Judge Victor Valdivia wants to record at Abbey Road. He doesn't sing, but he could read his DVD reviews aloud.
Up close and musical.
Like most multi-artist collections, Live From Abbey Road: Best of Season One is only as good as its diversity. If it leans too heavily on one style, then viewers who are not fans of that style may not care for it. Live From Abbey Road excels in this regard, as it contains performers from various musical genres. Though it does tend a bit toward certain styles, it does have enough variety to at least make it worth a look for viewers who are fans of other genres as well.
Live From Abbey Road, which began airing in 2006, is a weekly variety show in which musical artists are filmed recording live performances at London's legendary Abbey Road studios. Abbey Road, of course, is most famous as the studio that the Beatles used for most of their career, and was also where other albums such as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon were recorded as well. Here are the performers and songs on this set:
Judging by the list of performers, the show is going for a surprising variety. The performers do tend to lean towards Britpop and adult alternative singer-songwriters, but it would be unfair to claim that the show is repetitive. Any show that includes performances from jazzman Wynton Marsalis, hip-hop mavericks Gnarls Barkley, and metal titans Iron Maiden deserves points just for trying. Almost all of the artists sit for brief interviews that run before their songs, discussing their music. It also helps that each performance is filmed in a more fluid and relaxed fashion. This show is blessedly free of the excessive jump-cuts and rapid-fire editing that mar too many music shows. The fact that the performances are filmed in a studio rather than on a stage means that artists feel the freedom to stretch out, attempt more obscure songs, or bring in additional instruments.
Not surprisingly, some of the best performances come from the artists who take the most advantage of the freedoms the show offers. Marsalis' song is a peculiar departure; in fact, for most of the song, he doesn't play his trumpet but instead claps his hands in a particular rhythm. It's so melodic and exciting, however, that as an experiment it pays off. Dr. John, so often pegged as a New Orleans Mardi Gras mainstay, gets the chance to show off his melodic torch singing. Damien Rice cedes part of his song to his background singer Lisa Hannigan, a decision that adds an extra dimension to his performance. Others, such as Craig David, Iron Maiden, and Gnarls Barkley, are more straightforward but no less impressive.
Not all of Live From Abbey Road works as well. It was probably not the wisest idea to lump all the Britpop acts onto Disc Two of this set. Even the most devout Britpop enthusiast will have a hard time distinguishing between Kasabian, the Kooks, and the Zutons (for the record, the Zutons are the ones with the female sax player). The Good, the Bad & the Queen, a supergroup collaboration between Blur singer Damon Albarn and ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon, represents an experiment that doesn't work. All the string orchestras, background musicians, and elaborate production can't camouflage their song's lack of a memorable melody or hook. Ray LaMontagne is by far the most out-of-place performer. Not only is his folk song generic and short, but his interviews reveal him to be so staggeringly inarticulate that many viewers will wonder if he's some sort of performance artist.
At least all of the performances, even the weakest ones, are presented spectacularly. The anamorphic 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is sterling, showing off every detail with clarity. The two 5.1 mixes are also superlative, loud and well-mixed to show off every instrument clearly without sounding cluttered or muddy. As for extras, Disc Two contains "Extended Artist Interviews" (51:11), which have more interviews with some of the artists presented. There's also "Behind the Scenes" (4:58), a brief look at how the show was conceived and shot. These are interesting, but the heart of Live From Abbey Road is the performances themselves, and there the show is generally successful. Live From Abbey Road: Best of Season One is most assuredly not guilty, and music fans should seek it out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
• Extended Artist Interviews
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