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Media Preview December '09

Two dvds are reviewed: Joe Bonamassa Live From The Royal Albert Hall & The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray


Joe Bonamassa Live From The Royal Albert Hall
You hear it all the time; people are “livin’ the dream.” Unfortunately, many never get a chance to fulfill their life-long dreams. Just don’t count blues guitar wizard Joe Bonamassa among them. When he walked out onto the hallowed stage of London’s The Royal Albert Hall on May 9, 2009, Bonamassa satisfied a burning ambition he’d had ever since watching the legendary Cream melt the same stage as a youngster. It took him 20 years to do it, but he finally did it, and he did it in grand fashion. Lucky for us, he decided to film it all and share it. Joe Bonamassa Live From The Royal Albert Hall captures Bonamassa’s most shining moment in all of its glory, showcasing the prodigious talents of this modern-day guitar magus for all the world to behold. This blistering two-disc set opens with Bonamassa himself setting the scene, defining the night’s true eminence to viewers about to partake of his London soiree. Then, armed with his signature Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, Bonamassa joins his stellar ensemble—including dual drummers Bogie Bowles and Anton Fig—onstage to the gorgeous opening of his instrumental, “Django.” From there, it’s all jaw-dropping lick after lick of Bonamassa’s best stuff, including the beautifully eerie title track of his latest release, The Ballad of John Henry. He satisfies his diehards with concert jam staples like “Sloe Gin,” “Mountain Time,” “Woke Up Dreaming,” and “Blues Deluxe.” And there’s a heavenly selection of eye candy too, including a Bigsby-equipped 1999 Les Paul historic aged by Tom Murphy, a 2009 Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci model baritone, and a beautiful 1982 korina Flying V. Of course, there’s also the special guest appearance of the one-and-only Eric Clapton, who joins Bonamassa onstage for a scorching rendition of “Further On Up The Road.” Technically, it was Clapton’s 147th appearance on the Royal Albert stage, and he seemed relatively at ease as he almost symbolically hands over the ethereal blues crown to its worthy new owner, and then demonstrates just how he earned it in the first place. The two proceed to trade licks back and forth as if they’d been playing together for years. And if you can find only one flaw with this DVD, it’s that Clapton only hung around for one tune. But that’s it, because the rest of it is a true testament to Bonamassa’s bluesy artistry. Let’s hope he comes close to matching his hero’s run at the divine Hall.—GH

List $19.99

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray
One of the coolest things about a DVD collection like Criterion’s The Complete Monterey Pop Festival [Blu-ray edition] is that the generation that actually lived it can pop this into their Blu-ray players and just about feel the warm, wet California mud slithering between their toes. It’s that damn good … really! Even if you don’t get into this kind of music, you can certainly appreciate where it all came from. And, if you can do that, you’re going to find this collection is a treasure trove of extraordinary long-lost footage, hellacious performances and fascinating documentary that should keep you glued to your big, widescreen plasma TV for the full length of both discs. I went into this with a bit of trepidation. If you’ve seen one late-1960s concert film, you’ve probably seen enough. But I was wrong. Director D.A. Pennebaker’s take on this historic gathering of flower children in the northern California countryside is as epic as the festival itself. Call the summer of 1967 the “Summer of Love,” or whatever else it’s been tagged over the years—yet make no mistake, the Monterey Pop Festival was the year’s signature pop culture event, and the beginning of quasi-American revolution that didn’t end until two years later in upstate New York. Pennebaker was originally hired by ABC to film the festival for television, but backed out once it previewed the footage. Instead, Pennebaker teamed with The Mamas and the Papas founder John Phillips and legendary recording guru Lou Adler to produce the original 79-minute documentary released in 1968. Disc one showcases the original movie in its newly restored and remastered format. Supervised by Pennebaker himself, the footage was taken from the original 16mm rolls, transferred into high-def, color-corrected and made grain-free. The audio was given engineer Eddie Kramer’s legendary treatment, resulting in an extraordinary visual and sonic experience that can be enjoyed in several formats, including the phenomenal DTS 5.1 surround sound option. Of course, all of the musical performances are there: Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, The Animals, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, Buffalo Springfield, The Who and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. Disc two features Hendrix’s incredible, sexually-charged performance in its entirety, including his introduction by Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who then slides back into the crowd to take in Jimi’s superhuman spectacle. There’s also Otis Redding’s complete breakout performance, and approximately 123 minutes of outtake performances that didn’t make the original film. Add the superlative commentaries from both Pennebaker and Adler, plus trailers, interviews, video excerpts, photo essay, photo catalog, and 64-page booklet, and there’s no doubt about it—this collection goes way beyond simple nostalgia. Before it’s over, you’ll be wiping the mud from your feet and looking for a flower to put in your hair.—GH

List $69.95