Monday, November 29, 2010

DVD Review: Ana Popović Band: An Evening at Trasimeno Lake

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Ana Popović Band: An Evening at Trasimeno Lake
Directed by Dimone Pucci
MVD Visual / ArtisteXclusive, 2010
124 minutes, USD $19.95

Born in Yugoslavia 34 years ago, Ana Popović has become a worldwide sensation. Having garnered many international awards, her brand of guitar-focused blues rock sets the stage afire.

Promoting her latest album, Blind For Love, Ana takes the stage with her main band, which consists of Andrew “Blaze” Thomas (the only US member) on drums, Michele Papadia on keyboards, and Ronald Jonker on a very rockin’ bass. Along with this core group, there are four other members that float in and out, including percussion, brass, and a back-up vocalist.

Utilizing six cameras and an amazing setting of a medieval castle in Italy, Ana and crew perform before a very enthusiastic crowd. Starting strong right off the bat, she opens with “Wrong Woman” (as in “you’re messing with”), a solid ‘70s rocker, especially on the choruses. Amazing, the huge amount of flying bugs, which are very visible to the camera thanks to the stage lighting (very well done, with an emphasis on the reds) does not seem to phase her performance or the other band members (though Michele definitely winches against them landing on his face, considering he’s the most stationary).

Ana knows how to strut with the best of them, moving around the stage with her electric Strat guitar, flailing at the neck and body to make a full-bodied sound, helped with the fill by the rhythm section behind her.

“How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That” is solid I-IV-V blues, right out of the Bonnie Raitt style-book, though it is unfair to compare the two actually, since Raitt leans more towards the classic blues end, and Ana the classic rock. And yet, on numbers like Keyshia Cole’s (one of the few covers) “U Complete Me,” Ana and band do a hard blues ballad burner, showcasing Ana’s guitar wizardry.

In another change of pace, “Lives That Don’t Exist” shows that Ana is handily familiar with da funk. The whole band knows how to get down with the wah-wah, with the bass blazing. And while Ana’s guitar is the definite forefront, she lets the rest of the band get their say, such as Michele’s electric keyboard turn on “Let Me Love You Babe.”

There are a couple of breaks between songs for brief interview segments, which I found kind of distracting, one of the few editing flaws of the DVD. Personally, I would have preferred just straight concert all the way through. Then suddenly at one point, without explanation, Ana’s in a different outfit, sitting on a chair, and with an acoustic rather than electric. I found this disconcerting… was it the second set? The encore?

Even without the wail of an electric, Ana proves her chops right out with “Doubt Everyone But Me,” a Latin-influenced number that features solos by some of the other musicians. This is followed up by the title track from her new release, Blind for Love, a slow love song that is quite lovely.

“Get Back Home to You,” the next cut, is right back to classic rock for which she whips up even on an acoustic. She finishes up the set with an R&B-laced “Love Fever” and another funker, “Hold On.”

Recorded in HD, the sound is crisp as one might expect, and the balance is pretty even, with Ana and her guitar up front, as should it be; but no one gets lost in the mix. Ana’s voice, which has a steely quality, is also clear, thankfully.).

For the extras, there are two songs by Ana alone on acoustic, recorded in the afternoon before the show: “Blind for Love” and “Steal Me Away.” Oddly, each song was recorded live in about four different places, and is spliced together, so there is a disconcerting jump in background sounds and in Ana’s vocals; in other words, each place as their own sound environment, which affects the voice, guitar and background “noise.” I’d rather have the whole song be consistent, but maybe that’s me. The other add-on is a 7-minute interview with Ana in different parts of the castle, as she talks about her life.

I’ve never heard Ana before, though I’ve heard of her, so it was nice to put a sound to the name. She proves that it is worth the wait.

Wrong Woman (Blind for Love LP)
Is This Everything There Is
How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That
U Complete Me (Keyshia Cole)
Nothing Personal
Shadow After Dark
Lives That Don’t Exist
Let Me Love You Babe
Doubt Everyone But Me
Blind For Love
Get Back Home to You
Recall the Days
Love Fever
Hold On

Bonus Video (while this song starts off the live DVD, this is the studio version, which is not included):

Friday, November 26, 2010

DVD Review: Cheezy Trailers Extravaganza Box Set

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet; note that the videos are not directly from the disk

Cheezy Trailers Extravaganza Box Set
Cheezy Flicks Entertainment, 2010
405 minutes, USD $14.95

To explain, I am that guy who tries to get to the cinema at the time listed, not when the film starts. While I hate the commercials they’ve started showing, I will happily sit through 20 minutes of trailers without complaint, and will usually shush people around me (dependant on their size ratio to me, and who I am with), despite their usual response of, “Dude, it’s just the trailers, dude!” response*. Just the trailers!?!?!?

As long as I can remember, the coming attractions have been a joy, and sometime I may write a blog about just them. Originally, I was even thinking of writing about them for my Master’s thesis, but was talked out of it by my advisor), but for now, this is a review, so let me get back to the pleasurable task at hand..

First a bit of business: These seven discs were originally released individually in 2005, and is now packaged as a single box set (a better deal esthetically and financially) in 2010. But that does not really matter (or, as Jesse Jackson famously said on SNL, “The point is moot!), since most of the films covered are from the 1940s through ‘70s.

The subject titles are broken into five sections, being Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction (2 discs), Horror (2 discs), and Exploitation. I’ll take each of these sections individually, but it is really important to note that as large and as thorough as any collection is, it cannot be all inclusive. There’s always that one more you wish were there.

The Action disc is also called “Adventure” on the opening track (lets call it the “subtitle” going forward). Along with the serials like Jesse James Rides Again, much of this section deals with jungles in various locales, be it South America or – mostly – Africa. Along with the many Tarzan pictures (post-Weissmuller, including Gordon Scott’s Tarzan’s Fight For Life and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (which has a very young Sean Connery in an obvious henchman role), and Jock Mahoney’s Tarzan Goes to India, there’s some mainstreamers like Zulu! (Michael Caine), King Solomon’s Mines (Deborah Kerr), Mogambo (Clark Gable and Grace Kelly) and Hatari! (John Wayne). But the interest for me is the B- through D-films, with titles like Jungle Gold (with Linda Stirling as “the White Goddess”), Tropic Love (starring the future second-worst president, Ronnie Reagan), Safari Drums (Johnny Sheffield plays Bomba, a Tarzan rip-off), Hell on Devil’s Island, Native Girl and the Slaver, Virgin Sacrifice, She-Gods of Shark Reef , and the infamous gross-out Man From Deep River.

An aspect that is interesting about this genre is the inherent racism and misogyny in these films, whatever the level of grade of release. For example, there is a lot of naked flesh, including breasts, in many of them, but because it was labeled “documentary” footage of native dances, it was permitted even in films for the general public (for example, I clearly remember seeing Zulu! in the theater when I was a child). And, of course, with few exceptions, white = civilized and in control, while black = savagery and fear (or, the enemy). Sure, there are some evil white hunters, but the rescuers were always other whites (especially Tarzan).

Among the non-jungle scenarios, there include Steve Reeves’s Sandokan the Great, Two Sane Nuts, and a few British Hammer (is that redundant?) releases such as Sword of Sherwood Forest (with Peter Cushing) and The Brigand of Kandahar (starring Oliver Reed). Overall through this section, the word “greatest” is well overused as a descriptor. There are 30 films covered on this disc.

The second disc, Fantasy, is more correctly subtitled “Monsters, and Sword and Sandal.” The first half of this disc is indeed, monster-laden, much of it from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a general focus on larger-than-life creatures, such as The Giant Gila Monster, The Giant Behemoth (one of my faves as a kid), Godzilla! King of the Monsters, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Them!, Rodan, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Konga, and Gorgo. As for the more non-standard versions of the classics, there’s the Spanish The Werewolf and the Vampire Woman, and the Hammer Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell and The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayans . Other radiation-inspired spookers include Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Cyclops (basically an extension of War of the Colossal Beast, not represented here). Then there’s Monster That Challenged the World, Rodan, the Astonishing She Monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and other dinosaurs on the loose, like The Valley of the Gwangi, Mysterious Island, and Valley of the Dragons.

For the Sword and Sandal section, there’s lots of Steve Reeve (including The Giant of Marathon, The Last Days of Pompeii, and Goliath and the Sins of Babylon), of course, and many others such as Sign of the Gladiator (Anita Ekberg), Gold for the Caesars (Christopher Pik… err, Jesu… I mean Jeffrey Hunter), Captain Sinbad (John Robinso… oh, Guy Williams), Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World, Mighty Ursus, and one of my childhood faves, Atlantis, the Lost Continent (with the Chief, Ed Platt). The S&S flicks had some great titles. And lest I not forget, there is The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (I grew up loving the Stooges, but the later full-lengthers were sad). Stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen makes quite the showing on this disk. There are 46 titles on disc two.

The next two disks (numbers three and four, for those keeping track), are devoted to Science Fiction. There are some obvious choices here, like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, One Million Years B.C. (though I would have thought this should be on disc 2), The Day the Earth Stood Still, Rollerball, It! Terror From Beyond Space (from which Alien was – err – homage’d), Forbidden Planet, The Time Machine, Barbarella, Robot Monster (what, no Cape Canaveral Monsters?), a couple of the later Planet of the Apes sagas, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Again, it is the more obscure ones that piqued my interest, including Laser Blast, The Navy vs. The Night Monsters (Mamie van Doren!), Planet of the Vampires, The Giant Spider Invasion, Thunderbirds Are Go (though I stand loyal to Fireball XL5), The Last Days of Man on Earth, The Flesh Eaters, The Brain Eaters, and one I’ve never even heard of called Superargo and the Faceless Giants (obviously European). There are 63 films over the two disks.

There is just so much to love about the next two disks (five and six), titled simply “Horror.” Now what exactly constitutes horror in the cinema to you? Suspense or gore? Monster or masked killer? Alien creature or reptilian from the sea? All these are represented here. Some of the majors are Tales From the Crypt, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Exorcist, Friday the 13th, The Tingler, Dr. Phibes, and to some extent The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are in My Neck.

As always it’s the B- through Z-movies which are the most interesting (and luckily far outnumber the mainstreamers), like the vampire western Curse of the Undead, Equinox, Berserk (during Joan Crawford’s final career meltdown), Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (Hammer, with Chris Lee), Sugar Hill and Blacula (both double genre benders, including the blaxploitation theme), Axe, Raw Meat, The Legend of Hell House, My Bloody Valentine, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, The Velvet Vampire, and Cronenberg’s classic Rabid (RIP Ms Chambers). There are a number of Hammer films here, mostly with Lee and/or Cushing.

This is a nicely rounded collection. Thankfully, there is more monster than gore (I’ll take a ghost, demon or creature over someone in a mask). Sadly, the movie that I found to be the scariest I’ve ever seen is not on here: Robert Wise’s The Haunting, a definite proving case of less is more. However, I do like a good gorefest, nonetheless, but something more imaginative, like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s work (e.g., 2000 Maniacs, The Wizard of Gore), which is also not here. There are 71 on these two disks.

The final collection is set aside for Exploitation. These are films that take a subject and try to scare the bejesus out of the viewer by preying on their fears (sounds like modern day Republicans, doesn’t it?), such as sex, drugs or motorcycles, or takes something salacious and hold it up for prurient viewing (ditto). Most of the films here, understandably, are from before the fall of the ratings boards (i.e., before 1968 when the ratings system started).

Usually they had titles to grab attention, like Pin-Down Girl (female wrestling and prostitution together!; it contains this great piece of dialog: “He’s the sort of guy who would change a girl’s evening stroll from a recreation to an occupation.”), She Shoulda Said No, Glen or Glenda (I Changed My Sex), I Passed for White, The Cocaine Fiends, Striporama (with Bettie Page), His Wife’s Habit, and Satan in High Heels (with Grayson Hall!). Some of the later dated trailers from the end of the ‘60s into the ‘70s include the biker themed Bury Me an Angel, The Glory Stompers and Satan’s Sadists.

There are other seedier sides of violence, like Switchblade Sisters and Black Mama/White Mama, and just a mix-mash from stuff that would seem ordinary on cable today, such as Myra Breckinridge, The Student Nurses and Russ Meyer’s classic Supervixens. Probably the most recent one is Reform School Girls, which starred Wendy O. Williams [RIP]). These are the kinds of films that will either cause your blood to boil, or fall down laughing, depending on your creed. This one has 37 trailers.

Lest not to forget, there are two other sections on each DVD in the specials area, one for trailers of other Cheezy Flicks films and one for intermission bits (“let’s go down to the loooooby…”). Note that there are about a dozen of these, and they seemed to be randomly picked six or so on each the disks, so some repeat (both the trailers and intermission shorts), including Day of the Triffids, Horrors of the Black Museum, The Headless Ghost, Robot Monster , and the TV movie of the week, Gargoyles.

My one complaint about this collection is that there are some trailers that repeat from disk to disk, which makes some sense when they were sold as separate units, but occasionally this happens even within a set. So of the 250 (not 500, as the box claims) or so trailers on the collection, it is narrowed down closer to 225, which is still a fine find and a great deal, and so I’m happy.

This is the kind of collection that you sit down and enjoy it for what it is, or run it in the background during a party, or just jump around to see the ones you like. Either way, there is plenty to go around and satisfy the trailer jones.

* Any true duder will (at least) double dude, at the beginning and end of the sentence.

Unrelated bonus trailer:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DVD Review: Eric Sardinas and Big Motor - Live

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Eric Sardinas and Big Motor - Live
Director not listed
MVD Visual, 2010
45 minutes, USD $14.95

Eric Sardinas is deeply steeped in not just the blues, but the flowing Delta kind that twangs and vibrates to the soul. Leading a twosome rhythm section dubbed Big Motor, Sardinas surges through the big muddy.

Let me backtrack. This DVD is presented as a 45-minute television program titled Mav Music Live. There are other artists who have appeared on MML, such as Todd Snider, but whether it’s an actual program or just a DVD series, I’m uncertain. Keeping with a TV format, there are blackouts for commercial spots and interviews. Well, all three are present, but only Sardinas talks as the other two sit behind him, cigarette and whisky firmly in hand. Though he comes off a bit egocentric, the music is certainly worth a listen.

As well as being a musician, Sardinas is also a performer, who moves and slithers around his guitar like a snake in a desert. Ah, the guitar. It’s a retrofitted resonator that is electrified; usually it’s acoustic, and designed to produce a louder sound than a wood body to be heard over other instruments. The sound uniquely twangy, and so is used mostly by both blues and bluegrass artists.

Anyhoo, Sardinas uses his instrument as a McLuhan-esque (Cronenberg-esque?) extension of his own body, yet moving it independently so it sides up at different angles from his frame, all the while plummeting the strings from both hands, one plucking the strings and the other either holding them or running a bottle neck for a slide effect. It is very effective, as is his trademark black Stetson and, well, outrageously iconic southern rock garb (gaudy boots, etc.).

Some are going to want to compare him to other southern rockers, a la Skynyrd or Black Oak Arkansas, but I find a lot of Son House in his plucking style (the resonator helps). Still, he creates arrangements that make the songs his own. Supporting him Big Motor is Levell Price, an amazing bassist, and equally talented Patrick Caccia (from Milano, Italia) on drums. They buoy up each other solidly on stage and in facial hair, each one in a different style (soul patch and sideburns, beard, and goatee).

The song selection and styles range from some covers by the likes of Elmore James’ “I’m Worried,” Mississippi John Hurt’s “Can’t Be Satisfied,” and Rory Gallagher southern rocker “As the Crow Flies,” to a few originals, such as “8 Goin’ South.” He varies from deep Delta to modern southern rock, all the while making the “guitar face” during the many flashy solos, where his fingers fly over the fretboard. He’s definitely the star of the band, and he shows it to the max (or is that Mav?).

It’s a pretty interesting venture, as he moves around the music as it’s flowing through him. Honestly, I’ve never heard of him before, but I bet he’s better known south of the – as Archie Bunker once called it – the Manson-Nixon Line. The fans in the club setting where this is filmed sure seem enthused.

During one of the interview sections, he states that he plays how is, with nothing added, but this just augments his self-preening, which is forgivable if one just listens to the music. As the last interview end, he states, “Let’s go get drunk!” Spoken like a southern delta blues rock musician.

I’m Worried
Almost Done
Can’t Be Satisfied
8 Goin’ South
Love Me
As the Crow Flies

Bonus video (not from this DVD, though this song appears)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

DVD Review: Bob Lind - Perspective

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Bob Lind Perspective
Produced by Paul Surratt, 2010
93 minutes, USD $20.00

If you don’t mind the paraphrasing, the world is just a document’ry / about Lind’s life and times…

As did most of my generation, I grew up listening to Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly.” When it came on the radio I enjoyed it, but never searched any further. Then in the late ‘70s, John Otway barreled through a cover of Lind’s “Cheryl’s Going Home,” one of Lind’s multi-covered tunes, though I hadn’t heard it before. Great song, I thought, and not only because of Otway’s own wonderful spin. Hmmm, there’s more to this Lind guy than “Butterfly,” I was coming to realize.

Luckily, in those heady ‘70s record collecting days of scouring the stores, I came across Lind’s Don’t Be Concerned LP (arranged by Jack Nietzsche), which contained both “Butterfly” and “Cheryl.” But I learned something else: there was not a bad cut on the entire album. Seriously, every song was a wonder, from “Mr. Zero” to “Unlock the Door,” “Truly Julie’s Blues,” “Dale Ann,” and right to “I Can’t Walk Roads of Anger.” Not a bad cut.

I found one other album, The Elusive Bob Lind (recorded before Concerned, but released after), which was also a treasure, and that’s been it. There were a couple of other albums, released in ’66 and ’71, along with some “best ofs,” but I never saw them. Considering how great his music was, and since there was so little out there, I just figured he either retired or died. Remember, there was no Internet back then, so it was not always easy to check.

Then not too many years ago, I found out through YouTube that he was indeed still kicking and performing, and I wrote him a fan email, which he answered. Through Wikipedia, more recently I found out that: “Lind retired from the music industry in 1969 to pursue other interests. In more recent years he has resided in Florida and works as a writer. He is the author of five novels, and has written for such supermarket tabloids as the Weekly World News and the Sun. Lind returned to music in 2004, when he began performing again.”

A few years after that first email (i.e., last month), I heard that he has just released a new DVD of a performance from a 2006 tour. Again, I wrote to him, and now I have had the chance to see it, and have learned so much more about the music, and especially about the man.

The crux of the DVD is a live concert, taped in front of a small, invited audience at the intimate Blue Palm Studios in North Hollywood. Lind, with the help of guitarist Jamie Hoover (Spongetones, Smithereens), has assembled a fine assortment of musicians to back him: Dave Carpenter on both stand-up and electric bass, indie folk alt rocker Matt Cook on electric keyboards, and rock soul pop drummer Kevin Jarvis. Despite the age differences among the ensemble, they all work together well.

Between the songs is a compilation of interviews from various sources, such as Art Fein’s Poker Party, hosted by music historians/fans, and an on-air interview on The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn, who is also a musician. Thrown into the mix occasionally of the Poker Party footage, is DVD producer Paul Surratt (who was in the Shilohs with Graham Parsons back in the early ‘60s), and Lind’s manager, Jill Guerra. The concert and the interviews are all taped during the 2006 tour.

It’s nice how the interview segment topics flow into the particular song he about to sing, sometimes in imaginative ways. Also, it was smart to put the interviews at the end of each track rather than at the beginning, so if you want to just listen to the music after a couple of viewings, you can skip right to that.

Bob Lind’s genre has changed a bit, hardly drastically though. Used to be he was a singer-songwriter (“I’m not a folk singer; I’m not a rocker”), at least what I heard of him on vinyl, never having seen him live, but on the DVD he has grown, and the numbers with the band have more of a jazzy feel, such as the Gershwin-esque “I Like Your Company Tonight”; however, he definitely has his idiosyncratic style intact. I imagine him as an ice skater: his vocal glide over certain phrases of songs, and then does a maneuver, usually a staccato-ish pacing over minor chords, switching seamlessly back and forth. Quite the joy to just sit back and listen.

When he plays with the band, he switches back and forth from guitar to piano, but his solo material, which is closer in form to his earlier work, is strictly acoustic guitar. The Dylan (and I would add Phil Ochs) influence of being lyrical is pretty obvious, but we learn that Lind also has a strong passion for early doo-wop (even though it’s not really reflected in his music), having grown up listening to it back in Denver; he even saw a few shows as a youngster, including Chuck Berry.

The interview segments show off some aspects of Lind’s personality: he is brutally honest (that’s why so much of his material is so poignant, in my opinion), and he is definitely a hardass. Perhaps it was his years of drug and alcohol abuse, maybe being trampled over by the music industry. Whatever, he is a force; though he admits he’s finding it a bit easier these days to give in and compromise in some aspects, but not about his own music.

Some of the other topics include working with Jack Nietzsche (some of Lind’s best earlier material was with him, in my opinion), how he was living on the residuals of people having covered his music after he quit because he was tired of the business of the music business, until he started writing novels and fictitious bits for tabloid journals like the World Weekly News (he even had his hand in the infamous Bat Boy series, I’m happy to report), and how he’d rather be both feeling what he feels, and getting the audience to feel it too (“like when I listen to Richie Havens,” he states).

The performed songs here range from old to recent. Lind clearly states that while he does not like the oldies circuit (“I don’t want to dish up memories; I’m still moving”), he doesn’t mind doing some of his classics along with the newer material. And as he says and clearly proves, he does his songs differently now than then.

There is a lot of interesting material here, such as “Two Women” and “Looking For You,” two songs about choices, both good and bad, and “China,” which has a feel like his earlier work. Most of the tunes are, as I stated above, done with a slight jazz feel, like the sometimes humorous “How to Get Depressed,” and “Spilling Over.”

This DIYer is a really good way to get to know Bob Lind the artist from various aspects of his life and music. I’d love to see even more of his concerts released, and I look forward to some new songs.

Roll the Windows Down (with band)
Cheryl's Going Home (with band)
Spilling Over (with band)
How to Get Depressed (with band)
I Like Your Company Tonight (with band)
Love Came Riding (solo acoustic)
Looking For You (solo acoustic)
Two Women (with band)
China (with band)
Wearing You (solo acoustic)
Perspective (solo acoustic)
Elusive Butterfly (with band)
Someone to Adore (solo acoustic)

Postcript on 11/22/10: I have heard from Bob Lind about this review, and this is what he had to say (reprinted with his permission).
Wow Robert. So great to read something on me from someone who does his homework and gets his facts straight. Plus you bring such passion to your work. I appreciate it. All the best, Bob.

From the DVD:

Bonus Video: My favorite early Lind song

Bonus Bonus Video:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DVD Review: Final 24: Jim Morrison, His Final Hours

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

Final 24: Jim Morrison, His Final Hours
Season 2, Episode 2
Directed by Michael Allcook, Michael McNamara; Chris Bould
Cineflix International, 2007
60 minutes, USD $14.95

This is now the fourth of the two-season Canadian series on famous deaths, shown in the States on the Biography Channel. The shows deal with infamous deaths in modern (1960s and on) times, using a specific formula that has the last 24 hours dramatized, and each historical segment filled with footage (still, film, and music in this case) and modern (2006 or 2007, depending on the shows release date) interviews with some key figures in the subject’s life.

