Category Archives: DVD Reviews

Robert Plant & the Band of Joy : Live from the Artists Den

Robert Plant’s late-career surge is as much about his music as it is the people that have joined him. First, he reemerged with bluegrass maven Alison Krauss for the Grammy-winning Raising Sand (2007), and then welcomed some of Americana’s heaviest hitters to create the lauded, Grammy-nominated follow-up, Band of Joy (2010).

In February 2011, the Band of Joy – Plant, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Darrell Scott, Marco Giovino and Byron House – took the stage at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The performance was filmed for a Live from the Artists Den broadcast and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD filed under the same name . The career-spanning set includes reworked Led Zeppelin classics (“Black Dog,” “Tangerine,” “Gallows Pole”), early solo material (“In the Mood”), and choice cuts from the most recent album, Band of Joy (“Angel Dance,” “House of Cards”). And while Plant’s compositions are as energetic and polished as ever, the highlights of the performance appear in the middle of the set, when the show takes a “songwriters in-the-round” feel with each of Miller, Griffin, and Scott stepping into the spotlight to deliver their own vocal performances, including an impressive reading of the classic “A Satisfied Mind.”

Live from the Artists Den is a highly satisfying souvenir from one of 2011’s best tours. It brilliantly captures the sights, sounds, and magic of this stunning collective.

Live from the Artists Den is out now on Universal.

The Raconteurs : Live at Montreaux 2008

On record, Jack White takes a backseat to Brendan Benson in The Raconteurs. Live, it is another story.

In 2008, the quartet took the stage at the Montreaux Jazz Festival  in support of its sophomore album, Consolers of the Lonely, and created a ruckus with concise playing, tight harmonies, and plenty of attitude, to boot. The 16 song performance was captured on film, and is now available for all to see on Live at Montreux 2008

The film footage boasts an immediacy that is refreshing, and the performance itself bristles with energy, bolstered by White’s enigmatic stage presence. Pulling from the band’s two albums – Broken Boy Soldiers and the aforementioned Consolers of the Lonely – the band is crisp, expressing the rocking balance the more reserved, verbose delivery of Benson, and White’s rock star visage. Standouts include the electric “Consoler of the Lonely” opener, the hook-positive “Old Enough,” and the bopping “Steady as She Goes.”

Live at Montreaux 2008 basks in the songwriting finesse of Brendan Benson, but catches fire with the showmanship of Jack White. This is a supergroup for the ages, and onstage, the power is undeniable.

Live at Montreaux 2008 is out now on Eagle Rock.




Talking Heads : Chronology

Chronology  follows Talking Heads from their early days in the mid-’70s through the rise in popularity in the early ‘80s, and finally to their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction performance in 2002.  The 18 primary tracks are all over the board, from short snippets of performances in clubs to entire renditions of songs played on TV. While it isn’t in exact chronological order, the rough approximation doesn’t hurt the flow.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the DVD is the bonus material, particularly the South Bank Show which is a 35 minute segment including performances of seven songs, interwoven with off-the-cuff interview segments with each band member

The first four tracks are gritty and rough, recorded in black and white. While they won’t win any awards for cinematography, they are a good jumping off point, highlighting Talking Heads’ humble beginnings as a bar band in New York City playing places like The Kitchen and CBGB.  By the time they get to “The Girls Want to be with the Girls,” the performances are becoming noticeably tighter, and David Byrne is starting to become more animated onstage.

A performance of “Don’t Worry About The Government” recorded for a British TV show in 1978 shows the band becoming more polished and professional, although, based on some of the comments in the later interviews, you wonder if that was perhaps by coincidence more than by design. I found myself joking that some of the TV shows must have had a great wardrobe and makeup crew because the band cleaned up pretty well. That said, their appearance on Saturday Night Live of “Artists Only” was so painful to watch that Joan Rivers and the fashion police should have arrested them immediately after they walked off stage.  Sure, it was 1979, but still …

In contrast to the SNL performance, the American Bandstand rendition of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River” is smooth and relaxed.  And much like the interview segments later in the bonus material, Dick Clark’s attempt to interview David Byrne was comic relief at its best. “Crosseyed and Painless” is perhaps the best track on the DVD, and by this point the band has a full accompaniment of backing vocals and supporting musicians including Bernie Worrell on keyboards.

