DVD

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – Video Archive (1995)

Part Eighteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Video Archive (1995, 2001 Mercury DVD)

Only two years since their last home video, Def Leppard went back in for round three.  There were not many new video clips waiting to be released, just the four from Retro-Active and Vault, plus an alternate version.  Mostly, this Video Archive focused on live material.

Def Leppard’s big hometown gig in Sheffield was something they were very proud of, and so it appears here and on the previous album’s Vault double disc edition  Well, some of it anyway.  Nine songs were on Vault; you can watch eight of those on video here.  (The ninth, “Photograph” is available on Visualize.)  The whole show has never been released (22 songs total) but this small handful can be had.  The hometown gig had 40,000 people going nuts for Leppard, something Joe mentions in the opening interview.

No shirts for Phil right from the first song, “Let’s Get Rocked”.  The editing in this concert relies on minimal gimmicks, but the choppy slo-mo bits probably were not necessary.  It also seems like the songs aren’t in order, because at the outdoor gig it gets dark and then light again.

On CD, “Armageddon It” comes second.  Here, it’s “Foolin'”.  I like when the camera switches to Phil when Joe sings “take your fill”.  Take your “Phil”?  Solid version of “Foolin'” and nice to see it with Vivian picking away for the first time on video.  “Rocket” features a cool light show, but what’s cool here is seeing Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell taking turns soloing.  Getting the chance to appreciate the differences between the two.  It’s definitely fun seeing Viv do the ol’ two-handed tapping like it was the 80s again.  Then Joe goes into “Whole Lotta Love”, before “Rocket” resumes its course.

The acoustic B-side “Two Steps Behind” is introduced as being from their next album Retro-Active.  The crowd already knows it.  The atmosphere goes from campfire singalong to party mode in seconds flat as “Armageddon It” begins.  Vivian does an admirable job of Steve Clark’s original solo – and then Joe Elliott jumps down to crowd level!

The familiar drum beat to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is greated with the appropriate “hey! hey! heys!” necessary to start the song.  Viv is really having fun on this one, running and sliding across the stage.  “Rock of Ages” is a natural song to follow it with.  Rick “Sav” Savage doubles on bass and keys.  Some good shots here of Rick Allen doing his thing on his specialised drum kit.  Finally, “Love Bites” closes this portion of the program dramatically.  Fantastically fitting solo work by Viv, and Sav on keys one more time.

The next section of the DVD focuses on the music videos released since “Visualize”, beginning with their latest hit “When Love & Hate Collide”.  It’s here in two forms, but the straight performance is better than the “Epic 8 minute version”, which is bogged down by boring story and dialogue.  The simple, stripped version of the video suits the 90s even though it doesn’t really fit the string-adorned track.  “Two Steps Behind” was a cool grainy clip, featuring a string section this time!  The backwards-walking footage is fascinating and trippy.  Next is the rarely seen “Action” filmed on tour.  Joe’s sportin’ a goatee this time.  Toto, I don’t think we’re in the 80s anymore!  Also rarely seen, “Miss You In A Heartbeat”.  It’s the version with piano & band, and Joe’s tinklin’ the ivories, goatee still intact.  It’s like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, as each band member is playing in beautiful mansion settings.

The highlight of the video is the final section:  Def Leppard unplugged at the Wapantake Club back in Sheffield, 1995.  In the interview footage, Phil says that he enjoys the acoustic setting because it proves that Def Leppard’s famous backing vocals are indeed live.  Meanwhile, Rick Allen appreciates the challenge of using an acoustic drum kit again.  But what’s really special is that the last time Def Leppard played the Wapantake, it was 1978.  Their triumphant return in 1995 is really cool and really should be released in CD form.  Fortunately it was filmed!

Once again, it’s “Two Steps Behind” but without a screaming crowd.  It’s just Def Leppard in a very packed but respectfully quiet room.  “Armageddon It” is bouncy, and the audience responds.  This take is one of the best versions of “Armageddon It” out there; just fun and perfectly performed in the right setting.  Then the new song:  “When Love & Hate Collide” was made available in live form right here mere weeks after its single release.  The acoustic setting works, but novelty aside, Def Leppard have better ballads.  “Animal” and “Sugar” bring the party atmosphere back to the Wapantake.  “Animal” works great acoustically, and “Sugar” takes on a different form.  Phil makes a good point about the backing vocals.  It’s great to hear them live and bare like this because they’re stellar!

Even though Joe said that was the last song, he lied because for the first time, and “for a laugh”, it’s “Ziggy Stardust”!  Joe says it’s the first time they ever played it live as a band in front of a crowd, so that’s special.  It’s also a brilliant version which doesn’t hurt.  Leppard nailed it with pure love.

But wait, there’s more!  The closing interviews discuss the new album Slang:  “Up to date”, “stuck in the 90s”, “different direction”, “complete different turn”, “experimental” are a selection of words used…but then there’s a preview.  Live at the Wapantake, and only for a few seconds, is the new song “All I Want Is Everything”.  One chorus and that’s all we get, though the folks at the gig that night heard the whole song.  The viewing audience at home only got a taste.  Not enough to judge by.  Not enough to get a feeling of what Def Leppard meant when they used words like “experimental”.

We’d find out soon enough.

The end credit music is an instrumental version of “When Love & Hate Collide” with only piano and strings and no band. Now that would be something cool to include in a future box set.

