Last summer, it seemed that everybody in the world was on tour. Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand, the Rolling Stones, Salt-n-Pepa, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, the Eagles -- you could have seen a major act every week had you wanted.
Not now, though. Nobody likes driving to the local sports arena through ice and snow, and that includes pop stars. As a result, all is quiet on the concert front for most of January and February, a situation that can be kind of frustrating for concert addicts.
Don't despair. You can see big-ticket shows in the dead of winter; all you need is a TV, a VCR or laser disc player (hooked up to the stereo if possible), and the right concert video.
It hardly matters what your taste is, because as the following selection shows there are concert videos for almost every interest imaginable, from mainstream rock and R&B; to alternative and worldbeat. Even better, many video concerts aren't available on album, and often augment the performance footage with backstage shots and interview segments.
Granted, watching a show on video isn't quite the same as being there. You'll see better, the seats will be more comfortable, you won't have to worry about parking, there won't be lines at the bathroom, and you probably won't wake up with your ears ringing.
5) But hey -- you can't have everything.
Nirvana "Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!" (Geffen Home Video, 83 minutes).
Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not a concert video in the usual sense of the term. Rather than present a single show in its entirety, "Live! Tonight!" offers 15 songs -- recorded in various locations over the course of several tours -- intercut with interview footage, old TV appearances and various on-the-road snippets shot by the band itself.
Yet by defying the usual conventions of concert video, "Live! Tonight!" comes closer to conveying the spirit of the band than any single show could have. This isn't a "best-of" compilation, fostering the illusion of perfection through editing and selection. The playing is often ragged and noisy, littered with missed notes, haphazard vocals and ear-piercing feedback. But there was such honesty and intensity within the band's music that such chaos hardly mattered -- the spirit comes through anyway.
A few caveats, though: The picture quality is all over the map, and the one rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" finds the band miming to backing tapes while Kurt sings badly on purpose. Then again, if all you want is "Teen Spirit," you'd be better off watching MTV in the first place.
"Woodstock 94" (Polygram Video, 165 minutes).
This video doesn't include the entire festival -- it just seems that way. Despite a few obvious nods to Michael Wadleigh's film, "Woodstock," including multiple images, interviews with the audience, stupid announcements from the stage, this is really just a collection of excerpts from the Pay Per View broadcast, offering the same 30 performances featured on the "Woodstock 94" album (though in slightly different order).
On the plus side, you do get behind-the-scenes shots, interviews with people standing by the latrines, and assorted unclothed concert-goers (including one mud-splattered woman who inexplicably mouths "Hi, Mom!" as she waves at the camera). There's also a mud-soaked performance by Nine Inch Nails that must be seen to be believed.
On the negative side, some bands are poorly shot (like Primus), some are missing entirely (like the Band), and some really aren't worth seeing (Crosby, Stills and Nash). But the biggest disappointment of all is that we don't get to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their light-bulb suits -- and what fun is that?
Sade "Live" (Epic Music Video, 96 minutes).
There may be better singers, but nobody in the music business has a better midriff than singer Sade Adu. And frankly, it would be hard to imagine a better showcase for that midriff than this -- especially given Adu's generally static stage presence.
Still, what this video lacks in movement is more than made up by the music. Not only does Sade (the band) play with impressive confidence and cool, but the camera work makes it wonderfully easy to see who is doing what (meaning we don't end up staring at the singer through most of the guitar solo).
Granted, the energy level rarely gets above simmer, and Adu's ** interaction with her band mates seems slightly choreographed at points. But when the band clicks, as it does on "Smooth Operator," "Pearls" and "Jezebel," you'll find yourself wishing Sade toured more often.
N Dead Can Dance "Toward the Within" (4AD Video, 77 minutes).
Just as it's hard to find a single category to describe Dead Can Dance -- are they worldbeat? Folk? New age? Alternative? -- it's hard to offer a simple description of this video. For the most part, it's built around a concert performance, but it includes interview segments and one of the most drop-dead gorgeous music videos this reviewer has ever seen.
So let's forget about categories, and simply talk about quality. "Toward the Within" neatly spans the whole of the Dead Can Dance oeuvre, from the Celtic balladry of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" to the percussive Arabesques of "Desert Song" to the crypto-Slavic rhapsodies of "Gloridean." It's beautifully recorded, rendering the music in stereo sound so vivid you'll forget you're still at home.
Even the interview segments are illuminating, especially if you're curious about the exotic instruments the band pounds on during the show. But be warned: Though neither Lisa Gerrard nor Brendan Perry can quite explain their muse, that doesn't stop them from babbling on anyway. Be sure to keep the remote handy.