Background: Music is one of the genres that is even more narrowly targeted on disc than comedy or porn, our individual tastes often so different that objectivity is thrown out the window in favor of an all or nothing approach by critics such as myself that reading our reviews is a very hit or miss venture. After all, if you think the world of Tori Amos, you're going to enjoy her upcoming release on Blu-ray from early in her career just as those of you that hate her will not care one bit how great the audio sounded. Still, the benefit of a well written review is to learn as much as you can about the extras, the technical quality, and perhaps even the presentation if not agree with the reviewer biases brought into the mix. Such was the case when I selected the Manilow Live! concert in Blu-ray the other day, the concert shot back in 2000 in Nashville to an adoring crowd of (mostly women). Barry Manilow has been a crooner and pop culture figure in music for decades, charming women and providing songs for movie scores that stood the test of time (often better than the movies themselves). Originally born Barry Alan Pincus on June 17, 1943, the native New Yorker developed a passion for music and entertaining that he admits cost him dearly in terms of so many other areas in life but he remains true to his love of music, currently performing in Las Vegas at the Hilton for those women that clamor to see him in action.
Concert: Manilow Live! has been released several times in the past, the 2000 Nashville concert highly praised by fans as the definitive concert on disc, now upgraded to Blu-ray from an earlier HD-DVD release a few years back. The concert itself contains 24 songs with Barry on center stage as supported by not only a band but an orchestra to flesh out some of his classic hits. Hearing Mandy, I Write The Songs, Copacabana, Can't Smile Without You, and many others in all new arrangements was kind of interesting even if I haven't truly been a fan of his since I was a kid. Rather than take a straight approach to the material at hand, Barry plays with it a bit, using the full body of the orchestra on some pieces while getting assistance on piano on others (two of his band jumping in to share with him), minimalizing other songs while mixing the tempos around on still others. He even plays a kazoo to the delight of the amused fans as part of his attempt to show them he could be whimsical though his love songs formed the body of his material (as expected).
A true showman, Manilow shared the stage with a star struck fan in an impromptu duet, sitting on the edge of the stage to engage another, the spotlight showing the largely female crowd swaying and mouthing the lyrics of the songs, tears forming in the eyes of some as they connected at various points in the show. I won't lie to you and say I was moved as they were but the resolution of the picture and the clarity of the aural aspects were indeed something I can relate to as a reviewer/critic in a favorable manner. I've seen a lot of concerts on DVD and this was certainly a decent sounding one with Manilow in his element prancing around the stage showing he was just as the title suggested; "live". The sounds in order of presentation were as follows:
Could It Be Magic?
Somewhere in the Night
Tryin' To Get the Feeling
Can't Smile Without You
Flight of the Bumblebee
All the Time
New York City Rhythm
Every Single Day
I Am Your Child
This One's for You
Chicago (My Kind of Town)
When October Goes
Weekend in New England
I Made It Through the Rain
One Voice / I Write the Songs
Stars in the Night
Okay, in all the technical ways a concert can succeed, Manilow Live! did just fine. Sure the picture was in 1080i, a throwback to a time when HD-DVD was starting out before the failed format had many players able to handle a higher resolution. Sure, the audio was a toss back to the 70's with a quadraphonic 4.0 dismissing the center channel and subwoofer for a weaker than possible aural outing, but ultimately, it was a decent enough show that I sat through it twice (once with the commentary on as I wrote this review) without regrets. Fans of the singer should definitely consider this a "must have" but even a broader audience within reasonable target parameters should see this one as earning a rating of Recommended so check it out.
Picture: Manilow Live! (Blu-ray) was presented in 1080i widescreen as shot by director Lawrence Jordan with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 using the AVC codec for this Blu-ray version. The concert was shot years ago in 2000 and holds up well in terms of the visual clarity, the video bitrate hovering in the 24.7 Mbps area when I spot checked it, ranging substantially higher and dipping into the teens but holding up all the while regardless of the numeric values. There was some minor grain at times (however rarely) and the focus gets soft when Manilow bobs his head back and forth in a couple of sections, but just as the crew focused on him for most of the show, the crowd shots and bits of the orchestra provided the context needed to provide a better picture of the setting; the close ups showing the sweat on his brow or the always present laugh lines on the singer as the light show continued. There were few special effects though and none of the glamorous costumes and dancers you will find from music acts so shallow as to need them due to weak material; Manilow relying more on the music itself (and his presentation).
Sound: The primary audio track was a 4.0 DTS-HD Master audio track using a variable bitrate (tending to hover around the 2.4 Mbps mark) with a 4.0 Dolby Digital using 640 Kbps (both applying a 48 kHz sampling rate). The superior high definition audio track was substantially richer, clearer, and more engaging but the low end bass was not as developed as it could have been and the separation did not appear to be very active compared to similar efforts I've listened to. I listened to several tracks on the more generic track and it sounded decent but not as good as the primary track, all of the music sounding better than some of the soundtrack scores of Manilow's that I have in my collection. I'm told the HD-DVD version of the concert was similarly impacted, perhaps a new concert needed to really grab the sonic qualities of the singer and arrangement better than this older effort did.
Extras: The sole extra was an audio commentary track by Barry Manilow where he started out by cheerleading the project but soon delved into his thoughts regarding the all important fans and the music. He was self deprecating but only slightly so, knowing full well that he is regarded quite highly by his fans and appreciative of their support over the years, his love of said fans driving him to try new things to satiate their desire to hear him live. He mentioned some limited technical information but nothing serious and there were a lot of quiet moments in the program where his anecdotes were not in evidence. I liked his memories of the actual songs more than the memories of the concert in fact, he seemed to personalize certain things more than others, the material he wrote standing out the best in terms of what was said.
Final Thoughts: Manilow Live! was the type of show made for fans of Barry Manilow to enjoy the concert experience perhaps better than any other release of his to date, his decades of touring expanding his audience to new audiences but relying mainly on the core supporters as seen in the crowds. I would have liked more extras, a full 1080p resolution, and a true surround track but it was an enjoyable concert for me to watch so his hardcore fans will be in heaven seeing him in high definition. All the big hits were present and he tried a variety of approaches to spice things up so while it might not be the definitive collection based on the weaknesses mentioned above, there was no doubt in my mind that it will serve as such for the time being, so rejoice if you are one who finds meaning in his music.