The genre of the pop-culture concert film has an interesting history. It initially emerged in the late 1960s, with such early festival documentaries as Woodstock and Monterey Pop, and became a genre in its own right in the 1970s (for example, Led Zeppelin’s Song Remains the Same, despite its lengthy forays into the band members’ fantasy scenes, is comprised primarily of concert footage), and has really taken off in popularity since the advent of the DVD system, with its higher-fidelity audio-reproductive capabilities. The most intriguing element of the concert film is surely that of a social document, and it almost becomes, in its way, a sort of quasi-time travel. Although one cannot experience many of these events firsthand, one can at least witness them and get a feel for what they were like at the time they were recorded.
With this frame of mind, then, consider that with guitar icon Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Live at Montreux two-DVD set, one can witness, almost firsthand, one of those “What the hell?!” moments in music: a young SRV playing a burning set, only to get a chorus mainly consisting of boos from an unresponsive audience after each number. Of course, this performance on the Blues Night of the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival would be the shot in the arm of Vaughan’s career; David Bowie was impressed enough with the performance to secure Vaughan as guitarist on his Let’s Dance, and Jackson Browne provided the group with free-of-charge studio time to record their first album.
As for the music, the first disc especially stands out as a particularly good show (despite the boorish audience). The subtle texture shifts and imaginative manipulations of harmonic vocabulary are imaginative and exciting, and the nascent stage presence of the group is fascinating to watch. The incredible amount of energy put forth in the performance comes across very vividly, keying up the viewer just from watching the people on stage playing their guts out. The group is very good at building up excitement and audience anticipation without overkill, and Vaughan’s solos-especially in the earlier 1982 show-evince a particularly tasteful sense of climactic buildup and repose. His style, even at this early date, is already highly refined.
Admittedly, the visuals leave something to be desired; they are not particularly high-quality, but considering that the films are themselves 22 and 19 years old, this is hardly surprising. And considering the fact that in 1982, Stevie Ray Vaughan was a relatively unknown artist, we are, perhaps, lucky that a film was shot of his first Montreux performance at all.
Concert film recordings do provide certain benefits, as well, particularly when it comes to actually being able to see some of the stage tricks (for example, Vaughan plays with the guitar behind his back during one song, and sounds great). Of course, the interpolation of the occasional camera shot of some hippy-looking character or other in the audience gyrating almost to the beat of the band’s searing set is a welcome-albeit cliched-visual to any concert film. Fans of electric blues and fans of concert films will not be disappointed in this DVD, but those not yet acclimated to the genre of concert film probably ought to steer clear of it, opting instead for the two-CD recording of these performances.

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