Arcade Fire: The Reflektor Tapes (Eagle Vision, 2 Blu-ray or 2 standard DVDs, NR, 111 min. concert, 75 min. documentary,.). The Montreal-based rock band, whose core lineup of six was expanded to 12 for the "Reflektor" tour, often features a prominent base and extended, danceable tracks that bring to mind New order, one of the finest post-punk bands. This release consists of an extraordinarily good 111-minute concert, recorded June 6, 2014 at Earl's Court in London, England, and a 75-minute, impressionistic documentary, directed by Kahlil Joseph (he directed Beyonce's "Lemonade" film).
Founded in 2001, the band consists of husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, along with Win's younger brother William Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara. The band's current touring line-up also includes former core member Sarah Neufeld, frequent collaborator Owen Pallett, additional percussionists Diol Edmond and Tiwill Duprate, and saxophonists Matt Bauder and Stuart Bogie. The band plays guitar, drums, bass guitar, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard, synthesizer, French horn, accordion, harp, mandolin and hurdy-gurdy, with several multi-instrumentalists switching instruments during the show.
The live show consists of 20 songs, opening with the catchy "Reflektor" and closing with the sing-along deluxe "Wake Up." Nearly every song is a highlight, but standing out in particular are "Flashbulb Eyes" with its nice beat, "Rebellion (Lies)," the catchy "Joan of Arc," "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," "No Cars Go," the danceable "We Exist" (with the video for the song projected on the giant screen), the New Order-ish "Afterlife" and "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" with projected dancing skeletons ("Rebellion" also gives me a New Order sense), the Chassagne-sung "Sprawl II," "Normal Person" with a chorus that erupts into delightful mayhem, and "Here Comes the Night Time." Live, many of the songs really stretch out. Concert bonuses are director's cut tracks of five songs (about 30 min.).
The documentary, which is a bit disappointing, mixes live footage, recording sessions and the band's visit to Haiti, where Chassagne's relatives hail from. Of the live footage, most interesting are the onstage views that look out through the band at the gyrating crowd -- often in unison -- at what appears to be a Montreal show. The band and audience are on the same level, which is somewhat unique. Some of the recording sessions took place in Port Antonio, Jamaica during a three-week stay. The "Big Heads" masks make their appearance. There are only very brief bits about the songwriting process, a mention of the influence of Soren Kierkegaard's "The Present Age" on the lyrics, and Chassagne talking about mixing together Haitian and New Wave rhythms. Among the songs seen in performance are "Joan of Arc," "Normal Person" and "Crucified Again" (the latter is not performed on the concert disc). Visually, the most exciting part is the images of a mask parade in Haiti near the documentary's end.
The documentary disc comes with some solid extras, including the promo videos for "Reflektor" (7:38, featuring the Big Heads), "We Exist (6:22, with a guy dressing up as a woman and going out to a rough bar) and "Afterlife" (4:55). There also is a live version of "Afterlife" from the YouTube Awards show (5:08). There also is the 23:39 "Here Comes the Night Time Special," which aired on NBC right after the September 2013 episode of "Saturday Night Live" on which the band was a guest performer. At the time, the special debuted the songs "Here Comes the Night Time" (the TV performance turns into a conga line that even goes outside for a brief bit), "We Exist" and "Normal Person" (which has a strange start). James Franco, Rainn Wilson, Bono, Ben Stiller, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, Zach Galifianakis, Eric Wareheim, Jason Schwartzman and Aziz Ansari make cameos. Grade: concert disc A+, documentary B, extras A
Mumford & Sons: Live from South Africa: Dust and Thunder, Gentlemen of the Road Edition (Eagle Vision, 2 Blu-ray discs + CD, NR, 91 min. concert + 66 min. documentary). What began as a "mini-adventure," with 5,000 tickets put on sale for a handful of gigs in South Africa, became an all-out adventure as those tickets sold out instantly and 85,000 more tickets were sold. The popular British band also planned to record some new material in collaboration with African musicians. That result was the "Johannesburg" mini-album, a collaboration with Baaba Maal, The Very Best and the white South African trio Beatenberg.
Formed in 2007 in London, England, Mumford & Sons consists of Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drums), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboard, piano, synthesizer), Winston Marshall (vocals, electric guitar, banjo) and Ted Dwane (vocals, bass guitar, double bass). They have released three albums, "Sigh No More," "Babel" and "Wilder Mind," as well as two live albums, "Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire" and "The Road to Red Rocks."
The concert was filmed in Pretoria, the second concert in the city and the final one of the mini-tour. The band has a devoted following, which may or may not bug the viewer, as the crowd sings along to nearly every song -- only "Wilder Mind," a soft, slower song from the new album, seemed to stump the crowd. Among the performance highlights are the opening "Snake Eyes," "I Will Wait," "Believe" (with a big guitar solo by Marshall), "Ghosts That We Know" with its pretty violin and piano break (some crowd boos, though, when they dedicate the song to the English cricket team), the upbeat "The Cave," "Ditmas" (Mumford wanders through the crowd while singing) and "Dust Bowl Dance" with its piano start. However, things really come alive on the encores, as Maal, The Very Best, Beatenberg and Sudanese star Mamadou Saar join in to perform "Wona," a song they had collaborated to write only two days earlier. Next, the ensemble performs "Lampenda" from Maal's most recent album. Maal stays on stage to help sing "There Will Be Time," before Mumford & Sons close the show with "Little Lion Man" and "The Wolf."