4/5 stars

 

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault

Next:

19. “Slang” (UK single)

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – Visualize (1993)

Part Sixteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD –  Visualize (1993, 2001 Mercury DVD)

Perhaps a tad prematurely, immediately after Adrenalize had given all it had in terms of singles, Def Leppard released the spiritual sequel to 1989’s home video Historia.  That thorough collection of videos was composed of music from four albums, while Visualize only covered one (and a bit).  As such, this time they added interviews and interesting TV clips to fill out the run time.

Since Historia closed on “Love Bites”, it’s only fitting that Visualize opens with the next video, “Rocket”.  As far as cool 80s videos go, “Rocket” was a success.  It was even an educational slideshow of all Def Leppard’s musical heroes!  It’s also very very 80s, with lots of TV sets hanging about.

Then Visualize takes a different track.  The next big event in the lives of Def Leppard was a sad one:  the passing of Steve Clark.  He is commemorated with TV clips, interviews and an excellent all-Steve video for “Switch 625”.  Joe Elliott laments that all Steve had in his life was a guitar and a bottle, but at least he left something worthwhile behind — the music.

Interview tracks are interspersed between music videos.  Rick Allen discusses his drum kit and how he uses his left leg to do what he used to with his arm.  Then there’s a surprising video of a live Ben E. King TV performance, featuring his new backing band, Def Leppard.  “Stand By Me” is not the complete clip but enough to show you that Leppard could do it!  Rick Savage plays a strange 80s synth bass guitar, and Steve Clark was still with them.  Another partial clip, “Jean Genie” with Joe, Ronnie Wood and the Hothouse Flowers, is cool but just a snippet.  Same with an acoustic version of “Ziggy Stardust”.  Shame they couldn’t use the full tracks.  The origin of the track “From the Inside” is discussed with a short clip as well.

“Let’s Get Rocked” is opened by an amusing interview with Sav about filming in front of a blue screen.  Indeed, “Let’s Get Rocked” was a pioneering video, if terribly dated.  It’s also their only video as a four-piece band without Steve.  The next interviews address this — the hiring of Vivian Campbell.  His big debut was the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in early 1992.  His music video debut with the band was on the mediocre “Make Love Like A Man”.  Its gimmick was a big screen behind the band; pretty standard stuff.  The rarely seen “I Wanna Touch U” follows, with Leppard once again live in the round!  The fake crowd screams are distracting but the video is cool, if not triumphant.

The big ballad “Have You Ever Wanted Someone So Bad” has a gothic look, but oh so 90s in style.  The picture-in-picture (some colour, some black and white) look was overdone.  A small batch of interviews from the period are followed by “Tonight”, an excellent understated ballad.  The conceptual side of these videos was getting progressively foggy, but when they’re on the screen in start black and white, the band look cool.  “Heaven Is” was another rarely seen clip, and perhaps it’s better that way.  As always, the band stuff looks great but the conceptual shots are just bizarre.  Ditto “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”.  Dunno what’s up with the naked people or Cliff Burnstein playing baseball with a window.  A true shame, as this semi-ballad is a Def Leppard masterpiece of a song, simply top drawer.  It deserved better.  When the video came out, I was so disappointed. “What have they done?”  We deserved better.

“Two Steps Behind”, “Love Bites” and “Photograph” are live, from a hometown gig in Sheffield.  More of the show would be made available on a 1995 home video release called Video Archive.

Finally, the future:  Joe says there’s a long long way to go, not realizing he just wrote a future Def Leppard hit song title!  Collectively, they were excited to write together.  Rick Savage says it’s “Phase 2”, and Joe Elliott employs another Star Trek analogy about exploring.  There was plenty of creative energy in the band and it’s obvious.  But don’t hit “eject”!  Stay tuned for the post-credit scene!  An important message from Joe.

Visualize was one of those sequels that just came too soon.  Interview material is valuable and desirable, but Historia played more like a visual album.  It was a better entertainment experience.  Visualize is choppier.  It wouldn’t matter so much if all the songs were complete, but the TV performances are just teases of complete tracks.  Unfortunate.

3/5 stars

 

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active

Next:

17. Vault / Limited Edition Live CD

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – In the Round In Your Face (1989)

Part Eleven of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – In the Round In Your Face (1989 VHS, 2001 Universal DVD)

When I was a kid, in love with music and watching every video on television, there was only one concert I wanted to see.  Grade 10, going on grade 11, the only show I craved was Def Leppard.  Their innovative stage in the round, in the center of the arena, seemed like the ultimate package.  But I was just too young and had no one to go with, so I never made it.  Fortunately, Def Leppard released a home video to satisfy those of us who could not be there.  I rented the tape from Steve’s TV and made a copy.  It was the best I could do on my allowance.  To make up for it, I bought it three times since on different formats (VHS, DVD, CD).

I popped the tape into the VCR with anticipation.  A sped-up collage of the stage assembly flashed before my eyes, to the sound of “Rocket”.  A massive undertaking, but this was just pre-amble.  The show was about to begin!

It was just as I had heard about in the highschool halls.  The stage was draped on all four sides by massive Hysteria curtains.

“I know what you’re thinking,” says Clint Eastwood over the sound system.  “‘Did he fire six shots, or only five?’  Well to tell you the truth you know in all is excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.”  A laser show begins dancing on the curtains.  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question.  ‘Do I feel lucky?’  Well do ya, punk (punk punk punk)?”  

