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Image Entertainment presents
"To be honest, I'm never really conscious of my live light shows. For a start, I have my eyes shut when I'm playing, so I never see the light show."
DVD ReviewMike Oldfield erupted onto the music scene in the mid 1970s with a trio of instrumental rock albums (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, and Ommadawn) that seemed to promise a new future for symphonic rock. Although that didn't quite happen, Oldfield has still been busily making music since then, often with variations on the Tubular Bells motif.
Although Warner Music has released a number of Oldfield DVDs over the years, this disc (on the Warner Music Vision label but distributed by Image) is the first US release by the musician, commemorating his Berlin concert on the eve of the millennium and the premiere of his composition, Millennium Bell. Though the early albums featured Oldfield playing all of the musical instruments through the magic of multitracking, that's a little difficult to pull off in a live concert, and here Oldfield's backed by a full choir and string orchestra.
The concert opens with a few old favorites, including excerpts from Tubular Bells and the hornpipe-like Portsmouth. The Millennium Bell portion of the programme features a wide array of styles as Oldfield takes a snapshot of music from rock to classical to tribal anthems to gospel. It's not always successful, but some segments are hauntingly beautiful and evocative. It's at its best in the thrumming chantlike segments entitled Liberation and Amber Light. There's also a nifty episode entitled Mastermind that has an infectious 1960s spy groove going for it. But despite being backed by such large and impressive forces, everything falls by the wayside when Oldfield demonstrates his virtuosity on the guitar. Frankly, I could listen to him jam endlessly on the guitar and be quite happy.
Less cheery are his vocal works, due to an unfortunate habit of using lyrics that are at best insipid. The incongruity of his musical genius wrapped around bland lyrics like Shadow on the Wall is fairly enigmatic. But everyone here is working so hard, and looks so cold, that it's difficult to be too critical. It must have been bitterly cold that night, because everyone's in heavy coats, hats, gloves and scarves, which makes for a rather odd setting for a concert. The camera is active and varied, even allowing a few closeups of Oldfield's amazing nails; more claws than fingernails, it's clear that he need not worry about remembering his guitar pick.
The concert proper runs 55m:58s, and a separate menu item takes one to the 13m:42s Art in Heaven, a piece composed specifically for the massive Art in Heaven light show that accompanies the primary concert. Beginning slowly and ominously, the subdued music almost feels like background only, until the sound of whale calls enters in, together with Oldfield's guitar. Eventually it evolves into Beethoven's call for brotherhood, the Ode to Joy. Suddenly this all seems like a lifetime ago. At least this disc allows us to relive this optimistic time not all that far removed.
Shadow on the Wall
The Millennium Bell: Sunlight Shining Through Cloud
The Doge's Palace
Broad Sunlit Uplands
The Millennium Bell
Art in Heaven
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The picture is presented in full-frame format, since this was apparently intended to air as a television special. There's plenty of video noise present, and a highly digital look suffuses the picture. Aliasing is everywhere, but color is good and blacks are surprisingly vibrant for a well-lit stage show. The light show generally comes across well, but suffers a bit from the digital appearance instead of having the organic feeling that it ought to.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Both a DD 5.1 and uncompressed PCM track are provided. Both sound excellent, without significant extraneous noise or hiss. Unfortunately the strings were poorly miked and thus they have a rather thin sound that's not very satisfactory. But the guitars and percussion come through loud and clear, with excellent pounding bass presence and a powerful wall of sound. I found myself slightly preferring the 5.1 track over the PCM, but both will prove better than acceptable. I was initially taken aback by some odd popping sounds on the tracks, until I realized that they were distant fireworks being picked up in the audio, so no down grading for that.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: The extras are comprised of two featurettes. The first, dubbed a "making of," is really just a 4m:40s accumulation of behind-the-scenes shots, though there is a brief clip of Oldfield rehearsing with the orchestra and choir. More interesting is a brief (5m:12s) interview with Oldfield discussing the genesis of the concert and his discussions with Art in Heaven to design the light show. But it's too short to provide much of a serious look at the concert or the program. Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Japanese are provided only for the interview; the concert itself is unsubtitled.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsSometimes you wish he'd just play the guitar. The program is short, and the video has some issues but the audio is excellent and the performance is incredibly vital. Definitely worth checking out.
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