Capsule DVD Reviews, January 2015 Part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday, here are four more brief DVD reviews.

Rockin’ the Wall
Most people will agree that the communist regimes that ruled on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain were repressive. What they may or may not agree on is the contention of this film: the manner in which rock’n’roll helped bring about the demise of that system. The fact that rock music was all but banned in Eastern Europe is well-documented; there’s little doubt that the whole rock’n’roll aesthetic was a threat to the power of those repressive governments. The film explores the ways in which that paranoia manifested itself, employing firsthand interviews with people who lived in the then-communist bloc countries. All that said, just why the film chooses as its “rock experts” seems to have more to do with who the filmmakers knew and/or could get ahold of, rather than any specific relevance. How else to explain Mark Stein and Vinny Martell of Vanilla Fudge, Toto‘s David Paich, a guy from Quiet Riot, and members of Atlanta funk band Mother’s Finest? Their contributions are entertaining, but decidedly lightweight when set against the contributions of the people who lived under the communist regimes. Still worth a look.

Carl Palmer – Decade 10th Anniversary
Drummer Carl Palmer is the youngest among the ELP trio; at just shy of 65, he’s five years younger than Keith Emerson, two years younger than Greg Lake. And though all three former member remains busy, it’s Palmer who performs the most. After a long stint in Asia (one that continues to this day) Palmer launched a performing project of his own, called ELP Legacy. As one would expect, this group (The Carl Palmer Band) features Palmer and tow other guys whose names you won’t recognize, and they play music from ELP’s catalog. This DVD documents a 2011 concert in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, part of a music festival. To Palmer’s (and his young bandmates’) credit, the group doesn’t attempt to ape the original versions. First off, there’s no keyboards. So what audiences get instead are interpretations of ELP music in classic power trio format. Lots of thunderous bass, shredding guitar (reinterpreting Emerson’s lightning runs on piano, organ and synthesizer), and – as you’d fully expect form a project with the drummer’s name out front – Carl Palmer front and center. These fresh takes on ELP are welcome, and fans of the band – or at least those with an open mind – should enjoy the show.

Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing Live
This one’s a bit odd, and I’ve seen the word “semi-official” used to describe its status. In 2012, Suzanne Vega released a CD titled Solitude Standing: Live at the Barbican. That concert CD documented a performance from the 25th anniversary of the release of the Solitude Standing album, among Vega’s most admired works. This is not a DVD from that tour. Instead it’s a 2003 concert from Rome, Italy. Yes, Vega does perform “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner,” but so does she at pretty much every show. But once you understand what this DVD is and isn’t, you can enjoy an excellent (and excellently shot and recorded) concert in which Vega fronts a band,sometimes perform solo, and often contextualizes the songs with monologues. It’s a bit annoying for English-only speakers to sit idly by when – after Vega finishes each monologue – a translator repeats it in its entirety in Italian while the singer/guitarist stands patiently. Her acoustic-based readings of such tunes as “When Heroes Go Down” (from her underrated 99°F) have a wholly different feel than their studio counterparts, but they remain excellent. A couple spoken-word pieces show that Vega’s talents extend far beyond mere music.

The Point
In the very early 1970s, animator Fred Wolf put together an animated television special called The Point. Ostensibly aimed at children, The Point was sophisticated enough to appeal to adults as well. While the animation style is crude by 21st century standards, it possesses an undeniable charm. Featuring narration by one Ringo Starr and original songs composed and performed by his pal Harry Nilsson, The Point was a critical and commercial success. The original story came to Nilsson during an acid trip, and while the animated feature is no Yellow Submarine, it has the hip feel of the era’s pop culture animations. “Me and My Arrow” was a big hit single, too. This DVD verion is billed a “Definitive Collector’s Edition,” but (like every version of the film except its original TV broadcast), Dustin Hoffman‘s vocal parts have been wiped and replaced by Ringo. The print is of reasonably good quality, and the story is timeless and endearing. Some brief bonus features discuss the genesis of the project; there’s even a plug for the Who is Harry Nilsson? DVD (I did an extensive interview with that film’s director; click here to read it).

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