Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kissology 3 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

You wanted the best, you got the best. Kissology: The Ultimate Kiss Collection Vol. 3 is the third and, depending on who you believe (Gene Simmons claims there will be 10 volumes total), final volume of the excellent Kissology DVD series.

Covering the years 1992-2000, Kissology 3 features six concerts, starting with the band's Auburn Hills, MI appearance on their 1992 Revenge tour. One is immediately taken aback by both the picture and sound quality of the show, as well as the musicianship of the excellent Revenge lineup. This was one of the shows recorded for 1993's ALIVE III.

Up next is a behind-the-scenes look at their now-legendary MTV Unplugged appearance - which featured their first performance with founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in 16 years. It is here we learn from Unplugged producer, Alex Coletti, that Frehley and Criss were almost no-shows at the actual taping due to legal issues and that Paul Stanley and current Kiss guitarist, Tommy Thayer, had to help Frehley relearn his old guitar parts. Disc one concludes with the complete MTV Unplugged performance.

Discs two and three document the band's reunion period, with their performance at Tiger Stadium - the first full show of the reunion tour, their 1996 MTV Video Music Awards' performance at the Brooklyn Bridge, their Dodger Stadium show from the Psycho Circus tour, the Detroit Rock City movie premiere party in Los Angeles and The Last Kiss pay-per-view from 2000's farewell tour. While it is great as a fan to have the Tiger Stadium show, from a performance perspective, it is very sloppy with lots of missed notes and timing issues. In stark contrast, the Brooklyn Bridge performance shows a tight, hungry, focused band that looks to be enjoying each other's company. Peter Criss in particular seems to be having the time of his life, singing along to "New York Groove." We also learn from the commentary that when the band was assembling the footage for the Dodger Stadium show, they could not find any of the footage from the drum cams and, as such, Peter Criss is rarely seen up close in this show.

Though the band has continued since 2000, the farewell tour was indeed the last time the original lineup all performed together, so The Last Kiss pay-per-view is a nice document of that tour to have. It also features the added novelty of the band playing "Heaven's On Fire" as they had adopted songs from their non-makeup period into the set at this point.

Disc four may be the real gem of this collection, however. Teased as an Easter Egg on Kissology 1, the full 1973 performance from the Coventry in New York is included on Kissology 3. This is the earliest filmed performance of the band and while the picture quality is nowhere near the rest of this set, the historical value is immense. It's shot in black and white and the audio is not bad for it being a 34-year-old single camera video. It also features the seldom-played "Let Me Know," an added bonus to an already rare show.

Kissology 3 features commentary from Simmons, Stanley, Thayer, and Bruce Kulick and has regular stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes. It also has a number of Easter Eggs, including rehearsal footage for the VMAs in street clothes and no makeup, a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of Carnival of Souls, the last album recorded by the Revenge lineup, and "2000 Man" from the band's millennium concert in Vancouver, BC. Initial copies include bonus discs depending on which retailer they are purchased from. These shows are the KROQ Weenie Roast from 1996 (The first reunion performance by the band), Brazil 1994 and Madison Square Garden 1996.

While Kissology 3 touts having six complete concerts, that really isn't the case. Auburn Hills, Tiger Stadium and The Last Kiss all have songs cut, possibly to avoid repeats of material. The commentary and liner notes also include a fair amount of Ace and Peter bashing by Simmons and Stanley, which is surprising given the fact that they are on a large portion of the material presented, but also refreshing in the sense that the band isn't pulling any punches and is being very candid with the fans.

As this material is the most recent chronologically in the Kissology series, it is also of the highest quality, both in terms of picture and sound. The rarity and quality of the material more than make up for the fact that some of the shows aren't complete and make Kissology 3 a fine addition to any Kiss fan's library.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Frasier - The Tenth Season DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

For over 20 years, Emmy Award-winner Kelsey Grammer played the character of Dr. Frasier Crane, first on Cheers, then on his own spin-off show, Frasier. During that time, Fraiser's snobby exploits always remained funny and the fact the character never "jumped the shark" is a testament to the excellent writing on the show.

In the tenth season, we are treated to more of the same. The season opens with Frasier's brother Niles (Played by David Hyde Pierce) and his girlfriend Daphne (played by Jane Leeves) eloping in Las Vegas. They plan to tell Frasier and his father (played by John Mahoney), but don't say anything when they learn that both Frasier and his father would have been crushed not to have been there. Next, the couple tries to get married before a judge, only to have Daphne's mother Gertrude (played by Millicent Martin) object as the wedding was not performed by a minister. As she storms off, the couple decides to get married without her present, only to have her regret telling them what to do, so a third wedding is planned where the couple finally tells everyone when the actual wedding took place.

Another episode finds Frasier defying a parking garage attendant. When he drives into the garage only to change his mind about parking there, he tries to pull out and leave, only to find out he has to pay the $2 parking fee. Outraged since he hadn't actually parked, Frasier refuses to pay and sits in his car at the gate, causing a traffic jam and many irate people. Frasier pleads with them that he is doing this for their own good, but they aren't having it. The attendant tells Frasier he can't open the gate unless he pays, so Frasier decides to get his $2 worth and sits in his car for the full 20 minutes. When he argues that all of this could have been avoided, he goes over the time limit and ends up getting charged $4.

Roz's (played by Peri Gilpin) cousin Jen comes to visit in one episode. She is pushy and opinionated and irritates everyone in her path - except for Frasier's boss Kenny (played by Tom McGowan). She appreciates Kenny for taking her seriously when she announces she wants to visit Vietnam as Americans haven't discovered it yet and encourages him to break out of his own rut. Kenny had not unpacked any of his belongings, including his awards, as every time he did, he had gotten fired from that job and he expected the same at this job. Meanwhile, Jen's main goal in life is to party every night with Roz, which eventually wears Roz out. Roz gives one of Frasier's callers a lecture about growing up and appreciating your age. Kenny hears the speech and takes it to heart, unpacking his photos and awards.

Frasier's ex-wife and ex-Cheers castmate Lilith (played by Bebe Neuwirth), shows up unexpectedly and announces to Frasier she wants to have another child - with Frasier. She tries to get Frasier to donate his sperm to the cause, appealing to him by talking about the good times they had together with their first son Frederick, but Frasier eventually decides he can't do it because he'd be doing it for the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, Niles notices a close-up shot of a nipple in a roll of film that he first mistakes for a flying saucer, but later thinks is Daphne trying to take an erotic photo for him. Turns out he was wrong on both counts as the nipple in the picture belonged to his father.

Not all is fun and games though as Niles has to go in for open heart surgery in a three-part episode that reminds the viewer that no one knows when their time is up and that they should cherish every moment they have with their loved ones. Each character's life passes before them in a series of vignettes that show the entire cycle of life taking place in a hospital.

There is no commentary or bonus features of any kind on the DVD, which would have been the thing to make a good DVD set great, but the quality of the episodes still makes this set worthwhile.

Frasier ran one more season after this one. After numerous awards and nominations, Frasier left us with many laughs and good stories. The tenth season, like all the others, was a winner and belongs in the hands of all fans of the show.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

U2 - The Joshua Tree Remastered 2-CD Expanded Edition Review

Written by General Jabbo

It's been 20 years since U2 released their landmark album, The Joshua Tree. The album that made them go from big to huge from arenas to stadiums. The album that put them in the same rarefied air as the Beatles or the Stones. The album that put them on the cover of Time magazine and garnered the band their first Grammy awards. The album that was number 26 in Rolling Stone's top 500 albums of all time list. To commemorate the anniversary of this historic album, Island is re-releasing it in an expanded two-CD edition. A version exists with a bonus DVD live in Paris, 1987 as well.

After touring extensively in the United States for their previous albums, U2 set out to record an album that represented what they saw of America at the time. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is the band's response to the materialism of the period, while "Bullet the Blue Sky" is about the American military effort to overthrow the leftist government in El Salvador and remains appropriate in the current political climate.

Not all the songs were about America, however. The song "Running to Stand Still" details the heroin epidemic in Dublin in U2's native Ireland. The album also contains some of the band's best-loved singles, including "Where the Streets Have No Name," "In God's Country" and "With or Without You."

The second disc contains a number of B-sides to the album's many singles, compilation songs such as "Silver and Gold (Sun City)" from the Sun City - Artists United Against Apartheid album and some unreleased songs from The Joshua Tree sessions. Here we find songs that either didn't have time to be finished (the band had a glut of material during this period) or which ended up becoming one of the songs on the finished album. One such example is "Desert of Our Love," which formed the basis of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." These unreleased tracks provide a fascinating insight into the songwriting process for the band.

The CD comes in a slipcase, with liner notes by Bill Flanagan and The Edge and features a number of photos, as well as lyrics to the songs.

It's easy to look at U2 now as one of the biggest bands in the world, if not the biggest. However, Joshua Tree is the album that put them in that position. One cannot underestimate how huge the album was upon its release and, like many classic albums before it, the impact it continues to have to this day. This reissue is a worthy document of perhaps U2's finest hour.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Original Soundtrack CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas, the first of the animated Peanuts specials, aired on CBS. Though now considered a holiday classic, the special wasn't a sure thing when it first aired. The network was concerned about the lack of a laugh track or the scene with Linus reading Bible passages about the birth of Christ. There are also scenes where Schroeder is playing Beethoven and Charlie Brown is talking about Nebudchadnezzar - hardly the stuff most eight-year-olds are into.

It comes as no surprise then that this unorthodox cartoon would feature an unorthodox soundtrack. It was unusual at the time (and to this day) for a children's program to feature a jazz soundtrack, but that's exactly what A Charlie Brown Christmas had.

And what a soundtrack it was. The Vince Guaraldi Trio delivered one of the most memorable Christmas soundtracks of all time. Who doesn't think of the beloved Peanuts characters when listening to "Linus and Lucy," or think of Schroeder playing the piano for Lucy when they hear Beethoven's "Fur Elise," or see the smile on Charlie Brown's face when the other kids have saved his Christmas tree by giving it some love and decorating it when they hear "Hark the Herald Angels Sing?"

The music of A Charlie Brown Christmas has become as famous as the special itself. Guaraldi's tasty piano runs blending perfectly with Fred Marshall's nimble bass and Jerry Granell's drums. This is a timeless story set to timeless music. Over 40 years later, it remains a staple of the holiday season.

The CD is a straight reissue of the original 1965 soundtrack on Fantasy Records and, at 40:23, is actually over 15 minutes longer than the special itself. The CD features liner notes written by Ralph J. Gleason. For fans of Peanuts, good piano jazz, and Christmas music in general, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a must-own CD.

Gene Simmons Zipper Issue #1 Review

Written by General Jabbo

Long before he got into a rock and roll band, Gene Simmons of Kiss was into comic books. When Kiss was at the height of their 1970s popularity, they even had two comics produced by Marvel (using real Kiss blood no less). It is therefore no surprise that Simmons now has his own comics imprint - Simmons Comics Group, which is published by IDW. Simmons was the brains behind the creation of Gene Simmons Zipper, a science fiction story about the quest for individualism.

Zipper is the story of Denizen Xeng Ral of Etheria, whose only crime against his people is trying to think for himself. Etheria's people are part of a collective and individual thought is forbidden. The mantra of the people of Etheria is "we are one," which, not coincidentally, is the name of a Simmons-penned Kiss song from the Psycho Circus album. When the people of Etheria try to capture Ral to recondition him and return him to the collective, he flees. Donning a suit covered in zippers and boarding a spacecraft, Ral ends up in Detroit.

It is there that we learn the suit can mimic human appearances, as well as study the language to determine the appropriate response to any question. This makes for some humorous scenes when Ral attempts to greet people as his English is good, but not perfect. He greets the first person he meets by saying, "One wishes hell oh, you."

While Ral gets used to his surroundings in Detroit, a shady preacher named Dr. Foster H Deveroux tries to rile up a crowd in Los Angeles at his Cosmic Defense Ministry Cathedral saying, "in a universe we know, both scientifically and religiously, to be infinite, how can we possibly be alone? And, if we are not alone, how can we possibly be safe?" We can be sure that Deveroux will mobilize his parishioners against Ral once he is discovered.

And that discovery shouldn't take long. Back in Detroit, Ral finds a drug dealer named Ronnie J being threatened by a rival gang, reverts from his human appearance to his zipper costume and takes out the entire gang on his own using chains and blades. The gang stood no chance against the fierce attack of Ral, who is later christened "Zipper" by the Ronnie J after his costume and because Ronnie J can't pronounce his real name. The story ends with Zipper and Ronnie J on the run from the law and Etheria's forces sending a search party out for Zipper.

