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DVD Reviews

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STEVE HILLAGE BAND
Live In Amsterdam 2006
Gonzo 2012

See the CD

Taking no risk, an unstoppable experimenter gets back in action but loses his visual magic in transition.

"Never say never", says Steve Hillage to the public. His smile is wide and the overall vibe is good, and this DVD conveys it perfectly. For the veteran British guitarist playing at Gong Family Unconvention was a kind of homecoming gig as, on the occasion, he revived his own band for the first time in almost three decades. So here, on a small stage serving as a scene for a down-home sensation with a small, FX-laden guitar for a kitchen knife, Hillage cuts its fine. Steve hasn't lost an iota of his poise and pose, and his dyed barnet, showing he's still very "in", makes a contrast with GONG's Mike Howlett's psychedelic bass with a peeled-off paint. The latter looks as spectacular in his delivery against the main man's cool which adds to the tension so typical for a Hillage show. And it's there that the festive mood comes from to produce a dose of headbanging during "Solar Musik" and a switch to a regular, with handclaps and cheers, happening mode for "It's All Too Much".

What's lost here is a solemnity so inherent in Steve Hillage music. Formerly, his - and his band's, including the guitarist's synth-operating partner Miquette Giraudy - stage presence had a cosmic feel to it. Yet now, the homey atmosphere of the evening stripped most of the magic, the aspect somehow corrected in post-production: on the DVD, superimposed images of Steve's and the water nicely complement the echoey, floating feel of "Aftaglide", and when he comes up the drum riser the tide turns up in style. That's why the aural version of the concert is better: with music so evocative one hardly needs footage like this to go on a space trip in an armchair. So, perhaps, it's good that Hillage didn't take his ukulele, playing it on the bus in the bonus section, to the stage.

***1/4
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
& His Magic Band -
The Lost Broadcasts
Gonzo 2012

Don donning his weirdness delivers a dangerous date but the wizardry works well.

For all the Captain's respectable status these days, uncovering a footage that captured Van Vliet in his madful prime proves a hard task: he was too leftfield to be caught on tape, too enigmatic for an average viewer and too threatening - to the point where Don's friend Frank Zappa looked a conformist. So it's a blessing that, in 1972, German TV show "Beat Club", a treasure trove for any music aficionado and now a source for "The Lost Broadcasts" series of DVDs, invited THE MAGIC BAND and their leader to play a short set. Here, in compliance with the series' principle, it's doubled in its length due to the inclusion of all the takes, even those which didn't make it to the screen. Not that Mascara Snake's bass solo was ever meant to make the cut but now it feels like a statement of the ensemble's level of musicianship. Then, the clear-eyed Captain comes on - black velvet jacket, red trousers, black cape for a further tryout - looking somehow lost without a real audience to bark at. Still, having found fan outlet in harmonica, he barks.

Meanwhile, Snake picks up a guitar for "Click Clack" and wildly prowls between two other axemen, Winged Eel Fingerling and pink-coated Zoot Horn Rollo who caresses the fret with a slider on his black-nailed finger and sparsely inserts flurries of notes into the recital of "Golden Birdies". But "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby" from Van Vliet's latest album, "The Spotlight Kid", fails to lift off, and visibly irritated Don breaks the first attempt to shoot it while his team carry on with their lazy funk. The second effort, though, is a success, with more action from each player and more grit in the song that springs to life (even without superimposed images in the eventual version, also here) and, in its turn, gives life to "Steal Softly Through The Snow", out of "Trout Mask Replica", where Beefheart tortures his soprano sax before wading into Coltrane-esque waters. As Zappa would say, the torture never stops, yet it did; thankfully, now there's a chance to replay it.

***1/2
ERIK NORLANDER -
The Galactic Collective - Live In Gettysburg
Gonzo 2012

See the CD

Once mortars are silenced the music gets loud, The Rites of Spring Festival plays host to one fantastic project.

While it does suffice for mere mortals to have polished their best works, Erik Norlander who fashioned an integral album out of his classic pieces under the "Galactic Collective" banner took his project a step further and brought it all on-stage in 2011 to stun the public and pay tribute to his hero Bob Moog. As documented here, on a video facet of the performance available also in audio-only form, Norlander did so impressively, the focus of attention being not so much a monstrous stack of circuit boards, The Wall Of Doom, taken on-stage but Erik's playing and command of his ensemble.

Now the group include the maestro's wife Lana Lane who, together with Debrissa McKinney, seems lost in a reverie on "Sky Full Of Stars" which switches to black and white when the tension ebbs down and bursts back in color once the tune is taken to the next spiral level with Freddy DeMarco's soaring guitar solo. Later on, Lady Lane steps forward to deliver "Capture The Sun" and "Secrets Of Astrology" with Norlander's contribution accentuated visually, as is his operating of an iPad-like gizmo with a finger-painting interface on "Dark Water". Equally spectacular is Nick LePar's non-intrusive playing - as if in slow motion - on "Fanfare For Absent Friends" and sensitive tom tom's work on "Trantor Station". The leader comes up with a background of the latter theme, so there's a link to a studio DVD, as well as - a great dose of humor on display - of other pieces and the "Wall Of Doom" moniker. Despite the place, Gettysburg, the concert doesn't have an historic aura: that's perhaps, because Erik Norlander's journey continues. Yet it's as great a landmark as it gets.

***
ERIK NORLANDER -
The Galactic Collective - Definitive Edition
Gonzo 2012

See the CD

The birth of a project in ongoing action makes a visual diary of the keyboard wizard backtracking his crusade.

