The winter chill has got you cooped up inside, but you still want to rock? Here are seven titles that stretch from Jack Johnson's mellow strumming to Thomas Mapfumo's kinetic vamping. Slap 'em on and start dancing.
Glam bands considered heels and hair spray as important as drums and amps, and in the realm of early-70s garage rawk, it was the New York Dolls who best defined the trashy side of lipstick vogue. Since virtually no footage of the Dolls has been previously available, this disc, culled from 40 hours of rough black and white action shot by famed rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck, has a lot of weight behind it. The pair followed David Johansen, Johnny Thunders and their pals to gigs across the country, starting at Max's Kansas City and winding up at the Whiskey a Go Go. Along the way they documented one of the most fun and important pre-punk outfits hanging out, chatting it up, and rocking the hell out of joint after joint. Ad hoc interviews are threaded between boisterous performances of several classic tunes, including "Subway Train," "Looking For A Kiss," and "Personality Crisis." If you thought they were only noticed for their cross-dressing, this is a chance to see the glorious way they combine mincing and menacing.
The Velvet Underground -- Velvet Redux Live MCMXCIII
American audiences never got to see the famed foursome when they surprisingly reunited for a number of Europe-only dates in 1993, so turning up the volume on this eruption of a live show from Paris' L'Olympia Theater is the only way we can rock out to such Velvet classics as "White Light/White Heat," "I Heard Her Call My Name," and a little ditty called "Rock 'n' Roll." They may have been the East Coast antithesis of California sunshine psych-rock, but Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker did build a rep on their rather intense jamming strategies. Because they're well versed in modern art music, both Reed and Cale create and exploit an array of tension points during the 14-song set. The dissonance and thud reaches a peak on "Hey, Mr. Rain," where the combined strings (viola and guitar) unite to build an ominous freak-out. There's often been a combustible personal chemistry between the Velvets, but on this return to action, it's all used to ignite fire after fire. Nice way to say goodbye (again).
Jack Johnson -- A Weekend at the Greek/Live in Japan
As leisurely as a stroll on the beach, this pair of discs provides four hours of the square-jawed troubadour's music. On A Weekend at the Greek, the mood is woozy, with ping-pong games and muso chat punctuating the breathy In Between Dreams songs and guest appearances by mates like G. Love, Money Mark and Animal Liberation Orchestra. Shot a year earlier in a land farther away from home, Live in Japan is more intriguing for its surfer-out-water travelogue footage, sound-tracked by the slick performances of Johnson and his acoustic trio. Even non-fans will find something seductive about Johnson's sandy voice and minimalist picking, although the secret of his considerable appeal continues to remain elusive. The DVD is without extras.
Various artists -- Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling
Bob Geldof's Live 8 was a noble effort to fight poverty, but anyone watching the London and Philadelphia concerts would have noticed a big irony -- there were no Third World artists on the bill. The "Africa Calling" concert held that same day was an attempt to rectify matters. The bucolic setting of Cornwall's Eden Project gives the event the genial atmosphere of a garden party, and anyone seeking an introduction to world music's diversity gets a good start here. Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour and blonde fado sensation Mariza bring the charisma, while Thomas Mapfumo's burbling grooves and Daara J's African hip-hop are sure to provoke some high-stepping along with the tireless dancers onscreen.
Keane -- Strangers
Like their buddies Coldplay, U.K. piano-thumpers Keane have a quiver of soaring ballads and the sort of public schoolboy personas that make you dread being stuck in an elevator with them. Four million units sold worldwide, however, counts for something. The dreary black-and-white documentary on this two-disc set proves that being on tour across America with the three lads is about as exciting as a game of cricket. The music is another matter: Whether performing U2's "With or Without You" for a radio session or duetting with Rufus Wainwright, the group expose their eloquence. Too bad it requires a PhD to access the bounty of music vids and live footage (some of it from way back in 1998!) that come hidden as "easter eggs."
A scorching weekend in the Texas sun, an array of artists broad enough to force a rethinking of your preconceptions about the music "Austin City Limits" addresses, a nifty video postcard of 24 rather intriguing performances -- it's all here. You expect the rootsy vibe of Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crow to be part of this shindig (both sound strong). But it's odd and wonderful to get a blast of Franz Ferdinand and Broken Social Scene in middle of the action. The latter band invites their pal Amy Milan from Stars to sing "Anthem For a 17-Year-Old Girl," and it's one of the disc's most transfixing moments. Elsewhere Los Lonely Boys exhume Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jack Jackson bounces through his Hawaiian samba shtick. Biggest surprise? The ferocious power that Rachel Yamagata brings to "Be Your Love." All in all, nice little show.
The Hives --- Tussles in Brussels
With their high octane arrangements and singer Pelle Almqvist's capability to run at 120 different poses an hour, the cheeky Swedish rockers are built for maximum wallop. Their hour-long set of slam-bang highlights from Veni Vidi Vicious and Tyrannosaurus Hives leaves the Belgian audience a quivering wreck, makes at-home viewers damn envious, and assures the dapper band's dry cleaners will have a lot of work to do. Also included is an animated documentary packed with more gonzo propaganda than insight, although the portrait of the band's suburban hometown is authentically grim. The prize among the four extra videos is "Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones," a masterpiece of narcissism that could have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley.