Judge Steve Evans finds this disc neither classic nor Californian.
"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."
With that nod to Eric Burdon, let me be clear: This is a gawdawful concert DVD, easily the worst I've seen, and by any measure a waste of time and money. The amateurish videography lacks basic competencies such as focus and framing. The sound may very well be lip-synched—and if it isn't, the audio is so poorly recorded as to make lip-synching preferable. Even the crowd can't get up enough enthusiasm for more than an occasional, half-hearted hurrah.
This is a sloppy video document of a 1986 summer concert in San Bernardino, CA, featuring nine mediocre acts from the 1960s. A reconstituted Canned Heat opens the show, performing their two hits—"Going Up the Country" and "On the Road Again." But who are these guys? Band leader Bob "The Bear" Hite died in 1981, and the band buried guitarist Al Wilson in 1970, so by 1986 Canned Heat had long ago lost most of its fire. Check out the director's cut of Woodstock to see this blues-inflected group in their fleeting prime. John Sebastian (onetime frontman and principal songwriter for The Lovin' Spoonful) jams on a tune with New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, then vanishes like virginity on prom night. Buffalo Springfield (Revisited), minus Stephen Stills and Neil Young, perform the classic "For What It's Worth" and a weak cover of Young's "Hello Mr. Soul." They at least have enough respect for the original Springfield lineup to include the disclaimer "Revisited." I think it's time we stopped, hey, what's that sound? / Everybody look what's going down.
It is this: Some oldies acts feature the original groups in name only; a heinous practice that borders on fraud. Fans of these old bands buy tickets to relive cherished memories. They go to the concert or purchase the DVD on faith. Instead, they might get imposters, third-string poseurs riding a money train on the glory of the original artists.
That said, yes, we eventually get to see the real Eric Burdon onstage, wailing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." But without The Animals to back him up, especially Alan Price on keyboards—always the key component of the Animals' sound—Burdon no longer sparks lightning in a bottle.
The Standells fare the best with their lone hit, "Dirty Water," a snarling frat-boy ode to Boston women. When the band formed in 1966, "Dirty Water" was about the only song they could play, but they played the hell out of it, with all the horny strutting those boys could muster. It's not necessary to agree with the song's randy sentiment; there's purity in the execution that makes it feel alive and urgent, unlike the other acts plucked out of formaldehyde and signed for this concert. I've yet to see a more peculiar mish-mash of rock, soul, blues and bubblegum pop on one concert disc.
Wait a tick; Good God, who's this closing out the show? Why, it's squeaky Peter Noone, minus Herman's Hermits, mincing his way through "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and two other forgettable tunes. The crowd, thinning out at this point, greets him like a stranger, which is a bit sad, but he soldiers on bravely—perhaps thinking about that paycheck waiting backstage. Is that really his voice after all these years, or is he sucking on a helium tank?
Of the nine acts on this disc, three were British and less than half had any specific connection to California, so even the DVD title is misleading.
No extras. Allegedly there's a choice of Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 audio, but I toggled repeatedly between surround and stereo modes, and moved around the room, checking my speaker connections. I'll be damned if there's any discernible difference. Doesn't matter; the entire concert sounds as though it was recorded in a bathysphere.
Great rock music, like most worthwhile things in life, seldom improves on dissection or even close inspection to discover how it works. When it does work, when the alchemy blends just so, the results are magic. And that's enough. Yet even when the motive is profit, the song remains the same—the lyrics don't change, the familiar chord progressions proceed as they must toward the coda. But something's missing. The spell is broken. It's a vague sense of disquiet, of unease, like the dawning realization of a con unfolding before our eyes. That feeling is palpable while suffering through this disc.
This is the bad acid the P.A. announcer warned about in Woodstock.
• Canned Heat: "Going Up the Country"
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