The Year’s Best Music DVDs: Kurt Cobain, From 20 Years Ago, Or Taylor Swift, Two Days Ago?
Sometimes it seems like it's only the divas putting out music DVDs nowadays. In just one two-week period at the end of November, we had new concert DVDs from Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Adele, Britney Spears, and Beyonce. At the risk of sounding sexist, the takeaway might be that these gals didn't spend all that time in hair, makeup, and the costume change pit not to be seen in close-up.
But the music DVD medium continues to be a boon for anyone with a taste for classic rock, too, whether to you that denotes the late '50s or early '90s. Our 10 essential music DVD buys from 2011:
"Ain't no greased-up men up here," Adele tells her royal audience, describing her homey stage set-up. "The tours are getting bigger and bigger. Maybe I'll order some greased-up men. Just for the dressing room, not for the stage." If a breakup album as potent as 21 led you to imagine Adele as a delicate wallflower, eternally wounded by lost love, this concert disc was the corrective to that. "He left me a couple of weeks after I wrote this song," she tells the audience, introducing "Turning Tables." "It was for the best, though. He was an ass and I was a b----. It wasn't going to work."
Later in the evening, she confides, "I do give as good as I get. I know I play on the victim on the album, but pffft. That poor boy!" Her language gets more Cockney-colorful, so if you want to preserve a certain reserved image of her, you'd best stick with the CDs. But if you're up for an informal dish session in the most formal of settings, her just-us-girls chatter is a delight. As a bonus, the singing's pretty ace, too.
Swift's secondary motto might be "Sell now." She struck while the touring iron was still hot, issuing this audio-video document of her Speak Now trek two days before the U.S. leg wrapped up at Madison Square Garden in November. Its freshness serves it well. All the pageantry that is missing from Adele's disc is on this one in force, but you don't get any less of a sense than you do with Adele that you're seeing the real artist, albeit one who likes to pop up out of trap doors as much as sing about romantic traps.
There's a lot to look at: the costume and set changes that occur every three songs or so; literal fireworks to accompany the emotional fireworks spoken of in "Dear John"; the sight of Swift flying over the audience at the end, singing "Love Story" from Juliet's airborne balcony. (In Swift's version of Shakespeare's tale, Romeo must ingest Dramamine instead of poison.) All the choreography and window dressing augments the core sentiments of Swift's songs, as if she'd written them to be live-action music videos. But she's at her best playing an acoustic guitar or ukelele by herself on the rear stage, mid-set, able to keep an arena rapt without whistles and bells. (You may want to go with the Target-only deluxe version, which includes extras like her acoustic cover of Gwen Stefani's "Sweet Escape.")