Guitars replace the echo of Eastwood’s voice.

“I said welcome to my show!” screams Joe Elliot, teasing us before the curtains finally crash down and “Stagefright” kicks off the proceedings!  Even in my armchair, there’s still goosebumps.

Def Leppard rip through “Stagefright”, completely in control, on fire as hot as their early days.  Each member throws shapes on stage while Rick Allen keeps the whole thing moving, on drums in the middle.  Leppard’s stage is not flat, with catwalks and staircases for the band to run and jump all over, which they do.  Overhead cameras capture everything, from every angle.  Nobody but Allen is confined to one space, as the band leap from place to place in the name of entertainment.

Continuing with the Pyromania, “Rock! Rock!” keeps the pace going at full speed.  It brings a tear to the eye, seeing Steve Clark do his trademark whirlwind moves on stage, accented by his red scarf and made only more perfect in the round setting.  A reminder that this was it — the last high point of the Clark era.  Fortunately captured on camera and tape.

The first new song, and break in tempo, is “Women”.  This is the famous version released as a single B-side with the “We got everything we need!” intro.  You know it, you love it, it’s legendary:  the live version of “Women”.  Rick Savage mans the keyboard station for the time being while the lights get dimmer.  Lots of echo on this one to duplicate the album ambience.  “Too Late For Love” — a damn fine version — brings a ballady vibe, which they then lean into fully on an early appearance of “Hysteria”.  The live version of “Hysteria” is lengthier with an extended bass intro.  It feels like Def Leppard are a band with four frontmen, with the amount of shape-throwing going on here!  And, for a moment, Joe Elliott on rhythm guitar!  A funny little 80s axe with no headstock it is, locking down the riff while Steve and Phil embark on a glorious dual-guitar harmony solo.

Steve Clark gets a mini-solo to open “Gods Of War”, a Leppard epic that really shines in the live setting.  We always thought it should have been the 8th Hysteria single.  Rick Savage on acoustic guitar during the outro.  The lights blast at the end, simulation “the bomb” and the band exist the stage as the lights go black.  It’s a perfect transition to the gunshot sound effects that open “Die Hard the Hunter”.  Lighters up!  Off goes Phil’s shirt.  This track is a return to the tempo of the opening duo, all three being from Pyromania.

Indeed, it is time to address the setlist.  You may have noticed all the tracks are from Pyromania and Hysteria thus far.  There is nothing from On Through the Night, and only one from High N’ Dry:  “Bringing On the Heartbreak”.  “This is one of our earlier songs, that we’re going to play a brand new way for ya,” says Joe.  It seems they were trying to focus on the big albums that people had heard on MTV rather than their heavier metallic roots on this tour.  Phil Collen gets a nice acoustic intro to show off his skills, along with Steve on doubleneck.  This new semi-acoustic version of “Heartbreak” was so the band wouldn’t get sick of the song; it’s interesting anyway.

“Foolin'” ushers in a long stream of big, big hits.  Steve’s still rockin’ the doubleneck.  Then “Armageddon It” is nice and fresh.  Much of this footage will be familiar to fans of the music video.  “Animal” is tight, and received with a rapturous applause.  Lots of girls in the front row dancing to this one.

There’s a touching moment in the “Pour Some Sugar On Me” intro when Joe says that the return of Rick Allen “the Thundergod” on drums was the biggest “up” that the band ever had.  They then make easy work of the hit single.  Phil takes a solo rip on the fretboard before “Rock of Ages”, and then of course the obligatory long audience singalong section.  (“You can do better than that!”)  The encore “Photograph” closes the show, and a great song to do it with.  Shirts are no longer required where Joe and Steve are concerned.

This video was expertly directed by Wayne Isham.  It is simply one of the best shot and edited live concerts available on DVD.  It’s also – sadly – a document of the last stand for this lineup of the band.  They had hit the top.  Unfortunately you can never stay.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

 

Next:

12. The Wait for Adrenalize (Record Store Tales)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rocks Donington 2014 (CD/DVD)

AEROSMITH – Rocks Donington 2014 (2015 Universal 2 CD/1 DVD set)

Aerosmith enter the stage as the sun at Donington makes its final descent.  Opening with the stalwart “Train Kept-A-Rollin'”, Steven Tyler leaps, covered by a traditional native headdress.  (Strangely nobody screamed “cultural appropriation!” in 2014.)  It’s off before he can start twirlin’ across the stage anyway.  Though desiccated, the band are cookin’ like a group 1/3 of their age.   Brad Whitford takes a welcome solo on “Train” and the band look happy to be up there.

Without missing a beat, Aerosmith travel forward in time two decades to “Eat the Rich”.  At first it sounds as if Tyler’s voice can’t hack it but then he’s right back in the game.  Nice to see Joe employing a whammy bar, but has the young crowd any idea what Grey Poupon is?  Tyler throws down a solid burp before the skippable “Love in an Elevator”.  His older, rougher voice gives it a tougher vibe but it’s overplayed radio filler now.

It’s a string of Geffen hits during this portion of the show.  “Cryin'”…interesting only because the band thought they had to play it for the millionth time.  “Jaded” has the stage bathed in purple but it’s Aero by the numbers.  Tyler spends the end of the song hanging out with some girls in the front row.  But when Joe Perry starts the growling drone of “Livin’ on the Edge”, things come back to life.  The song still has teeth.

