November 28, 2007
DISC OF THE MONTH
The Other Side Of The Mirror: Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
If nothing else, Murray Lerner's documentary The Other Side Of The Mirror: Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 provides a fuller context to the old legend that Bob Dylan was "booed off the stage at Newport" when he performed with a rock band in 1965. Lerner's film consists entirely of performances and interviews shot over three years of the festival, with no additional contextual material. We're just asked to watch Dylan develop, and to interpret his changes ourselves.
In 1963, Dylan's already a big fish in a small pond, presenting a baby face and rounded nasal tones as he pulls the audience through witty, catchy songs like "Talkin' World War III Blues" and "Who Killed Davey Moore?" A year later, he's dropped much of the political material and looks pot-blasted and puckish, singing "It Ain't Me Babe" to a throng of idolaters and a few budding skeptics. By '65, the throng has become an unruly mob, as Dylan plugs in and roars through almost uncomfortably loud versions of "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Maggie's Farm." And yes, he hears boos—a lot of boos.
But then after the show ends and the MC asks if the crowd wants Dylan to come back for an encore, they roar their approval, and Dylan returns for a short acoustic set, sweating and blinking like a pill-head, but giving a mesmerizing performance to a crowd more appreciative than the earlier boos might've indicated. Between Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home and Dylan's own Chronicles, there've been a lot of efforts to demystify the mercurial singer-songwriter over the last couple of years. But The Other Side Of The Mirror, coupled with Todd Haynes' offbeat biopic I'm Not There, reiterates what an odd and polarizing figure Dylan was throughout the '60s. He lived a pop music lifetime in three years at Newport. And he was just getting started. –Noel Murray Grade: A-
In the category of "Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band That Doesn't Have A Decent Greatest Hits Collection," there's really one clear winner: AC/DC, which has released a few semi-anthologies and a lot of live material, but has yet to put out a CD with the word "ultimate" or "definitive" in the title. Until that day comes, aspiring fans and longtime devotees can make do with the generous double-DVD set Plug Me In (Columbia), which spans the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras, gathering up live performances from Australian TV and elsewhere. Plug Me In charts AC/DC's progression from unusually hard-edged post-glam posers to full-on heavy metal gods, while showing how they maintained more affinity with Chuck Berry than Black Sabbath. And don't miss the footage of a Superman-shirted Scott wailing on the bagpipes during an Australian Bandstand performance of "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll." Grade: A-
AC/DC, "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll"
Even though Bob Mould has had a formidable run with Hüsker Dü, Sugar and on his own, the 90-minute career-spanning concert captured on Circle Of Friends (MVD) gets a little tiring, in large part because it's more or less one relentless roar from start to finish. But credit is still due to Mould's current backing band, which jumps from peak to peak without missing a step. (Mould's sidemen also provide a necessary service in a pre-show featurette by describing how their notoriously cranky boss has mellowed over the years). Mould fans will want to pick up this DVD mainly to dip into its stunner moments, like a version of Zen Arcade's "Chartered Trips" that's so ferocious it makes the camera vibrate. Grade: B
Bob Mould, "A Good Idea"
Given how collage-oriented Negativland is, its music should be pretty conducive to experimental video interpretation, but too few of the filmmakers participating in the band's Our Favorite Things (Other Cinema/Seeland) DVD collection venture beyond the obvious avant-garde clichés: repurposed footage from industrial films, ironically cutesy animation, et cetera. Then again, even Negativland itself is often better at ideas than execution—and sometimes those ideas are enough. So even though the newly created video for the now-two-decade-old song "Christianity Is Stupid" stacks up predictable images from passion-play crucifixions and old anti-communist propaganda films, the song and the video both still do their job, exemplifying how public declarations can be appropriated and inverted. Grade: B-
Negativland, "The Bottom Line"
The 1968 British TV documentary All My Loving (Voiceprint) will frustrate those hoping for extended looks at acts like The Who, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, all of whom appear only in passing, either in interview clips or as part of one of director Tony Palmer's "radical" montages—the ones that throw in images of Vietnam and the Holocaust for no clear reason. But All My Loving does feature some solid footage of "The Cream" and "The Pink Floyd"—as they're referred to in the movie—as well as some fascinating attacks on the late '60s British rock scene from social critics who call the music grotesque and mercernary, and defenses from some who point out that The Beatles spent longer on Sgt. Pepper's than Mozart spent writing Don Giovanni. Grade: B
For more early Pink Floyd action, The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story (Voiceprint) functions as a straight biography of the band's Barrett years, with new reminiscences from Barrett's former mates and a plethora of archival material, including full-length performances and lots of Pink Floyd music. The documentary is especially good at defining Barrett as a regular bloke with a keen pop sense, who got caught up in the possibilities of the psychedelic era and had his mind blown. Bonus features include interviews and performances by such Barrett devotees as Robyn Hitchcock, who delivers a haunting version of "Dominoes." Grade: B+
Pink Floyd, "Bike"
Dreams To Remember: The Legacy Of Otis Redding (Stax/Reelin' In The Years) doesn't have much to offer as a documentary, since its talking-head interviews tend to towards the dull and pat, with little specificity about the material that's the program's real highlight: full-length performances from Redding TV appearances. But it's fascinating to track the evolution of Redding's unusual stage presence, which was based largely on standing in one place and writhing. Redding's voice moved where his body didn't, and when he had his regular Stax/Volt players vamping behind him, there were scarcely any more formidable act around. Grade: B+
Otis Redding, "I Can't Turn You Loose"
Speaking of those Stax/Volt regulars, they stay on stage for the whole of the Oslo concert featured on Stax/Volt Revue 1967 (Stax/Reelin' In The Years), a vintage black-and-white telecast that features the likes of Otis Redding and Eddie Floyd, backed by Booker T & The MGs and The Mar-Keys, who lock into the zone early and rarely rest for the full hour the show runs. Highlights include the musical impressions of Arthur Conley, who does uncanny parodies of other late '60s R&B stars (Redding inclusive), and the inimitable Sam & Dave, who shake through their set like they've been seized by the power of the almighty. Grade: A
VIDEO OF THE MONTH
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights"
Even though the artificially aged music video is as old as MTV itself, The Dap-Kings may be the first band that really benefits from being transported through time back to an old black-and-white TV variety show. This clip could showcase the band more, but it seems churlish to complain when the alternative to insert shots of static musicians is more close-ups of the divine Miss Jones, looking dignified and elegant in a throwback mini-dress, and commanding the viewer's full attention when she blurts out, "Now wait a minute!"
Band Of Horses, "Is There A Ghost" (from The Late Show With David Letterman, 10/18/07)
This exhilarating performance of one of the catchiest songs of 2007 emphasizes how much of the songs' power derives from the interplay of the band members, and the way they gradually transform "Is There A Ghost" from bellowing West Coast country-rock to something more like New Order, working an insistent groove. It's obvious that Letterman digs it too.
The Replacements, "Johnny's Gonna Die" (9/5/81 at 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, MN)
An impossibly young Paul Westerberg has trouble staying in tune while plucking away at The Replacements' first semi-ballad, but he overcomes whatever awkwardness and embarrassment he might be feeling by channeling it all into one great rock 'n' roll scream towards the end. Meanwhile, Bob Stinson—who actually would die, about 10 years later—steps up and nails his too-brief solo, looking for possibly the last time in his musical career like the most sober and competent performer on stage.