The fire is Joe, the wind is Maria, and Judge Jim Thomas gets stuck in the dirt.
Our reviews of Earth, Wind & Fire: In Concert (published April 17th, 2008) and Earth, Wind & Fire: Live At Montreux 1997 (Blu-Ray) (published December 24th, 2009) are also available.
Yeah, you remember Earth, Wind & Fire. With their dynamic fusion of R&B, jazz, and funk, they were one of the biggest bands of the '70s. Fronted by Philip Bailey and Maurice White, they racked up hit after hit, platinum record after platinum record. Earth, Wind & Fire: Live in Japan, released by Eagle Vision, features original members Philip Bailey on lead vocals, bassist Verdine White, and group leader Maurice White fronting a twelve-piece band. The concert was filmed at the Tokyo Dome in front of a jacked-up crowd.
Facts of the Case
Here are the tracks you'll hear and see in this 1990 concert:
1. "System of Survival" (1987)
Originally released on laserdisc in 1992, with only a stereo track, this new release adds a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, a DTS track, along with the concert on CD.
Note: A 1998 disc, Earth, Wind & Fire Live, is a recording of a concert in Japan, but that concert was in 1994, and is notable for being one of Maurice White's final performances—the following year he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and retired from the stage. If you browse customer comments at Amazon or other online sites, be advised that comments for the two discs tend to get mixed up.
Live In Japan presents EWF's 1990 live extravaganza in all its glitzy flashiness. Slick arrangements, coordinated stage outfits, choreographed dance moves—it's all here. They know how to make an entrance—they are seen in a movie projected on stage, and step out of the movie onto the stage. They also know how to make an exit—in this case, they disappear from the stage during the grand finale, "Let's Groove." There were plenty of cameras so you get a great variety of angles. A particularly inventive shot involves drummer Sonny Emory. With full-length angled mirrors behind him, he picks up a set of fluorescent drumsticks and goes to town on a drum solo; the reflected blurs of the sticks are a great visual—imagine Shiva on crack as a drummer.
Lead vocalists Philip Bailey and Maurice White both shine on the early tracks, though things fade a bit towards the end. The stage show is not particularly sophisticated by today's standards—actually, it's not particularly sophisticated by 1990 standards. That's not a knock on the disc, just an observation. EWF has a strong backing band, with some well-choreographed moves.
Audio is marvelous. Either the Dolby 5.1 or the DTS tracks will rock your world quite nicely, though neither will pose much of a challenge to your subwoofer. Video isn't quite as good; while images for the most part are sharp, the lighting and camera work result in a lot of strong contrasts, and there's a little ghosting and blurring on occasion.
In a move that more concert DVDs should emulate, the concert is also provided in CD format.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Philip Bailey and Maurice White are in good voice (Bailey's famous falsetto is beginning to crack just a bit), the energy level isn't quite there; White appears to be consciously pacing himself.
But a bigger problem is that the quality of the music tapers off towards the end of the concert. If you look at the track listing, you'll see that there's only one song later than 1981. That probably isn't a coincidence; at the beginning of the '80s, EWF started to move away from the jazz/soul/funk mix that had propelled them to fame, "modernizing" their sound to fit in with the post-disco syntho-pop movement. Synthesizers, overproduced tracks with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in—you get the idea. Their sales started trending downwards. At the end of the '80s, EWF resorted to desperate measures—they got MC Hammer to co-write songs, an example of which is 1990's "For the Love of You." Trust me: You don't want to touch this. The taint of the Hammer also infects the song immediately following, the classic "Reasons." It's telling that "For the Love of You" is the only song from the Heritage album included on a concert disc of the Heritage tour.
Sadly, the shift to the synthesized sound impacts some of the earlier hits here as well. There's a certain sameness to the arrangements, partly because of the omnipresent synthesizers, but also because they've dialed Verdine White back on the bass, depriving the group of the driving funk beat that was once their backbone. Another notable absence is the famed Phoenix Horns, who started drifting apart in the mid to late '80s. While the EWF horns play well, they don't have the same presence or power as the Phoenix Horns—though that might be a mixing/arrangement issue. The overall result is a good performance, but also a generic one.
While this is a pretty good concert, it just doesn't seem to capture the energy levels generally associated with Earth, Wind & Fire, nor does it really seem to capture the group's musical identity.
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