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THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Performers:  Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who, The Mamas and Papas, The Association, Simon and Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Animals, Ravi Shankar, et al
Director:  D. A. Pennebaker
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  270 Minutes (complete)
Release Date:  September 22, 2009

“Wild thing, I think you move me…”

Films ****

The Monterey Pop Festival is alive and well.  In its day, it was the first rock festival of its kind, then it became the first live concert movie in Monterey Pop.  Now, more than 40 years later, it has become an all time high for concert films on Blu-ray.

Criterion’s The Complete Monterey Pop Festival proves, if nothing else, that the only studio capable of unseating Criterion is Criterion.  Ever since the release of this set on DVD, I've often proclaimed it the best overall discs on the market.  The only thing possibly capable of impressing me more?  Well...a Blu-ray release, which I've been looking forward to for a long time now.  In fact, Criterion's initial announcement that they would be getting into the Blu-ray market, with their promise that this would be one of the first titles available, was enough to push me over the edge and invest in a whole new home theatre system.  I can now officially say...it was worth every penny.

Although we always organize our reviews to discuss one aspect of a disc at a time, it’s almost impossible to separate the factions for this release.  You’re going to see some overlap; bear with us, it’ll be worth it.

For starters, you get all three of director D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop films, starting with the legendary Monterey Pop on one disc and rounding out with a second disc of his two special releases from 1986, Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake!  Otis at Monterey.  And if that isn’t enough to set your musical spirit on fire, the first disc also includes over TWO HOURS of outtake performances NOT included in the films!

And the music…oh, what music!  Some of the biggest artists of the 60s gathered for this festival, bringing their best chops with them.  The Monterey Pop film’s only real drawback is that it only showcases one song per artist (but as mentioned, that’s easily remedied by the other inclusions in this set!).  But start with the first movie, and you’ll thrill to The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin’”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song”, Otis Redding’s “Shake”, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Ball and Chain”, and much more, including two of rock’s most explosive (and destructive) performances:  The Who wreaking havoc with “My Generation”, and the inimitable Jimi Hendrix literally setting his guitar on fire while churning out a heavy-crunch version of “Wild Thing”.

Jimi’s performance will leave you wanting more, and with this set, you get it.  Jimi Plays Monterey gives you the guitar legend’s full 49 minute set that ended with “Wild Thing”, but included many of his best songs and covers alike:  “Purple Haze”, “Foxy Lady”, “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” mix beautifully with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, and much more.  Listening to Hendrix is enough to cement his legend as a musician, but watching him live makes it iron-clad.

If you prefer a little less rock and a little more soul, this disc also includes Shake!  Otis at Monterey.  Otis Redding adds to “Shake” with other R & B classics, like “Respect”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Satisfaction” and the stirring “Try a Little Tenderness”.  Otis and Jimi are both showstoppers, and Pennebaker was right in determining they each earned their own spotlight film!

As mentioned, for a bonus, there is over two hours of performances not included in the movie releases…we’ll discuss those further down.  Put it all together, and you have hours and hours of fantastic live music…great bands doing what they do best, preserved on film for all time and with glorious video and audio presentations (again, more on that further down).

This collection is the definitive answer to the generation who asks us with a straight face, “What’s the matter with N SYNC?”  Yeah, just TRY and put one of your manufactured pretty-boy bands up on stage with the monsters of Monterey.  I give them two minutes before the true giants of rock and roll have them cowering with ears covered and crying out for mercy.  This is as good as it gets.

Video ****

What was already impressive enough becomes something even more, thanks to the magic of high definition and Blu-ray.  Every light, every color, every dreamy rock and roll moment looks pristine and gorgeous from start to finish.  The print has been cleaned up remarkably, and tone, detail and definition have been brought out in ways never before seen.  Contrast levels are strong without being grainy, and each shade accents the other without bleeding or loss of definition.  Yes, the films are old, and some aging evidence is unavoidable, but I'm betting you'll be quite surprised and blown away by the sheer beauty of this presentation.

Audio ****

With a newly remastered DTS HD soundtrack, you can really immerse yourself in the experience of Monterey like never before.  You can also choose uncompressed stereo, but for me, the sheer power of the DTS offering is the way to go.  The booming bass, the fully opened spatial quality, and the use of both front and rear channels make this disc sound more like a true live concert than any offering I've yet encountered, and it's something no music fan should be denied. 

Features ****

The features are plentiful…I believe we mentioned outtake performances?  And not just one or two here, a handful there…we’re talking over TWO HOURS of great bands making great music that sorrowfully ended up on the cutting room floor.  How good do you think the three Monterey film release are, when you consider that tunes that DIDN’T make the cut include The Who doing “Substitute” and “A Quick One”, The Mamas and Papas doing “Monday, Monday” and “I Call Your Name”, Buffalo Springfield playing “For What it’s Worth”, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” and “Sounds of Silence”, and more?  That’s practically a CD’s worth of 60s greatest hits…and those were the songs that were left out!  The only drawback, which is minor, is that these performances didn’t get the benefit of a 5.1 remix, but the standard stereo offerings are still plenty good.

The set also includes commentaries galore.  You can watch Monterey Pop while listening to director D. A. Pennebaker and festival producer and music business giant Lou Adler, or you can listen to music critic Charles Shaar Murray discussing Jimi Plays Monterey, or another music critic, Peter Guralnick, talking about Otis at Monterey.  Good commentaries all, but the drawback is actually having to switch over to them from the music…very hard to do!

There are also video interviews with Adler and Pennebaker, and with Phil Walden (Otis Redding’s manager), plus audio interviews with Papa John Phillips, publicist Derek Taylor, and performers Cass Elliot and David Crosby.  Rounding out are trailers, radio spots, a photo essay, and an incredible (and thick) scrapbook filled with essays, pictures, and band and production credits.  Put together all of these features with the program content, and you’ll be rocking and rolling for days on end.

Summary:

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival was a disc I referred to as a bold, imaginative and inspiring use of the medium.  But believe me...you only think you've seen and heard it all.  This amazing Blu-ray experience, with its glorious high definition transfer and powerful new DTS HD remix is about as close as you will ever come to experiencing a classic rock event in your own living room and feeling like you were actually there.  Hands down, one of the year's most impressive releases.

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