The Geffen hits are interrupted by the legendary funk of “Last Child”, and then we see why this band is really special.  It’s not just Tyler and Perry, but it’s the sweet jam that the five of them make together when they really get down.  Brad Whitford is the captain of this particular ship, taking us to the green waters of Mt. Funk with Mr. Joey Kramer in the engine room.  Highlight of the show.

Aerosmith couldn’t have shown less enthusiasm for their newest album Music from Another Dimension.  “Freedom Fighter” with Joe Perry on lead vocals is the only new song presented.  Tyler’s not even on stage for it, but he’s back for “Same Old Song and Dance”.  Kramer’s absolutely the backbone, with his pal Tom Hamilton on bass.  That necessary piano part is provided by Buck Johnson near the back of the stage.  But they just can’t keep playing oldies without giving the kids a hit, it seems.  “Janie’s Got a Gun” is overdue to be retired.  It’s not the band, who are at 110%, it’s just the song and the years.

“Toys in the Attic” is like a sudden wake-up!  Second best tune of the night and no small thanks to Tommy and Joey on rhythm.  Unfortunately all this momentum is spent by playing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which should be buried and never resuscitated.  But what do we know, Doningon goes absolutely nuclear for the movie hit ballad.  Fortunately, Steven’s favourite Aerosmith song, “No More No More” is just what we needed to keep the train a-rollin’.  You just have to listen to the guys play and interact with each other to appreciate what makes ’em special, but it’s trippy seeing a big passenger jet landing in the middle of the song.

“Come Together” belongs to Aerosmith as much as it belongs to the Beatles now.  Their version is their own jam.  Unfortunately this perfect moment is ruined by the robotic “Dude Likes Like a Lady”.  Moving on to “Walk This Way”, an oldie but surely just as familiar.  It’s certainly just as cool, especially when Tyler starts playing loose with the words.

The first encore is also the only serious deep cut of the night, an abbreviated “Home Tonight”, followed by “Dream On”.  It’s kind of cheesy when Steven changes the words to “Cream on, cream until your jeans are blue.”  “Sweet Emotion” (with Tom bass solo) and “Mama Kin” complete the night, with the ravishing applause from a crowd of 80,000, breaking curfew to do it.

After a chant of “fuck curfew!” the band launch into “Mama Kin” with the energy of a first song instead of an after-hours closer.  And that’s the proof that there’s nothing wrong with Aerosmith aside from some question of how many hits you need to play vs. deep cuts.  The engine still motors ahead like they haven’t been through multiple splits and illnesses.  Long live Aerosmith!

The concert is well edited with excellent camera angles, relying on minimal slow-motion gimmicks.

3.5/5 stars

 

DVD REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena  (DVD – Version 2.0 sourced from original 8mm tape)

The Four Horsemen were so fucking good, and this DVD really is the proof.  Man, how cool did they look?  Frank C. Starr, rocking the stage all confident in his pirate shirt, black gloves, and white sneakers.  A look I admittedly tried to emulate in the 1990s.  Haggis wonders how this “guido car mechanic from Long Island” managed to end up opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd?  Because he was born to be there!

The video quality is surprisingly good for an audience bootleg.  The camera is high in a balcony, but close enough to the stage to get some great shots.  The camera moves around and zooms in from its vantage point, getting clear images of pretty much the whole band except the “big fucking Yeti” behind the drum kit.  The video isn’t all that grainy, and there’s a consistently entertaining commentary by guitarist Haggis!  He’s very grateful to whoever smuggled a suitcase-sized video camera into the arena to film the band with such care.

Opening for Skynyrd, Dimwit Montgomery (the aforementioned Yeti) swiftly kicks things into motion with “’75 Again”.  According to Haggis, the band were practising their “big stage rock star posing”, something he learned from the Cult.  Onto “Let It Rock”, the groove is honed and the band is synced up like conjuring “the ghost of Bon Scott”.  Frank Starr and Dave Lizmi are the most mobile of the band, moving from one side of the stage to the other, back and forth, while the others tend to stay put.  Haggis wonders how Lizmi could hear himself solo when his amps were on the opposite side of the stage!  Though the tune starts as a groove, it quickly turns into a blitz.

Onto “Hothead”, a track partly stolen from Humble Pie, says Haggis.  Apparently nobody noticed.  Frank’s in total rock star mode, just killing it vocally.  Then a cover of Savoy Brown’s “Can’t Get Next to You”, the band settle into a low groove.  An excuse for Lizmi to show off his stuff, but any excuse is a good excuse.  When he solos, he owns the stage.  You can see him break a string mid-solo; he just sweeps it out of his way and keeps going.

Moving on to “Wanted Man” (the first song recorded for Nobody Said It Was Easy).  Frankie is just fun to watch.  He truly was a great frontman.  Lizmi’s solo is out of this world, completely different from the album version.  A shirtless and tattooed Haggis is so skinny he looks like he should be hooked up to an IV instead of a guitar.  But enough with the deep cuts.  It’s time for the hits:  “Nobody Said It Was Easy” and “Rockin Is Ma Business”.  Why was this band not huge?  They were so fucking good and their songs were fucking brilliant!

Ironic fact I learned:  the man named after a pudding made of a sheep’s innards was a vegetarian.

This DVD can be acquired directly from the Four Horsemen store.  It is certainly worth it, even if you already own the Death Before Suckass CD.  It’s a different show with a similar setlist, but the audio seems superior.  The commentary seals the deal.  Essential Four Horsemen buy.