Zipper is written by Tom Waltz with artwork by Casey Maloney. While the crooked preacher character is a bit clich├ęd, the story is otherwise well written with excellent artwork. Zipper has managed to anger a lot of people on his journey toward individualism, and his encounters with these new enemies should make for an entertaining read in the issues to come.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Eric Clapton & Friends - Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In 1998, after many years of dealing with his own drug and alcohol addictions, Eric Clapton founded the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, West Indies. In an effort to raise money for the facility, Clapton held a benefit concert - the Crossroads Guitar Festival - in Chicago last July. This two-DVD set features four hours of highlights from the all-day event.

Emceed by Bill Murray, Crossroads is a who's who of guitar greats from elder statesmen such as B.B. King and Buddy Guy to young axe-slingers such as Derek Trucks and Robert Randolph. Murray opened the show with a solo version of the only song he knew how to play on guitar, "Gloria." As Murray struggled along, Clapton watched from the side of the stage, puzzled, until he decided to join in on the song. Clapton later said if Murray "really knew how to play guitar, we'd all be in trouble."

Up next was Sonny Landreth, with his instrumental, "Uberesso," featuring many fast picking runs and a lot of excellent slide playing. Clapton joined Landreth onstage for "Hell at Home."

Jazz-fusion legend, John McLaughlin took the stage with an inspired version of "Maharina," while occasional Clapton band member, Doyle Bramhall II, dedicated his version of "Outside Woman Blues" to Clapton. Bramhall's arrangement stuck very close to the one Clapton used when he was in Cream.

The Derek Trucks Band did a set of their own material and also backed the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Johnny Winter, the latter turning in a searing version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."

Robert Randolph, played a blistering version of "Nobodysoul" that had the whole crowd rocking. He plays the pedal steel guitar, an instrument usually associated with country music, more like Jimi Hendrix would.

Blues legend B.B. King joined the Robert Cray Band, as well as Jimmy Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin for "Paying the Cost to be the Boss" and "Rock Me Baby," with King playing his signature licks on his trademark "Lucille" guitar.

Vince Gill represented the coutry portion of the set and sang alone, as well as with Albert Lee, Sheryl Crow, Eric Clapton, and Willie Nelson with Clapton's "Tulsa Time" and Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" as highlights.

John Mayer dedicated "Every note from his guitar" to B.B. King, While Los Lobos played a rocking version of "Don't Worry Baby."

Up next was Jeff Beck with an incredible version of "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" with 21-year-old Tal Wilkenfeld on bass. She wowed both Beck and the audience with her nimble playing and pushed the guitar legend to give his best performance.

Clapton dedicated George Harrison's "Isn't it a Pity" to the late Beatle and his performance showed how much Clapton misses his longtime friend to this day. After a version of "Who Do You Love?" with Robbie Robertson, Clapton called to the stage Steve Winwood, his old bandmate in Blind Faith, for a mini reunion. In what was easily the biggest highlight of the night, the pair played inspired versions of "Can't Find My Way Home" and "Presence of the Lord," as well as "Crossroads." Winwood's voice sounded great and he stood out on both keyboards and guitar.

Chicago favorite Buddy Guy followed them with "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" before joinging Clapton, Cray, Mayer, Sumlin, Vaughan, and Winter for an all-star jam on the blues standard "Sweet Home Chicago" - a fitting way to end the show.

The DVD has standard stereo as well as DTS 5.1 audio and includes highlights from the Crossroads Village Stage - a second stage featuring more guitar heroes.

Crossroads was an all-day festival and would have needed several more discs to include all the performances. Still, Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 is a good representation of a great day of music for a worthy cause.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

When computer hacker Matt Farrell, played by Justin Long, finishes a program amidst competition from his fellow hackers, he unknowingly helps his employer, Mai Linh (played my Maggie Q), and her boss, Thomas Gabriel (played by Timothy Olyphant), begin a takeover of the U.S. Government’s computer networks. When traffic signals are altered to cause mass pile-ups on the road, and entire areas of the country are left without power, a move no doubt inspired by the real life blackout the United States suffered in 2003, the government attempts to round up all the known hackers they can find for questioning. McClane is asked to bring in Farrell and is assured the task won’t be a big deal.

Always in the wrong place at the wrong time, McClane goes to find Farrell and he and Farrell are attacked by Gabriel’s henchmen who proceed to blow up Farrell’s apartment. McClane brings Farrell in for questioning by the FBI only to find out that seven other top hackers have all been killed by similar explosions. Farrell later admits to knowing who the other hackers were, stating that they were his competition while working on the program for Linh. Farrell informs McClane the hackers are attempting a three-stage “fire sale” on the U.S. computer networks. “Everything must go,’ he says and by everything, he means the transportation and financial systems, as well as the power grid. Computers alone cannot take out the power grid and it is with knowledge that Farrell and McClane attempt to track down Gabriel.

Gabriel’s hackers prove to be too much for the government to stop, so Farrell suggests going to see the Warlock, played by Kevin Smith. Warlock informs McClane and Farrell that Gabriel was a former FBI computer security director who was publicly humiliated after interrupting a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting after 9/11 to inform them the U.S computer system security had been compromised and was vulnerable to attack. Warlock tells Farrell the code he was asked to write for Linh is used only at one location in Maryland that wasn’t “storing Social Security numbers.” Turns out, while Gabriel was working for the government, he created a fail safe where if the government’s computers were hacked, all the financial data from the entire country would be automatically downloaded into the computer in Maryland as a backup. Knowing this, Gabriel hacked the system so he could download this financial information for himself. Gabriel is alerted to McClane’s presence and captures McClane’s estranged daughter, Lucy (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in an attempt to blackmail him. McClane and Farrell come to rescue Lucy and predictably save the U.S., after which Farrell and Lucy separately profess their romantic interest in each other to McClane – much to McClane’s chagrin.

While Live Free or Die Hard presents a terrorist scenario that is entirely possible, one still has to suspend their belief in reality during some of the scenes. For instance, McClane takes out a helicopter with a moving car by timing a jump just right and manages to “surf” on a crashing F-35 jet without falling off. Still, one expects that sort of thing in this type of movie and thankfully it is kept to a minimum.

