Judge Steve Power spent his weekend watching the best damn music Blu-ray in his collection, outside of Kenny G: Live!
Directed by the seminal music feature filmmaker, Tony Palmer, Irish Tour '74 captures Rory Gallagher…the man, his music and his magical connection with his live audience to perfection.
There's a very good chance that many of you don't know who Rory Gallagher is. That you may have stumbled onto this review because you read everything you see on the front page, and that's great, prepare to be educated. For those of you who are Rory fans, you need only know that I'm about to gush all over this disc for the next couple of hundred words or so.
Facts of the Case
After splitting from his first band, Taste, young Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher would begin making a name for himself and selling a few records as he started out the 1970s with some aggressive touring. The humble six string samurai would later garner a loyal fan following and become well known for his amazingly captivating live performances and a charismatic stage presence. Never one to forget his roots, Rory launched a tour of the Emerald Isles early in 1974, including troubled areas like Belfast, which were then embroiled in a wave of IRA violence. Treading ground no other rock n roller dared, the tour was chronicled for what was to be a television program, but wound up being Irish Tour '74. Clocking in over two hours, the following performances are captured:
• "Walk on Hot Coals"
"Walk on Hot Coals" kicks things off with a long free-form jam, where Rory and the band really get to show off just how amazingly skilled they are, but it's the smoking rendition of "Tatto'd Lady" that really kicks the proceedings into high gear. From the out-and-out rockers to acoustic ballads, the band nails every note, and every song is a catchy, toe-tapper. Rather than document one complete show, the film captures the performances from eight or nine different shows, highlighting the band at their absolute best, and this is one hell of a band. It's incredible that a player as amazing as Rory has managed to stay under the radar for so long, he's as technically proficient as Stevie Ray Vaughn or Jimi Hendrix, but with a better sense of harmony than SVR, and much less showboating than Hendrix, and his soulful leads never, ever contrast with the background action, blending seamlessly and effortlessly with the rhythm section (Rod de'Ath and Gerry McAvoy both also very impressive on Drums and bass respectively). This is a fantastic disc to chuck on to just listen to. It hearkens blues based riffing like that of Stevie Ray, or the more folksy side of Led Zeppelin, but Rory's music is ultimately entirely his own.
Interspersed throughout the performance footage is backstage material and interview snippets taken around Rory's hometown. The backstage material shows us a completely different era in music; no wild parties, no entourage or fancy dressing rooms, just a group of musicians, tuning their own gear and getting prepped for a night on stage. This is a working class band with a working class groove, and it doesn't seem as though they'd have it any other way. The interview stuff with Rory himself focuses mainly on his styles of playing, and his attitude, which is always down to earth and very atypical. There's nothing at all that is "rock star" about Mr. Gallagher, his songs, his playing, or his persona. This is a pro, a man who plays better than just about any guitarist living or dead, and his music. Sadly, Rory passed on in 1995 at the age of 47, but we have performances like this one to remind us of just how amazing of a talent he was.
Originally presented on DVD in 2001, the feature was extensively remastered for the Blu-ray release—and, I would assume, the DVD re-release—and much care has been taken at giving us the best package possible. The original DVD looked and sounded very much like a product of the early '70s, while here we get a clear, nearly damage free 1080i image with vibrant colors and just the barest hint of softness. I noticed no errors in compression, or any kind of halos or authoring defects, merely the barest hint of some specks of dirt and dust on the print. For something cheaply filmed in the early '70s, this disc looks great! The sound is even more of a surprise, given the limited recording tech of the era, there is a lot of mid range, and some of the songs do sound a little hissy or lossy, but the DTS HD Master Audio just booms around the room, filling the soundstage. There's warmth to the sound that really asks for it to be played loud, and the separation is dramatic and bold. Great work all around.
For extras, there are home videos taken from the band's tour of Japan in 1974, and another concert, originally shown on Irish television, that was taken from Rory's 1972 tour of Ireland. This concert is almost as good as the main attraction, though it's presented in standard definition and the picture and sound are nowhere near up to the standards set by the main attraction. Still, the performance is great (and "Pistol Slapper Blues" kicks so much ass!) and well worth a look. A wistfully nostalgic commentary track by bassit Gerry McAvoy and Rory's brother and manager Donal Gallagher round out the fantastic package, and it's also worth a listen if you would like to hear more about what sort of a space the band was in at the time of the recording, and a glimpse or seven into what kind of a man Rory was to play with, live with, and share music with.
There are other guitarists with greater reputations, guys like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Edge, Slash, Brian May, and even John Lennon and George Harrison, and they all have one thing in common: They all idolized, watched obsessively, and were heavily influenced by Rory Gallagher. Check out Irish Tour '74 and you'll understand why. The performances are nothing shy of stunning, and Gallagher himself is an endlessly likeable working class guitar god with charisma to spare. The extensive remastering is a truly world class effort that captures one of the greatest examples of blues-driven rock n roll I've had the pleasure of witnessing. If you're a fan of any kind of instrument with six strings, if you've ever nodded to a blues riff in your life, you need to own this disc. Highest possible recommendation!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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