5 More Top Concert Blu-ray Discs Page 2

Longtime Knopfler production cohort Chuck Ainlay brings the original stereo mix into the modern surround era, accenting all the right parts—not to mention enabling us to hear the audience sing along to literally every single lyric (and often, er, off-key at that), but not overwhelmingly so. In addition to Knopfler's clear lead guitar mastery—his fiery runs on the extended show opener "Once Upon a Time in the West" and the career-making "Sultans of Swing" alone seal that deal—the mix also puts a spotlight on the contributions of underrated keyboardist Alan Clark. Clark should really be considered in the same league with ivory-tickling VIPs like Roy Bittan (The E Street Band) and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers), as his clever accompaniment on the super-dramatic "Private Investigations" and the expansive aural movie narrative "Telegraph Road" fully attest.

There could be no more fitting word than Alchemy to describe the fully transcendent void Dire Straits filled back in those nascent days before the phrase "Money for Nothing" changed their narrative forever.

Extras: An hour's worth of surefire of-era gems. First, a 1980 documentary from BBC Arena chronicles the band's meteoric late-'70s rise, and also sheds light on the internal, fraternal tensions between Mark and his brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler, who left the band prior to this piece's original BBC broadcast. Next, two performances from The Old Grey Whistle Test, "Tunnel of Love" and "Sultans of Swing," capture the essence of the band's initial gutbucket appeal.

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Midnight Oil: Armistice Day – Live at The Domain, Sydney
(Sony Music, 2017. DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. 1.78:1. 120 mins.)

Armistice Day, a 2-hour chronicle of Midnight Oil's triumphant homecoming event held outdoors in front of a truly massive crowd in Sydney, Australia on November 11, 2017 during their Great Circle 2017 Tour, is clear evidence that the previous decade the band spent away from performing together did nothing to diminish their onstage prowess in the least. I saw the Oils do their relentless thing at Webster Hall in New York City on May 14, 2017 during this very same tour, and they easily reinforced their status as the second most vibrant live act I've ever seen. (The Tragically Hip will forever remain No. 1, thanks for asking.)

The only casualty, if you can even call it that, is what befell lead guitarist Jim Moginie, who pulled a hamstring not long before this gig and wound up having to sit in a chair for the entire show—albeit something that didn't stop him from pulling off a series of searing riffs and keyboard fills and off-kilter solos when the moment called for them. If anything, Moginie's relative performance inertia gave whirling dervish lead singer Peter Garrett even more room to maneuver onstage during explosive tracks like "Hercules" and "Stand in Line." (At times, the always-on-the-go Garrett appears to be the living embodiment of a vibrating lightning rod.) Meanwhile, the entire band comes on like a buzzsaw during the hard-charging "Redneck Wonderland" and "Warakurna," with the guitar solos from Moginie and axe partner Martin Rotsey often alternating in hard-panned left and right positions in the front channels.

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It's also intriguing to watch how drummer Rob Hirst only gets stronger as the set carries on—witness how his left arm arcs fully above his head for tremendous repetitive downward force on tracks like the ever-relentless "King of the Mountain." Not only that, but dig the percussive swagger of the brief solo he taps out on a rusty, circular water tower during the skittering "Power and the Passion."

The Oils are one of a few bands adept at combining serious social commentary with punk swagger, and the 5.1 mix by Kevin "Caveman" Shirley nails that mesh beautifully. (You'll also hear their fully invigorated Aussie crowd belting out every carefully crafted but easily singable word in your surrounds.) With Armistice Day, Midnight Oil only reinforce how we get the best of both worlds when they mix messaging with musicianship. Can I have some more, please?

Extras: Two additional performances oddly cut out of the main presentation—the one-two fist-pumpers "Only the Strong" and "No Time for Games"—which add up to 12 more minutes equally worthy of your attention.

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Kraftwerk: 3-D
(Kling Klang/Parlophone, 2017. Dolby Atmos (5.1 compatible), Headphone Surround 3D. 1.78:1. 77 mins.)

And now for something completely German. Ralf Hütter, the late Florian Schneider, and their Bandkollegen in Kraftwerk created an innovative electronic framework that changed the stone-face of popular music when they stormed the scene in 1970—an acquired taste for some, and a truly fascinating sonic avenue for others. Me, I'm very much in the latter camp, as I've always found Kraftwerk music to be a fitting challenge to my pre-disposed rock-arrangement sensibilities—not to mention a much-welcome palate cleanser whenever I need to reposition my sonic chi beyond the typical four-on-the-floor vibe.

As might be expected, 3-D plays by Kraftwerk's own formidable rules from start to finish. And don't worry—if, like me, you've long placed your 3-D-capable monitor into mothballs, you can still enjoy all the visuals and their pulsating effectiveness by choosing the 2-D option on the main menu. Right from the get-go, the 14-minute "Autobahn" proves its mettle, as the deliberately primitive car-and-road graphics follow a vintage Volkswagen Bug and a black Mercedes hurtle down the infamous German highway—sometimes quite fittingly drifting outside the painted lines. (Also, see if you can figure out what the letters and numbers on each vehicle's license plates represent.)