4/5 stars

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
  5. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  6. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
  7. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  8. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

Coming next:  Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (CD with bonus tracks)

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Stand Up (2 CD & DVD Edition)

JETHRO TULL – Stand Up (Originally 1969, 2010 2 CD & DVD Chrysalis Collector’s Edition)

Stand Up, from its wonderful cover art (including a fun Jethro Tull pop-out!) to the music in the grooves, is probably my favourite Tull platter. One basic reason is that it sounds like a transitional album, and I’m often drawn to those. It combines the remnants of the blues jams that they specialized in from the Mick Abrahams era (1968’s This Was), and their growing experimental side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and it always sounded great — even better on this new remaster.  Stand Up has since been remixed by the very talented Steven Wilson (2016’s Elevated Edition), but if you wanted a CD copy of the original unaltered mix, this 2010 edition is what you need.  (This mix is available on a DVD in the Elevated Edition, but not CD, and they each contain different bonus material.)

“A New Day Yesterday” has the task of opening this new era of Jethro Tull on LP, and it maintains the blues direction.  Then immediately, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” brings on the hippy side, with bongos, psychedlic jamming and the world’s greatest rock flautist.  “Bourée” proves it, as he jams jazz-rock style along to J.S. Bach.  Only Tull can make Bach swing as they do on “Bourée”.  From the upbeat jamming “Nothing is Easy” to the exotic “Fat Man”, this album begins to open up Tull’s diversity.  “Reasons For Waiting” brings on a lush, orchestrated side of Jethro Tull that some would call pompous and others would call delicate and quaint.  But then they just flat out rock — with flute — on album closer “For a Thousand Mothers”.  It’s truly the first diverse Tull album, going from corner to corner to explore whatever their hearts desired.

The Collector’s Edition contains valuable bonus music aplenty.  The first disc alone doubles the length of the album.   It has every bonus track from the previous 2001 remaster, which are the A and B-sides of two standalone singles.  These are the swinging’ “Living In the Past”,  filler “Driving Song”, the powerful (with horns!) and awesome “Sweet Dream”, and my favourite, “17”.   It adds in a mono single mix of “Living In the Past” with some subtle differences.  Two BBC live sessions are included via four live tracks, including “Bourée”.  There are even amusing radio spots. And that’s just the first disc.

The second disc is an entire concert: Live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 November 1970.  This would make it a show from the Benefit tour, the album which followed Stand Up.  It includes songs from Benefit, such as “Sossity; You’re a Woman”.  It also previews the future Aqualung classic “My God”. It is, of course, a great live show…it’s Jethro Tull in their youth after all!  Hear Ian Anderson go nuts on the flute solo!

Another highlight is “Dharma For One”, stretched out to 13 minutes to include a bonkers Clive Bunker drum solo.  The wicked slidey guitar on “A Song For Jeffrey” is really hot on these tapes too.  By this time, John Evan had joined as Tull’s pianist which adds another dimension.  Check out the intricate work on “With You There to Help Me”.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a bonus DVD which contains a DTS 5.1 mix of the whole concert — audio only, however!  If you have the equipment to play it, then enjoy. I will usually resort back to the stereo mix on CD but the 5.1 mix offers some additional depth.

For “things you will only watch once” (or twice if you’re reviewing your collection), the DVD also includes a 45 minute Ian Anderson interview from 2010 to check out.  The split with Mick Abrahams is one of the most interesting parts though the story of the impasse is familiar.  It simply boiled down to styles, and Ian didn’t want to be limited to just one.  As such, he considers Stand Up to be the first real Jethro Tull album; the first to tentatively embark on their world-wide musical journey.  Of course Mick had to be replaced, and Ian discusses three guitarists that tried out, including you-know-who.  Martin Barre was chosen of course, given a second chance after a poor first meeting.

Barre’s furious solo work on Stand Up‘s blistering “We Used to Know” more than justifies the choice.

The packaging is gorgeous, coming packed in a thick, sturdy digipack.  Artwork like this deserves a proper showcase, and unless you buy an original LP, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

5/5 stars

#890.5: Easter in the Age of Covid, 2.0

It didn’t come as a surprise when the province of Ontario went back into the “grey zone” again last week.  But sad to say, when I asked myself “How will this change my daily routine?,” I had to admit that it wouldn’t.  Easter wasn’t that different from last year.  I did some live streaming, I did some listening, I did some writing.

Actually I did a lot of listening and writing.  Andy Curran (Coney Hatch, Soho 69, Caramel) will be on the show this Friday April 9.  The guy is fount of rock knowledge so this will be quite a tour-de-force, and I have been doing my research.  I’ve been listening to Coney Hatch and solo Andy, on repeat.  I have three Rock Candy remasters here with valuable liner notes and bonus tracks.  I’ve been reading.  Deke will be in seventh heaven getting to talk to one of his heroes.  It’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s one reason I do this.  It’s fun.

Friday afternoon I went over to my parents’ house to pick up some mail.  Mail theft became a serious issue last year so now I have my mail delivered elsewhere to be collected.  In the mail were two Star Trek movies that I haven’t seen in a long time.  Two years ago, I made the mistake of donating all my Star Trek DVDs while doing a big purge.  I said “No big deal, I’ll just buy a Blu-ray set.”  But none of the Blu-ray sets had the features I wanted from the DVDs.  I have been slowly buying them back, and this weekend I got to star Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

It has been literal years since seeing The Voyage Home, or “the one with the whales”.  Perhaps a decade.  What a perfect film, at least as perfect as any movie with time travel conundrums can be.  I smiled and chuckled the whole way through.

