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February 19, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | February 19, 2009 |

Those of us who live in a northern hemisphere state or country with actual seasons usually hit a low spot in February. We reach a point where we can no longer look at the snow shovel without wanting to impale ourselves upon it. We hear that the temperature will hover around 29F in the coming days and we congratulate ourselves that it’ll be a warm one tomorrow. And if, like me, you have animals that have been designed by some retribution-seeking deity to exercise and defecate outdoors, well, back in early December, you stopped caring what you looked like when you stepped outdoors in the morning. By late February, you could easily be mistaken for Robbie Coltrane strolling home from the set of the latest Harry Potter movie still in costume. The worst of it is that we still have March and at least half of April to endure before we can even think of peeling off a layer of over-priced Columbia fleeced clothing, let alone exposing any human skin to the average Chicago temperature. You know you’ve reached the lowest ebb when personal hygiene starts to plummet steeply on your own version of the Maslow pyramid and “take a shower” now hovers somewhere between “learn how to knit” and “teach my dog French”. This is when it is time to take refuge in the comfort of an audio-visual feast: pour yourself a drink; if you have surround-sound, settle in to the sofa (if not, take over a neighbor’s house) and pop in some of the best concerts ever captured on film. Live music concerts are notoriously unsuccessful on film. It’s virtually impossible to capture the feel of a dynamic live band, but a few succeed and here they are:

LastWaltzMoviePoster.jpgThe Last Waltz (featuring The Band and guests, directed by Martin Scorsese)
In an age when it is a given for most performers to lip sync their concerts and when even moderately good acts choreograph and stage-manage every second of their acts, The Last Waltz remains a living monument to the magic that happens when a band that writes its own numbers, sings its own songs and plays its own instruments pulls together a bunch of friends to jam through the night. In 1976, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel (The Band) were only in their early 30s, but they had been on the road playing music since they were in their mid-teens, and it had taken its toll. They decided to end it all in style with one huge bash at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.

They invited to join them all the acts they had grown up with on the road. It is gloriously unruly. Neil Young starts off in the wrong key and has to have a do-over (check out Joni Mitchell singing back-up in the shadows without demanding camera time as any star of her caliber would today). Eric Clapton’s guitar strap breaks and Robbie Robertson steps in to take the guitar solo without missing a beat resulting in a fantastic “guitar-off” between Robertson and Clapton for the rest of the number. Bob Dylan forgets that he just did Baby Let Me Carry You Down two songs ago and does it all over again. Check out the look of complete confusion exchanged between Danko and Robertson as they try to follow Dylan wherever he has decided to go. Scorsese later admitted that he didn’t go to rock concerts and didn’t know what to expect, so he was totally unprepared for how loud it would be. Once the concert started he realized he couldn’t communicate with his sound and camera people because they didn’t have the right head sets, so the whole thing is recorded on a wing and a prayer. Unfortunately a lot of footage was lost or filmed without sound, but what remains is a very candid film of immensely talented musicians enjoying their craft, and putting on a great show where nothing matters but the music.

U2vid.jpgLive at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky (U2, directed by Gavin Taylor)
Before the sunglasses; before the ego grew completely out of control; before the knit cap became hermetically sealed to Edge’s head, there was a band called U2. And they rocked. Under A Blood Red Sky captures their 1983 concert in Red Rock Canyon. U2 was a biggish band by then, but not huge. The Red Rocks concert showcases what a great live band U2 can be when they’re on. The venue was not sold out, and only half of the people who bought tickets showed up: many fans stayed away because of the rain and The Alarm canceled their opening act because of fears of poor attendance. But you’d never know it.

The energy running through this concert captures U2 at their best, not just the energy of Bono, but the strengths of the entire band and especially the incredible talent of Larry Mullen, Jr. Thanks in large part to Larry’s drumming, Rolling Stone magazine rated the performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday at the Red Rocks concert one of the “50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock and Roll.” A few years later, Joshua Tree transformed U2 from a great band with strong following on college campuses to a global phenomenon, giving Bono the world domination platform he had always craved. But before that; before we had Dear Leader to tell us how to live; before we had to sell a vital organ to get concert tickets, there was Red Rocks, and it was worth it.

Bulletinabible.jpgBullet in a Bible (Green Day, directed by Samuel Bayer)
Green Day radiates energy on stage, and I won’t pretend that it translates fully to this DVD, but it comes close. In 2004, Green Day released American Idiot, instantly capturing a new generation of fans with an angry, melodic rock opera that also had the good luck to be timed perfectly for the political climate. A year earlier, most people weren’t really pissed off with the Iraq war yet: a year later, it was old hat. American Idiot came out just as the death toll was rising and the Bush/Cheney crew seemed to think that the hijnks in Fallujah were just a few local kids letting off steam.

Green Day - Jesus of Suburbia (Bullet In A Bible)

Filmed in Milton Keynes on the European leg of the American Idiot tour in 2005, Bullet in a Bible covers two days at the Milton Keynes venue; it was the biggest crowd Green Day had ever played to (in fact one of the biggest concerts ever: over 250,000 people attended). There are some flaws (the visit to The Imperial War Museum is a bit anvilicious) and surprises (hilarious to watch Mike jogging on a treadmill to “stay fit” on the road when previous generations of punk bands used their down time to shoot up in the closest public loo). I wouldn’t recommend this one to anyone without access to surround sound; nonetheless, it’s a testament to the director and the band that they were able to make such a vibrant film that brings the excitement of the concert into the living room without the need to ramp it up with studio bits.

In addition to being Pajiba’s official bookmaker (currently offering 100-1 odds on Julie ever getting past first runner-up in Pajiba contests), PaddyDog whiles away her time in the permafrost of Chicago hoping her clients never realize how much time she spends trying to solve cryptic crosswords while their projects sit forlornly on her desk. Having a conscientious objection to dangling participles and split infinitives, she plans to violently execute everyone on earth who uses “like” as a verb.

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Music | February 19, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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