The year 2012 brought a bonanza of boomers on Blu-Ray…and we don’t say that just for the sake of alliteration. Among the year’s best music home-video releases were vintage stuff from the Beatles, Stones, Who, and Doors, along with contemporary concerts or docs featuring the likes of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and Paul Simon.
Thank God we had a premium release from LCD Soundsystem to represent a younger generation of music auteurs… even if that whole LCD concert movie does ironically revolve around the retirement of James Murphy, the relative young whippersnapper on this list.
As we head into 2013, let’s commemorate (and spend hard-earned gift cards on) ten of the past year’s finest music DVDs and Blu-Rays:
Been a long time since they rock & rolled, indeed. Hell officially froze over in December 2007 when the three surviving members of Zeppelin got back together (along with the non-surviving member’s son) for a one-time-only gig at London’s 02 Arena. Maybe the biggest question mark was Robert Plant, who hasn’t sung that high or twirled a mic stand like that in decades. But the man sure does a convincing job of at least pretending like he still wants to be a Golden God, whether or not he’d really rather be home making Americana with Patty Griffith. He’s joined by silver-haired gent Jimmy Page, weirdly youthful John Paul Jones, and ironically bald scion Jason Bonham, meshing so flawlessly that you can’t help but weigh the tragedy of the tourlessness that followed this dream show. If you spring for the deluxe version, besides a two-CD soundtrack, you’ll also get a bonus DVD of the band’s full-length rehearsal at Shepperton Studios, captured on a single standard-def camera from across a vast soundstage. For those of us distraught that Zep didn’t do more than one reunion show, this rehearsal gig at least offers the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a second one.
After seeing the celebratory end of Led Zeppelin, it’s time to celebrate the origins of the Stones, or the closest thing we have on film. With all the feature films the Stones have starred in over the decades, who knew there was yet another one sitting in the can? Yet, unbeknown to very few people prior to 2012, a documentary crew had followed the nascent superstars during a brief tour of Ireland right after “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” came out. The very belatedly released result is an irresistible black-and-white portrait of burgeoning Stones-mania, all the way down to a friendly riot that erupts on stage when fans get overeager to get up close and personal with the naughtier moptops. You can marvel at length over a baby-faced Mick, already seeming a bit patrician manner even when the band was at its rowdiest, or the too rarely filmed Brian Jones, looking mischievously beatific, if not long for the Stones’ or this world. Charlie is certainly worth a look as a stand-alone DVD, but diehard fans will want a deluxe boxed-set edition that includes two bonus CDs, including a newly unearthed live show from ‘65.
The Fabs seemed at a bit of a loss for how to proceed cinematically after their two triumphant Richard Lester comedies, and these two 2012 remasterings show how they adjusted uneasily to movie life in the psychedelic era. The animated Yellow Submarine looks infinitely better now than it did in its original 1999 DVD release, and it has its worthwhile extras, like an audio commentary by the producer and art director and storyboards of uncompleted scenes. The dudes who did the voices for the John and Ringo characters even show up for brief video interviews—pointing up the fact that the Beatles themselves had next to no involvement with the film, making this a less crucial entry in their movie canon than Magical Mystery Tour. Not that that live-action British TV movie is beloved by all Beatlemaniacs, but it’s hard not to fall in love with their exercise in celebrity excess, particularly if you buy the deliciously excessive deluxe edition. Paul McCartney, the driving force behind Tour, provides a feature-length audio commentary, and he frankly sounds a little sleepy, or at least like he needed someone to bounce ideas off. That wasn’t a problem in the hour-long movie itself, where John, George, and Ringo all contributed memorable key moments, even if they were just along for Paul’s ride. There’s a surprising amount of outtake footage, and textual or video explanations of who all the supporting players on the bus were. A deluxe version includes an exact reproduction of the two-EP soundtrack as it was originally released in England. After all these years, Paul’s folly has finally gotten the contextualization it deserves.
If you want to see the Who on film, there’s unfortunately been a huge gap between the Isle of Wight era and the Kenny-Jones-on-drums-era, meaning very little video documentation of the golden era that encompassed Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, and The Who By Numbers. This first-time unveiling of a 1975 show steps into that breach, and it’s a godsend—with the caveat that the camerawork hardly meets 21st century expectations. It was captured for the then-radical new idea of having in-house live footage on big screens, and the coverage is less than complete, with John Entwhistle frequently not even visible in the stage-left long shots that predominate. But once you lower your expectations, it’s a hell of a show, particularly if you long to see footage of the world’s greatest rock drummer, Keith Moon, in his prime. Moon frequently speaks up during the set, as when he shouts that Entwhistle is “one of the most evil freaks I’ve ever met” while Pete Townshend is trying to introduce the bassist’s “Boris the Spider.” Alas, just two years after Quadrophenia, they’d moved on from that epic, with sole representation “Drowned” intro-ed by Roger Daltrey as “what’s left of our stage act from the last tour—the number we get off on most.” But Who By Numbers was no slouch of an album, either. If you always hated “Squeeze Box,” you’ll be shocked by how muscular it sounds here, and “However Much I Booze” is seen in one of the dozen times the band ever performed it live.
