The life and work of Roy Orbison has grown in appreciation through the years, but when he was around, it was almost like at times his music was ignored, and that's almost criminal to think. It was only near the end of his life, when songs like "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "In Dreams," both of which were prominently featured in mainstream Hollywood films, did he seem to get the kind of mainstream success that was warranted. Orbison's music was a mix of blues, rockabilly and bluegrass, but thrown together with a voice that could cover several octaves, made the music more melodic, dramatic even.
It was the voice, and the music, that drew fans and admirers, and many of his peers comprised a veritable who's who in music. Orbison performed in a supergoup of sorts in the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne before his death in 1988. But consider the list of those who participated in Orbison's house band for this performance; Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, k.d. Lang, Bonnie Raitt (those two are backup vocalists), Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett. Elvis Presley's backup band was also employed to support Orbison as he performed many of the songs that made him famous, including:
"Only the Lonely"
"Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)"
"Go, Go, Go (Down the Line)"
"Mean Woman Blues"
"(All I Can Do is) Dream You"
"Oh, Pretty Woman"
What perhaps surprised me first and foremost is how the supporting musicians, names or not, all willingly take a back seat to Orbison and his performance. Many times performers will come out and share the stage in some manner than is not as muted, but the folks that are here know their roles and they all perform them well. Some of them get mini-solos as a moment or two to shine, but generally they're all there to support Orbison.
The other thing that I was amazed by when watching the performance (which at only 64 minutes breezes right on by) is just how much subtle command Orbison had on stage. He was a quiet guy in demeanor and seemed to generally avoid interviews and other press, but when he got in front of the microphone with that powerful voice, he could stop traffic and dazzle people who weren't normally aware of him. I always point to his appearance on Saturday Night Live back in the '80s, you know the one, where Dennis Hopper was the host, and he performed "It's Over" and absolutely floored the crowd.
Sadly though, it was performances like that which we didn't see enough of. Orbison, who had open heart surgery after a heart attack at only 41 years of age, succumbed to another heart attack 14 months after his performance here in Los Angeles for A Black & White Night, and died at only 52 years old. His music remains a testimony to his talent, and his performance here remains the most memorable document to that talent.
The 1.78:1 widescreen presentation uses an AVC MPEG-4 codec and looks outstanding. You don't really have much dimensionality in the feature, but the clarity of the picture is excellent. I could spot small gouges in guitar faces and detail in Orbison's face, film grain is prevalent, particularly when you see shots of the crowd and/or background musicians, and blacks look consistent for the most part of the feature. Having never actually sat down and watched this performance before, I was wowed on how it looked in high definition.
You get a two-channel PCM stereo track, a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, or if you're really daring, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. I went for the DTS-HD track and again, was floored by the presentation. Orbison's vocals in the center channel sounded strong, while background vocals would pop up in the rear speakers as directional effects from time to time, when they weren't already complementing the lead vocals. You can easily pick out guitars and strings in the rears as well, as those effects are frequently peppered through the performance, and the speaker panning is also very effective. The subwoofer picks up the low end when it has to, but Orbison's music doesn't lend itself to a subwoofer too much in this fan's humble opinion. Roy sounds fantastic any way you shake it.
The only extra to speak of is the additional song "Blue Angel," and it looks and sounds like the other music in the set does, but past that, nada.
A Black & White Night remains the most effective way for people to experience Roy Orbison's music visually, and the fact that he had guys like Dylan, Springsteen and Costello in his camp helps shows that off. The audio and video merits really help the disc stand out, and I'd recommend that everyone check Orbison out at the very least to see what my raving is all about. This disc helps to do that. For fans of the musician who own a Blu-ray player, go find this, go buy this.