Judge Adam Arseneau is a one-man band.
Since 1987, Austin has rocked out every year to the SXSW Festival, an interactive festival of film, music, and presentations that sees hundreds of performers take to the stage to tear things up. Recorded live in March 2007, SXSW Live 2007 features 18 songs performed by a cross-section of musical talent, recorded at two venues, the Bat Bar and the Lone Star Lounge:
Live From the Bat Bar
• The Bravery, "Honest Mistake"
Live From the Lone Star Lounge
• Marc Broussard, "Home"
Now this is concert DVD: no frills, no extras, and a minimum of annoying documentary prattle, just 90 minutes of musical performances with high production values. You put the disc in, click start, and the music begins. No fuss, no muss. I like that.
Since I'm stuck in Toronto, Austin might as well be on another planet for how accessible it is for me (don't feel too bad for me, we've got NXNE) so it is a nice treat to experience the festival from the comfort of my living room. A corny thing to write in a DVD review, I realize, but in this case, it's pretty accurate. The performances on SXSW Live 2007 look and sound great, but are imperfect—they capture the entire band's audio foibles, every feedback squelch, every volume adjustment, and every sour note in all their spontaneity. At no point does SXSW Live 2007 attempt to be reference material or anything for audiophiles. It's just a cross-section of the musical fun to be had at SXSW. Me, I can get behind that.
Standout performances based on my expert and infallible musical taste include The Polyphonic Spree (watch them perform and just try not to break into a toothy grin), Annuals (fantastic, high energy, infectious), Ozomatli (West Coast fusion at its finest), and Mando Diao (frenetic rock), but there is a diverse enough smattering of genres and styles here to satisfy virtually all tastes, save for heavy metal.
The sets and shoot locations are well-lit with aerial cameras expertly operated to capture dozens of angles from the crowd, from the sky, the stage, and every other nook and cranny imaginable, with impressively professional editing and production work. The image is crisp and clean with vibrant colors, fine black levels, and nice detail, but exhibits a fair amount of compression artifacts, especially in skin tones. Edge enhancement is discernible throughout, and reds and purples often bleed, but as a whole the transfer is entirely serviceable for a down-and-dirty concert DVD.
We get a stereo and a surround track to jam along with. The 2.0 track sounds good, but is a kitty cat compared to the tiger that is the surround track. The 5.1 has great bass response and crystal clear fidelity. Vocals are nicely placed in the center channel, with immersive use of rear channels. Every instrument is perfectly captured and spaced across the five channels. The stereo channel captures the clarity well enough, but lacks the oomph.
The only extra on SXSW Live 2007 is a series of interviews with 15 of the 18 musical acts (The Automatic Automatic, Aqualung, and Bowling For Soup miss the boat here) inexplicably conducted by shock musician virtuoso Andrew W.K. (and once by MTV 120 Minutes VJ Matt Pinfield). It would be a lot weirder were Andrew not such a disturbingly capable interviewer. Extremely intelligent, engaging, and friendly with his subjects, he lets them speak their minds rather than say, jumping around in his tight white jeans, screaming, and cutting his face open like you might expect. The segments are quick, down and dirty, two minutes per band tops, clearly heavily edited down to their short running times with some awkward cuts noticeable. Still, their inclusion is a nice touch. A handy "play all" feature links them all together.
If there's a downside to this DVD, it's the brevity. We get one song per band, a mere Petri-dish sample of musical artists who wandered through SXSW this year, which is kind of a tease. Make this a two-disc set and give me twice the music, and I'd have less to complain about. Sure, SXSW Live 2007 is a great sampling and cross-section of the diverse festival's musical talent, but we get but a taste.
This is the kind of disc easy to recommend: short, sweet, no bull, no filler, and no crap—just pure rock and roll from start to finish. A short but sweet DVD, but it reflects nicely in the low MSRP. Regardless of you musical tastes, you'll find something on SXSW Live 2007 to tickle your eardrums. If you can pick it up on the cheap, this one makes a solid addition to any musical DVD collection. Not guilty.
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