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Sunday, December 5, 2010

DVD Review: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 - Glenn McDonald

Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 begins with a montage of summer cityscape scenes from Chicago. "It's gonna be a hot afternoon," says the man on the radio as the camera pans beneath L-train platforms, past shirtless kids playing basketball and over the burning asphalt streets of the city.

It's a fitting visual tribute for what comes next, as Clapton and his lineup of guitar luminaries deliver 40 tracks worth of fiery electric blues with a historical through-line straight back to the Chicago guitar greats — guys like Muddy Waters, Freddie King and Buddy Guy.

Indeed, after a short intro, Chi-town celebrity ambassador and master of ceremonies Bill Murray shuffles to the microphone at Chicago's Toyota Park. In front of 27,000 cheering fans lucky enough to have attended summer 2010's hottest ticket, he introduces "Chicago's own Eric Clapton."

So begins the third iteration of Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, a benefit concert and gathering-of-the-tribes first held in 2004, and again in 2007. Among the marquee attractions at this year's festival — performances by Clapton, ZZ Top, Steve Winwood, BB King, John Mayer, Jeff Beck, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, James Burton, Robert Cray, Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood and Keb Mo.
As with previous events, the 2010 features a heavenly bill of guitarists and musicians, each invited by Clapton to represent the worldwide brotherhood of the six string. Proceeds from the concerts benefit the Crossroads Centre, the drug treatment center in Antigua founded by Clapton.

Originally released in a two-hour theatrical cut, the 2010 Crossroads hits U.S. shelves today from Rhino Entertainment in a two-disc, four-hour set - in both DVD and Blu-ray. This is much more than a simple concert video. (Although it's that too - and a remarkably good one.) Peppered with short but intriguing backstage interviews, Crossroads comes across as a musical masterclass on the mythology of electric blues guitar.

There's a lot of meaty stuff in these interstitial passages, whether you're a hardcore guitar historian or just a casual fan of popular culture and how it is transmitted through the generations.

One sequence has several younger musicians — among them John Mayer and Doyle Bramhall II — reflecting on how they learned the music from the previous generation, who in turn had picked up from the one before that. Everyone is constantly name-dropping the original blues pioneers, but what's interesting here is how these musicians talk about the handing-down process — how the game keeps changing with each new generation.
A At one point, Mayer reflects on how it was necessary for him to learn the blues guitar from a relative contemporary like Stevie Ray Vaughan. "I don't think I could have been 14 or 15 years old, and listening to Freddie King, and really understanding what it was."

Other segments explore the history of the slide guitar, country music and Texas blues.

It's almost beside the point to comment on the quality of the music itself in a collection like this. Check the track listing below to get a sense of what you're in for. These are some of the top musicians in the world, set loose on some of the greatest guitar-centric songs ever written. What do you think is going to happen?

More relevant, really, are the technical specs and the overall artistic direction. I previewed the DVD version of the two-disc set and was suitably impressed at the top-notch audio and video specs. Audio is available in stereo or surround, and it's really a small miracle what sound professionals can do these days capturing the full range of sounds of a ginormous live performance like this.

Images are crisp and bright throughout, even as the afternoon progresses, gathering clouds dim the Chicago stage, and night gradually falls. Veteran director Martyn Atkins doesn't stray far from established concert doc tropes — crowd shot, band shot, closeup shot, crane shot.

But it's all expertly assembled, and Atkins catches a lot of beautiful details — the sky-blue sheen of Clapton's vintage Fender, the ecstatic dancers in the crowd, the celestial gorgeousness that is Sheryl Crow's smile.

There are also many welcome moments of humor among all the rock earnestness. Particularly funny are the bits of Murray goofing around with the musicians backstage, and then coming onstage dressed as Buddy Holly or Jimi Hendrix. Or introducing ZZ Top as "three guys from Texas who look like Hasidic bankers." ("They never bought into the goatee crap," Murray observes later.)

Overall, Crossroads delivers the musical goods along with a vibe of genuine enthusiasm and joy in performing among all the participants. Both onstage and backstage, the various musicians seem to be having the time of their lives, and their happiness is contagious.

"We get a lot of gigs, and when Eric calls for Crossroads — man, this is the one I get excited about," Crow tells the crowd at one point. "I'm not kidding."

Finally, note that both the DVD and Blu-ray sets have been bundled in various retail packages with additional extras — for instance, with Best Buy you get an exclusive bonus disc with six additional tracks. So maybe research around a bit online before making your purchase.

DVD Track Listing:

-Bill Murray Introduction with Eric Clapton
01. Sonny Landreth with Eric Clapton - Promise Land
02. Sonny Landreth - Z Rider

03. Robert Randolph and the Family Band - Traveling Shoes
04. Joe Bonamassa & Pino Daniele with Robert Randolph - Going Down
-Bill Murray introduces Robert Cray
05. Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughn & Hubert Sumlin - Killing Floor
06. Jimmie Vaughn, Robert Cray & Hubert Sumlin - Six Stings Down

-Bill Murray introduces ZZ Top
07. ZZ Top - Waiting For the Bus
08. ZZ Top - Jesus Just Left Chicago
09. Doyle Bramhall II - Gypsy Blood
10. Doyle Bramhall II - In My Time Of Dying
11. Gary Clark Jr - Bright Lights
12. Sheryl Crow with Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Doyle Bramhall II & Gary Clark Jr - Long Road Home
13. Sheryl Crow with Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II & Gary Clark Jr - Our Love Is Fading
14. Bert Jansch - Blackwaterside
15. Stefan Grossman with Keb Mo - Mississippi Blues
16. Stefan Grossman with Keb Mo - Roll 'N' Tumble

-Bill Murray introduces Vince Gill
17. Vince Gill, Keb Mo, James Burton, Earl Klugh, Albert Lee - One More Last Chance
18. Vince Gill, James Burton, Albert Lee, Keb Mo, Earl Klugh - Mystery Train
19. Vince Gill, Keb Mo, Albert Lee, James Burton, Earl Klugh & Sheryl Crow - Lay Down Sally
20. Earl Klugh - Angelina
21. Earl Klugh - Vonetta
-Bill Murray introduces John Mayer
22. John Mayer Trio - Who Did You Think I Was
23. John Mayer Trio - Ain't No Sunshine

-Bill Murray introduces Derek Trucks
01. Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band - Midnight In Harlem
02. Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band featuring Warren Haynes - Comin' Home
03. Warren Haynes - Soulshine
04. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas featuring Derek Trucks - Don't Keep Me Wondering
05. Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band featuring Warren Haynes, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, Chris Stainton - Space Captain
-Bill Murray introduces Buddy, Jonny & Ronnie
06. Buddy Guy with Jonny Lang & Ronnie Wood - Five Long Years
07. Buddy Guy with Jonny Lang & Ronnie Wood - Miss You
-Bill Murray introduces Jeff Beck
08. Jeff Beck - Hammerhead
09. Jeff Beck - Nessun Dorma
-Bill Murray introduces Eric Clapton
10. Eric Clapton - Crossroads
11. Citizen Cope & Eric Clapton - Hands of the Saints
12. Eric Clapton - I Shot The Sheriff
13. Eric Clapton & Jeff Beck - Shake Your Money Maker
14. Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - Had To Cry
15. Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - Voodoo Chile
16. Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - Dear Mr. Fantasy
-Bill Murray introduces BB King
17. Finale: Eric Clapton, BB King, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughn, Joe Bonamassa, and others - The Thrill Is Gone

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