Reviews in this issue:
Roger Waters - In The Flesh DVD
Bonus Features: Animated menus, "Gearing Up" Documentary (17.31), Stills Gallery (3.50), Band Biographies, Lyrics to all songs
A DVD release of one of the most anticipated tours of the past decade. Roger Waters' In The Flesh tour saw him on the road for the first time in 15 years and in total this tour span for nearly three years (including a long break) and covered 6 continents.
A CD of this tour had already been released in 2000, yet we had to wait for more than a year before this DVD -mentioned in the CD booklet- finally saw the light of day. No doubt Waters' well-known perfectionism may have delayed this release, and it shows: crystal clear picture in 16:9 format, a truly outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and a few interesting extras.
Let's start with the sound. As can be expected from an audiophile like Waters the sound quality is outstanding. Like he uses 7-point holophonic sound at his gigs, the mix on this DVD gives you the impression you experience the live gig right in your living room. And you even get a technical set-up feature with that as well, to optimise your balance settings.
This also diminishes the value of the earlier released CD to sub-zero, as anyone who owns a DVD player would do well to play this DVD rather than the CD - with or without the images. And you don't even need a 5.1 surround sound system, I checked this DVD on a standard two speaker set as well, using the Surround Encoded PCM Stereo sound, and that too sounded incredibly rich and clear.
So much for the sound, how about the flicks? Most people go for flicks rather than the sound anyway, right? Well, once again, nothing but superlatives here. You get a very nice overview of the entire show, with enough close-ups of all musicians and their instruments, as well as plenty overall views of the show itself. Even though the show itself was a bit meagre - not so much the Floyd extravaganza - then again, I've seen DVDs with lesser show element, which didn't bore me either. Concert footage is meant to capture the essence of the live performance, and not be some extravagant show with the music in second place as a complementary product. I'd buy Britney Spears if I wanted some of that.
Still, I think there's enough going on to keep the attention. The stage has a very seventies' set-up, with all instruments on stage, including all the guitars, so there are no roadies walking around the stage all the time (there are in fact plenty cameramen running around, but you rarely see them - another big plus point). At the back of the stage there's an elevated walkway -which is in fact only used during In The Flesh, when Waters stands here to sing the lyrics, and at the guitar solo of Comfortably Numb, which sees Snowy White and Doyle Bramhall II perform a guitar duel- and a huge screen on which images are projected: slides, moving pictures, computer animations, lava lamps and more.
There are a few stage props, like a TV set (used for the Amused To Death tracks) and a poker table, which was used during the mid-section of Dogs, where the guitar players sat down and play a game of poker, while the three backing vocalists sat down and watched the game sipping cocktails. When I saw the gig back in May I wondered whether this scene had anything to do with that famous painting of four dogs playing poker. I mean, this is a song called dogs, and has humans playing poker. Far fetched maybe, but then again, why else would they choose poker?
A few parts of the show are missing on the DVD, some for obvious reasons like the naked girl in Money, but edited footage that may be a bit more open for debate is at the track The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range. This song was written as a protest against the Gulf war, and the cowboy politics of the (first) Bush government. I remember the images shown during this song (people in a bar watching the Gulf War on TV, cheering like as if it was a football match) also contained an image of Bush Sr, yet he is left out on the DVD.
Waters may be British, but he lives in the US and is signed to an American label, so I guess a protest song is one thing, but ambiguous images may be a bit too unwelcome in a country where freedom of speech is basic right.
Something I normally don't rate as 'a good thing' is when an artist embarks on a three-year tour and plays virtually the same set each and every night. But when such a concert is released on DVD you do at least get a show that is virtually similar to what you saw at the gig you visited, increasing the enjoyment.
For me personally, this DVD also gives me the chance to finally enjoy the first fifteen minutes of the show. Waters started each night promptly on the time stated on the ticket, and the Dutch gig not only started rather early (8 PM), the local government of Rotterdam (where the gig played) had decided this be a good time to do some road maintenance, causing me to get stuck in rush-hour traffic for over an hour, before finally parking my car alongside the road and walking the last 2 kilometres to the venue. Ah, the joys of living in a logistically impaired country.
The only differences between the show recorded for this DVD and the European leg of the tour are Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which was played in its entire studio version during the European leg, the version played here is similar to the one that can be found on the CD, which is a 15-minute mix of parts 1-4 and 6-8.
Furthermore, during the European leg some of the gigs ended with the new song Flickering Flame as a final encore. On the DVD this is Each Small Candle. Part of Flickering Flame can be heard during the intro, which is shot in the dressing room, where you see Waters strumming an acoustic guitar and singing some of the lyrics.
