Grateful Dead “Meet-Up at the Movies” Returns With Unreleased 1989 Concert in Movie Theaters Nationwide on August 1 Only

Fathom Events and Rhino Entertainment Commemorate Jerry Garcia’s 75thBirthday With Seventh Annual One-Night Event to Showcase Unreleased 1989 RFK Stadium Concert

DENVER – June 29, 2017 – For the seventh year in a row, beloved American rock group Grateful Dead returns to the big screen for its highly-anticipated annual event, “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017.” The Meet Up features the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Brent Mydland, and Bob Weir) in concert, performing to a sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus fans in Washington D.C. The one-night-only event is scheduled for August 1, which would have been Garcia’s 75th birthday.

Presented by Fathom Events and Rhino Entertainment, “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017” will play in U.S. movie theaters on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. local time. This special one-night cinema event features the Dead’s previously unreleased July 12, 1989 concert from RFK Stadium.

Tickets for “Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2017” can be purchased online by visiting www.FathomEvents.com or at participating theater box offices. Fans throughout the U.S. will be able to enjoy the event in more than 450 select movie theaters through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network (DBN). For a complete list of theater locations, visit the Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

The Meet-Up provides an annual occasion for Dead Heads to reconnect with fellow fans, as well as a chance for new devotees to experience the excitement of what it would have been like to see one of the Dead’s legendary shows live. This year’s concert features a rare first set that contains at least one song sung by each of the four lead singers and a terrific show-opening rendition of the band’s biggest hit “Touch Of Grey.” The show’s second set begins with a very uncommon second-set opener, “Sugaree,” two songs with Bruce Hornsby sitting in (“Sugaree,” and “Man Smart [Woman Smarter]”), plus one of the only video recorded versions of “Black Muddy River.”

July 12, 1989 -RFK Stadium- Set List:

Touch of Grey

New Minglewood Blues

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo

Tom Thumb’s Blues

Far From Me

Cassidy

Friend of the Devil

Promised Land

Sugaree

Man Smart [Woman Smarter]

Ship of Fools

Estimated Prophet

Eyes of the World

Drums

I Need a Miracle

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Black Peter

Turn on Your Love Light

Black Muddy River

“Earlier this spring, Dead Heads gathered in cinemas nationwide for ‘The Grateful Dead Movie 40th Anniversary,’” Fathom Events CEO John Rubey said. “We’re pleased to present them with another opportunity to ‘Meet-Up’ at the movie theater this year.”

Hart, Kreutzmann, Weir’s Dead & Company (also featuring John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti) is on tour now through July 1, 2017. For more information, visit www.DeadandCompany.com

About Fathom Events
Fathom Events is recognized as the leading domestic distributor of event cinema with participating affiliate theaters in all 100 of the top Designated Market Areas®, and ranks as one of the largest overall distributors of content to movie theaters. Owned by AMC Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: AMC), Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK) and Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) (known collectively as AC JV, LLC), Fathom Events offers a variety of one-of-a-kind entertainment events such as live, high-definition performances of the Metropolitan Opera, dance and theatre productions like the Bolshoi Ballet and National Theatre Live, sporting events like “Canelo Álvarez vs. Julio César Chávez, Jr.,” concerts with artists like Michael Bublé, Rush and Mötley Crüe, the yearlong TCM Big Screen Classics film series, inspirational events such as To Joey With Love and Facing Darkness, and anime titles such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Fathom Events takes audiences behind the scenes and offers unique extras including audience Q&As, backstage footage and interviews with cast and crew, creating the ultimate VIP experience. Fathom Events’ live digital broadcast network (“DBN”) is the largest cinema broadcast network in North America, bringing live and pre-recorded events to 897 locations and 1,387 screens in 181 DMAs. For more information, visitwww.fathomevents.com.

About Rhino Entertainment
Rhino Entertainment is the catalogue development and marketing division of Warner Music Group. Founded in 1978, Rhino continues to set the standard for excellence in the reissue business it pioneered in both the physical and digital worlds with an emphasis on flawless sound quality, bonus tracks, informative liner notes, award-winning creative packaging, and a strong social conscience. Rhino has also expanded the definition of what a catalogue music company is, as evidenced by the label’s name and likeness representation deal with Frank Sinatra, its multi-faceted relationship with the Grateful Dead, and releasing new albums by heritage artists such as Jeff Beck and Cyndi Lauper. The vast catalogue of more than 5,000 releases includes material by Led Zeppelin, Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin, The Doors, Chicago, Ray Charles, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane, Yes, Phil Collins, The Ramones, and The Monkees, among many others.

DVD Review “Christopher Cross: A Night In Paris”

Christopher Cross: A Night in Paris
DVD + 2CD
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Total Running Time: 97 minutes

Our rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“What’s your favorite guilty pleasure song?” Well…while I always have to spend some time thinking about which 10 albums I’m going to be stranded on a desert island with or which 25 had the most impact on my life, the numero uno guilty pleasure song question has always been an easy one for me to answer: “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. Sure, many may think all copies of the song should be permanently exiled to the jukebox of cheese, but there’s no denying that it’s a perfectly crafted and superbly produced pop gem. It’s lush orchestral strains in tandem with that gently-picked guitar line always help me to find tranquility for the entirety of its four-minute jaunt – as does much of music he’s produced over the past 30+ years.

So why is it that, barely 15 minutes into watching his latest live DVD, “A Night in Paris”, I found myself with an aching headache, desperately wanting to grab the remote so I could eject the disc? Is it because Cross’ voice sounds so weak and strained that he’s butchered all of vocal lines in all of the songs he’s performed up to that point? No. Is it because the concert lighting is so flashy and overdone that it in no way matches the musical content or demeanor of the performers? No. Is it because, despite the fact that the show was allegedly shot using nine HD cameras, the picture quality looks like a bad bootleg copy that was obtained at a local flea market? No. Ahhh…but it does have something to do with the visuals. Quite a lot, in fact.

“Paris” is easily one of the most poorly filmed and shoddily edited live concert DVDs I have ever seen. For starters, the small, non-descript, dimly-lit stage doesn’t allow for much movement of either the musicians themselves or the camera crew. As a result, the resulting individual shots – including ones from a camera that’s inexplicably mounted on a tripod that’s located directly behind the drummer – are fairly static and bland.

In an effort to make up for lack of kinetic energy in both the individual shots and the overall performance itself, director Sebastien Bonnet has to cut the film together using rapid fire editing techniques that make it impossible to focus on any one visual for more than just a few seconds. Many music videos employ this style – and, luckily, they end after 3 to 4 minutes. But “Paris” runs a full 97 minutes. Mon dieu.

