer and songwriter of the band.  Consequently, the film gives much more time to Ian’s struggle to reconcile his family life with his feelings for his lover Annik Honore than it does, for example, to the consequences of Joy Division’s increased performance schedule on Curtis’ epilepsy. The film portrays Curtis having a seizure during a performance but it does not adequately depict the frequency or intensity of these events as his performances became increasingly unhinged and his fellow band members at times did not know whether he was having a seizure on stage or not.

The emphasis on the personal as opposed to the professional mitigates the value of the film as something like a full and complete account of the factors that led Curtis to commit suicide and members of Joy Division have commented that virtually nothing in the film is portrayed as it actually happened.  However, this is not really a criticism of the film as Corbijn did not set out to create a documentary.  Control is more about capturing the essence of who Curtis was than about documenting the facts of his life with clinical precision and, as such, it succeeds admirably.

Sam Riley has garnered a career’s worth of critical praise for his depiction of Curtis.  The praise is well deserved as he does a superb job and is utterly convincing in the role.  The moment when Curtis is first shown letting loose while singing “Transmission” during an early Joy Division television performance is nothing short of electrifying.  In general, the performance scenes are especially well done which is all the more remarkable when you realize that the actors performed the music themselves in the performance sequences shown in the film.  Samantha Morton’s portrayal of Deborah Curtis is also very well done.

Control is a very good film that tells a very sad story.  Joy Division fans should not miss it and it is recommended for people who like thoughtful, well-done film, world-class acting, or the music of the period.  Just don’t expect a feel-good ending.

06/16/2008 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Annie Lennox – Live in Central Park

Annie Lennox – Live in Central Park is exactly what it’s name implies, a free concert recorded live in New York’s Central Park in 1995.  The DVD presents concert footage that lasts for roughly an hour followed by Live in Central Parksome post-concert live camera bits that lead into three videos interspliced with interview segments.  The concert can be played with or without lyrics onscreen and the individual concert tracks can be selected and played either randomly or in the viewer’s preferred order.  Sound options are Dolby stereo or Dolby surround.  The stereo mix sends the left and right channels to both the front and rear speakers.

The concert is good but not great.  Lennox is a better than average songwriter and an extremely talented vocalist with an extraordinary voice.  She does not disappoint on Live in Central Park.  She tends toward songs of great emotional weight and she delivers them with the emotional power they deserve.  There are moments of real magic here where she takes the audience to that special place that only exceptional live music can realize.  Watching Lennox perform live it becomes instantly apparent that she is deeply synched to the groove.  She moves beautifully and you could drop the rhythm track out of the mix and “hear” it anyway just by watching her.  In this day of Pro Tooled divas who lip synch concerts amidst extravagant sets and pyrotechnics replete with by-the-numbers choreography designed to shake as much booty, cleavage and big hair as possible, it’s refreshing to see a woman dominate a stage and captivate an audience on nothing but her innate sense of rhythm and arresting ability to sing.  And not a costume change in sight. 

The concert’s main limitation is that it peaks before it ends which is what keeps it from being great.  It is also quite short with just about an hour of live footage.  A version of Lennox’s album Medusa released with bonus tracks from the Central Park concert contains one song from the gig, “Here comes the rain again”, that is not on the DVD so it seems the DVD presents an edited version of the concert.

Annie Lennox fans will almost certainly enjoy Live in Central Park and have probably already seen it.  It is also recommended to listeners who may not be as familiar with Lennox but who enjoy powerful talented female vocalists who can bring it live.  If you’re in the latter group, also consider Lennox’s terrific current album Songs of Mass Destruction.

05/15/2008 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | Leave a comment

Review: Ojos de Brujo, Techari Live

Ojos de Brujo are a large band from Barcelona that perform a combination of nuevo flamenco, Gypsy, Indian, African, Caribbean, hip hop, rap, and more that I find utterly intoxicating.  Not only do they make music that Techari LiveI could, and often do, listen to all day, they completely control the packaging and production of their music on their own record label.  Rather than release CDs designed to squeeze every last dime out of the buying public they put out lavish productions that reflect their love of the music they make and their desire to share that music in as pleasurable a way as possible with the rest of us.  I love this band.

