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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts(TV) (2009-2010)
On October 29th and 30th, 2009, rock 'n' roll royalty held court at Madison Square Garden for what haven been called "the best concerts ever," where "rock 'n' roll history was made."
For more about Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray release, see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 5, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray Review
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Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 5, 2010
Hello. My name is Jeff, and I am a Time-Life junkie. There, I've admitted it, you know my dirty little secret and I won't even ask you not to judge me. I'm not sure where my oh so slight obsession with Time-Life products began, but I think it was probably when I was a kid and my Mom must have subscribed to one of the Time-Life book series. I just remember how wonderful it was every 4-6 weeks to see that big cardboard package come in the mail, and then getting to leaf through what was usually a gorgeously bound, oversized book stuffed to the gills with great photos, illustrations and actual informative and engaging text. As I got older I moved on to Time-Life audio products, including their wonderful CEDAR remasterings of vintage Big Band recordings. Some of the Time-Life enterprises were marginal at best—I still remember subscribing to a gigantic LP series called As You Remember Them, which "recreated" pop hits of the past 50 years (past meaning anything pre-1970s) in exciting, clean, magical Stereo! Let's just say that while the instrumental recreations were always faithful to the originals, the attempts to mimic well known vocalists. . .weren't. But Time-Life flops were really pretty rare and though loving any given Time-Life series may mark the individual consumer as a hopeless member of the bourgeoisie, I for one couldn't care less. My kids have regularly turned to a number of Time-Life book series in my home for school research on everything from world history to mythology, and I have at least a few Time-Life CD series that I regularly listen to. So I was perhaps pre-sold on the idea of Time-Life entering the Blu-ray arena, albeit with a standalone title that is not part of an "every 4-6 weeks" series, Time-Life's regular marketing calling card. But nothing really could have prepared me for the unbelievable, and really surprisingly emotional, experience of watching and listening to The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts.
Some measure of the aural pleasures in store can be had by simply listing the participants: Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, John Legend, B.B. King, Sting, Annie Lennox, Ozzy Osbourne, Ray Davies, Patti Smith, Mick Jagger, Fergie, Will.i.am, Buddy Guy, Darlene Love, John Fogerty and Billy Joel, among others. Oh, wait. I'm sorry—I'm listing the friggin' back up band!! The headliners here are Crosby, Stills & Nash, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Metallica, Jeff Beck and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. Taped over two late October 2009 nights at Madison Square Garden, this event is simply one of the most amazing collections of contemporary rock and pop masters ever assembled under one roof, and one of the most amazing things about it is the chance to see that incredible panoply of "guest stars" perform with the "main acts." You may not have an equal appreciation for everyone on this ticket (I in fact could have lived without either John Legend or Jackson Browne, but that's just me), but watching these fantastic musicians work together is an often indescribable pleasure.
They say that rock 'n' roll is a young man's game, but you wouldn't know by the AARP-eligible on stage talent at this concert. Let's just review some of the ages of the headlining participants, as uncomfortable as that may be for both them personally and those of us who grew up with them and think of them (and ourselves) as "forever young." David Crosby, 69; Stephen Stills, 65; Graham Nash, 68; Stevie Wonder, 60; Paul Simon, 69; Art Garfunkel, 69; Aretha Franklin, 68; Jeff Beck, 66; Bruce Springsteen, 61. Wow. Time (not to mention Life) marches on. But virtually all of these people are in incredible shape, musically speaking. In fact the only kind of sad moment of the concert is the opening cameo by Jerry Lee Lewis. This 75 year old icon seems fairly arthritic at this late stage, unable to really play very well (unless he's moving on to Mahavishnu inspired odd time signatures like 17/8) and not really able to sing any more, either. His appearance generates roars of approval, especially when he kicks over the white piano bench and attempts to trash it (unsuccessfully, it must be added), but it's just the tiniest bit exploitative and embarrassing.
Other than that slight misstep, this concert is a rock fan's wet dream. While the vagaries of age do show in some of the rough vocal work, the added gravitas of several of these singers' voices is really actually quite appealing. And watching something like James Taylor sharing vocal lead with Stephen Stills (along with Nash, Young, Browne and Raitt backing them up) on "Love the One You're With" is an incredible experience. In fact the guest star lineup is one of the really potent attractions of these concerts. While Legend frankly seems well out of his league sitting next to Wonder (who has an emotional breakdown in a tribute to Michael Jackson), for the most part the guests are as stellar as the headliners (not to state the obvious), making this set of evenings play like a star-studded jam session the likes of which have rarely been seen before.
There are indeed so many magical moments sprinkled through these sets that it's another kind of embarrassment—one of riches—to even attempt to single out a few to entice you. What about Stevie and B.B. blistering through "The Thrill is Gone"? Or Stevie and Sting doing a medley of "Higher Ground/Roxanne"? How about a spine tingling, quietly combustible performance of "Here Comes the Sun" by Paul Simon, Crosby and Nash? What about The Boss joining Bono for "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," or dueting with Billy Joel on both "New York State of Mind" and "Born to Run"? If your ears aren't tingling in anticipation yet, there's nothing I can do to help.
The concert is also filled with some nice montages honoring some of the headliners like Simon and Beck, as well as at least showing some archival pictures of some other important figures, like the Coasters, who either show up to perform or are at least referenced by the people in attendance. Coverage of this event, which was first broadcast in an edited form on HBO, is exceptional, with fantastic up close and personal shots interspersed with wide angle views that show that the Garden was stuffed to the rafters for both evenings of this wonderful retrospective.
