From the same folks who brought you the Jazz Icons series comes another fine example of European TV documenting American music better than anyone did in this country. This time it’s the Stax/Volt revue in Oslo, Norway, of all places, and it’s another good one. The black and white program shares the exceptional visuals of the jazz DVDs, though the sound is a little more hit or miss—perhaps because it’s mostly electric instruments, so the mix was trickier for the Norwegian engineers. There are definitely sporadic level and balance issues, but mostly it sounds quite good.
And it’s a strong program musically. It opens with a couple of tunes from Booker T. & the MGs, who are the house band for the show, and they lay down a great foundation for what’s to come. I always forget how good Steve Cropper was—certainly he was light years ahead of most conventional rock guitarists in 1967 in terms of both technique and taste. But all the players are top-notch. After the MGs cook up some “Green Onions,” the Mar-Keys horn section comes out for a couple of numbers and then you’ve got the Memphis Sound completed. The middle part of the concert is devoted to rave-ups by Arthur Conley (“Sweet Soul Music,” complete with tributes to other contemporary soul stars) and Eddie Floyd “Raise Your Hand,” but not “Knock on Wood”? What’s that all about?), and both of them spend a lot of time getting the crowd into it, bringin’ it up and takin’ it down; showman stuff. But then the last third really kicks into overdrive. Sam and Dave bring some much-appreciated harmony singing to the proceedings (as well as some fine dance moves) over the course of four songs, and then the great Otis Redding wraps things up with an electrifying five-song set of hits—two months before his historic appearance at Monterey Pop (and nine months before his death), Otis is definitely on top of his game. He doesn’t work the crowd like Sam & Dave do, but he’s still in complete control; what a singer!
Bonus features include commentary from Steve Cropper and others, a look back at the tour, and the usual fantastically informative liner notes, this time by Rob Bowman.