Following 1999’s Vengue and 2002’s Bari, Ojos de Brujo released their third album of new material, Techari, in 2006.  On December 22nd of the same year they performed the material from the album along with some new tunes at a gig in their home town of Barcelona.  Techari Live presents that concert in two formats, a CD and a DVD.  Although I very much enjoy the CD, I find it the less satisfying of the two.  As often happens in live performance a number of the songs from Techari are played at slightly faster tempos than they are on the studio album which results in the loss of some of the lilt and sway that can make Ojos de Brujo’s music so captivating.  Also, the intensity and power of a live performance from a nine member band augmented by two flamenco dancers and innumerable guests blasts away some of the nuance and subtelty that is present on the studio recordings.  Having said that, the live gig is expertly recorded and mixed so that all of those musical voices can be clearly heard and distinguished.  It’s a masterful recording.  And the band . . .  God in heaven, the band is amazing.

Watching the band perform can greatly enhance one’s appreciation and enjoyment of this music.  There are a lot of musicians working here, they are playing rhythms, counter rhythms, cross rhythms and polyrhythms that are dizzying in their complexity, and all of these guys can count.  The group is so tight they are beyond belief.  They’re playing within rhythmic structures that are so complex and so fast they’re almost impossible to figure out and yet the band will stop, turn and shift gears on a razor’s edge.  Being able to watch them is a great help in keeping track of who is playing what and in separating out the different rhythmic strands.  As if two percussion players, a drummer, a turntablist, and two flamenco guitarists all playing different rhythmic lines weren’t enough the band adds a pair of flamenco dancers for even more rhythmic goodness.  They do one number where spitfire rapper Maxwell Wright and flamenco dancer Susi Medina carry out a vocal-foot percussion dialogue that begins with them trading eights and shifts to trading fours and then twos at a speed and complexity that has to be seen and heard to be believed.  Another highlight is the duet between Ojos de Brujo’s spectacular vocalist Marina Abad and guest vocalist Martirio on “Todo Tiende”.  Those are two great moments but there are many, many more.  Time after time this band will stop you dead in your tracks and leave you awestruck.  These guys can really play.

Although the CD and DVD contain the same songs (for the most part, there are a couple of extra studio tracks on the CD) the sequencing is different on each which is a nice touch because they provide different listening experiences.  The DVD features surround sound but it is not recorded in either DVD-Audio or SACD.  In addition the DVD has a documentary on the making of “Techari”, a short on putting the gig together, and a collection of the videos they made for tunes on the album including the terrific video for “Sultanas de Merkaillo”.

As can be heard on the Barcelona Zona Bastarda compilation, Barcelona is currently the home of an exceptionally vibrant and creative music scene and Ojos de Brujo is one of its leaders.  They are are an extraordinary band that has put out one excellent album after another.  Techari Live is no exception and by also providing a visual record of the concert on DVD Ojos de Brujo gives us another way to enjoy their joy-infused and celebratory music.  Highly recommended.

04/28/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding

“Dreams to Remember:  The Legacy of Otis Redding” is a 90 minute documentary on the late, great soul singer.  It contains interviews with Otis’ wife and daughter, Jim Stewart redding dvdone of the founders and owners of Stax-Volt the record company for which Otis recorded, Steve Cropper the brilliant guitar player and songwriter who cowrote with Redding many of his greatest songs and who was a mainstay of Booker T.’s MGs, the house band at Stax, and Wayne Jackson the trumpet player and core member of the Memphis Horns, the house horn section at Stax.  It also contains a lot of music ranging from lip-synched television performances through live-in-the-studio for TV performances to concert footage.

In the previous Tuned In To Music review I wrote that I was not the best person to provide a balanced review of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “This Is Somewhere” because I don’t care for the country twang style that infuses much of their music.  The same type of problem exists here but for the opposite reason.  For decades I’ve believed that Otis Redding is the greatest soul singer, and one of the greatest, maybe the greatest singer of any kind that ever lived.  In the words of one of his great songs “I’ve been loving you too long / I can’t stop now.”  I’m simply unable to listen to this music or view this documentary dispassionately.

As documentaries go I suppose “Dreams to Remember” is only so-so.  Some of the video on the lip-synched TV segments is so awful it’s embarasssing.  The first two numbers were filmed outside at night with Otis lip-synching amidst a small crowd that includes people who appear completely uninterested or, in one case, angry about what’s going on.  You can see traffic going by in the background when the camera person screws up and shoots from a bad angle.  It doesn’t help that Otis was terrible at lip synching.

