Live in the Land of the Rising Sun opens with an introduction by General Boy, followed by a lengthy montage of clips from Devo's music videos. Although this does run kind of long -- the band doesn't set foot on-stage until six minutes in -- it does help build that sense of anticipation that's clearly building in the enthusiastic Tokyo audience. That, or prompt viewers to whack the "Next Chapter" button. One of the two. Most of the songs are also followed by video footage of Devo goofing around with the Japanese press or chatting about the differences in culture between the East 'n West. Interspersing candid interview footage throughout a concert is a pretty common tactic on television and home video, but I can't say that I'm a fan of that approach. I'm more interested in hearing the band play than listening to them gab offstage. Whatever on-stage banter there may have been between songs is mostly edited out. Those inserts ease up in the second half of the set, and if you get sick of 'em, the next song's always just a button press away.
Video: This concert was taped in Japan with a variety of different cameras, and the quality varies wildly. Half the cameras appear to be of the standard television concert series grade, while the other half seem to barely be a step up from a low-end consumer camcorder fished out of the cutout bin at Circuit City. This leads to a mix of decent looking video and soft, muddy shots sporting anemic black levels and minimal detail. The majority of the footage is full-frame, with a handful of letterboxed shots randomly interspersed throughout for no apparent reason. A number of shots appear kind of blocky; it's noticeable but bearable on my TV, but Devo fans with particularly large displays are likely to be disappointed. Strictly in terms of video quality, neither Devo - Live nor Live in the Land of the Rising Sun has a decisive advantage over the other. However, probably my single biggest gripe about Devo - Live was the hypercaffeinated editing. A concert shouldn't cut more quickly than the refresh rate of my television, and Devo - Live's Gatling gun edits made it almost difficult to watch. Live in the Land of the Rising Sun cuts at a more relaxed pace, and, yes, Goldilocks, it's just right -- not too fast but not ploddingly slow either. Although I would have preferred that the concert had been taped with higher-end equipment and perhaps more carefully authored, I like the way it's been pieced together, and none of my complaints are severe enough for me to suggest that any Devo fans steer clear of this disc.
Audio: The first thing I noticed about Live in the Land of the Rising Sun is...well, that it defaults to a stereo mix. But the second thing I noticed, after switching to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track (384Kbps), is that it's loud. I had to bump the volume on my receiver down seven ticks before it sounded normal. As you might recall if you happened to click on my review of the Devo - Live disc, that DVD features a 5.1 mix from Bob Casale where all of the instruments were clear and distinct. The guitars were individually spread across the front speakers, and most of the remaining instrumentation was located in the center channel as crowd noise roared from the surrounds. It was an effective use of multichannel audio, taking advantage of each individual speaker and sounding as if I were tossed squarely in the middle of a small army of doting, sweaty spuds. Live in the Land of the Rising Sun was recorded indoors, sounding louder and less expansive than the Devo - Live disc. The general quality of the recording sounds more like an energetic rock concert, and especially after A/B-ing a couple of songs with Rhino's DVD, Devo - Live almost sounds timid by comparison. However, there's no longer any real distinction across each channel. Guitars, vocals, and keyboards appear in five speakers at once, and there's no apparent difference between the center channel and either of the surrounds. The mains sound like just a subdued version of what's buzzing from the other three speakers, and there's little or no noticeable stereo seperation up front. Although the LFE is thunderous throughout, it's cranked up too high. Instead of the subwoofer being reserved for the particularly low frequencies, it sounds like too much of the bass is being routed there rather than sharing that work with the front speakers. The bass guitar is audible in songs like "Satisfaction", but in others, like "Come Back Jonee", it seems to go 100% towards the subwoofer, sounding less like an instrument and more like a booming rumble. Although considerably less important than the music, the crowd noise and banter between songs has a thin, shrill, metallic quality that's oddly out of place with the rest of the soundtrack. Switching back and forth between the 5.1 audio and the stereo mix, I still prefer the six-channel soundtrack, and I don't want to overexaggerate my disappointment with this mix. I don't think anyone who forks over fifteen bucks to buy this DVD will want to toss it in the trash heap after a few minutes of listening. It's just that a 5.1 soundtrack has discrete channels and should be used as such, not merely to spread the same monaural audio across several different speakers. It's a good performance and the concert itself is recorded reasonably well, but this is not the sort of aural presentation a live concert DVD should receive.
There are no subtitles or closed captions, by the way.
Supplements: The initial press release from Music Video Distributors listed "Commentary by Gerald V. Casale & Mark Mothersbaugh" as one of the bonus features on this DVD. Apparently that's referring to the interviews tossed in-between songs during the concert, as there is no audio commentary on Live in the Land of the Rising Sun. Just in case anyone was wondering... There are extras, though, setting this disc apart from Rhino's Devo - Live. At nearly twelve minutes, the lengthiest of the bunch is "Devo Goes to Japan". It features footage of the band tooling around Japan, shopping for Osama bin Laden masks and chest hair shirts, clarifying the theory of de-evolution, noting the difference between real sushi and the watered down, less gelatinous American equivalent, comments from the Japanese band Polysics, the monstrous headache of arranging a concert overseas in these profoundly paranoid times, and explaining the motivation behind their trademark outfits. In "David Kendrick Speaks" (5:31), David talks about how he landed the gig as Devo's drummer and how he kept professionally involved with various members of the band after they went back on hiatus. He also comments about the Japanese gigs specifically, particularly the young age of the audience and donning the uncomfortable yellow jumpsuit for the first time. Although surprisingly little live footage exists from the band's earlier years, an awesome performance of "Gut Feeling / Slap Yer Mammy" from 1980 has been tacked onto this disc.
Live in the Land of the Rising Sun is packaged in a keepcase. Tucked inside are a Club Devo quasi-catalog and an insert that rattles off the setlist on one side and features brief notes from Gerald Casale on the other. Each song has been given its own chapter stop, and the DVD includes a set of static 4x3 menus. The cover art is similar to the "Uncontrollable Urge" merch offered through Club Devo, and the packaging as a whole is stylish and slickly designed, especially when stacked up next to the comparatively amateurish Devo - Live DVD.
Conclusion: Live in the Land of the Rising Sun features a better performance and more coherent editing than Rhino's Devo - Live disc. Despite the highly questionable quality of its 5.1 mix, the good of Live in the Land of the Rising Sun outweighs the bad enough in my mind to make it the one I'd recommend. But then again, both DVDs are available online for under ten dollars shipped, so go ahead and grab 'em both. This isn't the definitive live Devo release, but it's enough to tide me over until something better comes along. Recommended.