The DVD features a number of bonus features, including the theatrical and unrated versions (It was released in theaters with a surprising PG-13 rating), a documentary “Analog Hero in a Digital World: the Making of Live Free or Die Hard,” a conversation between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis, entitled “Yippee Ki Yay MotherF******,” a music video by Guyz Nite and a commentary with Bruce Willis, Director Len Wiseman and Editor Nicolas De Toth.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blackmore's Night - "Paris Moon" DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been over 10 years since Ritchie Blackmore left the final incarnation of Rainbow to form Blackmore’s Night – a fusion of Renaissance music, folk music, and rock and roll that really can’t be classified as any one of them, yet has elements of all of them. Paris Moon captures the band live during their first trip to France at the famed Olympia Theatre in Paris.

Led by vocalist Candice Night, Paris Moon features two hours of highlights from the band’s entire catalog including “Play Minstrel Play,” “World of Stone,” “Renaissance Faire” – a sort of call-to-arms for the band’s fans, many of whom, like the members of Blackmore’s Night, dress in Renaissance-period clothing and “Ariel” featuring Blackmore on his famous Fender Stratocaster – the guitar itself getting an ovation.

The band also runs through a number of cover songs, including Jethro Tull’s “Rainbow Blues,” Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust,” Joan Osborne’s “Saint Teresa,” and even a song from the David Coverdale-era of Deep Purple, “Soldier of Fortune.” Night teases the crowd before “Soldier,” saying, “you might have heard a rumor that Ritchie was in one or two bands before this one.” Night makes the songs her own with her haunting, emotive vocals.

All of the musicians in Blackmore’s Night are given their chance to shine during the show and their love for this music is apparent – especially Night, who is beaming throughout.

The DVD has several audio options, including 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 DTS and 2.0 stereo. The DVD features a short documentary about the band where Blackmore describes the “snobbery” he and Night deal with from fans of Renaissance, folk, and rock music who complain that it isn’t really any of those. What the band is trying to create is something new out of familiar elements. Also included is a photo gallery with photos from the show, set to “Streets of London,” sung by Night in French.

Included with the DVD is a CD containing nine tracks from the concert, as well as a studio version of “The Village Lanterne” and a radio edit of “All Because of You.”

Captured in widescreen, Paris Moon is beautifully filmed and with its Renaissance-themed stage show, is as much a joy to watch as the songs are to listen to. For fans of Ritchie Blackmore, or of Blackmore’s Night, Paris Moon is a must-own DVD.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help! DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Less than a year after making their big screen debut in A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles returned to the silver screen – this time in color – with Help!

Directed by Richard Lester, who also directed A Hard Day’s Night, Help! tells the story of an eastern religious cult about to perform a sacrifice, only to find their sacrificial ring has gone missing. They discover it is in the possession of Ringo (who can’t get the ring off his finger) and stop at nothing to try to get it from him.

The cult chases Ringo and the rest of The Beatles from London to the Austrian Alps to the Bahamas in an attempt to get the ring. They try to bite it off his hand, pull it off his finger when he drops off mail in a mailbox, and saw off his hand while The Beatles dine at a restaurant. The cult members are not very good thieves and their theft efforts prove humorous. Along the way, The Beatles encounter a mad scientist (played by Victor Spinetti, who was also in A Hard Day’s Night as well as Magical Mystery Tour), who after attempting to remove the ring from Ringo’s finger, decides he needs the ring for himself as with it he could, dare he say it, “rule the world.”

Seven classic Beatles songs are featured in Help!, including the title track, “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “I Need You,” and “Ticket to Ride.” The musical sequences could all stand alone and, in that sense, are very much a precursor to MTV. The film has been restored and has never looked or sounded better with remastered audio presented in PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Oddly enough though, no Dolby 5.1 track is included.

Disc two contains a number of special features, including “The Beatles in Help!” – a documentary about the making of the film, the restoration of Help!, memories of Help!, a deleted scene with Wendy Richard, three theatrical trailers, and radio spots from 1965 which are hidden in the menus. While there are no interviews with the surviving Beatles or George Martin, the documentaries are interesting nonetheless. Also included is a booklet with outtake photos, an introduction by Lester and excellent liner notes by Martin Scorsese.

While John Lennon once said that the song “Help!” was his personal plea, none of the problems that would plague the band just a few short years later are evident in the film. Help! is one of the last looks at not only the group in its “mop top,” innocent glory, but also a very different London pre-“Summer of Love.” The times were about to change for both very quickly, however.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The McCartney Years DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been nearly 40 years since that other band Paul McCartney was in before Wings called it a day. During that time, he carved out one of the most successful solo careers of all time. It was also during this period that McCartney followed his old band’s lead and made promo films for many of his hit singles. Those films comprise the bulk of The McCartney Years.

With three DVDs and over 400 minutes of material, The McCartney Years is an exhaustive look at the solo career of Paul McCartney. The set contains over 40 promo films from “Maybe I’m Amazed” from 1970’s McCartney to a seldom seen “Band on the Run” clip that oddly features The Beatles instead of Wings to “Fine Line” from 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. The films have been restored from the original prints with remastered audio as well as new 5.1 Surround Sound mixes.

Viewers can choose to watch the videos chronologically, or in playlists selected by McCartney, who offers insightful commentary on a number of tracks. For instance, we learn that the Plastic Macs band name from the “Coming Up” video was a take-off of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. Each menu on the DVD also includes a rare video from the McCartney archives that plays while the viewer makes his or her selection.

The set also includes the documentary, Creating Chaos at Abbey Road, McCartney’s Superbowl performance and his performance at Live Aid. Disc three features parts of three concerts, Rockshow, which captures a Wings 1976 performance, MTV Unplugged and his 2004 performance at the Glastonbury Festival – all available on DVD for the first time.

While billed as a definitive collection, The McCartney Years is far from complete. Many promo films are missing, most notably from 1979’s Back to the Egg LP. Also, none of the three concerts on disc three are complete, giving the impression that it is a teaser disc for a later release of complete versions of these shows. Most troubling though is that all of the videos have been remastered to 16:9 widescreen. This is an issue because many of the videos were not shot this way originally and some of the shot is lost as a result.

