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Reviews in this issue:
Yes - YesYears
Every now and then I have a temporary upsurge of my interest in one of my favourite bands. After (finally) buying the Yes Symphonic DVD earlier this year it was once again the turn for Anderson and Co. to regain my full attention. For weeks the band's CDs filled my CD players at home and in the car and I bought another DVD called YesYears, after slight hesitations because of my great disappointment with the Keys to Ascension DVD. I shouldn't have worried. YesYears is a highly interesting product, well worth it's money.
YesYears was originally released in 1991 to coincide with the YesYears boxset. 1991 was also the year of the release of the questionable Union album and matching tour. Most of the material on the DVD consists of an extensive retrospective rockumentary. After a snippet of Heart of the Sunrise at the Union concert we travel all the way back to 1969 with No Opportunity Necessary. From thereon the story of Yes is told by snippets of interviews with the band members, alternated with footage of music. You will not find full performances of songs on this DVD, but the whole thing is chockfull of footage from live shows, video clips and TV performances. Some of the more remarkable of these pieces are a ballad version of Long Distance Runaround and the band working on songs from Going for the One and Tormato in the studio. The latter include a rather hilarious segment of the band gathered around a microphone, all shaking tambourines and percussive instruments for the recording of Awaken. I also really like the sections about Drama, unlike many Yes fans one of my favourite albums by the band.
The interesting thing about the interviews with the major band members (Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Wakeman, White, Squire, Rabin, Kaye) is that you normally see a band member talking for only a couple of sentences before another one takes over and continues the story. The story line has therefore been created by picking and mixing from the various different individual interviews. As far as I'm concerned this keeps the rockumentary, which last for more than 2 hours, fresh and dynamic.
Chronologically the rockumentary discusses all of the albums one by one, zooming in on the style and line-up changes. There's also some attention for the various solo projects of the band members in the seventies and eighties. Strange enough however, the Anderson Bruford and Wakeman album is completely ignored. I consider this one of two flaws of this release, the other one being the lack of information on the Union album. The DVD comes with subtitles which can be turned on and off, but unfortunately for some of you they are only English.
The last half hour of the rockumentary is taken up by footage taken the Union tour. You'll see the band sound checking, playing live on stage, relaxing back stage, talking about their musical backgrounds and demonstrating their instruments, among which Brufords awful electronic drumkit (which spoiled the classic material on the ABWH live album). Plus of course the occasional English humour and silliness. For instance, Rick Wakeman about the post Tormato days: "It was in my drinking days ..... I need to explain .... I used to drink for Great Britain and the Great British Olympic Team."
I've owned the full back catalogue of Yes for years but although I knew about the countless line-up changes, I had never really explored the band's history, unlike some of my other favourites like Pink Floyd, Marillion and Alan Parsons. This DVD therefore was a magical treasure chest for me full of little secrets I didn't know about. Some of the mysteries of the many band members leaving and returning were suddenly solved.
As you will know from my review of the Dark Side of the Moon DVD, I like rockumentaries. And this is another excellent one. If you're not interested in the people and stories behind the music, this one is probably not meant for you. If you however are an avid Yes fan with such an interest, this DVD is a must-have. As a matter of fact, you've probably owned it for years on VHS already. I myself can't wait for a retrospective of the last 14 years in the bands history.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - Out There
Tracklist: Out There (15:20), The Mission (6:58), To Be With You (7:11), Universe Of Sound (8:25), Music Of Love (7:17), The Cathedral Of The Sky (11:25)
Special Features: Out There - The Concept (21:13). The story behind the making of the album.
For a review of the music on this DVD, you can go to the CD archives of DPRP, because the music on this DVD is almost the same as on the CD. Some tracks last a little bit longer, but that is all. So what is the surplus value of this DVD?? Maybe because this highly anticipated concept movie has been crafted together with high-end computer graphics, studio recordings and outstanding footage from the vaults of the NASA?? I really do not know if music lovers are going to buy this DVD for those reasons?? Of course Wakeman fans would love to have this DVD, the very first progressive rock DVD album, presented in crisp three-dimensional sound.