As with the CD and the gig itself, I rate the Waters solo stuff higher than any of the Floyd tracks that are played. The Floyd tracks were meant to be an 'interpretation' of the originals, and while with some songs this works pretty well (like Mother or Wish You Were Here) it too often sounds like a second rate Floyd cover band here. Waters didn't want the guitarists copying Gilmour's solos, so during the solos of Shine On and Comfortably Numb it seems as if the guitarists are not good enough and can't escape the ghost of Gilmour, whereas in truth they were ordered to play like this. It has to be said that during the European leg at least the slide solo of Shine On part 6 had been restored to its original.
But even though it may take a few spins to get used to these 'interpretations' it is not something overly disturbing.
Of the musicians, a special mention must be made of Graham Broad, who manages to produce such a wide variety of styles, with a relatively simple drum kit, up to and including the intro of Perfect Sense, which I always thought was a drum computer. Mind you, Broad could be miming here, but I give him the benefit of the doubt.
No doubt the music has been patched up in places, but I stick to my belief that at least on the night itself it was played live.
The DVD also includes an interesting behind-the-scenes documentary (which only runs for 17 minutes, instead of the 30 mentioned on the DVD case) which shows the process of the development of the show, which was rehearsed in an empty hangar at an airport!
The documentary also clearly demonstrates how Waters is in control of virtually every aspect of the show, up to and including the colour schemes of the light show for each and every song. Even the poker game in Dogs is rehearsed so that it finishes right in time.
A particularly hilarious bit is the search for a saxophone player. For a while they had the idea of using a different, local, sax player for each night of the tour, rather than taking one along on the road for just the one solo in Money.
Other features on the DVD are a nicely animated menu (based on the images projected during Brain Damage), a photo gallery (no background music unfortunately), lyrics to all songs, which can be shown as subtitles during the concert, and biographies of all band members. Oddly enough, this band features Jon Carin, who also played with with Pink Floyd during the 1994 Division Bell Tour - this fact is strangely enough omitted from his biography.
In conclusion I can only say this is a must-have. Some minor flaws apart this release raises the bar for what is a good DVD release quite a bit higher. 2.5 hours of great concert footage, outstanding picture and sound quality, maybe somewhat meagre on the extras side, but the extras featured are interesting enough and to top it off this DVD comes with an attractive price too (in certain shops, that is).
As said, if you already own the CD release you can permanently store that into the glove compartment of your car, or otherwise use it as glass coasters, but that should not deter you from buying this.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
John Young - A Young Persons Guide ...
A Young Person's Guide serves as, and the for want of a more accurate description, a best of John Young, taking material from many of his solo releases as well as two bonus tracks. Should the name John Young not have registered with you, then perhaps a brief resume of some of his more recent involvements may give an insight into the man. Asia, Qango, John Wetton, Steve Hackett, Greenslade, Fish, Steelye Span, The Scorpions, Paul Rogers ... and the list goes on. A classically trained musician from an early age, John has employed his many keyboard and compositional skills, whilst fusing together his love of prog and melodic rock music to make this both an interesting and diverse album.
I struggled a little on the best way to layout this review (it being the first compilation I have looked at) and decided the best course of action was to group the tracks together from each of the albums - wherever possible. A Young Persons Guide combines those albums that are wholly instrumental and those that are more song orientated. So tracks 1 & 11 are taken from the 1999 The Life Underground Demo's [TLUD] and follow the latter, opening with All Grown Up, a mid tempo song reminiscent of Mike and the Mechanics, strongly melodic, and an early glimpse of John's vocals. Further on now and onto track 11, Last One Home, a gentle rising ballad ala John Wetton starting with just piano and voice, building gradually with the subtle inclusion of more keyboard textures and culminating with a keyboard "sax" solo - John's selection of sounds being one of the strengths of the album.
Bible White, Air Miles and Ascent are three tracks taken from the NVC (No Commercial Value) CD, an entirely instrumental album with twelve laid back pieces again aimed at showing John's diversity as a writer. The first two pieces here featuring electronic drums and percussion that gently groove along. The last track became one of my favourites, a tasteful piano tune interwoven with lush strings and gentle soloing. I have to confess that I have not heard this album, but the evidence here suggests that it would be a great album to unwind to - and let the day's troubles just drift away. And whilst totally unwound it would be an excellent opportunity to mention Autumn a gentle piece played on piano, with one of those timeless melodies.
