Category Archives: DVD Reviews

The Grateful Dead : The Grateful Dead Movie

Perhaps one of the best-known icons of the Grateful Dead, the  dancing skeleton was reworked as Uncle Sam by artist Gary Gutierrez for the opening animation of 1977’s The Grateful Dead Movie, where it dances, jams, and rides a motorcycle through psychedelic  scenery, leading viewers into the live performances at the core of the concert film. Years out of print, The Grateful Dead Movie is back, and the Uncle Sam skeleton’s glorious jig is now even more illuminated, thanks to Blu-Ray technology.

Filmed over a five-night stand in October 1974 at the Winterland Ballroom – and co-directed by frontman Jerry Garcia –  the film documents a high point in Dead lore. It marked the final shows before an extended hiatus, and it also marked the return of drummer Mickey Hart after a three-plus year absence. Take away all of these milestones, though, and what you have is a solid documentary with stellar playing by the band. Choice cuts like “Eyes of the World,” with its cascading breakdowns, and the heart-tugging  “Stella Blue” highlight the performance footage, which are interspersed with film of the crew setting up the Wall of Sound, blissed out audiences reveling during the performances, and often-comical commentary from Deadheads in attendance during the run.

The Blu-Ray release takes The Grateful Dead Movie to another level, though, with remastered audio and restored footage from the original negatives. If that wasn’t enough, a second disc includes 95 more minutes of live footage culled from this run, including meandering, improvisational readings of “The Other One,” which segues into “Spanish Jam” and “Mind Left Body Jam” before concluding, and the classic jam vehicle “Dark Star.”

The Grateful Dead Movie’s return is a reason to celebrate.  It is brighter, clearer, and sounds better than ever, a visual reminder of the magic of the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead Movie is out now on Shout! Factory.

Yes : Symphonic Live

Prog-rock pioneers Yes have never been lacking in sonic texture, and although they had long-desired to play with a symphony, it’s hard not to wonder why.

They made it happen in 2001 in Amsterdam at the Heineken Music Hall while touring behind Magnification, an album that also boasted the accompaniment of a symphony. To commemorate the momentous event, the band filmed the entire performance, and a year later, delivered the DVD Symphonic Live. It has been a decade since the performance, and Yes’ international appeal hasn’t waned, although technology has taken leaps and bounds. So what better way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Symphonic Live than with a Blu-Ray update to the concert release.

Running through over two hours of classic Yes’ compositions and cuts from the then-new Magnification album, the band weaves and winds with prodigious grace. At the center of it all is Steve Howe, whose fretwork shines on each and every track. Stand-out segments include the opening “Close to the Edge” suite, and classics “Starship Trooper,” “I’ve Seen All Good People,” and “Roundabout.” And the contributions of the European Festival Orchestra? Let’s just say that it is a nice addition, but when supporting a band whose sound is so colorful and progressive, their contributions are underwhelming.

The transition from DVD to Blu-Ray is a highlight of the release, the crystal clear visuals emphasizing the multiple camera angles and the massive production. Even the distracting, digitally animated introduction and between-song forays are given new life through the format.

Symphonic Live is an impressive performance, and the playing – particularly that of Howe – is truly worth the price. It reaffirms why Yes’ catalogue is a staple on classic rock radio and will surely remain so for decades to come.

Symphonic Live is out now on Eagle Records.

Soulive : Bowlive – Live at the Brooklyn Bowl

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Peter Shapiro doesn’t simply operate clubs, he creates scenes. The man who fueled the environmentally conscious jam haven The Wetlands Preserve in its later years opened Brooklyn Bowl with partner Charley Ryan in 2009 in a 23,000-square foot former Hecla Iron Works warehouse.   And while bars in New York are a dime a dozen, a rock-venue-cum-bowling-alley is something truly unique. But a rock venue/bowling alley venue that draws local, regional, and national acts with equal aplomb is truly exceptional.

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Drive-By Truckers : The Secret to a Happy Ending

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If any band deserves a happy ending, it is the Drive-By Truckers. For those familiar with the band, it is clear that the spotlight that they currently enjoy has been hard won. And for those who’ve been introduced to the band’s depressed musical realities, there’s no denying that this group not only tells the tales, but bares them readily with every lick and every verse.

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Watermelon Slim and the Workers : Live at the Ground Zero Blues Club

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If you like your blues a little gritty, saucy, and served up in a classic Southern locale, look no further than Live at Ground Zero Blues Club which captures the long-playing Watermelon Slim and the Workers serving up a full evening of hot and spicy fare in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

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John Scofield : New Morning – The Paris Concert

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John Scofield’s career has spanned several eras of jazz music, from his tenure with Miles Davis in the 1980s to his funked-up work with Medeski, Martin & Wood in the late 1990s, and beyond, including a detour on his gospel-infused 2009’s Piety release. And like any good musical traveler, the veteran player has a sound that encapsulates all of these experiences.

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Phish : Coral Sky

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A marathon show spanning three sets, with one featuring a spot-on reading of the Talking Heads seminal album Remain In Light, would leave most bands reeling for weeks. But Phish have never been like most bands, and the fiery playing that punctuated their Halloween 1996 show in Atlanta, Georgia, continued two days later when the quartet – augmented by percussionist Karl Perazzo (Santana) – landed at Coral Sky Amphitheater in West Palm Beach, Florida, for a breathtaking show that is now unveiled as the two-DVD set Coral Sky.

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It Might Get Loud

it_might_get_loud.jpegPutting together three of rock music’s most legendary guitar players into the same room, the documentary It Might Get Loud is an exploration into the various innovations and timeless relevance of the instrument. U2’s The Edge, White Stripe and Raconteur Jack White and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page assemble for an improvised summit that seeks to understand how the electric guitar came to define blues and rock, and where it may be leading the music of the future.

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