Movie: Female vocalists are legion these days, due in part to their carefully marketed images and sexual appeal as much as their talent (in most cases at least). I've always been fond of the music industry sirens whether they be one hit wonders or able to sustain a lengthy career in the male-dominated world of popular music. In no particular order, some of the most interesting women of music have been Kylie Minogue, Pat Benatar, Selena, Cher, Sarah Brightman, Berlin, and Everything But The Girl. Another gal that has developed a near-cult following, Tori Amos, has released her first concert DVD, Tori Amos: Welcome To Sunny Florida, a boon to her fans all over the world.
The concert was the last of her Lottapianos Tour last year, on September 4, 2003, at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Fl. From the introductory footage, I gathered that the usually sunny area (it isn't known as "The Sunshine State" for nothing) suffered a deluge of rain but keeping to the adage, "the show must go on", the crew got things ready as they have done thousands of times before. Tori is one of those performers that routinely tours, preferring the experience of the concert over the sterile confines of the lifeless studio to cultivate her works, all written by Tori herself. Like a number of other singers throughout the years, Tori is a performer you must see live to fully appreciate the complexities of what she sings about.
And what about her music? In general, her music comes from deep inside her rather than some mish-mash of a corporate formula that far too many of her contemporaries follow. She doesn't seem to care whether a song will sell so much as what it will say to her personally, a measure of success by any standard in a day where the industry seems intent on glossing over rough edges in favor of marginally increased sales. That doesn't mean all of her works succeed commercially, quite the contrary; they speak to her fans and any financial gain is secondary (although I'm sure appreciated).
Tori writes her own material and performs, typically on a piano, in all her concerts. Some day, I hope to see a concert release of her unplugged material where it's just her and a piano in a small venue but the focus of this review is a stadium full of fans, all screaming for their heroine to sing. And sing she does, from the tales of lost love to soul searching to social commentaries that likely escape the notice of her critics (and perhaps many fans alike). The songs of the concert were broken up with the occasional interlude of Tori bouncing around but she always seemed more at home when playing behind her massive piano than anything else. Here's a list of the set included on the DVD, noting that the concert included a few others that were left off the DVD:
1) a sorta fairytale
4) Cornflake Girl
5) Bells for Her
7) Take To The Sky
9) Cloud On My Tongue
11) your cloud
12) Father Lucifer
13) Professional Widow (slightly altered but still powerful)
14) I can't see New York
15) Precious Things
17) Amber Waves
18) Hey Jupiter
The concert was a mixture of shots from the intimate close-ups to the long shots of her set against the backdrop of the stage but you always knew that she was the focal point for all that took place. Upon careful analysis of the editing, it appeared that each song had it's own editing tempo, allowing the song to take full effect, rather than the usual handful of static shots. I've seen this successfully employed in Kylie Minogue's concert DVD's too but rarely has it produced as much an emotional tie as this one has, melding with the material and Tori's own ability to draw the audience in quite effectively. For all the minor complaining about the slight alterations of a single song, and the lack of a center channel, I think the concert provided far more bang for the buck than virtually anything on the market today. The likely alternative to the hardly noticeable sonic touchup of Professional Widow would have been to exclude it from the package, something that few Tori-philes would appreciate.
The package also included an interesting CD for fans who are well known for wanting all the B-sides Tori produces. The list of tracks deemed "Scarlet's Hidden Treasures" was as follows:
1) Ruby through the Looking-Glass
3) Bug a Martini
4) Apollo's Frock
6) Indian Summer
So, how do you rate something so personal as a concert DVD that either works for you or doesn't? That's the trick, isn't it? To be fair, for all the minor fussing, fans of Ms. Amos will want to consider this as a must have set. Fair-weather fans may disagree but you're not likely to see anything nearly as comprehensive out of Tori in a long time (she's set to start touring again in 2005) and this is as close to the concert experience as you're going to get except for getting off your behinds and going to a show. For that alone, I'm of the belief the DVD was worth a rating of Highly Recommended. Tori may be an acquired taste but this is as good as she gets in concert and if you don't understand her appeal after watching this release, move along before the fans rush past you to buy their tickets.
Picture: The picture was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen as originally shot with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Concert videos are very difficult to "get right" but I think the crew did a solid job here, getting enough material that the editing bay could fix all but the most minor issues. In some ways, I'd even be so bold as to suggest it was a more intimate experience than actually being at the concert (in terms of how close you'd get to the singer at least) although I'm made to understand that the group experience is something that must be made in order to fully appreciate the material's presentations. There was a bit of grain at times and some minor video noise but this was a well-made picture, crafted with care.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a listed 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English track or a 2.0 PCM (pulse code modulated) stereo track. The Dolby track seemed to be missing the center channel, something I don't think I've ever experienced before in a DVD and almost certainly done intentionally. I'm guessing that since the music lent itself to the usual stereo, it was felt that the usually dominant center channel would weaken the presentation but this is a guess on my part. Regardless, the audio seemed exceptionally clear and crisp for a concert DVD on either channel. The Dolby track seemed slightly brighter with higher "highs" but each channel had a slightly different feel to it with both worth listening to.
Extras: The best extra was a 6-track CD as listed above. Some of the songs appeared to be more like studio jam sessions but fans will probably enjoy most of the music presented and getting a half-hour CD as a freebie is always a good thing. There were also a couple of lengthy interviews, one with Tori and another with her mother. Each lent some perspective to the proceedings and kept me listening if not actually watching to see the body language each had (giving more of an impact to what they were saying since they came off as the real deal, not the fakes you usually see in such interviews). Lastly, the case also included a paper insert that had a set of pictures and lyrics to the bonus CD.
Final Thoughts: Tori Amos is one of those performers that you need to watch in concert. For all the cute videos she's made over the years, she is best experienced in person and the next best thing is this concert video. With nearly three hours of material (the concert approaches two and a half hours with the CD lasting around a half hour) and a low price, fans should consider this a no-brainer and those who are interested in Tori should check it out for a better perspective on her than you'll likely get anywhere else.