The bonus material adds an extra dimension to the DVD that would have been sorely missed if it was left off, specifically the South Bank Show. That segment boasts quality music as well insight into the band through the interviews. From Chris Frantz talking about how he approached life on the road to Byrne talking about his attitude towards morality, it shows how humble and genuine the members of the band were, at least in comparison to other so-called celebrities. Jerry Harrison’s rap about going to Harvard segues nicely into Frantz talking about losing interest in academics and Tina Weymouth discussing the band’s beginnings as a trio formed at the Rhode Island School of Design. Weymouth also shares the nugget that the band name was picked out of TV Guide. Byrne’s sincerity is unquestionable when he confesses that, unlike other bands, he just doesn’t have the motivation to keep his clothes ironed or cleaned.

Chronology has some great moments, and is definitely a must-have for fans of the Talking Heads and others looking to explore the band’s musical evolution.

Chronology is out now on Eagle Rock Entertainment.

The Richard Thompson Band : Live at Celtic Connections

Live at the Celtic Connections, Richard Thompson’s first live concert DVD in over five years, is well worth the wait.

Filmed at the Royal Concert Hall in Galsgow, Scotland, the DVD features a full show from last year’s Celtic Connection Festival.  Backed by his touring band, the first set finds Thompson working through material from his latest album, 2010’s Dream Attic. Through 11 of the 13 tracks from the album the experience and familiarity of Thompson’s band is evident. Much of the Grammy-nominated Dream Attic was recorded live with this same band, and their ability to truly get inside of each tune is clear, while Thompson’s masterful guitar work continues to shine front and center.

The second set finds Thompson digging deep into his incomparable archive, or as he describes them with a sly laugh to the crowd, “my greatest hits with a small ‘h’.”  The career spanning set stretches from Thompson’s first solo album, Henry the Human Fly, with “The Angels Took My Racehorse Away,” through some of his most well known material, including “Wall of Death” from the legendary Shoot out the Lights, “Tear Stained Letter,” and “One Door Opens.” The DVD also includes two bonus tracks from the 2011 Cambridge Folk Festival – “Uninhabited Man” and “Johnny’s Far Away” – which help provide a full over view of Thompson’s unmatched catalog.

Live at Celtic Connections is a chance to see the guitar master at work. It is a reminder of why he is truly one of the greatest guitarists of the last 40 years.

Live at Celtic Connections is out now on Eagle Rock Entertainment.

Grateful Dead : All The Years Combine – The DVD Collection

In the days leading up to and following the birth of my son, I was on a DVD hunt. Anticipating plenty of time at home and eager to fill that space with music for the two of us, I hunted down representative releases from my favorites, but ran into particularly high hurdles when it came to the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead.

Don’t get me wrong, you could find selections from the Dead’s out-of-print video collection, sometimes used, but most of the time new and high-priced. For those embarking on a similar hunt, things just got a bit easier with the release of All the Years Combined: The DVD Collection. Comprised of 14 DVDs and over 38 hours of video, Heads can rejoice. The collection spans many of the Dead’s eras, from the Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux days (The Grateful Dead Movie, The Closing of Winterland), to Brent Mydland (Dead Ahead, Ticket to New Years, Truckin’ Up to Buffalo), to a classic, short period that featured both Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick on keys (View from the Vault II).

This set showcases everything, warts and all. From silly skits to kitschy video effects, from precise playing to flubbed lyrics, the footage shows the magic of the Grateful Dead’s performances through the years. The dancing, motorcycle-riding skeleton segment during the opening of The Grateful Dead Movie still drags out too long, and the footage that emerges during jam segments of the View from the Vault DVDs – clouds, fractals, and the oddly placed stealth bomber – remains distracting. But these are only minor irritants that have minimal impact on the wealth of performance footage here.