The only really interesting part for me is the “Out There” documentary called “The Concept”. Here Rick tells the story behind the making of the album and the subsequent live tour. You should really check out those typical Spinal Tap “features”, which were shot on the “Out There” tour; really silly sometimes and already seen a thousand times before…… So, if this is the only surplus value of this DVD I find it rather poor. However for Wakeman fans this DVD is again a must.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
NDV - Live & Acoustic [CD & DVD]
Bonus Material DVD: Funny bits, Drum solo from Lowell, MA, Karma from Progday, Long Distance Runaround w/Mike Keneally
Tracklist CD: The Bottom Line (7:12), The River Is Wide (5:54), Strange World (4:24), Shining Star (3:47), Karma (3:49), I'm The Guy (5:35), Reflection (2:55), Carie (3:04), Thoughts Pt 1 (4:19), City Of The Sun (6:24). Bonus tracks taken from The Bottom Line, NYC July 10th 2002: 10 Years Gone (4:45), The Waters Edge (6:45), The Water/Time Has Come (9:27), Here Comes The Flood (6:39)
I (still) like Spock's Beard. I like their drummer's solo album, Nick D'Virgilio's (NDV) Karma. And I like acoustic renditions of my favourite songs. If you sum these up, a DVD and CD of an acoustic performance by NDV playing solo stuff and Beardy songs sounds like a great set of releases. Nick was kind enough to send me copies of both.
On September 14th, 2003 NDV played an acoustic show of almost an hour together with Rick Musallam. Rick played NDV's solo album Karma and both also played together in the Mike Keneally Band. Besides two guitars Nick also use a big wooden box with a hole in it (Cajon) while Rick plays around with several effects and pedals, creating all kinds on noises that sound like anything but acoustic guitars. The 55 minute gig was recorded and is now available on both CD and DVD.
The Spock's Beard album Snow is represented by three nice songs from the second disc: I'm the Guy
(featuring cool fuzz effects by Rick), Reflection and the beautiful Carie. Other Beardy songs
from the Morse period are Strange World from Kindness of Strangers and Thoughts Part 1 which works remarkably well in an acoustic version and is a real accomplishment to sing for one person.
The post-Morse Beard material is represented by the poppy but warm Shining Star and The Bottom Line. It's a shame the intro of the latter is spoiled a bit by some weird sound effects which don't seem to make any sense. Fortunately the rendition which follows more than makes of for this. The DVD contains another recent Spock's Beard song, Carry On, which is strange and unfortunately enough missing on the CD version.
There's only two songs from NDV's solo album, which is a bit of a shame since it has so much good material on it. Karma is performed by Nick on his own, singing while ruffling away on the Cajon. The other track, The River is Wide, gets a splendid performance by the acoustic duo.
The longest song in the set is a version of City by the Sea from Kevin Gilbert's The Shaming of the True album. I don't know the original, but the song is a fine tune, although maybe a tad too long and a bit too lyrical-heavy.
All in a a great collection of tracks from Nick's long recording history. I personally might have chosen one or two of other Spock's Beard songs, but then again these performances breathe new life into some of the oldies.
If you would have to chose between the DVD and CD I would advise you to buy the CD. The added value of the video footage is very limited since they didn't put much effort into creating an atmospheric set-up. What you get is a big empty stage with some rubbish lying around, thereby clashing with the intimate character of the acoustic gig. Watching Nick and Rick play and seeing their interaction is fun, and there are enough camera's and shifts between them to keep the footage interesting, but the whole atmosphere is very much absent.
The bonus material on the DVD is rather ... questionable. There are two so-called 'funny bits' which are actually some footage of Nick acting silly, which goes to show that 'funny' is a subjective matter. Next is black and white footage of Nick and Mike Keneally playing a rather dodgy but amusing version of Yes' Long Distance Runaround. Furthermore we get some blurred footage of Nick performing a drum solo and a vocal & drum performance of Karma at Progday 2003, quite good but suffering from bad sound quality. Finally there's the obligatory bunch of thrown together pictures. All in all a bit of a mixed bag of bits and pieces you might view one or two times and then forget about.
Now the bonus stuff on the CD is a whole different ball game. Here the bonus tracks are as interesting as they can get. These four bonus tracks were all recorded at a gig at The Bottom Line, New York in 2002. The first bonus track is a cover of Led Zeppelin's 10 Years Gone. Sounds good, but since I'm not a big Led fan I can't tell you how it compares to the original. Second bonus is a fine version of my own personal favourite of Nick's debut solo album, The Water's Edge, a song I voted Best Song of the Year in the DPRPoll 2001. This stripped down version features piano in the first (ballad) half and acoustic guitar and bass in the second half. Next up is an interesting medley of two Spock's Beard songs, The Water and The Time Has Come. What we actually get is the first part of The Water with an extended intro, going straight into The Time Has Come, an aggressive song which works quite well in an acoustic rendition. Last but certainly not least we are treated to a beautiful vocal-piano version of Peter Gabriel's Here Comes the Flood, which once again proves what a beautiful voice NDV actually has. The song, which stole my heart ever since seeing Gabriel perform it on his own during the Growing Up tour, also features an extended piano solo.