Sometimes in the recreated vignettes, the actor looks nothing like the real person (such as when they did Janis Joplin), though Christian Skott does look a bit like him, but he overdoes Morrision’s slinking style of walk (perhaps it’s the tight leather pants?). British narrator Danny Wallace (as listed on the box, though IMDB still gives credit to Dave McRae) somberly and often reminds the viewer of the time frame until tragedy strikes (e.g., “In just six hours, Morrison will be dead”).

The action jumps back and forth between the dramatized last day and documentary scenes of Morrison’s life up to that moment. Before each commercial break, the story takes us to a different period of Morrison’s life, whether it be childhood, forming the Doors, over-indulgences, girl friends, and the like. Mixed in – and this is one of the parts I like the best – are the real-person interviews, including his high school sweetheart (who explains how he was reading Allen Ginsburg’s Howl in 8th grade), road manager Vince Treanor, ex-Rolling Stone editor and rock historian Ben Fong-Torres, bodyguard (and drinking buddy) Tony Funches, and even one of the firefighters first called to the scene in Paris, Alain Raisson. A former VP at Elektra Records, Steve Harris, has quite a bit to say, and all of it interesting in a sort of smarmy way (such as “He had these masculine traits with the feminine wiles; that’s what made Jim unique”).

But my favorite is (Miss) Pamela Des Barres, who discusses her affair with him while he was still with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson (who would claim to be his wife and go by Pamela Morrison until her death in 1974, though for some reason this controversy and her passing via heroin OD are never mentioned). Des Barres talks more extensively about her relationships (rather than one-night stands) in her wonderful autobiographies; I recommend both I’m With the Band and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart.

There are other interviews I would have liked to have been added. For example, I remember seeing sensationalist (in part) local television show, Good Day New York, where reporter George Ciccarone interviewed actress / stripper Kitten Natividad, who described how Morrison would come into her bar every night and hit on her, but she always refused because, thanks to bad hygiene, he stank. Also, there is a great interview with Melody Patterson ( “Jane,” female lead of F Troop), who discusses why back then she would rather go see Bobby Fuller than Morrison, in an issue of Miriam Linna and Billy Miller’s classic Kicks fanzine.

A central theme through the 60 minute program is that Morrison wanted to be known as a poet more than a musician, which caused him to move to Paris, where he died (I don’t believe I’m giving anything away here). But lots of controversy is what this series craves, so there’s mention of the infamous Miami concert where he allegedly exposed himself (Treanor has a point to make about that here) and the backlash, but they make sure to present the mysteries of his death, such as Courson’s role and the infamous “is he really dead?” theory (Harris makes the best statement concerning that).

In today’s world of Web gossip sites and overexposure of sensationalism on television, I’m surprised this show isn’t revived; I bet it would do a lot better now than just 3 years ago. And there’s always new fodder as stars and starlets veer ever closer to the final darkness.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

DVD Review: The Michael Schenker Group: The 30th Anniversary Concert, Live in Tokyo

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

The Michael Schenker Group: The 30th Anniversary Concert, Live in Tokyo
Directed by Shin Yamamoto and/or Kiyoshi Iwasawas
In-akustik GmbH & Co. KG, 2010
135 minutes, USD $19.95

When ubber German metal flash guitarist Michael Schenker was in his earlier bands Scorpion and UFO during the mid- to late-1970s, well, I was listening to the polar opposite of the Ramones. His music never once came into my radar, though I was aware of the names. Those ensembles were lumped in my mind with every other metal and hair metal band, which sounded like one screechy noise to me. I was on the lo-fi with sloppy guitar groups like the Heartbreakers and much of the rest of the New York Scene. Mind you, there were some amazing guitarists back then, such as Tom Verlaine, Ross the Boss, and the underrated Howard Bowler, but it was a totally different genre (with the Dictators being the closest).

Well, it’s now 30 years after Schenker formed his Michael Schenker Group (MSG) in 1980, and this DVD is a reunion of most of his original orchestra on January 13th, 2010, held at Nakano Sun Plaza in Japan, one leg of the 5-concert series, and this is the first time I’m experiencing them.

There is no doubt about it in my mind, Schenker is a helluva guitarist, whizzing up and down the fretboard of his custom flying V guitar; as noted in the liner notes, he plays only on Dean Guitars (since 2004, he reveals in a bonus short). Though there is the occasional solo by other musicians, such as excellent bassist Neil Murray (from Whitesnake), drummer Simon Phillips (whose huge kit include a double bass and single snare) and rhythm guitarist / keyboardist Wayne Findlay (who gets short attention here), this is Schenker’s show, and the musicianship shows. There may have been dark periods of Schenker’s 55-year life (substance abuse, martial problems, poverty, etc.), but he is in fine form here, and certainly seems to be having a lot of fun, often cradling the V on his crotch as he fingers away.

The direction of the complete show, taped in HD, is strong, though the cutting at every 5 beats on average is a bit strenuous for the viewer (this one, anyway), and I found it a bit difficult to focus as much as I wanted on the musical acumen of each participant as the camera kept bouncing from one player to the next. During a solo, I like to see the work, but maybe that’s just me.