All the Years Combined: The DVD Collection is a visual trip down memory lane for those who have followed the band through the years. For those who only know of the Grateful Dead through Sirius XM and spin off band’s like Furthur and The Dead, this collection opens the door to the beauty and magic of a truly amazing and enduring band. Accompanied by a 40-page booklet that includes unreleased photos and new liner notes by Blare Jackson, this box set celebrates the Grateful Dead, and does so at a scale that matches the band’s ever-growing legend.

Included in All The Years Combine: The DVD Collection are The Grateful Dead Movie, The Closing Of Winterland; Dead Ahead; Truckin’ Up To Buffalo; Ticket To New Year’s; Downhill From Here; View From The Vault; View From The Vault Vol. 2; View From The Vault Vol. 3;  View From The Vault Vol. 4; and So Far, a 1987 film that has previously only been available on VHS and laserdisc.  Bonus material includes five previously unreleased live performances from the Grateful Dead archive, a new interview with Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux, and Backstage Pass, the 1992 documentary directed by Justin Kreutzman.

All The Years Combine: The DVD Collection is out April 17 on Shout! Factory. Pre-order is currently available.

Willie Nelson : Live! At the US Festival 1983


The man who told Howard Stern he vaporizes marijuana to “get normal,” who wrote “Crazy,” and who has played the same wonderfully broken-in guitar (Trigger) for his entire career, Mr. Willie Nelson has released a live DVD of one of his best musical performances on Live! At the US Festival 1983. Headlining the US Festival – a festival funded by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak on June 4, 1983, in San Bernadino, California – this performance is a perfect demonstration of the talent, picking prowess, and jamming ability of Willie Nelson at his best.

The show opens with a young Willie playing hot “Whiskey River” licks on a Trigger whose hole isn’t quite as worn in as it is now.  He’s rocking the bandana, the red white and blue patriotic guitar strap, and a stoner’s smile.  Soon, strings are vibrating in quick succession, having no choice but to succumb to Willie’s relentless picking.  From there, the show segues into a medley of Willie’s greatest hits.  With a precision backing band that lets him do his thing with the songs that made him famous, Willie is left to shine and expand upon the standard arrangements of his classic tunes.

Featuring all the hits, plus a guest appearance by fellow outlaw Waylon Jennings, this DVD doesn’t disappoint.  Steadily building to an encore trifecta of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” and “Always on My Mind,” the show ends in classic, spectacular fashion.  Through it all Willie, remains steadfast in his excellence and his ability to rouse a festival crowd with nothing less than his absolute best.  Well done, Willie…well done.

Live! At the US Festival 1983 is out now on Shout! Factory.

U2 : From the Sky Down

U2 are one of the biggest bands in the world, built strong with solid rock songwriting, universal themes, and a willingness to re-invent their sound, which they have done a number of times since emerging from Ireland in 1976. But between the release of the watershed The Joshua Tree (1987) and the epic Achtung Baby (1991), U2 nearly imploded.

From the Sky Down, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim (Waiting for Superman, It Might Get Loud), delves into the tumultuous time within the band that led them to Hansa Studios in Berlin with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to record Achtung Baby. Where this film succeeds is in its honest approach and intimate detail that is culled from live interviews and archival footage. It shows the pain, and it shows the pride; one scene captures a modern day Bono taken aback by the emergence of “One” in its first form, blossoming from a rough take on “Mysterious Ways.” His expression is timeless.

From the Sky Down shows that Kryptonite plagues even the biggest bands. U2 met their match on the road to making Achtung Baby 20  years ago. They won, and the rest is history.

From the Sky Down is out now on Island.

The Rolling Stones : Some Girls Live in Texas ’78

Views of sprawling lines of sweating Texans – mustachioed and bell-bottomed under the sweltering summer sun – introduce Some Girls Live in Texas ’78. But things only get hotter inside the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, when the Rolling Stones take the stage and deliver a scorching set of music to the Fort Worth faithful.

