Last Waltz1. The Last Waltz

The Band’s elegant swansong is the ultimate rock concert movie. Director Martin Scorcese’s discreet camerawork and superb sound captures inspired performances from Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and others. Scorcese keeps his focus almost exclusively on the stage. Beneath three massive chandeliers, the Band pays tribute to its influences with such friends as Muddy Water (an explosive “Mannish Boy”), Neil Young (a wistful “Helpless”) and Bob Dylan (a stirring group finale on “I Shall Be Released”). But the highlight is “The Weight,” performed with gospel’s Staples family, which ranks among the most exquisite music sequences ever committed to film.

 


Hard Days Night2. A Hard Day’s Night

Anyone wondering what constituted Beatlemania need only view this giddy, utterly charming feature film. Drawing from French New Wave and British Goon Show humor, director Richard Lester turns a day in the life of the Fab Four (mobbed by screaming fans, rehearsing for a TV show) into surreal and infectious fun (trick shots of them cavorting in a field, set to “Can’t Buy Me Love,” became the template for music videos). The droll Liverpudlian banter is rampant, Ringo gets arrested and the film culminates in the rare instance of a Beatles concert where the music could actually be heard (overdubbed as it was). Unrivalled magic.

 

 

Stop Making Sense3. Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads were always new wave’s most artful group and this remains the most stylish of all concert movies. Directed by Jonathan Demme and conceived by Head lead singer David Byrne, it’s as carefully constructed as origami. Byrne opens with his creepy “Psycho Killer,” before he’s joined, one-by-one, by bandmates and an ever-evolving stage set (riser-pushing stage hands were modeled on Japanese theatre). The effect, highlighted by stark lighting and sharp sound, is hypnotic. By the time the full ensemble kicks into its irresistibly funky groove and Byrne’s big suit (also Japanese inspired) makes its debut, even non-fans will have fallen under the spell.

 

 

Woodstock4. Woodstock

Three days, man. Half a million strong. Watch out for the brown acid. The hippie festival, held on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York, was a pivotal event in both rock-and-roll and cultural history. But it would never have become synonymous with peace, love and music were it not for this fine, highly watchable, Oscar-winning documentary. Now-legendary performances by Sly & the Family Stone (a rousing “I Want to Take You Higher”) and Jimi Hendrix (his incendiary “Star- Spangled Banner”) mix in split-screen glory with fabulous footage of blissed-out stoners and carefree skinny-dippers. Everywhere there was song and celebration.

 

 

Gimme Shelter5. Gimme Shelter

The end of innocence. The Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert serves as the dark counterpoint to Woodstock, as the Maysles’ brothers’ cameras catch the mayhem and murder inflicted by Hell’s Angels on an unsuspecting crowd. Violence first erupts, ironically, during “Sympathy for the Devil,” spoiling an otherwise prime Stones performance. “Why are we fighting?” Mick Jagger asks feebly. “People, please be cool.” A sense of dread overshadows the rest of the concert. After finishing with an edgy “Street Fighting Man,” the Stones, ashen-faced, flee in a helicopter. A sober, somber Jagger then watches the damning footage in the editing suite. Harrowing yet riveting.

 

 

Dont Look Back6. Don’t Look Back

Director D.A. Pennebaker’s groundbreaking documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 British concert tour is a revealing early portrait of the artist as a work in progress. It’s also one of the first examples of American cinéma vérité. With his hand-held camera, Pennebaker follows Dylan as he performs onstage, deals with fan hysteria, toys with reporters at press conferences and bemusedly charts his own media coverage. But some of the most fascinating footage is of Dylan backstage, kibitzing with Animals’ keyboardist Alan Price, meeting Donovan (his British counterpart) and typing while his lover Joan Baez serenades him with one of his own songs.

 

 

Monterey7. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival

Although Woodstock is heralded as the quintessential hippie festival, Monterey actually came first. Staged in the fabled Summer of Love, its awesome lineup, arranged by Papa John Phillips, launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. And it’s the footage of those artists especially that makes director D.A. Pennebaker’s account indispensable. Hendrix sets his guitar alight during a sexually charged “Wild Thing,” Redding wows the crowd with “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and Joplin leaves even Mama Cass, no slouch in the vocal department, slack-jawed with her wrenching “Ball and Chain.”

 

 

Spinal Tap8. This is Spinal Tap

The ultimate rock parody. With cucumbers down their pants and amplifiers that go “up to 11,” Spinal Tap savages every preening, mindless rock star who ever set foot on stage. This “mockumentary,” starring Christopher Guest as guitarist Nigel Tufnel, Michael McKeen as singer David St. Hubbins and Harry Shearer as bassist Derek Smalls, has it all, from songs like “Lick My Love Pump” to extravagant stage shows gone awry (a Stonehenge set just 18 inches tall). One highlight has Tap trying haplessly to harmonize on “Heartbreak Hotel” at Elvis’ gravesite, while the best line belongs to Nigel Tufnel: “It’s a thin line between clever and stupid.”

 

 

Beatles Anthology9. The Beatles Anthology

This five-DVD box documentary set represents the motherlode for anyone whose life has been lived through Beatles’ songs—or anyone wanting a full portrait of the world’s greatest pop group. It’s all here: interviews with all the principals, audio and visual material from performances in Hamburg and the Cavern through to Ed Sullivan and Japanese TV right up to the final rooftop concert. Revelations include seeing the band having to do their own roadie work (moving Ringo’s drum riser) at the Washington Coliseum in 1964 and hamming it up with British comics Morecambe and Wise. Bonus additions include the highly inventive “Free as a Bird” video. A completist’s dream.

 

 

Harder They Come10. The Harder They Come           

More than 30 years on, writer-director Perry Henzell’s low-budget Jamaican feature, about a struggling musician turned outlaw hero, remains a monumental achievement. Shot with gritty realism in the shantytown squalor of Kingston’s slums, the film still captivates with Jimmy Cliff’s mesmerizing performance as rude boy Ivan and its brutal portrayal of the island’s corrupt music business. The movie introduced Rastafarians as iconic cultural figures, while its brilliant soundtrack, featuring Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals and others, broke reggae music worldwide and paved the way for Bob Marley’s breakthrough album a year later.

 

 

High Fidelity11. High Fidelity

Top Five Things about Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s comic novel: 1) John Cusack’s winning portrayal of Rob Gordon, a romantically troubled music geek and owner of Championship Vinyl record store; 2) Jack Black’s star turn as Barry, his maniacal employee who berates customers with bad taste and delivers a movie-stealing scene singing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” with his band Sonic Death Monkey; 3) Tim Robbins’ inspired performance as Ian, a slimy new-age dude who steals Rob’s girl; 4) Bruce Springsteen’s cool cameo as Rob’s consultant fantasy come true; 5) a sweet retro soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and the Velvet Underground.

 

 

Festival Express12. Festival Express

Assembled from lost performances of the Band, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and others nearly 35 years after they were filmed, this documentary is brilliant rock archeology. Tracing Canada’s rock festival on wheels, a chartered train fuelled by drugs and alcohol, it unearths stunning performances in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary (including a chilling version of “Cry Baby” by Joplin just three months before her death) and angry protests by leftist wackos who castigated the event as a huge “rip off.” Some of the best moments are the between-concert jams on the train. Bonus material features 10 extra performances, including Mashmakhan’s zany hit “As the Years Go By.”

 

 

Almost Famous13. Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe’s movie, about his days as a teenage writer for Rolling Stone magazine, is a charming coming-of-age story driven by a 1970s classic-rock soundtrack. It features Patrick Fugit as the Crowe-like William Miller, Frances McDormand as the boy’s overbearing mother and Kate Hudson, who lights up the screen as groupie Penny Lane. The band Stillwater, a composite of Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers, is highly believable and Philip Seymour Hoffman is memorable as gonzo rock journalist Lester Bangs. Most memorable scene: tour-bus singalong to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Worthwhile extras include a sampling of Crowe’s original Rolling Stone articles.

 

 

History of R&R14. The History of Rock ’n’ Roll

This five-DVD box set is a must-see for any serious fan or student of rock music. A treasure-trove of contemporary interviews and archival footage, it spans the music’s birth in the 1950s (gorgeous color clips of Fats Domino and Little Richard), its rise in the ’60s (rare footage of a Bob Dylan and John Lennon backseat chat), its fragmenting in the ’70s (Pete Townshend confessing he never liking Led Zeppelin “because they became so much bigger than the Who” and Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten sneering about sellouts), its video fixation in the ’80s (David Bowie’s explaining the dominance of image) up to Lollapalooza and the death of Kurt Cobain in the ’90s. A mammoth 10-hour journey.

 

 

Buena Vista15. Buena Vista Social Club

Director Wim Wenders’ affectionate documentary about guitarist Ry Cooder’s homage to the nearly forgotten legends of Cuban music succeeds so well because it keeps the spotlight on the aging soneros and away from politics. Details about the musicians’ lives emerge through subtitled interviews and shot against Havana’s tattered beauty and old-world charm. But the best moments come through performances of singer Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén Gonźales and tres player Compay Segundo on achingly beautiful songs like “Chan Chan” and “Dos Gardenias.” When the group finally triumphs at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the movie hits an unforgettable emotional climax.

 

 

Commitments16. The Commitments

With unknown actors and musicians and drawn from a casting call of 3,000 auditions, director Alan Parker’s adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel about an Irish r&b band boasts natural performances, gusty humor and sweet soul music. Led by energetic manager Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) and gravelly singer Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong), the Motown-loving group transcends its drab, working-class world to become local heroes billed as the “Saviours of Soul.” Best songs are “Dark End of the Street” and “Try a Little Tenderness.” Extras include an extensive interview with Parker and an audio-only feature with original songs by the cast members.