On the other hand, the interview segments with Cropper and Jackson are worth their weight in gold.  Cropper especially talks at length about the process of creating music at Stax in general and with Otis in particular.  People who are interested in the music aspect (as opposed to the business or celebrity aspects) of the music industry and who know and like Redding’s music are going to love the Cropper interviews.  In general, all of the interviews are interesting and whether you are listening to his family, his fellow musicians or the owner of his record label you come away with the strong message that while all of these people recognized Otis’ immense talent, they loved him and miss him more as a friend than as a musician.

For people like me, and I assume you, who did not know Redding personally, the story here is the music.  The interviews, the videos, the concert foootage are all nice but they’re all peripheral to the music.  Redding was an accomplished songwriter; he wrote “Respect” which ‘Retha Franklin would make into a world-class hit, for example.  However his greatest gift was as a singer.  Whether he was singing a ballad like “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” or an up-tempo number like the out choruses of “Try A Little Tenderness” he could invest a line with so much pure, raw emotion it is incomprehensible to me that anyone could listen to him sing and not be moved to awe or tears.  If you can go past the emotion and get down to the music you hear that he had a superb musical sense of dynamics, harmony and timing.  His voice weaves around the musical instruments in extraordinary ways.  Cropper says that Otis’ vocal abilities were such that backing him up was more like playing with another instrument than with a vocalist.  That captures it very well.  Jackson points out that Redding’s singing and horn lines were exceptionally tuned in to the rhythm.  There is a video of Otis covering “Glory of Love” (the Eddie Arnold song, not the song with the same name by Peter Cetera) that goes through a rhythmic passage that has to be heard to be believed.  I think that what happens is the song is sung and played in 3/4 time until the out chorus when it switches to 4/4.  However the change sounds like it doesn’t happen all at once but is stretched out over a couple of measures when the rhythm becomes fluid and undefined and the whole thing is held together by Redding’s vocal phrasing which somehow makes sense out of this free-time segment.  It’s amazing.

Redding’s one massive hit was “Sitting on the Dock on the Bay” and if that’s all you know about him you are in for a big surprise because it is a very atypical song for him.  “Dreams to Remember” might be a good place to get acquainted but I’d strongly recommend getting one of Redding’s compilation CDs instead.  If you already know and love Otis’ music, I think you will enjoy this DVD.

One final reminder that I did not view or evaluate”Dreams to Remember” without bias.  Otis Redding died on December 10, 1967 when the light plane he was in crashed into Lake Monona on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin.  He was 26.  I was one of the people in Madison that day waiting for his show.  I cannot listen to his music and I could not watch this DVD without awareness that forty years later I haven’t gotten over it.  I listen to so much music and write this blog because of that small percentage of music that has the capacity to move us as profoundly as the music of Otis Redding moves me.

I can’t stop now
Please don’t make me stop now

03/11/2008 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | Leave a comment

Review: John Fogerty, The Long Road Home In Concert DVD

After thoroughly enjoying Fogerty’s recently released CD “Revival” I decided to check out “The Long Road Home In Concert”.  Fogerty has returned to playing his Creedence Clearwater Revival songs in public now that the label that owned all of the Creedence material has been bought by Concord Records.  Delighted to have Fogerty back on Fantasy long road homeRecords, Concord blitzed the market with a Creedance and post-Creedance Fogerty collection, this live concert DVD featuring much of the same material, and a CD of the concert all under the “Long Road Home” title.

I was hoping for a joyous celebration with Fogerty’s return to playing his Creedance songs for an audience.  I think that’s what the concert was intended to be as over half of the set is made up of Creedance tunes.  Although Fogerty is not so good at between-song interaction with the audience, he clearly seems energized and excited to be playing this music.  The problem is that most, if not all, the vocals and possibly some of the music sound like they were overdubbed later in the studio.  There are marked tonal differences between Fogerty’s voice when he sings and when he either talks between songs or interjects vocal exclamations in a song.  In addition to the timbral differences, his singing voice is much more clearly and sharply delineated than you would expect from a live recording and it doesn’t seem to depend on the distance of his mouth from the mike.  In addition, there are times when it either sounds like or visually appears that some of the music was overdubbed as well.  The editor used a quick cutting technique so that it’s difficult to get a sustained visual fix on what the musicians are playing and how it synchs up with what you’re hearing.  Certainly some of the drumming was dubbed because the film’s credits include additional drums by Kenny Aronoff who is not the drummer in the concert.