For example, the third song of the show, “Leave it to Me” (from Cross’ most recent studio outing, 2011’s “Doctor Faith”), times in at 3:49 and is 125 beats per minute (think Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” or Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” and you’re right on the money). By the time the band had hit their final flourish, I had counted 115 video cuts. That averages out to a staggering one cut every two seconds. Sure, that won’t induce epilepsy, but, trust me, it will make you reach for the Advil.

The 2CDs that are included in this set contain all 17 tracks contained on the DVD with most of the in-between song banter omitted. While the recording is solid and the tracks do represent a fair cross-section of Chris’ body of work, the performance is so lackluster and the quality of Cross’ vocal delivery is so awful that one would be far better off listening to 1999’s “Greatest Hits Live” CD or watching the “An Evening With Christopher Cross” DVD also from that same year. Both are much better of examples of why Cross’ career has spanned far beyond that “Best New Artist” Grammy win in 1979.

Cross mentions at various points throughout “A Night in Paris” that the performance is being recorded for a DVD so he can document this particular point in his career. Clearly, it’s an important evening to him. Hopefully, he’s pleased with the end results – because, frankly, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else would be.

Concert Review: The Doobie Brothers “2013 Tour” – Mohegan Sun Arena

The Doobie Brothers: 2013 Tour
Mohegan Sun Arena
Uncasville, CT
July 3, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

“We decided to play a little rock and roll this evening.  Are you up for that, Connecticut?”

And, with that, the Doobie Brothers delivered as promised: nearly two non-stop hours worth of straightforward rock classics with instantly recognizable riffs that have been the band’s calling card for over 40 years. The focus of the 18-song show consistently stayed on the band’s most prolific era of the 70’s when they churned out anthems such as “Long Train Runnin’”, “Rockin’ Down the Highway”, “China Grove”, “Jesus is Just Alright and “Take Me in Your Arms”, all of which feature the founding vocal/guitar duo of Tommy Johnston and Patrick Simmons – both of whom are still part of the group’s current eight-member line-up.

The mellower Michael McDonald era of the late 70’s and early 80’s was only represented by the inclusion of an extended version of “Takin’ It to the Streets” that featured an impressive keyboard intro from Guy Allison, vocals from Simmons and bassist John Cowan, and a rippin’ sax solo from Marc Russo. It was a wise choice for the set list not only because of the song’s popularity as a hit, but because its inherent funky groove matches the Johnston-era classics that dominate the current touring band’s repertoire. They pull off the tune flawlessly live – so well, in fact, that the concert version almost outshines the McDonald original.

As far as newer material is concerned…well…the Doobies don’t really have much of it. The group has only released one studio album over the past decade: 2010’s reunion with longtime producer Ted Templeman, “World Gone Crazy.” While that album is fairly tepid in comparison to the band’s multi-platinum mega-sellers from the 70’s, the two songs performed from it at this show – the title track and “A Brighter Day” – work quite well when played live and are a good addition to the band’s set list of classics.

With all of the driving guitar rhythm provided by the band’s four axemen and the percussive power of dual drummers Tony Pia and Ed Toth, it’s easy to forget that one of the key ingredients to Doobies music is intricate vocal harmonies that flesh out the songs and provide them with the richness that makes them worth savoring. To that end, the show’s overall sound was impeccably mixed, something that was especially evident when all four of the band’s frontsmen, Johnston, Simmons, Cowan, and endlessly-versatile instrumentalist John McFee, delivered the four-part a cappella harmony outro to “Black Water.” As much as it is truly amazing that these guys can still belt it out as clearly as they did when they recorded the song in 1974, it’s equally impressive that the 2013 tour’s audio crew was able to make every aural nuance sound as clear as possible within the context of a live show.

The music of the Doobie Brothers, when at its best, manages to effectively blend elements of rock and roll, country, bluegrass, soul, funk, and blues to produce songs that never pidgeon-hole themselves into an era and subsequently become dated. At their core is an element that is truly timeless: they’re fun. Given the band’s sheer exuberance while onstage, it’s clear that the Doobie Brothers themselves are still having a blast touring and energetically jamming out to these classics. As they proved to the Connecticut crowd, you don’t necessarily need fireworks to kick off a 4th of July holiday party. All you have to do is listen to the music. All the time.

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[NOTE: Big thanks go out to the guy who first introduced me to the Doobies – and music in general – my father, Tom Picton, for his invaluable assistance with this article. ]

 

CD Review: Queensrÿche “Queensrÿche”

Queensrÿche
“Queensrÿche”
Century Media
Tracks: 11
Total Running Time:
35:09
Release Date:
June 25, 2013 (USA/Canada);
June 24, 2013 (Europe)

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“I don’t know. We don’t really have a plan right now. Honestly, this has been a really long tour and everybody’s just kind of burnt out… It’s probably just time to get home and chill and recharge the batteries. And then we’ll start talking in a couple of months about ‘Oh, do you wanna do something?’ and we’ll see what happens.”
~ Geoff Tate’s response to me on November 12, 2011 after being asked what the near future might hold for Queensrÿche (click here for full interview)

Of course, what did happen soon after my interview with the now-ousted lead singer has now become the stuff of tabloid fodder and rock and roll infamy. The sordid details – including Tate allegedly spitting on, punching, and perhaps even wielding a knife on his former band mates – will be hashed out in a courtroom sometime later this year when Tate and company battle to see who legally has the right to carry on using the band’s moniker. Until then, there are actually two Queensrÿches: in the red corner, there’s the one comprised of Geoff Tate and a seemingly ever-changing backing band comprised of hired heavy metal heavies and, in the blue corner, there’s the one that includes the rest of the Rÿche’s instrumentalists with new front man, Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory.

Tate’s camp has already released a hastily-produced album’s worth of new material, “Frequency Unknown” – or “F.U.”, for short (subtle, eh?) – that has been lambasted by fans and critics alike for doing nothing but tarnishing the already-damaged Queensrÿche name even further.

The Todd La Torre-led band’s album sets a markedly different tone from the onset. Rather than responding to Tate’s pugnaciously-titled “Frequency Unknown” by calling it “See Tate’s Fallacy Unfold” or some such, they’ve simply emblazoned the LP’s jacket with the band’s iconic “Tri-Ryche” logo and entitled it “Queensrÿche.” It’s a perfect choice because this eponymous release finds the group musically reconnecting with its roots, rebuilding its self-identity, and – ultimately – reclaiming a legacy.

“Queensrÿche” is an amazing return to form that (gasp!) actually sounds like a Queensrÿche album – and producer James “Jimbo” Barton, the man behind the mixing desk of the band’s biggest and best albums, “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Empire”, and “Promised Land”, undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. He knows how to blend all of the amazing musicianship at his disposal into an aural atmosphere that is unique and immediately identifiable as Queensrÿche.