The bonus tracks suffer slightly from a bit of hiss, but that's never extremely annoying.
Conclusion ? Well, the CD is something which should be in every Spock's Beard fan's collection and will definitely appeal to lovers of unplugged material. It once again proves NDV to be a fine vocalist, guitarist and percussionist and his accomplice Rick adds some excellent lead guitar and effects while Nick himself focuses on rhythm guitar. Since it is also relatively friendly priced there is no reason why you shouldn't buy it. If you liked Nick & Neal's acoustic performances on Two Seperate Gorilla's, you'll love this one, which unlike that CD has a fine recording quality. Unfortunately the DVD is lacking a bit and is therefor only recommended to completists. Oh, should you nevertheless still opt for the DVD you do get to see Nick's newest cool haircut. Haven't tried that variant myself yet. I'm off to the barber.
DVD: 7 out of 10
CD: 8 out of 10
Marillion - Christmas In The Chapel
Tracklist: Season's End (9.06), Between You And Me (6.13), Quartz (9.14), Beautiful (8.48), Map Of The World (5.02), This Is The 21st Century (10.33), Man Of 1000 Faces (8.06), Uninvited Guest (4.45), This Town (3.58), The Rakes Progress (2.50), 100 Nights (5.12), The Great Escape (7.17), Mad (4.47), Afraid Of Sunlight (8.38), Gabriel's Message (3.11), This Strange Engine (22.23), Easter (6.00), Cover My Eyes (4.59), Credits (2.36)
Bonus Material: None
The latest DVD release from the Marillion stable contains a concert from their short Christmas tour in 2002. It was recorded on December 7th 2002, in the Union Chapel, a church come rock venue in Islington, London. Such a special location would warrant a special atmosphere, or so Marillion must have thought by taking their regular film crew THE boom boom BOYS along.
The concert features an excellent setlist, which is pretty similar to that of the Anoraknophobia tour a year before, with the difference being Seasons End (played in its usual form with the O Come Emmanuel carol preceding) and the band's take on Gabriel's Message - after all, it was nearly Christmas.
Highlights of the set are the terrific This Town trilogy, their modern classic This Is The 21st Century and the excellent (and surprising!) 22 minute encore This Strange Engine, which is featured on a DVD for the first time here.
The footage is quite good, though a little bit dark. Despite the fact that extra lights had been hired for this show and the band calls it "the best lightshow in a long time" the footage could have benefited from a spotlight or two on the various musicians.
The eight of nine digital cameras scattered around the stage to film the band from pretty much every angle possible, but I can't help but noting the limitations of THE boom boom BOYS' filming methods. As all the cameras are placed on tripods and controlled remotely, the footage looks rather static. Rock concerts do need a certain dynamic in its filming, which I find lacking on most Marillion DVDs, but only now does it become more evident as this is the fourth or fifth DVD produced by THE boom boom BOYS. All shots are either wide-shots or medium close-ups, with only the rare full close-up of Hogarth. Mark Kelly is the only member of the band who has a camera filming his hands, whereas it would have been nice to have come close-ups on the string and fretwork of Rothery and Trewavas.
And there we have the biggest shortcoming of this DVD: This being the band's fifth self-produced DVD it stands out for being such a standard affair. Apart from the static filming there's also the soundtrack, or rather the lack thereof. I for one would love to hear my favourite band play in dolby surround for once, capturing the live feel of the concert even more, but once again the band opts for standard 2.0 stereo. Furthermore, the DVD is utterly bare on the extras side. No interviews, rehearsal footage, behind the scenes, fan interviews, multi-angles, no such thing.
This has nothing to do with the performance of the band, far from it, as it captures the band on top-form and the atmosphere of the special venue comes across pretty good, it is just that as a DVD release it is a rather meagre one.
It is an excellent souvenir for the visitors of the gig, but for people who weren't there it doesn't offer an awful lot of extra value.
Other than a great gig of course :-)
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Emerson, Lake & Palmer -
Masters From The Vaults
Tracklist: Barbarian, Rondo / Bach Improvisations, Drum Solo, Nut Rocker, Take A Pebble, Knife Edge
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, prior to their lavish stage shows, but still with those hallmark traits that would enrapture their audiences and remain with them for most of their careers. The improvised soloing, organ weilding gymnastics and knife stabbings from Keith; Carl's assorted drum paraphernalia complete with gongs & percussion, the drum solo with "T Shirt" striptease performance and all finely held together by Greg Lake who manages to avoid the camera for the main part, other than in the vocal sections of course. This film captures the band at the very beginning, with only their eponymous first album released. The concert has a lighthearted atmosphere - broad smiles abound from each of the three musicians.
