BLIND FAITH London Hyde Park 1969 (Sanctuary) Rating: NNN
While there have been different theories about why Blind Faith ? a supergroup formed by Traffic's Steve Winwood with Family's Rick Grech and Cream's Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker ? didn't last, this yawn-inducing footage of their uninspired first performance makes it all clear. In Hyde Park, 100,000 amped hippies expect to have their minds blown to bits by guitar god Clapton and company, but instead sullen Eric hides behind the drum kit playing dead-ass rhythm licks so as not to drown out Winwood whining his favourite Stones oldies. Disappointing doesn't begin to cover this 40-minute snoozer padded out by a cultural mini-doc to add some historicalcontext, along with live promo clips of Spencer Davis, Traffic and Cream.
JAMES BLUNT Chasing Time: The Bedlam Sessions (Atlantic) Rating: NNNN
Blunt has really grown on me. He's kind of cool and quirky, really likeable. Reminds me a little of Tori Amos in her beginnings, but without the piano and, like, if she wasn't, um, nuts. This disc features the extremely talented singer/songwriter looking fairly clean-cut and playing tunes from his debut album, Back To Bedlam, in a live, intimate show at the BBC with his band. Things get scruffier during the Being Blunt session, in which he talks about his career, Linda Perry and other stuff over snippets of videos with a beach, Elvis and a dwarf in between. Also features an interview segment and videos with making-of features. It was cold shooting that Beautiful video, and, no, he doesn't finally take off the pants. There's a mini photo gallery, too.
DAVID BOWIE Under Review 1976-1979: The Berlin Trilogy (Chrome Dreams) Rating: N
The Under Review series appears to be a DVD version of the cheapo unauthorized musical biography. Some mediocre freelance journalists and authors between books are shown slouching on couches spouting their opinions of artists and recordings about which they have little first-hand knowledge or interest. Toss in a couple of stills, some stock footage and maybe a few audio clips from old interviews and there's your Under Review DVD. What qualifies one-time Paul Weller sidekick Paolo Hewitt ? the mod Baldrick ? as an expert on David Bowie's three Krautrock-inspired albums (Low, Heroes and Lodger) is hard to fathom, but he's happy to offer his views, making the on-camera ramblings of his fellow critics-for-hire, like ex-Melody Maker scribe David ?Mr. Agreeable? Stubbs and Record Collector contributor Daryl Easlea, seem informed. A boring waste of time and money.
CREAM Their Fully Authorized Story (Justin Time) Rating: NNNN
When Eric Clapton reunited with former Cream-mates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for a few dates at the Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Gardens last year, they were reluctant to grant any interviews. So this authorized DVD documenting the rise, fall and unexpected return of the great Brit blues rock trio as told by the key players makes for compelling viewing. And once you find out just how delightfully candid Baker can be about intra-band squabbles past and present (the storied antipathy between the members wasn't manufactured by the press), you'll know why a media blackout might've been the only way to ensure the shows actually happened. Just don't expect to see lots of footage from the 2005 shows. This DVD lays out the whole Cream story, often in sordid detail, focusing on the glory years 1967-68, and Baker, for one, does his best to correct the many misconceptions and finally set the record straight. As enlightening as it is entertaining.
RORY GALLAGHER Live At Montreux (Eagle Eye) Rating: NNN
Those considering this Rory Gallagher film should first ask themselves, ?How much do I love electric guitar solos?? If the answer is anything less than ?Insatiably,? perhaps it's best to just walk away. This double-disc retrospective of the late Irish blues master's appearances at the Swiss fest clocks in at 274 minutes, which amounts to roughly four hours of blues riffing. Skill-wise, Gallagher was definitely right up there with Clapton and Page; his guitar (the same worn Strat his entire career) literally became a physical extension of his body. But his vocals were an afterthought, breathless filler between guitar licks that renders the whole package exhaustively one-dimensional. Moving chronologically, after firebrand shows in 75, 79 and 84, the disc ends poignantly a decade later with a visibly unwell Gallagher huffing and puffing a year before he succumbed to liver failure.
GORILLAZ Phase Two: Slowboat To Hades (Virgin/EMI) Rating: NN
The general concept of Gorillaz isn't super-objectionable, especially given that the Damon Albarn-conceived cartoon band's jams (most recently produced by Paris Hilton pranker Danger Mouse) are tighter than Borat's string bikini. The music videos are really where the Blur frontman's simian side-project shines, and the ones from their Demon Days album are included on this high-budget DVD in all their hyper-stylized, animatronic splendour. And that's where the fun stops. The way they create the illusion of a live show at the Brit and MTV Europe Music Awards is cool enough, but once you get over it (probably fast), Gorillaz start feeling like the hollow gimmick they're often criticized for being. Not sure what's worse: the pointless bonus garbage (Gorillaz ringtone and cellphone commercials) or the way they make you work to see it by navigating a tedious, unnecessarily complicated menu.