Nevertheless, these issues don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the collection. The videos look and sound great and the amount of picture lost from the widescreen conversion likely will not bother most fans. It is a treat for an artist of McCartney’s stature to open the vaults like this and present a collection such as The McCartney Years. One can only hope that this will lead to further archive releases down the road.

Shrek the Third DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Shrek, Donkey, and Puss in Boots make their comedic return in Shrek the Third. When Shrek’s father-in-law King Harold (played by John Cleese) falls ill, Shrek has to fill in as king of Far Far Away. Predictably, his kingly duties go horribly wrong as he manages to sink a ship when he breaks a bottle on it and a knighting ceremony with a sword ends badly for the knight to be.

As King Harold lay dying, he tells Shrek that he is giving the kingdom to him. Horrified, Shrek asks if there are any other heirs and in his dying breath, Harold tells him “Arthur.” Though Arthur, played by Justin Timberlake, is not the first choice to be king, Shrek, Donkey, and Puss in Boots nonetheless set out to find him to convince him to become king so Shrek can return to his swamp with his wife Fiona (played by Cameron Diaz).

As the trio sets out to sea, Fiona informs Shrek she is pregnant, adding to his stress levels and causing nightmares of hundreds of ogre babies terrorizing his home. Shrek, played by Mike Myers, is concerned there will be no future for his ogre baby as they aren’t considered “cute and cuddly” and Myers does an excellent job of playing the worried parent.

While Shrek is gone, Prince Charming (played by Rupert Everett) rounds up a who’s who of fairy tale villains to kidnap Fiona and her princess friends. He then attempts to make himself king of Far Far Away. Fiona’s fellow princesses – Snow White, Beauty, Cinderella and Rapunzel (played by Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri, Amy Sedaris and Maya Rudolph) – decide they are above trying to help themselves and, in Snow White’s words, “assume the position,” standing or lying helpless while they wait to be rescued. Fiona, angered and not knowing if anyone will come to save them, motivates the princesses to fend for themselves and they go after Charming and his crew in a humorous action sequence set to Heart’s “Barracuda.”

Meanwhile, Shrek discovers Arthur, or “Artie” as he prefers to be called, jousting Lancelot at Worcestershire Academy. Artie is an awkward teen who gets picked on a lot and is anything but kingly. Shrek finds in Artie a kindred spirit, as he too was picked on and tells him to ignore the names people call him and just trust who he is. The message in Shrek the Third is “be yourself,” and while that’s been done many times in movies before, it is done to good effect here. Merlin (played by Eric Idle), a past-his-prime wizard turned magic teacher, casts a spell to send Shrek, Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Artie back to Far Far Away where they battle Prince Charming to save the princesses and the kingdom.

Shrek the Third is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as 2.0 Surround Sound. The DVD comes with a number of bonus features, including: A Worcestershire Academy Yearbook, deleted scenes (in sketch form), bloopers, a donkey dance, and interviews with the cast members. Also included is a DreamWorks Kids bonus menu with Merlin’s Magic Crystal Ball, where you can ask questions, a “how to be green” environmental feature, instructions on how to do the donkey dance, and DVD-ROM “Shrektivities.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been nearly 35 years since the last men set foot on the moon, yet the Apollo lunar missions continue to pique our curiosity. After all, only 12 men have accomplished the feat. We have the photos and video from the original mission, but they are primitive by today’s standards. Now, through modern technology and IMAX, we are offered a glimpse of what the astronauts might have seen on those brave missions.

Hosted by Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon was originally presented as an IMAX film in 3D and features original photos and video from the Apollo missions, as well as newly created footage in an attempt to recreate the moon’s surface. While any film converted from IMAX to standard widescreen suffers from a loss of grandiosity, the images are nonetheless stunning. The film does a fine job in showing what the lunar missions were like, in the limited amount of time the astronauts had on the surface and the difficulties with perspective when walking. One minute they could be on solid ground, the next they could be standing over Hadley Rille – a cavernous, deep rille that would be like standing over the Grand Canyon on earth.

In addition to Hanks’ narration, Magnificent Desolation has voiceovers from many famous actors, including Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Paul Newman, reading quotes from the actual astronauts from the Apollo missions. There are also interviews with grade-school students, testing their knowledge of the missions to the moon. One student in particular, Veronica Lugo, age 7, believes she will be the first kid on the moon and wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. A scene at the end of the film imagines her as Commander Lugo, overlooking a base on the moon. It is a breathtaking visual to say the least.

Magnificent Desolation ponders the question of what if something went wrong on the moon and demonstrates how two astronauts may have shared one oxygen supply to survive. Nothing like this ever happened, but it is something the astronauts had to be prepared for.

The DVD has a number of bonus features, including NASA photos, a video diary, a trivia game and maps of the lunar surface from the various missions.

Many people believe the lunar missions were staged and never really happened. The film addresses those people by explaining it was hard for them to believe because the moon always seemed out of our reach. The moon is definitely within our reach on Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon. Through vintage footage and new recreations, it is as close as most of us will ever come to setting foot on the moon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

At the tail end of 1981, Queen was at the height of its considerable powers, having topped the album and singles charts in both the UK and US, playing for over 130,000 people in Brazil and with the number one video in the UK. It was during this period that they were filmed over two nights in Montreal. Originally titled We Will Rock You, Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid is 96 minutes of Queen at their live best.

Filmed as one-off performances, this was the last time the band played with just its four original members on stage before Hot Space introduced keyboards and extra musicians into their live mix. It is also the first time they played their classic hit, “Under Pressure,” live. Touring off Greatest Hits, Queen played a set featuring songs from their entire career including “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Tie Your Mother Down,” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”

The original idea for the show, which was shot on 35mm film, was to take it on the road as sort of a traveling concert, played on large screens at high volumes – a precursor to IMAX in many ways. However the original film suffered from poor editing and sound problems. Those have since been fixed, as Queen now owns the rights to the film, which has been restored from the original negative and presented in newly mixed and remastered DTS Surround Sound.

From the included commentary from drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May, we learn the band was never comfortable with the film crew being around and that was a great source of tension, resulting in many of the songs being played much faster than their recorded versions. Still, tension often makes for great rock and roll, and the band really pushes the songs here with Freddie Mercury in great voice throughout.