The overdubbing results in the concert having an emotionally flat feel.  It is not fully understood how the human voice carries information to the listener about the emotional state of the speaker or singer but we know that it does.  Fogerty does an excellent job of capturing the timing of his live vocal performance on the studio overdubs so that the lip-synch is very good.  Although it has to be kept in mind that spotting well dubbed vocals can be difficult because of the McGurk Effect – listeners who hear a voice say something that is different from but very similar to what they are watching a mouth say are highly likely to mistakenly report they “heard” what they mouth said and not what they actually heard.   However, Fogerty cannot, or at least he does not, convey the excitement of a live performance with his voice recorded in the studio.   In addition, the closeness with which he matches filmed mouth movements to recorded vocals has the curious effect of accentuating how mechanical the performance of much of this music is.  It’s hard not to think he reproduces the timing of the live vocals in the studio so well because he has sung these songs exactly this way a million times before.

Unless the sound quality or the quality of the musical performance was so bad as to make the concert unlistenable, I would have preferred a less-than-perfect auditory record of the real concert than this combo of live footage with overdubs.  At 99 minutes it felt like it went on much too long and I doubt that would have been the case if we’d heard what actually happened at the gig.

12/29/2007 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | Leave a comment

Review: Maestro

Maestro is a roughly 80 minute documentary about the underground dance scene in lower Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s.  The film focuses primarily on Larry Levan and The Paradise maestroGarage but also devotes attention to Francis Grasso and the Sanctuary, David Mancuso and the Loft and Nicky Siano and the Gallery.  Grasso and Mancuso are briefly interviewed with Siano getting much more interview time.  Other people interviewed include deejays Frankie Knuckles, Little Louis Vega, John “Jellybean” Benitez, and Francois Kevorkian, sound system designers Alex Rosner and Richard Long, and mixer and remixer Tom Moulton among many others ranging from the famous to the everyday people who frequented the clubs.

The film focuses primarily on the key deejays and clubs and is mainly concerned with the atmosphere of freedom, love and acceptance that characterized the early days of underground dance culture.  Other aspects of dance culture such as the quality of the soundsystems in the Loft and the Paradise Garage and the importance of the 12 inch single to the deejay’s art are discussed but they are not the focus.  The person-driven approach may be helpful in holding the interest of a viewer who is not familiar with the early underground dance scene.  There is a good deal of footage of street interviews with people who are remembering what the scene was like and these are often more eloquent than the interviews with more famous people in bringing home the message that these, largely gay, underground dance venues provided an oasis and home for a group of people who were accepted in few, if any, other places.  One might even consider that it is a triumph of the human spirit that when given free reign to be themselves this group of social outcasts, mostly black and Latino gay men at a time when homosexuality was tolerated to a much lesser degree than it is today, created a culture that was remarkable for its inclusiveness, tolerance, freedom and acceptance of blacks, whites, Latinos, straights, gays, women,  and men.  It’s not easy to open your hearts and minds when you’ve been shit on for most of your life.

Video quality, especially of club footage taken in the Garage in its final year, 1987, is often grainy and crude.  Music is virtually omnipresent and is presented in segments rather than full tracks.  There is a stereo mix (which I didn’t listen to) and two 5.1 surround mixes, a dolby mix and a HouseHeadz mix (whatever that is).  After only a brief 10 minute comparison it seemed that the HouseHeadz mix was cleaner and more sharply delineated which made the interviews easier to hear but the regular dolby mix had more bass and power.  “Maestro” comes with a second DVD that includes extras that I was unable to watch as I only got DVD 1 from Netflix.