As revisiting and reimagining one's old works go, for all its long-faced premise, "The Galactic Collective", both the band and the project, is fun on many levels. So, as boring as it could be watching a group toiling in a studio environment, a look at Erik Norlander's ensemble doesn't look like they're beavering away. Business is business, of course, and it's an actual recording process preserved for posterity on this companion piece to the expanded CD edition of the keyboardist's classic cuts given a new treatment, even though in places it's a montage with footage of guests including John Payne flown in a bit of showing off thrown in: does drummer Nick LePar really juggle his sticks when there's no eye of the beholder as he does live? Spectacle or not, there's a sense of magic being born.

Still, the mystery gets dispelled to a certain extent with the interviews that break down each composition to its core. Not ruining them yet putting into historical and emotional context such as explaining how "Fanfare For Absent Friends", a tribute to the victims of September 11th, came to be. There's some technical and compositional detail, too, for good measure and for masters of the trade to learn from. Practical methods are in play here as well: fixing a key with a diskette, for a sustained note, is a nice touch, a longstanding note of obsolete piece of medium taking part in creation of futuristic music like "Sky Full Of Stars" which started its main theme as a piano line that has been replaced with a Moog wave. By the same token, the first part of "Dreamcurrants" that originally had cello on it is played on grand piano here to put forward Norlander's amazing finger work - a sight to be seen. Another treat comes with "Trantor Station" where Erik operates his Moog stack, The Wall Of Doom, to build a solid wall of sound. "Solid" could be a leitmotif of this DVD and its background, so it's as definitive as definitions go.

***
TONY FURTADO BAND
Live At Mississippi Studios
Funzalo 2012

When the fingers do the talking the picture comes alive along with the sound.

He has a faithful following, this banjo mojo man, but deserves much wider acclaim. Yet there's a problem: Tony Furtado's appeal can get diluted on a big stage where the level of concentration lowers on both audience and players' accounts. Therefore, going for a DVD is a perfect solution, as what went down in Portland on November 25th, 2011 looked like an intimate gathering of the tribe, people flocking into a studio while the somehow anxious Furtado was rehearsing his strum backstage. Once this banjo technique applied to an acoustic guitar is taken to the public, though, the nervousness disappears. In its stead comes pure magic, especially when banjo is deployed to be woven into the tightly knit Celtic cloth of "Portlandia" and when the guitar, oiled with slider, serves up a rustling lace for the blues of "These Chains" or gets hectic conveying the desperation of "Another Man".

With visual accent in musicians' hands, it's a riveting sight. More so, you can rarely see such unpretentiously inspired faces, particularly in the well-paced rush through "Toe The Line", and the adoring expression on Stephanie Schneiderman's face during "I Wait For This" reminds of June Carter's look at Johnny Cash whose ghosts lurks sometimes in the countrified atmosphere. There's no sharp edge - the band don't attack the songs but hug them - only sharp focus. A companion CD boasting an additional cut may allow one clearer view of the music, yet as a means to connect to Tony Furtado's fount of energy this DVD is priceless.

***
MERRELL FANKHAUSER -
Tiki Lounge
Vol. 1 & 2
Gonzo 2012

A surf legend comes visual with a good intent and mixed results.

Merrel Fankhauser's twang is ingrained in American music's DNA from 1962 when his band THE IMPACTS scored a hit with "Wipe Out", but in the last two decades the veteran ran a double course as an artist and a presenter of his own TV shows. "Tiki Lounge", bearing the theme of Hawaii, the Californian's second base, is one of those programs - rather uneven one if these two DVD volumes with the best episodes are anything to judge by: in some places arresting, in others boring. All depends on whether you share the host's interests.

The opening part rides the surf way closer to home, and one can hardly look away from an on-stage clip of Dick Dale or a live studio session of THE VENTURES with Jeff Baxter on guitar as the energy's high, yet once the hot rods exploration involves the sleazier moves by THE DOOBIE BROTHERS and Huey Lewis the depth is gone. Worse, present is a healthy dose of vanity. No matter how hard Fankhauser tries to reinstate the late Nicky Hopkins' position as a rock 'n' roll greatest piano player, which he was, the two veterans' concert puts Merrell's son, who struggles as a singer and can't compete with his father as a "feel" guitarist, in the spotlight; sharing a stage with and be accompanied by Willie Nelson must have been a treat, too, yet the country legend is so relaxed under the Hawaiian sun he loses all his signature edge. Elsewhere, Merrell takes a trip to ??? to be presented with a Fankhauser signature guitar, but the feature-long road footage isn't of National Geographic quality. Still, the watcher's endurance is rewarded with a muscular rendition of "All Along The Watchtower" as is the "UFO Special", completely disconnected from music and saved by a vintage Merrell video of "Calling From A Star".

Things get much catchier when Fankhauser invites his interviewees to play. If some obscure '50s singers miming to their old records feel a profanation, Mary Ramsey of 10,000 MANIACS rocks the joint in fine fashion as does Merrell's part-time co-conspirator Ed Cassidy from SPIRIT, an almost cartoonish character who stops shining only when his stepson and bandmate is mentioned. The sorely missed Randy California is there as well, preserved for posterity on tape by the host, not shedding new light on his stint with Jimi Hendrix, but to listen that story from him is heartwarming. As is spending time with "Tiki Lounge" and having a bonus CD in the package - yet those who'd like to hear Merrell Fankhauser in his element are advised to find his aural not visual "Best Of".

***
COPERNICUS -
Live In Prague
MoonJune 2011

A revolutionary poet from a free world shatters the world soon to be free.