Also included on the two-disc set is the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid. In 20 minutes, Queen reminded the world why they were one of the greatest live acts in the world with their tight powerful set of old classics including “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” as well as “Radio Gaga” and “Hammer to Fall” from their then-new album, The Works. Mercury and May return later for a duet on “Is This The World We Created,” also presented on the DVD.

In addition, there’s 11 minutes of unseen rehearsal and interview footage from Live Aid, a Web link to the Queen Rock Montreal Web site and an interview from the old US television show, PM Magazine.

For a good look at Queen at their live peak, as well as their complete Live Aid performance, Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid is a must-own DVD. HD DVD and Blu Ray versions come out on Dec.4

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Concert Review - The Palace of Auburn Hills - Auburn Hills, MI 11/5/07

Written by General Jabbo

Opening with “Radio Nowhere,” one of nine songs featured from his new album, Magic, the band played a spirited set that went over two hours and rarely let up in intensity.

A staunch critic of the Bush administration, Springsteen introduced “Magic” and “Livin’ in the Future,” both from the new release with warnings about not believing what you see and illegal wiretapping to a mixed response. This was not the Vote For Change tour and Springsteen, understanding this, kept the Bush bashing to a minimum.

Springsteen’s message for the most part was one of hope. He followed the somber “Magic,” with a bluesy rendition of “Reason to Believe.” He also debuted a moving version of Magic’s “I’ll Work For Your Love.”

“Jackson Cage,” from the 1980 album The River, made its tour debut and made for a potent combination when followed by a rocking “She’s the One.”

Springsteen is the rare veteran artist whose audience comes to the shows as much for the new songs as the old ones. No one would have guessed “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” was a new song by the number of people singing along with it. Springsteen dedicated the song to the Detroit girls, and one from New Jersey, referring to his wife and band mate Patti Scialfa.

Still, it was the hits that garnered the biggest crowd response, from “Tunnel of Love” to main set-ending “Badlands” to the encore double shot of “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark.”

While the crowd tended to be on the older side, a young boy held up a handwritten sign during the encore that said, “Ramrod please.” Springsteen, smiling ear-to-ear, said, “He’s been rocking all night. My kid’s 16, he’d be asleep by now.” The band didn’t deny the request, playing “Ramrod” for the first time in five years to the delight of the crowd and especially the boy.

Springsteen closed the show with a rousing version of “American Land,” a holdover from the Seeger Sessions tour complete with song lyrics on the screen so the audience could sing along, its lyrics speaking of opportunity for all in the American land.

Bruce Springsteen’s music is as vital today as it was 30 years ago and his show was a good reminder of that. From the new songs off Magic to the classic hits, no one left the Palace disappointed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

SiCKO DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore returns with SiCKO, an eye-opening look at the American health care system and all its flaws.

Moore opens the film by declaring that nearly 50 million Americans are without health insurance, but that this film isn’t about them. It is about the other 250 million Americans that do have insurance and the difficulties they go through trying to get the coverage that they paid for.

According to Moore, many people are denied health care because they are too thin, too fat, or have a pre-existing condition. If there is no evidence of a pre-existing condition, many of these companies scour through health care applications to find things that they can deny service for. If they still cannot find a condition, they send in a “hit man,” who tries to get the health care company’s money back. Moore interviews one such “hit man” named Lee, who said the company will go through your records like it is a murder case to find something they can deny you with.

Linda Pino, the former medical director at Humana, testified before Congress that she once denied a man a surgery that would have saved his life and that no one held her accountable for it as she saved the company half a million dollars and that, in their eyes, made her a good medical director.

Moore interviews a man whose daughter was going deaf. She was denied an implant in one ear because her treatment was deemed experimental. It was only when the man took it upon himself to call the health care company and inform them of Moore’s documentary that they decided to approve her claim for both ears.

Moore’s solution is universal health care, like in countries such as Canada, Great Britain, France and even Cuba. Moore attempts to dispel the myth that universal health care leads to long lines, poor coverage, lack of choice of doctors and doctors not being able to practice medicine where they want.

Moore interviews a Michigan woman who was denied treatment in the U.S for her cervical cancer as she got it when she was 22-years-old and, in the eyes of the health care company, was too young to have cervical cancer. She travels to Canada, where she tells the pharmacist she has been living there for three months and is able to get her medicine.

He travels to Great Britain, where he interviews a doctor who works in the NHS system who is very happy where he works. He lives in a million-dollar home and drives an Audi. Hospital stays are free in England and all prescriptions are roughly $10 U.S. and free for people under age 16 and over age 60.

He travels to France, where he learns that all health care is provided by the government, that a government-paid maid will come to the house of a new mother to help with her needs around the house, that all employees get five weeks paid vacation and unlimited sick days and that a man recovering from chemotherapy can get paid time off from work for at least three months.

When a number of 9/11 rescue workers were denied health care in the U.S. because they were contract employees, Moore takes a boat down to Cuba to Guantanamo Bay, as he had learned that the prisoners there were getting full health benefits. He never gets let in, but it leads to an amusing scene where Moore, speaking through a megaphone, asks that these Americans get the same health care treatment that al Qaeda gets. He finally ends up in Cuba where a woman pays five cents for medicine that would have cost her over $100 here.

While Moore presents universal health care in an almost utopian view, there is always a catch to such a lifestyle and Moore does point out that the people in these countries are drowning in taxes. He is merely suggesting that if all these counties can have health care for all their citizens, why can’t we?

The DVD includes over 80 minutes of bonus features, including a session before Congress regarding bill H.R. 676, which would propose universal health care for Americans, an interview with a woman who works for General Electric in France that gets free health care, even though G.E.’s American employees do not and a music video for “Alone Without You” by The Nightwatchman, who is Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sammy Hagar Concert Review - Detroit, MI 11/2/07

Written by General Jabbo

Sammy Hagar brought the Cabo Wabo Cantina to Detroit on Friday as he and his band, the Waboritas, rocked the Fox Theatre. The tour, which includes fellow ex-Van Halen member Michael Anthony as both an opening act and member of Hagar’s band, made its Detroit stop less than two weeks after Van Halen played its two reunion shows in the area.

