THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP Criterion Blu-ray Review

     September 28, 2009


Concert films often work best when they’re about one band. The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense are great, because you can either like the artist or not, but it’s about their moment, that moment, when they record the show they’re doing. The problem with gig shows, like Monterey Pop, is that not all musicians are created equal. So they have to be about the moment, and the experience. My review after the jump.

Monterey Pop brings together a number of performers, but only a couple will make you lose your minds. But four such performances are enough to make a film like this, and it’s worth celebrating the film for those, and though the film shows where pop music was at that moment, some artists are better than others. The show starts with some Mamas and the Papas, and the song “California Dreaming.” A dreamy, perfect 60’s song, it sets things off on the good vibrations front, especially after a montage shot to “San Francisco.” The Mamas and the Papas feature John Phillips, who some people might feel differently about these days. Then you get so modest performances by Canned Heat doing “Rollin and Tumblin” and then Simon and Garfunkle doing “Feelin’ Groovy.”This is followed by Hughy Masekela’s “Bajabula Bonke” (Healing Song), which mixes some jazz with African styles to show the diversity of the period. Not bad. Then you get two songs from The Jefferson Airplane “High Flyin’ Bird” and Today.” Very San Fran, very Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

blu-ray_criterion_complete_monterey_pop_box_cover_art_001.jpgBut then comes Janis Joplin doing “Ball and Chain,” Joplin’s always been one of those performers lionized after an early death, but this performance is undeniable. She’s alive, she’s got the blues down, and it’s electric. The Animals (with Eric Burden) doing “Paint it Black”? Not so much. But then comes The Who doing “My Generation” and killing it. The film starts picking up steam at this point, but then hands the film over for one song to Country Joe and the Fish doing “Section 43.” It’s head music of the time.

But then the two most killer acts of Monterey hit the stage. Otis Redding, doing “Shake” and “I’ve been Loving You Too Long,” and then Jimi Hendrix doing “Wild Thing” where  at the end of the song he ends up lighting his guitar on fire and then smashing it. Things round out with the Mamas and the Papas doing “Got a Feelin'” and then Ravi Shankar’s “Raga Bhimpalasi,” which runs for seventeen minutes and closes out the show. If you like a good sitar jam, this shit rocks.

Like any festival, there’s ups and downs, but this seems to go chronologically, versus building a good set list. It’s more about the fest and the period, but it’s not a great movie as a movie, but fascinating as a period piece. The fest was setup by Lou Adler, and the film was made by D.A. Pennebaker, and they reminisce about making the film on the commentary track. It’s solid, but nostalgic. It’s about a moment where a lot of cultures were coming together, overlapping seamless, as black and white cultures were borrowing so much that their art influenced each other to greater ends.

Criterion’s Blu-ray presents the concert in full frame (1.33:1) and in an uncompressed version of the original stereo mix, and an uncompressed Stereo remix. For those who like it louder, there’s a DTS-HD master audio 5.1 track. That was the way I went for most of it, and it’s nice, though the crowd often ends up in the rears. The picture quality of the film is excellent considering the 16mm source. As for extras, they are legion. In the Outtakes section, the songs are arranged by day.

blu-ray_criterion_complete_monterey_pop_festival_jimi_hendrix_001.jpgDay one has songs by “Along Comes Mary” by The Association, and “Homeward Bound” and “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. Day 2 offers “Not-So-Sweet Martha Lorraine” by Country Joe and the Fish, Al Kooper doing “(I heard her say) Wake Me, Shake Me,” The Paul Butterfield Band doing “Drifting Blues in two different cuts (5 min vs. 8 min.). Then comes Quicksilver Messenger Service doing “All I ever Wanted to Do (was love you),” followed by The Electric Flag doing “Drinkin’ Wine.” The Byrds get three songs with “Chimes of Freedom,” “He Was a Friend of Mine,” and “Hey Joe” along with David Crosby talking conspiracy re: the JFK shooting. Laura Nyro does “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Poverty Train.” Jefferson Airplane closes out Day 2 with “Somebody to Love.” Since Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding are available on a separate disc, Day 3 does not feature any additional material from them, but it does have The Blues Project doing “The Flute Thing,” but more importantly Big Brother and the Holding Company doing “Combination of the Two” with a 5.1 remix version included. Buffalo Springfield do “For What its Worth,” but The Who do “Substitute,” “Summertime Blues,” and “A Quick One While He’s Away,” with the final track also remixed into 5.1. The Who are pretty spectacular, and these are great tracks. Rounding out day 3 is The Mama’s and the Papa’s with a six song set: “Straight Shooter,” “Somebody Groovy,” “I Call Your Name,” “Monday, Monday,” “San Francisco (be sure to wear flowers in your hair)” and “Dancing in the Street.” The band was on the verge of breaking up, so this is an end of the road performance. There’s also four songs by Tiny Tim. Lou Adler and D.A. Pennebaker offer additional remincings in an interview (29 min.), while John Phillips (16 min.), Cass Elliot (12 min.), David Crosby (9 min.) and Derek Taylor (29 min.) all offer their thoughts via audio interviews. There’s a trailer, five radio spots, a photography gallery, and a program gallery, and pieces on the festival and remixer Eddie Kramer.

blu-ray_criterion_complete_monterey_pop_festival_who_001.jpgIf you buy the Complete Monterey Pop you get two bonus films, or you can buy the all separately. The bonus disc contains Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey. As I suggested previously, these are two of the most electric performances of the first film, and likely two of the best from that fest. Jimi Plays Monterey is longer, running 49 minutes, though with more padding. There’s an early Hendrix appearance where he plays Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and with it and a number of the other songs here (“Like a Rolling Stone,” “Wild Thing”) it shows that one of Hendrix’s great gifts was taking songs written by people in Blues style – but obviously made by white people – and making them grungier, sexier. This is presented in full frame (1.33:1) and in an uncompressed Stereo soundtrack, or a DTS-HD master 5.1 version. Regardless of the Mix, this is one of the great Hendrix performances, and arguably better than his Woodstock appearance. This comes with a commentary by music critic/historian Charles Shaar Murray, which talks about the importance of this gig, and Hendrix’s all too brief career. There’s also an interview with Pete Townsend about the show and his professional rivalry with Jimi (5 min.). This also comes with a trailer.

Shake! Is only nineteen minutes long, but Otis is one of the great soul performers, and I’ve already watched this set three times just because it’s that good.. He talked about being nervous before the show, as he knew that if he knocked this one out of the park, he’d find a whole new audience. He kicks off with “Shake,” originally a Sam Cooke song, which Otis had also done on his album “Otis Blue,” but here he just lights it afire, and the crowd eats it up. He sings: “Shake it like a bowl of soup!” one of the great lyrics of all time. He follows it with a song he wrote, but is now known as Aretha Franklin’s crown jewel, “Respect.” I’ve come to love Otis’ version a little more, not that there’s anything wrong with Franklin’s cover, but it’s about empowerment, where Redding’s version is more about “Look, woman, I worked all day, you better fuck me tonight.” And that, mixed with the drive of the rhythm section makes for a more delicious double entendre. He follows it with “I’ve been Loving You Too Long,” and brings it down a bit, but the crowd is on his fingertips. He gets the band to give him a thump/ugh at a break, and does it twice in a row, to which the crowd loses their minds. It’s hard to argue with their reaction. This is a man at the top of his game.

He follows it up quickly with his cover of “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction,” and though the Stones wrote it, Redding makes this his own. With the horns echoing the desperation of the chorus, it becomes the songs the Stones were covering in the first place. Again, sex is a driving force of these songs, and you can feel it in the bass lines. Otis wraps it up by dedicating a song to all the miniskirts he dated. “Try a Little Tenderness” closes out the night. If you don’t like this song, then well, you probably don’t like fucking. There’s two commentaries on the piece, by Peter Guralnick, with the first a song-by-song take on his set, and the second a career overview of the artist. Also included is an interview with Redding’s Manager Phil Walden (19 min.). This is available in 5.1 DTS-HD audio, or the uncompressed Stereo master. The film is in full frame (1.33:1) and it looks as good as it can.

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