Good concert films can either define an era (Woodstock, The Last Waltz) or an artist (Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Trick at Budokan, Stop Making Sense). And then there are the easy nostalgia cash-ins and live sets that take a nip off deliverables owed to a record company.
2017 kicks off with a new classic from Arcade Fire and solid releases from Def Leppard, Mumford & Sons and Peter Murphy.
Arcade Fire • The Reflektor Tapes
Arcade Fire recently released ‘I Give You Power‘ featuring Mavis Staples, their first new song since 2013. While a new album is imminent, there’s still plenty of time to do a victory lap from the Reflektor era. The Reflektor Tapes is a treasure trove of visual artifakts from a band working at its creative and commercial peak.
Disk 2 is the full length concert feature, Live at Earl’s Court. The triumphant show was filmed June 6, 2014 in London. Arcade Fire was one of the last big bands to play the legendary venue before it was torn down to make way for new condos, a fact Win Butler notes throughout the performance. Suburban life and sprawl have been a theme in their music from the very beginning, from the ‘Neighborhood’ song suite on 2004’s Funeral to the title track of 2010’s The Suburbs.
Considering how intimate the band’s early recording spaces were, it’s breathtaking to see them take a venue the size of Earl’s Court full force. At any given time during the performance, more than a dozen musicians and dancers give it their all, playing as if it was the greatest day of their lives, and perhaps it was. The Reflektor Tour was Arcade Fire’s version of U2’s multi media Zoo TV spectacle with Butler’s dramatic mascara echoing Bono’s ‘The Fly’ persona. While the visual feast never lets up, it fully supports the power of the songs, from big, bombastic anthems custom built for the arena to ballads that seem coffee house intimate in a sea of thousands.
The big treasure trove is buried on Disk 1. The Reflektor Tapes, directed by Kahlil Joseph (who went onto helm Beyonce’s Lemonade), isn’t your typical rock doc. Much like Nirvana’s Live Tonight! Sold Out, it meanders along a twisted path its own muse. Kahlil follows the band through recording sessions, mixing in live footage and a trip to Haiti. At Earl’s Court, Butler announces that one Pound Sterling from every ticket sold goes to the band’s chosen charity to rebuild Haitian hospitals.
The Bonus Features are plentiful, including a star-studded TV special that most people missed if they DVR’d Saturday Night Live the night the band played. My recording caught the first 10 minutes of Here Comes The Night, so it’s a huge treat to have the full show on DVD at last. The special begins on the SNL stage and conga lines to a club aftershow. It starts off looking like a typical TV concert before going off the deep end with guest cameos and filmed surprises straight out of Adult Swim and Night Flight. To tell you who shows up and what goes down would ruin all the fun.
Also included is a conceptual video for ‘Afterlife’ that was shot live during a band performance at the YouTube awards. Spike Jonze directs Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) in the playful clip. Promo videos for the Reflektor singles are stuffed in as well, as are conceptual “Director’s Cut” versions of five songs from the Earl’s Court show.
I’ll admit, I cried happy tears throughout both discs. Arcade Fire’s music strikes a deep nerve — especially the steady momentum build of ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ and the cathartic release of ‘Wake Up’ that closes the set with thousands of voices singing in unison.
Pick up The Reflektor Tapes on Amazon.
Def Leppard • And There Will Be a Next Time
There’s a poignant moment at the very end of And There Will Be a Next Time: Live From Detroit when Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott tells the exhausted, sold out, arena-sized audience “Do us a big favor, don’t forget us and we won’t forget you.” Combined with introductory liner notes from lead guitarist Phil Collen that makes a case for the band’s relevancy the same way Trump keeps bringing up crowd size, it’s as if the band is worried the sun is setting on their career. Unlike Trump, the Sheffield metal legends don’t need ‘alternative facts’ to justify their run or place in today’s music scene. This concert film, their first since 1988, is testament to that.
Sure it would have been a bit more “metal” to have headbangers crushed up against the stage and girls lifting their tops throughout the set. Instead, the stage at the DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkson, Michigan is buttressed by a very posh and spacious VIP section that probably includes recliner seats. Elliott can’t hit the high notes the way he used to, and his bandmates flatten the backing chorus of ‘Photograph’ during the encore. But these are very minor points. They’ve aged. I’ve aged. The audience aged. And everyone has a shitload of fun from the moment the lights go up until the set’s triumphant close.
Detroit is shot digitally with video so crisp, it truly feels like you’re in the room, even on DVD (which I watched on a huge screen and my laptop). The sound mix is incredible and guitarists Collen and Vivian Campbell are on fire throughout driving the band’s iconic melodies and delivering some exciting solo runs. It’s hard to believe Campbell (formerly of Dio and Whitesnake) has been in the band for 24 years now. The late Steve Clark’s presence is still honored throughout the set. It’s equally hard to believe Rick Allen has been drumming with one arm for 33 years. There’s nothing more rock and roll than staying together and staying in the game. Def Leppard will never have a “comeback tour” because they never lost momentum.
The Detroit set mixes essential hits with newer cuts. The packaging includes a single disc DVD with the full concert and four recent promo clips, along with two CDs so you can keep the party going on the road. David Fricke (Rolling Stone) pens the set’s primary liner notes that celebrates all the band has accomplished in the past 40 years.
Pick up And There Will Be a Next Time: Live From Detroit on Amazon.
Mumford & Sons • Live From South Africa: Dust & Thunder
Let’s start with the urgent call to action here — Mumford & Sons has a very limited, Gentlemen of the Road, deluxe edition of their new live album Live From South Africa: Dust & Thunder. If you’re a fan of the band, pick it up now before it’s too late.
With that out of the way, it’s time to sit back, relax, and listen to some Americana music, played by Brits, to the good people of South Africa.
The concert film itself (also available on a standalone DVD or Blu-Ray) is a sight to behold for die-hards of the band. It was shot over two nights of the tour’s conclusion in the Pretorian outback (if you Google to see where exactly that is, you primarily get ads for Subarus and this concert film).
Disc 3 is a CD of the full concert. Disc 2 is an intimate road trip documentary, We Wrote This Yesterday (also available separately as a digital download). As the band winds its way though the country, they discuss their craft and give fans a front row seat to the two-day recording session that gave birth to their Johannesburg EP.
Pick up Live From South Africa: Dust & Thunder on Amazon.
Peter Murphy • Bare-Boned and Sacred
At the moment, there is no DVD to accompany the new live album from former Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy. Bare-Boned and Sacred, recorded last April at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, was part of Murphy’s acoustic Stripped Live worldwide tour. The set takes the intimate emotional wallop of ‘Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem’ from 1989’s Deep and spreads it across a career spanning set that includes a Bauhaus medley (‘King Volcano’ and ‘Silent Hedges’) and a tribute to the late David Bowie (‘Belway Brothers’).
Sacred plays like a laid back tour of his career, eschewing many of his bigger singles for iconic ones (‘Dietrich’, ‘All Night Long’ and Strange Kind of Love’) and latter era tracks (singles from his recent albums Lion and The Secret Bees of Ninth).
Murphy doesn’t face the challenges of Def Lep’s Elliott to hit the high notes, most of his songs go low in terms of register. The set showcases just how well Murphy’s pipes have aged, now that they’ve gotten a good rest from the Bauhaus reunion.
Pick up Bare-Boned and Sacred on March 10.