There's something symbolic in the fact that this DVD saw the light of day around the time when Vaclav Havel passed away, for it was 1989, on the brink of radical changes which the last Czechoslovakian president played a major part in, that Joseph Smalkowski landed in Prague. Now, the poet may suggest the prohibition of rock 'n' roll in the Eastern Bloc then, yet the footage proves him wrong, as the winds of change blew so strong they were bringing whole throngs of punters into arenas like Slavia Stadium which, perhaps, resulted in a new experience not only for the nine thousand listeners but also for Copernicus himself.

Such vastness clearly ignited the New Yorker who starts his performance with "The Authorities!", a challenge to the times of a quiet revolution in waiting. He marches on stage to literally touch his audience, the artist's glitter look a contrast to the stark intensity of the music - here's an angry poet spilling his fervent truth and justice. The vibrancy is stressed with a split screen that launches different angles and makes for the slightly muddled video, whereas the show's theatrical approach is evident at the end of "White From Black" when an African comes on to console Copernicus who, having revealed his Slavonic roots, kneels before the spectators. No wonder that by the end of "In Terms Of Money" with its relentless refrain and bass throb the crowd is entranced, yet in "Chichen-Itza Elvis" the band - featuring the bellicose guitar of Larry Kirwan from BLACK 47 - provide them with a righteous dance groove and frenzied diatribes from the main man. In his faux-bishop robe and taking to the keyboards, Copernicus looks like a priest at the pulpit. When he's imploring "When you understand it's peace", a rapport is complete: one overzealous fan, bold enough to get up and get close, is allowed to sit on a cusp of the stage to watch the encore and hug the iconic guest.

Not a real singer by any means, Copernicus knows how to rock his audience, and this historic document is the best testament to his art's ability to chime in with the moment.

***
Barbara Thompson's PARAPHERNALIA -
Live '05
Temple Music 2011

A doyenne of British jazz fighting the time but keeping perfect timing where every melodic minute counts.

An image of a dame with a sax may conjure up a picture of Candy Dulfer but only for those who's never heard of a British treasure by name of Barbara Thompson. Playing fiercely yet delicately since the '60s and awarded an MBE for her services to music, Thompson's been leading PARAPHERNALIA since 1977, a jazz band that sees her talent bloom in the fullest, and here's the visual proof of it. But there's more to the Stuttgart concert than meets the eye, for the "Never Say Goodbye" tour meant a heroic feat for Barbara. Stricken with Parkinson's disease, for her every show can be the last, this one being especially difficult - which doesn't show. The lady's grip on her ensemble and her instrument is still unshakable.

In such circumstances, there's a new meaning to "Are You Real" that rides a muscular swing to pack a lot of fun in its crooked twist: it's as loose as it gets for all the parts of the band to work smoothly. While Jon Hiseman, BT's other half, takes a backseat - literally - to provide a backbeat for the front line's easy grace, Peter Lemer, deadpan serious, delivers the most rocking piano solo, and when Dave Ball goes for a bass solo in "Still Waters" it's for the sake of character and texture of the piece rather than a demonstration of personal prowess. The split-screen shows how it's done, though, stressing each player's contribution to the mesmerizing whole, from the conspiratorial unison of "Shifting Sands" to a folky tinge of "Close To The Edge", to underscore it's a labor of love which only a woman in leader's role can share with an audience that eats out of her hand.

A sparse "Breathless" which opens the second set of the concert lays out a pure jazzy puzzle as opposed to its more lighthearted predecessors and has each musician add small pieces here and there to create an impressive - impressionist even - tapestry with BT's alt marking the canvas and Billy Thompson feeding his violin through effects to turn it into an electric guitar. There's no instrumental vanity, only virtuosity tuned in for the ensemble playing. A couple of cuts, most impressively "Life In The Fast Lane" with its dramatic urbanism, beam in a brass group, from a studio, whose sound is projected on the stage and whose footage makes the visual cut of the show. It gives Barbara a release and a background for her instrument ever-saturated and ever-changing tone that's the center of the show - its shadow is there on-stage even when Thompson walks out. That's the presence which comes alive there to stay.

*****
WISHBONE ASH -
This Is Wishbone Ash
Glasgow Production 2010

Relaxed but determined, veteran British rockers cook their new potion under the French skies.

Three "is" in bold on the cover of this DVD suggest an existential approach which nicely suits a band who entered their fifth decade on Earth to look up to the sky. In this context, focusing a film on capturing the group out of their regular hectic routine creates a fabulous snapshot of the moment. Director Christian Guyonnet sheds a different light on WISHBONE ASH who went to France in 2009 to relax in the countryside with their families, all the time working on their next album tentatively titled "Searching For Satellites" - but under a new modus operandi. We see the quartet in a small cinema building compositions from the scratch, or from subtle ideas everyone brings to the table, sometimes a literal one, outside, where a creative discussion takes place. Andy Powell, who bears the band's legacy on his shoulders, delicately states his authority, yet what comes on screen is a well-oiled democratic unit able to blow a fresh energy in such classics as "Blind Eye" both in the studio and on-stage.

There's not much of a live footage here, this side of the ensemble's life has finely been served over the last 10 years with a few DVDs. Here, the action lies in thoughts rather than hands, and the musicians' interviews that take most of the screen time are never dull even for casual spectator who might be bored with revisiting the history of a group he or she doesn't really care for but still would like to get into an old rocker's head. Powell doesn't dwell on the past, save for the mentioning that it was Laurie Wisefield who taught him how to get the maximum of guitarist's fingers. WISHBONE ASH seem to continuously surprise Andy, as he points out that "being in this band is kind of being in a university". Nice sentiment! That's where a secret to their Phoenix-like longevity lies.

***1/3
HORSLIPS -
The Road To O2
Horslips Records 2010

Subtitled "A Film About Getting To The Gig", a gripping tale of the Eire legends' way to a supposed obscurity and back.