SEAN LENNON Friendly Fire (Capitol) Rating: NN
It's been five years since Lennon signed with Capitol (Beastie Boys' Grand Royal Records, which released Lennon's 1998 solo debut, folded in 2001). Since then, Lennon lost long-time love Bijou Phillips (she cheated with his very best friend) and his very best friend, who died in a bike crash. On Friendly Fire, a fine enough exercise in ambience, Lennon works out love and betrayal ? in the plainest, most reserved and lyrically clichéd manner he can muster. The wispy soft rock melodies, however, are no match for the accompanying DVD ? a series of period-piece shorts (starring Bijou Phillips, Lindsay Lohan, Carrie Fisher, Jordana Brewster and Harper Simon), one for each sad, pretty track.
MEAT LOAF Bat Out Of Hell (Eagle Vision) Rating: NNN
This is a little sparse. I clicked and clicked around, hoping to find bonus features and fun stuff, but was disappointed. What you do get in this entry in the Classic Albums series, which also includes Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, is an hour-long documentary about the making of Bat Out Of Hell, the story of the struggle to get it released, tales of particular songs and retrospectives from the folks involved, including Meat, Todd Rundgren and Jim Steinman. It includes video and concert footage. A lot of fun for one hour, but only an hour, which leaves you feeling a tad cheated, given the amount of space available on a DVD, which is why this gets only three Ns. Still, there's something majestic about this whole thing, and it's heartening to know there are people out there who are unapologetically enthusiastic about the grandiose and have no love for minimalist posturing. When Steinman talks about writing Bat Out Of Hell, his love of car-crash songs and the fact that he finds that kind of operatic, cataclysmic narrative extremely compelling, it's pure beauty.
VAN MORRISON Live At Montreux 1980/1974 (Eagle Vision) Rating: NNNN
Considering how many Van Morrison concert bootlegs have appeared over the years, there's curiously little visual documentation of his peak years in circulation. Eagle Vision addresses the problem with the fab two-disc set Live At Montreux 1980/1974, with impressive sound for the price of a single DVD. Both his Montreux Jazz Festival performances are worth seeing. The 1980 show covers crowd-pleasers like Wavelength, Moondance, Wild Night, And It Stoned Me, Listen To The Lion and Tupelo Honey. Conversely, his Montreux debut show from 74 finds Morrison in an experimental mood, performing then unheard compositions backed by an impressively skilled trio of pickup musicians hired for the gig. A raucously funky rip through Naked In The Jungle is a clear high point, but the rare footage and exceptionally crisp sound make for a stellar package sure to thrill long-time Van fans.
THE PIXIES loudQUIETloud (MVD Visual) Rating: NNNN
Charting the Pixies' wobbly trajectory toward getting back together and embarking on 2004's reunion tour, loudQUIETloud is less about a cohesive band and more about four distinct (and troubled) individuals with little in common other than the ability to collaborate on iconic pop songs.
Balancing performance clips with fly-on-the-wall footage, directors Matthew Galkin and Steve Cantor do an excellent job of setting up their prickly characters: Charles "Black Francis" Thompson's an unfazed minivan-driving dad concerned with being calm and releasing solo material, not reclaiming the fame the Pixies had when they folded in 93. Fresh-out-of-rehab Kim Deal struggles to stay sober and can't believe anyone still gives a crap about the band. Family guy Joey Santiago's the rock determined to be a good provider for his kids, while drummer David Lovering comes off as the guy about to crack, blocking out his dad's cancer, his recent divorce and his professional rut with a combo of metal-detecting, magic tricks and Valium. Their candour is fascinating, from their tacit acknowledgement of the fact that they only reunited for cash to their on-camera deconstructions of their bandmates. Galkin and Cantor capture some telling moments. Deal has to relearn her bass lines from a Pixies CD during the band's tour prep rehearsals; an extended pre-show scene in which Thompson, Lovering and Santiago uncomfortably fidget in the same room, incapable of carrying on even casual conversation, nearly breaks your heart. Daniel Lanois's eerie lap steel score emphasizes the fraught emotional dynamics, and though there's little context to explain who these guys were during the peak of their careers, the glimpse of their present-day lives provides loads of insight. Far and away the best of the multiple reunion-inspired Pixies DVDs released in the past two years.
