The next best thing to experiencing live music? Watching a concert in your living room on DVD. (One advantage to home viewing: No karaoke singalongs by the guy in the next seat.) The Weekend section decided to take in some of the year's best concert DVDs, ranging from an inside look at the Philadelphia Orchestra to Pink Floyd's last voyage to "The Dark Side of the Moon" to U2's "Zootopian" extravaganza in Australia. And you'll be relieved to discover that Barbra Streisand's DVD costs just a fraction of what you would have paid for a recent concert ticket.
This DVD collects two previously unreleased films of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker performing in the company of sophisticated European jazz talents unknown stateside. Half of this 70-minute program is a black-and-white Belgian television broadcast during which Baker revealed his indebtedness to Miles Davis by playing three standards identified with Davis. Each piece is performed with with morose lyricism. It is the 1979 color film of Baker at a Norwegian jazz festival that makes this DVD irresistible. The trumpeter performs with a ravishing spirit and confidence, particularly on an aggressively up-tempo interpretation of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale."
– Norman Weinstein
If ever there were musical soul mates, it's these two. Above all, both love to spin a tale. Singer/guitarist extraordinaire Knopfler has been writing and recording keenly observed story songs (set mostly in the pubs, docks, and dingy back streets of his native England) since he burst on the scene in the late '70s with Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing." Harris's songs about outlaws and dance hall girls are country staples. As a vocal duo, he's the deep, resonant, bass fiddle to her bright and brittle mandolin strings. Filling in the middle and providing the backbeat is a peerless assembly of Nashville-based musicians, playing with exquisite taste and subtlety. This live concert was filmed in front of an adoring audience in Los Angeles and includes many of Knopfler's best songs. "Romeo and Juliet," "Our Shangri-La," and "Why Worry" are standouts in a generous 17-song DVD and 14-song CD package.
– John Kehe
Musicians are usually better heard playing than talking. They make transcendent sounds yet often lack words to describe what they do. "Music moves me very deeply," admits one of the 105 players who make up the Philadelphia Orchestra. "But I don't know why." Yet somehow this documentary, constructed chiefly of interviews with members of that orchestra, is strangely compelling. Its message is an uplifting one, a celebration of the joy of musicmaking. Its highlights include catching players in candid off-hours moments as they play salsa, jazz, or bluegrass. Great classical music is here, too, of course, but little static footage of performances, and almost nothing is seen of conductors, the superstars who usually hog the spotlight. This amiable film, five years in the making, celebrates the world of working musicians who sublimate their individual egos to create a beautiful ensemble sound. Anyone who loves music, and especially those who perform or hope to someday, will delight in this glimpse into the lives of these ordinary folks with extraordinary talents.
– Gregory M. Lamb
Apologies to P.T. Barnum, but this is The Greatest Show on Earth. Who else but Pink Floyd would fly a replica of a Spitfire over an audience and have it crash into the stage? And that's before a glitterball the size of a small moon transforms a cavernous auditorium into a starry universe during "Comfortably Numb." The impressive stagecraft – which includes dreamlike movies playing on a huge screen – is a welcome alternative to watching the band itself. Put it this way: If frontman David Gilmour were any more stationary, he'd start to grow roots. Thankfully, the camera does linger on Gilmour's fingers whenever his guitar takes wing, as on the solo for "Money." This 1994 show, which includes a performance of "The Dark Side of the Moon" album, has been lovingly transferred onto a DVD that has more features than a Swiss Army knife. You'll need to refer to a diagrammed menu in the accompanying booklet to find bootleg footage from other shows or the band's performance during its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
– Stephen Humphries
A lot of mainstream music in the 1980s slathered video self-consciousness atop pop bands' sugary quests for radio airplay. Among the groups pulling another way – toward a starker, more honest sound – was R.E.M., just off the college circuit and already beginning to forge, with I.R.S. records, a distinctive aural identity. Among many highlights on this single, two-hour DVD (besides just seeing Michael Stipe with hair, looking quite Eddie Vedder-like): The Athens, Ga.,-based quartet sounding more Southern country than alt-rock on songs such as "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville." Interviews with band members and followers add context to gritty, straight-ahead videos. Says one Athens fan: "Ever since they left, everybody's been talking about them." No doubt. Also pick up the potent and comprehensive double CD set by the same "Best of" name (it's subtitled "And I Feel Fine"), which contains some splendid, previously unreleased demos.
– Clayton Collins
You may have heard the CD or seen the HBO special broadcast of this onetime political fundraiser that the singing legend performed in her Malibu retreat back in 1986. But this 20th-anniversary release of the entire evening, including Robin Williams offering some jittery preconcert laughs, is a gem. Since Streisand's well-known reluctance about performing has kept her from being well known to a younger generation, boomer fans owe it to this remarkable singer to stuff this in a few stockings of the under-20 set and make it required viewing. They'll learn a thing or two about what makes a singer great – pipes like nobody else on earth and passion about the world she inhabits. Proceeds go to The Streisand Foundation to support charitable causes worldwide.
– Gloria Goodale
Award shows are really just a good way for organizers to corral a whole bunch of great talent on one stage. This new tribute to one of the great troubadours of the past 25 years is chock-full of some of his coolest contemporaries – including Sting, Sheryl Crow, Carole King, Keith Urban, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen – all performing Taylor's tunes for an ecstatic audience. Taylor tops off the evening by hopping onstage to deliver his own performance. The star-studded affair showcases Taylor's songwriting ability, but when he finally performs, it underlines just how glorious that inimitable Sweet Baby James voice really is.
Simply, one of the greatest concerts ever filmed. Thirteen years ago, back when lighters, not cellphones, were still concertgoers' prop for waving in the air during "One," U2 turned Australia's Sydney Football Stadium into a cathedral of LED screens. (Only Bono thought to bring sunglasses for all that light, 1 million watts' worth.) No half measures here. The stage setup includes two cars hanging from the rafters, their headlights incorporated into the light show, as well as an onstage telephone so that Bono can place prank calls. Also included in the touring party: A belly dancer who slinks onto the stage to writhe and shimmy during "Mysterious Ways." During this part of U2's career, the Irish rock stars briefly transformed themselves from a dour-faced, earnest quartet into something altogether more fun and playful as they proudly showcased songs from the groovy experimentations of "Zooropa" and "Achtung Baby" alongside bedrock anthems from the 1980s. Goaded on by Edge's visceral guitar, the dynamo Bono commands the stage like no other frontman before or since.