Long-form concerts and music-video compilations by platinum-selling artists have been a staple of the DVD home-video market since the format started showing up on store shelves in the late-1990s. But as avid digital-video enthusiasts know, the selection -- compared to what's available on the aging VHS format -- has been slim to none, unless you count the latest fashion-show single by the delicious divas in Destiny's Child, or a dusty concert film by the likes of Cream. And that's too bad: Music video is perfect for the DVD format because of better-than-CD sound, amazing picture quality and the ability to jump immediately to a particular scene or song. (Finally, no more rewinding!)
The problem of selection has been improved over the past couple of months thanks to a flood of new music-video titles that run the gamut of tastes.
At the head of the pack -- sheerly for its length and star power -- is The Concert for New York (Columbia Home Video), a massive, two-disc Sept. 11 benefit set that is loaded with more than five hours of contributions from virtually every name in showbiz. Live performances by the likes of The Who, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Five For Fighting are book-ended by comedy bits and short films by Woody Allen, Kevin Smith and Jerry Seinfeld. Stand-out deliveries include McCartney's moving version of "Yesterday" and The Who's triumphant return to electricity on "Won't Get Fooled Again."
It sounds absolutely dreamy, for sure, but the sad truth is that many of the spoken-tribute segments drag on. (Fortunately, there's a "Play Only Music" feature.) Here's a question: Do we really need to hear Bon Jovi sing "Wanted Dead or Alive" one more time? And who talked John Mellencamp into letting Kid Rock "sing" "Pink Houses"? Still, for the money, the cause and the chance to watch sexy Salma Hayek brutalize the word "chaotic" over and over again, "The Concert for New York" is a worthy purchase.
Trent Reznor would never allow other artists to sully his turf; he's too much of a control freak. Case in point: Nine Inch Nails' first foray into digital video, the artfully packaged two-DVD release, And All That Could of Been (Nothing Records), was edited entirely by Reznor on a home-computer system (which consequently pushed back the release date almost a year). The bulk of the project is a gritty full-length live concert captured by the eagle-eyed road crew on DV cameras during Nine Inch Nails' acclaimed 2000 world tour.
I caught the show in Lakeland and can tell you that the DVD's crisp, clear sound and hypnotizing visuals more than nail the essence of NIN's dynamic, heavy-handed stage craft. For treasure hunters there's even an "Easter egg" menu -- the industry term for additional footage not listed on the package and not easily accessible by remote control -- bursting with more industrial eye and ear candy. (For info on how to crack Easter eggs on just about any DVD, visit www.dvdeastereggs.com.)
A minor complaint is that Reznor packed disc one with so much multiple-angle wizardry and so many other goodies that the concert spills over onto the second disc. This means owners of single-DVD players (almost everybody) will have to get off the couch and change over to disc two before "Head Like a Hole" can explode from the screen.
Although Reznor might recommend otherwise, true fans of machine music might also want to investigate KMFDM's Beat By Beat By Beat (TVT), a single DVD that comprises all of the band's video clips plus a few "bootlegged" concerts. Many of the captivating music-video reels, which seem to fall somewhere between cutting-edge and cutting-room-floor quality, are animated and feature the work of top visual artists.
Possibly pushing the envelope even further is Awaken (5.1 Label Group), a first-of-its-kind DVD video album that boasts a dozen electronic-music tracks recorded specifically for this release in splendid 24-bit six-channel surround sound. Trippy, computer-generated visual elements backdrop fresh cuts by King Britt, Divine Styler and Tampa's own Rabbit in the Moon. The sound quality alone will give an audiophile chills, especially when all six channels are pumping.
The format-busting DVD is also bursting with extras, including video clips, eight bonus audio tracks, interviews with artists, graffiti/aerosol art and an illustration gallery. "Awaken" is truly stunning from top to bottom. The unique package is a must for any e-music fan.
As a swan song, The Smashing Pumpkins' Greatest Hits Video Collection 1991-2000 (Virgin) is a full-bloom beauty, compiling all of the alt-rock band's video clips and assorted extras onto one DVD. Of course, the music is excellent -- unless you are one of those who can't stand Billy Corgan's nasal-howl delivery -- and many of the videos are considered classics of the genre (the color-drenched dreaminess of "Today" is a dazzler on DVD).
And if the group's entire catalog of videos isn't enough for some Pumpkin heads, go behind the scenes via an audio commentary track offering various wisdoms from the band and that particular clip's director. (Easter egg alert: There's a hidden, untitled video clip of one of the group's better songs.)
Modern pop-rock monster U2 has never been a group to shy away from technology, so was there ever any doubt that it would eventually deliver the digital goods? Fully stocked and beautifully bound, the two-disc set Elevation Tour 2001: Live From Boston (Interscope) expertly captures the Irish band's highly regarded live experience, which has been toned down as of late. The DVD, shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, proves that the fire still burns on the group's spirit-soaring singles and that Bono & Co. are still in fine form. Add to that the DVD's many, many extras (hidden and otherwise) and you start to understand why this disc is a pleasure to digest.
Music-video DVDs certainly have been slow in coming to prominence, but this latest crop of delights is positive proof that manufacturers are finally ready to show us what they can do with the technology. They have been fine tuning a permanent home-video format that allows today's music stars to look -- and sound -- as they should.
Now the question is, are we ready to watch?