As we are all aware, Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans. Congress threw gobs of money at rebuilding the city, and other than that, I don't remember seeing too many benefits based around the event. Of course, I might not have been paying attention, considering just how much we heard about Katrina when it happened. Either way, The New Orleans Concert completely fell under my radar.
The concert line-up didn't seem particularly strong when I glanced at the disc. The only artists whose names caught my eye were Keith Richards and Bonnie Raitt. Still, the back of the disc sounded promising, saying the concert offered a selection of jazz, R&B, blues, folk, and rock. Being an eclectic music fan, I proceeded in with an open mind.
The disc opens with a performance of "It's Raining" by Irma Thomas, with piano backing by Allen Toussaint. Perfect way to start the show. Irma Thomas' smooth vocals and Toussaint's accomplished piano playing set the stage for the rest of the evening. Then comes Joss Stone performing a track from her first album, "Dirty Man." This is where the concert really takes off. I had no idea who Stone was before this concert, but her performance is dynamite. She sings with the passion and technique of someone twice her age. Her song alone makes this disc worth checking out.
If the rest of the concert can't hit the heights set by those opening acts, it's still a strong set. For a charity concert, the missteps are surprisingly few. Among them are "Amazing Grace" performed by Aaron Neville, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" performed by Lloyd Price, and, sadly, "I'm Ready" performed by Keith Richards. For a show with 19 different performances to have only 3 poor showings is fairly impressive.
If there is any other highlight on this disc, it's clearly "I Hear You Knockin'" by Snooks Eaglin. Eaglin is a true veteran of the New Orleans scene and his playing is strong and assured. The rest of the show keeps a uniform level of quality, with no major highlights but no major dissapointments aside from those listed above.
The real draw of the show is simply the variety of music on display. As the back of the case mentions, there are several different styles that make up the New Orleans's musical scene, and they all get a chance to shine. While the special name guests are nice, the real treat is getting to watch the native Orleans players pay homage to the place that inspired them for so many years.
While I don't think The New Orleans Concert would stand against the better concerts available on DVD, it does maintain a minimum level of quality that places it above a good majority of concert shows out there. I don't think this one would get major playtime in anyone's home, unless they're a huge fan of New Orleans' musical scene, but it's certainly worth a rental.
The HD DVD
The case says this was shot in HD, and the disc definitely looks like a made for cable HD broadcast. That is, it has sharp detail but not much dimensionality. It doesn't help that aside from the performer under the spotlight, almost all of the stage is bathed in deep red and/or blue light. This effectively wipes out any chance of a 3D style effect. Still, this isn't troubling as it's clearly a result of the lighting on stage. What does bother me is clear evidence of artifacting. This disc was compressed with MPEG-2, which to me is the most likely culprit for the problems. There isn't much, but when it's there, you notice it. There are a few external shots that seem to be taken from a different source, as those shots have film grain and don't look as sharp as the interior shots.
This HD DVD happens to be a combo disc, which means the HD DVD is on one side, while the same content is replicated in SD on the other. The screenshots in this review were taken from the SD side, which doesn't look awfully different from the HD side. The SD side is clearly softer and lacks a lot of the fine details present on the HD side. I noticed a slight amount of color bleeding on the SD side as well, which was not all present on the HD side. Artifacting abounds on the HD side, with almost every cutaway featuring it. It looks as if the SD side was something of a slapdash operation.
The New Orleans Concert does feature 5.1 surround sound, but sadly, it's only Dolby Digital Plus. If any kind of content screams for TrueHD, it's musical concerts. Still, the surround mix is quite good, with clear tones and good separation. The audience noise is thankfully kept to a minimum, appearing only between songs and even then, they're mixed very low. You get a sense that this 5.1 mix probably sounds better than the actual concert did. There's also a 2.0 mix that feels claustrophobic in comparison. The SD side has a legacy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that sounds virtually identical to the HD side.
There are two types of extras on the disc, bonus songs and interviews. We get 4 songs: "Hey Little Girl" performed by Henry Butler, "Feet Can't Fail Me Now" by the Dirty Dozen Band, "Bah Duey Duey" performed by Big Sam's Funky Nation," and "Sew, Sew, Sew" by Monk Bordreaux and the Mardi Gras Indians. The first two tracks would have fit perfectly on the main set, and in fact, would have been better than "Amazing Grace" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." It's easy to see why the second pair didn't make it, as they're both subpar. Even though it's interesting to see the Mardi Gras Indians, who seem like strong representatives of the most iconic part of New Orleans culture, the performances leave much to be desired.
There are two interviews on the disc. The first is with blues session player Jon Cleary. Considering that Cleary, as far as I can tell, does not appear in the main feature, he seems like an odd choice for an interviewee. He has a few funny stories, but overall, his inclusion feels out of place, and the interview isn't overly interesting.
The second interview is with Earl Palmer, a New Orleans' musical veteran. Palmer does appear in the concert, and thus his interview has a lot more gravitas than does Cleary's. It also helps that Palmer is an old-timer, whose stories go back to before most of the performers in the show were born. Palmer tells all kinds of stories about life, love, and music in New Orleans and his interview is an excellent tool to giving a sense of context to the concert.
The New Orleans Concert is a decidedly minor inclusion into the existing list of HD DVDs released thus far, but it's not without its pleasures. Fantastic performances by Joss Stone and Snooks Eaglin make this disc worth seeing, while the rest of the performers make sure the show never gets boring. The visuals are passable, but definitely not something you would use as a reference. The audio fares better, with warm and enveloping tones. While Hurricane Katrina might be yesterday's news, The New Orleans Concert reminds us just why we should be lamenting the loss of the city in the best way possible: with classic music. Rent It
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.