 

 

Round Midnight17. ’Round Midnight

The best jazz movie ever made, this Bertrand Tavernier-directed feature was inspired by legendary horn players Bud Powell and Lester Young. It stars real-life jazzman Dexter Gordon, who earned an Oscar nomination for his note-perfect performance as Dale Turner, an American sax great down on his luck in Paris, and François Cluzet as the French fan who helps his hero regain his touch. Tavernier paces the movie much like Herbie Hancock’s stellar jazz score, which won an Oscar, and does justice to the music’s joys and sorrows with his elegant direction. Authenticity rules the day, as Hancock appears along with Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson and others in the Bluenote band.

 

 

Graceland18. Graceland: The African Concert           

Recorded live in Zimbabwe in 1987, this concert movie captures Paul Simon’s fusion of Western and South African music that resulted in his groundbreaking 1986 Graceland album. Shot under startling bright African skies in Harare, before a racially mixed audience of 45,000, it’s a joyous affair, showcasing the heavenly choir work of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the regal sight of singer Miriam Makeba and the revolutionary stance of trumpeter Hugh Masekela. “Nkosi Sikeleil’ iAfrika” is deeply moving. Sung by the entire cast before the end of apartheid, it’s a reminder that it was a powerful song of resistance before it became South Africa’s mellifluous national anthem.

 

 

Led Zeppelin19. Led Zeppelin

Before this excellent two-DVD set emerged, the only official concert movie of Zeppelin was The Song Remains the Same, whose fabulous performance footage was marred by the inclusion of laughable Lord of the Rings fantasy sequences (Robert Plant as a sword-wielding Aragorn wanna-be). Here, the Madison Square Garden material is paired with footage from the Royal Albert Hall, Earls Court and Knebworth concerts. Compiled under Jimmy Page’s supervision, it features everything from “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” to “Kashmir” and “Stairway to Heaven” and reveals the band in all its Hammer-of-the-Gods glory.

 

 

Elvis Comeback20. Elvis: ’68 Comeback Special

Of the many Presley concerts now available, this three-DVD set stands out as the best for its intimate portrayal of the King reclaiming his crown. The set contains four concerts with Elvis performing in a snug black leather suit before a rapt TV studio audience. Unimaginatively called the “Black Leather Sit-Down Shows” and the “Black Leather Stand-up Shows,” the concerts bristle as Elvis works his sexual magic. The “Sit Down Shows” are superior if only because they feature Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, Presley’s original guitarist and drummer. Extras include outtakes (for completists only) and an essay by respected Elvis historian Greil Marcus.

 

 

Diana Krall21. Diana Krall: Live in Paris

Filmed at the Paris Olympia in 2001, Canada’s jazz diva shines in this exquisitely shot concert movie, backed by her five-piece band, the Orchestra Symphonique Europeen and the Paris Jazz Big Band. Krall’s interpretative abilities are evident from the opening blues “I Love Being Here with You” to her deft handling of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” In between, she dusts off vintage numbers like George Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” and Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and delivers fresh, vital versions. Ultimately, the movie benefits from superb sound and camera work that keeps the viewer onstage, up close and personal, with Krall and her musicians.

 

 

Jailhouse Rock22. Jailhouse Rock

“Warden threw a party in the county jail….” Elvis’ third movie is also his best. Released in 1957, during the height of his pre-army fame, the film depicts Presley as Vince Everett, a violent, rebel-without-a-cause convict who learns to play guitar from a fellow inmate and becomes a recording star when he gets out. Shot in black-and-white, the movie showcases Elvis’ dark, smoldering good locks, his vocal prowess and leg-twitching moves on songs such as “Treat Me Nice,” “Baby, I Don’t Care” and riotous title track, performed with the Jailbirds in a cool, choreographed scene. His convincing performance finally gained him credibility as an actor. Prime Presley.

 

 

Saturday Night Live23. Saturday Night Live: 25 Years of Music

The Lorne Michaels-produced show has long been an oasis of exceptional late-night television. This five-DVD set compiles some of the show’s best musical performances and music-themed comedy sketches. Highlights include Elvis Costello’s reckless “Radio Radio,” Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo as Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra performing “Ebony and Ivory,” Neil Young’s anthemic “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a “Wayne’s World” sketch featuring Aerosmith and a lean, mean Bruce Springsteen delivering a fierce “Living Proof.” But the most powerful moment is Sinead O’Connor’s riveting performance of Bob Marley’s “War,” just before her infamous anti-Pope gesture.

 

 

Soul to Soul24. Soul to Soul

Like Wattstax, also made at the height of the black pride movement, this documentary features some of the best soul, funk and gospel music ever captured on film. Culled from a 13-hour concert held in Ghana, West Africa in 1971, it includes Wilson Pickett, Santana and the Staple Singers playing to enthusiastic crowds largely unfamiliar with live American acts. The most electrifying performance comes from Ike and Tina Turner on “River Deep Mountain High,” as Tina’s sexually provocative revue with the Ikettes causes a near-riot among Ghanaian men. Bonus footage features scenes of the U.S. artists touring local villages and taking part in displays of traditional African culture.

 

 

The Who25. The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight

The Who ranks among rock’s loudest bands (thus Pete Townshend’s tinnitus). But in 1969, the band mastered a creative stretch with the release of the ambitious and more sonically varied rock opera Tommy. This 1970 concert, arguably the band’s best, combines both raw, ear-splitting classics like “My Generation” and “Magic Bus” and gentler Tommy hits like “Pinball Wizard” and “The Acid Queen.” The visual and audio quality is immaculate, with the film converted to High Definition and the recordings remixed in Digital Home Theatre sound. Extras include a 40-minute interview with Townshend, now the band’s eminence grise.

 


Inside Entertainment September 2004

Live AidIn rock history, July 13, 1985 will be forever known as “the day that music changed the world.” On that day, Live Aid broadcast 16-hour, all-star packed concerts from two continents to an audience of 1.5 billion—raising more than $140 million for African famine relief in the process. This, at the height of the so-called “Me Decade,” was no small feat. The money went directly to Ethiopia, providing food and saving the lives of thousands who would have otherwise starved to death in refugee camps. Besides the massive humanitarian gesture, Live Aid remains memorable for some truly transcendent musical performances, including a young U2’s emotionally-charged rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Patti Labelle’s deep-soul cover of “Imagine.”

Organizer Bob Geldof, fondly remembered for imploring “Give us your fookin’ money,” had promised the artists and their lawyers that Live Aid would only ever be a one-time concert event. But bootleg versions of the broadcast forced Sir Bob to change his tune. The Official Live Aid DVD, a lavish four-disc set, is now available to document what was called “the Greatest Show on Earth.” The set offers a bonanza of performances—93 in total—and such significant extras as the Band Aid and USA for Africa videos of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World,” as well as the original BBC news report on the famine crisis that first shocked Geldof into action. But the real bonus is that proceeds from the sales once again provide African hunger relief.

Live Aid DVDGeldof was admirably pragmatic in choosing superstars over more adventurous artists. “The purpose of Live Aid is to raise money,” he said bluntly at the time. “If a band sells a million records, it means more people will watch than if they sell a thousand. If more people contribute, more people live. If I have a choice between Steel Pulse or Wham! on this show, I’ll take Wham!” Consequently, the DVD set features a number of big-hair bands who were ’80s chart toppers but have since been relegated to the “Where Are They Now?” files, such as Spandau Ballet and Thompson Twins. But the set also features some timeless moments, including a bearded Elvis Costello asking for help on “this old English folk song” and getting the audience of 60,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium singing along with him on a stirring rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” Queen’s high-energy set underscores both the popularity of the band and the charisma of singer Freddie Mercury. The Wembley finale features Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney carrying Geldof, looking every bit the exhausted saint, on their shoulders before an all-star performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (a far superior song to the saccharine “We Are the World”).

At Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, Chevy Chase (in short shorts—not a pretty sight) introduces Duran Duran and an overweight Ozzy Osbourne leading a sluggish Black Sabbath set. And much is made of the overrated vastly Phil Collins, who jetted in on the Concorde to be able to play at both concerts. But Philly has its own fine moments, including a deliberate wardrobe malfunction with a topless Mick Jagger tearing off Tina Turner’s leather skirt during a playful duet. Jack Nicholson then introduces Bob Dylan as “one of America’s great voices of freedom,” before Dylan and his obviously very stoned guest sidemen, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, deliver an anthemic “Blowin’ in the Wind.” With a wealth of highlights, The Official Live Aid DVD serves as both a worthy historical document and a perfect choice for the gift-giving season.

Inside Entertainment 2004

John MayerBoyish John Mayer bursts into the hotel room like the Sundance Kid, crouching down with pretend guns a-blazing. The cocky, playfully combative pose befits the U.S. singer-songwriter who, at 26, is already at the top of his game and riding high on newfound fame. So far, Mayer has enjoyed multi-platinum sales for his Rooms for Squares album and then saw his current album, Heavier Things, debut at number one. Meanwhile, there’s a Grammy Award on Mayer’s mantle, which he won for “Your Body is a Wonderland,” beating out his idol, Sting, and one of his biggest supporters, Elton John. Now, after opening for Sting’s European spring dates, Mayer is headlining his own major North American tour—one of this summer’s biggest—taking in large pavilions from California to his home state of Connecticut, with one lone Canadian date at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre on August 7.

