Judge Clark Douglas prefers to watch concerts by the creek.
"Here's a wonderful song I wrote."
Throughout most of his career, Procol Harum founder Gary Brooker has been doing a great deal of charity work. Often gathering various famous friends from the rock world, Brooker has put on concerts for a wide variety of causes and charitable efforts. In 2006, Brooker organized A Concert by the Lake, an effort to benefit HASTE (The Heart and Stroke Trust Endeavor), which is now receiving a Blu-ray release thanks to the fine folks at Eagle Rock Entertainment. While this restrained black-tie affair is a more of a breezy lark for both the participants and the audience, it's still an enjoyable watch (particularly if you've got a soft spot for the folks involved).
The big draw for me (and undoubtedly for many others) was the presence of Eric Clapton, who performs five of the concert's 23 cuts. The bluesy "Reconsider Baby" is perfectly pleasant way to start, as Clapton coasts through the tune with ease. Not to say that he seems uninspired, just a bit more laid-back than I've seen him on other occasions. The same applies to his warm performance of "Lay Down Sally," a number that actually manages to get the upper-class crowd a bit excited. Clapton also performs his cover of "Willie and the Hand Jive" before taking a lengthy exit, only to return later in the performance with the strong one-two punch of "Stormy Monday" and "Cocaine."
Clapton's early numbers are broken up by a pair of performances courtesy of Paul Carrack, who warms up with a nice performance of "Over My Shoulder" and later turns in a quick performance of "How Long" (of course). In addition to serving as master of ceremonies, Gary Brooker also turns in a couple of musical performances throughout the proceedings: "The World is Rich" (not very good) and "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (very good).
The "faded legends" vibe of the concert is broken up by the presence of singer Katie Melua, who turns in three numbers: "Crawling up a Hill," "My Aphrodisiac is You," and "The Closest Thing to Crazy." As someone unfamiliar with Melua before watching this concert, I enjoyed the tunes from a musical standpoint but found her voice slightly lacking. The music has a smooth coffee-house feel but her voice just doesn't quite have that evocative effect she's reaching for. Andy Fairweather Low follows Melua for a performance of "Lay My Burden Down," the only number he's given for the duration of the concert.
Roger Taylor of Queen turns up to perform three-song set, kicking off with a new-ish song about AIDS called "Say It's Not True," which is as earnestly bland as you might expect such a song to be. His performances of "These Are the Days of Our Lives" and "I Want to Break Free" aren't bad, but suffice it to say that Taylor is no Freddy Mercury. While we're on the subject of semi-popular drummers from super-popular bands, I should mention that Ringo Starr also gets a three-song set. Starr's playfulness comes at just the right time, enlivening a concert that occasionally threatens to take itself too seriously. His performances of "Act Naturally," "Photograph" and (wait for it) "With a Little Help from My Friends" are short, sweet and entertaining.
The only real misfire of the concert comes late in the proceedings, as a couple of guys posing as The Drifters perform flat-out awful versions of "Under the Boardwalk" and "Stand by Me." Still, the bad taste that this brings to the final portion of the concert is washed away when everybody who's anybody jumps up on the stage to close things out with "I Can't Dance." It's a fun finish to a fun concert.
I've reviewed quite a few of these Eagle Rock concerts on Blu-ray, and I have to say that A Concert by the Lake is one of the best-looking discs I've had the pleasure of reviewing. Though the concert is presented in 1080i (as all of these discs are) the detail is sharp, colors are vibrant and the image has considerable depth. There's more diversity than usual in terms of the color palette, and the cinematography does a nice job of balancing intimate close-ups with well-staged long shots. Audio is solid is well, as the music receives a fairly immersive 5.1 mix (it should be noted that the disc defaults to a 2.0 stereo mix, so be sure to adjust the audio settings before starting the concert). There aren't many numbers that will rattle the house, but it's a solid mix nonetheless. The only extra is a 10-minute batch of interviews with some of the participants.
A Concert by the Lake hardly qualifies as an essential purchase, but it's a fun way to pass two hours. You could do a lot worse.
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