Whither (Wither) Columbus?
I keep reading breathless reviews about the new U2 concert film U23D. I admit that my previous experiences with wearing the funky glasses at 3D movies has left me less than optimistic. But everything I read tells me that this truly is something different -- U2 on a giant iMax screen, with eye-popping visual effects. One reviewer I respect, who is not typically given to hyperbole, stated that the experience was like being a fly on Bono's shades, and that the new technology employed in this film could very well revolutionize the film industry. He noted that this was less like viewing a concert film and more like being at the concert, on the stage.
Okay, so I was sold. The film opens today at numerous iMax theaters throughout the country. Columbus, Ohio? Nope. Even though there are a couple iMax theaters in town, there are no current plans to screen the film. Columbus really does have a lot going for it in the arts, but here was a fine opportunity that was left withering on the vine. The good news is that you can still go to those iMax theaters and watch helicopters swooping through the Grand Canyon.
A Less Than Thrilling Reissue
Michael Jackson's Thriller is 25 years old this week, and that means that it's time for the deluxe reissue treatment. When an album has shipped 100 million units, as this one has, it's hard to imagine who might be left out there to buy it. So to make this work you have to bring in the guest stars. The just-released reissue offers the original album, seven bonus tracks featuring the likes of will.i.am, Kanye West, Fergie, and Akon, and an accompanying DVD that includes the three original MTV videos from the album and MJ's performance of "Billie Jean" from the Motown 25th anniversary TV special.
It's a mixed bag. Is the original album great? Of course. Any album that includes "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Thriller," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Human Nature" deserves the highest accolades. Is the original album a stinking pile of manure? Yes. "The (Doggone) Girl is Mine" and "The Lady in My Life" represent the worst of saccharine, treacly excess, and the former permanently soured me on the ongoing musical capabilities of one Paul McCartney. On the new remixes, will.i.am bravely steps into the McCartney breach, and does his best to whip the froth into something of substance. It doesn't work. The other remixes fare no better for me, but that's primarily because I have little or no interest in people named Kanye and Fergie. Fans of contemporary R&B might be more impressed. The videos? Are you kidding? The videos are fabulous, ridiculously fabulous. No wonder that newfangled MTV experiment took off after the release of this album.
Overall, though, it's not enough to make me want to fork over 30 bucks to hear music I already have. But the videos almost win me over. Here's a newsflash: dude could dance.
Rhino is re-issuing the first four Replacements albums (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash, Stink, Hootenanny, and Let It Be) in late April, with the usual remastering, bonus tracks, etc. This is cause for great rejoicing, and a fine reason to discover the shambolic glory that was The 'Mats.
And the king of reissues, Elvis Costello, will see his second album This Year's Model, reissued for about the fourth time in early March. It's a 2-disc set featuring the original album, 11 B-sides and outtakes from the TYM era, and a 17-song concert from 1978,
If you don't have the original album, what are you waiting for? It's as great as rock 'n roll gets. Costello's first album, 1977's My Aim Is True, revealed a stunningly talented songwriter, but This Year's Model has it beat (it's the beat) in every way -- the songs, the production and, most importantly, the emergence of an amazing band in The Attractions. Steve Nieve's circus calliope paired with those pounding drums and Elvis's snarling vocals is one of the wonders of the modern world. The outtakes and B-sides have appeared in various configurations over the years (I have most of them on an old vinyl record called Taking Liberties). Still, Costello at this stage of his career was recording more great songs than could fit on his officially released albums, and almost all of these 11 "new" songs are quite wonderful. And the concert recording finds Elvis at the top of his game. Costello was hit-and-miss as a live performer, at least in 1978, and I saw him drunkenly stumble through a horrid forty-five minutes in Columbus (the same night he infamously insulted Ray Charles as "a blind, ignorant nigger"). He's much, much better here, and I'd say this live recording (from Washington D.C.'s Warner Theater) rivals the great live recording at the El Macombo Club from the same era.
I've just discovered this marvel of the modern world -- a website that offers a video archive of full concerts, and allows you to view them from the comfort and privacy of your 24-inch iMac monitor (eat your heart out, laptop users). I ventured over there to watch Joe Henry, who was and is great in concert, but I eventually got suckered in to watching most of the Flogging Molly concert as well. It's great fun to watch young people pummel one another as a band plays fiddles and accordions. Who woulda thunk it?
 Making it, by far, the best-selling album of all time. The nearest contenders -- The Eagles, Pink Floyd, and Celine Dion -- don't even reach Thriller's halfway point in terms of sales.