As the would-be western outlaw folds his six-foot-four frame into a tiny, trendy hotel-room chair, prior to a late-winter concert at Montreal’s Bell Centre, a question about his notorious confidence seems an apt interview opener. “That’s a natural part of me,” says Mayer, matter-of-factly. “I don’t see the point in wasting time attempting to appear to be any way that I’m not, or prefacing everything I say with ‘I could be wrong’ or ‘not to sound conceited, but….’” Warming up to the topic, he tosses out a baseball metaphor: “Being confident about stepping up to the plate isn’t confidence about hitting a home run. It’s just confidence about stepping up to the plate. When I get on stage, I’m not getting up there to hit it out of the park—I’m trying, but I don’t think I’m going to. But I know that, at least, I belong up there.”

That night, before 5,300 screaming, mostly female fans, Mayer proves that he does. And his set, featuring such feel-good, sing-along numbers as “Daughters,” “Something’s Missing” and “No Such Thing,” amounts to a grand-slam, full mellifluous melodies, hook-laden harmonies and blistering blues guitar. Drawing also from folk, rock and jazz, Mayer’s tunes have an insidious way of winning over audiences. Sophisticated yet accessible, they contain sensitive, literate lyrics for the screaming girls and dazzling, Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired guitar licks for the boys they bring in tow. Together, it makes for an undeniably appealing package, leading to a three-song encore this night that included a tasty jazz-funk cover of The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” The concert had all the signs of a Mayer lovefest, including a sign that read “Montreal’s Nurses Adore You, John” and a bra that was thrown onto the stage (prompting the quick-witted artist, after retrieving it, to quip, “Thanks for your support”).

A gangly figure, with almost puppy-doggish looks, Mayer is currently riding high as pop’s Boy Next Door. Although a dropout of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, he still has a cultured Yankee poise that also makes him, unmistakably, Mr. Ivy League. Dressed casually in a long-sleeved black T-shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers, he’s a motor mouth during the interview, talking in full, fast paragraphs like a university professor wired on caffeine. Asked if his biggest challenge right now is staying real amid all the accelerating celebrity hoopla, Mayer is quick to dismiss the suggestion. “I don’t think so,” he says firmly. “I’ve got good heroes. Mine are known for a devotion to playing their instruments, not for fucking women with fish, you know what I mean? My heroes played residencies at clubs for four hours a night, eight nights in a row. That’s the standard for me. I admire the work ethic of people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”

No groupies or debauchery? “Ladies and after-show fun, I believe, are things that you set up for yourself to help get you through [a tour],” says Mayer, who takes two buses (one for musicians, one for crew) on the road, along with four trucks full of gear. “It’s like No-Doze—it’s just letting loose. I’ve learned, as I get older, how to let loose a little bit. It doesn’t mean that you make a bad name for yourself, or that your reputation gets stained, or that you have fun at the expense of somebody else. But you’ve got to have a good time. I might be doing this for some time—that’s the endorsement and the argument for doing it.”

So how does Mayer party on tour? “You can get a lot of people in the back lounge of a bus,” he says, by way of explanation. “Then, inevitably, gangsta rap ends up coming on the IPod, and that changes everything.” Who gets invited on the bus? “I don’t invite anyone, I just tell my crew ‘get cool people, don’t get any pricks.’ But I come on the bus and I’m like, ‘Hi, everybody,’ and someone asks, ‘Can we take pictures?’ I say, ‘No, you can’t, not on the bus. Thanks, have a nice night.’” Adds Mayer, who is single and, unbelievably, completely drug- and alcohol-free: “Ultimately, you’ve got to live with yourself 24 hours a day, so you’d better conduct yourself in a manner that you can at least rationalize for yourself.”

The second of three sons born to a high-school principal, Richard Mayer, and his schoolteacher wife Margaret, John was an easy-going child growing up. But he was, by his own admission, an incorrigible attention seeker. “I was a real ham,” he recalls. “At Thanksgiving dinner, I’d get a laugh and then I’d go for another and eventually everybody would stop laughing and it’s like, ‘John, go sit out.’” After landing the lead in a school play in Grade 5, he thought his future would be in the theatre. But then he discovered the guitar at 13, and when a neighbor gave him a tape of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, his life completely changed. “He pulled things out of the guitar and made it look effortless,” says Mayer, of his mentor. “Artists like him and Hendrix made generation after generation, including mine, pick up guitars.”