Touring behind Some Girls, the band’s 14th album, the 17 song set is heavy on the material from that album, and that is OK. It marks one of the group’s finest, and with a stripped down, no frills stage set-up, the focus is truly on the music. Mick Jagger is on fire, strutting cocksure across the stage while Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood lock in tightly from the opening notes of the simmering, shimmering “Let It Rock.” This is truly a stand-out moment for the band; an electrifying performance full of grit and playfulness.

The Blu-ray release has been restored from the original film stock, the audio remastered from the original multi-track tapes, and the finished product is simply stunning. As if you needed more proof, Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 gives credence to the long-standing claim that the Rolling Stones are the greatest rock band … ever.

Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 is out now on Eagle Rock.

Widespread Panic : 10/31/2011 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL

Widespread Panic’s 2011 touring season climaxed at an even greater crescendo than previous years, as fans were forewarned that the 2012 calendar would be much abbreviated with a short acoustic tour and vacation stop in Mexico being the only guarantees on the docket. Perhaps for this reason, the “special” shows like Halloween seemed even more unique and enjoyable than usual. Although I wasn’t able to attend the one night stand at the Aragon Ballroom in person, I had the next best thing: a copy of the DVD produced for the band by LiveJam HD. A relatively young company, LiveJam HD has only been in business since 2010, but unlike some of the other outfits that have been hired to shoot video of Widespread Panic concerts in the past, they seem to have a pretty good recipe for success. As I popped the DVD into my Blu-ray player, I watched the show unfold taking a critical eye to not only my opinion of the band’s performance, but the actual production of the DVD, camera-work, video quality, integration with audio sound, etc.

As other show reviewers have opined, the Halloween show this year was definitely fantastic. The setlist was peppered with an equal measure of unexpected bust-outs, oldies-but-goodies, and tried-and-true rock songs. One thing that impressed me is how clear the shots of the band members are, as I was immediately trying to figure out their costumes.  I found myself scratching my head wondering why John Hermann had headphones on (and the even dumber thought – “has he been wearing those all tour?”) until the light bulb went off and I realized he was Steve Bartman, the kid that cost the Cubs a shot at the world series several years back by grabbing a ball that was in play. But aside from getting a very clear look at the band’s various costumes – which isn’t always the easiest thing to do if you are at the show and not close to the stage – the other thing that struck me throughout the show was the very serious and focused demeanor of band members, both individually and as a whole.  If it were not for the impromptu breakdown with the crew at the end, I might have questioned if they were even having a good time.

But the performance was solid throughout, and that’s what counts. And what makes the DVD recording worth watching is that the folks behind the cameras shooting the footage, plus the editors and producers back in the film room doing the editing, actually UNDERSTAND the band.  Thinking back to videos like Panic in the Streets, the film crew was at times so oblivious to the interaction between the band members they would be focused on the wrong guy while somebody else was taking the lead.  That doesn’t happen here. In fact, the quantity of cameras used (eight total) and the wide variety of angles (behind the stage or above it, for example) give a fantastic insight into what’s happening onstage that  a fan pressed up against the rail wouldn’t necessarily see.  The jamming between Hermann and Jimmy Herring during “Bust It Big” is a great example of the cameras locking in on the action, and similarly, the “Chilly Water” sandwich is not only well played, but well chronicled by the cameras as the lead is tossed back and forth from member to member like a giant sonic football.