As for Khan, I know I streamed it somewhere fairly recently, but it has been just as many years since I watched the extended director’s cut.  It only adds up to a few minutes here and there, but it was all fresh and new to me.  The restored scenes help clarify the identity of young Peter Preston, who dies in the first attack.  “He stayed at his post, when the trainees ran!” mourned Mr. Scott.  A restored line reveals Peter Preston is Scott’s nephew.  “My sister’s youngest,” he says.  “Crazy to get to space.”  Lines such as this add value to the already perfect film.  Others do not.  Additional exposition was probably cut because it wasn’t necessary.  I did like one in which Kirk explains to Spock who David Marcus is.  “That young man is my son”, says Kirk.  The only reply necessary from Spock:  “Fascinating.”

So I had fun.  I made lots of time to play some music.  I listened to Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, and I’m trying to find a way to be objective about reviewing it.  I like it a lot.  But if anybody else with a better voice put out a similar record, would I give it the time of day?  Unlikely.  So there is a certain hypocrisy there that I must address before I attempt to review it.  But I will.  I genuinely like the album.  But I like it on the same level that I like the Peter Criss solo albums:  as a reasonable facsimile of the real article.  A forgery through the lens of somebody I already like and am familiar with.  Easier to digest.

Tonight:  Easter dinner courtesy of Golf’s Steakhouse, via the generosity of my mom who always spoiled us.  Friday night’s live stream was Easter themed, and viewers were shocked at how spoiled we were as kids.  We got great Easter gifts while other kids got a chocolate bunny.  My sister and I didn’t question it, we just went with it!

Thanks mom for dinner tonight.  I ordered a porterhouse.  It’ll be here in 10 minutes.

Happy Easter my friends.

 

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips DVD

Part Four of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

LOUDNESS – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips (1999 Rooms DVD, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The complete Buddha Rock 1997-1999 set comes with the three Loudness albums from that brief era, and also a bonus DVD with the accompanying music videos.  On the back some are listed as “full size” and others “short size” — let’s find out what that means and what Loudness videos looked like in the late 90s.

“Ghetto Machine” opens, with Loudness including a shaven-headed Akira Takasaki performing in a darkened room.  The added static interferance reminds us we are in the 90s when bands like Loudness didn’t have much budget and covered it up with tricks like this.  Masaki appears cold with his big fur hat, but it’s fun to see this version of Loudness on video.  “Evil Ecstasy” has cleaner production, but this is one of the “short size” videos — it’s only about 90 seconds of a pretty cool song.  Too bad because this video is much more watchable.  The funkier “San Francisco” is also one of these short versions, as is “Creatures”.  All of these videos appear to be taped at the same time.  The section of “Creatures” used focuses on the guitar solo.  That’s cool at least.  “Katmandu Fly” is the “full size”, but it’s also only a minute-long instrumental so to call it “full size” is kinda cheatin’.

Moving on from the Ghetto Machine album, all the rest of the videos are “full size”.  From Dragon, it’s two of the best tracks:  “Dogshit” and “Crazy Go Go”.  This time Loudness are playing in a huge, uber-clean garage.  As “Dogshit” demonstrates, Akira was now into his “fly sunglasses” phase.  It looks like the band are having fun here, which makes it an enjoyable watch.  Great song too.  “Crazy Go Go” is more straight ahead, with lights and struttin’ stage moves instead of goofing around.

Apparently they only did one video for the final Masaki album, Engine.  “Black Biohazard” is that song; not a tune that impressed on prior listens.  (Also strange how “Black Biohazard” is the only song not in capital letters on the cover.)  This video is made from grainy outdoor concert festival footage.  From this we can ascertain that live, Masaki was a capable frontman with a cool rock star stage persona.

At 25 minutes, this DVD can not be considered more than a bonus for buying the Buddha Rock box set.  It is not the main draw.  The fundamental reason to get Buddha Rock is to acquire the three albums Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine in one place with ease.  As a bonus feature, the Music Clips disc does what it does.  “Dogshit” is the best video by a wide margin, and it remains unclear why “short size” videos were included, unless that’s all that was ever made for those particular songs?

The Buddha Rock box set also comes with photos, complete lyrics (in English) and liner notes (in Japanese).  It’s the obvious way to go to cover those years, an era which ended with the Engine album in 1999.  At Masaki’s urging, Akira Takasaki reunited the original Loudness lineup and released Spiritual Canoe with Minoru Niihara at the microphone.  That put an end to the Masaki Yamada era, which started with member turnover before solidifying on these three albums with Naoto Shibata and Hirotsugo Homma on bass and drums respectively.  Great musicians both who helped Loudness explore new and weird directions at the end of the 90s.