House and garage music mutated into forms that differ markedly in sound, deejaying style and contribution, and, importantly, culture from the underground club scene that birthed them and for this reason viewers who are coming from a ’90s or ’00s house, garage, rave background and are expecting a film about the music they are familiar with may find “Maestro” disappointing.  This isn’t a documentary about music per se, but about the culture that gave rise to the music.  For viewers who recognize many of the names listed in the first paragraph of this review and who like the music, “Maestro” is a must see.  It’s a rare treat to see Mancuso, Siano, Moulton, Grasso and Knuckles and while Mancuso and Grasso in particular don’t seem to be what they used to be (based solely on this film), it is still interesting and instructive to hear what all of these guys have to say.  Of all the podcasts we have done thus far The Paradise Garage (Part 2) Larry Levan has proven to be the most popular and listeners who enjoyed that show or who have read and enjoyed Tim Lawrence’s “Love Saves the Day” should definately check “Maestro” out.

08/22/2007 Posted by | DVD reviews, music | Leave a comment

Review: Modulations: Cinema for the Ear

“Modulations” is a 75 minute documentary that purports to chart the development of electronic music in the 20th century.  Right out of the gate you would think that anyone with modulationsa lick of sense would realize that trying to cover a topic as vast as 20th century electronic music in 75 minutes in anything like a sensible way is impossible.  Apparently the film’s director, Iara Lee, doesn’t have that lick of sense or is so filled with hubris that she thinks she can pull it off.  She doesn’t. 

“Modulations” presents snippets of interview footage intermixed with snippets of cinema effects set to music intermixed with snippets of live footage of dancers, deejays, and electronica artists at concerts, raves or clubs.  Snippets, snippets, snippets.  The film has no coherent point to make and cannot follow a sustained argument or narrative thread.  It’s shallow and scattered and it’s failure to have anything interesting to say is made all the more disappointing given the quality of the interview footage the filmakers wasted.  They present bits of interviews with Stockhausen, John Cage, Robert Moog, Ted Macero, Detroit techno’s Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, Giorgio Moroder, Autechre, two members of Can and many others.  Quite a few of these people have a lot to say and “Modulations” would have been a much more interesting and useful documentary if they were given time to say it.  Instead we get snippets where interesting ideas are stated but not pursued or developed. 

The film doesn’t even do a good job of clearly differentiating the sounds of the many electronica micro-niches it mentions so that a listener who is unfamiliar with electronic music could understand the difference between, say, one kind of techno and another.  By running together seemingly random bits of different styles of electronic music “Modulations” has the unintended consequence of presenting much of late 20th century electronica as rhythmically monotonous music that differs in tempo and sound effects made by people with little or no comprehension of meter, let alone harmony or melody.  A film that is intended to champion electronica ends up presenting it in an unflattering way.  I’m a rhythm-oriented listener who enjoys many different types of electronica but “Modulations” left me wondering why anyone would want to listen to this stuff.  This isn’t a film to show to someone you want to turn on to electronic music. 

It’s enjoyable to have a chance to see some of the great names of electronic music and some of the cinema + music snippets are very cool.  Otherwise, it’s difficult to find much value in “Modulations”.  Listeners who are unfamiliar with electronica will not learn much here that will help them make sense of this diverse field of music and listeners who are into the music will likely be frustrated by the shallowness of the film.

08/17/2007 Posted by | DVD reviews, music | 3 Comments

Review: Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Nine Hundred Nights

“Nine Hundred Nights” is a documentary about Big Brother and the Holding Company that runs for just under an hour.  It’s a weird combination of typical freak footage from the ’60s 900 nightswith what sounds like a pretentious ’60s voice over saying things like “This is the now generation” combined with much more current interviews with the four surviving members of the band, Sam Andrew (guitar), James Gurley (guitar), Peter Albin (bass) and Dave Getz (drums).  I rented the film from Netflix and so know nothing about it’s production other than what I could pick up from watching it.

Viewers who are primarily interested in concert footage are likely to be disappointed as “900 Nights” is almost all talk and the music it contains is mostly in the form of snippets from live performances.  One short segment shows the band in the studio recording “Summertime” for the “Cheap Thrills” album.  For those, like me, who love that song, it is very satisfying to watch them laying down bits of the song exactly as you know it from the album.  There are also four complete songs recorded live included as one of the special features.  If you are unlikely to recognize who is whom in the 60’s footage, watching the first song before you watch the documentary may be helpful as it introduces each member of the band labeled with their name.  In addition there is an audio-only track of an interesting psychedelic guitar jam on “Hall of the Mountain King”.  When they say audio only, they mean audio only – the screen goes blank while the song plays.

