DVD Short Takes: Patti Smith, Doobies and Frampton Come Alive

A quick look at 3 new music DVDs from Patti Smith, The Doobie Brothers and Peter Frampton,  reviewed by KUSP’s Eric Berg.

Patti Smith: Live At Montreux 2005  (Eagle Vision – Dec. 2012) formats: standard DVD and Blu-ray

This is the first officially sanctioned Patti Smith Group live concert released on DVD. Anything else is a bootleg. It was recorded in 2005 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Hence Smith’s shout-outs during the set’s closer “People Have The Power” honoring, her clarinet muse, Ornette Coleman as well as John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and other jazz greats.

The personnel in the Patti Smith Group is same bunch who backed her on the classic “Horses” album back in 1975: Lenny Kaye, guitars; Jay Dee Daugherty, drums; Tony Shanahan on keyboards and bass.

What makes this Patti Smith group performance particularly noteworthy is guest guitarist and her longtime friend, the great Tom Verlaine (Television, anyone?) who spends the entire set sitting in a chair almost hidden in the dark, playing some of the most stinging yet angelic slide fills you’ve ever heard.

The group’s 83 minute set is a tight, efficient rocker, although a bit subdued from what I’m used to, but hey, consider the venue. “Montreux ‘05” showcases an elegantly, strong performance by Smith and band at their proverbial best.  Smith is also on best behavior. There are no dvd bonus features unless you count the moment when Smith hurl out a high def spittooey like it’s 1977. However, it’s not and perhaps Smith should have thought twice. Included in the set are inspired covers of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” as well as Smith’s “hit”, Springsteen’s “Because the Night”  plus a few fave chestnuts like “Redondo Beach” and “Free Money”.

I’d go with the blu-ray because of it’s pristine color and excellent DTS surround sound. The camera work and audio give you that “you’re in the audience” feeling. If you’ve never seen Patti Smith in the flesh, “Live At Montreux 2005” is a great place to start until the next time she comes to your neighborhood. If you’re a long time fan, this DVD is a keeper. - Eric Berg


LET THE MUSIC PLAY – The Story of the Doobie Brothers (Eagle Vision – Dec. 2012) formats: standard DVD and Blu-ray

Attention Doobie Brother fans! This is the DVD for you. The first half of LET THE MUSIC PLAY is the history of the Doobies as told by founders Tom Johnson and  Pat Simmons, Brothers past and present: Tiran Porter, John McFee, Michael McDonald, longtime band manager Bruce Cohn and others. Even former longtime SF Chronicle rock critic and now author, Joel Selvin gets a fair amount of observations in. The second half features live concert footage.  The interviews are done History Channel style, sandwiched between some cool B&W archival footage shot back in the day when the Doobies started out in San Jose playing for the Hells Angel parties and got a reputation as a biker band. It helps somewhat if you lived at the south end of the San Francisco Bay or Santa Cruz at some point during the 70’-80’s when the band played all over the place for years as they hit the big time. Otherwise there will be a few unfamiliar “what the hell are they talking about?” moments.  For Bay locals, there is rare footage of the Doobiers playing in long defunct clubs like Chateau Liberté in the Santa Cruz mountains and Berkeley’s old Keystone.

The interviews with the surviving Doobies move along at a reasonable pace spliced with concert footage and home videos including some incendiary guitar by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter during his Brother tenure. It’s amazing how many hits The Doobies have scored, how many musicians have gone thru the band, and sadly, how  many Brothers are no longer with us.

Part two of the dvd- the bonus stuff – features 9 live performances by the Brothers plucked from their various incarnations over the last 40 yrs.  The current edition of the Doobie Brothers continue to make quality recordings and attract large audience. They headlined the Santa Cruz Blues Festival in 2012.

“LET THE MUSIC PLAY”  seems like it was made strictly for fans, particularly those who lived in the San Francisco Bay area during the Doobie’s 70’s heyday. You don’t have to light one up to enjoy this one. - EB


FCA!35: An Evening With Peter Frampton (Eagle Vision – Dec. 2012) formats: audio cd, standard DVD and Blu-ray

This is a 3 hr performance by guitarist Peter Frampton spread over two dvds celebrating 35 yrs since his 1976 “Frampton Comes Alive” double lp recorded mostly at SF’s  Winterland became a worldwide mega-selling hit. It still holds the record for best selling live album ever.

Filmed in 2012 at two venues, one in NYC and in Milwaukee and edited as one, Frampton and his talented band mates recreate “FCA!” from beginning to end on disc one.  Familiar or maybe too familiar as these songs might be, Frampton is smart enough to freshen them up arrangement-wise with his crisp and fluid guitar playing with inspired help from his band, so it’s enjoyable to revisit this album again. Frampton doesn’t hog the show and let’s his band stretch out here and there.

Disc two gets a lot more interesting with Frampton picking out songs from his entire career including pieces from his most recent work including “While My Guitar Weeps For Me” from his Grammy winning instrumental album “Fingerprints”  Things really start rocking when the now bald Frampton gets around to covering a couple of Humble Pie tunes and he brings out his head-full-of-hair son, Julian to do the spot on Steve Marriott vocals.

There’s a DVD bonus documentary about Frampton’s recovering of his beloved black Gibson that was lost 30 years ago in a cargo plane crash in Chile only to have it returned to him all these years later by the person who originally found it in the wreckage.

Over all, “FCA!35” is a pleasant watch, showcasing Frampton’s fruitful career and top notch guitar playing, but there’s something about the film’s overall aura that might make you feel like your watching it on PBS during “pledge drive”, if you know what I mean. - EB

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