The Monterey Pop Festival has been mostly ignored by a lot of people, compared to the two other two large concerts that occurred after it, Woodstock, and Altamont. Those who do remember Monterey always mention the one incident it is most known for, Jimi Hendrix’ appearance on the U.S. stage. Jimi had been tearing it up in England, and he ended by setting his guitar on fire, which turned out to be a defining moment in music history. Criterion brings this event and others back to life in a comprehensive 3 disc set which is designed not only to showcase Jimi’s set during the show, but also breathes new life into the festival in general. Artists who appeared were The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, to name a few.
The festival was shot over 3 days, and the DVD set is broken up into 3 parts: the film of the festival on disc 1, the performances of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding take up disc 2, and almost 2 hours of outtake performances comprise disc 3. Disc 1 is the film of the festival. The usual components of a music concert documentary are here, including footage of crowds and artists flocking to the show, and some behind the scenes logistics, but that footage is quick, and it runs for about 10 minutes before the performances start. The performances are edited together fairly abruptly with almost no fanfare in between songs. The film is only 79 minutes, so I can‘t understand the need to get everything crammed in here as much as possible, but that helps to make the second and third discs a relief to see.
To their credit, the performances are very good. Forgetting about the marquee names for a second, the songs by Masekela, Canned Heat and Burdon are pretty respectable, and not bad at all, and Shankar’s song was both crowd pleasing and at times bewildering to see someone play at such a frenetic pace on a sitar. Put it all together, and a very good festival went off with very little hitches.
Disc 2 features what look to be the complete performances of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding at the festival. Many music aficionados seem to acknowledge that these two artists’ US debuts were the biggest happenings of the show. Redding was chosen to close the 2nd day of the show, at the time perhaps a questionable decision, as the original choice, the Beach Boys, could not attend the show. However in his brief set, he wowed the crowd with his passionate singing, and his mainstream debut was aptly remembered. The set list for Redding is as follows: “Shake!” “Respect,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Satisfaction” and “Try a Little Tenderness.” Sadly, both the set he performed and the life he led were cut short, as he died in plane crash within months of the performance.
The Hendrix portion runs at 49 minutes, and is a bit more in depth. The first song is “Can You See Me?,” which serves as background music for an artist who paints a large painting of Hendrix before our eyes. The second song is “Purple Haze,” which also isn’t live (though it is shown live at the end credits), and instead John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas recalls a brief retrospective of events surrounding Jimi’s invitation to Monterey. He also talks about the impact he had on the London music scene before returning home, and from there it goes into Jimi’s version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for a couple of minutes. Jimi’s Monterey appearance and songs are as follows: “Killing Floor,” Foxy Lady,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Rock Me Baby,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Wild Thing,” complete with the destruction of his guitar at the end. I hadn’t seen this performance in awhile, but after seeing it again, compared to what most of the other acts of doing, it reinforces just how far ahead of everyone Jimi was (and still is to some degree) at that time. Playing with feedback, showmanship, and maybe most importantly, using his guitar as an extension of, well, himself. So much of what is out in rock music today one can still see nods (some more muted than others) to the impact that Hendrix had on the scene. If there were some sort of rock re-education camp, this should be shown to those to want to kick a lot of ass in music.
I tried to stick around on the 5.1 track as long as I could, and don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent track-it’s been remastered and sounds very good. But if you’ve got DTS, you should be using it, there’s no other way around it. The performances sound great, and the crowd sound is much more immersive than on the 5.1 track. The Hendrix and Shankar performances are reasons enough to stick with the DTS version all the way through. It’s like you’re practically there, man! With acts that have a vocal driven performer, the vocals seemed to echo through each speaker, especially Joplin and Redding. I was really impressed with it. Disc 3 is almost exclusively 2.0, though 2 performances are in 5.1. They are difficult to find at first, and can’t be changed on the fly as much as I was trying to. The 2.0 sounds OK, with a small amount of hiss that one would expect from something like this.
All discs are in 1.33:1 full frame, but before you cringe after reading that, keep in mind that this was recorded over a soggy June weekend in 1967. While you do see some artifacts in the film, even some hair in the gate, I’d love to see how it looked beforehand. It’s been cleaned up very well and deserves much praise. There were a couple of minor issues that I feel compelled to bring up. On the Simon and Garfunkel song on disc 1, the lighting gives them a strange red lobster boy glow during their song. On disc 3, the outtake disc, there looked to be an almost halo like effect around Art Garfunkel’s head during “Sounds of Silence” which looked more than a little creepy to me.
Those familiar with Criterion titles would expect this set to be loaded with extras. It does not disappoint. As mentioned earlier, this comes in a 3 disc set which comes in a slim cardboard case (similar in appearance to the Godfather). The spine is designed very creatively to incorporate the names of the acts on it, and looks pretty nice. Before getting into the discs, the first thing you get is a 61-page booklet that discusses the festival from various points of view. The front is a recreation of the drawing made by the Beatles, who, judging by the cover of the booklet, look to be smack in the middle of the Sgt. Pepper era. The inside back cover includes reduced copies of telegrams confirming or declining the invitation to the show from groups such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead to Lou Rawls and Dionne Warwick?!?!? (OK, I did read that right, my fault) Aside from the director’s introduction, there are articles of the era reproduced here, including one from Jann Wenner and his then new magazine entitled Rolling Stone. A very good bonus for the discs.
Disc 1 includes the most extras. Starting out small, there is a list of artists who donated their pay to charity (the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation), and this includes everyone except Shankar, who agreed to attend the show before it changed organizers, and whom all agreed should still be paid for his appearance. There is information about the remastering effort put into this set, along with a biography of Eddie Kramer, the soundman responsible for the effort itself. There are also 5 radio promos included featuring various artists. There is a reproduction of the concert program, as well as a nice option to highlight and read any text that may have appeared in the program. Photographer Elaine Mayes, who took photographs of the festival for a magazine, speaks for about 12 minutes on the photos, how some shots were taken, and equipment/film choices, and about 150 photos are included. Working into some of the heavy load here, there are various radio interviews from Phillips, Mama Cass Elliott, David Crosby and Derek Taylor, the publicist for the festival. These interviews don’t have any indicated date on them, and the only mention of a date anywhere comes from Phillips, who talks of daughter Chynna just completing Caddyshack 2, so figure around 1988 for that one. Since Cass’ was done before her death in 1974, you’ve got all the guesswork you’ll get from me on the rest of these. Unless you need something to kill time, you’re probably better staying away from these.
Wrapping up disc 1 is a 30-minute interview by the filmmaker, D.A. Pennebaker, and Lou Adler, who produced the festival. It’s not really an interview, more a conversation between the two who have known each other for quite awhile, and this friendship continues over to the commentary, which was recorded for disc 1. They discuss how the project came together and how glad they were to add the material that they have for the DVD release. There also was the customary discussion of how some shots were taken also. But what struck me about this commentary were some of the anecdotes involved with it. Two that come to mind are when Joplin has finished performing (and killed the audience with a great set), there is a crowd shot which pans out, unknowingly to reveal Clive Davis, current head of Arista records, who also signed Joplin to a record deal shortly after this performance. The other is the stories and thanks both men get, even 35 years after the concert. Adler even got out of a parking ticket in court because the judge went to the festival and thanked him for putting on the concert. A nice commentary worth listening to for some music trivia.
For the Hendrix/Redding disc 2 of the set, Criterion decided to devote separate attention to this also. The Hendrix portion includes a couple of goodies. There is a portion of a 1987 interview from Pete Townsend that covers his memories of trying to discuss with Jimi who was going to follow who during the show. Pete tends to run on a bit from what I’ve read and seen in past interviews, and discusses something for 4+ minutes that only needed a minute or two. There is also a trailer of these performances that runs 3:36, which seems to be more of a retrospective than anything. The commentary is from a British critic/historian (who wrote a Hendrix book) named Charles Shaar Murray. Murray’s commentary is pretty lively on a wide variety of topics, from Hendrix’ wardrobe to guitar effects he would use and solos that he’d play. He mentions a story of a record label representative who passed on signing Hendrix. This same man also passed on signing the Beatles to a deal, but made up for that decision by signing the Rolling Stones. Some portions covered not only the impact his performance had on other musicians at the show, but in some artists’ subsequent albums. There are also a series of audio excerpts not on the commentary, but can be accessed separately, and run about as long as the commentary track does. They also talk about Hendrix’ history, success and impacts on the London scene and on more specific technical information about his guitars and amps. Both are definitely worth checking out if you’re not a fan of Hendrix or a passionate fan of music.
The Otis Redding portion seemed to have a bit more meat to it, perhaps because it was only ran for just under 20 minutes, and maybe there was a need to overcompensate. There are 2 types of commentaries here, and both from Peter Guralnick, a noted rock historian who not only has written several noted books about Elvis and Robert Johnson, but also wrote a book called Sweet Soul Music. That book covered not only Otis Redding, but the Stax recording label, whose sound of rhythm and blues combined with horns provided support to artists like Redding, Sam and Dave, and Booker T and the MG’s, who played as Redding’s backup group for Monterey. Guralnick’s commentaries are on two different areas, Redding’s song-by-song performance, and a running commentary discussing his career. The song-by-song commentary discusses how Redding performed, in terms of movement and crowd reaction. It also discussed how he would do covers of other artists’ songs, as well as how artists would cover songs he had written, such as “Respect”.
The second commentary discussed his influences, songwriting style, how he came to record under the Stax label, and some biographical information on the band he played with at Monterey. The extras on the Otis side conclude with interview with his manager Phil Walden. Walden talks about his initial interest in music, how he met Redding, how the subject of Monterey came up (then Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham recommended Otis for the show), and what Otis did post-Monterey, leading up to his death. Both the commentaries and interview were done recently, and both are pretty informative and worth a listen.
Disc 3 comprises performances that did not make the final cut of the film. Due to the overall length (or lack thereof) of the film, considering the list, one has to wonder why more wasn’t included in the original cut. You have the option of watching each performance by group, but you can also watch them chronologically, and all performances are 2.0 English. Tiny Tim is also included with songs he played in the festival green room also. I gotta admit, there were some performances here that I wasn’t fond of. And I swear, one of the guys in one of the early bands looked like my drunk uncle. Some musical experimentation is good, but rigid white boys playing horns in a rock/jazz fusion band just wasn’t something I could stand prolonged exposure to. Just as Hendrix and Redding should be shown to anyone who wants to kick ass in music, bands such as Quicksilver Messenger service should be shown and played to anyone who doesn’t get it right.
Criterion has released this concert as an outstanding 3-disc set, the most exhaustive for a music film. While the price may be a bit of a roadblock to buying, it’s worth a rental at least, and a must-have for any serious music fan’s video collection. When all else fails, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding on DTS is worth shelling out the cash.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Festival producer Lou Adler and D.A. Pennebaker
- Audio interviews with Festival producer John Phillips, Festival publicist Derek Taylor, and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby
- Photo essay by photographer Elaine Mayes
- “Jimi Plays Monterey” and “Shake! Otis at Monterey” New high-definition digital transfers, supervised by D.A. Pennebaker
- Audio commentary on Jimi Plays Monterey by music critic and historian Charles Shaar Murray
- Two audio commentaries on Shake! by music critic and historian Peter Guralnick: the first on Otis Redding’s Monterey performance, song by song; the second on Redding before and after Monterey
- Interview with Phil Walden, Otis Redding’s manager from 1959 to 1967
- Original theatrical trailer for Jimi Plays Monterey
- Video excerpt: Pete Townshend on Monterey and Jimi Hendrix
- “Monterey Pop — The Outtake Performance” Two hours of performances not included in the original film
- Original theatrical trailer
- Monterey Pop scrapbook