Judge Adam Arseneau doesn't know where he's a-gonna-go when the vol-ca-no blows.
Feelin' hot, hot, hot!
Montserrat is a tiny Caribbean island under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, and a long-time favorite spot of celebrities to lounge about on. In particular, it had always been a vacation haven for prestigious musicians, popularized by George Martin's AIR Studios located on the island. As a result, some of the biggest names in music have recorded hit albums on this tiny island while basking in the tropical sun.
Slightly inconveniencing to the visiting musicians (but downright devastating to the native inhabitants), after four hundred years of being completely dormant, the Soufriere Hills volcanoes erupted on the small island in 1995, causing massive destruction, displacing half the population of the island, and rendering two-thirds of the island completely uninhabitable. International aid and relief effort to the country was half-hearted, partly because nobody knew where to locate the small island on a map.
George Martin, on the other hand, now had a world-class recording studio in the Caribbean covered with volcanic ash…he could certainly feel their pain. So he and his musical friends who had recorded in Montserrat took it upon themselves to assist in gathering money and raising awareness of the Montserrat tragedy by doing only thing they really know how to do: they threw a concert with the proceeds going to the relief effort. A really, really good concert, as it turned out; with performances by Phil Collins, Carl Perkins, Jimmy Buffett, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and more.
For music aficionados, Music for Montserrat is a wet dream, an all-star two-hour jam session with some of the most influential and successful musicians of the last forty years, and with many of them performing double and triple-duty as accompanying musicians on each other's songs. Where else can you see Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, and Paul McCartney in a three-way guitar solo jam, with Phil Collins pounding out a drum solo? As far as rock spectacles go, this concert is a one-of-a-kind fantasy come true.
Plus, Montserrat's most famous musical export plays a song. You know…Arrow. What, you never heard of him? He's the guy who sings that "Ole, ole, feeling hot, hot, hot" song. Did you know he was from Montserrat? Of course you did!
Recorded at The Royal Albert Hall in 1997, Music for Montserrat features the following tracks:
• Phil Collins: "Take Me Home" (with house band and Ray
Admittedly, the concert itself isn't perfect, and every once in a while you catch a flat note or the occasional squelch of feedback, but these little touches of humanity only add to the charm and spontaneity of the concert. Of course, in actuality, there is nothing spontaneous about a show like this, which was no doubt rehearsed and produced and re-rehearsed ad nauseum for weeks and weeks. But part of the charm of Music For Montserrat is the sense of casualness and intimacy it inspires, like you are witnessing a spur-of-the-moment collaboration, as if Phil Collins suddenly just starts jamming with Eric Clapton, and then Paul McCartney joins in for fun. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth, but they make it seem so fun and joyous and carefree that the feeling rubs off on you. Music For Montserrat feels like a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event, like a really small version of Live Aid that only the cool kids got to see.
And by cool kids, I mean insanely rich, wealthy kids. Tickets couldn't have been cheap for this one. Hoo boy.
The DVD is an incredibly pleasant visual experience, with deep black levels, sharp contrast and details, and minimal edge enhancements. Now and again the image does go soft under the direct haze of spotlights, but all in all, a very impressive visual presentation. The set is beautifully constructed, a feast for the eyes, a fantastically dynamic space for a concert with a full orchestra and choir in the background singing and clapping along with every song, whether they have written music or not. The colors on the DVD are neither vibrant nor muted, favoring a red and purple tinge, the effect of which feels quite natural and pleasing to the eye. The concert itself is very well-directed, with excellent close-angled shots of performers, but with so many famous faces on-stage at any given time—especially the last two numbers—the camera simply cannot keep up with all the superstars, and you start saying things like, "Wait, go back to Eric Clapton's guitar solo! Wait, that's an awesome drum solo! Go back to Phil Collins for a second!…Wait!"
There are three audio modes on this DVD, which could be categorized as low, medium, and high, if you were so inclined. The low, a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, sounds clear, crisp, and unusually quiet, especially compared to the other audio tracks. Medium gets a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track that has some serious muscle, with deep bass response, aggressive use of the rear channels, and a noticeable volume boost. Finally, the DTS track blows the cloth covers off your speakers. Seriously. It makes the muscular 5.1 track sound like a 90-pound weakling at the beach. It roars like a lion. The concert sounds great regardless of which audio mode you choose, and all three have their unique selling points. The DTS sounds the best, no doubt, but in a way, it is almost outlandish, capturing the cacophony of a live concert with such grisly effectiveness that listening to it extendedly is simply overwhelming. The 5.1 track rolls the volume and complexities back a few notches, but the rear channels have a peculiar echo that can often be distracting. When Phil Collins hits his snare, you first hear it in the front channels, then half a second later in the rear channels. The idea being, I assume, is to accurately reproduce the reverb sound of a concert in a big concert hall, but personally, I found it distracting as all hell. In fairness, the DTS track does the same thing, but the mix is so loud and aggressive and chaotic that one hardly notices. The Dolby Stereo 2.0 track is meek and inoffensive compared to its noisy brethren, but if the other audio modes give you a headache, it is definitely the mode to appreciate the music itself, rather than accurately reproduce the concert-going experience.
If there is a technical sore spot to be had with this DVD, it is the total absence of any and all supplementary material. I can only imagine the preparation, the planning, the rehearsals going on off-camera to put a show together like this, and it would have been nice to have something to augment the concert performance. Sadly, this lack of bonus material of any kind robs this DVD from achieving scores closer to perfection. Heck, with a well-rounded collection of extra material, this DVD could have take over the world and enslaved your children. I for one welcome our new musical overlords.
To summarize: sweet zombie Jesus. Great visuals, excellent audio, and fantastic performances by some of the biggest names in music make Music For Montserrat a DVD that definitely needs to find its way into the collection of any rock aficionado's collection. The lack of supplementary material is disheartening, admittedly, but the inherent coolness of a concert that features a three-way guitar solo between Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Mark Knopfler help smooth things over…and then some!
Heck, the Queen herself attended the concert. I'd say she knows a good thing when she sees it. The only true downside to this DVD is that by the time you finish the performance, you'll want more, and more, and more.
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