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BMG Music presents
Tommy James & The Shondells Live! At the Bitter End (200)

"For years, people had asked me why I never did a live album. And I never really had a good answer; we just didn't do it, just one of those projects that never happened. So in 1996, we were sittin' around the table and just decided this would be a great time to do a live album."
- Tommy James

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: August 26, 2000

Stars: Tommy James
Other Stars: The Shondells
Director: Lionel Martinez, William Hohauser

Manufacturer: EagleVision, Inc.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (all ages)
Run Time: 00h:57m:23s
Release Date: September 05, 2000
UPC: 755174571992
Genre: Pop

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-A- B

DVD Review

Tommy James & The Shondells: Live! At the Bitter End is a live concert video, recorded in the late 1990's at New York City's Greenwich Village at The Bitter End, a small club. Tommy James and his band perform 13 cuts from their late-1960's pop music career, including:

Draggin' the Line
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Say I Am (What I Am)
Sugar On Sunday
Gettin' Together
Tighter, Tighter
Crimson and Clover
Hanky Panky
I Think We're Alone Now
Mony, Mony
Sweet Cherry Wine
Mony, Mony (Reprise)

Some of these tunes were made hits by other artists, but they were all covered on vintage Shondells albums and are legimitately included here. It's difficult to assess a concert's song lineup objectively, because familiarity and nostalgia tend to interfere. I found most of these tunes pleasant listening in this semi-"unplugged" live context, especially the classic Crimson and Clover and rockabilly dance hit Hanky Panky. Mony, Mony retains its driving, enthusiastic, proto-metal air-headedness, and the Shondells' version of I Think We're Alone Now is at least slightly preferable to the 1980's version foisted upon us by Tiffany. This isn't to say that these are masterpieces of songwriting—there are no deep lyrics or enduring rock anthems here, just a set of well-crafted, fluffy, largely meaningless pop tunes. But they are great fun to listen to in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way.

Of course, a package of hit songs does not a concert make, and this disc benefits from solid performances all around. Tommy James is in fine form here, handling his near-falsetto lead vocals just as well as he did in the late 60's, and the band seems well-rehearsed and comfortable together, though I suspect it's a mixture of original Shondells and "hired guns." James gives a high-calorie performance and everyone seems to be having a great time, though the small size of the Bitter End stage constricts the band's movement significantly. The concert crowd does a lot to enhance the energy level, populated with the band's friends and supporters who applaud and sing along (without interfering with the concert recording).

The video direction is fairly gimmick-free, allowing us to observe the band at work in a straightforward manner. Part historical retrospective, mostly good old-fashioned fun, Tommy James & The Shondells Live! At the Bitter End is refreshingly lightweight. It's a great concert DVD for its target audience that's also accessible by the genre-unbound of any generation. Neat stuff from BMG.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: This material originated on broadcast-quality videotape, so DVD image quality is inherently limited by the source. That said, this is a nice-looking digital transfer with good detail, though a few video glitches and color stability problems turn up (reds tend to be too red at times.) There's some muddiness and pixelization in the concert footage, but not to the point of distraction, and the disc overall looks much better than I had expected.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Tommy James & The Shondells features one of the clearest live recordings I've heard (though at the end of the concert during a backstage chat with friends, James hints that the material might have been cleaned up a bit in the studio prior to release.) The concert mix (supplied in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround as well as a significantly crisper 5.1 mix) is well-balanced and appropriately miked, and the performance is distributed nicely across the front soundstage. The rear speakers are used only for crowd noise, which occasionally filters into the left and right front speakers; there's not much of a natural "concert hall" ambience. But the music sounds just fine and the frequency range is up to the job—the piano and bass guitar are distinct, drums generate solid bass, and backing and lead vocals are clear and comprehensible. BMG knows music and their experience shows in this fine live concert soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Tommy James
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Discography
Extras Review: Tommy James himself contributes greatly to the extras on this disc, providing a 25-minute interview, photos from his personal collection (incorporated into the menus) and a song-by-song commentary track for the concert itself. 13 "song stops" are provided for easy access to any of the tunes, with well-written biographical info and a comprehensive discography of 45's and albums recorded by James, both with The Shondells and as a solo artist. Historical film/video footage of the band is notably absent, but as music discs go, this is a very solid offering from BMG.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Tommy James & The Shondells Live! At the Bitter End is a nicely put-together concert DVD with fine audio, passable video and substantial supplements. The effervescent late-60's pop tunes and solid performances make this a fine way to spend an evening; Tommy James fans will definitely want to own this disc, and it's a fun rental when a movie just seems too - demanding. Recommended.


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