More often than not, the accompanying visuals are presented fullscreen, while the four Kraftwerkers—symmetrically aligned across the stage behind their neon-framed color-changing keyboard banks, and usually in shadow at that—are shown only sporadically. (That said, be sure to observe how the band appears recostumed and quite, er, mechanically inclined during "The Robots.") Their lack of stage presence per se is no detriment, really, given the nature of this show from an unnamed location on their 2017 3D Tour, which also eschews practically any audience participation or acknowledgement—though you will see an occasional hand and/or cellphone raised in the air.

Special merit must be given to Fritz Hilpert's wholly engulfing Dolby Atmos mix—without a doubt one of most engaging I've heard to date, and a shining example of how a fully realized 360-degree aural experience could never be considered a passive one. "Trans Europe Express" will give you a deep low-end workout, to be sure, while the shimmering 13 minutes of "Techno Pop" takes the "music nonstop" refrain, as well as the onomatopoeia-derived sound effects, and molds, shapes, and kneads them all around you in the most thrilling of ways. This track alone is a blueprint for countering anyone who thinks electronic music is static at best.

Though Kraftwerk's 50th anniversary dates are currently in flux, thanks to the recurring gifts of 3-D, I'd love to see and hear whatever they choose to do onstage next, nonstop.

Extras: Nein, but that's quite in Ordung. That said, feel free to seek out the <3-Dlimited-edition 4BD box set with a number of alternate takes and other tracks—if you've got the Euros to spare, that is.

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Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day
(Swan Song/Atlantic, 2012. DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. 1.78:1. 124 mins.)

Expectations could not have been higher for Celebration Day, the reunion of Led Zeppelin that took place on December 10, 2007 at the O2 in London. Duly named after a raucous track on October 1970's Led Zeppelin III (albeit one not played in this show), Celebration Day ably captures two full hours of a mighty band flexing the breadth of their long-ingrained muscles during what most certainly appears to remain their swan song performance.

Director Dick Carruthers covers every possible angle of the four performers, all clad in various shades of black—still golden-haired and golden-throated vocalist Robert Plant, angular-leaning guitar maestro Jimmy Page, the always coolly collected bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and powerhouse drumming prodigy Jason Bonham (more than capably filling the seat of his late father, John Bonham). Carruthers' lens sometimes lingers longingly on the action at hand and other times captures moments only in a flash, along with the occasional filmic touch added in for good measure—including what I feel are some stop-motion, Blow-Up-stylized nods to noted Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. The surround mix supervised by Page and enacted by Alan Moulder ensures many of Page's titanic guitar leads are brought to the forefront to dominate the sound palette, but not to the detriment of the other performers. And if you listen very hard, you'll hear shouts of encouragement from the audience in between some of the songs in the rear channels.

There's no question Plant's vocal range isn't what it used to be, so he makes the smart choice to sing in a lower register on key tracks like the caterwauling thrust of "Black Dog" and the forever iconic "Stairway to Heaven." Even so, if you're craving the man's histrionic all-out wail, go directly to 1:41:58, which will put you in the belly of "Kashmir" to get the goods in fully unleashed echo (and then wait a few moments to hear it again).

To my ear, Zep shines best on some of their deeper cuts, including "In My Time of Dying" (from February 1975's Physical Graffiti), wherein Page lays down the ring-finger-slide template for the patented brand of sludgy latter-day blues the band truly made their own, and the first-ever live runthrough of "For Your Life" (from March 1976's Presence), with Plant at his most engaged and animated. Jones absolutely excels with his moody keyboard-and-piano turns during "No Quarter," while Bonham makes his bones on the crackling "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Overall, the band is at the height of their powers on the aforementioned "Kashmir," with its hypnotic Middle Eastern undertones underpinned by Bonham's breakneck backline backbeat—complete with his dramatic Zildjian gong hit leading into a most satisfying denouement.

It's been a long time since Led Zeppelin rock and rolled, and Celebration Day is a fitting account of what is and what can never quite be again.

Extras: A separate DVD (curiously, not a BD) with a gaggle of rehearsal footage that shows the evolution of how the songs ultimately chosen for Celebration Day, along with the mindset of the four mighty Zeppelinites working through them with many prying eyes and ears fixated upon their every move, do not necessarily remain the same.

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COMMENTS
davidbe's picture

I agree that the Atmos track on the Kraftwerk is outstanding. I just play this as audio, because the video is as boring as it gets. The 3D is just a very simple animation most of the time, and the rest consists of distant shots of the group from a static location. So the 3D is wasted because there is nothing interesting to look at and I don't want to wear the glasses when there is nothing worth seeing. Just turn off the video and enjoy the great Atmos track!

trynberg's picture

Mike Mettler,

I've seen reviews that the sound quality of the mix on R40 Live is really poor. Can you elaborate?

jeffhenning's picture

While I do have the Rush BD, I do not have the others.

Of the other 4, the one that interests me the most is the Midnight Oil disc. I'm sure the Dire Straits disc has to sound fantastic because that Knopfler character is a total audio nut (like me).

Good God, I loves me a great concert disc!

All the best, Mike, you freakazoid.

Rick Fletcher's picture

Of the 5, i have Celebration Day, and i share your comment on my favorite Zep's track (Kashmir), though my favourite live rendition of it is the "orientalized" one on the No Quarter DVD.
I would add to your list the new Depeche Mode's Spirits in the Forest. Awesome image and sound quality and nice to seee how D. Gahan communicates with the audience.

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