A previous version of this show made its way to home video, but the Doors’ people would like you to forget that one ever happened, and with good reason. The footage here has been assembled from all five cameras that covered the event, not just the three used in the original cut. And three songs that were previously unusable because of dropouts on Jim Morrison’s mic—“Hello, I Love You” (the big hit they were celebrating at the time), "The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," and "Spanish Caravan"—have been restored, using audio snippets intercut from other gigs. But the best reason to pick this up, even if you own the previous version, is the bonus interviews with the surviving members and their associates. After we see a clip of Morrison saying “Hey Mr. Light Man, you gotta turn those lights way down, man,” John Densmore recalls: “(We thought) it’s the Hollywood Bowl, maybe we should shoot this thing. But of course when you shoot you need good lighting. And that’s why Jim is going ‘Turns the lights down.’ But he’s on acid; he’s not thinking that we’re shooting this thing, and he can’t get ‘em to turn the lights down. He forgot.” Assessing the early part of the performance, before Morrison really finds his footing, Robbie Krieger says, “Either he took too much or not enough.” The good news is, you don’t need what he’s having to enjoy the gig.
“If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever,” says James Murphy, explaining the rationale behind the Last Waltz-like show at Madison Square Garden that LCD went out on last year. He enlisted a crew to shoot the days leading up to the final gig as well as the performance itself, and while there’s a degree of solipsism to all the footage of Murphy waking up and staring at his cat, he is a smart, funny, demanding guy with just enough charisma to make the documentary gambit work. (“There’s a lot of (other) things I’d like to do,” he is seen telling Stephen Colbert. When Colbert asks what things in particular, Murphy seems at a loss: “I like… I like making coffee.”) The concert footage in the film—which had a brief theatrical release in 2012—is first-rate, and since LCD has so many musical sides, from EDM to garage-rock, it’s almost like seeing a multi-act show, avoiding the monotony that typically sets into other concert films.
If you didn’t get enough of Neil’s random recollections in his ramshackle new autobiography, there are a lot more where those came from in this documentary/concert film, in which director Jonathan Demme tags along in Young’s vintage auto as he drives around his Canadian hometown. Prompted to recall a childhood friend in a typical recollection, Young says, “Goof was older than me and he’d give me a nickel to go up and say ‘You have a fat ass’ to an old lady. Give me a nickel, I’d do anything. He also convinced me eating tar was a good idea.” Apparently, Neil has enough autobiographical material left over for a Waging Heavy Peace II. Demme may be a little too close to his subject at this point, after several collaborations, to judge which of Young’s comments are big-screen-worthy. But the footage of the legend’s solo shows doesn’t disappoint, whether he’s electric or acoustic. Speaking of getting too close to the subject, dig the long portion of “Sign of Love” shot on a camera attached to the mic stand, in which we get to see Young’s stubbled chin in motion, close up, for several minutes.
As critical as Graceland was to Simon’s career, he left his adherence to that particular adopted style behind after the late ‘80s, so his return to South Africa to revisit the regional players who made that album a landmark and a classic has real emotion and weight. He also meets with a DNC leader who denounced his visits to the then-apartheid-afflicted country at the time, and although their meeting ends with a reconciliatory hug, the lack of overall good vibrations speaks to what a hornet’s nest Simon stepped into. One of the better recent music docs you’ll see—thanks to veteran documentarian Joe Berlinger, who makes this more than the usual classic-album hagiography—Under African Skies is also available as part of the recent Graceland deluxe multi-disc set, as well as a stand-alone DVD.
Queen’s historic 1986 gig barely preceded the fall of communism in Europe. So when Freddie Mercury is shown being curious about some of the elaborate local real estate and asking “Do they have enough service quarters?,” he’s quick to add, “Not a good thing to say in this country.” But Hungary was eager to take to the royal model of stadium rock embodied by Queen, seen here doing the fourth-from-final gig they ever did with Mercury, who not long thereafter retired from the road after being diagnosed with AIDS. Considering that a lot of Queen’s 1970s fans considered them watered-down into synth-pop by the ‘80s, it’s worth pointing out that this is very much a rock show—even when the group is playing its Highlander soundtrack tunes, but especially when they’re reviving early classics like “In the Lap of the Gods.” A handful of songs appear only on the two-CD soundtrack that comes with the DVD, including a cover of Elvis’ “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.” With that unlikely song choice, was Mercury trying to tell the commies they were squares? Maybe he really did help the wall fall.