Whilst folk fondly recall Dirty Kurty's smack-rock suicide-note and Björk's first true forays into ridiculous frocks/experimentation, that whole MTV Unplugged racket was dogshit, really all Seal, Eric Clapton, Hall & Oates, Page & Plant and, Jesus fucking wept, Kiss minus the makeup. When it died, God smiled. Yet, given that the evil seem to live forever, it was no shock-horror when the fascist yoof-kulcha channel rebirthed the brandname as Unplugged 2.0 in 2002.
The big surprise a development so unlikely it seemed as though the Earth, she stood still was that MTV somehow stumbled upon possibly the two best commercially-issued live recordings of the last decade, discs that did good for entirely different reasons. Jay-Z hooked up with the most incredible Roots band and delivered all the hits minus all the filler, then Lauryn Hill vomited a genius-like two-hour/two-disc confessional whose solo-acoustic-guitar strums, prolix lyrics, shed tears, and unhinged philosophizing played out like some weird mixture of an Oprah episode and a Cat Power gig. MTV then followed this with, uh, Shakira and Staind, whose awfulness apparently killed the concept cold.
Now, in the ought-five, Unplugged has been born anew for the third time, via the fertile musical womb of pianowoman Alicia Keys, though the format is barely recognizable in this presentation. Rather than an acoustic set nestled amidst a tiny crowd, this is just the regular Alicia Keys concert spectacular replete with electric bass/analog organs/45 backup singers/etc. on a faraway stage in front of an impersonally huge crowd. Whilst there's some mighty makeout moments that make out great "If I Ain't Got You," "Unbreakable," a jamboree finale with Mos Def and Common on the guest list there's, quite sadly, no influence of the environment, none of the "intimacy" that makes this shit great, like the individual in-the-crowd conversations you can hear in the Jay-Z jamboree, or, for that matter, in The Roots' non-unplugged live-rolling classic "Do
You Want More?!!!??!" It is, rather, just another bloated arena show. And the next time an arena show is amazing will be the first.