Friday, March 20, 2009

The Digital Eye

Peter Tosh - The Ultimate Peter Tosh Experience
Wow, what an unexpected mind-blower. It was a thrill to see such an ambitious Peter Tosh project released at this late date - but that it is so beautifully packaged and so loaded with cool stuff you have never seen or heard made for one really great day off. I spent most of my day watching and listening to all three discs and reading the intelligently written booklet. Tosh was singular among Reggae stars. He had similar gifts of songwriting, singing and playing as his former partner Bob Marley, but was also armed with a far more militant and mystical set of beliefs. Tosh courted controversy and danger everywhere he went. Whether it was his unwavering commitment to equal rights for all Blacks and a return to Africa, or his very public advocacy and use of herb, or his calling on the carpet politicians, record producers and other scoundrels and thieves from the stages of the world, Tosh was an intense man living on the razor’s edge at all times.

Lavishly boxed, the contents include the full-length documentary called Stepping Razor-Red X. This movie, which has floated around in lesser quality for a number of years, is the definitive look at Peter Tosh, the man and the musician. Riveting concert footage is interspersed with interviews with Tosh and those who knew him. The movie’s life-affirming musical sequences are always tinged with darkness, for the shocking reality of Tosh’s murder at the hands of acquaintances has left a trail of sadness and conspiracy theory that lasts until today. Red X is compelling on every level, and will leave you running to your collection to put on Legalize It immediately. The second DVD is a collection of concert clips of Tosh at various stages in his career. If you never saw Peter Tosh it will be a revelation what an immense and charismatic man he was. Rail thin and way over 6 feet, he cut an imposing figure on stage. His shows were laced with challenge-filled raps to the audience (which could last for many minutes when he got on a roll). When the music plays though, he is totally engaged and engaging. You will see him menacingly wave a saber over his head, play his machine-gun shaped guitar, dance like a wild man, and calmly and brilliantly discuss his philosophy in interview segments with Wailers scholar Roger Steffens.

The final disc is a CD containing cross-section of rare and classic recordings by Tosh. There were a few things I didn’t have including some cool dub mixes, but it won’t take the place of owning the entire catalog of this important and beguiling artist. Watching these videos will remind you what an important artist he was.

Phish - The Clifford Ball
In the annals of music film history, one can point to very few examples of an actual turning point in history being captured at the moment it happens. Woodstock was big, Monterey of course. Gimme Shelter caught the moment the rarified air of the 1960’s went out of the balloon and the ideals of an entire generation lay there on the ground like so much crumpled rubber. Most often however, the process is more similar to a Ken Burns documentary. Directors find appropriate stills and footage from around the time to reconstruct what it must have been like. In the hands of a master this can be thrilling, but often the viewer finds himself thinking “I wish they had footage of the actual event.”

Phish’s two concerts in Plattsburgh, New York in 1996 which they called The Clifford Ball capture the exact moment when a home-grown Vermont jam band with a rabid cult following hit the big time. Put on Disc 1 and watch as the band walks on stage to a crowd twice as large as they had ever played before and see the thrilled awe on their faces as they and the audience recognize at the same moment “We made the big time!” It is palpable on screen as they launch into the first of six amazing sets of music that the band has crossed over from obscurity to fame and are the masters of their environment. Each set has its own special charms, and some of them - like the second set the second day - have some extraordinary jamming but it is that first set the first day when the band plays with such exuberance and awareness of the moment that I love best. The set-ending “David Bowie” is just as good as it gets. The band is on top of the world and the wonder of the moment is played across their faces throughout. Disc 7 contains a bunch of documentary material as well as the fabled “parking lot jam” with the band playing on a flat-bed truck that circles the campground at 4 in the morning. Like all the music played that weekend it is a cut above the norm and there is a unique ambience on stage and in the audience that makes this one unforgettable keepsake of one of THE great weekends of Phish.

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