Judge Clark Douglas is shining bright to see what he can truly be.
"Let's return to the time of bell-bottoms!"
The seemingly never-ending collection of live concerts from the Montreux Jazz Festival continue to make their way to Blu-ray, with the latest installment being a 1997 performance from Earth, Wind & Fire. It's somewhat unusual to consider that the band was invited to the festival not once but twice (in '97 and '98), particularly considering that Earth, Wind & Fire only incorporate a moderate amount of jazz influences into their R&B-fueled disco-pop. Still, they certainly put on a colorful show, and fans aren't going to care where the concert took place or why.
I read something recently that another musician said about live recordings: they tend to either accentuate the raw awesomeness of a band or demonstrate just how valuable a good studio and talented producers are. Unfortunately, I have to report that Earth, Wind & Fire: Live at Montreux 1997 veers toward the latter. The slick polish is slightly lost during the live performance, and it occasionally becomes sloppy and lacking in coherence. The band is by no means untalented, and there are certainly moments when they manage to whip up a cacophony of funky goodness, but something definitely feels lost in translation. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this has more to do with the production values of their studio albums or the fact that the band is a good 20 years past its heyday in this performance.
Even so, the slightly lacking music quality is somewhat compensated for by the band's exciting presentation. This concert is a good deal more active than many of the previously released Montreux Jazz Festival discs, as the band not only moves around the stage quite a lot but also brings along a barrage of dancers to accompany the performance. It's one of those instances where the dancers are every bit as important a part of the performance as the band members, adding considerably to the effect of each song. I must say that I felt pretty sorry for the folks who had to wear that very uncomfortable-looking spandex, though (the primary female dancer in particular is forced to wear an exceptionally ungainly outfit).
The set list is primarily comprised of the expected greatest hits, though a few lesser-known numbers turn up now and then. The first half of the concert provides a pretty balanced mix between well-known numbers like "Saturday Night" and slightly less popular selections such as "Revolution." If I have one complaint, it's the concert is almost too dominated by energetic funk-fests; never really giving the viewer a chance to relax. Some may regard this as a positive; but you have to be in the right mood for a concert like this that just doesn't really slow down very often. I would have preferred another ballad or two to be thrown into the mix. As the concert proceeds, it becomes increasingly dominated by the hits, concluding with a barrage of popular tunes like "Boogie Wonderland," "Sing a Song," and "Shining Star." I particularly liked the choice of the soulful "Devotion" to wrap things up; a resonant and appealing conclusion.
The full set list:
The 1080i hi-def transfer looks quite good, conveying the image with detail and depth. You really can see every bead of sweat on the faces of the band members (particularly Philip Bailey and Sheldon Reynolds, who at times appear to be in danger of drowning themselves). The stage design is a bit more detailed and complex than usual for the festival, so the concert offers plenty of shots that allow us to soak in the set-up. Audio is pretty good, though you should be warned that this track is just plain loud (I had to turn down the volume to about half of what it normally is when I'm watching a Blu-ray disc). There appear to be some audio issues early on, as the vocals aren't really strong enough in contrast to the music. This gets slightly better as the concert goes along, though the feeling of the music being a tad too overpowering remains. Otherwise, the track really will give your speakers quite a workout, as the music is very well-distributed and immersive. The bass in particular has an awful lot of kick.
The only supplement on the disc is a batch of songs performed at the 1998 concert: "Pride/Mighty Mighty," "In the Stone," "I'll Write a Song," "Love's Holiday," "Getaway," and a couple of instrumental interludes.
Though fans are sure to enjoy the opportunity to check out one of the band's lively performances, Earth, Wind & Fire: Live at Montreux 1997 is by no means the best way to get acquainted with the group. You'll appreciate the disc more if you're already familiar with all of these tunes and would enjoy seeing them riffed on in a live setting; as the performances at this concert often fail to recapture the basic magic of some of these songs.
The disc itself is free to go, but the concert is guilty of failing to be as
sharp as it should have been.
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