24 August 2012

Music and Concert Magic

Music Mayhem and Discography Documentaries
By Kristin Battestella

Raise your hand if you remember the founding of MTV and the foretelling “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  Fortunately, with these great multi-genre concert videos and music documentaries, the timeless tunes and talent live on.

Marvin Gaye: Behind the Legend– Made in 2004, this hour plus tribute to the late soul singer of such exceptional hits as “Let’s Get It On,” “Sexual Healing,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Mercy Mercy Me” looks very dated and low budget.  There’s not much footage from his earlier career, and only snips of his Motown hits and duets with Tammi Terrell are heard. Ironically, his 1984 death is also quickly handled in the last few minutes. Despite its poor presentation, the treats here are in the intimate conversations with Gaye’s former wives Anna Gordy and Janis Hunter, his children, and close family and friends as they recount their memories and private stories through Gaye’s career highs, personal lows, and wonderful music.

Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On – By contrast, this 2006 retrospective subtitled The Live and Death of Marvin Gaye begins with Gaye’s youth and his estranged relationship with his now infamous father, Marvin Gay, Sr.  Archival footage of the man himself speaking on his faith, a strict religious upbringing, and ongoing family conflicts is anchored with great early videos and hit performances of “How Sweet It Is”, “Pride and Joy,” “What’s Going On,”  and more. Family and friends from the 2004 set also appear along with Gaye’s own interview reflections on the struggle of black musicians in the sixties, the Vietnam War, and how the times both personal and larger influenced his life, career, and ultimately his death. Fans and scholars really need both of these videos to get the whole picture of the man and his music.

Janis - For those like my mother who dislike the eponymous singer’s live shouting and concert screaming, this archival set is not for you.  Vintage video interviews and great concert material wonderfully capture the unique musical spark of the gone too soon star in this 1974 ninety-minute documentary. For fans and music historians, It’s great to see the fun, confident interviews of Janis Joplin being her honest, open rock self in contrast with the shy, awkward, and uncomfortable conversations of a woman trying to find herself. Pieces of her past and psyche can be explored thru the music in both today’s retrospective analysis and the then seventies contemporary lenses. An interesting study indeed.

Nine Hundred Nights - Early black and white conversations and rare intimate footage of Big Brother and The Holding Company anchor this 2001 hour long video highlighting the band often overshadowed by its brief and more famous member Janis Joplin. From the formation of the group to early Texas stories, surviving members and retro footage with Joplin tell a tale of rifts, egos, and substance abuse. Even the current Big Brother incarnation’s grievances and distaste over the aforementioned Janis documentary not mentioning them is heard. The Behind the Music format of a band being brought down is nothing new. Some might find the format here old, annoying, or even bitter. However, there is a not often told story here with an interesting dynamic in comparison to Joplin’s legend.  

Queen Rock Montreal – This 1981 concert starts a bit slow, with an unnecessarily fast “We Will Rock You” and few now lesser-known songs such as “Let Me Entertain You” and “I’m in Love with My Car.” We’re pre-Highlander after all, so those soundtrack tunes won’t be heard as well.  “Somebody to Love,” however, is glorious, as are “Love of My Life,” “Save Me,” and “Under Pressure.” While some might be put off by Mercury’s theatrics, you cannot deny his skill and star power. Guitarist Bryan May looks a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, but Mercury drinks beer during his songs and slowly strips down from white jeans to nothing more than tiny white eighties undies.  It’s bemusing to see some of the girls fawning towards the stage, too; but Mercury thrives on the attention, taking all the love and giving it back with music. By time we reach “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” it’s as if the audience- and today’s video viewer- are on an intimate level with Mercury. His magnetism is forward and unforgiving, but also captivating, sweaty, and beautiful. Not to mention it’s all damn good music! Check out the new DVD release with more Live Aid footage for a special evening in the bedroom with Queen. 

Wynonna Her Story: Scenes from a Lifetime – I thought this 2005 video was a sit down conversation focusing on the daughter half of The Judds.  But no, this two hour concert is an exclusive evening with the country crossover star belting tunes such as “Love is Alive,” “Love Can Build a Bridge,” and covers like “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “I’m the Only One,” and “I Can Only Imagine.”  Wynonna does share back-story both tender and fun between sets, and mom Naomi has a few moments in the audience, too. I must say, Wynonna makes some bemusing facial expressions when she sings, but you have to respect that when she’s reaching spiritual notes that would make the rest of us turn blue.  The country here isn’t for everyone, but there are also rock tunes and gospel inspiration worth the listen. Ironically, I got this DVD from Netflix the same week that Wynonna’s current husband Michael Moser lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, adding an extra spin to her talk of life and struggles healed through song.

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