Sabbath bids farewell

By Tom Von Malder | Dec 03, 2017
Photo by: Eagle Vision The last bow for Black Sabbath, including from left, Tommy Clufetos, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi.

Owls Head — Black Sabbath: The End (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 108 min., + CD, 26:06; also 2 CDs, 108 min.). The masters of the monolithic riff have decided to call it quits a year shy of their 50th anniversary. In January 2016, Black Sabbath began its final world tour, which culminated with the concert captured here on Feb. 4, 2017 in their home town of Birmingham, England. The lineup included the original trio of bassist Geezer Butler, guitarist Tony Iommi and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne (Osbourne was fired by the band in 1979, then rejoined in 2011) and drummer Tommy Clufetos, who filled in on the last two tours for original member Bill Ward, who left the band in 2012, claiming the contract he was offered was "unsignable."

In October, there was a world premiere of a companion documentary film, "Black Sabbath: The End of the End," released in more than 1,700 cinemas world-wide. This release is the full final live show, plus all visual formats feature the band playing five of their favorite songs not played on tour in intimate live sessions at Angelic Studios in the days after the final live show. Both the Blu-ray and DVD versions include both the Angelic Sessions EP, plus film of those final sessions, the best of which are "Wicked World," with Osbourne having fun, and the ballad "Changes" with Iommi on piano and Butler on synth, and no drums. Osbourne plays harmonica on "The Wizard."

The concert itself opens with the doom and gloom, crushing riffs of "Black Sabbath." Highlights include the classics "Snowblind," "War Pigs" (with the crowd singing alternate lines with Osbourne), "Iron Man," the sound change-up of "Dirty Woman" and the dynamic closers of "Children of the Grave" (balloons drop from the ceiling) and "Paranoid" (confetti flies everywhere). The band performs 17 selections in all, including a solo section two-thirds of the way through.

The picture quality is great, but the director is too fond of extreme jump cuts, although they help build adrenaline when the music speeds up. A limited collector's edition includes the Blu-ray, DVD, 3 CDs, 32-page book, a metal Winged Demon pin badge, a replica of The End tour laminate and three plectrums (aka guitar picks). Grade: A-

Yes: Topographic Drama, Live Across America (Rhino, 2 CDs, 2:16:48). Last summer, the current version of Yes embarked on a tour it called "The Album Series." At each show, the band performed its 1980 album "Drama," the first Yes album made without vocalist Jon Anderson, in its entirety for the first time live. The band also performed the first and fourth sides of the 1973 double-album, "Tales from Topographic Oceans," as well as a quartet of fan favorites. This live double-disc highlights the best performances from the 28-show tour and mirrors the set list from those concerts.

Through the years, Yes has many, many lineups, even splitting into two rival bands during the 1980s. The one constant was bassist Chris Squire, but he died in 2015 from cancer. Here, long-time guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White are joined by Billy Sherwood on bass (he was a part of the group in the 1990s) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (he made up The Buggles with Trevor Horn, and both played with Yes during the recording of "Drama," with Horn the vocalist on the original album; Horn also formed Asia with Howe). The relative newcomers are vocalist Jon Davison (joined in 2012) and drummer Jay Schellen, who filled in on the tour when White had back surgery. Reportedly, Schellen plays on most of the album, with White appearing on "Machine Messiah," the second half of "Ritual: Nous Sommers Du Soleil" and the encore. Schellen also has previous Yes ties, as he was in Badfinger in 1982 with Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, recorded "Conspiracy" with  Sherwood and Squire in 2000, after working with Sherwood in a couple of other bands, and then joined Asia and its follow-up group, GTR.

So the current Yes lineup knows each other well and the music comes off well. Highlights from the six "Drama" tracks are "Machine Messiah," "Into the Lens" and "Tempus Fugit." The band next performs "And You and I" from 1972's "Close To the Edge" and "Heart of the Sunrise" from 1971's "Fragile," both solid choices, with Downes' organ a highlight on "And You and I." Next comes the "Topographic Oceans" material, including "The Revealing Science of God," a more delicate piece, again with good keyboards by Downes and Davison's best singing; plus Howe's acoustic guitar on "Leaves of Green," an excerpt from "The Ancient"; and the band rocking out for "Nous Sommers Du Soleil." The album closes with two personal favorites, "Roundabout" from "Fragile" and "Starship Trooper" from "The Yes Album" (also 1971). The album is dedicated to Squire and features new cover artwork by Roger Dean, artwork that reprises elements from his previous Yes album covers. Grade: A-

Jeff Lynne's ELO: Wembley or Bust (Columbia, 2 CDs, 1:38:37). This concert, recorded on June 24, 2017, comes closely on the heels of the ELO video release, "Live in Hyde Park," which captured a 2014 concert, the first ELO festival appearance in three decades. The current release is longer, adding 10 songs while repeating 13 of 16 songs performed at Hyde Park. "Roll Over Beethoven," which concludes the Wembley show, also wrapped up the Hyde Park show, but was only included on the U.K. release and not the American one. Another crucial difference is that longtime ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy was part of the Hyde Park show, as was the BBC Concert Orchestra. Tandy is not part of the 13-member band appearing at Wembley, which also has only two cellists and one violinist.

The music, as always, is terrific, as Lynne and ELO always put on a great show, including the hits, "Evil Woman," "Livin' Thing," "Sweet Talkin' Woman," "Turn To Stone," "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Mr. Blue Sky." There is the rockabilly sound of "Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma Belle," "Do Ya" from his days with Roy Wood in The Move and "Handle With Care" f4rom his Traveling Wilburys days. Among the material heard at Wembley and not at Hyde Park are "Standin' in the Rain," "When I Was a Boy," the disco-ish "Last Train To London," "Xanadu" from the film of the same name, "Rockaria," "Shine a Little Love" and "Wild West Hero." A deluxe version of the release adds video of the concert on Blu-ray. Apparently Lynne brought back the overhead flying saucer (ELO had a small version of the saucer during its Portland, Maine show in the late 1970s). Grade: A

Richard Thompson Band: Live at Rockpalast (2 DVDs + 3 CDs, 189 min.). These two shows -- the longer one recorded in Hamburg, Germany in December 1983 and the other record in Cannes, France in late January 1984, show the band in fine form, but dealing with two different types of audience: the Hamburg one is very much in the spirit of the occasion, while the Cannes one is more reserved, probably the reason there are five fewer song, as there were no encores. The other key difference in the two shows is each has a different rhythm section.

For the Hamburg show -- and note that the two DVDs are mislabeled -- the seven-piece band includes guitarist Simon Nicol (he of the Corn Flakes box guitar), bassist Dave Pegg (also Jethro Tull) and drummer Dave Mattacks from Thompson's time with Fairport Convention. On saxophone are Pete Zorn (a frequent collaborator who died last year) and Pete Thomas, while Alan Dunn plays accordion. In the Cannes show, Rory McFarlane plays bass and Gary Conway (Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention) plays drums.

Thompson had divorced from his wife and creative partner, Linda Thompson, in 1982, but the shows contain four tracks from their brilliant "Shoot Out the Lights" album, as well as all but one track from Thompson's then-new solo album, "Hand of Kindness." There's a bit of a reggae beat to the opening "The Wrong Heartbeat" and Cajun accordion on the upbeat "Tear Stained Letter." The band turns to 1649 English folk on the instrumental "Amarylus," which features Dunn, and the accordionist gets to sing (not that well) on "Alberta." Late in the show, the band performs a mellow version of Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000." The bonus Hamburg songs include a jaunty, upbeat "Two Left Feet," written by Thompson, his rocker arrangement of "Danny Boy," and rocking covers of "Can't Sit Down," Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and "High School Hop."

The set comes with a brief bonus interview after the Cannes concert, in which the crowd's whistling reaction is discussed. It only runs 3:21 and that includes the interviewer translating Thomson's answers into German. Grade: B+

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 138 min., or 2 CDs). Composer Zimmer has written more than 150 film scores, 19 of which are heard in part during this wonderful show. The music is performed by 72 musicians, including Zimmer himself on guitar, piano and other instruments, and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Among the band musicians are guitarists Guthrie Govan of Aristocrats, Mike Einzinger of Incubus and Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths.

The concert opens simply as, at the start of a three-film medley, Zimmer comes out and plays "Driving" (from "Driving Miss Daisy") on piano. He soon is joined by lifetime friends, Nick Glennie Smith on accordion and Richard Harvey on clarinet, as he himself switches to banjo. Soon, other members of the band come out and start playing, before a curtain is raised that reveals the full orchestra behind the band.

Highlights abound, and include the choir opening "Crimson Tide," with Govan providing some rock guitar, and the collision of violin and electronics on "Chevaliers de Sangreal" from "The Da Vince Code." Lebo M comes out singing the "Circle of Life" prelude from "The Lion King" and is joined by vocalist Buyi Zama. They also sing "King of Pride Rock." Several times, Zimmer gives somewhat lengthy introductions, such as the one about his reaction when Ridley Scoot approached him about writing for "Gladiator." Four themes are performed from the film. The music from "Pirates of the Caribbean" goes uptempo and features Tina Guo on electric cello, with Steve Mazzaro playing 12-string guitar towards the end. Young Nathan Stornetta and Gary Kettel play mallet kats on "You're So Cool" from "True Romance," while Zimmer plays solo piano on the main theme from "Rain Man."

There also is a simple piano start to the theme from "Man of Steel," which brings out guitarist Marr for the first time, and he stays on stage for most of the rest of the concert and shines on this piece, which rises dramatically, and on the "Theme from the Amazing Spider-Man 2," which Marr co-wrote. Very moving is "Journey to the Line" from "The Thin Red Line," which literally uses a growing red line as the video backdrop. The "Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight" trilogy music also uses a lot of background video shapes and designs. Both selections are excellent and Zimmer talks about Keith Ledger and his performance as the Joker and then about  the Aurora cinema shootings, as the band and orchestra move into the emotional, yet soothing piece Zimmer composed for the families of the victims.

The concert ends with music from "Interstellar," with the final section soaring, and "Inception," which is dramatic and features guitarists Einzinger and Marr, as spotlights crisscross the audience. The latter also features more outstanding drumming by Satnam Ramgotra, who is excellent throughout the evening. The closing "Time" echoes the start of the concert, with Zimmer alone at the piano, then joined by the others. Grade: A

Various: CMA Awards Live: Greatest Moments 1968-2015 (Time Life, 10 DVDs, 11 hours + extras). This set, currently available exclusively through Time Life and the Country Music Association, includes 127 performances by the royalty of country music, including Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town and Luke Bryan. There also are performances by June Carter Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Buck Owens, Kenny Rogers and today's stars, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. Much like the Grammy shows, there often are singular collaborations, such as "Lady" by Rogers and Lionel Richie, George Strait and Alan Jackson singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Lady Antebellum performing "Need You Now."

The set comes  with a bonus disc of candid interviews, including Charley Pride, Rogers, Naomi Judd and Ronnie Milsap, as well as CMA bonus features with Alan Jackson, Lambert, Gill, Strait, Underwood and others. There also is a 44-page memory book with show photos, a history of the CMA Awards and a year-by-year guide to 50 years of award winners. Grade: B+

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (1968 and 1986, Criterion Collection, 2 Blu-ray discs, 147 min. + extras). This consolidates Criterion's previous 2009 Blu-ray releases of these three films by director D.A. Pennebaker. The Monterey International Pop Festival took place over a weekend in June 1967, during the beginning of the Summer of Love. It featured career-making performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding, as well as music by Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and The Papas, The Who, The Byrds, Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar. Much of the event was captured cinema verite style by Pennebaker, including such classic moments as Pete Townshend smashing his guitar, Hendrix setting his on fire and Mama Cass watching Joplin perform.

The main film, "Monterey Pop" (79 min.) is accompanied by two hours of outtake performances, including Jefferson Airplane, The Association, Al Kooper, the Blues Project, Laura Nyro, Quicksilver Messenger Ban and others; audio commentary by festival producer Lou Adler and Pennebaker; a video interview with Adler and Pennebaker; audio interviews with festival producer John Phillips (also a member of The Mamas and The Papas), publicist Derek Taylor and performers Cass Elliot (aka Mama Cass) and David Crosby; and a photo essay. The film is presented in a new 16-bit 4K digital restoration.

The other two films, "Jimi Plays Monterey" (49 min.) and "Shake! Otis at Monterey" (19 min.), have restored high-definition digital transfers. When Hendrix and Otis Redding arrived at Monterey, they were virtual unknowns. Hendrix had relocated from Seattle to London to launch his career (after a brief stint with the Isley Brothers), while Redding was a star of Memphis' Stax record label. Unfortunately, this would be one of Redding's last performances. "Jimi" comes with audio commentary by music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray and a video excerpt of Townshend discussing Monterey and Hendrix. "Shake!" comes with two audio commentaries by music critic and historian Peter Guraalnick, the first on Redding's performance, song-by-song, and the second on Redding before and after Monterey, plus a video interview with Phil Walden, Redding's manager from 1959 to 1967. All the extras are ported over from the previous releases. Grade: A+

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