My biggest problem with the band, though, is lead vocalist Gary Barden, who has bounced in and out of the band over the years, but has been the main focus of vox in recordings. Yeah, he’s definitely a decent singer, hitting the notes and all, but his style is formulaic for the genre, and his vocals are, well, certainly not idiosyncratic. What I’m trying to say is that he doesn’t sound individualistic. When Joey Ramone sings, you know it’s him. Same with Handsome Dick Manitoba, Bon Scott, Lemmy, or Donna “She Wolf” Nasr, if one wants to be closer to the MSG genre. I will give him some nods that he certainly seems to be having a lot of fun, and that is transferred to the Japanese crowd, who often sing along en masse, and thereby to the DVD viewer. However, I should also note that the first number that really got my attention was the 10th one in, “Into the Arena,” which I realized most of the way through was an instrumental (sans Barden). Again, I am not saying Barden is a bad singer, not at all; he just doesn’t really stand out for me. But he certainly is comfortable in the role, which is reassuring on some level.

But it is important to remember that the hey-day of MSG is in the ‘80s, and some of what is now formulaic was started by them, such as taking the metal sound and adding some progressive elements to it. As part of the full concert retrospective series that the German label Inakustik has been releasing (this is the second I’ve seen), they are doing admirable work focusing on guitar-oriented music of various genres. In a similar vein, this is a showcase overview for the lengthy MSG history.

From the short (“Welcome Howl” comes in under 2 minutes) to the lengthy (“Rock Bottom” is nearly 13 minutes), there is a fine range of styles and feel, speed and tempo, covered within the framework of this 1 hour and 45 minute concert. Actually “Rock Bottom,” is one of two songs I really liked that showed up in the encores, the other being the finale “Doctor, Doctor.” “Rock” has a very long solo that varies in many ways, and “Doctor” has a good riff to it.

The audience through the whole show is very appreciative, and often sings along; Barden is happy and enjoying that he can hold out the mic and have a couple of thousand people sing the chorus, as he does often on “Doctor.”

I’m never going to be a metal head, but I can appreciate what the band is doing, and they manage it with surgical precision.

There are two extras on the DVD. The first is “The L.A. Rehearsal.” Between short bursts of them playing inside a tight-fitting studio are some band interviews which is what makes this 21 minutes-long videolog the most interesting. Schenker discusses his early years going from band to band and back for reunions, and then the varied history of MSG. Each member of this line-up gets to talk a bit, such as drummer Simon discussing how he was on only the first MSG album because he was still in the Jeff Beck Group at the time, and how bassist Neil came to play on this tour after having Whitesnake play a few times with Schenker’s bands back in the ‘70s. Even their roadie / occasional percussionist, Roberto Carrero, gets to talk about some equipment issues he’s had to solve on the road.

In the 8 minute second bonus, “Backstage Impressions,” basically a camera follows Schenker around from his arrival at the Sun Plaza, backstage, during the soundcheck, as they take their bows, his leaving the venue, and then stopping to shake hands and sign autographs for the fans waiting outside. While minor in content, it was very enjoyable to watch some snapshots of what it was like for the band.

Welcome Howl
Feels Like a Good Thing
Cry For the Nations
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Armed and Ready
Victim of Illusion
Are You Ready to Rock
I Want You
A Night to Remember
Into the Arena
Lost Horizons
Rock My Nights Away
On and On
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Ride On My Way
Rock Bottom
Second encore
Dance Lady Gipsy
Doctor, Doctor

Thursday, November 11, 2010

DVD Review: Tales From a Golden Age: Bob Dylan, 1941-1966

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Tales From a Golden Age: Bob Dylan, 1941-1966
No director listed
Narrated by Sian Jones
Chrome Dreams, 2004
86 minutes, USD $21.95

Along with the Beatles and Elvis, there has been such a large output of biographical material on Bob Dylan, can there be anything not said already? Well, honestly, I haven’t read much on Dylan (I know I finished one reviewing all his live concerts), so please excuse the gaps of ignorance of previous material.

Well, for me anyway, what makes this so interesting is all the interviews, and there are a larger than usual number for this British television series in relation to just information. Part of what is amusing, though, is that there is not a piece of music or dialog by the subject himself, but there is plenty of b-roll footage and photographs. The incidental music (guitar and harmonica) is written and performed by Amanda Thompson, in a Dylanesque manner.

As this was sponsored by the Dylan-focused British ISIS Magazine, and the documentary is a British production, it was obvious the information was going to be directed in a way that highlights his trips to that country, as it was after a certain point.

The documentary starts off, of course, with his birth in Duluth, Michigan, and then his family’s move when he was a child to Hibbing, MN. There he meets a high school teacher who introduces him to poetry, and the ball is rolling. It’s this opening part that I find the most interesting, as there is a 2004 interview with BJ Rolfzen, that teacher, as well as some of his classmates and school friends, such as Larry Fabbro, who was in Dylan’s very first band (they played two songs in public). All the people who knew him then had the same descriptors: loner, quiet, not a lot of friends.

One aspect I wonder about is the amount of detail they remember about little Robert Zimmerman nowadays. I ponder about how much of that is actual, and how much is codified through the years of (a) knowing someone who became a celebrity much later on, and (b) on being interviewed through the years. Remembrances tend to solidify in memory until one is telling of the repeating of the memory rather than the memory itself. At least there is some consistency that runs through the re-re-re-telling.

Before there was Woody Guthrie, who made enough of an impression on Little Bobby Z that it turned him from Little Richard to interest the hobo life and music. By the time he moved to go to Minneapolis to attend college, and after playing in Bobby Vee’s band for a short stint, he left the Zimmerman behind and came to the Dylan name, affecting a Guthrie accent (which was pretty much an affect in itself). As for the origin of the Dylan name, some state that he told them it came from Dylan Thomas, and others, such as ISIS Magazine’s Derek Barker, claim it was from a television show, and was original spelled Dillon. That’s one of the fun things about oral histories.

While in Minneapolis, he joins the folk scene there, befriending singer “Spider” John Koerner and mentor for that stage in his life, Dave Whitaker, both represented in interviews here (Whitaker looking and sounding a bit like Eugene Levy’s character in A Mighty Wind). While the people from that part of his life achieved some kind of fame, they would be left in the dust, relatively speaking.

