The Best: See + Hear
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2009, Volume 16, #11
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 9, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
Over the years, D.A. Pennebaker’s name has graced an array of projects — from Don’t Look Back to Monterey Pop to Sweet Toronto as well as their many offshoots. Nevertheless, despite the enormous amount of acclaim that he has received, Pennebaker still struggles with the same issues as every other sculptor of music-oriented documentaries. No matter how well he sets the stage, no matter how much anecdotal material he includes, the success of his concert films largely rides on the strength of the performances given by his subjects. More often than not, though, Pennebaker found himself in the right place at the right time.
As part of his ongoing distribution arrangement with Shout! Factory, Pennebaker has dusted off two more pieces from his archives, both of which feature performances by Otis Redding from 1967. Spliced together, they create the visual portion of The Best: See + Hear, a terrific, if somewhat redundant overview of Redding’s all-too-brief career. Because the concerts were held merely 10 weeks apart, their set lists not surprisingly were quite similar. Yet, when viewed in sequence, they also highlight how rapidly Redding was refining his approach.
During the early show, Redding was part of a package tour designed to highlight several of the acts from the Stax/Volt roster. Redding gave a rousing performance, one which allowed him to assume complete control of the assembled crowd as he moved from a manic rendition of Shake to a gentle, gospel-infused cover of My Girl. Still, he largely was overshadowed by the other artists on the bill. Booker T. & the MG’s, which also served as Redding’s backing band, offered a sublime, soul-jazz romp through Green Onions, while Sam & Dave, despite their choreographed moves, refused to be constrained by the audience’s reserved reaction.
By the time that he took the stage at the Monterey International Pop Festival, Redding had learned a thing or two from his tour mates. There is a certain amount of professionalism to the way in which he, once again backed by Booker T. & the MG’s, carried himself. Yet, the energy he brought to the performance — which is magnified by Pennebaker’s keen eye for creating visual tension — is remarkable. Redding’s emotional outpourings, particularly in his anguished, desperate reading of I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now), have sharper-edges. In today’s world of lip-synched dance routines, it’s refreshing not only to see how out of breath Redding was when he launched into Satisfaction, but also to watch how he ultimately pulled everything together to increase the intensity of his set even further.
Long before most of the American population noticed — (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay, his only tune to top the pop charts, was issued after his untimely death — Redding was making great singles and albums. Proof of this fact can be found in the audio portion of The Best: See + Hear. Its 12 tracks rumble over familiar ground, and although they provide only a cursory overview of the things that Redding accomplished, they all are first-rate selections. It is, after all, difficult to discount anything Redding ever recorded. Even his more casual numbers — such as Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) and The Happy Song (Dum-Dum) — contain potent emotional expressions. While it doesn’t add anything new to the discussion, The Best: See + Hear proves itself to be another installment in a long line of worthy introductions to Redding’s canon.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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