2009 was another great year for concert DVDs. We finally got official concert videos from the legendary Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder, a few big reunions were documented, and Paul McCartney finally hired someone who knows how to properly film a concert DVD. Here is my top ten list of personal favorites:
10. Paul McCartney – Good Evening New York City: This is the fourth new DVD of a major concert tour that Paul McCartney has release this last decade. 2003's Back In the U.S. was the first one and it was a chill-inducing, mindblower to see McCartney and his excellent new band knocking Beatles, Wings, and solo numbers out of the park. With each successive release, Paul McCartney In Red Square (2005), and The Space Within US (2006), the magic of it all starts to wear a bit thinner. The thing that has plagued all of McCartney's previous concert DVDs has been the atrocious camera work that focused more on the crowd than McCartney himself, or would cut to interview footage mid-song. Good Evening New York City is easily the best produced McCartney concert DVD of the bunch, as the audio mixes are stellar, and McCartney finally hired a director that has a clue. The reason it doesn't rank higher on my list is because of the whole "been there, done that" factor from having seen many of these songs performed better on other DVDs already. Kudos to McCartney though for not just making this a Beatles nostalgia trip, as he mixes in classics and deep cuts from every aspect of his career, including his most recent solo album and a couple of gems from his latest with The Fireman.
9. Alter Bridge – Live From Amsterdam: Why was this DVD so much better than the Creed concert DVD released later this same year? Myles Kennedy – that's why. If you are not already aware, Alter Bridge were formed by the three original Creed members after they called it a day with frontman Scott Stapp back in 2004. They have since reunited. Instead of going into what a terrible performance Stapp turned in on the new Creed DVD, I'll just say that Kennedy's was brilliant on this one. Live From Amsterdam was filmed at the Heineken Music Hall, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on December 8th, 2008, in front of about 8,000 wildly enthusiastic European fans. The concert was produced and directed by veteran concert DVD producer Daniel E. Catullo, using twenty-four high-definition cameras, and the results are spectacular.
8. Mr. Big – Back To Budokan: I had long worn out my old VHS copy of Mr. Big's Live In San Francisco video of 1992, so I was thrilled to see this excellent new concert DVD from my old band. Back To Budokan comes on the eve of Mr. Big's Next Time Around reunion tour of 2009, which reunited the four original band members for a successful tour of Europe and Asia. The DVD was filmed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tokyo Budokan on June 20th, 2009, where the band rips through a 20-plus song setlist. If you love melodic hard rock mixed with incredible musicianship, then look no further than Mr. Big.
7. Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood – Live From Madison Square Garden: After abandoning their short-lived "super-group," Blind Faith, back in 1969, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood's musical paths would not cross again until the two performed a blistering set of Blind Faith classics at Clapton's Crossroads Festival of 2007. It was so well received, and they enjoyed playing together again so much, that they decided to do a run of shows together in February of 2008, at New York's Madison Square Garden. Live From Madison Square Garden features killer performances of most of the Blind Faith classics as well as selections from each of their own brilliant careers. The absolute showstopper however was their incredible 17-minute performance of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile," which featured some of the best guitar work Clapton has done in years – maybe decades.
6. Kansas – There's Know Place Like Home: I've always had a special place in my heart for the heartland's greatest progressive rock band, so this one was a real treat. There's Know Place Like Home marked the 35th Anniversary of the band Kansas and it marvelously covers every period of their long and storied career. The concert was recorded at the White Concert Hall, on the Washburn University Campus, in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, and the band was augmented by the local, 50-member, Washburn University Symphony Orchestra. Most of Kansas' classic material was already very symphonic in nature to begin with, so this was one of the more blissful symphonic-rock marriages I have yet to encounter. For this special occasion Kansas also invited a couple of famous ex-members, Steve Morse, and founding member Kerry Livgren, to join them onstage. The performances and production were both fantastic.
5. Steve Vai – Where The Wild Things Are: Back in 2004-2005, Steve Vai performed a series of concerts with the famous Dutch Metropole Orchestra where they performed his own orchestral scores to many of his best songs. Some of the performances were released a couple years later in the ambitious double-CD live set, Sound Theories, Vols. 1-2. When Vai wanted to hit the road again, later that same year, he decided to shake up his usual band format by adding a couple of violinists to the mix to help bring some of these new orchestral compositions to life for the sold out theater crowds that would anxiously be awaiting him. Where The Wild Things Are captures his sold out show at the State Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota in stunning high definition, and although I may have had my reservations upon first hearing the band format, the results are quite amazing.
4. Iron Maiden – Flight 666: Flight 666 is a fascinating two-hour documentary that takes you behind the scenes of Iron Maiden's globetrotting Somewhere Back In Time World Tour of 2008, and this was not just your average tour, in more ways than one. For starts, Maiden singer/professional airline pilot, Bruce Dickinson, came up with the idea of using a customized jumbo jet to ferry the band, crew, and equipment around to all of the stops on the tour. Oh, and he also piloted the damn thing – a massive Boeing 757 that was appropriately christened "Ed Force One", after their endearing mascot. This documentary is easily worth the price alone, but disc two also contains an incredible 16-song concert performance that features a different song from each night/city on the tour. This particular tour revisited Iron Maiden's ancient Egyptian-themed World Slavery Tour stage set of 1984-85, and the setlist focused primarily on the band's '80s material. This is definitely one of their best.
3. Stevie Wonder – Live At Last: As with Jeff Beck, I had been waiting for a concert video from this musical genius for entirely too long, and last year Stevie Wonder finally delivered. Backed by a fourteen member band, that included his own daughter Aisha Morris on backing vocals, Wonder takes you on an amazing 31-song journey through his entire career, which began almost 50 years ago when this child prodigy was signed to Motown records way back in1961. At the age of 57, Wonder was still in top form both vocally and spiritually, and this is easily one of the most moving concert DVDs I have in my collection.
2. Jeff Beck – Performing This Week…Live At Ronnie Scott's: Believe it or not, this was Jeff Beck's first official concert video release. His only other official live appearance was on Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 DVD, which is where he first debuted his new band a few months before the Ronnie Scott's gig. Live At Ronnie Scott's gives you a front row seat at this incredibly intimate blues club where you get to watch one of the world's greatest guitarists demonstrate his craft. Did I mention that Eric Clapton joined him onstage for a couple of spirited blues jams? Damn, now I have to go watch it again.
1. Joe Bonamassa – Live From The Royal Albert Hall: My favorite blues-rock guitarist is finally getting the recognition he deserves. After teaming up with legendary producer Kevin Shirley in 2006, Bonamassa, or should I say Shirley, completely revamped his backing band, adding a keyboardist to the mix, and his slow rise to fame eventually culminated with this sold out show at London's famous Royal Albert Hall. Bonamassa was joined onstage by one Mr. Eric Clapton who effectively passed the torch to the new blues-rock guitar god in the making. Looks like I won't be catching Joe Bonamassa at any of those tiny blues clubs anymore. Fair enough.
Pendragon – Concerto Maximo
Coheed and Cambria – Neverender
Queen + Paul Rodgers – Live in Ukraine
Foreigner – Soundstage
DeeExpus – Far From Home
Cheap Trick – Sgt. Pepper Live