Supposedly, Dylan first came to New York to see a bed-ridden Woody, but ended up in Greenwich Village, and into the arms of Joan Baez. At the time, she was a more popular artist with a few albums under her, with Dylan using (innocently or not) her to further his own career. She was to him what Judy Collins was to Leonard Cohen: the way in.

Some proprietors of the clubs back then are represented here, such as Art D’Lugoff of the Village Gate (who first turned him down) and Paul Colby, owner of the Bitter End. We also hear from Woody’s manager, but the biggest voice here throughout this entire documentary is British author Clinton Heylin, who wrote Bob Dylan: The Man Behind the Shades. However, the more famous name is British folk musician Martin Carthy (who owns an MBE). They explain how the British music influence was the strongest of Dylan’s post-Guthrie period, pushing him from balladeer to his being a songwriter and his leading him to pursue his own burgeoning style.

I’m not going to bother repeating the history, which is gone over album by album, right up to his motorcycle accident just after the release of what many consider his masterpiece, Blonde on Blonde. That is the cut-off point of this DVD, but I would like to mention a couple of the other interviewees, such as Dr. CP Lee (listed as a “Dylanologist,” whatever the hell that means), and drummer Mickey Jones, who played with the Hawks (who later became the Band) on the world tour of 1966, cut short by the crash. Jones’ story of being on the road with a newly electrified Dylan and getting booed around the world is absorbing.

Because of all the printed works on Dylan, it was wise for the producers of this documentary to rely to this heavily on the interviews, since they could not get anything from Dylan himself. This makes it more of a unique document (don’t eat it, though), and with a well-done storyline, the action is quick and the interest is kept. Whether there is anything new here, I’m not sure, but this was a pleasure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

DVD Review: John Scofield: New Morning – The Paris Concert

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

John Scofield: New Morning – The Paris Concert
Produced and directed by Daniel Farhi
Inakustik / New Morning Productions, 2010
135 minutes, USD $19.95

New Morning is a large club in Paris, a natural venue for jazz artists like John Scofield. Ohio born-Connecticut raised Scofield celebrates his last year in his 50s by jazzing on the City of Lights, and fortunately, it was captured in High Def on April 23, 2010.

There is no preamble here, as the DVD pretty much starts as the two-hour long concert begins. There is little conversation throughout, and all pieces are instrumental, lasting on average about 10 minutes each.

John is not alone, though. Yep, he’s packin’. For drums, he has Bill Stewart, who has played with him on and off for about 20 years. He also refers to Stewart is the best drummer he’s ever worked with. On fretless standup bass, there’s Ben Street, who’s tall and gaunt, and plucks the hell outta the thing. Last is Michael Eckroth on drums, who is in Paris for the first time. A former NYU student of Scofield, Michael is the first in this situation John has ever invited on tour, which is saying something. Despite some pretty stubby fingers, Michael is a definite piano wiz, mostly playing a Yamaha piano, and twice switching to a Nord Electro 3 organ. While Scofield is obviously in charge of this quartet, it is also apparent he is comfortable in letting the other members shine, the sign of a confident leader.

Now, while I am fond of jazz, I do have to admit that my knowledge base is a bit lower than, say, blues. Jazz is an art form where I prefer to blank my mind and just let it be, rather than trying to deuce it out. That being said, Scofield certainly doesn’t stick to one style, even from one of his own compositions to another. For example, with “My Foolish Heart,” which Scofield describes in one of the rare introductions as “a real beauty” from “a long time ago,” the tempo is slow and moody, with swishy-sounding metal brush drumsticks, sort of a rainy day kind of jazz. Then there’s “I Want to Talk About You,” which has a piano opening with a romantic feeling, even through the dissonance, and Scofield’s guitar part is reminiscent of “God Bless the Child.” “Groove Elation,” the last cut before the encore, has a more modern pacing, with a bluesy tone that makes use the Electro 3.

His covers tell a lot as well, such as John Murtaugh’s electric organ based “Slinky,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N You,” and Charlie Parker’s 1947 classic upbeat, “Relaxin’ at Camarillo,” which has a Charlie Brown’s Christmas vibe to it (though I can hear all you Bird fans yelling at me).

It certainly is a solid couple of hours of jazz that one can just put on and close your eyes and relax, knowing you’re in good hands. With a minimal amount of dialog between songs (only two have short introductions, not counting a couple of thank yous here and there), it’s not hard to get lost in the groove.

The bonus feature is Soundcheck Sketches, an eight minute bits-and-pieces of the band arriving at the venue, and practicing. Scofield talks over some of this, reminiscing about his life in jazz, and describing the present band. It’s a nice touch for a classy DVD.

Ten Taken
Wood ‘N You
My Foolish Heart
Lost Found & Inbetween
Relaxin’ at Camarillo
I Want to Talk About You
Groove Elation
The Guiness Spot

From this DVD:

Friday, November 5, 2010

DVD Review: Shonen Knife: Live at Mohawk Place, 2009

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Shonen Knife: Live at Mohawk Place 2009
Directed, edited and authored by John Grimaldi
Good Charamel Records, 2010
90 minutes, USD $16.95

Mohawk Place in Buffalo, NY, is a great venue to see bands. The last time I was there, Mystic Eyes was playing. While it seems a bit small for a band of the stature of Shonen Knife, who has been around in some form since 1981, it certainly seems like a tight fit for the size of the audience. However, the intimacy of the place is felt warmly.

On a tour of the United States to promote their latest release, Super Group, they picked Buffalo as their last stop. The power-pop trio gave it all it’s worth, even though admitting to be tired, as the tour was 30 dates in 32 days.

Lots can be (and has been) said about the triteness of the lyrics, much about food or just simply a bizarre string of western words, but the music is just so interesting, in a Ramonesy / ‘60s pop way. Nothing really complex or long guitar solos, even with their self-proclaimed heavy metal influenced “Muddy Bubbles Hell,” so the songs are sharp and do not go on for a long time. Get in and get out.