The talk includes bits of interviews done with the band in the ’60s along with the current interviews and the goofy voice overs mentioned earlier.  The emphasis is very much on the more current interviews.  I thoroughly enjoyed “900 Nights” because it is mainly taken up with the band members discussing the history of the band from their point of view as being members of band that was focused on music rather than as a bunch of backup musicians for JANIS JOPLIN, SUPERSTAR.  Hearing them talk about the band this way was enormously refreshing not only because it accurately reflects who the band was, at least up until near the end, but it also captures why they were so good.  After the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival when the world outside of San Francisco discovered Janis, it became increasingly fashionable in the music press to dump on the rest of Big Brother as not being good enough for her.  And in one sense, the press was right.  Big Brother wasn’t up to Janis’s level of ability- but neither was anyone else she sang with either.  Joplin was a monumental talent that dominated everyone she played with but she was also a chick singer trying to make it with a band.  That’s how the members of Big Brother knew her and it’s that level of experience that makes their insights so interesting and valuable.  They discuss their music, how she fit into that music when she joined, how she changed the music, and how she grew beyond thier music when she left with, for the most part, a lack of either awe or jealosy that is very refreshing.  Drummer Getz, in particular seems to have an exceptionally ego-less and hence deeply insightful understanding of who they all were and what went on as their musical relationships developed over time.

For me, the Big Brother period of Janis’s short career is far and away the most exciting and interesting.  She did some really terrific things with the Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band but when I want to hear her sing, it’s the Big Brother material I listen to.  Watching this DVD gave me a greater understanding of why that is.  First of all, they were a band.  It wasn’t Janis Joplin and the Munchkins it was Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Second, they were a band that played exciting, exploratory, guitar-based psychedelic rock.  It’s true that, again, up until near the end, they weren’t very professional in the sense that they always hit the changes with precision and always kept the rhythm or tempo from drifting, but they were the kind of band that could launch into blindingly original and exciting playing at any moment.  In an odd way, Janis and Big Brother were an ideal combination because, apparently, she didn’t share their knack for delivering a loose performance.  She nailed it more often than not.  Getz talks about how during the recording of “Cheap Thrills” the band would struggle for hours and hours on end trying to come up with one acceptable take of a song.  And then Janis would walk in, do two vocal takes over the music they had struggled to make, both would be different and both would be great leaving everyone with the problem of having to decide which one to use.  Listening to Janis sing was like watching Lance Armstrong ride the Tour de France or Michael Jordan play basketball with the Bulls – at any moment something absolutely unbelievable could happen.  I think it was this combination that made Big Brother so exciting.  Janis was so good so frequently that the band didn’t have to be, and not having to be the perfect back up band allowed them to play in a manner that brought them to flashes of improvisation and invention that then challenged and drove Janis to levels that no other band did.  The individual member’s musical strengths provided support and cover for the other’s weaknesses, they drove each other to heights each was unlikely to achieve alone, and they were better when playing together than when playing alone.  Sounds just like what a band should be.  Joplin’s blues and the other band members’ psychedelia were twinned driving forces that gave Big Brother’s performances an edge of excitement that was delicious when anticipated and overwhelming when realized.  They were sloppy, they were brilliant, they were a band like no other.  “900 Nights” lets you see that.

Music from Big Brother and the Holding’s Company’s “Cheap Thrills” can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 008 – 1960s San Francisco (Part 2)

08/09/2007 Posted by | DVD reviews, music | , , | 3 Comments

Review: Crowded House, Farewell to the World DVD

In 1996 Crowded House called it quits but before they went they got the original band back together for one final concert they called Farewell to the World which they performed in front of the crowded housemagnificent Sydney Opera House. A CD and a DVD of the event were finally released last year. This note on the DVD is a followup to our earlier review of the CD which can be checked for more info on the music and the gig.

The Farewell to the World DVD is a straightforward concert film.  Crowded House walks onstage, kicks ass for two hours, hugs all around, and walks off.  No artsy fartsy cinema tricks, no interspersed interviews, no they-influenced-us-sooo-much blather from other musicians or bombastic pontificating from pointy heads on the band’s cultural significance.  Just two hours of great music.  Nice.

