Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Chieli Minucci & Special EFX: Live At The Java Jazz Festival” (Platinum Records)

It would not surprise me if some people were to think there are two Chieli
Minucci’s. One is a highly-regarded composer for television, winning three Emmy
Awards for his music for “The Guiding Light” and themes for other programs, as
well as special “hold” music for Verizon. The other is an eminently skilled and
highly creative jazz guitarist/composer and leader of the band Special EFX, who
had a long run of recording success in the 1980’s/90’s. Of course, they’re the
same person, who happens to have developed two very different musical

This live-concert DVD presents the second of the two Chieli Minucci’s, a very modern
jazz guitarist who himself is more than capable of changing musical identities,
ranging from Wes Montgomery-rooted mainstream guitarist
to McLaughlin/DiMeola-flavored jazz/rock/world-music fusionist, and beyond. But
don’t get the idea that he’s an imitator, as he does all manner of interesting
things to transform his influences into something solidly original. Moreover,
he’s smart enough to surround himself with four other musicians, who likewise do
new things within settings comfortable enough to be appealing to a wide range of
listeners, from smooth-jazz fans to rockers to mainstream jazz purists, and all
points throughout that wide spectrum.

The concert was filmed in 2009 at a festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, a country one
might not automatically associate with contemporary-jazz. But as the fusion band
Krakatau has long demonstrated, there are some exciting things happening in that
island nation, even though Americans seem only to hear of it when there’s a
massive natural disaster of some sort. (Side note - I seriously doubt James
Brown appeared at the 2009 Java Jazz Festival, despite what it says in the liner
notes, as James died in 2006.)

Minucci’s style is, as I’ve indicated rooted in earlier aspproaches to jazz guitar,styles,
but his rhythmic sense and textural explorations clearly mark him as a
contemporary equal of a Charlie Hunter (albeit without the latter’s independent
bass lines.) He deftly works his way from the early Miles/Chick brand of
jazz-rock, through "pre-dolphin" Winter Consort, a lovely Stevie Wonder ballad
(the only cover on the disc), Afro and Afro-Brazilian, all th way to
funk, through the course of seven tastefully arranged tracks, each of which is
of a substantial enough length (averaging around 10 minutes or so) to develop
through a number of changes and mood shifts.

Each of the members of Special EFX is a a creative force in his own right, and keeps
a cohesive groove going as a unit. Percussionist Philip Hamilton adds wordless
vocal melodies and interjections which contribute a world-music flavoring to
several tracks. Keyboardist Jay Rowe adds lovely cushions under Minucci’s
playing and solos with such joy that the listener can’t help but be caught up in
his exuberance. Drummer Lionel Cordew always seems to know what’s appropriate,
while bassist Jerry Brooks has a popping, crackling approach that enlivens the
rhythm section and intensifies his solo breaks.

Sound and picture quality are excellent. No bonus features, but there’s 75 minutes’
worth of music, with virtually no wasted time in between tunes. It's all music,
very little chat, which is an important factor when it comes to repeated
viewing. I simply can’t imagine anyone walking away unimpressed by this concert

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“These Magnificent Miles: On The Long Road With Red Wanting Blue” (Davenport Motion Pictures)

What is the true measure of success? Stardom? Money? A record deal/book contract/movie-studio greenlighting? The satisfaction that many people appreciate your work, even though the size of their audience pales in comparison to, say, Lady Gaga’s? A loving family? Food on the table on a regular basis?

The members of indie-rock band Red Wanting Blue have enjoyed a few of those measures of success for some years. Over the course of their first fourteen years as a working unit, they had the support of family and friends, they ate and had rooves over their heads (even if it was thanks to working day jobs unrelated to their aspirations to be full-time professional musicians), and yes, they had the adoration of thousands of devoted fans over a wide geographical area. But the members of the band (hereafter referred to as RWB) were long frustrated by their failure to secure a recording contract. True, they released 8 CD’s on their own and toured nationally to great acclaim, hailed by both audiences and critics. Still, the brass ring always managed to elude them.

Goodness knows it was not for lack of trying, because - as this documentary film by producer-director Ken Davenport illustrates - the members of RWB have been bona fide road warriors, touring incessantly and gaining followers everywhere they’ve played. Goodness also knows it was not for lack of merit, as the performances shown on this DVD - featuring the distinctive,. emotion-laden baritone voice of Scott Terry - are uniformly fine. The band is tight, the songs are suitably melodic, with lyrics that often verge on the anthemic, the arrangements are accessible, yet creative. They would seem to be doing everything right. Even a recording executive who was interviewed for the film acknowledges the quality of the group. He just didn’t feel that what RWB offered could translate into major mainstream national success - yet, their faithful fan base continued to grow.