What is interesting about their sound, I find, is that they are immersed enough in western culture to get the formula idea for a great pop song, and yet exotic enough to the genre to bring something new. That is part of why they have managed to last for so many years. And heck, they even dress like the ‘80s garage band, the Pandoras.

Their occasional rat-a-tat-tat repeated lyrical beats stand out, such as the “pig out” chorus of “BBQ Party” and “big big big cat” of “Giant Kitty.” Their new songs, such as the self-titled “Super Group” and the aforementioned “Muddy Bubbles Hell” hold up equally well with their older material here, like “I Wanna Eat Chocobars” or “Flying Jelly Attack.”

Their concept, on some level, has shown up in other bands, such as the enjoyable, much tougher and musically proficient (but less joyful)'s, and they were even sort-of made the subject of a spoof in a Cameron Diaz hosted Saturday Night Live. But Shonen Knife is the real deal. Like their touchstone Ramones, they are fun to watch, even if you can’t always make out what they’re actually singing about.
On guitar and main vox (and chief songwriter) is the last original member of the trio, Naoko Yamano. The new bass player who is on her first tour of the U.S., with some amazing tresses (and knows how to swing it), is Ritsuko Tameda (who sings former member Michie Nakatani’s songs). The last is Etsuko Nakanishi, who is a fantastic drummer (she was replaced by Emi Morimoto shortly after the tour).

This show visits the band’s entire career, with 18 songs of pop mayhem. After the 15-song set list, they come back for two encores dressed in tee-shirts, along with ex-member Atsoko Yamano (she is currently living in Los Angeles), who does lead vocals on “Fruits and Vegetables.” She leaves and they break into one of their faster songs, with hints of a hardcore influence, “Antonio Baka Guy.”

Over the end credits, “Twist Barbie” is played, as we watch – in multiple windows – still and moving images of their tour as they travel from town to town by car. Included in the credits is one humorous notice: “No roadies were harmed in the production of the DVD concert.”

As a last historical footnote, their hair – which looks spectacular as they flip it all around – is credited to Erin Moser, of Chez Ann Salon, in Buffalo. Erin is the daughter of Bruce Moser, a chief promoter in the Buffalo area, Mary Martin Moser, who once worked at the much lamented indie Play it Again Sam’s Record Store on Elmwood Avenue (which became Home of the Hits before closing recently), and the niece of Buffalo cult musician Bernie Kugel. The last time I saw Erin she was a young child, back in the late ‘80s. Good work, Erin, and congrats!

Banana Chips
Super Group
A Map Master
Johnny Johnny Johnny
I Wanna Eat Chocobars
BBQ Party
Flying Jelly Attack
Devil House
Bear Up Bison
Muddy Bubbles Hell
Giant Kitty
Pyramid Power
Fruits and Vegetables
Antonio Baka Guy
Twist Barbie

And, the set list courtesy of Gary Pig Gold from his the link in the comments section:

Bonus Video:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Chief Whitecap Walk: Photo Essay

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

The day before Halloween of this year, I was invited to take a walk at Chief Whitecap Park, just south of Saskatoon along the South Saskatchewan River. I'd been to another park in the area, Cranberry Flats, but this was my first time seeing the Chief.

Chief Whitecap (Wapahska) led the Dakota First Nation to the Saskatchewan area in the early 1860s to escape political turmoil in Minnesota. He guided John Lake, who is credited with the founding of Saskatoon, to the place it now stands on the South Saskatchewan River. During the Riel Resistance of 1885, the chief acted to protect the young community from harm. Chief Whitecap died in 1889, but is remembered fondly. More information about Chief Whitecap is linked at the bottom of this blog.

The park has been in the media a lot lately for two reasons. First, there is a question of whether it should be an off-leash park. Second, the north end of the park is about to have a highway and bridge going through it to connect a road that was originally planned (early 1900s) to circle the entire city (the road is called Circle Drive, but as of yet, is not, only going two-thirds around). Fortunately, the construction area was not visible from where we were.

There had been a recent snow which was in the middle of a melt, but the view was spectacular.

Along the trail in, there is the statue of Chief Whitecap. When we came around at the end of our walk, we saw it closer.
Along the trail, wild cranberries grew. I was informed they're easier to pick when it's cold, and the fruit is less mushy.

There were many ponds of water along the way.
The ridge rose above the South Saskatchewan, which could be seen through the trees as we climbed our way up.
The view (looking south here) is magnificent.
Flocks of hundreds of Canadian Geese were on the rise, and they rose up and flew directly overhead. The sound was deafening.
Further on the trail, we found some abandoned farm equipment and metal buckets rusting away. On one was a fine green mold. The melt from the trees made little droplet marks in the snow.

As the sun was starting to set, the light showed off some of the red branches.
The trees were bent by the weight of the snow over the years. On some was an interesting mold.

Across the river a road dead-ended. I zoomed way in.

The sun shone brightly on the water of the river, making sparkling lines.
Another hiker rests as the foot of the Chief Whitecap statue.
A proud symbol of the city of Saskatoon, though I ponder that he should be credited for founding the city, rather than John Lake, since he brought Lake to the spot. But we all know why that didn't happen, don't we...
For more information about Chief Whitecap:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The FFanzeen Art of Alan Abramowitz

Introductory Text by Robert Barry Francos, 2010
Art and art text by Alan Abramowtiz, 1977-88.
Art can be made larger by clicking on it.

The following artwork was featured as a regular full-page column in FFanzeen through most of its history. I highly suggest you detatch it and use your photo software to enlarge further to full get the full effect of both the art and the text. These are presented in no particular order. -- RBF, 2010


Patti Smith

Rockpile (Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds)

The Yardbirds

Roy Orbison

The Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders, Walter Lure, Richard Hell, Jerry Nolan, Billy Rath)

Suzi Quatro


Buddy Holly

Rock and roll philosophy: The Outsider and the Edge