Background: Back in the mid 1970's, the music industry was largely split into two major groups; the disco dance stuff and the hard rock faction. Other musical genres were taking off too but to be a success, most musicians embraced one of these styles to go with, each having their own set of "rules" to be followed according to industry pundits. One of the most successful of all the bands that formed in these years, and later served to inspire a great many others, was Heart, a band most notable for the sisters that formed the backbone of the band; Ann and Nancy Wilson. Ann was the lead singer of the band, belting out songs with a lot of power and charisma, making them her own as she used her sonic abilities to dominate the airwaves of radio. Nancy, on the other hand, proved her detractors wrong by wielding a mighty solid wave of music from her guitar, having learned on a piece of junk that ultimately strengthened her hands to the point where there was little she could not play (and play well). The rest of the band lineup changed over the years but their debut album Dreamboat Annie from 1976 spawned three hits that live on the radio even today being endlessly played (Crazy on You, Magic Man, and the titular Dreamboat Annie). With Roger Fisher adding guitar, Howard Leese on keyboard, Steve Fossen on Bass, and a number of drummers credited to the CD; the album frequently comes up as a top pick by fans and casual listeners alike. Well, earlier this year on the latest tour of the Wilson sisters, labeled the Love Rules Tour kicked off in March, resulting in a televised concert reviewed on DVD here today called Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live as recorded in the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles; the concert being the first time the album was ever played live.
Concert: Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live is the latest concert release by a popular band from awhile back, much like The Bangles reunion tour released not long ago. The difference this time was that the music was played as though recording it all at once; a fact mentioned prominently on the cover as the song order was maintained and nothing substantial was edited out. As a long time fan of Heart, I've followed their music from the original release (on vinyl!) through their more esoteric releases of the early eighties, to the power ballads and love songs juiced up by the MTV dynamic. What I was expecting here was not a very high bar given the age of the material, my own familiarity with it, and my general dislike of concerts in favor of the cleaned up studio tracks (unless I'm actually going to the concert where the sonic quality is secondary to the experience itself). What I found were a couple of still attractive ladies that could still knock out the hits with all the passion of their youth, assisted by a band of talented musicians able to play much like their counterparts from generations ago; Ben Smith on drums, Craig Bartock on guitar, Debbie Shair on keyboards, and Ric Markman on bass with an assortment of accompanying musicians giving some extra punch.
The DVD began easily enough, the crowd roaring their approval at the historic concert. The ladies have long had a stage presence that puts them in the select minority of groups who are probably more at ease in front of the crowd than behind the scenes. The song order was as follows:
Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)
Crazy on You
Soul of the Sea
White Lightning & Wine (Love Me Like Music)
I'll Be Your Song
How Deep It Goes
Dreamboat Annie (reprise)
Then the encore with
Goodbye Blue Sky
Misty Mountain Hop
Love, Reign O'er Me
The interview footage was interesting as the gals told the tale of their lives, glossing over some bumps but recounting it in such a way that they were clearly the type that lived life to the fullest, having learned the hard way that embracing life is the best way to spend your time here. The songs were interesting in how they have evolved over the last three decades, each performed in a different manner that breathed new life into them as a result. Ann alternated between crooning, charging head first into, and otherwise mixing it up with the songs she and Nancy wrote so long ago. She played the flute well too and both ladies displayed the kind of musical versatility you don't find too often with today's dilettante lady musicians. Nancy played her part well too with the guitar as her primary instrument of choice with some harmonica tossed in for good measure.
The classics live had all the same power they've always had, the lyrics a bit easier to understand in this format in fact. The time flew by as the group went through their repertoire, adding in some fine performances on the encore offerings listed above. I would have loved to hear Stairway to Heaven or some of the others they have reportedly played in the past but this was a lot of fun and I rated it as a Recommended for the general audience but fans will already have their copies secured by this point in time and need no prompting from me. I think the Shout approach to getting legendary bands (this is part of their Legendary Albums Live series) playing their classics and recording them for DVD and CD is great; my copy of the music CD sounding at least as good as the DVD in most ways, though not as widely spaced out as the DVD's 5.1 audio.
Picture: Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live was presented in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 offering as shot by director Ivan Dudynsky. The fleshtones were accurate, the lighting spot on, and the level of depth was almost as solid as some of the HD DVD's I've been reviewing of late (leading me to wonder what this will look like when it gets the high definition treatment in the future). The editing was a bit heavy handed at times as the camera crew was put to work capturing as much of the experience as they could; focusing mostly on wherever the action was at a given moment. I saw no edge enhancement or compression artifacts, the bitrate on the video typically in the mid 5 Mbps range. There were some sweeping pans and Ann was often caught from the stomach upward for some reason but it was a solid job overall with a variety of camera angles and shots to give a better representation of the whole experience.
Sound: The audio was presented with two choices; the superior 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track offered up with a 448 Kbps bitrate of the 2.0 Dolby Digital standard track in 192 Kbps rate, both in English as originally sung. The separation and spatial qualities of the surround track was superior in every way, leading me to believe it was recorded in 5.1 and then "dumbed down" to 2.0 later for those not equipped to handle surround. The music was not studio perfect with scores of takes to get it "right" but the raw energy projected by the band, especially Ann's vocals, made it a sonic treat all the same. There were few rough edges that weren't cleaned up in post production and after listening to it several times, I found myself liking it more each time; this being music I've enjoyed for over 30 years.
Extras: There really weren't many extras here with a 4:41 tribute by a number of fans being the main one. They would give anecdotes about following the band, going to many concerts over the years, and was shot by a handheld camera crew in an impromptu style from what I could tell. The other extra was the photogallery of pictures from the band's entire career, including newspaper clippings, pictures from long ago, and some more recent material but not limited to the Dreamboat Annie phase of their lives. The paper insert gave concert details like that this was shot on April 17, 2007 and who was on backup but not much else with a double sided cover and insert for Ann Wilson's first solo album that came out last month.
Final Thoughts: Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live was a nice mixture of interviews and a concert catering to the legion of fans that still love the group. As one of those fans myself, I found it to be one of the best concerts recently recorded, I only wish the extras were as good as the technical values and music itself. A running audio commentary by the gals would have been great or perhaps more of their work from over the years (be it the Rock Concert footage or other performances, or news in greater detail). In all then, Heart: Dreamboat Annie Live was what any Heart fan could hope for in terms of the concert itself, the rest of the DVD proving to be gravy. Oh, and for those interested in the music CD of the concert, I can tell you that it sounds a lot better than the sample clips found online, so check it out too.