Quick, there are only a few shopping days left before Christmas! Herewith, a few more worthy DVDs (okay, a couple are DVD/CD combos) that might be just the ticket for your picky friends with unusual tastes.
Bobby Darin: Seeing Is Believing (Hyena). I was a huge Bobby Darin fan when I was a kid growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s. In fact, my first obsessive act as a music fan came at the ago of 9 or so when my neighbor Kim McFadden and I played The Bobby Darin Story hits album twenty-something times in a row. I didn’t really follow Darin after The Beatles came out, but I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I had high hopes for Kevin Spacey’s biopic, Beyond the Sea, but found it unwatchable. So I was hungry to watch this DVD collection of the real Darin in action. It definitely shows the full range of his talent, but it also leaves much to be desired, I’m afraid. Chief among its flaws is that there’s no evident rhyme or reason to the sequencing of the disc and it’s certainly not a coherent historical overview of any sort. (Perhaps that’s because this is actually Hyena’s second Darin DVD; the first being Aces Back to Back, which I have not seen.) At any rate, the lion’s share of the performances are from the early ’70s, plucked from his own TV variety show, and thus his most Vegas-y period. There are just two vintage black and white performances (from The Ed Sullivan Show) representing his commercial peak. Still, Darin was so talented there is plenty to enjoy here as he skips from style to style: Here’s Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”; there he is nose to nose with Bobbie Gentry singing a smoky version of Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” His lovely treatment of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” is juxtaposed with a brassy reading of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” For “Mame,” he puts on the full Broadway schmaltz, while on Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working” (!) he lays down cool solos on both harmonica and vibes. Yes, this was one seriously schizo performer, with one foot in Vegas and the other in some R&B club. Did he want to be Sintara? Elvis? Neil Diamond? Hard to say. He was good at just about every style—he was a total natural.
Classic Artists: Cream (Image). This fine two-disc set features a fascinating two-hour DVD documentary on the fabled British supergroup, plus a five-song CD of a Swedish radio concert by the band from 1967. The documentary includes revealing current interviews with the three band members—Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker—as well as insights from former road managers, friends and musical contemporaries. I was a huge fan of the group and followed them quite closely, but even I learned a lot from the documentary—for instance, I had no idea that Ginger Baker wanted to kill Jack Bruce when they were both members of the Graham Bond Organisation, before they even got together in Cream! Their extremely volatile relationship carries through the whole story, even up through their triumphant reunion last year. I would have liked to see a little more music footage of the band in action, but there’s no faulting the way this very compelling saga is told. The accompanying CD is good, not great. It captures the band at the moment right before they really started to stretch out musically (for better and worse), with beefy but not overlong versions of first album material. This CD/DVD set would be a nice companion gift for two other Cream DVDs: Image’s Farewell Concert, which is the band’s final concert in 1968, and Rhino’s Royal Albert Hall, a quite amazing document of Cream’s 2005 comeback gigs. Against all odds (as we learn in the documentary) Cream’s reunion has to be regarded as one of the most satisfying of all time.
Black Eyed Peas: Live from Sydney to Vegas (A&M). Though they are widely criticized for being over-exposed and too commercial (whatever that means), I think the Peas are one of the most interesting bands out there, and I’ve really enjoyed them on the two tours I saw: “Elephunk” and “Monkey Business.” They play with a big, kick-ass band (special kudos to multi-instrumentalist Bucky Johnson and guitar whiz George Pajon, Jr.), they have tons of energy, and they definitely have some of the coolest samples and strongest hooks in rap. This DVD features two performances from their Monkey Business tour—a huge arena show from Australia, and a smaller club show from the Joint at Hard Rock in Las Vegas. The Sydney show is a knock-out—they’re one of the few groups of their ilk that can truly command an arena. The DVD is a nice mix of hits from their last two albums, including “Where Is the Love?” “Hey Mama,” “Don’t Phunk With My Heart,” “Shut Up,” “Pump It” and “Let’s Get It Started.” Will.i.am is a genial master of ceremonies, but the other three Peas—Taboo, apl.de ap and Fergie—also get plenty of time to shine, both on songs and during a lengthy “freestyle” segment. One of the gimmicks of this particular DVD is that on certain songs you can switch back and forth between the Sydney and Vegas performances without missing a beat, but truth be told, on my system I was able to switch to Vegas with no trouble, but then I couldn’t switch back! In general, though, I didn’t care as much for the Vegas footage—the group seems more sedate and the sound quality on the lead vocals is inferior. Two of the four “bonus” cuts are very cool: The wonderful peace-love anthem “Union” (which is in the tradition of “Where Is the Love?”) is presented in a nicely shot video of the group at work and at play in South Africa. And the video for “Bebot” has apl stepping out for a party track completely in Tagalog, the language of his native Philippines. Live versions of Fergie’s regrettable “London Bridge” and “My Humps” complete the disc. She’s so much better than either of those lame raps show. (To see a promotional trailer, go to www.blackeyedpeas.com/home/news/424864.)