The album opens with the foreboding instrumental “X2”, one that harkens back to the sonic collage that led off 1994’s “Promised Land” LP. From there, the band launches into a percussive and dual-guitar driven array of songs that firmly plant themselves in the sonic splendor of QR classics like “Screaming in Digital” and “Best I Can.” There’s no question that La Torre’s dynamic pipes are a major component behind why the songs work as well as they do. Vocally, his delivery is often similar to Tate’s, ranging from low baritone whispers to blistering highs, but he’s much more than just a sound-alike. He’s often more aggressive than Tate and that seems to have brought the best out of all of the other Tri-Rychers backing him – especially drummer Scott Rockenfield. He hasn’t sounded this pumped since the days of the glorious “Empire.” Indeed, it’s been a long time since we’ve heard the ‘Rÿche fire all thrusters and blast out satisfying crunchers like these.

My only minor complaint is that, after 35 minutes, the disc spins to a halt. Luckily, the album is so good that it’s worth listening to again – something that hasn’t been true of a Queensrÿche release for the better part of a decade. Does the new album have the power or majesty of their 1988 masterpiece “Operation: Mindcrime”? No – but that’s a lot to ask of a band that’s just undergone a major line-up change and is still in the midst of the biggest rock and roll drama since the Roger Waters / David Gilmour “which one’s Pink?” debacle. But it’s damn good and – perhaps more significantly – it’s now once again possible to imagine Queensrÿche making a record as good if not better than that seminal album because, like “Mindcrime’s” protagonist, Nikki, they seem to remember how it started and are no longer dedicated to chaos.

 

Track list:
1) X2 (1:09)
2) Where Dreams Go to Die (4:26)
3) Spore (3:25)
4) In This Light (3:24)
5) Redemption (4:16)
6) Vindication (3:26)
7) Midnight Lullaby (0:56)
8) A World Without (4:11)
9) Don’t Look Back (3:13)
10) Fallout (2:46)
11) Open Road (3:54)

Blu-ray Review “The Doobie Brothers: Live at Wolf Trap”

The Doobie Brothers: Live at Wolf Trap
Blu-ray (also available on DVD, CD, and vinyl)
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 166 minutes (including extras)

Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From the opening motorcycle revving to the closing bows, “The Doobie Brothers: Live at Wolf Trap” makes a solid two-hour case for why the Doobies stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest bands of the classic rock era. The two-hour show is packed with iconic hits that never seem dated: “Long Train’ Runnin’”, “Take Me In Your Arms”, “Jesus is Just Alright”, “Black Water” – the list goes on and on. Filmed in 2004 at Virginia’s Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the band immediately launches into a groove that combines elements of rock, country, bluegrass, blues in a way that is always appealing and flat-out fun. And, as the closing credits roll, one question is clear: Why aren’t the Doobie Brothers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  They’re looooong overdue.

The 2004 Tommy Johnston-led line-up draws almost exclusively from the band’s LPs from the 70’s that featured Johnston on lead vocals and guitar. Songs from the considerably mellower Michael McDonald era of the 1980’s are almost entirely absent – a respectable move given that McDonald’s “ya mo’ be there” vocal is such an inseparable earworm trademark. The sole McDonald track performed at the Wolf Trap – “Takin’ It to the Streets” – is handled vocally by founding Doobie, Pat Simmons, and the Brothers’ touring bassist, Skylark. The result is a live version that is equally as good if not better than the original version. It also provides the energetic bassist some center stage time that he so richly deserves. In fact, if there’s an intoxicatingly awesome performance to watch on this disc, it’s his.

Despite the fact that the concert is from almost a decade ago and has been available on DVD for  nearly as long, it truly shines on this first-ever Blu-ray issue given that the show was filmed using 10 high-definition cameras. While the overall program does suffer some from rapid-fire editing, the picture is always crisp and clean and the colors are perfectly balanced. The disc defaults to a LPCM stereo audio track that often buries the lead vocals so much that they’re almost inaudible in various spots. Switching over to the vastly superior DTS Master HD mix provides a much more even mix that utilizes the surround channels very effectively.

The disc also suffers from other technical issues that should have been corrected before this disc made it to market. The biggest problem is the extreme difference in sound levels between the live concert itself and the bonus features that are included, which include “backstage pass interviews” (which is more-or-less a sampler from the “Listen to the Music” documentary released late last year) and interactive links that appear during the concert that allow the viewer to jump into interview segments that directly pertain to the song being performed. While this audio glitch isn’t a big deal for the former, it’s hugely frustrating to have to crank up the volume to hear what Johnston and Simmons are saying and then, as a result, return to the concert footage now at deafeningly-loud sound levels. Some simple equalization and basic mixing would have gone a long way. It’s also somewhat annoying that the distracting talking head icons that appear at the bottom left corner of the screen to indicate the availability of the in-concert interview clips can’t be turned off completely.

Technical issues aside (they’re the only reason I’m docking this one by a full star), this is an amazing disc that showcases a legendary band in peak form. Now 40+ years on down the track, the Doobie Brothers’ long train is still runnin’ as strong and as powerful as ever.

Concert Review: The Power of One Voice – Martin Sexton “Winter Tour 2013”

The Power of One Voice:
Martin Sexton “Winter Tour 2013”
Date: March 28th, 2013
Venue: FTC’s Stage One in Fairfield, CT

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

[NOTE: Credit must given where credit is truly due.  The review that appears below was written by my good friend, Denise Dean, a longtime Martin Sexton fan (to put it mildly). She accompanied me to the FTC show so that I could better understand Martin as a performer and as a person. After the show, it became clear to me that it would make much more sense if we switched roles – she would become the main writer and I would assist as editor. Thanks for taking the lead on this one, D! – Dave P]

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“Oh please, it’s not really going to be that bad. Weather men have worse odds than major league hitters these days.”

Man, did I eat my words.

On February 8th, a massive nor’easter buried New England’s section of I-95 and all roads leading to and from it under feet of snow. It also postponed the Martin Sexton show scheduled for the following night at FTC in Fairfield, Connecticut. Lesson learned: mock Mother Nature, and you will pay. However, the rescheduled performance on March 28th was well worth the wait.

If you have never been to a Martin Sexton show, quite simply, go. His live concert recordings give you a taste of his true talent, but even they pale in comparison to being in the same room with the power of his actual voice. Sexton has a range from the absolute top of the scale, strong, and angelic, all the way down to a gravelly-bluesy drawl, and he’s able to race up and down octaves with bewildering ease.

