You may be forgiven if you think you've wandered into a long lost Star Wars music video when this concert DVD starts up. We have a character looking suspiciously like an Imperial Storm Trooper making his way through impossible amounts of fog to magically start the proceedings with a wave of his hand. Thankfully, aside from some badly dated spandex jumpsuits and early 80s hairstyles, things improve dramatically after this cheesy opening. Earth, Wind and Fire hold a very special place in pop music history, being one of the first African American bands to blend funk, soul, R&B, jazz and an enticingly melodic pop music sensibility, mixed with an Afrocentric mythology, all beautifully combined into a one-of-a-kind hybrid that produced a string of hits in the 1970s. This December 1981 concert outing finds the band probably just a little past its prime but provides plenty of vintage punch for fans.
Maurice White had a hard time keeping this band together in the early days, and after at least a couple of major label deals went awry, finally hit the jackpot with the soundtrack of That's The Way of the World, which provided the group with its first substantial mainstream hit, "Shining Star" (yes, I know, the group charted before that but never had the far-reaching impact that this single provided them). That song, along with some other hits like "Fantasy" and "In the Stone," provide a sampling of EW&F's Top 40 signature sound--smooth harmonies, fantastic rhythm arrangements and a horn section that just won't stop. What you get in this concert DVD is the added excitement of seeing their precision dance moves, as well as the lightshows and other special effects which always dotted their live shows, all of which is only hampered by the unintentionally funny apparel choices noted above. It may seem a little silly to kids raised on more sophisticated live fare, but it's an absolutely accurate time capsule for what a top-flight live show was in those days.
This iteration of EW&F still contains the core members who made the group famous, including vocalist Philip Bailey, who was about to depart for his solo career. All of the backing band is superb, with saxophonist Ron Myrick standing out on some very evocative solos. While some fans might question the playlist here, which includes some of their lesser known work (including a cover of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" which graced their first, little known album), there's probably enough of the goods here to satisfy most EW&F aficianados.
The full frame image is pretty much what you would expect from an early 80s filmed concert. While there's generally good coverage, a lot of the camerawork is fairly shaky, with some rapid zooms and pans. The concert is fairly dark, but contrast is generally good, and color is excellent.
All three soundtracks are excellent--standard stereo, 5.1 and DTS. There's top-notch separation on all three, though the DTS probably captures the special sound effects more crisply. Luckily the enthusiastically screaming audience noise is largely kept to a background on all three soundtracks.
There's a brief text biography of the band that gives a little background for those who don't already know Maurice White's story.
EW&F cut such a wide swath through so many genres in its heyday that this concert DVD may well appeal to an audience outside of core EW&F fans. Though it's a bit dated, the music is so strong that any occasional silliness in the visual presentation is easily overcome. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet