What your holiday gift list doesn't need is a robotic vacuum cleaner. Or an overpriced Walkman with an "i" in front of it. What you need, and what you should be giving to everybody you know, is baby-faced U2. And a bit of crooning reggae. Mixed with a drug-soaked freak show. You'll find that and a lot more in the following books, DVDs and CDs.
With so much of U2's material getting the deluxe edition re-issue treatment in 2008, this eight-song live EP and concert DVD might seem just a small way station between landmark albums such as War and The Joshua Tree. And it is, but don't overlook it, especially as this is the first-ever DVD release of Live at Red Rocks. Recorded at the famous Colorado amphitheater a quarter-century ago, it captures the savage young U2 on the cusp of international superstardom.
Given the different U2 makeovers during their 30-year run, it's somewhat startling to look back at the baby-faced band of 1983. The Edge hadn't started wearing his trademark hat yet, and Bono sports a then-trendy but now-ridiculous mullet.
U2Under a Blood Red Sky and Live at Red Rocks CD/DVD deluxe edition (Universal)Beres HammondA Moment in Time CD/DVD (VP Records)Parliament-FunkadelicThe Mothership Connection Live 1976(Shout Factory)Riot on Sunset Strip Rock 'n Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood By Domenic Priore (Jawbone Press)Black UhuruLive in London25th Anniversary DVD(Nacional Records)My Son Marshall My Son EminemBy Debbie Nelson(Phoenix Books)
Appearances aside, what comes through loud and clear is the almost mythic power of the band's music as they run through a solid sampling of their first three albums. This is a group that always aspired to greatness, and you can see them laying the seeds of rock immortality in this remarkable concert footage.
Meanwhile, stripped of the visuals and cobbled together from three different shows, the Under a Blood Red Sky CD is obviously the weaker sister of this package, even though the re-mastered sound is terrific. Those on a budget will be glad to know that the DVD and CD are available separately, and a vinyl version of the EP is available as well. Either way, this re-issue package still makes a great stocking stuffer for any U2 fan. THOMAS BOND
When it comes to smooth crooning, nobody in contemporary reggae satisfies listeners the way Beres Hammond does. On his freshly released CD/DVD combo, his melodic voice is still impressive, even after 30 years in the business. Singles "I Feel Good" and "Give it All You've Got" are sure to be in regular reggae rotation in 2009.
On the DVD portion is an intimate sit-down interview with the king of lover's rock. He breaks down his approach to songwriting and his views on love, politics, and life. But that interview, as good as it is, still isn't as entertaining as the concert footage. It comprises his entire set at Reggae Sumfest 2007, and you'll hear songs like, "Can't Stop a Man," "Tempted to Touch," "Rockaway," "Double Trouble," and more background filler for your holiday party. By the time he jumps into "Can You Play Some More," any able-bodied reggae fan is going be dancing. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAM
Somehow, this legendary concert — one of the few professionally filmed documents of the Mothership at its mightiest — looks like nothing less than a drug-soaked funky freak show. That's despite the quarter-million dollars in production costs, one of the world's leading production designers guiding the proceedings, seven trucks worth of gear, weeks of rehearsals, and massive promotions. When you get down to it, the whole point of all that money, all those trucks, and all those rehearsals just might have been to make it look like nothing more than a drug-soaked weekend.
From the grandiose landing of the Mothership — and George Clinton's messianic emergence from it — it's abundantly clear that the P-Funk Earth Tour was intended to be the definitive live statement of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. After years of struggle and strife, P-Funk's crew finally had a couple of hits under their belt, and they were ready to bring the madness to unsuspecting arena crowds across the country. Watching now, it's hilarious to think about all the unsuspecting folks who showed up to get their disco on to "Tear the Roof off the Sucker" and, instead, got a fantastical foray into the warped Funkadelic fire. Blistering guitar solos, meandering jams, call-and-response nastiness, Gary Shider in platforms and diapers... all of it was there. By the time Clinton brings out members of Bootsy's Rubber Band and Sly & the Family Stone for a frenzied run through of "Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples," you were either dancing your ass off or had left in disgust.
Although this concert has been released before, this latest version doesn't (couldn't?) offer much in the way of visual upgrade. The live-on-videotape quality may be a strain for HD-attuned eyes, but thankfully, a well-mixed 5.1 surround soundtrack has been tacked on, providing for a more immersive experience. jASON FERGUSON
The Sunset Strip, running from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, is only 1.7 miles long and is inevitably linked to celebrities and the film industry. But for a brief time in the mid-'60s, it also served as a rock'n'roll epicenter. A succession of nightclubs, coffeehouses, bars, and theaters influenced rock nationwide, and thus, worldwide.
Within those venues, careers took flight, including the Doors, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, Love, Buffalo Springfield, the Turtles, and Frank Zappa.
The Strip also served as the unofficial birthplace of garage rock, as well as home to bands with only-of-the-times names like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, the Chocolate Watchband, and the Peppermint Trolley Company. With a die-hard record collector geek's eye, Domenic Priore's exhaustively researched and annotated tome tells the history of the location, bands, and audiences that came together just at the right time to make a huge impact on pop culture between 1965-1967. And while San Francisco and its hippie-centric bands would later get the lion's share of the press and historical glory, the acts that played clubs like Whisky-a-Go-Go, Ciro's, the Troubadour, and Gazzari's were just as important.
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Like a lot of other cultural movements, though, it was the very popularity of the Sunset Strip that led to its demise. City leaders were not exactly happy with the thousands of strange-looking longhairs descending on the area to dance lasciviously to bizarre-sounding music. Tensions between kids and cops boiled over on several nights in November 1966, leading to the riots of the book's title, which it shares with a quickie movie later made of the events. Stephen Stills — then a member of Buffalo Springfield — memorialized the incidents in the then-incendiary "For What It's Worth," which included the stanza: "There's something happenin' here. What it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, tellin' me I've got to beware." BOB RUGGIERO
Simply put: it's hard to watch this reggae concert DVD while sitting still. From the moment the DVD first begins and "Shine Eyed Girl" cues up, you know you're in for a ride. The footage comes from the band's landmark concert from 1981 at the Rainbow in London, and the original trio is all here: Michael Rose, Duckie Simpson, and Puma Jones. It's undeniably the best unit Black Uhuru ever possessed. From there, you've got the Sly and Robbie combo surging the rhythm section forward. There's a "Memories" section with classic black and white photos from the band's heyday. For a 25th-anniversary edition, there are few new features, aside from the additional photography. But the concert was raucous enough that you get the essence of reggae's "rockers" staged in a unique light; the Jamaicans on stage are wailing away, and the British Jamaicans in the audience are propelling them forward. There's a lot of energy captured on this DVD, and it makes for a good reggae stocking stuffer. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAM
It's not clear whether this book should be listed under autobiography or comedy, and there's certainly no real reason that Debbie Nelson should have ever authored a book. Yes, she's the mom of rap star Eminem, and yes, she has been maligned in many a song by the rapper that few ever took seriously. But here she is, "trying to set the record straight."
Eminem built his reputation during the late '90s as an MC who rapped about anything to make people laugh, no matter how cruel or crass it was. His mother was often a target of his punchlines, and she spends a fun 226 pages offering her rebuttal. True Eminem fans could purchase the book for an insider's look at the rapper's childhood. Eminem loves to reinvent himself, but here you'll see photos of him as a kid and stories about his numerous run-ins with bullies. It's unclear whether Nelson can be taken seriously. Her writing shows her only in a positive light. But it's a compelling read about a mother losing her son to celebrity and the perils that come along with it. For fans of Eminem, or moms suffering through similar situations (celebrity or not), this book has its place. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAM