While perhaps Toronto doesn't rock as hard as Cleveland, Judge Joel Pearce says this concert from Toronto rocks pretty hard.
The ultimate concert lineup!
On July 30th, 2003, a massive concert was assembled in order to revitalize tourism in Toronto after the SARS scare. There was some controversy surrounding the concert, as many people understood this to mean that it would be a benefit concert to help the ailing businesses of Canada's largest city. The organizers, however, intended the concert as a way to make a bundle of cash while also bringing people back to the city. Regardless of its motives, Toronto Rocks brought together a number of top-rate acts. Although not all of these bands are included on this disc, Rhino has decided to include the following performances here:
The Flaming Lips:
The first group to perform on this DVD is the one I am least familiar with. Renditions of two of their most famous songs, Race to the Prize and Do You Realize?, are included here. The members of The Flaming Lips deliver a solid performance, though, with energy to spare and a good relationship with the crowd.
The Have Love Will Travel Revue
Essentially acting as the headliners for the headliners of Toronto Rocks, The Have Love Will Travel Revue is a filler band lead by Dan Aykroyd, trying to relive his glory days from The Blues Brothers. When that band first broke off from Saturday Night Live, it was led by the skilled and charismatic John Belushi, and the two lead singers were backed by a genuinely talented rhythm and blues band. Unfortunately, those days are long past. Jim Belushi cannot live up to the memory of his brother, and the band doesn't have the great collection of performers that it once did. Mostly they just look pathetic, attempting to run through the old motions. Neither of the songs they perform (Dig Myself a Hole and Time Won't Let Me) recall the fun of their old albums and feature film.
The Isley Brothers
After all these years, the Isley Brothers can still put on a great show. Long time group leader Ronald Isley reminds us that he first wrote and performed Shout in 1959. It still sounds great, with an updated, funky beat and classic gospel vocals. Who's That Lady, their other contribution to the disc, also sounds updated without sacrificing its original sound. Hopefully their appearance at Toronto Rocks will draw the attention of a new generation of fans. If you think about it, these guys were singing together when the members of The Rolling Stones were still in grade school, and they still have a great sound.
Justin Timberlake seems, in a lot of ways, to be the odd one out in this performance. I, like many others, was surprised to see his name on the bill, alongside so many great rock artists. His juxtaposition with The Isley Brothers is an interesting one, though, as he is obviously trying to immerse himself in that black gospel/soul tradition. To that effect, he has surrounded himself with a great backup band, and Señorita turns out to be a pleasant addition to the concert. His solo efforts away from *NSYNC are an obvious attempt on his part to return to the roots of soul, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Unfortunately, many of the fans of the big classic rock bands were less enthusiastic about seeing him perform, so there was some booing at the beginning of his set, and in the features there are a couple shots of him dodging water bottles on stage. It's sad to see, but by this point in his set, the crowd has come around and is getting into the music.
The Guess Who
Unlike the Isley Brothers, who did a great job of reinventing their old tunes, watching The Guess Who is like going into a time warp. Burton Cummings's vocals sound a little weaker than they used to, but other than that, this could have been a performance from several decades ago. These guys are starting to look old and tired, despite their efforts to inject their old energy into the music. Both American Woman and No Time sound extremely familiar, which probably excited some audience members more than others
The members of Rush were hot off a world tour in 2003, and their performance here shows it. In some ways this is great, as their performances of Limelight, Freewill, and The Spirit of Radio demonstrate the tightness and power that the band is known for. In another way, this concert is definitely not the best way to get your live Rush fix, as other concert DVDs have done a better job of capturing the band at work. It's still a great addition to this concert, though, and as tight as you can ask a live performance to be.
While the most excitement of the day surrounded the inclusion of The Rolling Stones, the biggest and most pleasant surprise came from the rip-roaring performance from AC/DC. Few of the other bands on the disc capture the energy and passion of this performance, or even come close. Back in Black might be the best track on the disc, and the relationship that AC/DC builds with the audience in Thunderstruck is unmatched even by The Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stones
While their dominance was threatened by the left field surprise of AC/DC's spirited performance, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones remain the kings of Toronto Rocks. Because a full five songs are represented here, their performance feels like it has more cohesiveness and development than that of the other bands. Their set kicks off with Start Me Up, which is a proof that this band can still rock as hard as they used to. This is followed by a great live version of Ruby Tuesday. They are then joined on-stage by Justin Timberlake for Miss You and AC/DC for a straight blues version of Rock Me Baby. This spirit of sharing captures what the concert was all about. These joint numbers are followed by Satisfaction and Jumpin' Jack Flash. The Rolling Stones's part of the concert is rich and varied, and I can't help but wish I had been able to be there for the whole set.
Not satisfied to just include plenty of great music, the disc also has a number of extra features. The first is a montage of clips from backstage called The Photo, with various band members hanging out and congratulating each other. There are plenty of clips of the bands that weren't included on the disc, which is a reminder of how much material was skipped over. The segment culminates in some footage of the bands getting together into a group photo. The second featurette, aptly named Justin Meets the Stones, shows exactly what you would expect. It's footage from their rehearsal for the song they sing together. They do go on to talk about the bottle-throwing incident, which is fascinating. The last of these featurettes is some interviews with AC/DC and the Stones talking about the experience they had playing together.
After this, there is what's arguably the coolest feature on the disc, called Director's Chair. We get to hear Marty Callner's broadcast call of Thunderstruck. It's pretty awesome to watch the challenge of being a live editor, and I can't imagine doing that for as long as he must have throughout the day. The final extra is a collection of clips from the Canadian bands that opened the concert. These are not bad bands, and it's sad that they couldn't be included in the concert section. For those that are really interested, the Canadian edition of the DVD includes a second disc with some of the performances from this band.
Technically, the disc is satisfactory. The image quality is as good as you can expect considering it was shot for television. The colors are often washed out, and there are some digital flaws and artifacts. It gets worse during the last part of the concert, due to the night filming. All that really matters is the sound transfer, though, which is much better. The PCM track sounds rich and clean, although the crowd sounds pretty flat. The Dolby 5.1 track adds the immersiveness that a concert track should have, without a noticeable drop in sound quality. Everything that happens on stage comes across cleanly and there is plenty of bass.
For fans of the bands that have been included on the disc, Toronto Rocks is well worth a purchase. It has some great performances and sells at a low price point. While it would have been nice to have a much larger anthology of this concert, this is probably the most of it we will ever get to buy. Fans of one of the bands that already have plenty of that band's concert footage already on DVD may just want to give it a rent to see whether it is worth it.
The Toronto Rocks DVD could have been more, but it does exactly what it promises it will do. It's not really the ultimate concert line up as it says on the box, but it is a pretty cool collection of some of the best rock bands in the world. Not guilty.
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