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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden
Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden
Other // Unrated // January 29, 2008
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 12, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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There are some twenty thousand seats at Madison Square Garden, and Dispatch filled every last one of them this past summer. Not only is Dispatch the first independent act to sell out the Garden, but the band did it three nights running. Although Dispatch had disbanded several years earlier, all three of its members had remained active with supporting various charities on their own, and the chaos that's ravaged Zimbabwe in recent years prompted the Afrofunk-inflected folk rockers to reunite for this three night stint in New York.

The band tears through nineteen songs on this two hour DVD set -- with another four in the extras -- including:

Here We Go Passerby Cut It Ya Match It
Time Served Flying Horses Bats in the Belfry
Whaddya Wannabe Past the Falls Elias
Open Up Fallin' Outloud
Bulletholes Lightning General
Bang Bang Steeples
Ride a Tear Questioned Apocalypse

I'll admit to not having heard of Dispatch before giving this disc a spin in my DVD player, and my taste in music leans more towards fast, crunchy slices of power-pop than the sprawling, mid-tempo numbers here. Still, I was pretty impressed with the band. The setlist is eclectic, drawing its influence from genres as diverse as ska, reggae, folk, and rock. "Cut It Ya Match It" even has a couple members of the band strolling through the Garden and rapping over a single acoustic guitar. The three of them repeatedly swap instruments and take turns singing lead, and a slew of guests parade up and down the stage, including a full horn section, a stand-in drummer, the African Children's Choir, and the members of Bongo Love. Even if their three night stint at Madison Square Garden marked one of the very few times Dispatch had played together in years, the band still knows how to put on a hell of a show. The performance shatters the two hour mark, and yet the energy and enthusiasm on display here seems unlimited. The concert blazes along at a steady clip, and even though there are brief black and white interludes scattered throughout the show, they never drag down the pace. For one nostalgic song, the three members push out their old touring van, hop on top of it, and belt out a quick acoustic number.

Even though Dispatch's music is just about a complete 180 from what I generally listen to, I walked away from this disc with a lot of respect for the band, both as an immensely talented group of musicians and as genuinely stand-up guys who'll go to such extreme lengths for a cause they believe in. Dispatch: Zimbabwe documents a tight performance that's crackling with energy, and the show's gotten a particularly lavish release on DVD, including four additional songs, a full hour of extra footage, a ten track CD, and a code to download high bitrate mp3s of the entire show.

Video: Like most concert releases, Dispatch: Zimbabwe is somewhat inconsistent, but it's generally a solid effort. The concert footage doesn't look nearly as nice as the high-def Blu-ray release, of course, but it's still generally reasonably sharp and well-defined. There are a fair number of shots that look kind of lousy, though. The camera that slowly swoops around Chad is unusually soft and looks like the contrast is dialed all the way up, for instance, and the underlit shots of the audience tend to be noisy and flat. Overall, though, I'm pretty happy with the way Dispatch: Zimbabwe turned out on DVD.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) is unremarkable but perfectly listenable. The instrumentation is spread across the front channels fairly well. Depending on who's taking the reins as lead guitarist, for instance, the guitar will be heavily weighted towards either the left or right speaker. The use of surrounds is more uneven, rendered crystal clear in certain songs but sounding awfully muddy and indistinct in quite a few others. Braddigan's drumming is backed by a pretty colossal low-end kick, and the rhythm section overall dominates the mix. There's not a lot of clarity and distinctness to the instrumentation -- even with the separation across channels, it all sounds kind of mashed together -- and the vocals and guitars can take a hit as a result. The vocals get lost in the mix in "Flying Horses", to name one example. It's an okay mix but doesn't rank up there with the best I've heard.

A Dolby Digital stereo track has also been included.

Extras: The extras on this DVD set kick off with four additional songs: "Camilo", "Customs", "Carnival", and a cover of Bob Marley's "War".

The half hour, anamorphic widescreen documentary "Tree with No Name" delves into the plight of Zimbabwe, framed around the stop-motion animation of an African children's story. It's a soul-shattering look at how devastated this proud country has become, suffering from starvation, rampant HIV infections, a collapsed economy, and one of the world's lowest life expectancies.

Exclusive to this DVD release is a full half hour of even more material. Half of that is devoted to other outtakes -- Dispatch rattling off some of the concerts (and dog shows) they've caught at Madison Square Garden over the years, fumbling with a beachball on stage, a meet-up with a chicken hypnotist, and a detailed discussion about what the Dispatch Foundation specifically hopes to accomplish in Zimbabwe with the proceeds from these shows. The five vignettes about Zimbabwe from the concerts -- anchored around Elias, the namesake of one of the band's songs -- have also been included, touching on the dizzying inflation, famine, and dismal health in the country.

This DVD set comes packaged with a ten track CD, serving up live performances of "Time Served", "Whaddya Wannabe", "Bang Bang", "Ride a Tear", "Flying Horses", "Fallin'", "Steeples", "Bats in the Belfry", "Elias", and "General". High bitrate mp3s of all of the songs from the DVD can be downloaded with a code tucked inside. Rounding out the extras in this package is a set of liner notes/miniposter.

Conclusion: While I'll freely admit that Dispatch isn't so much my type of music, this document of the band's three night stint at Madison Square Garden is overflowing with energy and musicianship, and I can still appreciate that even if I'm not likely to run out and grab an armful of their other CDs. Dispatch: Zimbabwe is a pretty decked out package, trumping even the high-def Blu-ray release in a lot of ways, and it should be an easy sell for fans of the band. Recommended.
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