Get the people to a quiz challenge, and the Irish rock question will turn up the names of U2 and Sinead O'Connor rather than Rory Gallagher or THIN LIZZY, and it's a safe bet no one will mention HORSLIPS whose very existence has been hanging on the Celtic vibe. Having run through the '70s and stopped at the decade's end, the quintet, save for guitarist John Fean, left the scene to "live life as humans", as they say in the full ensemble interview on this DVD which celebrates the band's triumphal return.

Dublin's "02" hall filled to the rafters, the group don't disappoint in the concert part of the film - well, almost, for the show's represented not in full and has a smattering of cuts, including the tremendous "Charolais" sequestered to the bonus section, while the rest of the action can be watched outside the conversation with the players - so the punters, many a young face wearing the "The Tain" T-shirt among them and many a veteran freaking out, would surely win the quiz. The dynamics of the quintet are amazing given they didn't grace the stage for a long time, but that's a classic line-up, minus drummer Eamon Carr who's not able to play now yet inserts his tuppenny into the humorous reminiscing with his friends, his replacement being guitarist John Fean's younger brother Ray. Charles O'Connor showing no signs of age neither in his looks nor in his prowess with electric mandolin and fiddle, while there's infectious rocking involved in the collective's delivery, what with the groovy take on "Shaking All Over".

Still able to rattle and roll, HORSLIPS proved they're still a force to be reckoned with, the DVD capturing the band in all their glory. Not a road movie, no matter what the title suggests, it's as about the past as about the present and, hopefully, the future.

****2/3
ELOY -
The Legacy Box
Artist Station 2010

Deutsche progressive heroes receive their long overdue due - or give it to their followers on a double DVD.

ELOY is a little bit unique collective on the German art rock scene, and all because Frank Bornemann's ensemble don't pretend to be unique. While many of their peers rode the Kraut horse, this band have been ploughing a progressive furrow for four decades now, the trek "The Legacy Box" is celebrating in some style, with the group's story told through interviews on the first disc and videos collected on the second one. And while casual listeners will understandably concentrate on the latter, the best way to explore the package is to switch to it after each part of ELOY's journey on the former, conveniently divided into timeline-aligned chapters. Otherwise, boredom may set in due to the talking heads - musicians from all the line-ups, plus producers - keeping their faces too straight, save for the humorous snippets of discarded footage tagged to the end of the film, and their tale sounds a lot less adventurous than the music they play. Seems there was no shenanigans on the way, if only such details aren't lost in the subtitles translation, and even the band's international tours come mostly covered by way of memorabilia displayed rather than reminiscences.

Yet it's quite a gripping tale, even though the aficionados will hardly know anything new from it; the newcomers are to get a nice course in ELOY's history recounted with a lot of dignity on everyone's part, and if saucy details are missing it only goes to show how much attention is being paid to the music. This, perhaps, also explains while there's nothing fancy about their visuals which can't be said about their sounds. A pity, the only live footage here comes from 1994, where the group's classic "Poseidon's Creation" seems a bit hollow; still, it's not the ensemble's fault that they were underserved video-wise in their first decade, so ELOY's three TV appearances from 1977-1978, plus a couple of early clips, would have felt precious even if "Decay Of Logos" and "The Midnight Fight" weren't such strong creations. The four cuts from 1983's studio faux-concert fare less successful on all accounts, the compositions less captivating, but 2010's "Age Of Insanity" reinstates the veterans where they belong - and draws the fine line under their glorious history. And here's hoping, "The Legacy Box" not only celebrates the past but also toasts the future.

****
Paul McCartney Really is Dead
Highway 61 Entertainment 2010
by Joel Gilbert

Subtitled "The Last Testament of George Harrison", the movie brings on the most compelling rehash of the most enduring rock myth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before - Macca blew his mind out in a car in November 1966 - but not from the Fabs themselves. This time, though, the story comes from none other than George Harrison who, attacked by the fan and reflecting on the fate of John Lennon, made a confession which, on a couple of cassettes, found its way to, of all places, the Highway 61 Entertainment's door. The company cleverly points out that the man whose voice is on these tapes only claims to be the Beatle yet, by offering the first archive interview where The Quiet One mentions the deadly threat of jelly beans, they show how uncannily similar that voice is to Harrison's in its tone and the Liverpudlian accent which, it has to be said, sounds a bit artificial in places. More important, still, is the story the man recounts: it's absolutely convincing!

The gist of it is simple: the band's guilt, the British government's fear of the innumerable fans' suicides and the MI5 shadow play made THE BEATLES conceal the horrible demise of their bass player and substitute him with one William Campbell but place the clues to the mystery on each of their records. And even wrtite songs about it, for the accident scene only produced such characters as Rita, Walrus and Maxwell. That was the real reason behind their desire to stop touring and many subsequent deeds - all explained by George and appropriately illustrated by old footage, sound snippets and the albums' artwork details. It's a captivating process, revealing every hint there is but stopping short of shaping "corps" as "corpse" after saying that "Apple" means "A Paul". It could make a believer out of any sceptic if only...

...if only there weren't glaring mistakes, although these are mostly obvious to the ardent aificionados only. If McCartney perished in 1966, the Fabs' first album without him wouldn't be "Rubber Soul" - or "Rubber Paul" as it was intended to be called - that had been released a year earlier, and saying their next LP was "Yesterday And Today" betrays the American mind behind the story. A great story anyway, a pretty entertaining, if grim, story in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. Is the man really dead? But does it really matter! You don't have to believe in magic to enjoy "Harry Potter", and the "Paul Is Dead" is a great example of modern mythology which works as fine as any fiction, and you won't regret a single minute spent watching the DVD. More kudos to its creators for coming up with the Fabs-inspired soundtrack, hinting on their classics, that can be accessed on the very same disc.

