Got live if you want it
With extended music videos culled from TV origins, we get mainly (even on DVD) concert films and maybe a little bio, or documentaries with “selected” cut-up performances. Results vary as the usual imitations are overcome.
Ryan Adams Live in Jamaica (Image Entertainment) is the 14th release taken from MTV’s “Music In High Places” series, which sets up performers as tourists in more (or less) far-off locales; somebody figured sending him to Kingston, Jamaica, was bound to be spliffy.
The disc is dominated by Adam’s more charming, laid-back side — solo, with an acoustic band, and at times with Toots and some Maytals. “Firecracker” works especially well this way, and Toots Hibbert pulls Ryan into the reggae groove for “Hard Time Situation” and even “New York, New York”.
Longtime Adams fans may well enjoy watching him shop, but beyond your basic tourism footage, the “bonus material” of shooting that footage goes well on into home-movieville; someone should have yelled “Cut!”
And then, sometimes they yell “cut” too often. An Evening With The Dixie Chicks (Columbia Music Video) takes us back to that simpler time (last year) before the Chicks became the source of oddly-directed righteous wrath, when they could just step out, uncontroversially, and introduce all of the music from their oncoming Home CD — in the quaint, rustic confines of L.A.’s Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars.
For those who saw this on television, this Surround Sound DVD, taken from two nights of hard-charging shows, adds seven numbers not seen there. There’s the shoot-from-the-lip humor, strong additional backup, and an audience dominated by young girl fans going nuts for the new acoustic stuff and, especially, earlier hits such as “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon”.
The massive success of Home might have given the producers faith that the young fans they apparently shoot for, like most of us, have some attention span for acoustic music — but the entire show is delivered in micro-shots of one to three seconds, sliced and diced without regard for the music’s rhythm or focus — trustless, distracting hyping that will limit repeated viewings for many. This is video worth listening to.
Steve Goodman Live From Austin City Limits…And More (Red Pajamas), on the other hand, is a must-have memento of the late, irrepressible and irreplaceable singer-songwriter. The centerpiece is a first-rate September 1977 Austin City Limits performance, in which Goodman burns through the likes of “Chicken Cordon Bleus” and “The 20th Century Is Almost Over” like a tiny, possessed Hassidic rabbi in flared polyester trousers.
Twenty key songs are delivered from multiple shows, including the country classic “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” and his signature “City Of New Orleans”. With an extended documentary, including colorful memories shared by Kristoifferson, John Prine and Marty Stuart, this is a treasure for fans — topped off by an extended television interview with Goodman, sick and near his end, on his love of baseball, Chicago, and his song “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”.
A less career-topping performance from the same Austin stage is captured on Roy Orbison Live At Austin City Limits (Image Entertainment); it doesn’t have the impact of the Black And White Night all-star show from the time of his comeback a few years later (and frequently re-aired on PBS), but it is live Roy, in color, and there are a few rarities, such as “Hound Dog Man” and “Lana”. Orbison looks puffy and the performances tend toward slow, but he tears into the dramatic cappers — “Crying”, “Running Scared” and “In Dreams”.
The bonus material may provide the most singular interest here — a mini-documentary on his earliest Texas country band, the Wink Westerners, and dozens upon dozens of rare photos from Orbison’s childhood right on through.
Bio material helps to locate the rough but often lovable charms of “the Kinkster” in Kinky Friedman: Proud To Be An A**hole From El Paso, spelled just like that (White Star). The voice he brings to concert performance takes of “Old Ben Lucas” and “Homo Erecutus” has never won contests, but the casually offensive gutbucket humor is often funny, and when he turns to the heartbreaking “Sold American” in a duet with Willie Nelson, you recall that he’s got a lot more than florid jokes going. The DVD also looks at life with his supportive, outsider Texas family, his second career as a popular mystery writer, and his surprise role as savior of abandoned furry friends at Animal Rescue Ranch.
The new two-disc DVD release of Sam Jones’ Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Plexifilm) has its ups — the look and feel of actual film, plus plenty of revealing, intimate personal and musical moments — and its downs — the failure, finally, to get the central “executives reject album but Wilco wins” story of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on-screen, or very much of the musical layering and experimentation that disturbed the brass, either. It doesn’t show ongoing process as, say, Godard’s One Plus One did for the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”.
The irony is, the most lasting parts of the film, most likely to be revisited on disc over time, are the unadorned, unmessed-with, supposedly more primitive versions of the YHF music, as played by the changing Wilco lineups or by Jeff Tweedy solo — and the DVD extends that material generously, including songs likely to be on their next outing. There’s a Jones and Tweedy voice-over commentary option, and a lavish booklet.
An example of musical bio really working well can be caught on the superb new video version of Robert Gordon’s Muddy Waters’ bio Can’t Be Satisfied from the American Masters series. With a number of full live Muddy performances already available on disc, Gordon and Morgan Neville are able to emphasize the man, his work, and life, and there’s plenty of archival interview material and session film to use, along with comments by those who worked with him and knew him well, and a full, credible picture emerges — respectful (but unprettified, about such matters as Muddy’s womanizing, for instance) that adds up to a valuable keeper for any American music library.
Two other new releases of note in the blues area: Robert Mugge’s Last Of The Mississippi Jukes (Sanctuary) documents not an old juke joint but a Clarksdale lounge in an old hotel in need of saving, capturing in the process good performances by Alvin Youngblood Hart and ChrisThomas King, and extraordinary ones by local blues woman Patrice Moncell. And Clarence Gatemouth Brown In Concert (INAK DVD) offers a full 1995 German TV show that shows off Gate and band working his typically varied way from Ellington’s “Take the A Train” to Muddy’s “Mojo Workin'” — and there’s some fiddle along with the guitar and vocals, too.
A last note: The much-discussed video version of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” turn is now available as a bonus DVD with The Man Comes Around CD; those moved by the juxtaposition of “Johnny ravaged by time” and “Johnny back when” may next want to see the electric 1969 footage in its original context on the DVD Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music (Music Video Distribution), which includes San Quentin concert footage.