SANTANA Viva Santana (Columbia) Rating: NN
Carlos Santana, one of the most spiritual of rock guitarists, metaphorically connects the dots between his guitar, his soul and the universe. His work can be enlightening, but director Tom McQuade somehow got the incredibly misguided idea to run an ?intimate conversion? as commentary, smothering all the live footage on this DVD. Yeah, sure, we've all heard Black Magic Woman often enough to last a lifetime, but there's something inherently contradictory about Santana talking about the power of listening to music when we can only see and not hear him play. The strongest scene by far is Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock footage of twilight set-closer Soul Sacrifice. Sadly, Santana talks over Michael Shrieve's famous drum solo, which is like a crime against rock.
U2 Classic Albums: The Joshua Tree (Image Entertainment) Rating: NNNN
There was a time when Bono didn't exclusively wear sunglasses. Somehow, I'd forgotten that before I sat down to watch this instalment of the Classic Albums series, otherwise known as ?those MuchMoreMusic specials? while waiting for a fresh batch of Surreal Life episodes to arrive. I also learned about how complicated it is to make a record, how much U2 owes to Led Zeppelin and why U2 are to blame for techno. Surprisingly watchable stuff. And somehow, through interviews with everyone from Daniel Lanois to the sleeve designer, I ended up appreciating both The Joshua Tree and the Edge's enduring love of silly hats all the more.
TUPAC The Complete Live Performances: Live At House Of Blues & Club 662, Las Vegas (Death Row/Eagle Vision) Rating: NNNN
?What you about to witness,? says Naughty by Nature's Treach while introducing the Las Vegas show in this two-disc DVD, ?is Tupac Shakur in his prime.? He's not lying. These shows were taped in 1996 and were the slain rapper's first performances after being released from Rikers. Filmed shakily and captured in that distinct VHS tape grain, the sets have serious historical value. The eventually shirtless Shakur is full of vitriolic energy throughout the lengthy concerts, especially when he lyrically FedExes a shipment of thug life drama straight to the New York doorsteps of Mobb Deep and the Bad Boy family. While anonymous homeys in baggy Fila and Karl Kani sweatshirts nod their heads behind them, gangstas Snoop Dogg, K-Ci & JoJo, Nate Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound perform equally charged cameos that fill out this picture of a classic rap scene.
KENNY ROGERS The Journey (Dreamcatcher/Goldhil) Rating: NNN
He doesn't give you the secret formula for how you can beat the one-armed bandit or shill for down-home chicken, but there's something about the Gambler's career retrospective DVD that feels like a glorified infomercial for Kenny Rogers: The Brand. Weirdly enough, it works. The Journey slickly edits together testimonial-style anecdotes from the likes of David Foster and Lionel Richie, casual interview snippets with present-day (read Botox-faced) Rogers, awesome vintage material and some contemporary Vegas concert clips into a seamless package of Kenny Through The Years. Between producer Larry Butler's fawning sound bites, the soft-focus camp of 80s music videos spliced into live performances of the same songs, slo-mo pans across old album covers and Christie Minstrels-era photos of Rogers in wacky psychedelic outfits, there's a Yacht Rock-calibre cheese factor at work here that feels entirely appropriate for the consummate showman. The one real downside is the relative lack of extended concert footage. You get highlights like an Islands In The Stream duet with Dolly Parton, Rogers backing Gordon Lightfoot on upright bass and a killer blast through Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), but too many of the live bits are mashed up with voice-over narration and superfluous interviews. Still, it's entertaining to hear Rogers admit, in the bonus Hits That Got Away section, that he turned down Wind Beneath My Wings cuz he felt the line ?Did you ever know that you're my hero? sounded weird coming from a guy, and watching the dude's face morph through the years is hilariously surreal.
SARAH HARMER Escarpment Blues (Cold Snap/Universal) Rating: NNNN
Even if you're not the biggest Sarah Harmer fan in the world, her modest new DVD is worth checking out to educate yourself on the environmental debate around gravel mining on the Niagara Escarpment. The homey doc follows Harmer (who grew up in the area) and her band as they embark on a walking/hiking tour through small communities from Tobermory to Burlington, hanging out in nature, fighting to prevent eco-destruction and playing tunes from her recent Polaris-nominated I'm A Mountain (Cold Snap/Universal) disc. Though the nature-girl frontwoman claims the endeavour was partly selfish (?I wanted to be a hobo with a stick over my back,? she laughs by way of explaining why a musician would trek through the wilderness and play tiny town hall shows), it's clear she walks the talk and not only knows more about the issues surrounding the UNESCO world biosphere reserve, but cares fiercely about protecting the land in a way that affects her personally and profoundly. Though the visual and sound quality aren't superb, the entire package has a lovely homemade quality that suits the subject matter, and you really do come away with deep respect for Harmer's vast knowledge and willingness to fight for something she's so passionate about. It's like a better Shut Up & Sing, if the Dixie Chicks had actually known anything substantial.
