Monday, September 25, 2006

Free - Forever Free DVD

I'm delighted to see this on sale. I've been waiting for a properly researched and well-put together Free retrospective on DVD. This one has David Clayton, the biographer who wrote Heavy Load, as a consultant, and the attention to detail shows. This is a definite buy for anyone with an interest in early '70s rock or blues.

There are two discs, one with pretty much all TV studio footage of Free and some other items, and a second disc with the entire set of Isle of Wight footage and all available audio. The second disc includes material from various camera angles, so if you don't like the original edit and you have lots of patience you can mess with it. The Isle of Wight show is awesome, and it's a real charge to have this available in cleaned-up form. The band do a stripped-down set of their most crowd-pleasing songs, which was probably necessary as they were playing Sunday breakfast time. That's actually an advantage for us at home; the light's great in the morning (though it does encourage one persistent lunatic to continuously flash a mirror at the stage) and the band, possibly cowed by a crowd of over half a million, pulls in and plays a tight, energetic set. One only wishes that the film-makers had filmed the encore.

Disc one starts with the legendary Beat Club footage. Beat Club was a German TV show which specialized in 1970 visuals effects like colorful trails and wobbly psychedelic blobs that overlaid the picture. All Right Now is almost completely obscured by clouds, as one might have phrased it at the time. As far as I can tell, Beat Club never provided an audience, but they did provide Orange amplifiers, possibly because they needed less video processing to be eye-wateringly ostentatious on screen. The first session comprises Mr Big, and the second session Fire and Water and All Right Now. Despite the lack of audience, the band seem happy enough playing to each other. Paul Rodgers keeps his eyes closed and sings to himself; this doesn't stop him putting on a fine, heartfelt performance. The camera work is good, and for those studying the instrument techniques, there are plenty of well-lit close-ups.

Lyle's Fashion Note: For Mr Big, Paul Kossoff has a horrible beard and PR is clean shaven. For the other two, PR sports the beard and PK is his normal lovely self. Kossoff, apparently more fashion conscious than I would have given him credit for, wears orange tops both times, cleverly matching the amps' 1970 color-space and intensity. Paul Rodgers switches from white perve-breeks of an almost inhuman tightness in MB to a far less alarming pair of dark red trousers for the second set.

The Granada Doing Their Thing show is the stand-out. This British TV program has an audience (albeit one which on the whole looks as though it had been seeking a quiet place to chew its cud and was surprised to find itself faced with a full-tilt blues-rock group), and it displays a refreshing lack of psychedelic effects. It also has Orange amps, but they appear to belong to Juicy Lucy. Free's equipment is in front of theirs, in regulation black. Accordingly, SK, sitting at the back with the Orange amps, is the only one wearing a matching top and the rest of them, like the amps, have reverted to type, including the wearing of infeasibly tight trousers by their front man, who here opens his eyes and sings to the audience. The band look very happy to be playing together, smiling and reacting to each other's signals.

The tracks are Ride on Pony, Mr Big (again), Songs of Yesterday, I'll Be Creepin' and All Right Now (again). All's right in the beard world, too, with PR wearing his shaggy black one and PK clean shaven. All of the songs in the set are worth watching over and over again (I already have). Mr Big kicks ass, but All Right Now is the one for guitarists to watch. Instead of the usual familiar staccato riff, for some reason PK decides to hint at the chords that stand silently behind the riff but are usually left out, turning the rhythm upside down and providing any would-be Keith Richards listening with material to develop at least three more riffs on their own. (His solo here is disorganized, as the same sort of thing applies. That's rock'n'roll.) There's enough energy in this closer to wake up some of the audience members to a relatively rousing baa-ram-ewe ovation.

The picture and camera-work are outstanding. There are some nasty flares on bright reflections and microphony (horizontal-bands of sound-on-vision) on one camera, but it comes across as cute, a visual marker that the camera, like the amp, is pre solid-state, and They Don't Make 'Em Like That Any More.

There's plenty of other material on the DVD. A very nice Stealer with Koss busting some classic moves. A Top of the Pops performance which is good looking, but clearly not the band's cuppa tea. My Brother Jake, which I've never been able to stand. OMFG how I hate that song. It sounds like The Hollies on Quaaludes. The best looking track, however, is a VHS-derived All Right Now of unknown provenance (it might tell me on the insert but the insert is so brown, wiggly-fonted and authentically hippy-looking that I can't read it) featuring the entire band looking like real rock stars, shot from below, under great stage lighting, with their long hair combed and a blessed lack of weird-beard experimentation. I don't know if it's the traditional rock'n'roll lights or the fuzzy and warm VHS quality, but PK and PR look like the Plant and Page analogues they could have been if things were only slightly different. They look great together.

There are several sets of interviews with PR, AF and SK, and some interviews with Simon Kossoff, Paul's brother. There is also a long sequence of live footage shot by Simon Kossoff, which doesn't have any sound but, hey, this is a completist disc, so it's all there and make of it what you will. Of the interviews, I will confine myself to saying that Simon Kirke has won the aging gracefully event, and is currently gorgeous (and witty). There are a couple of tributes to Kossoff, including some great stills. There's a short piece of film from Simon Kossoff showing his brother and his dad (David Kossoff) eating fish 'n' chips, a lovely piece of film that works as the inverse of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, a brief look at two connected people eating in a diner, doubly poignant when one reflects how PK died, insecure and lonely, a few years later. (Lyle's etiquette note: PK holds his knife like a pen. Bad guitar god!)

I've tried not to gush too much about Kossoff's guitar playing here. He's at his peak in this period and it's all a treat to hear. Consider the miraculous way his rhythm playing sounds to be there even when he's dropped the majority of it for the solo. His solos are justly famous and none of this footage disappoints in that regard. But I can't spend too much time saying how great he is, as the one thing that jumps out during this DVD is that the whole band is great; each one of them is way above proficient. It's unbelievable that all four could just meet more or less by accident and all be so good. What a shame it didn't last!

Note October 1, 2006 - the new DVD player did indeed cure it. . The comment below is obsolete.

Technical notes: It's probably mean of me to carp about this since I bought a UK disc on and I'm trying to play it on US equipment. When the official US release takes place it may be considerably improved. But, the package says that the disc is Region 0 and NTSC so I expected it to play on unmodified equipment. However, my US DVD player had issues with the menu of disc 2, and is very reluctant to play disc 1 without freezing. Of the computers in the house, one will play the discs using Power DVD but not Windows Media Player, and the other one won't touch it with Power DVD and it plays with only an updated (v11) Windows Media Player. I'm upgrading the house DVD player shortly. Hopefully that will cure it.


the humph said...

So interested in Free right now! I have to admit I have searched everywhere on line for every picture and performance. Alas, it is not fair that there was no internet in 1970. Looking into finding this DVD. Love your review of the different performances. LOL on the beard (ugh on PK) and PR's obscene trousers!!! I do love him in the 5 song studio performance that I have watched 100 times in the last 3 weeks!!! Thanks for sharing.

Peromyscus said...

Thanks for commenting, humph.

I still love Free myself - Paul Kossoff was one of the first musicians to get my attention and even now I think about what might have been. I hope you find the DVD and have many more happy Free experiences!


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