By the time he was 15, Mayer was performing at local blues clubs. After dropping out of Berklee, he moved to Atlanta to join a friend and quickly established himself as a singer-songwriter on the local coffeehouse circuit. After a stunning performance at the 2000 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Mayer landed a recording contract. But he credits his artistic development with having first been able to build a fan base. “I was kind of underground, in the sense that I got my start outside of the petrie dish,” he says, “which I think was the greatest thing in my life.” But then, catching the incongruity of “underground” and his own mainstream success, he adds: “I’m not an underground artist—never really was and never will be. I’m supposed to be writing melodies that get in as many peoples’ heads for as long as possible. That’s my true calling.”

Ultimately, Mayer says he’s aiming for “that middle ground between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Sting.” He may have already found it. During the Montreal show, Mayer showcased his knack for combining irresistible, Sting-like ear candy with Vaughan-style slow-burning, spiraling blues guitar on the sexy “Come Back to Bed.” Performing with his longtime bassist, David LaBruyere, a first-rate singer himself, and a talented but never showy backing band, Mayer drew equally from 2001’s Room for Squares and last year’s Heavier Things albums. It was a concert that sent the ecstatic Bell Centre crowd—especially the predominantly female portion—home happy. Earlier in the day, Mayer downplayed the significance of screaming girls. “It’s just recreational screaming—they don’t quite know what they’re screaming about,” he said. “Six thousand girls screaming at the same time,” he adds, “is not one woman saying, ‘Hey, do you want to go out and get something to eat?’ The moment you confuse those two things is when you lose your gravity.”

Highly confident and well grounded, Mayer seems to have it all. He’s even been called “the James Taylor of his generation,” which many songwriters would consider the highest of compliments. Does he mind the comparison? “Sensitive singer-songwriter is such a strange category,” he says, “because Jimi Hendrix was a sensitive singer-songwriter, but nobody thinks of him as one. If Hendrix only played an acoustic guitar, he might’ve ended up a James Taylor too.” Pausing for a moment, he adds: “I understand why people would call me that. It’s all about honesty, which is a hard thing to pull off. Songs have to feel right and not come across like you’re pandering or being smarmy. Anytime you throw yourself out there, trust is the only thing that you’ve got going for yourself.” Mayer needn’t worry. The trust between him and his audience, right now moment, seems unshakable.


Neko CaseThere’s a gulf in country music as wide as the Grand Canyon. On one side is a shopping mall, full of cowboy hats, sequins and schlocky songs with a well-polished sheen. On the other is a saloon, with soaring voices, twanging guitars and songs gutsy enough to shake the shingles loose. Neko Case resides on the saloon side of country. Over the course of three impassioned studio albums and countless tours of rowdy barrooms, Case has blazed a trail across North America that left fans awestruck and critics breathlessly drawing comparisons to Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.

Now Case has made an album that captures the unbridled emotion of her live shows. Recorded in three different venues, including Toronto’s legendary Matador club, a beer-soaked joint where Lynn and other country icons have performed, The Tigers Have Spoken is a genuine honky-tonk classic. With backing by longtime friends including the Sadies, Toronto’s talented psych-country rockers, it’s rich in ultra-cool covers and instantly memorable originals. “We didn’t plan too hard,” says Case. “We just chose songs that we liked performing and played well together.”

The album opens with “If You Knew,” a new song that crosses “Your Cheatin’ Heart” subject matter with “Ghostriders in the Sky” sounds. Over spooky, reverb-heavy guitars, Case sings of a heartless Jezebel who “spends her Daddy’s money and drives her Daddy’s car.” Case’s other new number, the touching title track, is a heartfelt plea on behalf of incarcerated wildlife. The aching “Favorite” and spiraling “Blacklisted,” with its spaghetti-western vibe, are live versions of songs from her previous albums. Meanwhile, the recording’s covers range from Case’s sassy update of Lynn’s “Rated X” to a frenzied, bluegrass rendition of “This Little Light.” She also delivers a rollicking version of “Train from Kansas City,” by the Shangri-las, with vocal backing from singers Kelly Hogan and Carolyn Mark. “We had a bitchy girl-group thing going on, with Kelly and Carolyn on board,” says Case, “so we really tried to take advantage of that.”

Despite her penchant for country music, Case actually has a rock background. A native of Tacoma, Washington, she grew up loving the sound of local arena-rockers Heart, particularly the singing, guitar-slinging sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, and remembers singing their songs into a hairbrush in front of the mirror on her roller skates. After moving to Canada, Case earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design while drumming for punk rockers Cub and Maow. For her own albums, The Virginian (1997), Furnace Room Lullaby (2000) and Blacklisted (2002), she embraced a high, lonesome sound that Rolling Stone called “country so cool it shivers.” Yet she’s never entirely abandoned the rock chick inside her, lending her vocal gusto to Vancouver’s power-pop supergroup the New Pornographers.

