"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live"
$119.96; available online at www.RockHallDVDs.com or www.TimeLife.com
The nine-disc set "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live," being released Tuesday, is the Smithsonian Institution of music DVDs — fascinating, sprawling, inspiring, exhausting. Way too much to see and hear in one visit.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, it collects induction speeches, performances and backstage footage from the past quarter-century. Some of it can be found on YouTube and other Internet sites, but not in one place and not in 5.1 surround sound.
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Is it "a must-own for every music fan," as touted by its label, Time Life? At $120, probably not. But serious "classic rock" fans and collectors will find much of the 24 hours of material here to be priceless.
John Fogerty, ripping it up with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson on "Green River" and "Born on the Bayou" (contrasting with Fogerty's visible discomfort at sharing the stage with estranged Creedence Clearwater Revival bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, with whom he refused to perform). Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, channeling the late Jim Morrison on "Light My Fire," "Break on Through" and "Roadhouse Blues" with the surviving members of the Doors.
Mick Jagger, cheekily inducting the Beatles in 1988. The Who's Pete Townshend, even more cheekily inducting the Rolling Stones the following year.
(Springsteen fans will love "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live"; he's all over the place, given his frequent attendance at the induction ceremonies during his 10-year hiatus from the E Street Band.)
In the Rock Hall's early years — before VH1 began televising the induction in 1996 — it was a more exclusive and spontaneous affair, which ended in the wee hours with all the inductees and attendant performers crowding the stage in gloriously sloppy jam sessions. These yielded some of the most noteworthy performances in the DVD set (such as Neil Young, in 1992, leading "All Along the Watchtower" with a guitar army that included Fogerty, Robertson, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, U2's the Edge and ... Johnny Cash).
That pre-TV footage has inferior image and sound quality, which the DVDs acknowledge upfront, but it's the most valuable. Watch Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry convene a founding-fathers summit on "Roll Over Beethoven" from the first induction in 1986, and be thankful that someone kept those early cameras rolling.
* Each DVD apparently was intended to stand alone, as a separate viewing experience. They are not numbered in sequence; instead each is titled after a popular song by a Rock Hall inductee ("Sweet Emotion," "Start Me Up"). Accordingly, nothing ties them together as a set. Speeches and performances are not presented in chronological order. The only discs with an obvious theme are "I'll Take You There," which focuses on soul and R&B, and the final disc of performances from the concert that opened the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland in 1995. But numbers from that concert are scattered throughout the other eight discs. And there is repetition: The same footage from the Rolling Stones' acceptance speech pops up in the first three DVDs.
* Time Life calls this "comprehensive," but it's not. Jimmy Page is seen inducting Jeff Beck and performing in various contexts, but there's no footage of the 1995 induction of Led Zeppelin — including the nine-minute jam on "When the Levee Breaks," with Neil Young spitting out spastic lead-guitar lines over Page's power chords. (It's on YouTube — check it out.) Madonna's acceptance speech from 2008 isn't here, nor the Jackson Five's now-poignant induction in 1997.
* Each DVD has its own liner notes, but the set could use some sort of booklet with more detailed background on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as a year-by-year list of inductees. The notes for the "Message of Love" DVD incorrectly state that 1997 was the only year the induction was held in Cleveland — it also was the site for this year's ceremony. Curiously, critic Dave Marsh in "Come Together" declares that Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" is Cream's "most famous song." ("Sunshine of Your Love," which Cream actually composed, is Cream's most famous song.)
Those who don't need the entire encyclopedia set can wait a couple of weeks, when a three-DVD version will be in stores Nov. 3 for the suggested retail price of $39.95.