The DVD comes with three soundtracks:  the original stereo mix, a new stereo mix, and a 5.1 dts mix.  The new stereo mix widens the soundstage and doubles the front stereo mix in the rear channels.  Of the two stereo mixes, the newer one sounds fuller and richer.  The 5.1 surround dts mix sounds the best of the three.  However, all of the mixes on the DVD are markedly inferior to the sound on the CD.  Although the CD is a stereo mix, the lows are much fuller and the highs are much clearer.  The overall sound is much richer and more detailed on the CD.

The DVD also has a commentary track done by the musicians which I did not listen to and a second disc which I did not get from Netflix and so can’t comment on.  If you are a fan of Crowded House the DVD is well worth your time as watching the band play the gig more than makes up for the decline in sound quality.  If all you want is the music, the CD is the better option. 

Music from this concert can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 004 – Live, In Concert

07/10/2007 Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews | | 2 Comments

Review: Gov’t Mule, The Deepest End

Warren Haynes (guitar) and Allen Woody (bass) met while playing in The Allman Brothers Band.  In 1994 they joined with drummer Matt Abts to form Gov’t Mule playing an amalgam of psychedelic, southern, blues rock.  Think Cream(ed) Allman Bros.  Like Cream, all three deepest endmembers of the band were superior musicians; unlike Cream they were not riven by competition, insecurity and ego with the result that Gov’t Mule continued to produce first rate music.  They soon became known for their incendiary live shows and recordings.  Then, in August 2006 Woody was found to have passed away in a hotel room in New York. 

How can you replace a bass player like Woody who was so good and so in tune with Haynes and Abst?  The answer is you can’t and the band chose to both make this clear and honor their friend by embarking on a series of recordings with a parade of many of the best bassists in the business. First came two studio albums, The Deep End Vol. 1 and The Deep End Vol. 2.  Then on May 3rd 2003 during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) they did a concert at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans with 13 bass players and assorted other guests. 

 The bass players were Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), Les Claypool (Primus), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Mike Gordon (Phish), Paul Jackson (The Headhunters and others), Conrad Lozano (Los Lobos), Will Lee (played with many, many people), Jason Newsted (Metallica, Black Sabbath), George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Greg Rzab (Black Crowes), Dave Schools (Widespread Panis), Rob Wasserman (David Grisman, Ratdog and many others) and Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck & the Flecktones).  Other guests incuded Karl Denson, Dirty Dozen Brass Band Horns, Bela Fleck, David Hidalgo, Sonny Landreth, Ivan Neville, Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell.  By this time Gov’t Mule also included keyboard player Danny Louis who had joined the band. 

Holy Shit!

“The Deepest End” is a 2 CD +1 DVD record of that concert and it is extraordinary.  They started playing at about 10:10 p.m., took a short intermission, and ended sometime after 3:50 a.m. the next morning.  And they kicked ass all night.  Some tracks appear only on 1 of the 2 CDs, some are only on the DVD and some are on both CD and DVD.  The DVD includes both Dolby stereo and 5.1 surround mixes.  Both DVD mixes sound good with my preference being the surround mix which is enveloping and full without being obtrusive.  Directly comparing the tracks that appear on both CD and DVD, the CD presentation is preferable with cleaner more articulated high frequencies and stronger, sharper, punchier lows. 

The liner notes and the behind-the-scenes video extra make it clear that the gig was something of a miracle.  People got little or no rehearsal time, they played songs in front of the audience they had never played before, scheduled players didn’t show up, people got there early or late depending on how their other gigs at the festival went and on and on.  And yet it all worked out brilliantly.  Haynes, who I think is one of the best guitar players to come along in the last 20 years, is on fire – for 6 hours, he’s on fire.  And Abts and Louis are right there with him all night. 

There are so many highlights here, and some lows, that it would be silly to talk about them all so one of each will do.  At the high end, George Porter Jr is god.  He plays so smoothly, so effortlessly and so sensitively with the other musicians who are on stage that he is a wonder.  And he rocks (or funks as the tune demands).  On the other end there are Jason Newsted’s two tracks on the DVD.  Newsted was playing with Black Sabbath at the time and they did a couple of Black Sabbath tunes with him (Sweet Leaf and War Pigs) at the end of the gig and before the encores.  First, the tunes are pretty simple which may work when everyone is tired but are something of a letdown after the previous hours of high-level music.  Second, Newsted appears to be doing his Black Sabbath stage act – when we sing this line you move to the front of the stage and make the scary face and then when the guitar solos you stand in front of him like this, thrust your groin at him and lean back like you’re in ecstacy. Cool!  After 5 hours of top flight musicians playing their hearts out without a lot of stagy bullshit he looks utterly ridiculous.  And not in a good way.