Billed as the Mad Anthony Express, Anthony’s group, which included guitarist Vic Johnson and percussionist J.D. from Hagar’s band on drums, opened the show with a half hour set of mostly David Lee Roth-era Van Halen classics, including” “Runnin’ With the Devil,”
“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Light Up the Sky” and “D.O.A.” – the last two being songs Van Halen hasn’t performed on their current tour. The instant Anthony sang his harmony parts to the songs it became apparent what was missing from the Van Halen reunion. Wolfgang Van Halen held his own on the Van Halen tour, but he is no Anthony. The band also included a cover of the ZZ Top song “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” with Johnson and Anthony trading lead vocals.

After a short break, Hagar’s band came out, opening with “Sam I Am” from 2006’s Livin’ It Up! album and delivered a set featuring two new songs – the Van Halen-sounding “Open” and the country-flavored “When the Sun Don’t Shine.” The show featured plenty of Hagar classics as well, with three songs from 1981’s Standing Hampton, including his cover of “Piece of My Heart, “The Girl Gets Around” from the Footloose soundtrack,
and, of course, “I Can’t Drive 55.”

Anthony returned to the stage to perform a short set of Van Halen songs with Hagar, including “Best of Both Worlds,” “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.” He later returned for an acoustic version of “Dreams,” as well as an a cappella version of “Cabo Wabo.”

Hagar in recent years has reinvented himself as sort of a hard rock Jimmy Buffet, attempting to recreate the atmosphere of his Cabo Wabo Cantina at each of the stops on his tour. A mariachi band greeted fans when they entered the theatre while girls in bikinis served drinks. It is an interesting shift, as while the Roth era is generally considered to be more of a party band than the Hagar era, their show was all business, with little talking in between songs. Hagar’s show was like walking onto the middle of a giant New Year’s Eve bash. A different approach for sure, but both shows were great
and fans should be ecstatic both groups are still performing at this level given their history and their age – Hagar recently turned 60.

Hagar said he planned on doing this the rest of his life and thanked the crowd for giving him the opportunity to do so. He seemed genuinely elated to be back in Detroit – a stronghold of his – and it came through in his performance.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ratatouille DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Disney and Pixar have cooked up yet another great story with their latest hit, Ratatouille. Directed by Brad Bird of Incredibles fame, Ratatouille is the unlikely story of Remy the rat. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, Remy dreams of becoming the finest chef in France.

Remy’s idol is the famous French chef, the late Auguste Gusteau, whose motto was “anyone can cook.” Remy sneaks into elderly woman’s house in search of better food than the garbage and leftovers he is accustomed to as a rat and it is there that he sees Gusteau’s television program and reads his cookbook while the elderly woman sleeps. When she wakes up and discovers Remy, she opens fire on him with a shotgun, knocking a chandelier off her ceiling, and revealing the rest of Remy’s family who had been living in the attic. As she chases after the rats, Remy gets separated from his family and ends up in Paris where he discovers Gusteau’s restaurant.

It is there that he sees restaurant garbage boy Linguini making soup to pass the time – only Linguini has no clue what he is doing. “He’s ruining the soup!” Remy cries. Unable to watch, Remy sneaks in the restaurant and adds the right spices to the soup, making it an instant hit with the restaurant’s patrons. The problem is, Linguini can’t reproduce the soup without Remy’s help and thus a team is formed. Remy hides under Linguini’s chef hat and “pulls his strings” via his hair to decide what ingredients to use.

The pair return the good name to Gusteau’s restaurant, which had fallen on hard times under the watch of new head chef Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm) as he seemed more interested in using Gusteau’s name to sell frozen food. Notorious food critic, Anton Ego, played perfectly by Peter O’Toole, is even impressed with the new pair’s dishes. Remy even helps Linguini catch the eye of female chef Colette, voiced by Janeane Garofalo. Linguini eventually takes ownership of the restaurant after it is discovered he is really Gusteau’s son.

is a story of perseverance, of rising above one’s existence – even if it is not the popular thing to do. Remy’s family strongly disapproves of him associating with humans until they see Linguini genuinely cares for him. Then they are happy for him that he is following his dream.

Paris is a beautiful city and it is reproduced splendidly on the DVD. One feels as if they were in Europe when watching the film and a lot of the animation looks real. The colors are vivid and jump from the screen. The disc is presented in Dolby 2.0 as well as 5.1 audio and while not a two-disc set like other Pixar films, includes some bonus features including three deleted scenes – all in rough sketch form, two short films – including “Lifted” which was shown in theaters with Ratatouille, and a conversation with Brad Bird and chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry.

Ratatouille has something for everyone. Children will love the physical comedy of Linguini, as well as Remy’s hijinks, while adults will enjoy the budding romance between Linguini and Colette, as well as Remy’s determination to better himself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Best of the Colbert Report DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Stephen Colbert, the former Daily Show correspondent and current host of The Colbert Report, recently announced he was running for president in 2008, but only in his home state of South Carolina and as both a Democrat and a Republican. To coincide with his presidential bid, Comedy Central is releasing The Best of the Colbert Report – a nearly three-hour collection of highlights from the show on November 6.

The Colbert Report parodies political talk shows like The O’Reilly Factor, and Colbert’s character is a hybrid of conservative political pundits ranging from Bill O’Reilly (whom he refers to as “Papa Bear”) and Sean Hannity. Colbert is vain (his desk is shaped like a “C”), smug, and distrusts books because they “have no heart.” In the very first episode, he said, “Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I want to say it happened in 1941, that’s my right.”

It is this belief that led Colbert to coin the phrase “truthiness” – Merriam-Webster’s 2006 Word of the Year. Featured on the DVD in a segment called “The Word,” “truthiness” is to know something in your gut, in spite of what logic and reason may say. Another segment of “The Word” featured the term “Wikiality,” based on Colbert’s love for the Web site Wikipedia. Wikiality is truth by consensus. If enough people believe it, it must be true. These words form the core of Colbert’s belief system and make for some humorous moments on the show.

Another popular segment of The Colbert Report is Better Know a District, where Colbert vows to interview members from every congressional district in the country. Several highlights are included, including an interview with John Hall from New York – a former member of the band Orleans who wrote the song “Still the One.” Colbert mistakes him for a member of Hall and Oates and can’t understand why Hall, a Democrat, would object to George W. Bush using “Still the One” in his reelection bid. Also included is an interview with Robert Wexler of Florida. Wexler ran uncontested, and, as such, Colbert tries to get him to say things that would otherwise lose him the election, such as “I enjoy cocaine because…” or “I enjoy the company of prostitutes for the following reasons…”. Colbert never breaks character and is brilliant throughout.