****
RICK DERRINGER -
Rock Spectacular
Store For Music 2010

An easy action with some heavy guests: quite a way to have a bash for all to join and enjoy.

Rick Derringer has had at least two careers in his lifetime - one as pop musician, with THE McCOYS, the other as a hard rocker in his right. The common denominator for both is the man's love for having fun. And that's exactly what he's doing on this video, previously out only on VHS and now following hot on the heels of its audio track. Filmed at New York's "The Ritz" in 1982, the concert billed as "Rock Spectacular" sees Derringer share the stage with his friends who receive as equal a spotlight as the main performer. It's a hard task not to be upstaged by such guests the first of whom, Karla DeVito, comes on just a few minutes into the show to add some post-punky grit and an umbrella-adorned swagger to it with her "Is This The Cool World, Or What?". Still, Rick looks very comfortable in the accompanist role; more so, the Southside Johnny-delivered "Honey Hush" allows Derringer exercise his Chuck Berry licks and let rip, hair down.

Yet for all its drive the classic blues numbers fall behind Derringer's own masterpiece - sweaty and loose but tight even visually, with the band at their collective's best - "Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Koo" which is challenged only when Ted Nugent brings forth his "Cat Scratch Fever" which, for once, lacks its usual menace. The merriment reigns here from the opener "Easy Action" that, the title coming alive, has Rick jump by the microphone, on to the very end, "Hang On Sloopy", sung by everybody to link it all back to where the journey started for the man. And then there's "Lady" where, in the company of the legendary rhythm-purveyors Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert, Derringer boldly takes the Jeff Beck's former place to fill those shoes with humble panache. That's what makes him so endearing and that's why the fun had at "The Ritz", the fiery "Party At The Hotel" an appropriate illustration, seeps through onto the DVD.

****1/2
RIVERSIDE -
Reality Dream
Riverside 2009

The influential Polish prog-metallurgists serve up their first ever visual document.

The companion piece to the same-titled live album, this double DVD package excels exactly where it disappoints effectively proving that RIVERSIDE, while able to transport their studio-clear sound to the stage, fail to spice it up visually. Looking like your regular metal band - grim faces, bald heads, tattoed limbs, you name it - this quartet channel their energy drastically different: they're too static to impress. Yet, emerging somnambulistic, as if in a reverie, the group come to share their closed-eyes dream with everyone there is to see. From "The Same River" on, it's a bliss-inducing spectacle which is laced on the screen with disturbing imagery and old film effects that highlight the music's deceptive tranquility.

There's enough glacial menace, though, and riffs in abundance, so it's quite refreshing when singer and bassist Mariusz Duda breaks the ice verbally to address the enthusiastic crowd before "Volte-Face" introduces some progressive rock 'n' roll to the mix. Still, for the most part the players stand aloof and emotionless, even when the music doesn't speak volumes as it does to everyone's delight in "Dance With The Shadow". But there's a lot of volume involved, especially when it all careens to heaviness with slightly industrial edge, whereas it's the sheer dynamism which makes "Reality Dream III" truly deep and keeps the audience mesmerized, all a testament to the understated heroics of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski. The final "The Curtain Falls" sees - an impressive sight! - the band one by one leaving the stage, but there's more: additional material provides a glance at RIVERSIDE from different years and in different venues. Not that there's more variety...

***3/4
JETHRO TULL -
Live At Madison Square Garden 1978
Chrysalis 2009

See the CD

The unique occasion to see the Pied Piper and the rest of Merry Gentlemen in their prime.

Strange as it may seem, it's the first concert video of the classic era JETHRO TULL released officially. There have been bits and snippets, the Isle of Wight Festival performance from 1970, interspersed with paraphernalia footage and interviews, and the "Slipstream" film that ushered the band into another decade, but nothing actually live from the '70s when this ensemble blossomed - until now. Here, "live" has two meanings, one implying the show which makes the bulk of the DVD and whole of the CD in the package was broadcast from New York to the UK in a real time mode. It goes to explain why the visual disc begins and ends as audio-only and why the group walk out into the wings to be back up again.

So it's when the photo stills give way to a video that a real action begins. A multi-task frontman, Ian Anderson plays, save for his usual roles, a show host here, inviting the TV audience to follow him on-stage and enter the theater right in the thick of things for "Thick As Brick" laid down by a thick-bearded frontline of Anderson, guitarist Martin Barre and the old friend-cum-temporary bassist Tony Williams, plus, in the back, Barriemore Barlow who picks up the flute and takes the one-legged stand for "Songs From The Wood" to mirror Ian. The band's instrumetnal prowess aside, it's mesmerising to see the close-ups of the singer's face as his grimacing and other panto stunts are a spectacle in themselves, while in "Aqualung" it's the passes of Barre's hands that work magic on the solo. No less amazing is how the ensemble keep their well-hidden cool amidst the madness they create which might be the key to the TULL's uniqueness secret. More so, the immense maturity of the material coupled with the players' wisemen looks make it easy to forget everybody in the band is only around 30 years old here.

Unlike many of their progressive rock contemporaries, TULL didn't rely on lights, masks and other props opting for sometimes weird yet ultimately human touch and movement. Here, even keyboardist John Evan has a chance to do the clown dance while Anderson's busy with a rare organ solo - one of many captivating moments on the DVD. Bar a single tape glitch, the quality of the video is exellent, and there's hoping some more classic JETHRO TULL shows will be made available any day soon.