The solid documentary, "We Wrote This Yesterday" (66 min.), gives a fascinating look at the collaborative songwriting process, as they had two days to record two songs in Johannesburg. We see the new song, "Wona," performed onstage for the very first time on the first night in Pretoria. This is the bulk of the documentary, captured by award-winning live specialist Dick Carruthers. The earlier portion follows the band visiting and performing in Cape Town and Durban. There even is a visit to a witch doctor in Zululand.
The concert film also is available as a standalone film on DVD, Blu-ray or digital download, while the documentary is available as a standalone digital download. The three-disc version reviewed here comes in a hardback CD-sized book with onstage and recording session photos. The CD contains 13 of the 17 songs from the concert. Grade: concert disc A-. documentary B+
Various: Tony 90: Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 (RPM/Columbia CD, 70:06). This is the soundtrack from the NBS special, "Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come," which aired Dec. 20. The special was filmed in front of a live audience at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Sept. 15. With a repertoire of songs recorded by Bennett through the years, the show and disc feature performances by Lady Gaga (a wonderful "The Lady is a Tramp" with updated lyrics and "La Vie en Rose"), Michael Buble, actor Kevin Spacey ("The Very Thought of You/If I Ruled the World" with a surprisingly nice voice until he gets a bit overwhelmed at the very end), Diana Krall, Andre Bocelli (with a children's choir on "Ave Maria"), Rufus Wainwright, K.D. Lang, Stevie Wonder ("Visions") and Leslie Odom Jr.
Taped at alternative locations were Elton John performing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and Bennett and Billy Joel teaming up for "New York State of Mind." Late on the disc, Bennett performs five straight numbers, with "Who Cares?" showing his impeccable phrasing (he also introduces the band members during the song). Bennett also sings his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "I Got Rhythm," along with "The Best is Yet to Come" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" An Amazon exclusive is a deluxe, 3-CD version that includes rare and previously unreleased studio and live performance tracks from throughout Bennett's career on the two extra CDs. Three of the rare tracks have Bennett performing under the name Joe Bari. Ten of the 20 tracks on the second CD were previously unreleased. Grade: single disc B+
Hairspray Live! (Universal DVD, NR, 113 min.) and Hairspray Live! original soundtrack of the NBC Television Event (Masterworks Broadway/Epic CD). The CD consists of studio recordings for all of the musical numbers performed by the cast in the live broadcast, while the DVD, obviously, has the live performances. The standout cast includes Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, a large-bodied, unpopular teenage girl whose dream is to be a member of the dancing cast on "The Corny Collins Show," an afternoon TV dance show in Baltimore. Tracy also wants to integrate the all-white "Corny Collins Show." Tracy's parents are played by Harvey Fierstein as Edna (reprising his role in the Broadway version) and Martin Short as Wilbur.
Jennifer Hudson steals the show vocally as Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a local record store, -- her "I Know Where I've Been" is tremendous -- and Ariana Grande does her best work as Tracy's overlooked friend, Penny Pingleton, whose mother is played by Andrea Martin. Disney star Dove Cameron plays "evil" Amber Von Tussle, who puts down Tracy whenever she can and aims to steal the dance crown during the nation-wide broadcast of the Corny Collins Show. Even more evil, but in a delightful way, is Kristin Chenoweth as her mother, Velma, the former Miss Baltimore Crabs. Corny Collins is performed by Derek Hough (Nashville TV series), while Garrett Clayton ("King Cobra," the two "Teen Beach" movies) plays hot dancer Link Larkin. Also in the cast are Ephraim Sykes (as Seaweed, whom Tracy meets in detention and helps introduce the integration aspects of the story), Shahadi Wright Joseph, Billy Eichner, Sean Hayes and Rosie O'Donnell.
The show opens with an exuberant "Good Morning Baltimore," with literal dancing in the street. but really starts to take off midway with "Welcome to the 60's." Fierstein provided a new teleplay. The songs are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Shaiman doing the music and both the lyrics. The Broadway production won eight Tony Awards in 2003, including Best Musical and Best Score, out of 12 nominations. Fierstein also won a Tony for his performance. The show is set in 1962 and is based on the John Waters film, "Hairspray" (1988). Grade: A-
Various: Hidden Figures, The Album (i am OTHER/Columbia CD, 33 min.). This is an album of music from the film which is one of the nine nominees for the Best Picture Oscar. The film is the untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA as the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The soundtrack is produced by Pharrell Williams, who performs on seven of the 10 tracks, including a duet with Lalah Hathaway on "Surrender" and with Alicia Keys on "Apple." Williams collaborated with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Walifisch to compose the film's score, which is available on a separate score album.