THE HARRY SMITH PROJECT Anthology Of American Folk Music Revisited (Shout! Factory) Rating: NNN
When Harry Smith's fabulous Anthology of American Folk Music was reissued in 1997, Hal Wilner came up with the idea of staging a series of tribute concerts, getting his favourite contemporary artists to perform the strange and wonderful songs from the influential collection. Only Wilner was a bit ahead of the curve, so none of the most popular artists of the current folk revival participated in the Harry Smith Project recordings. Instead of artists like Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Espers and Will Oldham, we have recordings by David Johansen, Beth Orton, Sonic Youth and Gavin Friday. Most of the performers on the two concert CDs and companion DVD deliver their songs with chutzpah, but because of the big names involved ? like Lou Reed, Nick Cave and Steve Earle ? the event becomes less about Anthology's songs than the celebrity personalities. The best part of this set is the Old Weird America documentary DVD, also available separately, which finally puts Smith's important work into proper perspective with informative interview clips and archival footage.
JEFF TWEEDY Sunken Treasure: Live In The Pacific Northwest (Nonesuch/Warner) Rating: NN
Since Wilco has essentially been Jeff Tweedy and guests for years, why his performances of Wilco songs with a couple of pals on the Sunken Treasure DVD isn't credited to Wilco is a bit mystifying. In any case, what you get here is a travelogue-style documentary of a sickly looking Tweedy moping through the sadder side of the Wilco songbook, mostly accompanying himself on acoustic guitar at various soft-seat venues from Seattle to San Francisco in February. For each song, we get very much the same dimly lit shot of Tweedy strumming on a carpeted stage, wearing what look to be the same clothes for the whole tour. Between shows, he wonders aloud why his fans say they love him. At one point, he looks at a crossword puzzle. The only break in the monotony occurs when Tweedy hears someone talking during his show and hollers, ?Can you shut up for once in your fucking life and have some fun without moving your mouth?? before returning to the regular program. The appearance of guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche is saved for the ?big finish,? but it's only in the spontaneous blowup that we get a glimpse of the real Tweedy. Ho-hum.
PAT METHENY GROUP The Way Up ? Live (Eagle Vision) Rating: NNN
When Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays composed the stunningly complex The Way Up, they weren't sure it could be replicated live. Watching this live documentation of their jazz Grammy winner performed at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, you can understand their dilemma. The Way Up is dizzyingly intricate, and, yes, contemporary jazz in a classical mindspace isn't for everybody. But musicianship at this level of mastery is quite a sight ? and sound. The film significantly benefits from bassist Steve Rodby's directing/editing role. Because he's so familiar with the orchestration of the piece, which is divided into four sections, his precise cuts correspond to the music's directional changes; he knows just the right moment for a close-up of Metheny's fretboard or Mays's keys. However, it'd be nice if Rodby had added at least one shot of the audience, whose absence diminishes the live feeling and leaves you wondering what jazz enthusiasts in South Korea look like.
SARAH BRIGHTMAN Diva: The Video Collection (Angel) Rating: NNN
I can't say that I'm any kind of a fan of Sarah Brightman's work; the bulk of her music on this video collection reeks with a cheese factor greater than an ocean full of Gorgonzola. But I suppose that's the clincher for her fans, who revel in the neo-romantic, New Age and Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque orchestrations and Harlequin romance lyrics. In terms of bang for the buck, Diva is a generous offering ? 21 full-length videos complete with commentary from the charming singer. The videos themselves range from laughably dated (the cringe-inducing modern-rock redux of Phantom Of The Opera and Starship Troopers, featuring decades-old footage from the singer's disco days reformatted to loosely fit into a music video for the recent sci-fi movie) to more slickly produced clips like Captain Nemo, which, conceptually, would make most Sarah McLachlan videos seem cool by comparison. If you're into multiple videos that appear filmed through Vaseline-smeared lenses and include underwater interpretive dancing, then Diva should blow your fucking face off. In a good way.