*****
SHADOWLAND -
Edge Of Night
Metal Mind 2009

Self-proclaimed outcasts of progressive rock come close to the edge of thrill.

An acoustic guitar and a singer aren't what one expects from a British prog band but it's this simple immediacy - two figures in the spotlight shrouded by darkness - that grabs the attention from the very beginning. Then, the curtain rises, and the band's grander design springs into action carnivorously with "The Hunger", Clive Nolan spreading the wisdom not from behind the keyboards as usual but from center-stage, his long black leather coat like a metal guru's cape. He's seated back at the ivories, though, for "The Kruhulick Syndrome", the poignant baroque duet with the band main tinkler, Mike Varty, to which Mark Westwood adds some six-string lace before Karl Groom soars electrically above it all. With compositions high on hooks, everything feels a little bit formal, still...

...Which can't be said of the second, visually lo-fi but somewhat funnier, concert on this DVD, recorded in Holland a couple of days later when the leader soldiered on despite the sore throat. If sometimes Nolan looks not too comfortable in the frontman's role, all the man's multiple projects notwithstanding, his charisma wins over; more so, he's very convincing when inhabiting a deep song such as the neoclassical "The Seventh Year", the most wonderfully realized piece on offer, or the recently written title track, and there's a real attack in "Hall Of Mirrors". The only gripe, then, might come from the sensation of the band lacking that same edge they're capable of.

****
TINYFISH -
One Night On Fire
Metal Mind 2009

Nothing small but ambitions tamed: pirahnas they aren't.

There's an immense pride about this English ensemble, based on friendship and self-financed, and it's quite visible from the audience, but the warmth they project from the stage doesn't make for a great showcase. Yet with too much introspection involved, especially on singer Simon Godfrey's part, the band's almost impenetrable cool feels mesmerising in "Build Your Enemy" where the smooth balladeering turns into the five-string bass-bobbing storm navigated by Paul Worwood. Later on, he ushers in the funky groove of "Eat The Flesh" that somehow makes the quartet a bit more agitated with Jim Sanders delivering a frenetic guitar solo.

Bizarrely, there's more energy in encores such as "All Hands Lost" than in everything preceding those last songs. Sure, combining the Noughties visual minimalism with the progressive rock's requisite pomp isn't an easy task, and having the costumed narrator, Rick Wakeman-like, on stage is a nice stroke, but the band are too serious. The use of sampler percussion alongside real drums creates a curious spectacle, though, and Leon Camfield looks like the only player who really enjoys the proceedings. Whether this enjoyment will be shared by the DVD viewers depends on how much a fan they are.

**2/3
DeeEXPUS -
Far From Home
Metal Mind 2009

The further one go, the sweetest seems the home. The English band swing the message where it's at.

There's something engaging in the seriousness that this band go about their business with, even though the refrain of the opener, "Greed", serves alienation with the threatening "I don't care" refrain. With each player in an invisible bubble of his own, they're chained musically, and what little visual contact between the six is, it feels precious. The right flank looking metal solid - two bald heads and two beards, one, bassist Ian Raine's, multicolored - and the left bookish, a nice poise reigns in the balance between hard rock and prog drifts, rather dramatically in the grandiose, heart-wrenching "Half Way From Home". But while the aural cloth is thick, the air the sextet create comes loose, which is so clear in the momentum-gaiming "One 8" with its rich texture and guitar duet, the leader Andy Ditchfield's acoustic adding a layer of delicious lightness to the overall gloomy outlook.

The more the show progresses the higher is the tunefulness quotient, and by "Pointless Child", when the initial ice breaks around singer Tony Wright's charm, one sense total emotional immersion in the proceedings and the pull of vocal harmonies. And when they ask, "Should I stay or should I fly away?", in the magic closer "7 Nights", parting ways seems out of question. With the DVD, anyway.

****
RPWL -
The RPWL Live Experience
Metal Mind 2009

Innocence long lost, the art laboratory sets for the experience - all too sure of its results.

When the German ensemble's singer Yogi Lang says, "This Is Not A Prog Song", the irony lies in this being not a small stage talk but both the piece's title and its very gist. It's essentially a pop song - but with a prog-obligatory bass solo and an unexpected U-turn into rock 'n' roll including John Fogerty's classic "Rockin' All Over The World" and SCORPIONS' "Rock You Like A Hurricane". But while it's a smile-inducing homage to the band's roots, as is Syd Barrett's "Opel", the widescreen opener "Hole In The Sky" spreads up a vista too big to fathom with enough room for Kalle Wallner's guitar to fly, Icarus-like.

Here, the ensemble's visual seriousness serves them well. Perhaps, their gloom is thick yet this is the starry night, with a celestial lucidity to "3 Lights" - even though the images projected on the backdrop seem all too earthy, if perfectly conveying the idea of trasportation somewhere else. The performance feels charming, and at the same time aloof, too, but still romantic enough to hook the audience on the "Roses" santiment and have everybody sing the chorus. The experience's results? Success with a nice residue.

***2/3
HADLEY, NORMAN & KEEBLE -
An Evening Of Gold
Angel Air 2005-2009

Old Romantics are back! The SPANDAU BALLET dandies open new season.

While some of their contemporaries bring no more than bittersweet memories and nostalgia, SPANDAU BALLET remained a vital force even after the band broke up, and this DVD, re-issued to coincide with their long-anticipated reunion, is a prove the ensemble have never been a guilty pleasure. Although, there's only three members of original quintet performing mostly the songs of their absent guitarist in 2002, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble throw a lot of charm to the eager crowd. There's sheer joy from both sides, singer Hadley's smile beaming and John Keeble effusing enthusiasm from behind his drum kit, while the band's collective tongue is firmly in their cheek - what about the visuals going black-and-white as "Communication" gets distilled to a catchy rockabilly?