The music is predominately from the first album, with the exception of The Nice's version of Rondo (complete with Bach Improvisations) and Nut Rocker, which was of course to turn up later on Pictures at an Exhibition. Surprisingly Tank does not appear although much of the drum solo from that track is represented in the concert. The film also does not run the concert as recorded on the evening, but this is a minor point. The camera work is excellent and remains on the most prominant instrumentalist at that point. Nice to see Keith Emerson playing the piano rather than the "I haven't got a clue how to film a live band so let's change every four beats to another angle or band member".
There is little in the way of documentary, in fact this is confined to rather embarrassing questions about Keith, Greg and Carl's previous bands. Quite interesting some 34 years later as Greg Lake merely quips that he was in a band called King Crimson (whatever happened to them :-). This lack of band dialogue probably served as my only major disappointment with the DVD, although had it remained in the same awkward fashion, then perhaps this might have been a blessing. The DVD also lacked any bonus material and at a running time of circa one hour may be deemed as being a little thin on the ground.
As for the sound and visual quality, well this surprisingly good - not perhaps up to modern day standards, but certainly not a distraction to the viewing. The film is a little grainy and a little suspect at the very beginning, but after that I was not aware of any sections of sub-standard quality. Of course this just might not have been important to me? In fact due to the fairly poor lighting the whole concert has an almost sepia tone quality to it.
Little further can be added about ELP, that has not been said before. So what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable journey into the past and bringing more than the odd smile to my face. The opening footage, which sees the band waking in their hotel room, followed by the car journey to the gig, sent early distress signals to the wallet. This was followed by a brief glimpse of the band before the worrying intercutting of a feet running along a cobbled street during the piano section of the Barbarian - oh no! However the remaining concert footage is fairly uncontaminated with directorial intervention, with only brief interludes of trees, static buildings and the odd late 60's early 70's psychedelia filling those moments where it would be assumed that the band had lost our attention.
This film is a pure nostalgia trip - if you are a huge ELP fan then buy it without question.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arena - Rising Up
Tracklist DVD1: Arena Idols: Don't Forget To Breathe, Crying For Help IV, Don't Forget To Breathe. The Workshop: Don't Forget to Breathe, State of Grace, Crying For Help IV, Friday's Dream, Medusa, The City Of Lanterns, Skin Game, Crying For Help VII. EmmerNEmmer: Peggymark, Speed, Mexicano
Tracklist DVD1: Witch Hunt, An Angel Falls, Painted Man, This Way Madness Lies, Spectre At The Feast, Never Ending Night, Skin Game, Salamander, Bitter Harvest, The City Of Lanterns, Riding The Tide, Cutting The Cards, Ascension, Valley Of The Kings, Chosen, Waiting For The Flood, Don't Forget To Breathe, The Butterfly Man, Crack In The Ice, Enemy Without, Solomon, Crying For Help VII
I have been a big fan of Arena since the beginning. Even before they released their debut album my attention was caught by flyers which were handed out at a Marillion convention or concert. I have the band's full official discography in my possession and have seen many concerts during the pre-Immortal? years. I've also been assisting the team of The Cage, the band's fan club, for years with translations. Still, I have chosen not to go to any live concert by the band. Why ? Because I think Arena is not one of the best live bands among the current day 'big ones', to say the least. Mick Pointer is a very nice guy, but far from the best drummer. Clive Nolan is among the best composers and studio artists in prog but he often cannot maintain the same level of quality on stage. And John Mitchell, while being a brilliant guitarist, had too many mishaps with his tuning in those days. I have seen too many disappointing gigs, some of which during the Visitor Tour, and when my good friend John Jowitt left the band I suddenly realised that he'd been the only reason why I still went to their concerts. Questionable reception of the stage personality of new singer Rob Sowden didn't fire up my interest and neither did a couple of exchanges of cynicism with Mr. Nolan. So I skipped all of the tours and fan club conventions after The Visitor tour.
Which doesn't mean that I wasn't slightly curious. So, when The Cage released another one of their fan club movies, I offered to review it for DPRP. This DVD, Rising Up, is a new release in a string of 6 or 7 concerts the fan club has so far released. I personally own two of the earlier videos, one of which was a below par performance during The Visitor tour of which I've often said that this video was the worst piece of advertising the band could ever get. It captured about all of the moments you wish would never be immortalised on film. Knowing the band's live reputation and the previous videos I put the DVD in my player with a certain amount of hesitation.