Davenport wisely lets the band tell their own story, of good times blending with hard times, of great gigs, long drives, musical satisfactions and frustrations, personnel problems and solutions, of a group of musicians in their late 20’s and early 30’s worried that time has already past them by. We see footage of the band throughout their long career, dating back to the days when OAR opened for RWB in Columbus, OH. But OAR took off, and RWB didn’t. We get interviews with family, friends, and fans, all of whom are mystified by tthe band’s lack of mainstream attention.

The film doesn’t beat you over the head - as some documentaries do - with manic shouts on the order of “You gotta love this band! You’re a fool if you don’t love this band”, because it doesn’t have to. The evidence is there, in plain sight and sound. This band should be as big as, oh, Matchbox 20 ten years ago, or Maroon 5 - what did they have that RWB lacks? Yet despite that national fan base and a trail of critical raves, no one would so much as give them a chance.

Thus,, we see them involved in the mundane tasks which they feel a recording contract would relieve them of - putting CD’s into envelopes, stuffing envelopes into boxes, hauling boxes to the post office. Tasks that a record company can hire underlings to take care of. Tasks that a 14-year veteran band with a national following should in theory not have to devote time and energy to.

Atrthe end of the movie, we learn that since the original filming, the band finally was signed to a record deal, not with SONY or Warner, but with Fanatic, whose boss saw in RWB the potential that other record execs inexplicably missed. Since that time, the band has yet to crack the upper reaches of stardom, but their time may yet be coming.

“These Magnificent Miles” - the film is named after their most recent CD - is well-filmed, intelligently edited, thoughtfully paced. But its most noteworthy accomplishment is that it features a number of full-length concert performances and scenes shot in recording studios to give the viewer a very real sense of what this band does and what level of excellence RWB has attained. In the end, you’re left rooting for the band to make it. Ken Davenport has thus done his job.

The film itself is an hour long. There is an unnecessary deleted scene, plus two music videos. Check out the films website, at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

“John Lennon: Rare And Unseen” (MVD)/“Lennonyc” (A&E)

Could there possibly be anything left to learn about John Lennon, any scrap of film or recorded sound not yet seen and/or unavailable to the public on the dozens of other documentaries devoted to former Beatles, anything truly “rare and unseen”? Apparently so.

The MVD DVD “John Lennon: Rare and Unseen” actually collects vintage material that is, yes, rare, but which has been seen. Perhaps only once, 40+ years ago, and not throughout the whole world. In other words, so few people have seen this material (with the possible exception of the David Frost interviews, which have been unavailable up till now on DVD), the title is entirely legitimate. Since the public’s fascination with Everything Lennon continues unabated - every Fall semester, the 18-year-olds in my Freshman Liberal Arts Seminar are quick to identify the Beatles in general and Lennon in particular as one of their “favorite artists” - there would seem to be a ready-made market for both DVD’s under review here. Since the MVD disc more-or-less ends where “Lennonyc” begins (the title is short for “Lennon NYC”, chronicling John’s years in New York City and, despite the title, Los Angeles), they are not in the least incompatible. Although the A&E film (originally shown on PBS” “American Masters” series) is by far the superior product, hard-core Lennon fans will want them both.

“Rare and Unseen” (part of a series of MVD releases under that rubric) is arranged so that it traces the arc of John Lennon’s career up to the early 1970’s, going back to his teen-aged days with the Quarrymen. We meet an insecure, yet irreverent young fellow, lacking confidence, social skills, and the ability to trust people. It is easy to see the roots of the anxiety he always betrayed while addressing the press, which led him to blurt out answers - often treating seriously intended questions in a sarcastic manner - which got him into trouble on numerous occasions. A goodly amount of time is spent here examining his infamous “more popular than Jesus” remark - what he said, what people thought he meant, what he really meant, why people didn’t realize what it was he actually meant, etc. As Beatles’ press officer Tony Barrow puts it, “the words in his brain never did come out right by the time they reached his mouth.” Barrow contends that if John had written his apology in a song, it would have been brilliant, but he had a difficult time explaining his words to journalists.

Though the disc is arranged chronologically, not every major event in the Beatles’ development is addressed, nor is there any intent to do that. The subjects chosen are dependent on what rare, unseen television clips were available. So we skip over some of the Beatles’ finest, most innovative moments to get to the Bed-In for Peace, and John and Yoko’s involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement as a whole. The Beatles’ managerial difficulties (the Lee Eastman faction, i.e., Paul, vs. the Allen Klein faction); the relationship between John and Paul and what their romantic entanglements may have contributed to the break-up of the Beatles (John denies it was a factor); and John’s involvement with Yoko’s avant-garde art world are among the more prominent matters discussed.

Unfortunately, there is no narration to either tie together the various segments or to serve to transition between clips, or even to explain a bit about the nature of the programs this material came from. To be sure, narrations on a program such as this can often be less than helpful, and a back-cover blurb does supply some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. It might also have been preferable to show the originals in toto, rather than split up by added remarks, as it were. But the commentary, both from the original broadcasts (Desmond Morris’ perspectives are, as one might expect, particularly insightful) and newly-recorded (Steve Harley, ex-Cockney Rebel rock star turned BBC commentator, is quite perceptive) is quite interesting. Besides, the clips are worth seeing, from a purely historical viewpoint, as well as from the eyes of a “true fan” wanting to understand as much as one can about this enigmatic hero.

Hearing all these opinions as well as the Lennon interviews over the course of 75 minutes does give you the illusion at least of understanding this complex and often seemingly contradictory individual a bit better, though he will no doubt continue to elude us forever. There are no musical performances on the disc, but this is less about John Lennon the musician than John Lennon the man. No extras, but there’s certainly enough here to warrant a recommendation..

“Lennonyc”, which takes us inside John Lennon’s world during the 1970’s until his assassination in 1980, is about the man AND the music, with a number of live performances and studio discussions. But it’s the sections on the man that are particularly significant. We begin, not with the beginning, but near the end, with studio chatter from the “Double Fantasy” sessions and interviews with a few of the musicians from that album. We hear a playful, joking John, seemingly at ease with the process of recording after being away from it for several years. But the John Lennon who is revealed to us during the bulk of the film is far less jovial, frequently hostile, eventually becoming a nasty drunk and unproductive drug addict during his L.A. stay, where he comes off as downright unlikable. Then fatherhood changes him. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

John Lennon arrived in New York City full of hope, escaping from years of Beatlemania, and from hounding by the British press who blamed Yoko for the demise of the Beatles. His political stance also got him into trouble at home. No doubt he thought in America he would be freer to express himself, both artistically and politically. But then he finds himself aligned with Chicago Seven activist Rennie Davis, plus Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, and the full furor of the Nixon administration falls down upon Lennon’s head. Strom Thurmond convinces Washington that Lennon must be kicked out of the US. The deportation hearings drag on and on, FBI spies follow Lennon at every turn, what would have been an important tour is canceled, despite flimsy evidence that he actually posed a threat to the American way of life. But Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings with Elephant’s Memory, filled as they are with political material, controversial language, and the raw sounds of a Greenwich Village street band accompanying a man who had up until then been playing with the most famous musical ensemble in the world, also fell on uncomprehending ears, damaging his musical reputation and his commercial viability as well.

The frustrations lead to a bout of marital infidelity which led Yoko - who had literally been his constant companion up to this time - to kick him out. Lennon moves to LA, spends his time partying with Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, two of rock’s most notorious ne’er-do-wells, clashes loudly with producer Phil Spector during the chaotic sessions for the “Rock’n’Roll” LP of oldies covers, acts crazy in public (on the club scene), and screams Yoko’s name. Significantly, a visit by Paul and Ringo found him relaxed and without animosity, but most of his three years in L.A. were pretty disastrous, and he undoubtedly saved his life by returning to NYC.

John returned to New York to straighten his life out and to work on “Walls and Bridges”. The music showed a considerable improvement. We hear John on a 1974 New York radio interview, in which he describes his continuing immigration hassles. But then, John and Yoko reconciled, around the same time that John got his green card, after a 4-1/2-year struggle. His years of faith in the American Dream having paid off, he set off on a new adventure after the birth of his son Sean. While Yoko took care of business, John became a house-husband and full-time father, roles which served to clean him up, settle his mind and body, and taught him to appreciate the more mundane aspects of life. (For example, we get a glimpse of him baking bread.)