Norman may slap the vocalist on his bum and take the mic himself to lead the band into a frothy funk of "Motivator", yet there's no need for motive to share the "Only When You Leave" infectious sentiment and another hit, "Gold", with its riffed up and ruffled chorus. Hadley, elegant and stylish, demonstrates his lungs' capacity, does his best Marvin Gaye in "True" and fills the "I am beautiful and clean and so very very young" line with mature sarcasm, "To Cut A Long Story Short" comes on with unexpectedly powerful riffing from Norman - so much for their new romanticism, rock hard now. Still, the intro to the show comes from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet", and the front row is all young girls with bleary eyes who can hardly get into a joke of finishing "Lifeline" with a vocal and sax quote from WINGS' "Live And Let Die". Thankfully, these guys live and let live - also on a CD

****
OVERHEAD -
Live After All
Metal Mind 2009

The depth doesn't always make a great spectacle, but looking in it feels good.

Whoever came up with the artwork idea for "Live After All" must have been a joker, as these Finns are quite far removed from Ian Anderson bunch of gentlemen. With TULL-ish antics served blatantly overt only in "Butterfly's Cry", OVERHEAD's Polish show sucks you in slowly but surely with "Metaepitome". Singer Alex Keskitalo shaping a figure of young hippie sage who delivers the wisdom right from his mouth and then the mouthpiece of his flute, which somehow drowns in the mix anyway, there's something very '70s about the band's casual attire and hairstyles. The front man's frequent eye-contact with the lens makes watching the DVD arguably more mesmerising vision than sitting in the audience, but from the seats he might have looked really lost at the crystal-light start of "A Method...", his "personal confession" - with no artificiality about it.

Yet then Keskilato turns into a dervish and the band throw themselves in transcendentally manic interplay with the most spectacular work from drummer Ville Sjoblom who leads his compadres into a majestically orchestrated chaos in "Entropy". There, everyone shines both instrumental and visual-wise; in particular, Jakko Kettunen delivers a spellbounding - watch for his hands close-ups - solo on guitar. Surprisingly still, in the closing cover of "21st Century Schizoid Man" the band sound and act more cool than when dealing with their own creative money which means the quintet have to find their own stage feet yet.

***1/2
Glastonbury Fayre
Odeon Entertainment 2009

How the pyramid was built and where it all began: the legendary Nic Roeg's film brings back the magic long lost.

Now it's an institution: not that these days there's no greatness at the Glastonbury Festival stages, but for all its attractions the event lacks the original spirit, and hardly any of its current attendees feels the ley lines energy or the magic of the place. Everything was different in 1971 when the second music festival in Somerset had been staged without much ado and for free - out of charge and for the free will to flower. Flower power it wasn't, though, as no authority seemed to be present there, and a tent with the "Hippies not admitted" sign glaring from the screen is quite telling. All comparisons with Woodstock make no sense as, the anniversary replays notwithstanding, the American festival remains a one-off initiative, while Glastonbury is a continuing phenomenon and no less unique for it. How it gained such a status becomes clear from this movie, out on DVD for the first time.

It's interesting to align the Nic Roeg film with Murray Lerner's "Message To Love" shot a year before at the Isle of Wight Festival to feel the difference in the attitude, a riotous in the latter and placid in the former. At Glasto, singing, flicking V-signs, dancing naked, swimming in the mud and making love - all comes so innocent: hard to believe yet it's the conservative Britain running wild. There's a nice contrast in strange old ladies navigating through the young bodies as Terry Reid flies high towards his "River" glory with David Lindley on slide guitar and Linda Lewis' lark-like improvisations over the not-in-YES-yet Alan White's funky beat. The sounds play a huge part here, but it's amazing how many people don't actually look at the stage but just enjoy the feeling of togetherness that's much more important than the music. It just had to be passed on.

As one of the festival masterminds, Andrew Kerr, says in the movie, "it'd be nice to see not just Glastonbury Fair but lots of small festivals happening with the same motive... we can't tell what good will come out of it until we've tried". And FAIRPORT CONVENTION who flag their "Dirty Linen" here, with Daves Swarbrick and Pegg in blistering form visually feeding off one another's energy and having the folks reel with delight, have indeed been trying ever since five years later. The performers bring a great variety onto the pyramid stage the building of which was a spiritual thing in itself. If FAMILY, who were at the Isle of Wight in 1970, deliver the angular "Drowned In Wine" with Roger Chapman looking into some other world where spirit of inebriation reigns, TRAFFIC bring on a storming version of "Gimme Some Lovin'" driven by Jim Capaldi's tambourine, and Arthur Brown's KINGDOM COME dark circus involves burning crosses.

It's paganism rather than Satanism: with Hindu rituals set in motion out in the field to the QUINTESSENCE's raga, there are Catholic priests feeding the mass to the mess proclaiming, "where the people are the church should be". It's the people the real focus of "Glastonbury Fayre", so it doesn't matter that David Bowie's performance didn't make it onto the screen and PINK FAIRIES are seen only as a marching band waking everybody up, as the film captures one of the wonders of the world, and even the distant echo of that magic is a gulp of fresh air in our sultry times.

*****
FINAL CONFLICT -
Another Moment In Time
Metal Mind 2009

The unity projecting into the music makes no row, only a wonderful show.

Why this progressive rock ensemble from England isn't as known as their American punk namesakes is anyone's guess, but it's surely not because of the pretentiousness of FC's music; nor the band's show doesn't bear any traces of bombast. Still, the uniqueness of the group is obvious from the get-go of this October 2007 concert in Poland. Once two guitarists, the founding fathers Brian Donkin and Andy Lawton, start singing in unison as a solid front, they cut the lonely warriors heroes in "Solitude" the presence of their brothers-in-arms notwithstanding. But what a tight unit the team are!

