Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Criterion Collection: The Complete Monterey Pop Festival

The Criterion Collection: The Complete Monterey Pop Festival
Antonio G. Pereira © 2016 Antonio G. Pereira

        Well Folks, Folkies, Folkish and Folklike, the 3 DVD set, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, is the closest we'll ever get to the definitive version of what happened at Monterey almost 50 years ago.
        The Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (already well known for his previous two documentaries on Bob Dylan's 1965 and 1966 concert tours of the UK, known respectively as 'Don't Look Back' and 'Eat The Document' {O.K. D.A., where's the Box Set with Extra Features for 'Eat The Document'?}), has done a good job with this 1967 collection. Disc 1 is the original film 'Monterey Pop', beautifully reproduced, with Extra Features including new interviews with Festival co-producer Lou Adler by D.A. Pennebaker. Historically recorded archival interviews with Festival co-producer John Phillips, Festival Publicist Derek Taylor (occasionally lapsing into his tired and uninformed colonialistic views- i.e. Chuck Berry), Mama Cass Elliot (Cass has her dates mixed up! The Experience played the Hollywood Bowl for the first time as The Mamas and The Papas opening act AFTER Monterey, on August 18th, 1967. See Mitch Mitchell's book, 'Inside The Experience' Published by Harmony Books, New York. For a further fascinating anecdote about the party after the Hollywood Bowl show, at John and Michelle Phillips' house in the Hollywood Hills, where Hendrix meets, makes friends and Jams with Fred Neil (extraordinary musician and composer of the massive hit song 'Everybody's Talkin' - theme song from the film 'Midnight Cowboy'), check the 'Mojo '60s' Issue No. 4 article, 'Fred Neil: The Man Who Wasn't There' pages 110-119. Also mentioned in this article is Fred Neil's final Public Performance in Tokyo, Japan in 1977 with the Rolling Coconut Revue, a relation to The Dolphin Project. {I remember seeing a news story about this Benefit on the NHK Network in 1977, that featured footage of Richie Havens, John Sebastian and Jackson Browne; during my final years of college.}), and David Crosby (then a member of The Byrds). A photographic portfolio collection of the Festival by Photographer Elaine Mays, Theatrical and Radio Promos, Engineer Eddie Kramer detailing how the restoration process of the entire Collection was done, A detailed explanation of The Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation, and a Monterey Pop Scrapbook containing a complete page by page reproduction of the original Festival Program Book; all reproduced on the DVD with crystal clarity. Disc 2 contains the two films, 'Jimi Plays Monterey' with an interview with Pete Townshend of The Who in Special Features, and 'Shake! Otis At Monterey:' with an interview with Phil Walden (Otis Redding's Manager) in Special Features. Both of these films make it abundantly clear why Jimi Hendrix' and Otis Redding's performances at the Festival became legendary, and they in turn were forever loved. Disc 3 contains The Outtake Performances, along with some additional footage shot by D.A. Pennebaker in the Backstage Artists Bar (known as The Hunt Club) of Tiny Tim performing Pop Songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Tiny Tim, very witty, singing and performing on his ukulele. This is priceless stuff and funny as hell. And makes it blatantly obvious why he was such a curiosity back then.
        The Outtake Performances on Disc 3 are very good. Most of these are standouts, including Laura Nyro (who contrary to some other opinions, was very good and professional). Missing unfortunately, from the Outtake Performances is The Electric Flag performing a superb version of 'Gettin' Hard' from their soundtrack to 'The Trip', that was in the cut of Monterey Pop I saw in the movies a couple of decades ago; though their version of 'Drinkin' Wine' (included in this collection) is very good. 'Flute Thing' by The Blues Project is a beautifully inventive performance. Then we have Big Brother doing an explosive version of 'Combination Of The Two', Buffalo Springfield (with David Crosby sitting in on guitar as Neil Young had left the band, and what looks like Bruce Palmer on bass), doing a great version of their top ten hit 'For What It's Worth', The Paul Butterfield Blues Band doing a smokin' version of 'Driftin' Blues', Jefferson Airplane with an excellent version of 'Somebody To Love', Country Joe and The Fish doing what they do best, a wonderful piece of satire with 'Not-So-Sweet Martha Lorraine', Quicksilver Messenger Service with a punchy Rock-Blues 'All I Ever Wanted To Do (Was Love You)', Simon and Garfunkel with a beautiful 'Homeward Bound' and a powerful and deeply moving (this is the original acoustic version) 'Sounds of Silence', and The Who kickin' butt with 'Substitute', 'Summertime Blues' and their mini Rock Opera (Pre-Tommy) 'A Quick One, While He's Away'. This version, almost as explosive as the one they performed the following year on The Rolling Stones Rock 'n Roll Circus. Additionally, David Crosby's very well timed speech between songs, when The Byrds perform beautiful versions of 'Chimes of Freedom' and 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', is incredibly powerful and moving. That was one hell of a Festival!
        During the final segment of Outtakes, Mama Cass (almost with child at the time, by the way) always a marvelous raconteur, echoes the fundamental message of Love delivered in previous days of the Festival by Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. Her re-telling of her meeting and conversation with John Lennon about The Mamas and The Papas recording of his composition 'I Call Your Name' is hysterical. (We also can't forget the wonderful MC jobs done by people like Tommy Smothers, Brian Jones and Eric Burdon.) The Mamas and The Papas then do a comical version of 'I Call Your Name', as well as a wonderful version of 'Monday Monday'; before Scott McKenzie comes out and sings 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)'- {McKenzie by the way, when questioned in Melody Maker a few months later about 'Flower Power', and the obvious 'at the time' explosive racial situation and resultant riots in Detroit, gave a highly open to question answer (see The History of Rock/1967-Uncut Magazine Issue No. 3, Page 94); that left one wondering whether his personal philosophy perhaps was more selective than he was singing about. (For an even clearer, in depth clarification, see The John Lennon Letters review  )}, and The Mamas and The Papas end the Festival with a joyful version of 'Dancing In The Street'.
        When we get to the accompanying Booklet to the DVDs however, we have a mixed bag. Of the four essays therein, Michael Lydon's, which takes up half the Booklet, is a real waste of time. Jann Wenner's (which is about the aftermath of the Festival, when the Producers wanted to do it again the following year, which ultimately was blocked from ever happening again by the Conservative element in the Monterey area), is quite informative and makes engrossing good reading. British johnny-come-lately 'Mojo' Magazine Journalist Barney Hoskyns, is another waste of time and space. And finally, Armond White (who used to write for local New York newspaper The City Sun) makes some very good and thoughtful observations about the Festival and the film. With the mixed bag exception of the Booklet, this 3 DVD Collection is well worth checking out.It will bring back many treasured memories, and since you can access individual songs and performances anywhere in this Collection, you can make wonderful combinations. Highly Recommended.