Rock in Your Living Room

New imported DVDs of pop performances range from strange products to standard-setters

During this period, when sales of CDs in Israel are slow, Helicon is taking a relatively courageous step by initiating the regular import of live performance DVDs. The DVD of Sting's acoustic performance is, not surprisingly, very successful; the first edition imported to Israel is already sold out.

There is no unequivocal answer to the question of whether it is possible to transfer a rock performance to DVD and preserve the intensity of the experience. Nevertheless, Helicon, which has an extensive catalogue of foreign-language music, is trying to import a large selection, which ranges from "Elevation 2001 - Live from Boston," U2's round of rock performances, to a concert by Elton John, to "Tuscan Skies" - Andrea Bocelli's pop-opera style DVD.

"Tuscan Skies" will undoubtedly please the tens of thousands of Israelis who have bought the blind tenor's previous albums. On the DVD one can hear Bocelli's songs against the background of the lovely Tuscan landscape, with the pictures constantly changing: a horse running along the seaside, waves breaking on the shore, vineyards, olive trees, old castles, a smiling elderly farmer. The Italian ministry of tourism would wholeheartedly support this CD, but there is no need for that - 40 million people all over the world have already bought Bocelli's albums, and one can assume that many of them will love this DVD as well.

Elton John's DVD was recorded at the performance "One Night Only - The Greatest Hits Live at Madison Square Garden" in October 2000, when the New York audience was still happy and optimistic. John's performance is over two and a half hours long, and he sings all his well known hits - "Candle in the Wind," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Daniel," "Your Song," and many others. An experienced showman, John makes sure to innovate, with the help of guests who sing refreshing duets with him. However, a performance recorded next to a piano is somewhat static, even if the stage is very attractive and Elton John tries very hard.

In one of the better selections on the DVD, Elton John sings "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in a duet with Billy Joel. Additional guests are the excellent Mary J. Blige in "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," Ronan Keating, who is enthusiastic, but has no voice, in "Your Song" and Brian Adams - a soft vanilla version of Bruce Springsteen - in "Sad Songs (Say So Much)." Adams lends the song a rock dimension, but doesn't for a moment diverge from the sweetness one expects from him. Anastacia sings "Saturday Night Alright (For Fighting)," and proves once again that comparing her to Britney Spears is unfair to her.

At the end of the concert, Elton John invites Kiki Dee, who traveled all the way from England in order to perform "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," onstage with him. Anyone who was expecting an embarrassing moment, in which an older singer barely reprises a success from the mid-1970s, will be proven wrong. Kiki Dee is faithful to the muscular look popular among British female singers in recent months: hours of training in a health club end up in a small black tank top onstage, and a shoulder span that threatens the male singer opposite them (certainly when that singer is Elton John). Proving that fashion is ageless, she jumps all over the stage and ends the concert.

The best DVD we checked out is one by U2, which is apparently setting a new standard in the filming of rock performances. The band won three Grammy Awards this year for the song "Beautiful Day" from "Elevation" (song of the year, record of the year, and best rock performance by duo or group with vocal), and appeared on the cover of all the important music magazines in the world, for "bringing back the color to the cheeks of rock."

This DVD explains what aroused so much enthusiasm. It is a clean, almost minimalist performance - only the members of the band with their instruments stand on the heart-shaped stage, and seem to be enjoying every moment. The performance begins with a bang, releases the tension, and soars once again, until the climax. U2 performs its old repertoire of rock songs - from "I Will Follow" and "Until the End of the World," through "Sunday Bloody Sunday," to the exciting performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name."

The show was filmed in Boston in July 2001. Anyone who has watched filmed rock performances knows that it is very difficult to transmit the feeling of excitement from the hall, but director Hamish Hamilton knows his job. He builds tension as the band goes up on stage, sticks with the narcissistic, somewhat ridiculous Bono, and is enthusiastic about the cool, nonchalant playing of guitarist The Edge. The members of the band are characters in a film for him, the filming angles are surprising, and at the proper volume, one can really sense the experience of watching the performance in the hall in Boston. Together with the bonus CD, which includes screen savers for the computer, video clips and additional film angles of the performances, this DVD manages to illustrate the advantages of home entertainment.