MVD Visual // 1979 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // August 13th, 2011
"You've gotta remember that if it wasn't for the blues, there wouldn't be no rock & roll." -- Johnny Winter
Blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter has been the subject of one previous concert DVD from MVD Visual, and it's not because this is a subpar concert that this DVD isn't quite as superlative as the previous one. Johnny Winter: Live Through the '70s was compiled from the best performances from a decade's worth of concerts, making it the definitive Johnny Winter DVD. This one is taken from one particular performance, with all its highs and lows, and is therefore not as consistent. Still, though this isn't the best place to discover Winter's music, Live At Rockpalast still has plenty to recommend it.
Live At Rockpalast was recorded at Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, on April 21, 1979. Winter was joined by bassist/guitarist/harp player Joe Paris and drummer Bobby Caldwell. Here is the setlist:
"Messin' with the Kid"
"Walking by Myself"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
In some ways, this is not one of Johnny Winter's most representative performances. For one thing, as the DVD's liner notes point out, Winter on this particular night was obsessed with proving to the German audience how much he loved playing the blues, so the setlist consists almost entirely of blues covers. It doesn't have any of his best original compositions, such as "Mean Town Blues" and "Dallas." This will make this concert something of an acquired taste-if you don't like extended blues-rock improvisations, then this is not the DVD for you. Winter's fans will know what to expect, but this doesn't really give a good overview of Winter's skills as a songwriter or rock & roll guitarist.
What's more, the performance itself is uneven. By far the weakest moments are when Winter and Paris decide to switch instruments. For "I'm Ready" and "Rockabilly Boogie," Paris plays guitar and sings while Winter plays bass. This may have been amusing to see in person, but on DVD it's interminable and pointless. Paris, a solid bassist, is a mediocre singer and guitarist, so to waste two whole numbers on him is a disappointment. There are some online reports that this concert actually lasted over two hours, so the choice to include these particular numbers at the expense of others is especially ill-considered.
Nonetheless, despite the flaws, this is still a good DVD for Winter's fans. Having recovered much of his health and energy after a debilitating heroin addiction in the early '70s, Winter is ready to play with passion during this concert. His versions of "Walking by Myself" and "Divin' Duck" are stellar, showing off both his guitar playing and singing to best advantage. The concert's best moment, however, is during the "Medley," when Winter begins with a version of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway" that echoes the original's bone-chilling drama, delivers an outstanding reading of Leadbelly's "Leaving Blues," and ends by ripping through one of the nastiest renditions of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'," complete with Winter's hellacious slide guitar, that you will ever hear.
Still, these moments will resonate most strongly with Winter's fans, who will get the most out of this DVD. If you've never heard Winter's music before, however, it would be best to start with Live Through the '70s, which is a far better introduction to Winter's brand of blues-rock. If you like what you hear on that DVD, though, then there's no question that you should move on to this one. This is a performance Winter's fans have long wanted to see officially released and while it may not capture Winter at his ultimate best, it does have enough good moments to make it worth a look.
The 1.33:1 transfer is not great. The video looks fuzzy and grainy and there are some fairly sizable video glitches at various points. The stereo sound mix is much better, sounding crisp and clear with little distortion. There are no extras.
Not guilty, but more for fans than novices.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Johnny Winter
* All-Music Guide