Entry for July 20, 2006

by

THE GRATEFUL DEAD ARE BLOWING EVERYBODY’S MIND

Monterey Pop

(Sony)

What an incredible surprise! On the heels of what may go down in the books as the best year in rock ‘n’ roll, here’s this marvelous videocassette from our Japanese friends at Sony. Friends, I promise you: one night with this video and you’ll be hooked like you’ve never been before!

Monterey Pop is an amazing documentary of California‘s current psychedelic scene, featuring a stunning array of talent we’ll be hearing much more from, throughout this decade and well into the ’90s. Don’t believe me? You will–once you pop this tape into your VCR and couch down!

For starters? First thing you’ll notice is director D.A, Pennebaker’s brilliant camera technique. From the graininess of the picture to the abrupt, seemingly random cuts, Pennebaker’s created a brilliant homage to the early films of John Waters, one that won’t go unnoticed by film buffs who know their stuff. As the credits roll, a song called “Combination Of The Two” by the mysterious Big Brother & The Holding Company accompanies the action. Who are they? Hold on, and maybe you’ll find out!

Scott McKenzie‘s “San Francisco” starts the ball rolling. Sure, one can’t help but notice that the little-known McKenzie shares the same Scottish roots as Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame, but only the uncharitable would call him a copycat! It’s an enticing little ditty, one that just might have you hankering to make the trip. And if you’ve any doubts, a gander at the Mamas And The Papas might get you moving–led by a luscious blonde, some fat chick and two guys with great hats, this modern day ABBA’ll rock you American, full stop, with the very witty “Creeque Alley.” Watch it a few times and you’ll figure it out: there’s a story in there! And if you’re unmoved, catch “California Dreamin’” and tell me this gang isn’t hip to Kendra and the Rainy Day LP. I dare you.

Blasters fans may wrinkle their noses at the somewhat derivative Canned Heat–their lead singer’s fat, too–but “Rollin’ And Tumblin'” is a snazzy little footstomper that may bring to mind the Fabulous Thunderbirds among oldsters. I like it. It cranks. Simon And Garfunkel weren’t exactly my cup of tea here with “59th Street Bridge Song”; they’re kind of like an acoustic Let’s Active without any women. Ugly, too. Anyway, the big question is how Arista Records got disco star Hugh Masekela on the bill–he plays the trumpet like he “means it,” his cheeks get big, and your attention may soon be wandering. Frankly, Mr. Pennebaker, if you wanted contrast, you should’ve got some hardcore.

Things lighten up with the Jefferson Airplane, though. Their “High Flyin’ Bird” is filled with more than a few drug references, and lead vocalist Grace Slick recalls the Motels’ Martha Davis before she sold out. Like Davis, Slick is quite attractive. Lead singer Marty Balin–that’s right, the Jefferson Airplane have two lead vocalists, are you listening R.E.M.?–sings “Today” next. He’s all right, though frankly it was hard to pay attention to the music when guitarist Paul Kantner came into view. Your Live Aid Tom Petty glasses are strictly last year, bub. Oh well.

If you’re like me, you’ll be most moved by Janis Joplin. From Texas, the sassy gal sings like a combination of Alison Moyet and Katrina of the Waves, and though she’s no Madonna, her “Ball And Chain’” might make you forget looks for a few minutes. Too bad the same can’t be said of the Who, whose guitarist has an enormous schnozz, and who sound a little too close to the Jam for comfort. Their “My Generation,” a witty “tribute” to Billy Idol and his previous band Generation X, was marred by their diminutive lead vocalist’s stutter and lots of fake smoke at the song’s end. Hey–I thought they didn’t like Kiss in England!

Best of all is Country Joe & The Fish, whose “Section 43,” though obviously inspired by the Rain Parade, is six minutes and thirty-one seconds of “ecstasy.” Know what I mean? Joe McDonald, who plays the harmonica, has a flower painted on his face–and there’s every indication he’s never seen the Cult! What a scene, eh? Eric Burdon & The Animals may be no relation to the White Animals, but that doesn’t mean they’re black–even though they do the fairly soulful “Paint It, Black” to point out that irony to fans of Nashville‘s best! Funny stuff, and with integrity to boot!

Otis Redding, sort of a black Paul Young, owes no small debt to Eric Burdon, it would appear, so you’ll probably wonder if his appearance immediately afterward is some “in” joke from Pennebaker. You got me. But “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is a fairly convincing Daryl Hall cop, and if you sit back and think about the stylistic freedom to be had in California these days, it’s even more impressive. Perhaps most disappointing is Jimi Hendrix’s cover of X’s “Wild Thing”–the black guitarist recalls Jon Butcher at best and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott at worst (but he plays bass). Weird. And no offense, Jimi, but setting your guitar on fire is kind of MTVish, you know?

Back to the Mamas And Papas with “Got A Feelin’” for a few minutes, and then it’s time for the grand finale: Ravi Shankar. Barefoot and grinning, the film’s “serious” musician runs through almost 19 minutes of “Raga Bhimpalasi,” an interesting piece owing much to influential minimalists like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, but with a little more “soul.” As they say, it’s hip!

In all, Monterey Pop showcases a burgeoning music scene as vital and relevant as London circa 1977. You’d be a fool not to get in on the ground floor. Take my word for it.

(CREEM, March 1986)

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