Music Clips DVD:  3/5 stars

Buddha Rock 1997-1999 box set:  3.5/5 stars  (the sum of the whole is greater than its parts)

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars (1977)

STAR WARS – Original theatrical (1977) version
As released on the 2006 Lucasfilm Limited Edition DVD

Directed by George Lucas

In 1977 my parents took me to see Star Wars for the first time, like millions of other kids my age.  By the end of the year, terms like “The Force” and “Millennium Falcon” were commonly spoken among children like secret code, while remaining merely gibberish to their teachers.  Because of the availability of cool action figures and vehicles by Kenner, Star Wars became much more than a mere movie.  Its world building potential meant that kids were using the characters and settings to make their own adventures.  It became…forever.  A part of culture.  The image of Darth Vader will be found by future archaeologists the same as ours today find carvings Apollo and Zeus.

We memorized this movie.  Lines like “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”  We could recite them with perfect cadence and intonation, albeit an octave high.  But we didn’t understand all the words we were saying, or what it really meant.

Reviewing this movie is like revisiting an old friend to reminisce about the good times.


For the most authentic Star Wars re-watching experience, the 2006 Lucasfilm double DVD edition provides the theatrical version most of us grew up with and knew by heart.  There was no A New Hope, no episode number.  We saw Star Wars three times in the theatres.  After that, everyone had to wait for TV broadcasts or video rental if you wanted to watch Star Wars.  Except back then, there were only “fullscreen” tapes available for rental at the local store.  For many years, we completely forgot about certain alien creatures that were cropped out for home video!  This DVD is a reminder of those times, and how lucky we are today to have so many viewing options available.  (Including a new 2019 Disney+ version of the film. I say “Maclunkey!”)

When he conceived Star Wars, George Lucas had plenty of backstory sketched out.  He assumed he only had one shot at making it, and so chose what he felt was the best and most exciting part of the overall story.  In a way, Star Wars always had a leg up on everything that came later for that reason.  The origin story of the farmer boy that leaves home to save the world is a setup taken from classic lore, and put on screen in an original way by turning it into a space fantasy.  With the benefit of hindsight, could it even lose?

Actually yes — if the special effects weren’t as convincing as they are.  Those artists took Ralph McQuarrie’s crucial conceptual art and turned drawings into filmable 3D objects that look worn, used and real.  Using bits of plastic battleship model kids and parts taken from cameras, a universe that looked as real as the world we live in was created.  Then they innovated further using blue screens and skill, creating dynamic space battles that surpassed anything we’d seen before.  One key innovation was the idea to choreograph the space battles based on actual World War II dogfight footage.

Sir Alec Guinness (Ben Kenobi) and Peter Cushing (Tarkin) were the two most recognizable stars to the parents in the audience, but Harrison Ford was an up-and-comer who impressed everyone that loved George Lucas’ other coming-of-age story, American Graffiti.  Even though Cushing and Guinness had no idea what their dialogue was really about, they turned in incredible character performances.  The hero trio of Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were perfectly tuned.  Meanwhile, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker provided the roles of perspective for the film.  Indeed, Lucas said that only C-3P0 and R2-D2 witnessed the events of the entire saga.  Finally, Peter Mayhew and David Prowse provided the physical acting necessary for the roles of Chewbacca and Darth Vader.  These performances were topped off with sound effects by Ben Burtt and a brilliant Vader voiceover by James Earl Jones.

Lucas has been mocked in his later years for getting terribly wooden performances out of great actors in the prequel trilogy.  When he was young, making Star Wars, he was different.  His direction is alive and he gets spontaneous feeling performances from the entire cast.  Whatever he was doing in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, he was a different director in 1977.  Of course, much credit must also be given to the editors who carved this movie out of the celluloid.  Yet none of that would have had the same impact without the groundbreaking score by John Williams.  Williams is so important to the entire saga that he composed the scores to all nine films.

In other words, Star Wars is all but a perfect film.  On its own, without any sequels or prequels, it was already one of the best things ever, and what kid could resist that?  On a technical level, it’s a masterpiece achievement.  All this contained within a simple, engaging story drawing upon the tenets of classic mythology.  Consciously it’s blowing your mind, and subconsciously it’s tugging at your Jungian psyche.

The best part about watching the 1977 theatrical version of Star Wars is simply the ease of slipping into that world and really believing it.  When the 1997 special editions hit, the effects may have been improved, but awkwardly jarring additions were made:  The insertion of jerkily-moving Dewbacks.  An extended entry into Mos Eisley with distractingly fake looking Rontos.  A poorly-edited reimaginging of the Greedo faceoff.  And of course, Jabba the Hutt himself, perhaps the most hideous of all the additions due to the extremely primitive animation of the 1990s.  The rest of the changes, such as a restored Biggs Darklighter scene and an improved Death Star battle, are not so bad.  Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with the Death Star battle as it was in ’77.  The problem is that every time an addition is made in every reissue of a Star Wars film, it takes you right out of the movie and into reality once again.


Further Observations

When you pull the focus back and look at Star Wars in a greater context, more insight and meaning can be wrenched from the stone.  Both in terms of cultural impact, and how it relates to the Skywalker Saga as a whole, we can look deeper into this film and enjoy it even more.

One thing we appreciated a little bit as kids, but I really admire today, is the amount of sheer labour that went into making Star Wars.  It’s so much easier to appreciate in this original unrestored version.  If you can see the line between matte painting and live set, you realize:  oh my God, all of that big portion of the screen is actually a set!  And that matte painting is really, really good!  The amount of work to do both, and match them as close as they did is quite impressive without the aid of a computer.  Also, observe techniques used to make shots more dynamic.  The Falcon flying, for example.  The actual model isn’t moving much, but the starfield behind it is.  That makes it look as if it is really burning some rubber.

Here’s something to think about.  One of the biggest action set pieces of this movie involved Luke and Leia swinging across a chasm from a rope.  It blew everyone’s brain, that huge looking vertical shaft with the retracted bridges.  The Stormtroopers are coming at them from two directions, as Luke takes his leap of faith.  While in 1977 we also saw the male and female lead together as a team with possible romantic foreshadowing, today the scene actually has more meaning.  Now, it is the children of Anakin Skywalker finally united after two decades of separation.  The New Hopes.  It’s actually a pretty heavy moment in the whole saga when you think on what that means.  Obi-Wan and Yoda hid those children away as babies in the hopes that one day, they would take over the fight.  The moment we see them swinging across the chasm, we realize that dream has been realized.  From whiny space brat to brave hero in two hours.  It’s also clear from her courage and familiarity with a blaster that Leia is a “Force” to be reckoned with too.

Children loved the adventures but didn’t fully appreciate what Luke was experiencing.  You can feel that Uncle Owen tried, but wasn’t the father figure that Luke wanted.  Then Luke loses the only parents he ever had, his aunt and uncle, and is whisked off-planet for the first time in his life by a new father figure, Ben Kenobi.  In addition he’s told a bombshell of a truth (with a hidden lie):  his real father wasn’t a navigator on a spice freighter.  His uncle had been lying to him his entire life about who his father really was:  a Jedi knight, who fought in a “damn fool idealistic crusade” called the Clone Wars.  He then learns, in a second revelation, that the universe itself is more than it seems, and that an all powerful Force is behind everything.  And then he loses that father figure almost immediately after!  Today that would send most of us into months of therapy, but Luke soldiers on and picks up on this Jedi stuff pretty quickly!  In the end battle, he is forced into a leadership position when Red Leader is shot down by Darth Vader.  “We’re going in, we’re going in full throttle,” he says to the remaining squad.  His older best friend and role model Biggs is on board, and so is hot shot pilot Wedge.  “Right with you boss,” he says without hesitation.

A weighty moment is the final (corporeal) meeting of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  A physically imposing David Prowse in the Vader costume has the presence necessary to convey the anger behind the words:  “Your powers are weak, old man.”  You can almost hear the voice of Hayden Christensen from the Episode III Vader behind the voice of James Earl Jones.  The hate, as he now calls the man he once knew as “master” by the epithet “old man”.  It was always a foregone conclusion who would win this battle, but we children were amazed when Old Ben disappeared before our very eyes.  And what did those final words of his really mean?  “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  Surely a disembodied voice was not the “more powerful” that Ben was referring to?  This is something that the oft-criticized sequel trilogy finally delivered and expanded upon, where the prequels did not.  In episodes VIII and IX, we learn that powerful Jedi spirits can even interact with the physical world, and join with the living to defeat the ultimate evil.  In this way, Obi-Wan Kenobi has a role in concluding the nine-story arc of the Saga (even utilizing the voices of Sir Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor).

Another minor tie to the sequel trilogy is Han Solo’s offering to Luke Skywalker to come with him instead of joining the Rebellion on their “suicide” mission.  The only other person we see him offer to “job” to is Rey in Episode VII.  Any viewing of any Star Wars movie is always enriched by watching other Star Wars movies.  Last week I watched Rogue One.  Since that standalone film was designed to add backstory and blend the saga together even more tightly with the original movie, watching it adds richness and foundation to the original.  Knowing what happened to the previous Red Five, for example.  All the films have this ability to amplify the others.

Though dense with unfamiliar terms, throwaway dialogue built worlds.  The Kessel Run, for example, spawned half of the movie Solo.  Some of the most iconic lines in the whole original film were throwaways:  “You fought in the Clone Wars?”  Apparently so, when he was known as “General Kenobi”!  We didn’t learn a damn thing more about the Clone Wars until Episode II, released a quarter century later.  And so watching the prequels and even the animated Clone Wars series adds depth to the experience.  When Luke asks “How did my father die?” you see the hesitation on his face before Obi-Wan lies to Luke.  In that hesitation lies all the prequels and animated series.  The line about the Clone Wars planted the seed for pretty much everything about the prequels.  The only difference was that as kids, we assumed the clones were the bad guys not the good guys.  (Well, I guess they were both but we won’t delve further here.)

The quality and success of Star Wars were both necessary to launch a thousand imitations.  As kids we became familiar with the concept of “knock offs” pretty quickly.  Battlestar Galactica seemed like a B-level Star Wars.  You could even buy knock off toys at the store like glow-in-the-dark “space swords”.  For the real thing, there could be no substitute.  We were able to prolong and expand our love of the movie with the Kenner action figure line, the Marvel comics, the John Williams soundtrack records, and even “The Story of Star Wars” on vinyl.  This really gave kids a canvas to use their imaginations.  Today, some of the kids that played with Star Wars toys in a sandbox are making their visions real in official spinoff shows like The Mandalorian, that hearken back to what we liked about Star Wars in old ’77.


Conclusion

If you really want to recreate the authentic 1977 Star Wars experience, you won’t find it on your Disney+.  Even hardened cynics must concede that Disney has done some cool stuff with Star Wars recently, but if they really wanted to do something “Force”-ful, they could reissue the ’77 cut one more time.  If they never do, the 2006 DVD is always out there.  There’s nothing better than the real thing.

6/5 stars