With her residency history and band memberships, Case almost qualifies as a Canadian. Now living in Chicago, she maintains close ties with chief Pornographer Carl Newman and, of course, the Sadies, who she calls “the best damn live band in North America.” Before recording The Tigers Have Spoken at Toronto’s Matador and Lee’s Palace clubs, Case talked with the Sadies’ Dallas and Travis Good about what songs they might cover and decided on “Soulful Shade of Blue,” by native singer Buffy Sainte-Marie. “She’s one of the first recording artists I ever remember hearing,” Case recalls. “I loved her so much that I named my first dog after her. Plus,” she adds, “Buffy’s a Canadian, which seemed appropriate for the project.”

A relentless touring artist, Case spends 10 months of the year on the road, traveling from town to town, bar to bar, in her trusty GMC Diesel van. “I have no husband and no children,” explains the 34-year-old bombshell, recently voted “Sexiest Babe of Indie Rock” by Playboy readers, “so I can do whatever I want.” Currently, Case is in Tucson, recording her next studio album, which promises more superb torch ’n’ twang. Guests will include her usual suspects, including members of the Sadies and eclectic Arizona rockers Calexico. But she’ll also be joined by Garth Hudson, formerly of the Band. “I’m terrified,” says Case, of the prospect of meeting the legendary organist. “I’m going to try and be cool and not ask him about Big Pink.” Hudson, meanwhile, will be hard pressed not to ask Case how a gal from the Pacific Northwest came by such a bewitching and bona-fide country sound.

Beyoncé

She’s young, gifted and black. She’s also devout, hard-working and extremely fly. As Destiny’s Child’s frontwoman and solo singer-turned actress, Knowles boasts a wealth of attributes (including bootylicious, a term she popularized and now defines) that have helped to place the Houston native well on the road to one-name multimedia stardom. Already, she’s a fast-rising screen actress, thanks to her credible work in Austin Powers in Goldmember and The Fighting Temptations, and a multiple Grammy winner as a member of Destiny’s Child. But her ambitions go much further. “I want to be the first black woman to win an Oscar, a Tony and a Grammy,” says the 22-year-old Beyoncé. “I already have three Grammys, so now I have two more awards to go.”

Oscar and Broadway will have to wait, at least for the moment. Right now, Beyoncé’s music career is red hot. Her solo debut album, Dangerously in Love, has already burned up the Billboard charts. And her steamy videos for “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy” each went into heavy rotation on MTV and MuchMusic.  This month, Beyoncé promises to set the Grammy Awards ablaze, with a leading six nominations for Dangerously in Love—including one in the heavyweight category of Record of the Year, for “Crazy in Love,” her horn-laced duet with rapper Jay-Z, her rumored squeeze. It’s quite possible that Beyoncé will come away with an armful of trophies, much like Norah Jones did last year, and suddenly be propelled well into pop’s dizzying stratosphere.

Beyoncé’s breakthrough comes at a time when Grammy, like a reluctant parent, has finally embraced the industry’s upstart child, urban music. Hip hop and r&b dominate all of the major categories at this year’s awards. And Beyoncé, whose album also features guest appearances by rappers Missy Elliott and OutKast’s Big Boi, both of whom have multiple nominations, manages to bridge both worlds. Although she refuses to discuss her relationship with Jay-Z, she’s been seen on the rap mogul’s arm at numerous social events and New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams calls them “seriously serious.” Added Adams: “Seriouser than Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock. Seriouser than Carmen Electra and whoever.” Fuelling rumors of impending nuptials is Beyoncé’s recent purchase of three townhouses on Miami’s “Millionaire’s Row.”

One place where Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been seen together frequently is fashion shows. Jay-Z has his own line of clothing called Rocawear, and he accompanied Beyoncé to last fall’s New York Fashion Week. Beyoncé, who is spokeswoman for L’Oreal and has had dresses and gowns personally designed for her by Donatella Versace and Giorgio Armani, has said she intends to start her own clothing line with her mother. All of this, on top of her promising movie career, has made Beyoncé one of pop’s leading glamour goddesses. “She’s a style icon,” professes Versace. “She can wear couture or jeans with the same attitude—young, fresh and very hip-hop.”

Beyoncé’s star power is instantly evident throughout her sexually charged videos, in which she sings like she’s channeling seductive disco queen Donna (“Love to Love You, Baby”) Summer and struts as provocatively as supermodel Naomi Campbell. “Most incredibly, it’s your girl B,” announces Jay-Z, in his super-hyped introduction to “Crazy in Love.” “History in the makin’, part two,” he adds, prophesizing that Beyoncé’s solo career will be every bit as successful as Destiny’s Child’s. Similarly, in the video to “Baby Boy,” reggae-dance star Sean Paul calls Beyoncé a “top top girl, certified quality,” as the bikini-clad performer writhes about on a bed made of furs, singing another tale of obsessive, delirious love. Both videos feature Beyoncé’s now patented bootie-shakin’.

