Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review - "Good Vibrations Tour" DVD

Let's take a brief detour from the "Made in California" discussion to look at something we have in our hands now, Eagle Rock's US DVD release of "Good Vibrations Tour."
Amazon managed to get this to my mailbox a day ahead of release date, so it was another fun surprise to take a look at this. Eagle Rock issued the DVD in the UK a number of years ago. Precisely why it took this long for a US release I do not know. Interestingly, the copyright notice on the back cover lists both Broadway Video (Lorne Michaels' production company that owns Saturday Night Live and the like) and Brother Records. So it appears the Beach Boys do have co-ownership of this TV special.
The TV special to which I refer is the infamous 1976 NBC TV special aired to tie into the "15 Big Ones" album and the "Brian's Back" hoopla. I'm still to this day a bit confused as to the official title. It has none on screen. I've seen it referred to as "It's OK", or simply "The Beach Boys", or seemingly colloquially  among some fans over the years as the "Dr. Pepper Special", presumably due to its contemporary sponsorship when it aired. In any event, it seems Eagle Rock simply made up the "Good Vibrations Tour" title, which I suppose is as good a title as any if you're just going to make it up but catch the eye of potential buyers.
Let's talk content first: The band had never and never again put together anything like this TV special. It is very of its era, tinged with some of the off-kilter mixture of humor, music, and sometimes plodding pacing of early-era "Saturday Night Live." Add in the unique nature of the Beach Boys, who haven't often seemed to have an overt, on-purpose sense of humor (yes, I've heard over the years that Brian has a great "sense of humor", but at least 90% of the time I've laughed at something Brian Wilson has done or said, I've felt like he isn't doing it on purpose to be funny), and you get this NBC TV special.
The special is centered around concert footage from the band's 1976 Anaheim Stadium show, with Brian "back" on stage, and the band in full mid-70's bling mode with Mike's flashy jackets and head dresses, beards for everybody, a stage show with full horn section, and Dennis still looking healthy for one of the last times in the band's career.
What we get interspersed with the concert footage are random interludes for each band member. Mike's in a stunt plane, Dennis judges a beauty pageant, Al gets attacked by goats after espousing the virtues of the rugged outdoors life as if he's auditioning for a role in "This is Spinal Tap", and Brian infamously gets yanked out of bed by CHP officers Aykroyd and Belushi after being cited for "failing to surf." This segment has become by far the most infamous, being partially reused in the band's "An American Band" documentary. The segment is fascinating not only for Brian's poor attempt at acting (his one "line" is completely botched; "I'm not goin', you get your hair wet, get sand in your shoes, okay, I'm not goin'" is delivered without pause as if he's trying to get through it as quickly as possible) but also because of how uncomfortable Brian clearly is out on the beach even though the whole thing is ostensibly scripted and planned.
We get some nice interludes such as an odd Wilson Brothers rendition of "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man", and the entire group belting out "That Same Song" with choir accompaniment. All in all, strange but entertaining. Definitely worth an official release.
In terms of video and audio quality, the DVD appears to use the same master used on the previous UK release. Despite being officially licensed from the group and Broadway Video, the transfer seems to be from a slightly worn, faded print. Video and sound definitely better the VHS dubs floating around among collectors over the years, yet if you look back at raw footage from the special used in "An American Band" in 1984, the footage looked much better there. Why Eagle Rock's DVD looks a few notches below that, I cannot say. It may well be that Broadway Video simply supplied Eagle Rock with whatever old videotape transfer they had. I doubt either Broadway or Eagle Rock scanned any original film elements for this release. I have heard that in the aftermath of the "An American Band" project, all sorts of videotape and film elements became scattered and difficult to find, so I don't know if that was a factor either. Footage used from the TV special in "Endless Harmony" also appears sub-par compared to "An American Band." In any event, the video and audio quality are more than acceptable, and the best we're going to get until someone is able to scan the original negative or original film elements in HD. A Blu-ray release would be nice, and would be possible as all of the extant footage was shot on film, not videotape. It should be noted the DVD purports to have a 5.1 audio mix, but this was surely extracted from mono sound elements.

Extras are literally non-existent here, and that is not surprising. The packaging is a simple clear DVD keepcase with artwork that is actually not too offensive. I may simply be conditioned by some cheesy artwork on releases like this, so something sort of bland but basic like this seems okay. No insert or booklet inside the case. It's $9.99 on Amazon, and the overall presentation just about matches that price point.
So, I would say this is easily a must-own for any fan or collector. It's really just an anomaly as far as how it got released, so it's a pleasant surprise.

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