11/17/06
Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

This week, we're loading up the video jukebox with recent DVDs from Alice Cooper, Marvin Gaye, Grand Funk Railroad and Paul McCartney. So, whaddaya say? Push play already!


Alice Cooper -- The Nightmare Returns (Geffen/Chronicles/UMe)

The wait is finally over for Alice Cooper fans -- like yours truly -- whose copies of the VHS version of this 1986 video have long since worn out. It boggles the mind to think that the concert -- held at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on (appropriately enough) Halloween -- was almost exactly two decades ago.
                       
All said, Cooper's music and stage show has aged conspicuously well. Especially considering the awful hair-metal scare of the mid '80s. Speaking of which, the incarnation of the Alice Cooper Band featured here includes a couple of Aqua Net-a-holics in training by way of Kane Roberts (guitar) and Kip Winger (bass).

The song list peppers in a sampling of newer material with "The World Needs Guts," "Give It Up" and "Teenage Frankenstein" -- all from Cooper's concurrent long player Constrictor (1986). Otherwise the set is heavy on what is obviously attendee-favorites and hits such as "School's Out," "Welcome To My Nightmare," "Under My Wheels," "Billion Dollar Babies," "Elected," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Only Women Bleed," and "Cold Ethyl". There are also the deeper albums cuts "Sick Things" and "I Love The Dead" circa Billion Dollar Babies (1973) and most notably of all, "The Ballad Of Dwight Fry" from Love It To Death (1971).   

The 2006 DVD release of The Nightmare Returns is augmented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround option with audio extrapolated from the original stereo mix. Plus, there are a pair of bonus MTV-style music videos for "Teenage Frankenstein" -- which actually incorporates shots from the concert, as well as "Freedom" off of Cooper's follow-up album Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987).

Marvin Gaye -- Live in Belgium 1981 (Hip-O/Motown/UMe)

How I wish more than anything that I could gushingly recommend fans of Marvin Gaye rush out and purchase this DVD. While it does show the performer during one of the least-documented periods of his career, there is a reason for that. Gaye, as seen here, during his self-imposed exile to Belgium, was spiraling precipitously close to a failed marriage and depleted bank account. Worst of all however is the evidence of Gaye's decade-long substance abuse problem. Luckily, his sheer talent and seemingly-innate sense of grace help him pull off the hour-long set.

This July 4th, 1981 show -- from Gaye's brief European "Heavy Love Affair Tour '81" -- is packed with wall-to-wall hits, commencing with an extended rendering of "Got To Give It Up" that contains far more of Gaye dancing than actually singing. He settles into an uninspired version of "Come Get To This" before kicking things up a notch with "Let’s Get It On" and one of the program's highlights, a slinky "After The Dance".

Sadly, his emotive power is far less effective on tunes where it could create the most impact. "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" sound almost mournful as the indescribably and understated interaction that existed between Gaye and the late Tammi Terrell is sorely absent. Saving the best for last, the show concludes with arguably the most inspired performance of the lot on "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)".

Supplementing the main feature is Gaye's May 7, 1981 appearance on the Belgian TV show Folllies with a short interview between lip-synching "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Heavy Love Affair". Another extra on the DVD is the audio option of hearing Gaye's original studio a capella lead vocal on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". In fact for old school Motown fanatics, this little throw-away might be the highlight. It is certainly one of the only things on the package worthy of repeated listening.

Grand Funk Railroad -- Greatest Hits:Deluxe Edition (Capitol/EMI)

One of the most enduring rock 'n' roll power-trios of the 1970s was the mighty Grand Funk Railroad (GFR). As one Homer Jay Simpson recalls, "Mark Farner's wild, shirtless lyrics, the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher and the competent drum work of Don Brewer" created one of the heaviest sounds going Stateside.
                                                 
The Deluxe Edition of this newly-compiled 14-song Greatest Hits (2006) collection contains a bonus DVD with five full-length videos. While die-hard fans have probably seen snippets of these shorts, none of them have ever been released before. The 13-minute promotional film for We're An American Band (1973) -- shot during the height of GFR-mania -- shows the members relaxing behind the scenes, as well as in the studio and on stage. Similarly as rare is their wailing live rendition of the Animals' "Inside Looking Out". GFR's take originally surfaced on the self-titled Grand Funk (1969) long player. However the source of this 10-minute version is from a Hershey, PA-based PBS program called The Show

"Some Kind Of Wonderful" and "We're An American Band" were both lifted from the reunion concert of the original threesome in April of 1997. The show was a benefit to raise money and awareness to aid Bosnian refugees and survivors. In front of a hometown crowd of 20,000-plus, the boys sound like they have never been gone. The keen-eyed and eared might recognize Paul Schaffer leading the horn section.

The final clip comes from the infamous Shea Stadium show that sold all 55,000 tickets in under 72 hours. Not bad, seeing as the Beatles took seven weeks to sell out the venerable venue some six years earlier. The epic "I'm Your Captain" from that July 9, 1971 event is a fitting way to close the proceedings as the entire crowd can be seen visibly shaking the stadium, as they dance during the song's concluding sing-a-long section.

Paul McCartney -- The Space Within US (A&E Home Video/MPL Communications)

If you had the good fortune to have caught Macca during his fall of 2005 jaunt through North America, this DVD will provide a flood of treasured sights and sounds. In addition to a healthy sampling of material from his latest Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005), McCartney reaches deep within his voluminous catalogue, pulling out classic Beatles selections, such as "I Will," "Fixing A Hole," "I Got A Feeling" and "Helter Skelter". All of which he'd never had the opportunity to perform in front of an audience before.

One specific highlight of the tour that is referenced in the title The Space Within US happened during the November 12, 2005 Anaheim show when Paul literally went out of this world. Viewers are treated to his extra-terrestrial and interplanetary linkup with the astronauts aboard Russia's Mir Space Station, serenading them with a rousing "Good Day Sunshine" and "English Tea".

The sound and vision are fully hi-def compatible and the sights were actually shot with over two dozen hi-def cameras. The audio options include a Dolby Stereo or a sumptuous you-are-there Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound mix. There are lots of DVD mini-features as well. The loose and limber sound check performances of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Friends To Go" and "How Kind Of You join a documentary titled "More About US" and the short film "On The Road With US," that was shown to audiences right before Paul and company hit the stage.

For inclined parties, a splendid time is guaranteed for all!


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


 

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