The first DVD is one of those 'guess you had to be there' affairs. The DVD-Rs do not come with menu's so when first playing it I thought it was malfunctioning since it didn't autostart. I later found out that I had to press the play button, which starts the DVD in the middle of Clive Nolan announcing 'Arena Idols', unlike the running order on the DVD sleeve. No opening titles. Nothing.
Those of you who have seen one or more of those horrific Idols TV shows know what to expect. It starts with what the 5 contestants performing acapella versions of Arena songs. Now, if you thought some of the Idols contestants were weird, watch some of these folks ! The top 3 contestants then perform accompanied by Clive on keys, after which the winner is chosen. The whole thing is quite tongue-in-cheek of course, but unless you were there you will probably watch these 34 minutes once and never again. You do however get to see ex-DPRP team member Jan-Jaap perform live on stage !
After Arena idols the DVD shows some 40 seconds of footage of the pre-gig sound and video effects of the gig on DVD 2. The relevance of this completely escapes me. Next up is the more interesting section of the first DVD, a 27 minute acoustic session with vocals, keys and acoustic guitar. Where the Arena Idols were filmed with one camera, this section had several, making for more interesting footage and the performances are reasonable. Unfortunately the sound quality of the harmony vocals at the start of the session are rather dreadful. Also, Rob Sowden forgets the lyrics a couple of times and the first two songs performed are not mentioned on the DVD sleeve.
The acoustic session also features the first appearance of a mime artist performing characters of Arena songs, this time Medusa. An interesting idea, although I'm not quite sure if I find it fascinating or laughable.
The third and final section of the first DVD is a 6 minute performance by Emmer & Emmer, two guys using buckets as percussive instruments, a bit like Mayumana, but scaled down. I personally like these experimental thingies but unfortunately the two invited Mick Pointer to play along and whereas bass player Ian Salmon keeps up very well with the two bucket boys (both on buckets and bass) Mick just seems to be on a completely different planet, spoiling most of the performances.
The second DVD, which features a full concert by the band, would not start on my computer's DVD player. Fortunately it did work on the regular DVD player. The first half of the DVD consists of a performance of Contagion, which has become my favourite Arena album. A marvellous piece of work (once you look beyond a couple of flaws). It is accompanied by the now obligatory screen projections which certainly add a lot to the show. A shame though that sometimes they are out of sync with the music. Another shame is Rob Sowden's costumes during the performance. I find these 'cyber punk' suits to be very inappropriate for the style and atmosphere created by the short story written by Clive on which Contagion was based, as well as the album artwork. Also, I think it's a damn shame that they cut out several songs from the tracklist when performing the album live, shortening it by almost a quarter of an hour. Contagion feels incomplete in it's live incarnation.
After the 45 minute Contagion set the band performs almost one and a half hour of additional songs among which classics like Chosen, Solomon and Crack in the Ice. The band is joined by the finalist of the Arena Idols during Crying for Help VII, while the mime artist makes a return as vampire and butterfly man.
The quality of the recording varies. At times I have the feeling I'm watching and listening to an Arena cover band instead of the real thing. For instance, my favourite track from Contagion, Cutting the Cards, is a major disappointment. Especially singer Rob Sowden is weak factor in the band and is sometimes doing more yelping and grunting than actual singing, while Clive's backing vocals don't help much in creating a vocal harmony. At the same time I do have to admit that instrumentally the band is much better than I remebered them and expected them to be, mostly during the instrumental sections, like the excellent This Way Madness Lies and Riding the Tide. So, not counting Rob's vocal performance this is actually a quite decent gig. Another good thing is that the footage quality is much better on this DVD than on the first one.
Still, as you've read above, there is quite a lot to complain about this set of DVDs. Besides the already mentioned flaws the video footage is far from sharp and sometimes even blurred, especially on DVD 1. There is no division between tracks, so you can forget about 'chapter selection' or skipping songs and the editing is sometimes downright sloppy. The sound is often distorted. Combined with the 'quick and dirty' DVD cover sleeve this DVD has 'amateur' written all over it. If you are looking for a professional release of an Arena concert of the Contagion tour, Caught in the Act might be a better bet. Fortunately, DVD 2 is of better quality than the first DVD.
A good thing about this release is that the price is very reasonable for a double DVD: 25 euros. So, if you are an Arena completist, or a fan of the band who's less critical about the live performances than I am, you might well try the gamble and buy it. It's not a lot of money for more than 3 hours of material. For me personally, I might watch the second CD every now and then, but it surely is no favourite of mine. For those who've been at the Cage convention this will probably make a nice souvenir, but I would advise the Cage organisation to be a bit more critical regarding the stuff they release into the market. This DVD, and several previous videos, never comes close to the quality level of some of their fan club CDs.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10