Holiday Box Sets

Peter Gabriel's So Turns 25

Actually, So turns 26 this year, not 25, but that's how our man Peter Gabriel rolls. (He's commemorating the anniversary of the accompanying tour.) No matter semantics: The So 25th Anniversary Immersion Box is sooo worth every nickel, comprised of four CDs (one remastered So, two discs of Live in Athens 1987, and a fascinating disc of in-progress material dubbed So DNA), two DVDs (one with the Athens performance in 5.1, the other being the Classic Albums documentary that's also shown above), the So LP, and a 12-incher with three rare tracks. Sing it: Big time, so much larger than life!

I caught the Back to Front tour celebrating the So anniversary at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on September 21. The house mix was courtesy of longtime PG collaborator, front-of-house sound engineer Ben Findlay. When the So portion of the 136-minute set commenced, I was instantly immersed in the one-two punch of "Red Rain" (with Tony Levin donning those magical Funk Fingers to attack his bass while Manu Katché's snare-drum hits got me square in the chest) and "Sledgehammer" (with Gabriel mock-slamming his fists to both sides of his head on the audience-reinforced chorus). Back to Front was truly exhilarating from, well, front to back.

Rolling Stones Grrr! Cover image

The Rolling Stones Turn 50

The Stones went Gold in 2012, celebrating their 50th anniversary mainly in the latter half of the year. More hooplah, releases, and (we hope) additional live dates are pegged for 2013 - the band's "real" 50th anniversary according to Keith Richards, who feels the Stones really came into being when Charlie Watts first got behind the drum kit in February 1963.

GRRR! Greatest Hits (ABKCO/ Interscope/UMe) is, sigh, the umpteenth Stones hits collection, but one of its two new tracks, "Doom and Gloom," is a 4-minute barn- burner: the Mick Jagger-strummed intro riff is an admitted cop of/homage to Richards's signature style, and it unleashes its bite in the right channel with a nice counter in the left for 6 seconds before Mick Jagger enters the fray to unspool his bilious rap. The way he stretches "daaaaaance" out in the choruses is pure vintage Mick. The other new track, "One More Shot," opens with a riff reminiscent of Keef's late-'80s solo track "Take It So Hard" before slinking into that patented Stones on-the-brink pocket no one else can do.

While both releases are avail- able in multiple audio and video formats, I much prefer double 180-gram vinyl for Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 (Eagle) and Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones' Live at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981 (Eagle). Texas '78 displays the right amount of grit for Side A's "Star Star" and Side B's "Shattered," while Muddy and Mick madly mesh classic blues and modern honk on "Champagne and Reefer" to close Side D of Checkerboard. Here's to rolling along for another 50, lads.

The recently unearthed Peter Whitehead-directed 65-minute film Charlie Is My Darling: Ireland 1965 (ABKCO) is a treasure from another era, when the beggars were just beginning to take over the rock banquet. The Super Deluxe Box Set version is the one to get: Besides a Blu-ray (and DVD) of the B&W film, you get two soundtrack CDs and a 10-inch LP, which culls 13 songs from three March 1965 dates in England. The back-to-back-to-back in-their-element groove of "Little Red Rooster," "Route 66," and "I'm Moving On" anchor Side 2 and masterfully showcase the blues roots of the band's roll.