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BMG Music presents
Blondie: Live In New York (1999)

"Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, had a heart of glass."
- Deborah Harry

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 10, 2000

Stars: Deborah Harry
Other Stars: Blondie
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:20m:45s
Release Date: December 14, 1999
UPC: 639857808790
Genre: pop


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+A-A C-

DVD Review

Watching this DVD was like running into an old girlfriend after twenty years; you've both put on a little weight, but as you get to talking you still see the same old sparkle you remember fondly. It doesn't take long to recall what the fuss was all about so long ago and before you know it you're twenty years younger again.

This DVD is an extended version of a VH-1 special (which I've never seen) that now includes the entire show by the classic New Wave band Blondie. Taped in New York City on February 10, 1999, this concert was the start of the band's U.S. tour for that year. I initially put this disc on with some trepidation, recalling the ruinous reunion tours of bands like The Who. At first, my fears seemed justified, since lead singer Deborah Harry came out in a black leather trenchcoat and sunglasses, and gave a fairly restrained performance of Dreaming. Whether the slow start was an effort to conserve her voice or something else, Harry soon loosens up and gives a vigorous performance through much of the concert (she quickly drops the trenchcoat and eventually loses the dark glasses, which I found highly distracting). The main fault is Harry's lackluster, almost sleepwalking, rendition of Call Me.

The band intersperses its classics from twenty years ago with new songs, most of which fit solidly into their older repertoire. The exception is the unfortunately-titled Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room, which, with its Coltranesque sax part, seems a throwback to 1950's jazz. The songs make a cohesive whole and are well-chosen to give a nice sampling of past and present.

The band is tight and rocks hard throughout, with a pounding and driving beat. By the time of the encores, a thrashing rendition of One Way or Another and a rousing version of the band's biggest hit, Heart of Glass, you'll find yourself on your feet just like the enthusiastic audience at the concert.

And yes, Deborah Harry is no longer the svelte tigress from the cover of the LP Auto-American. My initial discomfort at her, well, stoutness was quickly replaced by pleasure at seeing how much she still enjoys doing her thing on stage. She still has the saucy attitude and like the rest of the band is very much enthusiastic, dancing through most of the concert. Her range doesn't seem to have suffered much either, although as noted she does seem to be conserving her voice at several points in the show. She lets loose completely in the encores, making it clear that when she wants to, she can still pull these songs off.

The concert includes sixteen songs in all, and runs for 01:20:45 (the case erroneously lists a running time of 65 minutes). It should also be noted that the songs are not in the order listed on the keepcase. No insert is provided, so the song access menu is the only accurate listing of the tracks.

Apparently shot by a VH-1 crew, the photography is for the most part highly professional and ranks with the best concert films ever made. There is plenty of camera movement and different angles, so there is always visual interest. There are a few unfortunate lighting decisions, such as the light over the drummer which frequently washes him out. Overall, though, the picture is clear and always interesting.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The original source material seems to be of uneven quality: closeups are sharp and clear, while medium and longshots tend to be soft and a little blurry (possibly a result of using handheld equipment). Shots of the audience are dark and somewhat grainy. Given this variance, the transfer appears to be quite good overall. As noted above, the drummer is often lighted such that he is washed out in appearance, but otherwise the colors are clear and vibrant. Harry's red dress (worn under a black jacket and skirt) in particular stands out without noise or oversaturation. The limitations of filming a live concert in one go, without retakes, in particular make this an outstanding video. It easily ranks with the best concert films out there from an image standpoint.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: In any concert video, the sound is of course paramount. In this respect the 5.1 mix does not disappoint in the least. The LFE track is active throughout, and all the bass you could ever want is here, with a solid and clean sound. All of the instruments come through clearly, as do the vocals throughout. The music is all in the front three channels and the LFE track; the surrounds are mostly quiet except when the audience clamors for an encore. Then the surrounds open up with a vengeance, full of applause, shouts and whistles. The resulting feeling is like being in about the sixth row of the concert. The channel separation doesn't have any flashy or tricky effects; there is just good, solid sound. The sound is appropriately pretty constant in location, without making any effort to follow the onscreen movements. This track is clearly outstanding and is sure to please fans of the band.

The Dolby Surround track is somewhat disappointing by comparison; obviously the lack of a subwoofer means the mains have to do all the work, and the result is somewhat muddier and less clear than the 5.1 mix when played at reference levels. Vocals still come through admirably, although the clarity of the instruments is not as noticeable as on the 5.1 track. The "A" grade is for the 5.1 track; the Dolby Surround track would rank about a B.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus Video: "Nothing is Real But the Girl"
  2. Lyrics
  3. Still Gallery
Extras Review: The extras are sparse and not quite as good as advertised. There is a music video for Nothing is Real But the Girl, which has both good sound and video transfer. There are song lyrics, but only for four of the songs: Maria, Forgive and Forget, Screaming Skin and Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room. The "Still Gallery" consists of exactly two stills, plus the covers of the band's 1999 CD and what appears to be the CD release of this live concert. In all, there's not much here in the way of extras. I'm sorry, but interactive menus, instant song access, web links and DVD-ROM playability are not "special features," as the package declares. I'm also not counting the additional songs above those on the VH-1 special as an extra here; a program half the length of this one would simply have been too short to make a decent release. As it is, it's not very long. A commentary would have been great, or a behind the scenes featurette about the 1999 tour. Even some text material on the band's career would have been appropriate. But instead we get a near-bare-bones release.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

Although the extras are few, the concert itself is a pleasure and the sound is fabulous in kick-ass DD5.1. If you remember Blondie fondly and have a DD 5.1 setup, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.

 


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