Judge Bill Gibron gave this title all the "California Love" he could.
Murder of the Format Was the Case That They Gave Fans
It's hard to believe that rap legend Tupac Shakur has been dead for nearly 14 years. Gunned down in his prime, he remains a mythic voice in a musical genre that's cultural importance he helped cement. So it's odd to keep seeing more and more product from the man, considering that, last time anyone checked, it's hard to make an album when you're no longer among the living—and yet, like clockwork, the keepers of Shakur's legacy keep pumping out the "new" material. He's almost as proficient in death as Jimi Hendrix. Now comes another update to his continuing catalog, a live concert experience that only partially features the medium's greatest poet. As part of a Death Row showcase, Shakur is featured alongside Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, Outlawz, and K-Ci & Jo Jo. He represents approximately half of the show's near two hour running time, so it's technically not a solo shot. Even worse, the updated format of Blu-ray does no favors to the faulty visual element used to represent the otherwise excellent show.
First, the performances themselves. As usual, Shakur winds up the crowd like only a mammoth musical force can. Clearly at the height of his powers as both a street poet and voice of his people, the moment he launches into "Ambitions as a Ridah," the crowd is in chaos. It continues through highlights such as "So Many Tears," "Hit 'Em Up," and "Never Call You Bitch Again." Once K-Ci and Jo Jo join him, the energy level ebbs. Something like "Freek'N You" just doesn't have the impact of "Troublesome" or "All About You." Still, by the end of "How Do You Want It," the audience seems satisfied—and then Snoop arrives, a telltale puff of smoke following him into the arena. From then on, all Hell breaks loose. As good as Shakur is at selling a message, the 'Doggfather' is all about the party, and he gets the faithful more than amped up. They shout along to the call and response refrain for "Who Am I (Say My Name)," go mental for "Big Pimpin'," and "Murder Was the Case." By the time he gets to mega-MTV hit "Gin and Juice," it seems impossible for the throng to enjoy themselves more. Then Shakur reappears for a rousing group effort in "2 of Americaz Most Wanted" and the rules are rewritten all over again.
It is quite a show, captured with typical editorial overkill by J. Kevin Swain. Never meeting a harsh jump cut he didn't fall instantly in love with, the constant back and forth between mismatched shots can be jarring. Once you get in the impressionistic mood of the presentation, however, the annoyance level becomes nominal. Even better, the boasting and toasting from the various members of the stars' posse are limited, not overpowering or overwhelming the actual talent people paid to see. Sure, there are occasions when one or two of the mob make asses of themselves, but for the most part, they play a perfect supporting role. A final note on the musical backdrop, which can occasionally border somewhere between unlistenable and awful. In this case, the DJ antics match flawlessly with the backing tracks, the mix moderating the balance between voice and various sonic facets expertly. It's unusual when the music can be as powerful as the various vocal twists of the MCs, but that's clearly the case here.
Be warned, however. Eagle Vision has done much better in the past with imperfect analog transfers. Whatever the reason, the 1.78:1 1080i image looks fairly mediocre. It is soft and lacking significant contrasts. The colors are good and the filming process captures the light show with ease. But when you hear that Shakur is going to be part of a high definition concert presentation, you imagine being able to easily read his trademark tattoos even on the smallest flat screen. But you can't here. The picture is flawed in ways that make one wonder why it was transferred over to the new format—and then you hear the audio. It almost makes up for the subpar visuals—almost.
The DTS 5.1 Master Audio track is excellent, utilizing all the channels while providing more than ample bass. The voices come across loud and clear with the lyrics easily understood even over the din. The immersive feel to the live show is also present, though it is hampered occasionally by the desire to include the viewer in every aspect of the audience's experience. While there is a standard 5.1 presentation and a LPCM stereo track, stick with what Blu-ray does best. As for added content, there are five bonus videos—"California Love (Remix)," "To Live and Die in LA," "Hit 'Em Up," "How Do You Want It (Concert Version)" and "I Ain't Mad At Cha"—all given the 1080i sheen. They look great.
So, after 14 years of posthumous pitching, Tupac Shakur can still shake up a medium. His contributions as part of Live at the House of Blues are truly memorable. Too bad then that the facets of the format let him and his fellow rap icons down.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Music Videos
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