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.