Eventually, he realized he can be both father and musician, and set out to record “Double Fantasy,” which he conceived as an alternating showcase for himself and for Yoko. Yoko had always been a source of derision among rock fans, but David Geffen recalls that Lennon heard “Rock Lobster”, and decided the world was finally ready for her.There is a great deal of description of John’s working methods during that album by musicians Earl Slick, Andy Newmark, and Hugh McCracken, plus producer Jack Douglas and critic Robert Hilburn.

The story of Lennon’s murder is told with sirens, news footage, and Geffen’s and Yoko’s memories of how they learned of his death. It’s a story too-well-known, perhaps, to dwell on excessively here, but I found myself wanting more. What exactly I can’t tell you, just more.

Otherwise, there are very few mis-steps here. The interviews, with many people who knew and worked with John (including Elton John), are well-done, the balance of music, visuals, and information is satisfactory, and the whole production thoroughly professional, and certainly worthy of PBS standards. This is the sort of film that gives musical documentaries a good name.

115 minutes, no extras. A must-see.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

“Sondheim! The Birthday Concert” (Image Entertainment)

Stephen Sondheim has been such a dominant figure in the world of the American Musical Theater for so long, it’s hardly surprising that this concert honoring his 80th birthday (March 2010) would attract some of the finest and best-known artists who have graced the Broadway stage over the past forty or more years. After all, during that perplexing period when Broadway was overwhelmed by British (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and French (Claude-Michel Schoenberg) imports and “jukebox musicals”, in which a thin plot was written around a set of earlier hit songs, it was Stephen Sondheim who almost single-handedly kept the contemporary American-composed musical alive. Not only that, he did so by continually pushing the boundaries of what musical theater could sound like, and what it could express.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a tendency among my American Music students to think of musical theater, past and present, as “America’s classical music”, whether referring to the innovative stylings of Michael John LaChiusa or the more populist writing of Frank Wildhorn. Certainly, in the eras of Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, Loesser, Styne, et. al., “show tunes” were considered part of the Popular Music world. It seemed part of the natural order of things that the songs which were most popular on Broadway would soon become part of America’s shared pop-music repertoire. I would venture to say that Stephen Sondheim is more responsible than any other single figure for the revised perception of musicals as being more closely aligned with the world of “art music” than with pop. He did not set out to write “hit songs” deftly inserted into plays to attract attention and sell tickets. His musicals are instead full-blown art works, sometimes operatic in scope, sometimes conceived on a smaller scale. In either case, they are works in which songs carry the story forward or comment on specific events within the whole, set to music which is distinctive, intricate, and variegated. Although many jazz and cabaret singers have been known to include a few Sondheim songs into their repertoires, the number of bona-fide hit singles Sondheim musicals have produced since he began writing both words and music is one - “Send In The Clowns”. And that song is curiously absent from this concert.

This 80th birthday concert - originally produced for the PBS showcase series, “Great Performances” - was the brainchild of producer/director Lonny Price. It was presented before a highly enthusiastic audience - including the composer himself - at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York. In addition to a variety of some of the best-known figures on Broadway figures, including Patti Lupone, Audra McDonald, Donna Murphy, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and then-85-year-old Elaine Stritch, there are a number of other fine artists, both veterans and up-and-comers, most of whom have had some connection with Sondheim musicals. They are accompanied by no less than the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Sondheim’s long-time conductor, Paul Gemignani. Our guide to the proceedings is David Hyde Pierce (best-known as Niles on the sitcom “Frasier”, but certainly no stranger to the Broadway musical theater stage), hosting with typically Niles-ish deadpan humor. In a running gag, he pushes for multi-lingual versions of songs, and later sings “Beautiful Girls” from “Follies” in multiple languages.

Sondheim first gained fame in 1957, as Leonard Bernstein’s lyricist for “West Side Story”. The concert begins with a segment devoted to Sondheim’s career as a wordsmith, with a nicely staged ensemble version of “America” and “Something’s Coming”, sung by one of the aforementioned up-and-comers, who just happens to be the conductor’s son, Alexander Gemignani. (The material from “West Side Story” remains to this day among Sondheim’s most familiar.) Sondheim also wrote the lyrics for “Do I Hear A Waltz”, as well as one number for “Hot Spot”, written for the legendary Judy Holliday, and delivered here with humorous aplomb by 2005 Tony winner Victoria Clark.

Sondheim’s breakthrough decade of the 1970’s is well-represented by songs from “Company”, “A Little Night Music” and several each from “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd”, but none from the decidedly operatic “Pacific Overtures”. “Too Many Mornings”, sung by Audra McDonald and opera star Nathan Gunn, proves to be one of the highlights of the concert. Another highlight is a set of two songs from the 1984 play “Sunday In The Park With George”, performed by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, two brilliant songs brilliantly performed, but which have no hit-making potential whatsoever, which is essentially the Stephen Sondheim story in a nutshell.