Weather Report: Forecast Tomorrow (CBS/Sony). This is quite a box set. Besides three career-spanning CDs (you can read my review here), there’s a bonus DVD of an entire two-hour concert from September 1978 in Offenbach, Germany featuring the classic lineup of Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine. This brilliantly filmed DVD really shows the ensemble at work—the interaction is stunning in many places, as is the individual virtuosity of all four players. It’s loaded with favorites, such as “Black Market,” “Scarlet Woman,” “A Remark You Made,” “Birdland,” “Badia,” “Teen Town” and more. And Jaco fans will of course be thrilled by fast-fingered pyrotechnics! Me, I’m amazed at how Zawinul can coax so much out of his gargantuan battery of keyboards. The DVD alone is practically worth the price of the box, but you’ll dig the music CDs, too. (I’ve also listened to the DVD just for the audio—it’s as good or better than 8:30, the live album this lineup made.)
Nina Simone: Live At Montreux 1976 (Eagle Rock). Impossible to categorize, the late, great Nina Simone sang jazz and blues mixed with soul, pop, gospel, African and Caribbean flavors. Moody but supremely talented, she was definitely one of a kind. She could sing standards and truly make them her own, but she was also a political singer, deeply involved with the civil right struggle: “Backlash Blues” has words by Langston Hughes and the title “Mississippi Goddamn” is pretty self-explanatory. Her piano playing is lyrical and also full of spirit. The 1976 portion of this DVD contains six songs—all fantastic—and nearly as much time of her sitting at the piano bench talking, explaining where the songs came from and also rambling a bit about different matters. It’s easy to tell this was a strong but fragile woman. More consise are the four performances from a 1990 Montreux appearance, which includes her biggest hit, “I Loves You Porgy” and a heartbreaking take of the French classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” All in all, a spellbinding DVD.
Bruce Hornsby: Intersections (RCA). Another excellent CD box set with a bonus DVD. The CDs contain all the hits (and he has more than you probably remember), plus alternate versions, live tracks and plenty of his fabulous solo piano improvisations—that’s the disc I’ve been playing the most. The DVD is a nice selection of Hornsby videos, all of them quite tasteful, if not mind blowingly creative, and then a host of live performances and one-offs, including appearances with Roger Waters, Branford Marsalis and the Grateful Dead. Previous Hornsby DVDs have shown the full breadth of his talent as a live entertainer, but this DVD is an appealing potpourri.
Flogging Molly: Whiskey on a Sunday (Side One Dummy). Flogging Molly isn’t the first band to combine traditional Irish music with punk rock—obviously The Pogues are their progenitors—but they’re a damn fine group, and this two-disc DVD/CD set shows them at their best. The main disc is a veryå well-crafted documentary (directed by Jim Dziura) about the L.A.-based band: It tells the story of how leader/founder Dave King, a native of Ireland, found the other members of the septet, all of whom both shared and have helped expand his vision. King is a very interesting and charismatic fellow—he spins a good yarn, as so many Irishmen do. There are bits and pieces of nearly two dozen songs in the documentary—from live tours in seven countries, in the studio and in rehearsal—as well as interviews with all the band members and on-the-road footage. The CD contains acoustic and live versions of a few Flogging Molly favorites. I had heard a couple of Flogging Molly CDs in the past and enjoyed parts of them. The DVD, however, has turned me into a genuine fan of the group.