EMI // 2008 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 15th, 2008
The Grease girl goes home.
Well, it's review opener confession time. I have never seen Grease. The only music I dislike more than disco is country, so I'm probably one of the last people that can speak with any authority about this set. Is this a vintage Newton-John recording? I don't know. I've never listened to the woman's music before this.
All of these confessions come down to this: I can't say much to the fans of Olivia Newton-John. I'm not in on the jokes, and I'm not familiar with the music. I'm coming to this review as an outsider, and you are probably reading it as someone who already loves this music. You probably weren't there to see Olivia Newton-John return home to the Opera House in Sydney to give this performance. You want to know whether this is a concert worth watching. You want to know if it's a good performance, and whether she's still got it after all these years.
And maybe I can help with those questions. More than anything else, I am blown away by the sincerity of Olivia Newton-John after this performance. She moves quickly between periods of her career, but she treats each song as a treasure to share with the audience. Some of these styles are handled better than the others, thanks to the presence of the orchestra, but she still has the energy she needs to do the old stage show songs from early in her career. The light rock songs are best served by the orchestra, but they stay out of the way during the country songs.
In between the songs, there is footage of Newton-John exploring Sydney with her band. She has a great time being home in Australia, but I question how much the rest of us need to see this vacation footage. Only the most die-hard Olivia Newton-John fans are going to get excited about these segments, leaving the rest of you just waiting to hear the music, which is really why you came in the first place. It does help to reinforce her sincerity and fun-loving nature, but I'm one of those old-fashioned people that wants to watch a concert when I get a concert DVD.
Of course, the technical quality of the disc is probably far more important for people deciding whether they want to take a trip with Olivia Newton-John to the Sydney Opera House. The sound quality is the most important thing, and EMI has really delivered on that front. Most rock concerts take place in stadiums, which is great for audience size, but sorely lacking in musical presence. By the time the wall of speakers is set up and fired through the monstrous crowd, the results don't record very well. Of course, a concert recorded at an opera house can sound much better than the average concert DVD. In fact, if you close your eyes, you could almost be fooled that you're listening to a studio recording. The orchestra sounds fantastic and full, the vocals come through perfectly, and the only hint that this is live is in the occasional cheer from the audience. The Dolby 5.1 track spreads the sound across the full stage, putting us in the center of the performance. As expected, the Dolby 2.0 track lacks the depth, but will probably sound better on a stereo system. I'm not sure why they didn't go all out and put together a Linear PCM track for audiophiles, but either choice sounds great.
The video transfer is also excellent, with solid black levels, and the details are just as clean. Just as with the audio, this transfer doesn't have any of the problems we normally associate with concert footage. This is a great venue to record in, and I'd love to see it used by more artists. There aren't any special features on the disc, and there's no option to watch just the songs without Olivia Newton-John's walking tour of Sydney.
So, here's the recommendation. If you're a fan of Olivia Newton-John, you will want to add this disc to your collection. It's a fine concert, and the DVD and CD of the performance do a truly great job of capturing everything. Of course, if you're not a big fan, I can say with confidence that this disc won't really send you to the record store to pick up more of her work.
Not guilty, I guess.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Olivia Newton-John Official Site