THE BEATLES Help! Deluxe Edition (Apple Corps/Capitol) Rating: NNNN
Far from a cinematic milestone, 1965's Help! was Richard Lester's spy spoof follow-up to the Beatles big-screen debut A Hard Day's Night, this time adding technicolour, a script and a load of marijuana.
The plot centres around Ringo, who's received a beautiful ring from a fan that he puts on and can't remove. The ring turns out to be a sacred religious artifact, and our boy Ringo soon discovers he's being followed by strange religious cult members determined to sacrifice him to the appropriate deity. This leads to a zany James Bond pisstake of an international chase, with the cult crew, a mad scientist and the cops pursuing the Beatles from London to the Bahamas via the Austrian Alps while seven Beatles tunes are played and copious amounts of pot are smoked off camera.
The just-released Deluxe Edition of Help! is a two-DVD set with a 60-page hardcover photo book, a copy of Lester's script with scribbled corrections, reproductions of the U.S. lobby cards and the 1965 theatrical poster. In addition to a digitally restored version of the film with 5.1 Surround Sound audio on disc one, the second disc has a 30-minute making-of doc, a missing scene, an explanation of the restoration process, cast and crew reminiscences, three original theatrical trailers and 1965 radio promos. Extras see above.
THE BEST OF THE JOHNNY CASH TV SHOW (Sony BMG) NNNNN
The weekly Johnny Cash TV Show, which had a short run between 1969 and 71, was a groundbreaking variety program that turned the spotlight on important musical talent other prime-time shows wouldn't touch.
This two-DVD collection focusing on live performances of complete songs -- no lip-synching to radio hits here -- covers not only the stellar parade of country greats you might expect, like Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Ray Price and Conway Twitty, but many rising stars of the day, such as Neil Young, James Taylor, Tony Joe White, Linda Ronstadt and Kris Kristofferson, many getting their first-ever network television exposure.
There are too many 'holy shit! ' moments to list here, but one-offs like Cash singing Blue Yodel No. 9 accompanied on trumpet by Louis Armstrong, who played on Jimmie Rodgers's 1930 original recording, Ray Charles reinventing Ring Of Fire on his 40th birthday, the Everly Brothers crooning That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine backed by their guitar-picking father Ike Everly, Joni Mitchell dueting with Cash on Long Black Veil, Mother Maybelle Carter strumming guitar on Wildwood Flower and Eric Clapton trading licks with Carl Perkins are all compulsory viewing and make for a very entertaining historical document. EXTRAS None.
DAVID BYRNE Live From Austin Tx (New West) NNNN
Though the Austin City Limits DVDs are a notoriously Spartan series (uncut telecast, no extras), David Byrne's performance circa the Look Into The Eyeball tour hardly leaves you wanting.
Besides a bit of Steve Martin-like greying, Byrne shows little sign of aging as he nimbly moves his lanky frame through a buoyant set of Talking Heads staples and solo joints. Considering that the Heads belong to the 80s, it's impressive how well the songs hold up and how lyrically relevant a dystopian gem like (Nothing But) Flowers feels 20 years after the fact.
Byrne never weighs the program down with political sentiments, impressive since this ACL episode was recorded two months after 9/11. As his closing cover of Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody suggests, levity was more needed at the time than speeches. EXTRAS None.
RAY CHARLES Live At Montreux 1997 (Eagle Vision USA) Rating: NNNN
This concert-only DVD of the buoyant Ray Charles at the Montreux Jazz Festival provides a great vision of the gifted blues musician. The clean, sweeping camera work highlights the well-lit staging. Performing just over a dozen tunes in front of a polite and receptive audience, Charles is ever the pleasurable entertainer. He gets downright ecstatic during I'll Be Home, gently eases into an understated Georgia On My Mind, then makes an amusing aside during a slinky Just A Thrill, adorned with a bridge of spine-tingling xylophone runs seemingly dipped in reverb.
When Charles introduces the Raelettes, a gifted quintet, the energy of the show shifts. Then the experience ends relatively abruptly, considering the arc of the first half. For those who never got to see the legend, this DVD brings us a bit closer to the classic call-and-response of What'd I Say? and other timeless gems. EXTRAS None.
DAVID GILMOUR Remember That Night: Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Columbia) NNNN
While it's curious to see David Gilmour billing himself as 'the voice and guitar' of Pink Floyd, he comes off humble compared to Roger Waters, who tours under the lofty 'the creative genius behind....'
It's one of the longest-running battles in rock, and the Live 8 reunion solved nothing. Check the tour rehearsal section on Disc 2 for proof. Gilmour books time at Bray Studios to shake the rust, and guess who's tour-prepping on the adjacent lot? The two force themselves to meet in the adjoining parking lot for an awkward six-second exchange of pleasantries. You almost feel sorry for them. The rest is a surprisingly entertaining tour diary, in particular when Gilmour covers a Syd Barrett solo tune, Dark Globe, for the first time.
The first disc is a straight Floyd concert, with Gilmour's dull solo album On An Island sandwiched in between hits, while David Bowie shows up at the end and makes Comfortably Numb his own. EXTRAS Bonus tracks, music videos, Island Jam 2007, photo gallery
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 (Sony BMG) NNNN
In complete performances of 15 songs across three years, The Other Side Of The Mirror depicts the startling evolution of Bob Dylan from the earnest young singer in his white, short-sleeved shirt that said 'I'm going to Mississippi to register Negro voters this summer' to the leather-jacketed full-blown rock star of 1965, with Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar, who received a decidedly mixed audience response.
Director Murray Lerner won an Oscar for his documentary From Mao To Mozart: Isaac Stern In China, and this is a very well shot and edited black-and-white film with an excellent sound remix. It offers stunning performances of Mr. Tambourine Man, Love Minus Zero/No Limit and Maggie's Farm (Bloomfield's on fire), and a chance to study the body language of Joan Baez, perhaps the most physically uncomfortable person ever to have a career as a performer. EXTRAS Half-hour interview with director Lerner.
QUEEN Rock Montreal & Live Aid (Eagle Vision) NNNN
Even though these aren't the first live Queen DVDs by a long shot, they do happen to be excellently filmed and produced shows capturing the band at high points in their career.
Shot in 35mm, the 96-minute Montreal Forum show sounds fantastic. Freddie and band go through goodies like an astoundingly vibrant Somebody To Love and Save Me. The entire concert beautifully conveys what a performing dynamo Mercury, who storms about the stage with flair and fire, was. A cleaned-up audio keeps his voice front and centre.
As a bonus disc, the band's 1985 show is, again, a performance worth watching, and commentary by Brian May and Roger Taylor will do fine for more intense fans.
Queen was a band made for the stage, and with Mercury's untimely passing, this is as good as it's gonna get for fans who never had a chance to see them live in their prime. EXTRAS Both discs have commentary tracks from Brian May and Roger Taylor, and Disc Two (Live Aid) has rehearsal footage and a TV interview from 1982.
R.E.M. Live (Warner) Rating: NN
Has anyone ever crawled into work in the morning moaning about 'still recovering from the R.E.M. concert last night'? Of course not, and watching this DVD accompanying their first live album tells you exactly why. R.E.M. aren't a stadium band. They have enough fans to fill them easily, but Michael Stipe is far too self-conscious about his rock stardom to make it work.
Adding to the woes is the disc's age. A 2005 two-night stand in Dublin is hardly R.E.M. at their peak. Instead of songs that remind you why this band is great, we get a disappointing blend of forgettables from stillborn records like Reveal and Around The Sun, plus one confused-sounding new track called I'm Gonna DJ, which draws pale, blank Irish stares. And deservedly so. EXTRAS None.
DOUG SAHM Live From Austin, TX (New West) NNNN
As far as archetypal Amercana musician Doug Sahm was concerned, the Sir Douglas Quintet he founded had long since run its course by the fall of 1975, and he was then more interested in exploring the possibilities of western swing, blues and jukebox R&B or whatever suited his mood in Austin, Texas, where 'do your own thing' was more than a bumper sticker.
That was fine by the folks at Austin City Limits, who gave Sahm the stage on November 14, 1975, to let everyone know he was just as adept at sawing out a tribute to Bob Wills on a fiddle as he was at cutting loose on a Telecaster in honour of T-Bone Walker. Not that he was showing off. Sahm was too damn comfortable in his own skin to try to impress anyone.
He just never forgot how to be a fan, and every song he performed was a musical love letter to someone. He also knew his job as an entertainer, and when he heard a hollered request for Dynamite Woman, he played it, and even knocked out smokin' renditions of Mendocino and She's About A Mover, with Augie Meyers banging out Vox Continental heat. A keeper. Extras: set list.
U2 Popmart: Live From Mexico City (Universal) Rating: NNN
U2's box-office-breaking late-90s Pop Mart tour represents a beguiling period in the band's career. Bono looks like an Ibiza raver, the Edge a gay cowboy, Adam Clayton some kind of chemical warfare technician and Larry Mullen Jr. is... well, he's been holding down the same Jimmy Dean look since 82.
The tour was some high-concept shit, with its McDonald's half-arch, Lichtenstein imagery and that Spinal Tap-ish space lemon the band would float to the centre of the stadium in for the encore.
It's ridiculously over-the-top but works phenomenally. Bono, who knows not of the emotion we mortals call self-consciousness, runs around the rock playground insisting every fan, including the one in section XYZ, row 300, seat 99, 'feel' the music. One of the more affecting moments, however, comes when Bono slips into INXS's Never Tear Us Apart. It seems like an incongruous ad lib at first, until you realize this was shot only days after Michael Hutchence died. EXTRAS None.
AMY WINEHOUSE I Told You I Was Trouble: Live From London (Island/Universal) NNNN
It's a bit puzzling why Universal would release a Winehouse concert video of a gig where her singing's not at its best, but if you've invested a huge sum in hiring a massive crew for a multi-camera shoot at the Shepherd's Bush Empire and the star of the show drinks herself silly onstage, you have to go with what you've got.
The tipsy Winehouse manages to bull her way through the tunes from Back To Black and Frank, backed by her stiff British band (not the funkier Dap Kings). It's surprising that she's able to pull it off without any major fuck-ups, looking as glazed over as she does.
Far more interesting is the bonus mini-documentary that features performance clips from South By Southwest 2007, behind-the-scenes footage and often hilarious running commentary from her taxi-driver dad, Rich Winehouse ('Her ambition was to be a roller-skating waitress, believe it or not'), with additional bean-spilling from Island A&R boss Darcus Beese that's worth the cost of the DVD. EXTRAS I Told You I Was No Good documentary.