Judge Dennis Prince had once been through the desert on a horse with no mane. Don't laugh—there's nothing funny about the onset of mange under the hot California sun.
'Cause the free wind is blowin' through your hair
If you're not an ardent fan of the long-standing folk-rock band, America, you might be inclined to admit you're not familiar with their music. But, listen to a few opening bars of one of their hit songs—or merely hear mention of alligator lizards in the air—and you'll certainly say, "oh, yeah, I know that song." Precocious in their songwriting and performance abilities, the band had their first big hit, "A Horse with No Name," in 1972, the three members of the band all at about 20 years of age. Although they had aspirations of mimicking the Beatles success with concept rock (see Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), their initial producer, Ian Samwell, steered the trio to perfect their acoustic arrangements and three-part harmonies. Although their self-titled first album didn't do well upon release, Samwell wisely re-released it, this time to include the newly popular "Horse with No Name" cut. And after Samwell had keen insight and helped establish America on the popular stage, good fate would continue to visit the threesome, they who attracted the production services of the Fab Four's own George Martin from 1974 to 1979. The hits kept coming such as "Tin Man," "Lonely People," and "Sister Golden Hair." Founding member Dan Peek left the band in 1977 but his amicable departure did not slow the remaining Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley from continuing on in their success.
At the final performance of America's 1979 tour, Australian filmmaker Peter Clifton (The Song Remains the Same) traveled to New York's Central Park amphitheater to capture the show in front of an audience of thousands. Bunnell and Beckley are in fine form, musically and vocally, and the rest of the band plays tightly with the lead men to affect a well-received performance. All the hits you love are here. After a brief opening intro and titles sequence, the performance proper follows, including these additional recognizable tunes:
• Tin Man
Technically, this DVD plays very much like your favorite years-old America LPs. That is, while the music is fine and uplifting, the technical limitations cannot be ignored. The film stock is very grainy and soft, colors bleeding all over the place in a way that will make you believe you've stumbled upon an anamorphically enhanced VHS tape. The audio gets better treatment in that we're offered an expanded DTS 5.1 track that improves upon the listening experience. Even so, this is a track that plays largely at the higher end, bass being almost non-existent throughout. Other audio options include a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a cramped Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo alternate that should be avoided. The only extra on the disc is the running commentary from the film's director, Peter Clifton (The Song Remains the Same). He provides interesting insight into the making of the film, his choices for co-mingling stage shots with various location shots, and his views of the country in 1979, a time he considers "the end of the innocence." Unfortunately, he lapses into silence too often.
Now, to backtrack a moment on the criticism of the image quality, there's an offsetting benefit to the grainy and uncontrolled appearance of the film, that being it astutely captures the state of the art in 1979. If you're a fan of the 1970s, warts and all, this presentation will take you back to those "innocent" days. This aspect is enhanced, then, by Clifton's inclusion of many crowd shots, cityscapes, and the then-acceptable indulgence in marijuana (and there are several unabashed scenes of carefree toking so, smoke 'em if you got 'em).
Alternately, though this has a dual purpose for fans of the 1970s, this particular DVD shortchanges loyal America fans by offering so little on this release. Although it's unknown whether additional material exists, it would be most appropriate to offer an extended cut of the film, especially since the songs are presented out of sequential order, easily evidenced by the breaks in crowd noise as well as the alternating levels of natural light. If the excised footage does still exist, it would seem that would make for an uncut version of the filmed concert, if not presented in whole, at least offered as extended or deleted sequences. Sadly, that material is not to be found on this disc.
In the end, there's plenty to like about the performances captured on this disc but, unfortunately, there's also enough that is overlooked that makes this a difficult purchase. Rent it, at the least, to enjoy the musicianship of this talented band that is still releasing albums and touring across the nation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Director's commentary
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