The entire set list (minus extras, discussed below) is:
Jerry Lee Lewis
Great Balls of Fire
Crosby, Stills, and Nash (with Raitt, Browne and Taylor)
Woodstock, Almost Cut My Hair, Love Has No Pride, The Pretender, Love the One You're With
Stevie Wonder (with Smokey Robinson, King, Sting, Beck and Legend)
For Once in My Life, The Tracks of My Tears, The Way You Make Me Feel, The Thrill is Gone, Higher Ground/Roxanne, Superstition
Paul Simon (with Crosby and Nash, Dion DiMucci and Little Anthony and the Imperials)
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, You Can Call Me Al, Here Comes the Sun, The Wanderer, Two People in the World
Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds of Silence, The Boxer, Bridge Over Troubled Water
Aretha Franklin (with Annie Lennox)
Baby I Love You, Don't Play That Song, Chain of Fools
Metallica (with Lou Reed, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ray Davies)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sweet Jane, Iron Man/Paranoid, All Day and All of the Night, Enter Sandman
U2 (with Sprinsteen, Patti Smith, Roy Bittan, Jagger, Fergie, and Will.i.am)
Vertigo, Magnificent, Because the Night, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Gimme Shelter, Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Beautiful Day
Jeff Beck (with Sting, Buddy Guy, and Billy Gibbons)
People Get Ready, Let Me Love You Baby, Foxey Lady, A Day in the Life
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (with Sam Moore, Tom Morello, John Fogerty, Darlene Love and Billy Joel)
Hold On! I'm Comin'/Soul Man, The Ghost of Tom Joad, Fortunate Son, Oh, Pretty Woman, Jungleland, A Fine Fine Boy, New York State of Mind, Born to Run
The main concert ends with a tribute to Jackie Wilson, with Love, Fogerty, Moore, Joel and Morello performing Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray, Video Quality
The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts is presented on Blu-ray by Time-Life with an appealing VC-1 encoded image in 1080i and 1.78:1. There aren't a whole lot of bells and whistles in the stage presentation, other than some pretty multi-colored lights, but sharpness and saturation here are top notch. Detail, especially in close-ups, is often exceptional, and in fact a little distressing when one gets an up close and personal look at an aging demigod one remembers in all their youthful glory, or when one if forced to wonder what in heck Paul Simon's bright blue jacket is made out of, sharkskin or velour. The hard working artists can clearly be seen working up a sweat more than a few times. Black levels and contrast are also spot on, with even the darkened stage never obscuring the artists and back up musicians. The only anomaly was very occasional aliasing on a couple of unexpected items like a microphone stand, of all things. Other than that, this is a top flight video presentation.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Two thumpingly good lossless tracks are offered on this Blu-ray, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo fold down. Both of these tracks set the bar wonderfully high for rock Blu-rays, with brilliantly clear fidelity, robust lows, full and ample middles, and crystalline, though never brittle, highs. (It should be noted that the special still contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 logo as it starts, but don't get worried, these Blu-rays do indeed offer only lossless audio). The humongous auditorium which is Madison Square Garden has some pretty overwhelming built in reverb, but while the 5.1 track certainly is spacious sounding, there's never any echo or in fact over the top audience noise to drown out the magnificent music. The great thing about this mix is how it is so faithful to quieter, almost quasi-acoustic sets, like the Simon & Garfunkel outing, to the amped up head banging excesses of Metallica. Through it all, surround immersion is virtually nonstop, instruments are discretely presented in individual channels, and vocals are always mixed perfectly into the overall soundfield. For a music release, this is most definitely a reference quality disc.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from some unedited and bonus footage in the concerts themselves which didn't make it unexpurgated to the HBO broadcast version, there are two sets of bonus segments, one on each disc, totaling an additional 67:06 of HD footage. Disc One includes CS&N (with guests) doing Mexico and Teach Your Children; Stevie Wonder (with Legend) doing Uptight, I Was Made to Love Her, Signed, Sealed, Delivered and Mery, Mercy Me; and Simon & Garfunkel doing Mrs. Robinson/Fade Away. Disc Two's extras include Metallica doing Turn the Page and the unedited version of Iron Man/Paranoid; U2 (with Black Eyed Peas) doing Mysterious Ways and Where Is the Love/One; Jeff Beck doing Freeway Jam and Big Block; Springsteen (with Morello) doing London Calling; and the unedited version of the Jackie Wilson tribute. Additionally Disc Two contains a Photo Gallery. The duofold case includes a great illustrated booklet with a wealth of background information, and there's also a postpaid mail in card that gives you a free 12 issue subscription to Rolling Stone.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Those of you who keep track of my reviews know I do a lot of "high brow" classical, opera and ballet releases, though truth be told, I love rock music just as much. I'm a sentimental fool at times, and am not particularly ashamed to admit I got surprisingly emotional seeing all these great artists performing together. With a lineup like this 2 Blu-ray set offers, and a superior image and especially sound quality, this is one of the leading contenders for music Blu-ray release of 2010. In fact, if you have a classic rock lover in your life, your shopping quandary for the holidays is conclusively over. The only question is, is there another volume coming in 4-6 weeks? Very highly recommended.
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