DVD documentaries show musicians' hidden side
Your tune buff is feeling in a reflective mood today, thanks to some newly issued, long-form music documentaries. These DVDs don't just let you see and hear a favorite artist performing. The docs share how the musicians came to live and breathe through their work.
Your tune buff is feeling in a reflective mood today, thanks to some newly issued, long-form music documentaries.
These DVDs don't just let you see and hear a favorite artist performing. The docs share how the musicians came to live and breathe through their work.
And there's also a newly unearthed night of Philadelphia Spectrum concert magic to blab about.
PUMP IT UP: Hitting stores today, "It Might Be Loud" (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Blu-ray and DVD, A-) is the most lavishly produced and energizing salute to rock guitar ever captured on film.
The premise is a "summit" meeting of three six-string masters: The Edge, of U2; Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin; and Jack White, of White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather.
But that's just the hook to hang three personal and semi-interlocking (in their common love of blues) histories, tracing Edge from his school bands and coming of age in war-torn Dublin, Ireland, Page back to Swinging Sixties London and White to his gritty origins in Detroit.
ALL THIS JAZZ: While our most enduring musical gift to the world, jazz is often given short shrift by media in the United States. Not so the international conglomerate of companies behind the "Masters of American Music" documentary series (Medici Arts, B+), now out on DVD in digitally remastered form.
Start with the 90-minute overview, "The Story of Jazz," which traces the music's origins to African slaves beating on percussion instruments and playing banjos at New Orleans' Congo Square. Then move on to other episodes focusing on major figures - "Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker," "Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday" and (my personal fave as a creative personality) "Thelonious Monk: American Composer."
Excellent period photos and performance clips (by both focus artists and contemporaries) reveal the environments in which jazz was fostered. Surviving luminaries and family members have memories to share, too (wow, was Parker's second wife, Chan, bitter). And the scripted narratives have been stitched together respectfully by the likes of Parker biographer Gary Giddins.
M.J., ODD WAY: Think of Michael Jackson, "The Life and Times of the King of Pop 1958-2009" (Rock City Entertainment, C-) as a video scrapbook assembled by an obsessive, semi-organized fan. With that mind-set, you might find moments of interest.
Fan-in-the-street interviews and press conferences (like M.J.'s announcement of the London mega-show that would never be) appear to have been shot by Rock City videographers. But most of the good stuff is lifted off TV. Package title notwithstanding, there's very little "history" here. And you won't hear a note of music performed by Jackson.
ROCKIN' WITH ROXY AND LENNON: Curiously, fans and makers of both punk and glam music found interest in Roxy Music, that British art-rock band of the 1970s and '80s fronted by melancholy crooner Bryan Ferry. You'll learn why in "The Story of Roxy Music: More than This" (Eagle Vision, B) as it celebrates their daring hodgepodge of honkin' rock, thumping disco and moody balladry, their flamboyant appearances and sexy album art fantasies.
While D.A. Pennebaker has made some very revealing music docs (like the amazing Bob Dylan exposé, "Don't Look Back") he was kept at arm's length from his subjects on "John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto '69" (Shout! Factory DVD, B).
Still, this hour does boast the only known video of Lennon performing live with the band, including his gurgling wife Yoko Ono (in and out of a cloth bag) and buddy Eric Clapton on guitar on the likes of "Cold Turkey," "Yer Blues" and "Give Peace a Chance." Plus, we get to enjoy a tune each from three Lennon influences - Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard - and to hear Ono explain the origins of the "Plastic" branding.
ZAPPED IN PHILLY: Had he not succumbed to cancer, Frank Zappa would be turning 69 today. To honor the occasion, the Zappa Family Trust is sharing "Philly '76" (Vaulternative Records, B+), a bristling double-CD dose of Zappa's high brow/low brow, funky/skunky rock expressionism recorded at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
Expect lotsa heady guitar noodling, snarky/comedic celebrations of female anatomy and the occasional local reference. And note to Zappaphiles: This is the only 16-track recording of the lineup that also included soul-styled singer Bianca Odin, guitarist Ray White, keyboards/violinist Eddie Jobson (also of Roxy Music fame!) bassist Patrick O'Hearn and drummer Terry Bozzio. Exclusively at www.zappa.com.