The DVD also includes highlights of Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge, in which he filmed a light saber routine in front of a green screen and asked fans to submit their own videos of Colbert in action. One video was even submitted by George Lucas, billed on the show as George L.

After losing the Emmy Award for "Best Performance in a Variety, Musical Program or Special" to Barry Manilow, Colbert’s character pouted and Manilow appeared on the show. Even after Manilow agreed Colbert should have won the award, they proceeded to sign and have notarized a revolving biannual custody agreement for the Emmy Award, and then sang a duet on “I Write the Songs.”

O’Reilly even makes an appearance, promoting his book, Culture Warrior, which Colbert shows to the audience with a 30%-off sticker covering O’Reilly’s face.

It’s this irreverent humor, along with a dead-on parody of talk show hosts that take themselves too seriously that makes The Best of the Colbert Report a winner – and that’s the “truthiness.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Concert Review: Van Halen – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI – 10/20/07

Written by General Jabbo

Van Halen returned to Detroit Saturday at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in 23 years with original singer David Lee Roth at the mic and for the first time ever without founding bassist Michael Anthony.

In the long Van Halen soap opera, Anthony had a falling out with the Van Halen brothers around 2002, when he joined Sammy Hagar during his joint tour with Roth. This was seen as breaking ranks with the brothers as both Roth and Hagar were out of the band at that point and therefore mortal enemies of Eddie and Alex Van Halen.

Anthony toured with the band on their 2004 tour with Hagar, but only because Hagar refused to do the tour without him. When that tour finished amidst rumors of fighting and substance abuse problems for Eddie (he did a stint in rehab this year), Hagar was once again out and Eddie saw a perfect opportunity for him to take Anthony with him.

Enter Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son. Turns out, during all those years when Eddie was locked away in his home studio, he was grooming Wolfgang to be the new bassist in Van Halen.

Wolfgang rehearsed with the brothers for over a year when they decided they wanted to take the show on the road. Problem is, they didn’t have a singer. David Lee Roth, whose recent gig as a radio personality fizzled and whose recent solo career wasn’t doing much better, needed Van Halen. Likewise, the band could ill afford to bring in a fourth singer, especially considering their third singer, Gary Cherone, was not accepted by a majority of fans. With Hagar on the outs again, Roth was the only option.

The band announced their tour earlier this year, but postponed it soon after as Eddie entered rehab, suspiciously around the time the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only Hagar and Anthony attended the event. However, when tickets went on sale in August for the tour, fans who had waited 23 years to see the band’s charismatic original front man at the helm would soon get their wish.

In the first of two Detroit shows, the band played to about an 80 percent full house, opening with their cover of the Kinks’ classic, “You Really Got Me.” Roth was a little low in the mix for the first several songs, but that got sorted out and he sang and performed well, punctuating his vocals with Elvis-style karate moves. He described the new lineup as being three quarters original, one quarter inevitable.

Eddie played with great intensity and passion – a far cry from the hit-or-miss nature of the 2004 tour, which was marred by sloppy playing and band fighting. He had a lot of interaction on stage with his son, high-fiving him a few times (and missing cues as a result) and he had some timing issues during “Hot For Teacher,” but for the most part, Eddie was the Eddie of old – playing well, smiling, running and jumping around.

For having big shoes to fill in replacing fan-favorite Anthony, Wolfgang did an admirable job. He doesn’t have the dexterity on bass, vocal ability or stage presence of Anthony, but he didn’t bring the show down either. Roth took it upon himself to educate him in the ways of rock and roll, saying, “Look out there, that’s Detroit.”

The biggest star of the show was drummer Alex Van Halen. He played as well as he ever has and, more importantly, kept the band together when some songs started falling apart.

With a band as volatile as Van Halen, and with no definite plans to continue after the tour ends in December, fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the (mostly) original band should do so while they still have a chance.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Raising Sand CD Review

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Raising Sand
Rounder Records

Written by General Jabbo

For those who only know Robert Plant as the primal screamer behind such Led Zeppelin classics as “The Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” his pairing with bluegrass star Alison Krauss may come as a surprise.

Zeppelin wasn’t all about bombast though. For every “Black Dog,” there was “That’s the Way.” For every “Rock and Roll,” there was “Gallows Pole.” Indeed, Plant’s roots are as much in country, blues and folk as they are in rock and roll and heavy metal. Always one to experiment musically and a professed fan of Krauss, Plant phoned her several years ago to express interest in working with her. It wasn’t until their duet at a Leadbelly tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though that they considered recording an album.

That album is Raising Sand. Produced by T Bone Burnett, with songs selected by Burnett with input from Plant and Krauss, Raising Sand is a diverse mix of blues, country, folk and roots rock songs from a wide range of writers, including: Tom Waits, Gene Clark, Phil and Don Everly, Little Milton Campbell, Mel Tillis and Sam Phillips.

The combination works to great effect, with Plant and Krauss sharing lead vocals on a number of songs, including a fun romp through the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” a bluesy take on “Rich Woman” that would be at home on Plant’s Mighty Rearranger disc and a version of Mel Tillis’ “Stick With Me Baby” brimming with the hope and optimism of a couple in love against all odds.

The solo tracks work too, highlighted by Krauss’ haunting takes on Phillips’ “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” and Waits’ and Kathleen Brennan’s “Trampled Rose.” Plant’s emotional reading of Clark’s “Polly Come Home” and a heavy take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’” are highlights as well, with Plant’s and Krauss’ musical worlds colliding on the latter with its country fiddles over Zeppelinesque guitars.

Plant even covers himself, with a stripped down version of “Please Read the Letter” from 1998’s under-appreciated album with Jimmy Page, Walking into Clarksdale. A song of breakup, Krauss’ harmonies offer the woman’s perspective – as if they were both reading the same letter.

Backed by a crack band including Marc Ribot, Norman Blake, Mike Seeger, Jay Bellerose, and Dennis Crouch, Raising Sand sounds at once familiar and new. Two forces in their own right, Plant and Krauss combine to make something fresh and exciting. With rumors of a tour, the possibilities of Plant and Krauss reinterpreting each other’s catalogs makes this pairing even more intriguing. If Raising Sand is any indication, theirs could be the must-see tour of 2008.