Fairfield’s FTC is a bare-bones, very small, and very intimate venue – one where all of the audience’s attention will be focused on the art of the performer. It is a space reserved for the brave where the artist can’t hide behind a fancy light show or special effects. And, given that Sexton’s shows frequently feature him on stage with only a bottle of water, a towel, and a guitar or two, he seemed right at home. As Martin himself quipped, “It’s like I’m just hanging out with friends, playing in my living room.”

The first part of the show was an all-acoustic set that frequently electrified the house with its quiet power. He opened with “The Way I Am”, a self-reflective a story of a distraught elder realizing that he’d made for himself quite an unlovable life. However, as is what often Martin’s way, the man proclaims he will just “change the way I am.” In the appropriately named “Happy,” he names the moment he can finally own this new ‘life is good’ feeling – and we watched “happy” dance across his face. He moved on with “Glory Bound,” which alludes to his own story of a 20-something kid leaving his real job, grabbing his guitar, and heading for Harvard Square. “Making the mistake he’s got to make,” he pops his case open, plays his heart out and waits for that first dollar. The lyric is solid testimony to the fact that, from the start, Sexton was firm in his faith that he was destined for greater good.

Upbeat, faster-paced songs often elicited mass audience participation through foot stomping and hands clapping. Martin had to rein the crowd in, cautioning that they would ruin the acoustic vibe, promising that the wilder stuff was to come later in the second set. He knows his craft and is passionately committed to giving his fans an amazing set, and will accept nothing less than perfection.

After a short break, he came out with his electric guitar in hand, and kept the crowd awestruck under his spell for almost two more hours. He danced around the stage, played beat box on his guitar, and trumpet, snare drum, and high hat with his voice box. Unlike the first set, he often invited the audience to join in: to sing the chorus, clap their hands, stomp their feet, snap their fingers – and make the show a shared journey. Martin was clearly convinced that he had excellent travel companions, telling his gathered disciples at FTC that if “amen” and “hallelujah” could be sexy, their chorus hit the mark. Since his earliest days, he has always invited the crowd in, and feeding off the energy he elicits, he seems to dive deeper into each song right before their eyes.

Riding the rollercoaster of his experiences was thrilling, and all over the map. Martin’s music is pure emotion, and song by song, he showed the steps and the missteps he’s made throughout his life, instantly connecting to us on a most human level. We watched the unforgiving tale of heartbreak after playing with the fire of your drummer’s girl in “Gypsy Woman. “ We followed him deep into the raw pain of self-questioning in “Where Did I Go Wrong?” a song that he admitted was perfect for FTC’s intimate space, and felt the torment caused by that unforgettable gal in “Can’t Stop Thinking ‘Bout You.” Interspersed between the tales of despair was the toe-tapping, “13 Step,” a classic tale of fine food on the road, “Diner,” and the funky, sex-charged “Boom-Sh-Boom ” and “Beast in Me.” Marty pulled out all the stops and treated long-time fans to all their favorites, often at the request of the loudest shouter in the room.

On this night, he wound down his curtain call with “America” reminding us of the good of our nation, but he left us with his rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” This was no accident.

Every time Sexton opens his mouth he captivates his audience with his power, his passion, and his mean and soulful guitar playing. And Sexton’s lyrical genius has true staying power…especially when you realize what he’s actually SAYING.

Martin has always asked the listener to reframe life as a journey. His two-plus hour show showcased his own journey to peace: the good and the bad, the funny and the tragic, the pain and the glory. With his genuine humility, Sexton presents his challenge. He reminds us that life is a colorful tapestry of experiences, and that it is our duty, as residents of this great nation, to learn from each step and, furthermore, that we hold up a mirror, see who we are, and then, with our eyes wide open, “look what’s going ‘round.” And then we must stand up and do what’s right.

Sexton uses his voice to encourage us to find ours, to use it to do good, and to “spread peace all ‘round this world.” Maybe if we fused all of our voices together, they could be as strong as his. Marty’s voice is truly inspirational and, for that, we send peace and love right back ‘atcha, brother.

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For more information about Martin Sexton, visit www.martinsexton.com

Film Review "Room 237: Being an Inquiry into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts"

Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner
Director: Rodney Ascher
Running Time: 1 hr 38 min
Studio: Highland Park Classics / IFC

Our rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then a motion picture is worth at least a million interpretations. Rodney Ascher’s documentary “Room 237: Being an Inquiry into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts” puts Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece of modern horror under the microscope to present us with a wide range of interpretations through the hearts and minds of five of the film’s most avid watchers.

Within the documentary’s opening minutes, it’s clear that the film is not aiming in any way to be a standard “making of” documentary but, rather, a detailed scholarly deconstruction of a piece of art. Luckily, “The Shining” is a rich enough movie to warrant such an in-depth analysis and “Room 237” succeeds in being thought-provoking and intriguing throughout its 98-minute running time.

The hypotheses and theories put forth in “Room 237” range from plausible to wildly overreaching. Sure, it’s quite possible that the theme of the genocide of the American Indians is part of “The Shining”, especially given that the film’s grandest character – the Overlook Hotel itself – is built atop an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s a plot point that Kubrick elected to carry over from Stephen King’s novel and it sets the stage for something wicked that will its way come. And while you probably noticed the Navajo-themed décor that is prevalent throughout the Overlook , you may not have registered the cans of Calumet baking powder that are strategically placed in certain kitchen-based scenes. Or Wendy telling Danny that the loser of the race to get through the hedge maze has to “keep Amerca clean.” Hmmm…

The other interpretations presented are equally compelling: that “The Shining” has allegorical roots in the Holocaust, that the hotel is a sexual predator that feeds off of the people that inhabit it, and that the film is Kubrick’s secret confession to his wife that he was involved with faking the footage of the NASA moon landing.

Wait… Kubrick helped fake the moon landing?

Ascher’s documentary takes its craziest turn when he allows Jay Weidner to present the idea that interlaced in “The Shining” are various clues that the visionary that was able to create “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968 was the prime mover in staging and filming the televised footage of the Apollo 11 moon walk in 1969. While it would be easy to dismiss his theory as being that of a conspiracy-theorist nut job, he nonetheless presents a wide array of fairly convincing “evidence” to support his claim.

“Room 237” is at its strongest and most engrossing when it illustrates – via film clips, diagrams, and even computer-animated 3D models of the Overlook Hotel’s floor plan – the theories that all of its commentators are presenting. It often borrows fairly heavily from the Errol Morris school of documentary film-making in that often employs reenactments and simple single inanimate objects taking up the entire screen.

The documentary repeatedly takes wrong turns when it uses clips of existing films – including some of Kubrick’s – and manipulates them to be relevant to “The Shining”. The very first shot in “Room 237” is actually a scene from “Eyes Wide Shut”, but instead of Tom Cruise looking at a jazz club poster advertising the Nick Nightingale quartet, he’s looking at the European poster for “The Shining”. While this digital fakery is mildly amusing, it sets the wrong tone for “Room 237”. It also seriously begs the question of what the late Kubrick would have thought about his work being altered in this way.

