by Mitch Myers
If you were watching "Saturday Night Live" in 1977 when Elvis Costello abruptly switched songs in midverse from the tenderhearted "Alison" to the vitriolic "Radio, Radio," you know how exciting this show once was. For 25 years, SNL has presented what it feels are the most important musical guests it could find. Certainly, the masses should be inclined to agree since these two discs feature performances from megastars including Paul Simon, REM, Jewel, Nirvana and Counting Crows, to name a few. While SNL has been lauded for its history of gonzo television comedy, the selections here are noticeably mainstream. True, the 1977 performance of the Grateful Dead performing "Casey Jones" was not a Top-40 move at the time, but 20/20 hindsight has insured that the artists included on these two separate volumes are both marketable and inoffensive.
With musicians such as Randy Newman (from 1983) and Billy Joel (circa 1978) placed alongside 90s performances by Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton and Tom Petty, Volume One seems designed for the over-30 crowd. Volume Two is a bit more edgy and is clearly courting a younger audience with spirited performances by the likes of Hole, the Beastie Boys, Oasis, Beck and Green Day.
As a matter of fact, the only selection on Volume Two that occurred before this decade is Neil Youngs 1989 performance of "No More." While one might take issue with omissions of vintage performances by such iconoclasts as Sun Ra or Ornette Coleman, the material on SNLs Musical Performances is indisputably top-drawer.