Various The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons

"Nice work, boys" is typically the sum total of conversation that takes place today between musical guests and their hosts on the late night talk show circuit, be it with Letterman or Leno. Back in the late '60s and early '70s, in an effort to steal some viewers away from the always dominant Johnny Carson Show, ABC battled back with their late night version of The Dick Cavett Show. This was actually Cavett's third crack at sustaining a talk show for ABC. One thing Carson wasn't doing at the time was showing much respect for the counterculture of the day and this is where The Cavett Show made some inroads. Not only would Cavett have guests like Sly Stone and the Jefferson Airplane, the artists would actually perform at the very beginning of the show (not the end), sit down for lengthy interviews and perform and talk some more. This nicely packaged three-disc set features a series of historic TV performances and interviews. While the performances are fantastic and the interviews revealing, what Cavett is most skilful at is making almost all of his musical guests uncomfortable. Cavett would be the first to admit he was on a different wavelength than most of these artists but looking back at these interviews now, they are also strangely revealing; Mick Jagger has the foresight to know he'll be rocking out when he is 60 back in1972, a mellow George Harrison beats up on Capitol Records and defends dropping acid, a rail-thin David Bowie shows off his nervous ticks, and we meet a super-chilled and very sweet Sly Stone fighting a cold. The live performances provide the best time capsule, full of crazy fashion and fine execution. Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" oozes with exquisite soul, while Sly and The Family Stone kick out the ageless funk of "Thank You (Faletinme Be Mice Elf Again)." While George Harrison's performance of "Bangladesh" is a disappointment, simply excerpted from the concert film, we get four great gospel-influenced songs from Paul Simon spanning his career to that point. An entire disc of this set is devoted to Janis Joplin, whose head-popping, powerhouse performances belie the fact that she is playing to a seated studio audience. The most interesting inclusion here is the show the day after Woodsock, in August of '69, when Cavett hosted Joni Mitchell, the Jefferson Airplane (who skipped Woodstock for the occasion), David Crosby and Stepehn Stills for performances and discussion. We find Mitchell at her most pure and delicate, completely stunning the crowd (and the other musicians), while the Airplane are in their chaotic psychedelic glory. However, nothing beats the incredibly cheesy set design specifically put together for this show. But like much of this collection, the absurdist juxtaposition of corporate network TV with the most influential artists of the era provides an insightful context for what these artists were up against. The set features a play function for just the musical performances but there's no such luck if you want to watch the rock star interviews while avoiding the other guests on any of the shows, which might include anything from Raquel Welch and Pancho Gonzales to Anthony Burgess and Gloria Swanson. With added footage of the present-day Dick Cavett introducing each program you might think that Cavett might like this collection to be about him but it's the artists represented who make this an important historic document. (Shout Factory/SMV)