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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » Heart: Alive in Seattle (HD DVD)
Heart: Alive in Seattle (HD DVD)
Image // Unrated // December 12, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 22, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Originally released on DVD in 2003, Heart: Alive in Seattle is part of the opening salvo of live concert HD DVD releases from Image Entertainment. Alive in Seattle was recorded on the last stop of the Heart's 2002 "Summer of Love" tour, and this performance captures the band at their tightest.

The setlist concentrates on Heart's '70s output, with right at half of the set culled from three of the band's earliest albums. Their most popular songs -- "Crazy On You", "Magic Man", and "Barracuda" -- are present and accounted for, naturally, as are such popular but less iconic singles as "Dog and Butterfly" and "Straight On". It seems as if frontwomen Ann and Nancy Wilson are trying to put the decade that followed behind them, and Heart's mid-'80s transformation into pop-balladeers is almost entirely glossed over. Their eponymously titled 1985 album went platinum five times over in the U.S., and of its slew of hits, only "These Dreams" has made it onto this disc. Ann and Nancy also perform a stripped down version of "Alone" from their 1987 follow-up, and "Wild Child" is it for Heart's handful of releases from the '90s.

It's not just a "greatest hits, live!" disc, though. Heart pulls out several covers, starting with a hard-charging tear through "The Witch", an early single from fellow Pacific Northwestern rockers The Sonics. Nancy Wilson apparently shares her husband's taste in music; "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is that other song of Elton John's prominently featured in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, and it makes an appearance halfway through the set. Heart had frequently been likened to Led Zeppelin early in their career, and Alive in Seattle is bolstered by a pair of Zeppelin covers: "The Battle of Evermore" and "Black Dog".

Four newly penned songs make it into the set as well: "Sister Wild Rose", "Heaven", "Two Faces of Eve", and "Break the Rock". The pre-song banter continually mentions that these would appear on an album that they were on the verge of recording, although I don't believe any of them made it to "Jupiters Darling" when that CD was eventually released. The newer material is alright; there's not a "Barracuda" for the new millenium in there or anything, but they don't bring the performance to a grinding halt, and sometimes that's good enough.

Despite an emphasis on crunchy guitar-rock, the band also spends around a third of the set with sparse, acoustic instrumentation, focusing on Nancy's nimble fretwork and Ann's powerful vocals. With "Mistral Wind" and "Heaven" as bookending segues with the full band, the remainder of this stretch of the performance is purely anchored around Ann and Nancy. The power ballad "Alone" is performed with just a single acoustic guitar and subdued keyboards, for instance, and "The Battle of Evermore" retains the acoustic guitar and mandolin instrumentation of the original Zeppelin recording.

The full set list is as follows:
  1. Crazy on You
  2. Sister Wild Rose
  3. The Witch
  4. Straight On
  5. These Dreams
  6. Mistral Wind
  7. Alone
  8. Dog and Butterfly
  9. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
  10. The Battle of Evermore
  11. Heaven
  12. Magic Man
  13. Two Faces of Eve
  14. Love Alive
  15. Break the Rock
  16. Barracuda
  17. Wild Child
  18. Black Dog
  19. Dreamboat Annie
Video: Heart: Alive in Seattle was shot on high-definition video at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and this 1080i HD DVD has been encoded using MPEG-4. I'd seen the concert previously on HDNet through my admittedly lousy cable provider, and this HD DVD cleans up some of the problems I'd encountered on that broadcast. The band plays in front of large, ruffled curtains which looked blocky and pixelated on cable, and fades also suffered from some nasty artifacting. The HD DVD is much smoother by comparison. Tighter shots are sharp and immaculately detailed, but the image is much softer when the camera pulls back. I remember thinking the same thing on cable, so I don't believe that's anything unique to this HD DVD. The background of the stage can look fairly noisy at times, especially during performances like "Alone" when the lights are dimmed down. I also spotted some occasional aliasing, such as Ann's microphone in the shots of the sisters from stage-right during "Dog and Butterfly". These sorts of concerns are admittedly fairly minor and shouldn't dissuade any fans from picking up this disc. Not jaw-droppingly impressive but still in keeping with what I'd expect from a recent HD DVD release.

Audio: This HD DVD includes several different soundtracks: two 5.0 mixes, one provided in TrueHD and the other in Dolby Digital Plus, as well as a standard 2.0 stereo track. As frequently as gearheads salivate over lossless TrueHD audio, toggling between the two multichannel mixes on Heart: Alive in Seattle didn't reveal any discernable differences. The disc may be an anomaly in that respect, but I don't have any major complaints.

The 5.0 mix spreads the vocals and instrumentation across the three front channels, localizing some of the instruments in specific speakers, while the rears are reserved primarily for reverb and crowd noise. It may be unusual to see "5.0" on the flipside of the packaging rather than the expected "5.1", and the mix does indeed lack the wall-rattling low-frequency kick you'd normally get with a dedicated LFE channel. There's still plenty of bass in the mix, but viewers without full-range speakers may want to consider setting their players/receivers to use 'small' speakers to direct the bass towards the subwoofer. The various instruments -- which aside from the usual two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards also include some flute, mandolin, and autoharp -- are clear and distinct, and Ann Wilson's powerful vocals soar above them all. There's not a hint of distortion or edginess to be found. A very strong effort.

Along with the array of different soundtracks, Heart: Alive in Seattle also includes Japanese subtitles.

Supplements: This HD DVD release does feature one extra, something that didn't make the cut on the original 2003 DVD: an eight and a half minute interview with Ann and Nancy Wilson. It's a promotional piece, heavy on lengthy excerpts from the performance and clearly meant as a plug for the DVD, but it's still alright. The sisters talk about playing on the road for the first time in a decade, hammering out agreements with various record labels for a setlist representing nearly thirty years' worth of recordings, and touch on the four new songs highlighted on this disc. The interview is letterboxed and presented in non-anamorphic standard definition, and if you're really a stickler for this level of detail, it's also been encoded using MPEG-4.

This HD DVD includes a set of static widescreen menus, and the concert can either be played in full or each of its nineteen songs can be selected individually. The disc comes packaged in a squared-off, latched case identical to the ones Universal has been using lately.

Conclusion: Decades in the grueling music industry haven't weathered Heart any: even after all of these years together, Ann and Nancy Wilson are still in top form on Alive in Seattle, and fans of the hard-rocking sisters should find this disc well-worth the modest asking price. It's also worth noting that Alive in Seattle is one of those rare cases where the HD DVD is actually less expensive on average than the original DVD, making it just that much more appealing. Recommended.

Potential Problems: I've read reports that some Toshiba HD-A1 owners have had trouble getting the TrueHD track to play properly when decoded over HDMI, resulting in stereo audio instead of the expected multichannel mix. I don't have an HDMI-capable receiver to verify, but I didn't stumble upon any issues with the six-channel analog output. I've also heard that the HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 sputters and stutters when loading the title menu, but I haven't been able to verify this either.
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