Musical offerings for holiday shopping
Without any true holiday blockbusters to offer, aside from Madonna's new album, and with marketing and distribution resources non-existent, the music industry is hoping you'll be buying DVDs instead of CDs this holiday season.
Audioslave Live In Cuba (Epic/Interscope)
On May 6, 2005, Audioslave held a free concert at the Anti-Imperialist Plaza in Havana, Cuba, after the band obtained special waivers from both the Bush and Castro regimes to do so. More than 60,000 fans showed up for what turned out to be one of the great rock shows of all time. On disc, Audioslave can be somewhat sluggish, and even in their live shows they lack a certain chemistry sometimes. But they're on-target with this incendiary set. It begins with "Set It Off" and "Your Time Will Come," numbers which got the Cuban crowd stoked for more. Playing selections from both Audioslave albums as well as a few choice oldies, this is the one concert DVD to buy this season, if only for the workout on "Bulls On Parade." The disc includes a short documentary on the show as well. Running time: 107 minutes
Festival (Eagle Eye)
Filmmaker Murray Lerner chronicled four different years of the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-1960s. This documentary, originally released in 1967, is like a time capsule from that era. Featured in the film are performances from famous folkies of the time such as Joan Baez and a surprisingly entertaining set from the painfully earnest Peter, Paul and Mary. What makes this documentary great, however, are the performances from an impossibly young Bob Dylan, a zonked-out Donovan and a petulant Johnny Cash. Among the other treasures are performances from great blues acts such as Son House and Mississippi John Hurt and traditional African-American folk acts like the Georgia Sea Island singers. Running time: 97 minutes
Cradle of Filth: Peace Through Superior Firepower (Roadrunner)
For the heavy metal fan on your shopping list, nothing's gonna top the tour de force of Cradle of Filth's latest DVD. While some people desire to compare the band to 1980s acts such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the truth is that COF is more like Gwar with great musicians and slightly less fake blood. The DVD does the band justice, as it includes a complete live show, a behind-the-scenes documentary and six music videos. Sure, the band may be a little hokey, but listen to "The Black Goddess Rises" and say they aren't a great metal band. Running time: 100 minutes
George Harrison and Friends: The Concert for Bangladesh (Apple)
Although no review copy was available for screening, the concert it documents is one of the most fabled in all of rock history. In 1971, 10 million East Pakistani/ Bangladeshi refugees had fled to India, seeking to escape political oppression and death squads. Estimates of the killing range from several hundred thousand to 3 million. When the refugees arrived in India, they faced a humanitarian crisis: a lack of food, medical supplies and severe flooding. Foreign aid was nearly nonexistent. In that context, Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar asked his friend, former Beatle George Harrison, for assistance in setting up a show. Allen Klein, the New York businessman who was the manager to three of the four ex-Beatles, took over arrangements and put together a megashow. Originally, the show was to have concluded with a surprise Beatles reunion, but Paul McCartney said he would show only if his ex-bandmates would settle the Beatles' business deals his way. John Lennon backed out at the last minute. But the show went on, with the first half featuring Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan playing a beautiful but mournful classical Indian song, "Bangla Dhun," written for the occasion. The rock portion of the show featured Harrison, playing Beatles hits and early solo material, a brilliant performance by Billy Preston, a song by Ringo Starr and a searing guitar solo from Eric Clapton during "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The surprise of the show was a set from Bob Dylan, making his first live appearance in some years. He played a truncated set of his best songs. The show concluded with a Harrison song written for the occasion. The DVD includes remixed audio and surround sound, as well as a documentary featuring interviews with Bob Geldof and Kofi Annan.
Various Artists: Live Aid (Warner Bros. Home Video)
On July 13, 1985, President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery and transferred power to Vice President George Bush. While Reagan's colon was worked upon, concert venues around the world featured superstar acts in a worldwide TV show for African famine relief. The four-disc DVD, featuring 600 minutes of performances, still omits 85 songs from the original show but does have its moments: a very young Madonna singing "Into the Groove," a powerful version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from U2, Tina Turner and Mick Jagger cavorting together and Elvis Costello singing "All You Need Is Love." Unfortunately, there's an overrepresentation of bad 1980s bands such as REO Speedwagon, the Thompson Twins and Spandau Ballet. Led Zeppelin's notoriously sloppy reunion set was omitted from the collection and several other acts, such as Bob Dylan, have had their sets trimmed. The disc does include Teddy Pendergrass, left a quadriplegic after an accident, singing a heartfelt "Reach Out and Touch" and a few great performances from The Who. The show raised $150 million and lifted the awareness of millions more. The DVD, however, is best viewed as nostalgia.
Various Artists: Live 8 (EMI)
A four-disc set featuring 480 minutes of footage from the July 2 concert designed to put pressure on the G8 leaders for debt relief to Third World nations. If you watched the highlights on MTV or VH-1, you already know what's here: a fantastic set from U2, brilliant songs from Audioslave, Green Day and Stevie Wonder and the Pink Floyd reunion, something once thought possible only when pigs learned to fly. The Floyd set was impeccable and memorable, with Roger Waters making peace with his bandmates for the 20 minutes it took to perform. The finale, with Paul McCartney handing the mic to Mariah Carey during "Hey Jude," is an enjoyable trainwreck. The fourth disc contains interviews and outtakes.
Alive or Just Breathing
The 2002 metal classic has been remastered with an extra disk of demos, videos and other unreleased material. This is the album that established KsE as one of the leaders of 21st century metal music. While the new material is nice, and provides a context to the original album, which seemingly came out of nowhere, it seems like holiday filler and/or a push for their new concert DVD, which reprises much of the same material.
Silver Side Up
Another reissued and remixed album from Roadrunner, but with a bonus DVD that features an entire concert, expanded artwork and comprehensive liner notes on the making of the album, which made Nickelback a household name in 2002.
All-Time Top 100 TV Themes
Either the most brilliant or the most annoying double CD ever made, this set collects obscure themes not captured on other albums. Sure, you'd expect the theme to Friends and Sex and the City, but who would have thought anyone would have remembered the 1970s classics such as The Banana Splits or Wonder Woman? Those and many, many, MANY other TV themes are collected on these discs.
A legitimate contender for album of the year, supergenius producer Rick Rubin does the impossible. He takes the schlocky Las Vegas performer, strips away all the bullshit, forces him to write new songs, then records them with simple accompaniment. The achievement is stunning and reverses decades of negative feelings many have had for Diamond. Without the backup singers and the string quartets, Diamond was and is one hell of a songwriter and singer. A few cameos from Brian Wilson and a band consisting of a few of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers and Billy Preston add the grace notes. The chances of Neil Diamond releasing a challenging, relevant album in 2005 must have been a million to one, much like expecting Barry Manilow to start covering Dead Kennedys songs. But it not only works, it works to perfection. Be forewarned: Early copies of the disc were copy-protected by a Sony scheme that exposes your computer to hacker attacks. Look for a non-stickered version of the disc.