The film’s weakest link is its horrendous original music. In many instances, it’s so out of sync with the material that “Room 237” presents, it makes one wonder if the wrong score accidentally got mixed in to the film’s soundtrack. Even the involvement of Walking Dead composer, Bear McCreary, can’t save “Room 237”’s music from cheapening the documentary as a whole.

Fortunately, the subject at “Room 237”s core – “The Shining” itself – is impervious to the goofs that a documentary about it may have. As is stated in the film, “There’s a lot of stuff [in “The Shining”] that people haven’t seen yet, so they should keep watching it.” Indeed, after watching “Room 237”, a repeat viewing of Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece is pretty much a necessity – although you’ll never look at the magazine that Jack Torrance is reading in the Overlook’s lobby the same way ever again.

Blu-ray Review “The Doobie Brothers: Let the Music Play -The Story of the Doobie Brothers”

Starring: The Doobie Brothers
Distributed by: Eagle Vision
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Total Running Time: 148 minutes (including extras)

Our Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

With a career spanning over 40 years, over 40 million albums sold, and 25 band member line-up changes, the Doobie Brothers are a band that’s a ripe subject for an amazing documentary that chronicles their highs and lows and downs and outs. Unfortunately, “Let the Music Play” isn’t that documentary. While it does satisfy the prerequisites through band member interviews and archival footage and stills, it doesn’t really grab hold of the reigns and become something that is completely engaging or memorable.

The film establishes its pattern from frame one: talking head > concert footage/stills > repeat. While the stories each of the Doobies tell are fairly interesting, there are constant and tedious refrains of self-praise (“This is a band that could play anything!”) and stories of how a relentless recording and touring schedule burnt out so many members of the group. It’s pretty cut-and-dry stuff and, as a result, “Let the Music Play” never ascends above the level of a “Rockumentary 101” student’s final project.

How could the documentary have been a better one? For starters, the interview questions could have been a lot more probing and elicited more personal responses that shine a light on the band’s soul. We don’t get to hear any anecdotes or specific “There was this ONE time on the road…” stories that often make band bio films fascinating. It would be one thing if the Doobies were fairly droll individuals who weren’t articulate and interesting to listen to, but that’s far from the case. Throughout the entirety of “Let the Music Play”, we keep waiting for those stories that probably could and want to tell – the ones that we’ll remember after the end credits have rolled – but they’re never delivered.

The filmmakers would have done well to borrow some well-established motifs – and dare I say clichés – that are constantly used in the myriad of “making of classic rock albums” docs that have been released over the past decade. Legendary producer Ted Templeman factors into “Let the Music Play” quite frequently, shedding light as to what working with the Doobies was like, and accurately describes them as “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with leather jackets”.Given this, why not put him behind a mixing console so he can play some of the individual tracks from the multi-track studio mixes to highlight some of the three-part harmonies that made songs like “Black Water” unique and classic? It’s a huge missed opportunity that could have added the type of depth that the film as a whole lacks. And what about all of those guitars we see behind each of the guitarists while they are being interviewed?  Why not let them play them from time to time to demonstrate how some of the classic licks that the Doobies are famous for were created? Pat Simmons has a guitar in his lap whenever he’s talking to the camera!  Alas…another missed opportunity.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of “Let the Music Play” is that it really doesn’t let the music play much at all. It would be one thing if footage of great performances were scarce but that’s clearly not the case given that the disc’s sole extra is 48 minute worth of live performances. The nine tracks that comprise this bonus feature are presented chronologically and span a wide range of the years from longhair to mullet to grey. The opener, “Rainy Day Crossroad Blues”, shows lead vocalist and guitarist Tom Johnston and a handful of his band mates gathered in a circle around a hotel’s outdoor pool area. A single camera on a tripod captures Johnston chunka-chunking away at his acoustic guitar and singing the lyrical sections that he’s already come up with for the song and humming the rest. It’s a stop-and-start affair full of trial and error, but the net result is that we get front-and-center seats to see the miracle of life as a new song is born. Even though this home movie clip runs a mere four minutes, it’s more fascinating that the entirety of the 100-minute documentary that it’s been tacked on to. Adding it and a couple of the other live footage clips to the film would have allowed “Let the Music Play” become something special and worthwhile.

It’s a shame that the film falls so short of being the definitive documentary about a band that is so proficient and significant and whose music is often timeless. “Let the Music Play” should, when inhaled, provide a great high but, instead, only delivers a disappointingly weak buzz.

Blu-ray Review “Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live”

Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live
Blu Ray and DVD (also available as Digital Video)
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 135 minutes (including extras)

Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The process of Peter Gabriel creating a follow-up to 1986’s critically-acclaimed “So”, an album that ushered in a global audience for the former Genesis front man, must have been akin to Michael Jackson trying to follow up “Thriller”.

“Sledgehammer”. “In Your Eyes”. “Big Time”. “Don’t Give Up”. “Red Rain”.  They’re ALL on “So”.  Talk about daunting.

Six years later, “Us” was released and although it wasn’t the uber hit-generator that “So” wound up being, it was one that was artistically more layered and emotionally richer.  The subsequent “Secret World” tour that was launched a year later also upped the ante in terms of theatrics and stage presentation.  Gabriel collaborated with Canadian playwright, actor and director, Robert Lepage, to create a show that that went beyond the simple definition of a live concert to one that was a journey through the heart and soul of the songs that comprised it.  The set was a fairly elaborate one: a large square stage and a smaller circular one connected by a conveyor belt.  Throughout the show, band members could travel between the two areas or use both to maximize the effect of any song’s individual scale: grand (“Steam”) or intimate (“Don’t Give Up”).  A large screen suspended to an overhead tram allowed for a variety of abstract images to be projected onto it or, in one of the show’s most memorable visual moments, for a silhouette of Gabriel to expand and contract in time with the sound of slow respiration.  At the end of the show, hidden trapdoors allowed Gabriel to literally pack up his superlative back-up band in a suitcase and disappear under a slowly-descending dome.  For a show that was largely analog in nature, it was a true spectacle with a “wow” factor that buried the needles.

Unfortunately, the filmed version of the “Secret World” tour proceedings never received the home video treatment that it truly deserved.  The 1994 VHS edition was limited both by that media’s low resolution and trapped within the confines of a standard 4:3 aspect ratio.  The laserdisc, also released in 1994, benefitted from that format’s increased resolution, but suffered from the horizontally compact presentation – as well as that technology’s near-dead-on-arrival fate.

