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Case Number 20049: Small Claims Court

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Barclay James Harvest: Berlin

Eagle Rock Entertainment // 1980 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // November 6th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia would never give a concert for the people, but only for one or two particular persons.

The Charge

Captures Barclay James Harvest performing at their very best.

The Case

English prog-rockers Barclay James Harvest are all but unknown in the United States, and their career in Europe was always spotty and uneven, but they did have one genuine moment of glory. On August 30, 1980, they performed for nearly 250,000 people in Berlin (then still divided into Eastern and Western sectors). At the time, the band had enjoyed some minor chart success in Germany and England, but even some fairly big arena shows in Germany earlier that year had not prepared them for the scale of this event. The concert, which was taped and aired on British TV, would be the band's commercial high point in Europe, leading to a hit live album and this concert documentary. Unfortunately, while this may have been Barclay James Harvest's commercial peak in Europe, the performance captured here, for various reasons, doesn't really do justice to the band's best music. Even the most devout prog fans will be disappointed.

Here is the setlist:

• "Loving is Easy"
• "Mockingbird"
• "Sip of Wine"
• "Nova Lepidoptera"
• "In Memory of the Martyrs"
• "Life is for Living"
• "Child of the Universe"
• "Hymn"

Much of the problem is that this, as you can guess by the short running time, is not the complete performance. The DVD comes with an extensive booklet that explains how the original concert lasted nearly three times as long and included a healthy sampling of the band's older work. Sad to say, the original full-length recording has not survived and this is all that remains of the concert. Chopped down to less than an hour, it's much less satisfying. Rather than build from a strong beginning, the severely edited performance simply jumps around without any flow. Even worse is that the songs that are included are not especially representative of Barclay James Harvest's best work. Songs like "Loving is Easy," "Sip of Wine," and "Child of the Universe" are neither strong compositions nor particularly great performances. Judging by these songs, you'd be forgiven for thinking of Barclay James Harvest as a middling pop-rock outfit in the same vein as REO Speedwagon rather than as a respected if obscure prog-rock band. The concert really only catches fire a few times, particularly during the ending jams to "Mockingbird" and "Hymn" and the complete performance of "In Memory of the Martyrs," a touching song about East Germans killed attempting to cross the Berlin Wall that was premiered at this concert. Those moments are good enough for fans of the band to make this DVD a must, but if you're not as familiar with their music, they're simply not enough to recommend it.

The technical specs don't quite help, either. Eagle Rock always puts together superlative packages for their music DVDs, but it's clear that even though they did the best they could with this show, there just wasn't much to work with. The concert was shot on video, not film, and while the full-screen transfer looks adequate for its age, it's hardly sparkling. It's rather hazy and soft and in spots looks extremely washed out. It's not unwatchable but you won't find it beautiful, either. The surround mixes are also not superlative. Both the DTS and Dolby mixes suffer from rather prominent echoing that tends to drown out the vocals. The DTS mix is a hair louder, but it's still not as stellar as you might expect. It's probable there were some flaws with the original recording, since the other instruments sound pretty good, but it's still disappointing. As for extras, all that's included is Time Honoured Tales (22:18), which consists of videos for five songs from the band's 1975 album Time Honoured Ghosts: "Jonathan," "Titles," "Moongirl," "One Night," and "Beyond the Grave." They're typical music videos of the era, mixing performance footage with shots of clouds and nature, but at least the songs, apart from one or two exceptions, are enjoyable. Still, you'd probably do better to just listen to the album itself, since these videos are hardly illuminating.

Ultimately, this is just not enough of a draw for anyone except the most devout Barclay James Harvest fans, and even they will be disappointed with the less-than-representative song selection, middling technical transfer, and meager extras. Barclay James Harvest remains one of the most underappreciated bands of the '70s prog era, but this DVD isn't going to help make their case. Newcomers are advised to pass this by and instead start with a well-chosen anthology like The Harvest Years. That collection gives a healthy sampling of the band's best and most successful work while also collecting some interesting rarities for fans. It makes a much better introduction to Barclay James Harvest's unique fusion of folk, prog, and hard rock than this DVD.

The Verdict

Guilty of not adequately representing Barclay James Harvest's music.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• Music Videos

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