Judge Victor Valdivia loves singing "Frankenstein" in the shower. You don't want to know how he recreates the drum solo.
Our review of Johnny Winter: Live At Rockpalast, published August 13th, 2011, is also available.
"The gods of music bestowed a gift on fans when they granted the filming of Johnny Winter form his creation as he exploded on the scene like a Texas tornado to become a true blues guitar hero."—Dave Rubin (from the liner notes)
One of the pleasures of a well-compiled music DVD is seeing an artist's work evolve over time. What Johnny Winter: Live Through the '70s does so well is allow fans to see how Winter's music started off as blues-based garage rock and became, as the years progressed, more dexterous and fluid. This is the model of what a well-compiled DVD should be, and other artists should take notes.
Johnny Winter: Live Through the '70s compiles various filmed live performances from guitarist Johnny Winter and his band. Here are all of the performances collected on this DVD:
Danish TV, Gladsaxe Teen Club, Denmark (1970)
Royal Albert Hall, London, UK (1970)
Beat Club, Bremen, Germany (1970)
Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Palace Theater, Waterbury, CT (1973)
Soundstage, Blues Summit, Chicago, IL (1974)
Musikladen, Bremen, Germany (1974)
Rockpalast, Grugahalle, Essen, Germany (1979)
Interspersed between these performances are interviews with Winter taken from a TV appearance in Detroit in 1970, and at one point in these he launches into a spontaneous version of "Key to the Highway." The interviews add some additional context to the music, but the performances are strong enough by themselves. Fans of Winter's brother Edgar should be aware that he appears in all of the 1970 performances playing keyboards, most notably on the instrumental "Frankenstein," which would of course later become his big solo hit. These are all great performances, ones that show off Winter's best songs as well as some well-chosen covers perfectly. Winter's guitar skills are very much evident in his spitfire solos, but the rest of the band members (who include future Stevie Ray Vaughan bassist Tommy Shannon) are also skilled accompanists. The Blues Summit performance is a real treat. Winter is accompanied by an all-star band that includes Dr. John, Junior Wells, Buddy Miles, and guitarist Michael Bloomfield, making it arguably the highlight of an already exciting disc.
What makes this DVD worth buying isn't just the strength of the performances, however. By meticulously cataloguing a decade's worth of music, Live Through the '70s demonstrates the evolution of Winter's music through this period. Though his music was always blues-based, the early songs collected here were based in a more focused, sometimes cruder but undeniably effective garage-rock style. In one of the 1970 interviews, Winter actually rails against music that he feels is "too unfocused" and "too unstructured," and while "Frankenstein" does diverge enough to have a few drum and keyboard solos, the songs are generally straightforward. By the '79 Rockpalast concert, Winter has clearly developed enough confidence to show off his chops. The three tracks taken from this show clock in at almost 14 minutes apiece, while the previous eleven are only about a third as long. The extended solos are amazing to watch. Winter is an imaginative and nimble-fingered guitarist who can find new directions in classic songs like "Suzie Q" without coming off as hackneyed or unmelodic. Some viewers may admittedly find this sort of extended jamming a bit tedious, but for fans of classic blues-based guitar, these tracks will demonstrate why Winter deserves his reputation as one of the best guitarists of the '70s.
Technically, the tracks are in surprisingly decent shape considering their age. The Royal Albert Hall tracks, which are on film instead of video, look the worst, as the film is scratched and dirty. The '79 tracks also suffer from some video glitches. Overall, however, the full-screen transfer is not bad, and most of the video is actually quite impressive, if a bit washed out in spots. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is something of a disappointment. It's not really very loud and most of the action is up front, with little use for the rear speakers or subwoofer. There are no extras, although it's hard to imagine what could be needed (apart from maybe a full Winter discography). Johnny Winter: Live Through the '70s is absolutely not guilty, and is highly recommended for fans of both Winter and classic rock.
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