Closer is the first of two songs from the Significance album (2002) although an earlier version was previewed on The Life Underground Demo CD - tastefully arranged and not dissimilar to some of Sting's later material. This song and the final track, Insignificance, a powerful ballad, certainly being the most polished tracks from the CD and presumably will form an integral part of the bands live shows.
Until this point the album has been enjoyable if not particularly "proggy", however the next two instrumentals redress the balance somewhat, although it should be noted both tracks are taken from different albums but do fit well together. The first being Scientific Breakthrough, from the album of the same name released in 1996, an up-tempo number beginning with piano, orchestral stabs, pizzicato strings and whole host of keyboard instruments being brought in to develop the themes within the piece. Following this is my favourite track from the CD, Political Agenda, again the title track from the album of the same name. A rousing piece, although this time in a much more orchestral vein. As mentioned earlier it is the attentive selection of sounds that are one of the strengths of the album, excellently illustrated by the string timbres displayed here.
So to briefly re-cap, A Young Persons Guide is a taster of what can be found on John's solo albums and falls mainly into two categories - Instrumental and Song based. There are however a couple of tracks that are taken from his involvement with other artists, namely John Wetton featuring Young's solo section from the Wetton concert, a carefully crafted work and Greenslade which can be found in more detail on the Greenslade 2001 CD review. I feel that I must make comment on a remark made within the Greenslade review where I said, "throughout this recording I did not warm to John Young's vocal delivery". Well I didn't on that occasion but I certainly did on this CD.
At the time of this review [July 2002], John has announced that he will be touring to promote the release of the Significance CD and the shows will include both new and older material. Starting in September, the band will comprise of Arena's John Mitchell (guitar & vocals), John Jowitt from IQ (bass & vocals), Jadis' Steve Christey (drums) and of course John, himself on (keyboards & vocals).
The CD covers a varied cross section of musical styles but at all times remains of a high quality, I particularly liked the gentler piano pieces, along with those already indicated. On the whole a mellow CD, not generally in progressive mould - but enjoyable all the same. So all in all it accomplishes the goals that it sets out to achieve. Firstly as a compilation album it offers a taster of the varied musical styles to be found on John's solo works coupled with two "bonus" tracks from his involvement with Greenslade and John Wetton. Secondly as a "best of" it contains many of the strongest and/or the most requested tracks from John's varied repertoire. Finally it is a good album in its own right.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Kaipa - Notes From The Past
In the seventies, when giants like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant laid the foundation for progressive rock as it sounds today (whether it tries to regress towards that past or renew itself in accordance with the new millennium), Sweden also had one big name to contribute to the scene: Kaipa. For those who have not heard of Kaipa, it may help to mention that this was the band where Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) made his entrance onto the scene. Now as the new millennium is already on its second year, Kaipa have reformed and release their sixth studio album since the debut in 1975 and the first since 1982. In the current setting, the band consists of Hans Lundin (Hammond organ, synthesisers, mellotron, piano, vocals) and Roine Stolt (electric and acoustic guitars) with the additional help of drummer Morgan Ågren (Zappa, Mats & Morgan), lead vocalist Patrik Lundström (Ritual) and bass player Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings).
Strangely enough, considering that I am a Swede, I had not actually heard Kaipa before this CD, so I cannot say whether or not they still sound the same. I would, however, be prepared to say that I think it is quite a safe guess to claim it, as the music is very clearly in the seventies tradition... well not only the tradition, the soundscapes, the atmosphere, the extensive use of the mellotron (which should make mellotron fanatics wild). Musically, it sounds like a mixture of early Genesis and some touches of Gentle Giant (and Spock's Beard in their Giant moments) with additional (and rather nice) touches of Swedish folk music. All in all, upon my first hearing it (in my Discman, while travelling to and from work) I was quite positive.
However, when sitting down with the CD properly (as I am wont to do with review CDs), I noted something which I had not really paid attention to before (as there was outside interference on those occasions) - the structure in the longer songs, and sometimes in the shorter ones as well, is not always working. There are long instrumental bits that do not seem to belong to the rest. Listened to in the background, the bits are good enough to pass the CD off as enjoyable, but when seriously listened to, I get somewhat annoyed in places and bored in others. Among other things, I could have done with more vocals in heavier sections (something that I have a problem with when listening to The Flower Kings as well).
The best track is probably the instrumental Folke's Final Decision. It is quite short and cohesive which appeals to me, where some other tracks swim about endlessly without getting to a point (like large chunks of The Name Belongs To You). In one sense, it is quite ironic that my favourite should be an instrumental track as I generally prefer songs with vocals. And this is not because the vocals are bad, Lundström is a really good singer (which he has proved well in Ritual). In fact, tracks like Notes From The Past - Part I also appeal to me. The constant repetition of lyrics in the track, however, is a bit disturbing, and when it is entirely rehashed in Part II it is boring me. And lyrically speaking, repetition seems to be an unpleasant theme on the CD. Why not make more use of language than this? Why not make more use of the singer(s)?