While the audio output isn’t really the responsibility of the film crew (I assume the band gave them a soundboard feed), it was integrated seamlessly into the video. Again, in probably an unfair comparison to Panic in the Streets, there were moments of that Athens recording when the video and audio footage weren’t even in sync.  It is almost humorous to point that out now, because the DVD product of the Halloween show produced by LiveJam HD is both competently executed and thoughtfully produced. They perfectly capture things like JB’s guttural growl immediately preceding “Time Zones,” or the tone and sound of “Degenerate” which makes it immediately evident that it is a Vic Chesnutt song, even though I hadn’t heard the song before.  As dark and scary Halloween shows go, this one had plenty to like:  more down and dirty bustouts from blues inspired “Tail Dragger” penned by Willie Dixon to “Iron Man” and “Godzilla” sandwich to open the second set which nods to Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, respectively.  Although it almost got lost in the shuffle of other great tunes played on that night, “Wishbone” was played for the first time in over 20 years.  That tune was originally written by Willis Alan Ramsey, a Texas folk and country singer who also fathered “Geraldine and the Honey Bee” which appears on Panic’s Uber Cobra live album.  I had been warned that the slight flex in the floor of the Aragon might cause a problem with shooting video, but you can’t tell from the finished product.  The images are clear and sharp, with the only the glare from the stage lights ever distorting the video, which are the same lights that would be in your face if you were at the show live.

The other touches which make this DVD successful are occasional shots of the crowd and theater throughout the show. It is just enough to give the flavor of the fans and crowd, which is particularly neat on Halloween with everybody in costume, but also important based on the particularly tight bond and energy exchange between the band and its fans. It also highlights what a cool venue the Aragon is with its gothic style architecture and opera style loge sections. And finally, the last noteworthy touch is the great footage of the band, crew, and everybody intermingling onstage to play the cult classic and fan favorite “Werewolves of London” during the encore.  At that point, it is obvious that the band WAS having fun, as was everybody else on stage, in the audience, listening on the Internet “couch tour,” and very likely, fans who will watch the show on DVD in the future.

Aragon Ballroom Chicago, IL 10/31/11 is out now on LiveJam HD.

Cream : Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005

The fanfare surrounding Cream’s reunion in 2005 was as loud as the trio’s final show in 1968, and rightfully so. Over the course of three years, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker, gave the psychedelia of the era their own blues stamp, and then, with one final performance at Royal Albert Hall, they parted ways, their legacy cemented in the annals of rock and roll history.

Thirty-seven years later, Cream took the stage once again at the site of their final performance, older, wiser, and more refined. But it was a limited engagement – four nights at the London, England, space, and an additional three performances at New York City’s Madison Square Garden – and just like that, the trio who penned such classics as “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Badge,” “Politician,” and “White Room,” was gone again.

But that isn’t the end of the story. In the modern era, few occasions this momentous go undocumented, and Cream’s Royal Albert Hall run is no different. Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005 boasts 19 tracks from the reunion shows presented in high definition and directed by Martyn Atkins.

For a band that lay dormant for nearly four decades, Cream deliver a classic set of well-worn rock and roll songs. Beginning with Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” the trio proves that they can still lock-in and let loose, using song structures as mere launch pads for expansive performances. However, they struggle to coalesce, and given the time apart – and the squabbles that have plagued the band – the players seem rigid. That’s not to say that there aren’t high points here. Bruce and Baker roll up a deep groove on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” giving Clapton plenty to solo over, and “Badge” allows Clapton to step forward on vocals, drawing  the most passion from the guitarist over the course of the performances found here.

Yes, I said the “P” word, and while the reunion of Cream is, in itself, remarkable, the passion that fueled the band in its formative years is largely missing. They certainly can wear out Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” but the fire in their eyes – and in their performance – is largely muted. Bonus interviews with the three members of the band  counter this assessment, and even the cantankerous Ginger Baker expresses his initial trepidation about the reunion, and the joy that he ultimately felt playing, even suggesting that they are better than they have ever been. Unfortunately, Bruce spends much of his time during the interview reasoning away the thought of being a nostalgia act at this point, or worse, a tribute band.

All said, Cream: Royal Albert Hall is a good use of time, if anything, to see the interplay of three musicians who set the world on fire in their heyday. Cream diehards may be left lamenting the sure death of the band that they love, but seeing the trio on stage, in crystal clear high definition, running through some classic songs, is nothing short of enjoyable.

Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005 is out now on Rhino/Eagle Rock Entertainment.