With the advent of DVD, “Secret World Live” was reissued in 2003.  Touting itself as a “widescreen re-mixed and re-mastered” version, the disc wound up being a huge disappointment to viewers due to the video being extremely pale, grainy and lossy – so bad, in fact, that many fans (this reviewer included) were glad that they had held onto their videocassette copy.  It was that bad.

The recent DVD reissue and first-time Blu-ray issue of “Secret World Live” finally let the luminance and brilliance of the Macedonia, Italy stop on the European leg of the tour shine in full.  Both the visual and audio components of the film have been cleaned-up and bolstered to a degree that the earlier editions can now safely be sold off on eBay or, better yet, used as a cutting boards, serving trays and drink coasters.  Interestingly enough, as was true with the initial “widescreen” DVD, it appears that both of the new editions are also cropped versions of the original film which was shot in 16mm.  The extent to which the shots are cropped varies shot-by-shot.  In most instances, the widescreen version allows us to see more of the horizontal picture at the expense of the vertical.  Given that both the 4:3 (1.33:1) and the 16:9 (1.77:1) versions seem to missing image content that was clearly present in the original negative (see comparison pictures), it makes one wonder if “Secret World Live” will be reissued again at some point in the future as an edition that accurately reflects the aspect ratio (1.85:1) that it was actually filmed in.

While both the Blu-ray and the reissued DVD have substantially better picture quality than any of their predecessors, the difference between them is fairly insubstantial.  “Secret World Live” wasn’t filmed in high-definition, so the 1080i spec listed on the back of the Blu-ray case might falsely raise expectations that the Blu’s presentation will be super-clear and crisp which isn’t really the case.  Both the 2012 releases correct the grain and pixelation of the earlier editions not by upping the sharpness but, rather, smoothing out the overall image.  The net result is a softer picture than one might hope for but one that is far-and-away the best we’ve seen to date.  If the A/V buck stops here with “Secret World Live”, fans should easily be satisfied with the outcome.

The best enhancement that the 2012 editions offer up is superior sound quality. The DVD offers threeoptions: Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround for the DVD.  The Blu-ray carries two: LPCM Stereo and DTS HD Master Audio (inexplicably, Dolby options are absent).  Both are plenty punchy and detailed – especially the Blu’s DTS track.

The same bonus features that found their way onto the 1994 DVD are also on the 2012 releases – save for the somewhat out-dated  “film taster of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Growing Up’ tour” which has been replaced by a 2011 performance of “The Rhythm of the Heat” with the New Blood Orchestra (itself a teaser for Gabriel’s recently-released “Live Blood” DVD and Blu-ray).

Is it worth it to pick up a copy of this now 19-year old concert?  You betcha.  With “Secret World Live”, Peter Gabriel and his team of esteemed colleagues managed to create a depth of atmosphere and varied mood that live concerts viewers seldom see.

Is it worth the re-buy?  Ditto.  Emphasis on “see”.

DVD Review “Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City”

Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City
DVD (also available on Blu-ray)
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 92 minutes

Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Of the grunge trinity – Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots – STP has always been the band that is totally about straightforward, no bullshit rock and roll.  That’s not to say that the other two bands weren’t able to go full throttle but, in Nirvana’s case, the music became secondary to the iconic (and now divine martyr) Kurt Cobain.  And while Pearl Jam’s “Ten” will be one of the best debut albums of all time, subsequent releases became more Eddie Vedder-centric and increasingly more tepid.

Of course, it would have been very easy for STP’s musical career to become completely overshadowed by the chaotic self-destructive force of nature that is lead vocalist Scott Weiland.  His drug and alcohol addictions are notorious and, because of them, the history of Stone Temple Pilots is riddled with stops and starts as Weiland exited and reentered the band – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. The odds were against them but, despite this, they’re somehow still on the scene and producing songs that are every bit as powerful as the ones from their debut album 20 years ago.  Their story is a “Behind the Music” documentarian’s wet dream – second only to Def Leppard’s.

Just as their 2010 eponymously-titled sixth studio album proves that they can cut tracks that rival the classics from their heyday, “Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City” shows that they are still a band that, to quote Donald “Duck” Dunn from “The Blues Brothers” film, can “turn goat piss into gasoline.” They’re a fierce act – one that would probably cause any Bieberhead in the crowd to spontaneously combust.

“Windy City” captures the newly-reformed band in a March 2010 gig at the Rivera Theatre in Chicago.  They don’t waste any time with pleasantries or introductions but, instead, launch into a devastating performance of “Vasoline”.  Weiland doesn’t greet the crowd until three songs in when he introduces the song “Hollywood Bitch”, one of four tracks from their latest album.  He’s got a somewhat unsettling stage persona: one that makes one wonder if he’s really kicked his multiple bad habits or is in remission – but he’s on all thrusters and in peak form when they launch into the track and the 14 remaining tracks.

Unfortunately, the visual aspect of the DVD isn’t nearly as stupendous as the music.  Simply put, STP just isn’t that interesting to watch.  Except for Weiland’s swagger filled with stagger, his trio of band mates is pretty stationary throughout the entire show.  While abstract patterns are projected onto a backing screen, the cameras bob and weave and the editing cuts quickly to the measures of the songs.  It’s pretty cut-and-dry stuff that would probably be yawn-inducing if the tunes weren’t the grungy gems that they are.

The audio – selectable between Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround – is excellent and the 16:9 widescreen picture is clean and crisp.  A fairly brief interview with the band members is included as the sole bonus feature and makes up for the lack of any liner notes in the 4-page booklet that’s tucked away with the disc.  It’s not an especially engaging, though, as the questions are largely boiler-plate (“What inspires you to write a song?”, “What bands inspire you?”, “Are you excited about the upcoming tour?” and the like) as are the band’s responses – except for when guitarist Dean DeLeo expresses his belief that the band “still plays too loud.”  Regardless, if “Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City” is a barometer as to the future of STP, it should be a rather plush – albeit noisy – one.

CD Review: Staind “Live from Mohegan Sun”

Staind
“Live from Mohegan Sun”
Armoury Records
Tracks: 16
Total Running Time: 74 minutes

Our Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Listening to the 16 tracks that make up “Live from Mohegan Sun” is like having 16 consecutive meals comprised of nothing but lunch meats. Sure…it’s pretty yummy at first, but you quickly get to the point where you crave something different. Perhaps a steak. Or a caesar salad. Or a spicy burrito. Hell, even a Twinkie would do.

The main man behind Staind’s deli counter, Aaron Lewis, seems to know three vocal modes: an Eddie Vedder-ish vocal that’s tonally limited, a raging raspy scream that’s become an anger rock cliché, and a German death metal-ish low guttural croak that, despite seemingly evil intentions, fails to be menacing. To his credit, Lewis gives it all of the energy he’s got for the whole show, but it all becomes repetitive and rather boring about four songs in.