One of the most interesting segments presents the stars of the original productions reprising the songs they introduced to the world. Alas, John McMartin at age 80 is no longer the singer he was forty years ago in the debut of “Follies”. Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason introduced “it Takes Two” from “Into The Woods” much more recently (1987), and they still have the style and voices needed to make it work. Jim Walton, accompanying himself on piano, sings a song he never sang in the original production of “Merrily We Roll Along”, as the song was added to the score later.

Though most songs are presented with minimal staging, two members of the American Ballet Theatre dance beautifully to an instrumental theme Sondheim composed for the film “Reds”. (His songs for the movie version of “Dick Tracy” are not represented here.)

A bevy of divas in gorgeous red gowns comes onstage a final medley of Sondheim classics, though they never actually perform as a unit. Unit or not, Patti Lupone, Elaine Stritch, Donna Murphy, Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, and Marin Mazzie wow the crowd with dazzling performances that serve as textbook examples of how to sell theater songs to an audience. Ms. Stritch may not have the vocal range she once had, but she still has her trademark chutzpah, which she uses to deliver “I’m Still Here” from “Follies” with the power and conviction it requires.This could have well served as a finale, but producer Price had something even bigger and more dramatic in store for the celebration - a huge chorus of 287 performers from then-current Broadway productions promenading to the stage to sing “Sunday”, after which they they are joined by all the participants to sing “Happy Birthday” to the tearful composer, who comes onstage to receive a long and well-deserved ovation.

If you happened to already see this on PBS, you’ve probably already ordered your copy of the DVD. If not, I should mention that this is a well-presented document of a most memorable event. It gives due credit to a man whose impact on American musical theater will continue long into the future. If you wish to sample the music of a man who may indeed be definitively regarded as one of the great American composers whose music richly deserves the appellation “classical”, I heartily recommend this concert DVD.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

“The Knights Of Fuzz: The Garage & Psychedelic Music Explosion 1980 To Now” (Dionysus Records)

A short time ago, I reviewed the DVD “Romantic Warriors”, about modern-day progressive rock bands who are keeping alive the sounds of the cutting-edge rock of the 1970’s. It’s not too difficult to draw a parallel or two between that disc and this one, about bands who have kept alive the cutting-edge rock sounds of the 1960’s. True, the prog film is a documentary, while “The Knights Of Fuzz” is primarily a collection of music videos with added documentation. But both DVD’s celebrate musical artists who have continued to perform the types of music they wanted to play, long after their respective idioms ceased to have commercial potential, and who have stuck to their guns despite a lack of recognition outside of a small community of like-minded fans.

“The Knights Of Fuzz” carries a 2006 date, but is new to me and, I suspect, to most other people as well. It opens with a too-brief, ineffective stab at a short documentary, with pictures of neo-garage/psychedelic bands compared to the first wave of 60’s bands, with the caveat that we shouldn’t confuse the “hipsters” of the garage-band revival with the late-60’s “hippies”. The point is a valid one, as the sounds and visual images associated with most of the bands on this disc strike me as relating more to the mid-60’s garage bands and what some folks have tabbed the “garage-psych” era which served as a bridge between the first garage band and psychedelia, rather than full-blown psychedelia per se. Don’t look for Jefferson Airplane or Big Brother-type bands here; think Seeds and and Count Five instead. This mini-documentary intro also includes quick interview segments with 80’s band members. This opening section might have had more impact had it gone into greater informational depth. But that’s not really what this collection is about.

The great bulk - and real meat - of this set is the aforementioned music videos, the great bulk of which are by bands who proved to have no presence whatsoever on the national sales and airplay charts. Indeed, their music is so lovingly anachronistic, one might wonder why they would invest in making music videos which - in the pre-Youtube era - not a whole lot of people would have had the opportunity to ever see. (I would guess more were seen in clubs than on t.v.) Thank goodness, they did, though, as there are some real gems and no outright bummers here. These are bands whose level of success ranged from local-hero to underground cult status, not because they were in any way unworthy of success. It’s just that they simply chose to play an older style of music which was no longer fashionable. While one can instantly recognize these bands as being stylistically rooted in 60’s garage rock as a genre, there are very few outright imitations of specific records by specific bands. Even when one hears a riff or a tonal quality that one can finger as being derived from such-and-such by so-and-so, it will be followed a few seconds later by a different influence or an original concept. The key here is genre identity, not direct theft.

To those of us from Western New York, the “big name” here is the Chesterfield Kings from Rochester, who get the set started with “99th Floor”. It was recorded in 1983, but sounds so much like it should date from 1966, it’s uncanny. But that’s precisely the idea, and one which musically dominates the DVD, to the delight of anyone who might be attracted to the disc by its title.

Most of the videos are the original promo clips. But “You’ll Know Why”, by the Miracle Workers, a Portland, OR band with a “jangly” guitar sound, is a new production, constructed from vintage footage and a 1985 recording. I’m also very fond of “I’ve Seen You Walking” (1985) by Yard Trauma from Tucson. But then I’m abnormally fond of that old combo-organ sound, whether Vox, Farfisa, or wherever it may come from. Perhaps my favorite of all the 80’s videos is “Hey!” by the Gruesomes, essentially a garage-surf instrumental, aside from frequent shouting of the title. The band, which hailed from Montreal, put together a humorous Monkees-flavored video to go with this little gem. Occasionally, one hears a 70’s punk aggressiveness mixed in with the garage sound, as in The 10 Commandments’ “Not True”, from 1989.

The videos are mostly arranged chronologically, and continue on through the 90’s all the way to 2006. The Cynics, from Pittsburgh, doing a strong song written by Buffalo legend, Bernie Kugel, are one of the best-known bands here (along with the Fuzztones). Fortune & Maltese, from Michigan, have a Byrds-like vocal blend, but with more energetic guitars. Untamed Youth, from Columbia, MO, brought back the California hot-rod sound in 1990, adding a garage-style organ. Jonny Chan & The New Dynasty Six, from New York, also do a song called “Hey!” (not the same song), with a vocal that reminds me of Sky Saxon, but the band has no keyboards, which sets them apart from the Seeds; another example of a fresh approach to a recognizable influences.

Probably the most purely psychedelic band from a late-60’s perspective is Milwaukee’s Plasticland, seen live in 2001. Freddy & The Four-Gone Conclusions, from Detroit, bring back the Del Shannon sound in 2003. Their version of Shannon’s “Stand Up”, features a guest appearance by none other than keyboardist Max Crook, whose high-pitched solos on an early electronic instrument called the Musitron were such an important contribution to Del Shannon’s 60’s stardom. The Woggles, from Atlanta, 2004, are a real romp ‘em, stomp ‘em band with a hard-fuzz guitar sound and a singer who reminds me of a more conservative Van Morrison. Les Breastfeeders (i’m not making that name up), from Montreal, are the only band here singing in French, and once again strike me as close to late-70’s punk energy, but they’re not totally out-of-place. Timothy Gassen, who put this whole compilation together, is heard on the most recent track, by his band Marshmallow Overcoat, with a signal-splitting guitar sound reminiscent of the Electric Prunes, but with enough originality to keep it honest.

As if the 17 videos which make up the primary presentation weren’t enough to whet the appetite of the garage-band fan and rock historian alike, there is a ton of bonus features. On your home t.v., you can see three more videos, a live clip by pioneering garage-band revivalists, the Cheepskates; two exciting songs by the Vipers, rescued from an old video tape - the picture is tiny, but the music more than makes up for it; and an additional track by Marshmallow Overcoat, showing their versatility, as it’s in a very different vein from their previous one. There are some old audio-only spoken-word radio broadcasts. While I’m not sure of the importance of someone telling you who-was-playing-where-when 25 years ago, there are also a few interviews, including one with my late friend and mentor Greg Shaw.
For the rest of the features, you have to put the disk into your computer’s DVD-ROM drive. Mr. Gassen has generously reprinted the entire text of his 300-page book “Knights Of Fuzz”, which includes individual descriptions of hundreds of bands. An amazing amount of research and effort must have gone into this tome There are also loads of photos of album covers, a large collection of articles written by Gassen for obscure publications you simply won’t be able to find anymore, a handful of interviews (including Greg Shaw again), reviews, contributions from readers, and an excellent collection of mp3’s, some by bands seen on the video portion of the disc (though the songs are different), most by other bands, all of whom have something worthwhile to offer.

The “regular” video portion of this DVD would alone be worth the money. The material on the DVD-ROM is likewise worth the money in and of itself. Put the two together and you have one heck of a bargain. If you have any interest whatsoever in the topic - or simply think you might - this is a package deal you should not resist.