In conclusion, if you do not care about patchy music, love the seventies sound or mellotrons... or merely like nice and good background music, this can very well be worth checking out. If you want well structured music, I would rather recommend Stolt's accomplishments with The Flower Kings on Space Revolver, this is just a bit too fragmented in the long run.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Sh'Mantra - Sub_Floating
Sh'Mantra, the four piece band from Australia who last year released the mesmerising Formula Orange album are back. This time the band have decided to put to disc a series of improvised or jam sessions entitled Sub_Floating. So what does one get. Well for starters one should expect lengthy tracks, plenty of mind blowing effects coupled with endless rhythms and swirling keyboards.
The music they laid down for their previous albums all were stepped heavily in psychedelica with various influences to past bands such as Pink Floyd and modern day references to bands such as Ozric Tentacles. One of the features that struck me was the intensity of the rhythm section that Sh' Mantra manage to conjure within their music, and it is this that gives them a definite edge over rival bands within the same musical field. Using a variety of pulse and keyboard generated sound waves, the band create a pounding rhythm section that would be comparative to krautrock legends Neu!. In Floating, the rhythm is given that extra kick by the pounding powerful drumming that was also one of the key features of the band on Formula Orange.
Minimalism is also a key feature of the band, who manage to extricate maximum time from as minimal change as possible to their music which gradually builds up to an explosive crescendo. Though a feature of moist of their music, these jams probably lay bare this experimentation within the band, as happens on Clam wherein various arpeggios are dwelt upon throughout practically the whole of the track. The closing Head Hurts, which is also the lengthiest track of the EP, is also the track which really betrays the fact that this EP was composed of a series of jam sessions. Whereas the first two tracks had a semblance of structure, Head Hurts is just a mishmash of doodling which starts off with some distorted guitar to then move into various electronic Tangerine Dream meets Radiohead airy sequences. Should the lengthiness of the track be too daunting, the last five minutes should not be missed as the band create some great rhythms in a Floydian musique concrete fashion, much like was used on Money.
Interesting and unpredictable, Sh'Mantra show that they are ahead of the game within the psychedelic field. Unfortunately the closing Head Hurts was just a tad bit too overboard with experimentation and tends to overshadow the otherwise brilliant preceding tracks. Somewhat patchy, one has to bear in mind that this EP is in actual fact an improvisational album. It should not disappoint those who liked the previous album of this band, yet I doubt that it will win over new fans to the band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Dynamic Lights - Resurrection
Dynamic Lights is a young band from Italy consisting of Marco Poderi (guitars), Raffaele Mariotti (bass), Matteo Infante (vocals), Simone Del Pivo (drums) and Giovanni Bedetti (keyboards). Resurrection is their self-produced four track debut EP, released earlier this year. It contains two songs, each divided up into two tracks, quite in the vein of prog metal bands like Fates Warning, Pain Of Salvation or even Dream Theater (especially Rescued From Oblivion).
Their music sounds very mature and shows a lot of variation and tempo changes aplenty, yet it's mainly the metal part of prog metal that we find here. There are however also a few more mellow parts, like the intro of Breath of the Sun or a nice piano interlude that leads into Deception/Revenge
All four instrumentalists are very skilled indeed, and each get their chance to shine, without showing off at any time. A special comment must be made on Del Pivo's drumming, as he manages to rival that of Mike Portnoy's, not so much in speed, but moreso in originality and variety.
It's a pity that I can't say the same of the vocals, as these are the first to bore you on this EP - and that says a lot considering the short running time. Infante's vocals sound a lot like those of Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation) or Ray Alder (Fates Warning) and they certainly aren't bad, but he just sings each and every lyric in exactly the same, long drawn-out way.
The EP also contains a multimedia section with recording session footage of the band. A nice touch, which is also very professionally done (Quicktime software is even included) yet it may be only nice for their Italian speaking fans, as most of us can't understand what they are saying to eachother. Subtitles next time guys!
To conclude, this band certainly shows potential, but needs a bit more work in certain areas (especially the vocals). Nonetheless I would recommend it people who are into bands like Fates Warning or Pain of Salvation and are looking for something else. I would recommend to listen to the samples they have on their site, or you could download an MP3 file of Breath of the Earth through this link.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.