The musicians behind Lewis aren’t exactly master chefs in the tonal variety bistro either. They’ve got two menu items to dish up: hush-hush quiet or rampaging with standard-issue power chord riffs that are incessantly matched by on over-amped double-kick bass drum – and there’s far more of the latter than the former on display here. Adding to the frustration is that, whenever the band is in full-out, ball-crushing rocker mode, the overall mix suffers from an extreme amount of digital clipping. In fact, it’s so jarring that it might even bother non-audiophiles. (Yep, kids…put Staind’s “Live at the Mohegan Sun” just below Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” on the list of “loudness wars” victims.)

The net result of all of this is a jam-packed 74+ minute disc that ultimately fails to be interesting despite all of the energy that’s been channeled into it. Even though Staind has been in the alternative angst rock game for a long time, both Maynard James Keenan-fronted bands – Tool and A Perfect Circle – make for far more intriguing listening. While Aaron and his guys serve up sliced turkey, Maynard’s bands cook up a cornucopia of tasty cacophony that challenges the palette and nourishes the ears.

At one point during the show, Lewis asks the crowd “Who’s smoking weed?” We will probably never know who the mystery toker was, but I do know one thing: that person is smart enough to know that when you’re force fed enough baloney, one good option is to become an herbivore.

DVD Review “Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here”

Starring: Pink Floyd
Distributed by: Eagle Vision
Release Date: June 26, 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 85 minutes

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“If you look long enough into the void, the void begins to look back through you.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

For the entirety of its 85-minute running time, “Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here” finds the Floyd looking into multiple voids: the band’s disillusionment with the music industry after attaining mega-success with 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, the increasing angst and conflict between the group’s individual members, and – perhaps most substantially – the void in the eyes of their former band leader, Syd Barrett, who had left the group in 1968. It’s an absorbing story to be sure and the documentary manages to capture the internal strife as well as the creation of an album that would defy the odds and become just as much of a classic masterpiece as “Dark Side”.

“Story” bookends itself with a live performance of “WYWH”s title track from Live 8 in 2005. There’s no voice-over narration but, rather, title cards that serve to transition the viewer back into Pink Floyd’s formative years – and it’s choice that serves the film well given the number of interviewees it presents. Rightly, the main story begins with the tragic tale of Syd. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a brilliant musician and true visionary wearing out his welcome with random precision due to his succumbing to the lure and excessive usage of brain-frying psychedelic drugs that were part and parcel of late 60’s culture. By the time the film shows its final picture of Barrett, it’s easy to understand why Pink Floyd would dedicate an album to his disappearance from and lingering absence in the band.

New interviews with band members Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason – as well as an archived interview with the late Rick Wright – allow each to shed light on their own personal connection with Syd and how the legacy of this crazy diamond truly shines on. It’s clear that the Floyds are an intelligent lot and the interview segments featuring them are insightful and engaging. Performance segments dissect various musical passages and refrains that served as the genesis of the songs that comprise “Wish”.

“Story” also introduces us to a wide range of people who were involved in the creation of the album both inside and outside of the studio. As with the “Classic Albums” DVD series, clips featuring a producer or engineer behind the mixing desk playing isolated instrumental or vocal tracks from the multi-track master tapes are especially interesting and fun. “Story” does this via sound engineer Brian Humphries by bringing him back to Abbey Road for the first time since the album was recorded. There, we’re treated to single-track samples from “WYWH” that allow us to hear exquisite musical details that are difficult to hear densely-layered final cuts that comprise the album. We even get to hear Roy Harper’s guest vocal track on “Have a Cigar”, one which easily surpasses both Waters’ and Gilmour’s attempts to handle the singing in-house – despite Roger’s new-found belief that, had he persevered, he “could have done it better”.

The documentarians behind “Story” are savvy enough to recognize that any story about Pink Floyd that doesn’t explore the visual aspect of the band’s album artwork and concert animations would be woefully inadequate.  The film covers this topic extensively by featuring interviews with longtime Floyd collaborators designer Storm Thorgerson, illustrator/cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and photographer Aubrey “Po” Powell. Even the iconic “burning man” featured on the “WYWH”s front cover, Ronnie Rondell, shares stories about his precarious contribution to the album (as photographer Powell states, “15 times to catch on fire is rather a lot.”).

“The Story of Wish You Were Here”, despite feeling a little disjunct because of the back-and-forth nature in which it alternates between focusing on Syd and the in-the-studio work, is an excellent documentary and is essential viewing for Floyd fanatics.  In fact, it’s so well done that it would likely hold the attention of even the newest of newbies. It would have made the recently-issued 5-disc “WYWH Immersion Edition” box set all the more immersive; why it wasn’t included in that pricey mega-package is a genuine mystery.

Somewhat ironically, if there’s any disappointment to be had with “Story”, it’s the near absence of interviews with Rick Wright, who passed away in 2008. One of the highlights of the 2001-issued “Classic Albums: The Making of Dark Side of the Moon” DVD was Wright’s solo piano performances of segments from that disc – even though, musically, “Dark Side” was a David Gilmour-dominated LP. By comparison, “WYWH” is a showcase for Wright’s abilities as a composer and musician. That the timing of the production of the documentary didn’t allow it to interact with him and focus more on his contribution is a shame because – even though the album is a brilliant homage to Syd Barrett – musically on “Wish”, the correct answer to the question of “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” is indeed “Rick Wright”.  The diamond that was Rick shines on just as brightly as Syd’s.

DVD Review “The Jeff Healey Band: Live in Belgium”

The Jeff Healey Band: Live in Belgium
DVD + CD
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 82 minutes

Our Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Eagle Vision’s raid of The Jeff Healey Band vault continues with this latest entry, a July 1993 show from the Peers Blues Festival in Belgium. As was always the case, Jeff and his band mates serve up a full-course meal of fiery blues in which every song features a guitar solo from Healey that usually rates with those played by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. And the fact that he’s scorching the fretboard is made all the more impressive by the fact that Healey was blind from age one until his untimely passing in 2008 at the age of 41.