There's visual telepathy of the band's new rhythm seciton, barely out of their teens, throughout, never more so as in the "Rebellion" fast lane with Henry Rogers delivering short yet breathtaking drum piece and Steve Lipiec's blistering keyboards claiming some flame and fame. And there's the captains' mutual empathy shining on their faces in "Stand Up". Everybody come spectacularly unhinged when the pathetics of "Stop" get emotionally sharp and heavy for the two axe solos to nervously relax it all. A must-have disc for the fans and a nice introduction to FC for the uninitiated.

****
IAN GILLAN BAND -
Live At The Rainbow 1977
Angel Air 2003 / 2009

The other side of the Purple Piper, the other highway to the stars.

Banished from DEEP PURPLE, Ian Gillan looked like a hard rock casualty but the singer became a real victim only when he formed IAN GILLAN BAND: the fans didn't let him do anything other than the genre that made Gillan famous, whereas Ian himself was so prone to experiment. This paradox, or contradiction, is all over the ensemble's London gig recorded for posterity, to be the only visual document of the band: the repertoire here is heavily laden with DP material - but jazzed up to the gills.

It feels wonderful, though, with "Smoke On The Water" filled with folk motifs courtesy of Ray Fenwick's guitar. Both in white jackets, there's obvious rapport between him and the singer who's flying, vociferously and almost physically, from the off, from "Clear Air Turbulence", the title track of their then latest album. The band in fantastic form, it's a big pity that bassist John Gustafson makes only some fleeting appearances vision-wise, while dominating the bottom end aurally. And while keyboard wizard Colin Towns seems to be too busy, relaxing only to pick up his flute and give the clarion call for "Child In Time", judging by Mark Nauseef's broad smile beaming from behind the drums, the group enjoy the show twice as much as their too polite audience. From today's perspective, it's those who didn't get it were the real victims.

****1/2
STEVIE WONDER -
Live At Last
Universal 2009

The official DVD number one gets another Number One for the living legend.

It's quite appropriate in the year of Motown's 50th anniversary to release the first-ever DVD of one of the most prominent artists in the label's stable which also marks Stevie Wonder's 45th year at the top of the charts. No wonder, then, and appropriate again for him to start the 2008's show at London's "O2" on harmonica, like in his twelve-year-old-genius beginning. Not to boast, this, as the intro grows into Miles Davis' "All Blues", and then there's a nice jam on Chick Corea's "Spain": talk about humility here. Stevie indeed does some talking - "Visions" brings with it a romantic ecology speech and there's a mock English toasting before the vocoder-processed "Hello" leads into "Hello Goodbye" opening "UK Medley" which includes, among others, the traditional "London Bridge Is Falling Down" and "Satisfaction". Wonder always knows what ground he's at to stay his own ground, so "Higher Ground", short yet intense, serves as a showcase for the backing singers, one of them being the veteran's dauther Aisha who comes up later to sing "I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Of My Life" to her dad's piano accompaniment.

Playing aside, Stevie's voice feels ageless. The cry of "Rasta!" sounds like a call to rise spirits with the uplifting, and conscious, "Master Blaster", now featuring the line "Barack Obama's gonna be the next president of the United States". That evokes a great cheer, but this artist is a showman of a special kind, he engages the audience in singing different parts secretly leading them up, both melodically and lyrically, to the breezy "Part-Time Lover" to give everybody a break with "Overjoyed" and "Lately", two ballads in a row. Sometimes, when emotions spill over, Wonder jumps on his feet for a brief dance, and "Knocks Me Off My Feet" turns into a gospel-tinged trance-inducing celebration of life. Now there's a chance to be there by proxy, but... While the veteran presents an excerpt of a new, unreleased yet, song "You Are The Only One For Me", a little extra material would have been welcome.

*****
PENDRAGON -
Concerto Maximo
Metal Mind 2009

Thirty years of soldiering on: the casual job and a cause for celebration.

If after playing neo-progressive rock for three decades the "neo" part is still relevant, this English band pretty much define it, while whether there's something new to the genre they're the classics of now might be a moot point. Doesn't matter, though, as at present the quartet know too well when to play seriously and when it's time to be plain playful. Celebrating the 30th year of the ensemble's existence in Katowice in 2008, the veterans, as seen on this DVD, delivered the goods in all kinds of manner for more than 2.5 hours, and it wasn't just the "greatest hits" vanity.

Here, sporting military fatigues, the band, unlike their prog co-runners, waste no time on epic passages; in the literally finger-pointing and singalong-inducing "Walls Of Babylon" they rather get straight to the business. And the business feels good with musicians bobbing up and down and getting their kicks out of old fave that is "Nostradamus" where the band members are introduced while their cartoon portraits get projected on the backdrop screen. Scott Higham, the latest addition to the den, proves to be not only a powerhouse drummer but also a showman of highest order whose left hand every so often flies in the air while the beat remains ever so steady and inventive. But in "Breaking The Spell" each of the four gives his whole self to the expression - both instrumentally and sight-wise, with Nick Barrett squeezing every ounce of emotion out of his guitar and soaring even higher in "It's Only Me", one of three songs here from the band's latest album, "Pure", while Clive Nolan and Peter Gee keep it all firmly grounded.

All is hardly groundbreaking but breathtaking for sure, especially when, towards the end of the show, the sublime semi-acoustic "King Of The Castle" makes a return from "The Shadow" performed earlier in all its glorious entirety. A riveting view.

****3/4
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