Category: Must-See Concerts


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The Forever 27 Club is an organization nobody wants to be part of. So many stupidly talented artists have thrown their lives away and died at young ages because they lost battles to addiction, depression, and their own inner demons. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and others that aren’t as well-known. Of course, another one of the most famous members of that particular club is classic rock/blues legend Janis Joplin who’s ferocious voice and pure, raw talent helped to define an era. Listening to Janis Joplin sing is the act of experiencing honest and overpowering emotion, and this is coming from someone who’s always found her to be one of the more over-rated stars of the classic rock era. 1974’s documentary tribute to the late icon, Janis, made me appreciate her talent more than I had in the past even if its structure is a little disjointed and unfocused.

Never incorporating typical documentary narration, Janis looks at the life of Port Arthur, Texas, born Janis Joplin through rare concert footage as well as archival interviews that no one has probably seen since they aired on TV forty years ago. You also get some more personal peeks into Janis’s life such as her 10th year high school reunion (she would be dead less than a year later) as well as some studio rehearsal. And, with the concerts, you see several wonderful performances in Canada. You see her truly legendary performance at the Monterrey Pop Music Festival as well as one of her songs from the original 1969 Woodstock (most of those performances have already been well-chronicled in the Woodstock concert film). And along the way, you get a picture of how sad Janis was beneath it all.

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I would say that somewhere around 75% of the film is concert footage so if they chose bad performances, the whole movie would crumble. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. While the performances in this film don’t quite match the level of classic concert movies like Stop Making Sense or Woodstock, it’s still an awesome showcase for Janis Joplin’s goose-bumps inducing voice. In fact, my only complaint about the performances of the film is that my favorite Janis Joplin song isn’t one of them (“Me and Bobby McGee” which is a studio version heard over a photo montage at the end of the film). When Janis sings and she’s really grooving on a number, it would give me chills. And, I was also pleasantly surprised by how good her backing band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, was at laying down a psychedelic groove. If you can’t tell, I miss psychedelic rock.

My only real complaint about the film (other than the fact that there was nothing absolutely perfect about it like Stop Making Sense) was a series of structural complaints. If the movie wanted to be a concert film, it should have been a concert film. If it wanted to be biographical, it should have been biographical. If it wanted to be both (which is clearly what it was trying to do), it should have done a better job of balancing things out. As I said, roughly 75% of the film is concert footage and it makes all of the interviews and found footage seem so awkward when it finally does show up. It certainly doesn’t help that none of the archival footage seems to add much to the audience’s understanding of Janis. Though there is one segment where she’s on a talk show talking to the host after an awesome performance where you find out that despite her clearly sad interior, Janis also had a wicked sense of humor.

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I’ll keep this review short cause I’m still really buzzed on cold medicine. And I have no idea when I’m going to feel any better. Hopefully tomorrow. I especially hope that I’m feeling at least somewhat better tomorrow because I have an Ingmar Bergman movie to watch from Netflix, Through a Glass Darkly, and clearly I want to be in my best frame of my mind to watch something from the great masterful Swede. Anyways, if you’re a fan of Janis Joplin, this will be a fun look at some footage of her performing that you may not have seen before. If you’re not a Janis fan, you probably won’t need to go out of your way to watch this particular film (which is currently available to watch instantly on Netflix), but for fans of classic rock and one of the great blues singers of the classic rock era, Janis is worth your time.

Final Score: B+

 

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 My tastes in music often trend dangerously close into hipster territory. I firmly believe that Radiohead is greatest band since the Beatles and that Panda Bear’s Person Pitch is my generation’s answer to Pet Sounds. While The Suburbs was probably Arcade Fire’s weakest album, I was ecstatic to see it win Best Album at the Grammy’s instead of the other garbage albums that had been nominated. It is perfectly apt then that the first concert film I review for this blog is the seminal classic Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. The Talking Heads were the kings of the art school crowd in the 1980’s, and while I had never really formally introduced myself to their music, this film was a splendid introduction and quickly made the Talking Heads one of my new favorite bands even if I’m mildly convinced that David Byrne isn’t entirely sane.

The film begins with David Byrne entering on stage by himself with just his acoustic guitar and a boom box. He breaks into a solo rendition of the group’s hit “Psycho Killer” which is probably my favorite Talking Heads song. At the end of each song, a new member (or two) of the band joins David Byrne on stage as they go deeper and deeper into the band’s catalog until the whole band (and the band is huge) is on stage rocking out like nobody else on the planet. The film was edited together from three separate concerts but you never actually notice that while the film is being directed. Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) was the man behind the camera and the lighting and cinematography and professional hardly does her work justice. This was easily the most well made concert film I’ve ever seen and that includes the stellar Woodstock documentary.

Like I said earlier, I wasn’t really that familiar with the Talking Heads music before I watched this film. I had heard “Psycho Killer” because of Rock Band and “Burning Down the House” is their most famous song. I had no idea how talented and engaging their music is. I’m literally at a loss for words on how to describe their music. It’s like if you took the funk of Parliament, added in some of the sonic and psychadelic aspects of Pink Floyd, threw in a mix of the New Romantic stuff like the Replacements, sprinkled a little Santana in, and then something that is entirely their own, and you can begin to imagine their incredibly unique sound. You have complex orchestration spread out over a band with almost ten members mixed with a sound and energy that almost makes them feel like a jam band. This is dance music for smart people.

David Byrne is possible insane. He throws himself around in fits and shakes and seizures like he’s Joe Cocker on cocaine. He swivels his hips and prances around the stage like he’s Buddy Holly and wears ridiculously over-sized suits. He makes crazy faces like he’s slowly losing his mind while singing some of the band’s more out there and sinister songs. At one point, he just started doing laps around the stage during an extended bass/lead guitar segment. There was so much manic energy during every second of this performance that it’s a wonder that David Byrne didn’t have a heart attack from the exertion. That energy passed over to every single member of the group who all looked like they were having the times of their lives on that stage and that is part of what made the film so fun.

If you like music and have a scrap of intellect, you should check this one out. It was simply amazing. It’s been a while since I watched a concert film before this, and Woodstock might have been the last one, but now I want to watch more. One of my great regrets in life is that I haven’t had a chance to see more of the bands I love live. I also hate the fact that a lot of my favorite bands are no longer together and still making music. This is must watch cinema.

 Final Score: A