Six of the disc’s thirteen songs are culled from the 1992’s “Feel This”, the album that the JHB was touring to support when this show was recorded. Perennial favorites such as “Confidence Man”, “Angel Eyes”, and his cover of “Roadhouse Blues” – which was featured in the 1989 Patrick Swayze star-vehicle “Road House”, a film in which Healey also appeared – are also represented. And the best is saved for last in the form of a gritty cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

On the whole, the performance is good and has the added bonus of featuring a keyboardist and a female backing vocalist – something that was a rare occurrence within the context of a JHB concert. However, it’s not nearly as energetic as the 1991 show that’s included on as part of the 3-CD + 1-DVD “Full Circle: The Live Anthology” set that was released in November of last year. Whereas 1991 saw Healey full of energy and included bits where he played his axe behind his head and with his feet, he seems somewhat on the sleepier side throughout this gig. The DVD is fairly lackluster on its own but would have been a superb addition to “Anthology” given that it would have sandwiched itself nicely between the 1989, 1991 and 1995 shows that are included in that box set.

The overall audio and video quality of “Live in Belgium” isn’t great, as it’s clear that the source is a low-resolution video tape. The liner notes (which were, for reasons still unbeknownst, not included in “Anthology”) don’t attempt to hide this, though, and freely admit that the source was “a mess”. Their efforts are truly appreciated as the resultant product is one that achieves the goal of preserving one of a scarce number of JHB shows that were actually documented.

Despite its flaws, “Live in Belgium” is a worthwhile DVD and, for those who aren’t already in the know, more than adequately serves as an introduction to this under-appreciated guitar great’s legacy.

Blu-ray Review “Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003”

Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003
Blu-ray (also available on DVD)
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 124 minutes

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As the great philosopher Billy Joel once said, “It’s all about soul.”

It’s clear that Simply Red’s lead singer, Mick Hucknall, knows this to be true. He doesn’t just sing songs: he feels them. Because of this, it’s pretty much impossible not to be mesmerized by his silky smooth vocal – one that hasn’t diminished in power or range since Simply Red’s inception in 1985.

“Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003” captures the band supporting their then latest studio outing, “Home”. Six of the tracks from that LP are included in this show’s set list, including a cover of The Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New” that is one of the show’s two best moments. Given that the original song featured three different vocalists singing in three different vocal ranges, it’s a hearty challenge for one guy to perform the song – especially in a live setting. But, from note one, it’s clear that Hucknall’s multi-octave voice can handle all three vocal parts perfectly and that a sole singer can deliver a version that’s equally as good – if not better – than the original.

But “Holding Back the Years” – penned when Hucknall was a mere 17 years of age – is the show-stopper. Performed as the first song of the encore set, Mick wanders back onto a stage devoid of other musicians, slowly strumming an acoustic guitar. The two chords he gently plays are generic enough to be indistinguishable as any specific song – until he sings and, mid-way through, is joined by the rest of his bandmates. In a day and age of “unplugged” renditions, this one avoids being cliché and stands out as a great reinterpretation of a timeless classic – and one that clearly demonstrates why Simply Red were one of the best bands to come out of the 80’s.

By the time this show was recorded, Mick Hucknall was the only original member left in Simply Red, but the 2003 iteration of Simply Red is comprised of a solid group of great musicians that work together flawlessly. The same line-up is featured on the Blu-ray’s closing segment culled from the band’s 2010 farewell tour. Unfortunately, only seven tracks from this show are included as not to double-up on any songs that appeared in the 2003 show. It would have been great to have the full concert – dupes and all.

The usual array of audio options that we’ve come to expect from Eagle Vision releases are all here: LPCM 2.0 stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD. Each have a superior range of dynamics and are superbly mixed. Both the 2003 and 2010 shows were filmed in high-definition and the resulting 1080i video transfer is crisp and clean and the editing perfectly matches the show’s pacing and overall mood.

Since the demise of Simply Red, Hucknall has become a member of a newly reformed Faces, replacing Rod Stewart. Even though his onstage persona is nowhere near as flamboyant as Rod the Mod’s, it’s hard to imagine a better choice to carry that seminal band in a new and fruitful direction. Despite his immense vocal prowess, Hucknall has always proven that all one needs to lull the listener in with a vocal is one that is powerfully heartfelt and unpretentiously delivered. In that regard, he is – and Simply Red was – simply amazing.

CD Review: Deep Purple “Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”

Deep Purple
“Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Tracks: 12
Running Time: 73 minutes

Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I doubt I’d still be playing guitar if it wasn’t for “Smoke On the Water”.

As a young kid, I expected to pick up a Stratocaster and immediately rock. It didn’t work out that way, though, as my hands didn’t seem to want to merge with the singles in my mental jukebox.

But then Ritchie Blackmore came to my rescue. Armed with the four distinctive power chords that comprise the first 10 seconds of “Smoke on the Water”, I suddenly became the rock deity that I had dreamed of being. I went from being the kid who regularly got beaten up for his lunch money to being an absolute bad-ass that nobody would dare fuck with. The power of “Bom-bommm-bommmmm. Bom-bommm-b-bommmmm. Bom-bommm-bommmm-bom-b-bommmmm” would defeat all.

It’s very clear on “Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”, that Deep Purple knows full well that they created one of rock’s most sacred sonic icons that probably – along with the Ramones – launched hordes of dreamy youth into being legends in their own minds. Before “Smokin’” the Aussie crowd, guitarist Steve Morse – the fourth guitarist in the group’s history – takes them on an aural tour of some of the most well-known riffs in rock history (from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Beatles and the Kinks). And then, after a pregnant pause, he and the rest of the band – including lifer Ian Paice and long-time members Ian Gillan on vocals and bassist Roger Glover – deliver the chords. Indeed, rock and roll’s mothership has arrived to give us all some Close Encounters of the Violet Kind.

The rest of the disc – which is essentially a truncated one-disc edition of a 2CD set that was released in late 1999 that included the entire 116-minute live show – proves that Deep Purple is timeless. Despite the fact that they’d been going for a full 31 years prior to the performance this disc documents, they’d never been trapped by the flash-in-the-pan styles that would claim the musical souls of so many of hard rock’s greatest bands. While bands like Van Halen used the mid-80’s went to the dark side and dabbled with synthesizers and other trendy instrumentation, a reunited Deep Purple delivered some of the most hard-hitting songs of their career – ones that would simply refuse to age.

The only problem with “Total Abandon” is the absence of Ritchie Blackmore’s unique style that, despite its raw and sometimes fumbly nature, was always comprised of rapid-fire notes that pierced like daggers. Guitar wizard Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs joined Purple in 1994 shortly after Blackmore’s departure in 1993. While he definitely has the skills to pay the bills, he often exhibits too much pyrotechnic flash that’s saturated with blisteringly fast hammer-ons and ridiculous bends. It’s impressive fretwork to be sure but 18 years later it sounds rather dated and ready to be filed under “chronic guitar masturbators of 80’s and 90’s” with the likes of Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Despite Morse’s antics, “Total Abandon” shows that Purple could still bash out the goods more than three decades into their career. For 73 solid minutes, we get to explore the violet vaults and enjoy one of the best hard rock bands that the genre has ever spawned.