Her appearances on the big screen have been equally confident. After appearing opposite Mekhi Phifer in MTV’s Hip-Hopera: Carmen, an urban retelling of the classic opera, Beyoncé landed the role of secret agent Foxxy Cleopatra opposite Mike Myers in Goldmember. She didn’t nail the part at first, but redoubled her efforts on the return visit. “I went back,” she recalled of the second audition, “wearing a Pam Grier-like cat suit, an Afro wig and had memorized every Blaxploitation film ever made.” Ultimately, Beyoncé’s comedic turn as the take-no-stuff sexy agent, along with her contributions to the funky soundtrack, were among the movie’s highlights.

Beyoncé’s next part, as the romantic lead opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in The Fighting Temptations, was more dramatically challenging. Once again, she shone, this time as Lilly, a small-time nightclub singer and single mother who is recruited to help a struggling church choir win a gospel competition. “I wanted to seem natural,” Beyoncé said of the part, which required her to sing jazz and gospel numbers. “I tried to find the most unglamorous clothes, the most unglamorous hairstyle. I didn’t wear my hair straightened. I wanted to show myself in a different light.” She added that she drew on personal experiences to portray Lilly, who supports both a young son and an ailing grandfather. “My mother owns a hair salon and I grew up there, sweeping the floor and listening to the stories told by all these women who came there. Some were single mothers, some weren’t, but they were positive, strong women.”

Her parents, Mathew and Tina Knowles, have played a key role in Beyoncé’s career. After their eldest of two daughters announced at the age of seven that she wanted to pursue a performing career (Beyoncé’s younger sister, Solange, has since followed suit), Mathew quit his job as a medical-equipment salesman to manage the teenage Destiny’s Child, with Tina designing the group’s look. In 1995, Mathew negotiated a recording deal with Columbia Records for Destiny’s Child, which included founding members Beyoncé and cousin Kelly Rowland, who were 15 and 16 when “No, No, No” from the group’s self-titled debut album stormed the charts. While the second album, The Writing’s on the Wall, spawned the hit singles “Say My Name” and “Bills, Bills, Bills,” the group added new member Michelle Williams and that lineup has remained in tact ever since.

Using Berry Gordy’s Motown Records as a model, Beyoncé’s father has built an empire of his own around his daughter’s group. Music World Entertainment is a self-contained record label, production and management company, which continues to handle Destiny’s Child as well as the solo careers of Beyoncé, Rowland, Williams and now Solange, among others. With worldwide sales of 20 million, Destiny’s Child has become one of the world’s best-selling female groups. So it should come as no surprise that, despite solo albums by each of its members, the group has no intention of disbanding. Destiny’s Child plans to record its fifth album next summer. The solo work, Beyoncé says, is a part of growing up. “We’re all adults now, and we need to learn things about ourselves,” she says, “and sometimes you can’t do that unless you’re by yourself.”

Unlike Britney, who detailed her coming-of-age rather awkwardly (remember her song “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”?), Beyoncé’s growing maturity seems natural and sure-footed. By all accounts, she’s grounded and keeping it real, unlike many divas. A shy (yes, shy), devout Methodist who prays every day, she thinks of herself as an ‘old soul’ and believes in traditional Southern values of family, moderation and a solid work ethic. “I always want to better myself,” she says. For her album, she wrote 43 songs, of which 15 made the final cut, including the mawkish hidden tribute to her father, “Daddy” (last year, she bought him a speedboat for Christmas and the two go out to the lake together in Houston). She’s co-written 99 per cent of her hit singles, both solo and with Destiny’s Child. Two years ago, she won the ASCAP Pop Songwriter of the Year Award—the first African-American woman and the only second woman ever to receive that honor.

What little free time she has is taken up with her newfound passion for visual art. “I started painting portraits of women two years ago, while filming Austin Powers,” says Beyoncé, who works with oils because she finds them the most challenging. “I got hooked and wouldn’t sleep. I made this special room with saris and pillows. I would light candles, play Miles Davis and Björk, and paint all night. It was very therapeutic.”

This summer, Beyoncé hopes to take a solo tour out on the road. But she’ll have to juggle that with recording the next Destiny’s Child album and making her next movie. She desperately wants to do a musical, something along the lines of Chicago or Moulin Rouge. With her singing and dancing abilities, Beyoncé seems well suited for the stage and screen.

Will her future as an actress-celebrity spoil her sweet, warm, unaffected nature? U2’s Bono, who worked with her at last November’s AIDS benefit in Cape Town, hosted by former South African president Nelson Mandela, doesn’t think so. Says Bono: “When the party balloons are burst and the champagne has lost its fizz, Beyoncé will still mean something, because underneath the glamour-puss routines and soulful sexiness, there’s a gospel heart beating.” And that, more than million-dollar sponsorships, airbrushed photos or Versace beaded gold dresses, will provide Beyoncé with the sort of longevity that every artist craves.