By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Music DVDs are typically used as stopgaps between CD releases or to drum up support for some other project (movie cameo, tour, impending jail sentence) an artist is promoting. Most amount to little more than music-video compilations, hastily shot concert films or the latest chapters in continuing sagas about horny midgets and one very crowded closet. Here are the best music DVDs of the past couple months—perfect for gift-giving and all little-person-free.
Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who (Universal Studios): This feature-length documentary is not as fun as the Who's 1979 performance-clip extravaganza The Kids Are Alright, but it is more revealing. It's also more poignant, since only singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend are still alive. So there's much reflection. The famously feuding duo is all hugs and kisses in the recent interview sections. You'll want to skip those and head straight to the searing live clips from the '60s and '70s.
Classic Albums: Reasonable Doubt (Eagle Rock): Jay-Z's 1996 debut goes under the microscope for this incisive doc featuring recollections by Mary J. Blige, Kanye West and Hov himself. Everyone goes out of the way to clarify that Reasonable Doubt isn't gangsta rap; rather, it's a slice-of-life portrait ripped straight from Jay's decaying 'hood—a ghetto opera, if you will.
Flight of the Conchords (HBO): This two-disc set features the first season of HBO's hilarious show about a pair of New Zealand musicians who try to make it big in New York. Like main influences Spinal Tap and Tenacious D, the Conchords' musical satire is sharp to the point of are-they-joking-or-not? The dozen episodes follow the duo's quest for gigs and girls. The guitar-strumming stars break out in song whenever they feel the urge, leaving no genre unscathed: indie pop, hip-hop, Kraftwerk-inspired robofunk.
Nirvana: Unplugged in New York (Geffen/MTV Networks/UME): Nirvana's legendary acoustic performance from 1993 (just four months before Kurt Cobain killed himself) still resonates on its DVD debut. Coming off the raw and untethered In Utero album, Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl turned down the volume for an MTV Unplugged taping. Playing covers (David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World"), traditional blues numbers ("Where Did You Sleep Last Night?") and a couple of songs with their heroes the Meat Puppets, Nirvana transcended and perfected the entire "unplugged" concept.
Wild Style (Rhino): The original b-boy flick (from 1982) looks a little wickety-wickety-wack these days, thanks to director Charlie Ahearn's amateur cast. Graffiti artist Lee Quinones pretty much plays himself in this streetwise story about South Bronx kids who spend their days and nights tagging railroad cars, vacant buildings and pretty much everything else that doesn't move. This 25th-anniversary edition includes a documentary starring Fab 5 Freddy and others. But the real stars are the pioneering hip-hoppers—the Cold Crush Brothers, the Rock Steady Crew and Grandmaster Flash.