Since I started using TiVo a few years ago, I’ve been impressed time and again by the extent to which the digital video recorder (DVR) changes the experience of television — it can open up the “long tail” of TV in amazing ways (see Chris Anderson’s 2006 Wired article, “The Long Tail,” for an explanation of what that means).

For me, the latest example is VH1’s occasional show, “Classic in Concert,” which I never would have learned about had it not been for my practice every so often of reviewing all upcoming shows in TiVo’s alphabetical list.

“Classic in Concert” televises videos of live concerts, some recent, some quite old. Many of them have no interest to me (KISS, ZZ Top) and can go right in the trash. But recently I did enjoy watching concerts by Blind Faith and Brian Wilson, which were well worth the viewing time.

Following are some notes on those concert videos. Unfortunately, “Classic in Concert” appears to have no web home, so there’s nothing great I can find to link to, other than some YouTube videos of doubtful provenance.

Blind Faith’s 1969 Hyde Park Concert

This was a fascinating archaeological treasure, a movie of what might have been the world’s first glimpse of the collaboration between Eric Clapton post-Cream and Steve Winwood post-Traffic (Winwood later returned to Traffic).

Blind Faith also included percussionist Ginger Baker and bassist Ric Grech. I was surprised to learn that Ginger Baker is still alive — guess he got away with it. Grech died in 1990, according to his Wikipedia bio.

I’ve never paid a lot of attention to Steve Winwood, but the video has helped me put a face to the haunting voice in the recordings of Blind Faith and Traffic. I never realized what an enormous mouth he has, but he does well with it.

In the Hyde Park video, Clapton seems subdued and keeps to the background. That fits with what his Wikipedia bio says — apparently Clapton felt that the concert was premature and that Blind Faith hadn’t practiced enough:

[Clapton] thought that the band’s playing was sub-par and that the adulation was undeserved and reminiscent of his Cream days when the crowds would applaud for nearly everything. Clapton, knowing the band had not rehearsed enough and was unprepared, was reluctant to tour and feared that the band would develop into a Cream repeat.

The music is indeed pretty rough — you can tell the group was relatively unpracticed — and Winwood is often off-key. Even so, it’s fun to see.

Clapton has some great videos on his official web site, but nothing of Blind-Faith vintage. Here’s a YouTube video of “Can’t Find My Way Home” as performed at the Hyde Park concert.

Brian Wilson’s Live Redo of Pet Sounds

The other video I watched recently on “Classic in Concert” was a live performance (2003 in London, I believe) of music from the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds.

Now in his 60s, I think Wilson can be forgiven for being a little off-key and no longer able to hit the high notes. Heck, Stevie Winwood was even more off-key at Hyde Park when he was 21. It’s inherent in the live-concert venue — you’re never going to get the perfection of a studio recording.

The band Wilson uses in the concert does a good job of reproducing the classic Beach-Boys sound, although some of its members might have had great-grandparents in the audience.

In some brief interview comments at the end of the video, Wilson reflects on the Beach Boys’ competition with the Beatles during the late 1960s. He compares Pet Sounds to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — a dubious comparison, in my opinion. While it might be true that the two groups were in competition for raw popularity at the time, I would be hard-pressed to rank Wilson’s output with the innovative genius of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration.

Much as I enjoyed the video, I’m not wild about the Pet Sounds music. However, the concert does include beautiful versions of Wilson’s arrangement of the traditional “Sloop John B.” and his song “Good Vibrations” (which was from Smile rather than Pet Sounds). At the time it came out, I thought of “Good Vibrations” as just another me-too psychedelic release. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it much more, and I now regard it as a masterwork and a great composition.

Brian Wilson has some fine recent concert videos on his official web site. From NPR’s article “Brian Wilson in Concert,” you can listen to a 2008 live recording.

AB — 3 February 2010

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