The Stax/Volt Revue, the legendary package tour through Europe of the label’s artists, has been well documented since its occurrence in 1967 through five live albums, notably Otis Reddings’ own Live in Europe LP. But these albums captured the tour at its outset, before many of the artists had proverbially warmed up. Furthermore, they only captured the sonic dimension. Scattered video clips, bootleg tapes and sheer memory have kept the visual and kinesthetic components alive, but only by a slowly unwinding thread.
Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway, 1967 changes the documentation of this history completely. The DVD contains almost an entire performance at the tail end of the tour and features many of the label’s stars, including Booker T. & the MGs, the Mar-Keys (both of whom played as the backing band for every other artist), Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave and headliner Otis Redding (Arthur Conley, who was technically on Atlantic, rounded out the bill).
The performances alone are breathtaking because of the sheer energy and the crisp black-and-white footage. But what makes them amazing is the spontaneous and novel nature of the entire experience for these artists. Unlike Motown, Stax never package-toured its artists. Most of them performed nationally in small club settings — the instrumental groups spent much of their time in the recording studios. Yet every singer rose to the occasion and projected their performances onto the big stage. And all the while Booker T & the MGs and the Mar-Keys dutifully played backing band for all the other artists — i.e., they had to learn a catalog of new material. Though the Scandinavian audience in this concert is reportedly tamer than their English and French counterparts, each artist leaves the stage in a pool of sweat and the fans cheering for more.
Of course, as with any rock solid DVD, the extras tie the package together. Rob Bowman, writer of Soulsville U.S.A.: The History of Stax Records, contributes detailed liner notes that features contributions from numerous musicians and promoters involved in the tour and fleshes out the complete context of the tour. Bowman also appears on the DVD commentary with Booker T & the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper and the Mar-Keys and Memphis Horns trumpeter Wayne Jackson, the two of whom offer warm and insightful memories of the tour. All together, the DVD is an obvious essential for any fan of soul music, but it’s a genuine gem for any appreciator of good music.