 “The Deepest End” is a great live recording and a brilliant memorial to Woody Allen.  If you like this type of music it’s a must-have.

05/29/2007 Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music | Leave a comment

Review: The Black Crowes, Freak ‘N’ Roll . . Into The Fog

Rip-roaring rock ‘n roll.  In 2005 The Black Crowes played a five night gig at The Fillmore in San Francisco.  This appears to be a document of the one night they hooked up with the four-man Left Coast Horns (who apparently had only that afternoon to work out arrangements and rehearse with the band).  Did they get it together?  Fuckin’ A!  You have to love a band that walks out on stage and opens up by kicking every ass in the house with a burner like “(Only) Half Way to Everywhere”.  And for the most part it just gets better from there.  This is rock and roll the way it should be played live: No silly props or elaborate stage sets designed to mask the fact that the band is ordinary at best, no dance routines, no costume changes, no bullshit.  Just a band that is not afraid to let the show live or die on how well they play.  The core band is Chris Robinson (vocals, harmonica), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals), Marc Ford (guitar, vocals), Ed Hawrysch (keyboards), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals, and Steve Gorman (drums).  They’re supplmented by Mona Lisa Young and Charity White on backing vocals and the aforementioned Left Coast Horns (David Ellis, tenor sax; Gavin Distasi, trumpet; Joshi Marshall, alto sax, and Marty Wehner, trombone).  As an ensemble they are tight and all right.

The concert lags a bit in the middle after Rich Robinson and Ford play an effective acoustic duet on “Sunday Buttermilk Waltz”.  The group than recombines a few at a time through the next 5 numbers until the whole group is reassembled and playing electric instruments.  Sounds like a cool idea but compared to the raw energy of what comes both before and after, it’s a low point that lasts too long.  Didn’t slow the band down, though.  “Hard to Handle” has flames coming off the instruments and the following number “Let Me Share the Ride” is incandescent.  The horn section takes their solos on  “. . Share the Ride” and the whole band ignites and tears the roof off.  By the way, is there any better job in music than being one of the guys in these horn sections?  They get to play these high-energy rock gigs, it’s always a big deal, they get almost no time to rehearse so the edge of not fucking it up is keen, the music is usually simpler than the jazz most of these guys play most of the time but it has much more energy and power, and they don’t have to endure the drama that can make being in a rock band such a pain in the ass.  What a blast.  Probably why the horn section guys always look like they’re having a good time.

There is a DVD available of the same gig that has the same tracks presented in the same order.  Sound options include 2-channel stereo, and 5.1 surround Dolby and dts mixes.  I didn’t listen to the 2-channel mix.  Neither of the surround mixes tries to put you in the midst of the band with different instruments coming from different directions.  The dolby mix makes a more full use of the surround arrangement than the dts and is more involving as a result.  (I find the same is almost always true of films as well; the dts mix has bigger booms because it takes the limits off the low end that are typically applied in dolby but the dolby mix is more seamless, complete and detailed and hence much more involving).  Perhaps surprisingly, the sound quality on the 2-channel stereo CD is much better than either of the surround mixes on the DVD.  Fuller, richer, more detailed, cleaner highs, more powerful lows, simply better in every way.  The DVD visuals are a typically filmed concert with annoying and pointless interludes of home-movie quality segments of the band doing fascinating things like being self-consciously filmed walking from here to there.  Who thinks anyone could possibly be interested in this shit?  While you’re being shown this stuff the concert is ongoing so you’re missing the gig.  Bonus materials are more tedious home movies with snippets of music; a complete waste of time.  The CD/DVD choice is a choice between sound and vision.  I’m glad to have seen the DVD once but I’ll play the CD from now on (nice to share the world with Netflix, ain’t it?).  This band is about music, not bogus stage pomp, and the music is better on the CD.

If you like your rock ‘n roll hard, hot, raucus and served straight up, Freak’N’Roll . . . Into the Fog is not to be missed.

02/23/2007 Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music | 1 Comment