Tuesday, March 31, 2009

California Classic Rock: Bad Noise by Greedy Bastards

California Classic Rock
Kultur // 2005 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

Opening shot…

I just finished an article for another website, a business story about Detroit automakers pulling down millions in salary, stock options and cash incentives while their car companies implode on losses totaling billions of dollars. And now we taxpayers get to bail them out. Just like the financial services companies that wrote bullshit loans and juggled them around with derivative instruments to spread the risk until it got so big that nobody saw the default train a-comin’ until it ran them down on the tracks.

None of this has much to do with the subject of today’s review, except in the most tangential sense. In a word, it involves a particularly loathsome trait that too many people rely upon as a part of their daily lives. It’s called fraud, my friends. It is pervasive and tenacious, like the stink in old tennis shoes. Whether he comes at you smiling and talking about his MBA, or wants to buy you a drink or sell you a car…or offers undying love if only…yeah…we’re getting to the point, now:

When that ol’ debbil Mr. Fraud, that sonofabitch, wants you to buy a damned-rotten DVD, you gotta beware. Today we’ll kick around one of those DVDs he’s peddling.

And so, let’s take a closer look at “California Classic Rock,” another in my occasional series of lousy concert discs. Be advised, film fans, this DVD is neither classic nor Californian.

Time to get down…and shake it around…
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

With that nod to Eric Burdon, let me be clear: This is a gawdawful concert DVD, easily the worst I’ve seen in a dozen years of evaluating discs, and by any measure a waste of time and money. The amateurish videography lacks basic competencies such as focus and framing. The sound may very well be lip-synched — and if it isn’t, the audio is so poorly recorded as to make lip-synching preferable. Even the crowd can’t get up enough enthusiasm for more than an occasional, half-hearted hurrah.

This is nothing more than a sloppy video document of a 1986 summer concert in San Bernardino, CA, featuring nine mediocre acts from the 1960s. A reconstituted Canned Heat opens the show, performing their two hits — “Going Up the Country” and “On the Road Again.” But who are these guys? Band leader Bob “The Bear” Hite died in 1981, and the band buried guitarist Al Wilson in 1970, so by 1986 Canned Heat had long ago lost most of its fire. Check out the director’s cut of Woodstock to see this blues-inflected group in their fleeting prime.

John Sebastian (onetime frontman and principal songwriter for The Lovin’ Spoonful) jams on a tune with New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, then vanishes like a virgin on prom night.

Buffalo Springfield (Revisited), minus Stephen Stills and Neil Young –the only members of that band who anyone still cares about – perform the classic “For What It’s Worth” and a weak cover of Young’s “Hello Mr. Soul.” They at least have enough respect for the original Springfield lineup to include the disclaimer “Revisited.”

I think it’s time we stopped, hey, what’s that sound? / Everybody look what’s going down.

It is this: Some oldies acts feature the original groups in name only; a heinous practice that borders on fraud. Fans of these old bands buy tickets to relive cherished memories. They go to the concert or purchase the DVD on faith. Instead, they might get imposters, third-string poseurs riding a money train on the glory of the original artists.

That said, yes, we eventually get to see the real Eric Burdon onstage, wailing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” But without The Animals to back him up, especially Alan Price on keyboards — always the main component of the Animals’ sound — Burdon no longer sparks lightning in a bottle.

The Standells fare the best with their lone hit, “Dirty Water,” a snarling frat-boy ode to Boston women. When the band formed in 1966, “Dirty Water” was about the only song they could play, but they played the hell out of it, with all the horny strutting those boys could muster. It’s not necessary to agree with the song’s randy sentiment; there’s purity in the execution that makes it feel alive and urgent, unlike the other acts plucked out of formaldehyde and signed for this concert. I’ve yet to see a more peculiar mish-mash of rock, soul, blues and bubblegum pop on one concert disc.

Wait a tick; Good God, who’s this closing out the show? Why, it’s squeaky Peter Noone, minus Herman’s Hermits, mincing his way through “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and two other forgettable tunes. The crowd, thinning out at this point, greets him like a stranger, which is a bit sad, but he soldiers on bravely — perhaps thinking about that paycheck waiting backstage. Is that really his voice after all these years, or is he sucking on a helium tank?

Of the nine acts on this disc, three were British and less than half had any specific connection to California, so even the DVD title is misleading.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
Nuthin’, I’m tellin’ ya. No extras. Zip. Allegedly there’s a choice of Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 audio, but I toggled repeatedly between surround and stereo modes, and moved around the room, checking my speaker connections. I’ll be damned if there’s any discernible difference. Doesn’t matter; the entire concert sounds as though it was recorded in a bathysphere. At a fleeting 60 minutes, the running time still feels too long.

Caveat Emptor & Listener’s Lament...
Great rock music, like most worthwhile things in life, seldom improves on dissection or even close inspection to discover how it works. When it does work, when the alchemy blends just so, the results are the stuff of magic – all the romance and warmth, that electrifying sensation that compels us to drive fast down empty streets, blaring the horn. And that’s enough. Yet even when the motive is nothing more than profit, the song remains the same — the lyrics don’t change, the familiar chord progressions proceed as they must toward the coda.

Here, something’s missing. The spell is broken. It’s a vague sense of disquiet, of unease, like the dawning realization of a con unfolding before our eyes. That feeling is palpable while suffering through this wretched, disappointing disc. If I had wasted money to see this live show two decades ago, the promoters would still be feeling the pain of my boot upside their collective arse.

This is the bad acid the P.A. announcer warned about in Woodstock.

Set List:

• Canned Heat: “Going Up the Country”
• Canned Heat: “On the Road Again”
• The Chambers Brothers: “Time Has Come Today”
• War: “Low Rider”
• Spirit: “Nature’s Way”
• The Standells: “Dirty Water”
• John Sebastian with N.R.B.Q.: “N.R.B.Q. Jam”
• Buffalo Springfield (Revisited): “Hello Mr. Soul”
• Buffalo Springfield (Revisited): “For What It’s Worth”
• Eric Burdon: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
• Eric Burdon: “Don’t Bring Me Down”
• Peter Noone: “The End of the World”
• Peter Noone: “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”
• Peter Noone: “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)”

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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