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Rock at the Movie Theater

My wife and I recently spent two enjoyable evenings attending rock-related events at our local movie theater. The first event was the showing of the documentary Springsteen and I; the second was for Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies 2013 for the showing of the concert film Sunshine Daydream. The really big screen and a pretty good sound system made for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Both events had extra material in addition to the primary films. Plus, before the shows, instead of the usual promos for movies you couldn’t pay me to see and other commercials, they had things that were relevant to the show we were about to see. (Amazing!) Among other things, before the Springsteen show they had a video of the band in concert and before the Grateful Dead show they had a film of some amazing tie dye fabric with the band playing in the background.

Springsteen and I

Springsteen and I was put together by Ridley Scott Associates. They sent out a request to fans to make a film about what the music of Bruce Springsteen means to them. The film is made up of films that were submitted in response. It’s primarily aimed at fans, and my wife (the Jersey girl) and I, having first seen him in 1975, would certainly qualify. We loved it. Here are some reviews. Searching for “Springsteen and I” on YouTube will find many of the submissions.

The emotions run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious. There are people who talk about how Bruce has provided the soundtrack to their life. There’s one from a woman who danced on stage with Bruce during Dancing in the Dark. I liked the one from the mother who, when she’s chauffeuring her kids around, will only play Springsteen. The funniest one was from a guy who went to a show in Philadelphia dressed as Elvis, and was pulled up on stage to do an Elvis song with the band. Then there was the English guy who went to the shows because his wife is a fan, and complained that the shows were too long.

The documentary is about 1:15. After that, they showed some concert footage and then some additional film of Bruce meeting with a few of the people whose films were included in the documentary (including the guy who thought the shows were too long and his wife). A wish-that-were-me moment.

The concert footage was of 6 songs from the band’s show in Hyde Park, London, in the summer of 2012. Apparently it was televised in England and, as a result, the performance is available on YouTube. The highlight, by far, comes when Paul McCartney joins them to do a couple of Beatles songs at the end. I know that, for most of you, it’s just a couple of old guys playing. Bruce was about 14 when the Beatles first came out, so he had a ‘that’s what I want to do’ moment as a young kid watching them. When introducing Paul, he says that he’s waited 50 years to do this. The set list:

  • Thunder Road (with just Roy Bittan on piano and Bruce on harmonica)
  • Shackled and Drawn
  • Because the Night (has an amazing guitar solo from Nils Lofgren)
  • We Are Alive
  • I Saw Her Standing There (with Paul McCartney)
  • Twist and Shout (with Paul McCartney)

Sunshine Daydream

This is a film of part of a Grateful Dead concert that took place on August 27, 1972 in Veneta, Oregon. The concert was staged as a benefit for the Springfield Creamery, which was owned by the family of author Ken Kesey. The friendship between the Grateful Dead and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is well-documented (particularly in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).

Since it was a relatively primitive time technologically, and due to cost, the show was recorded on 16mm video. They didn’t get the whole show, including the end because the sun went down and they weren’t able to film after sunset. Recently, the video and audio have been cleaned up using modern technology and they salvaged more of the video; that’s what we saw at the movie theater. In addition to the concert film, they also showed a documentary called Grateful Days, which talks about how the show was put together and has a number of interviews with people who were there that day. They are now selling this revised film at the Grateful Dead’s website, along with a 3-CD set of the complete concert, plus the documentary.

They may not have the whole concert on video, but what they do have is outstanding. The band was in fine form that day. The only gripe I have is that since filming ended because of darkness, we don’t get to see Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones and One More Saturday Night. The other thing you get from the concert film plus the documentary is a sense of the culture that the Grateful Dead were a part of. The Springfield Creamery was part of the then-new organic food movement, and you see how caring for the earth is part of the movement too.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the (complete) show. This is from the Grateful Dead Internet Archives, which has two types of recordings — audience microphone and sound board. The link is for a sound board recording, which can only be streamed. If you want to download the show, search on the site for “1972-08-27” — there are also audience recordings of this show. And, in case you are wondering, the site has a recording of just about every show the Grateful Dead played during their 30-year career.

I also found an older video of Sunshine Daydream on YouTube, which is linked below. It is definitely worth watching, but it’s less than what we saw in the updated version that was shown in the theater. There’s at least one more song that they were able to restore in the revised version of the film, and, while I didn’t watch every minute of the YouTube version, I didn’t see any of the “naked hippies dancing” part. You can still see and hear how great they were that day. We’ve ordered the DVD/CD package.

Two Films You Should See

Rust Never Sleeps

Rust Never Sleeps is a Neil Young concert, filmed on October 22, 1978 during his Rust Never Sleeps tour.  He also directed it, using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey.

Neil Young is one of my favorites, and this film shows him at his best.  He plays solo in the first part (acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica) and with Crazy Horse (electric guitar) in the second part.  It starts out sweet and innocent and ends up dark and grungy, showing the range of his abilities.  The above clip of Like a Hurricane has amazing guitar work.  The song contains one of my all-time favorite lyrics: “You are like a hurricane; there’s calm in your eye.”

The staging is weirdly entertaining.  Instead of PA music before the show starts, you hear the stage announcements from Wavy Gravy et al from Woodstock.  Giant amplifiers provide a backdrop, and there’s a giant microphone.  Then there’s the roadies / stage crew – if you strap two flashlights on top of your head and then put on a hooded robe, you’ll look like a character from Star Wars (now episode 4), which was new at the time.  So the roadies became the “road-eyes” (somebody was smoking Something).

I love that he plays two versions of the same song: Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue) on solo acoustic guitar, and the grunge version, Hey Hey My My (Into the Black), with Crazy Horse.  (See my post on Neil Young for performances of both versions.) The song works very well both ways. It’s an important musical statement that you don’t have to play the same way all the time, and served as an inspiration to the “unplugged” movement.

Tom Dowd and the Language of Music

Tom Dowd and the Language of Music is a documentary about legendary music producer Tom Dowd.  He was responsible for many innovations in the technology of recording music, and worked with an amazing array of important artists.  A partial list:

Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Booker T. & the MG’s, Cream, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band

You see him recording jazz in the late 1940s with five instruments around one microphone recording directly to master.  There’s a great story about how he upgraded the equipment at Stax Records in Memphis, with Booker T. & the MG’s waiting to play.  The above clip is from my favorite part, telling the story of how he introduced Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and then produced the rock classic Layla.  It shows him playing around with the Layla master recordings on a sound board, including isolating out just the two guitars.  Great stuff.

The website for the documentary (link at the beginning of this section) has a terrific biography.  Here’s the trailer for the film: