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Staff Picks Category: Live recordings

Talking heads Chronology []



An official retrospective DVD compilation of rare footage and performances from throughout the Talking Heads illustrious career. The footage spans chronologically from mic tests and rough 1976 black and white footage of the band in NYC to television and festival performances during the height of their fame in the early 80’s. As the quality of the footage improves, the band becomes tighter and more assured, adding members until it culminates in the art-house funk monster period of Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. This development and gradual expansion of the band in style and number mirrors the sequences of Stop Making Sense, the bands epic masterpiece concert film, but also allows a rare live glimpse of the late 70’s Heads whose angular tightly structured charm was just as innovative for its time as their later afro-cuban funk explorations. Talking Heads fans have waited for years without any significant “archived material” from the band and few releases outside of greatest hits compilations, and this release provides the perfect companion to Jonathan Demme’s 1983 concert film. The DVD is bound within a book with some great photographs of the band and extensive liner notes by Lester Bangs, who lets loose with his usual unrestrained hyperbolic blurt.

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Let’s Spend the Night Together by Hal Ashby []



I remember watching the Rolling Stones in Let’s Spend the Night Together a few times on television when I was in high school.  I know this sounds unbelievable, but VH1 used to show concert films and was actually a music station back in the day.  Maybe I couldn’t get behind the 1981 renditions of the classic 60’s tunes at the time or was distracted by Mick Jagger’s football tights … truth is, I didn’t really dig the concert film when I first watched it.
Fast forward to last night.  I popped in this dvd for nostalgia sake and wound up really enjoying myself.  The performances are unbelievable!  In addition, I made the statement to my friend who was sitting next to me on the sofa that “this just might be the best Stones concert film ever.”
The boys barrel through 24 songs in under 90 minutes with the right blend of machismo and camp that we expect from the band.  Despite playing a huge stadium, they’re very, very loose with unexpected bendy guitar riffs distributed throughout by Ron and Keith , jazzy drum fills care of Mr. Watts and Mick’s wild singing.  If you look close enough, you may even see a smile on Bill Wyman’s face, too.  Some of the older songs appear to be unrehearsed to a certain extent while more recent cuts from Tattoo You, Emotional Rescue and Some Girls are played tight like a classic rhythm and blues review.  We’re also treated to a bonus keyboard section featuring Ian McLagan (of the Small Faces & Faces fame) sitting behind the organ and classic stones session man Ian Stewart on piano.
It’s also important to note that a serious filmmaker was on staff for Let’s Spend the Night Together.  Hal Ashby, whose credits include Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Being There and many other fantastic titles, directed the film.  It’s always interesting to see the difference between a standard concert film and one that was overseen by a true artist.  Martin Scorsese’s work on the Last Waltz and D.A. Pennebaker’s Montery Pop are other excellent examples.  They tend to spend more time with the performers and not make pointless quick cuts.  There is something to be said in what these filmmakers find interesting and insist the audience see on stage.
The real lesson learned however is that it doesn’t hurt to revisit films you may not have enjoyed at one stage in your life.  You never know in what direction your taste may take you.

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Live at the Star Club Hamburg by Jerry Lee Lewis []



Live albums are always tricky; sure, a lot of your favorite songs appear on the track listing, but often the magic isn’t quite there. Artists often issue live recordings as an inexpensive way to fulfill contracts with their record labels. A certain magic can be missing from the original studio recording or you’re just left with poor sound quality.

Live at the Star Club Hamburg happens to be one of the exceptions to this trend. Backed by the Nashville Teens, Jerry Lee Lewis delivers one of the fiercest live concerts that has ever been captured on tape. The piano, much like the drums, is an instrument where physicality can be a variable. A musician’s force has much to do with the overall sound. Jerry Lee, sounding possessed (and possibly a little in the bag), pounds like a piano with fury and rage like it’s his last night to raise hell on Earth.

For some context, it’s 1964 and the the British Invasion is in full force. The Beatles had taken Hamburg by storm a couple of years back. Army stints, jail time, religious conversion and death put an end to most of the original 1950’s rockers. The Killer also had his share of controversy when he married his 13 year old cousin while still legally bound to another woman. The days of chart topping hits probably seemed like a distant past.

What does Jerry Lee do then? Well, he heads out to a small stage in Hamburg and plays one of the most aggressive sets ever heard. The crowd is in a frenzy throughout his set chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” while he rolls over songs that were personal hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and popular favorites of his contemporaries such as “Long Tall Sally”, “Matchbox” and “Hound Dog”. Essentially, he’s delivering a similar song selection as the Liverpudlians brought with them to Germany; only Lewis is far more aggressive and is perhaps trying to prove that he’s an original rocker.

Fans of 50’s rock n’ roll will certainly enjoy this record. I also feel comfortable recommending Live at the Star Club Hamburg to fans of more raw groups like the Stooges or the MC5.

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