Judge Adam Arseneau told the blues to take off the night, but the blues gave him the finger.
The problem with reviewing music DVDs and having no clear allegiance to a particular band one way or another is that inevitably, die-hard fans of the band get irritated and peeved and send e-mails bitching reviewers out on the finer points of the inherent awesomeness of said band, and conversely, on our declining worth as human beings for not stating so in our reviews. To this, I normally say "shove it," but here we are, so let's make the best of it.
The Marshall Tucker Band—Live From the Garden State 1981 captures the band in its prime in 1981, shortly after the death of seminal member Tommy Caldwell, a turning point both musically and personally for the band. The track listing for the concert is as follows:
• "Take The Highway"
The concert is a lively affair, recorded for television broadcast back in 1981, and the crowd clearly loves every second of the show, reacting riotously to every song cue. The band members themselves do not appear shaken at the untimely death of their bass player, and have clearly dedicated themselves to the notion of moving forward, which proved to be a fortuitous decision. Almost twenty-five years after this concert, the Marshall Tucker Band, believe it or not, is still alive, kicking, recording, and touring, playing over 150 shows a year.
The Marshall Tucker Band rocks through a two-hour set, cheered on by the audience and sweating up a storm. Seriously, even for a concert DVD, these guys are sweaty beyond belief. For guitar aficionados and technique studiers, this DVD is worth the price of a rental if only to study the surreal licks of lead guitarist Toy Caldwell, one of the most talented and blisteringly fast thumb-picker guitar players ever. Watching the complexity of his guitar solos, anyone with even rudimentary guitar knowledge will be utterly stunned that Toy plays every note with only his thumb—no picks or fingers to speak of. The fact that his thumb is not gushing blood into the audience by the end of the show is something of an anatomical miracle, but that is another story. Seriously impressive stuff.
Live From The Garden State was filmed in 1981, and boy howdy, it shows. Filmed for live broadcast, the concert alternates between terribly grainy and blurry VHS-quality images to amateur, handheld, shaky, in-crowd camera shots. At times, the visuals appear almost half-decent and respectable, but a camera angle change usually reverts back to the crappiness. People who had a beef with the visual quality of Live Aid on DVD will no doubt recognize a lot of the same troubling technical elements here, but there are two things to keep in mind. First, this was not meant to be recorded for archival purposes and stand the test of time; it was meant for television broadcast, so a different standard of fidelity was acceptable. Secondly, the concert is almost a quarter of a century old at this point, and a certain amount of slack needs to be cut. Considering the age and technology used to capture the concert, the DVD has made the absolute best of a mediocre situation.
Audio fares slightly better on this DVD with the choice of two modes: a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, and a Dolby Surround 5.1 track. The 2.0 track sounds okay, but in terms of presence and volume is almost a joke, eking out of the speakers like a timid kitten with absolutely no muscle behind it. Switch to the 5.1 track and the speakers come alive, not only with clarity, but with volume and power. Both tracks sound decent considering the age of the performance, but both are mixed far too pedantically, with measly bass response and tinny treble. Fans of the band should be quite satisfied with the audio on the surround track; every tiny nuanced noise is perfectly audible, mixed quite well between the five channels. In short, it sounds good.
The only extra feature included on this concert is a 25-minute documentary entitled "Which One Is Marshall Tucker?"—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the common misconception that, in fact, no one in the band is named Marshall Tucker. The documentary is a great jumping-off point for anyone unsure of the history of the Marshall Tucker Band, going over the group's humble beginnings in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the rise of their popularity across the planet, to the tragic passing of bassist Tommy Caldwell. Hardcore fans will probably be familiar with all the material herein, but some of the interview footage, both recent and archival, is bound to please even the most seasoned fan.
Country music ain't my thing, and probably never will be, but I have enough common sense to hear the sounds of the Marshall Tucker Band and realize their significance in the natural progression of modern music, especially in genres like "new country" (again, not my thing, but what do I know?). I am knowledgeable enough in popular culture and musical history to realize the significance of a small band from South Carolina getting on stage in the early '70s and belting out country songs with a flute player, a Rhodes keyboard, a jazz drummer, and a singer with the musical chops of an entire gospel choir compressed into his hairy throat. This was seriously progressive stuff.
Nowadays, to a modern ear, it sounds…less progressive. The jazz, R&B, and gospel influences are overshadowed by the rampaging amounts of country rock, and by today's standards, the esoteric elements are practically nonexistent. At the time, however, if anyone else was doing this kind of stuff, they kept it well hidden from the masses. These days, a bit of alternative influence in a country rock band is pretty much the norm. Therefore, the impact of the band on a virgin set of Marshall Tucker ears is pretty nonexistent, making it hard to recommend this disc to anyone unfamiliar with the band.
But hey, if this is your musical cup o' tea, drink up—Live From The Garden State 1981 will probably live up to your expectations, capturing the Marshall Tucker boys at the prime of their musical prowess and success. Diehard fans will no doubt appreciate the rarity of the performance preserved on DVD, despite the sketchy visual transfer.
Not guilty. In the meantime, I sit back and await the real Marshall Tucker fans to come out of the woodwork and set me straight on a number of key issues I grievously overlooked.
Bring it on, you turkeys.
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• Documentary by Daniel Meisner: "Which One Is Marshall Tucker?"
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