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Video Reviews: DVD rocks: Kinks, Who and Blur make the machine worth borrowing

Friday, July 27, 2001

By ED MASLEY Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

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Despite the propaganda MTV's been ramming down our nation's throat these past few decades, rock 'n' roll, like children, should be heard, not seen.

Or words to that effect. I mean, let's face it, only Britney Spears is really better on a video -- or on a date, one would imagine -- than on record. And for those of you who don't get carded every time you see a PG-13 movie, wouldn't you rather just listen to Peter Gabriel doing "Games Without Frontiers" than watch him playing Mr. Bill in the "Sledgehammer" video. Sure you would -- unless, of course, your ears are made of clay -- because even without all the visual stimulation, it's a better song, and that's what really matters.

All I'm saying, I suppose, is that I don't much care for music videos. Or concert videos. I'd rather just listen to records. But what can a poor boy do when he's offered a chance to borrow Barb Vancheri's DVD contraption to review some classic British rock, except to learn how to use it and see if I've been missing anything by only tuning into MTV for "Daria"?

'The Kinks -- One For The Road'

3 stars

By the time he pretended he wouldn't be playing "Lola" the night this DVD was filmed back in '79, Ray Davies could work an arena-rock crowd like few before and fewer since. He'd trimmed the eccentricities that had frightened the masses away in the later '60s while ignoring such classics as "Waterloo Sunset," "Days" and the entirety of "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society," his masterpiece, in favor of rocking the house with live performances that may have dumbed it a little more than necessary.

However, those performances allowed the band to build a second fan base from the members of a generation born too late to know the thrill it must have been to hear "You Really Got Me" for the first time on the radio in 1964.

The album version of this concert was my introduction to the Kinks. And while I'd hesitate to recommend this as your first exposure to the band at this point, those who know the Kinks enough to understand that this was not their peak by any stretch of the imagination should find plenty here to make you smile, if only at the memory.

I'd forgotten what an energetic frontman Davies was when it was safe to move that fast. And it's always a treat to see him camp it up on "Low Budget" and "Lola." There's even a leftover here from the band's more theatrical stage in the early '80s, as Davies dons an ugly rubber mask to limp around as the headmaster during a raucous performance of the greatest song on "Schoolboys in Disgrace," "The Hard Way."

In the end, of course, the Kinks were always more than just a backing group for Davies' brilliant showmanship. And the playing, especially brother Dave on lead guitar, is great, if not as sloppy and/or edgy as you might have liked, in a concert that captures some classic performances --"Victoria," "Lola," "You Really Got Me," "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," "All Day and All of the Night."

The visual highlight is the '60s television footage of the group that's interspersed with the actual live performance here of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone." So yeah, there are some reasons you should watch, but overall, the album doesn't seem as dated. I'd say blame the fashion, blame the lighting, blame the director for thinking those Don Kirshner Rock Concert special effects look good, but mostly, blame the synchronized guitar ballet that Dave and bassist Jim Rodford keep doing. Special features include a trivia game that shouldn't challenge any fans, an interactive subway map of England pointing out some significant landmarks of their Kinkdom and a mostly boring commentary on "Celluloid Heroes" by Dave.

'The Who -- Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B Live'

3 stars

Like "One for the Road," this collection of live performances from 1965-1989 (uh, guys that isn't 30 years) is new to DVD, but has been out on video before.

It's got some classic moments, but you'd think the greatest live performers in the history of rock 'n' roll should be able to fill a DVD with nothing but classic performances. Oh wait, they've done that, which is why a house is not a-rockin' if it doesn't have a copy of "The Kids Are Alright" on at least one format (vinyl is accepted here, as always). Nearly half the problem, statistically speaking, is that Keith Moon dies before they get to 1989 -- 11 years before, to be exact.

And while I wouldn't blame the DVD for that as much as I would blame the heavy drinking, surely, someone could have put together more than 17 performances with Moon on drums. While Kenny Jones has been maligned as Moon's replacement more than necessary, do we really need eight songs with Jones on drums with only 17 from Moon? If your answer is yes, you've clearly never heard the Who.

Another problem is the lengths they've clearly gone to here to keep from duplicating footage from "The Kids Are Alright." The band's performance of "A Quick One, While He's Away" at "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" remains their greatest moment as a band. I know it's on "The Kids Are Alright," but we could've used it here. Instead, what we get is a lesser performance so we don't feel ripped off by the duplication. And why just four songs from the greatest years, the '60s?

Still, for all its many flaws, it's great to see the band in all its glory thrash away on "Happy Jack," "I Can't Explain" and an explosive "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." It's an approach best summed up in an interview with Pete Townshend: "Often, a bad sound is more exciting and more audience-provoking than a good sound."

'Blur -- The Best Of'

4 stars

This is where I take back nearly everything I've ever thought or said or typed about the art of music video (although I still think Britney Spears is more than likely better on a date than on a record).

A surprisingly conclusive argument in favor of the music video as art, this 22-clip best-of traces the stunning career of the only band in modern British rock to rival the blinding ambition of Radiohead without forgetting to set some time aside to write a solid pop hook. Damon Albarn is a natural on film, as early as the band's first clip from 1990, "She's So High." He camps it up as Mr. Pleasant in a camper in the all-around hilarious high-concept clip for "Sunday Sunday," makes an awesome Droogie from "A Clockwork Orange" in "The Universal" and even brings an actor's presence to performance clips, including great, explosive videos for "Stereotypes" and Blur's one U.S. hit, "Song 2."

For such an arty band, the boys have had their share of fun on video. It's odd, then, that their greatest clip -- perhaps the greatest clip in music history -- would star not Albarn or the band but a milk carton roaming the streets to find a family's missing child. A brilliant blend of animation and live action, "Coffee and TV" alone would be reason enough for you to buy this and for me to buy a DVD machine. But here's the most amazing part: They've gone and topped it off with 21 more reasons. MTV is dead (to me, at least). Long live the music video.

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