Cleveland, Ohio's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has celebrated the achievements of musicians since 1983, having inducted over 250 solo artists and groups including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Roy Orbison, and...uh...Joan Jett and the Blackhearts? True, not every annual slate of inductees is loaded with home runs and dozens of noted artists have yet to join its ranks (The Smiths, Radiohead, John Coltrane), but music taste is subjective and, without a doubt, most if not all of the deserving singers, guitar players, and even bassists will one day be recognized.
Time Life's Blu-ray release of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In Concert, though vaguely named, collects the last four ceremonies (2014-17) on home video in anticipation of the upcoming 2018 ceremony on April 14th -- though they might as well have waited another few weeks, to be honest. Either way, this two-disc set offers an extremely straightforward presentation of all four programs, which include introductory speeches from long-time friends and contemporaries, words from the inductees (or another party, if it's a posthumous induction), and of course live performances from just about everyone involved. It's a great way to see or relive these celebratory moments for musicians you've long since admired or, in some cases, an opportunity to learn more about the ones you're not as familiar with.
The collective 2014-17 crop of inductees is no different. I grew up listening to the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, never cared for Green Day or Chicago, and wasn't especially familiar with a few like Bert Berns or The Paul Butterfield Blues Band ...but at least a dozen of the 23 names on this card were ubiquitous enough that I was casually familiar with more than just their biggest hits. Either way, I can see the appeal of just about every artist here: from 2Pac to Journey and Cat Stevens to Ringo Starr, there's a little something for just about everyone. Meanwhile, the introductory speeches -- which feature a fairly broad scope of musicians and other personalities including Snoop Dogg, David Letterman, Jackson Browne, Kendrick Lamar, and...uh...Miley Cyrus? -- are often just as enjoyable as the inductions and performances, since we're treated to stories, personal memories, and perspectives that aren't as immediately familiar.
* - With that said, the "completeness" of these shows is suspect -- it's immediately apparent (even for first-time viewers) since there are often quick fades to black between segments, and a quick scan of the year-by-year list of inductees reveals a few gaps in the lineup. KISS is nowhere to be found, likely as a result of all that pesky controversy, while Steve Miller's total absence is likely due to these comments; the same goes for Hall & Oates, who likewise don't appear. Meanwhile, a few "bonus" categories ("Early Influences", "Musical Excellence", and the Ahmet Ertegund Award) are either incomplete or totally absent, and the closing "All-Star Jams" aren't here either. Simply put, it's annoying for collectors and a deal-breaker if you're a fan of the musicians who are missing in action. Combine these unfortunate omissions with at least one major complaint about the A/V presentation and you've got a Blu-ray that's good...but far from definitive.
OK, whose brilliant idea was it to cram over 11 hours of HD content on two measly Blu-rays? The result is a occasionally decent but rather middling 1080p transfer that, at times, barely registers above the quality level of a well-produced DVD: the bit rate during all four shows hovers right around 10Mbps, well below half of what videophiles might call "acceptable standards"). Even so, it's got a few bright spots: colors still pop nicely, while the overall black levels and textures often hold up well enough due to the excellent stage lighting and production polish. In all honesty, it could look a lot worse under the circumstances.
Yet the overall presentation can't help but suffer from several mild to moderate compression issues and lacks the overall depth, crispness, and consistency usually associated with the best live music Blu-rays. I'm confident that a four-disc format (which the DVD version received) would have yielded much more satisfying results, and I'm almost interested in seeing how both versions hold up in a side-by-side comparison.
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Regardless, the default DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix (also available as a lossless 2.0 option) delivers the goods, at least during the live performances. There's plenty of channel separation and a solid front-anchored soundstage that gives a perfectly convincing "live music" atmosphere to the proceedings. Meanwhile, the induction speeches and remarks from featured artists sound fine enough under the circumstances: there aren't any glaring technical issues, while occasional bursts of applause, laughter, and theater echo registers nicely in the rear channels. Unfortunately, no optional English subtitles or SDH captions are included during any of these ceremonies, which is a missed opportunity.
A basic but serviceable presentation gets the job done nicely: each disc contains two shows with separate menus featuring smooth navigation, chapter access for different speeches and performances, and relatively quick loading time. This two-disc set arrives in a dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive double-sided artwork and a nice little Booklet that summarizes the material on each Blu-ray. No Bonus Features are included here, but there's still plenty of overall content.
In what might be the first volume of more to come (possibly testing the water before they go backwards in time?), Time Life's presentation of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In Concert offers four nearly complete ceremonies from 2014-17. There's obviously no shortage of talent featured during these shows, which covers a wide net of at least two or three generations of music fans. Not to be outdone are the induction speeches, which typically offer interesting, touching, or occasionally hilarious perspectives that contrast nicely with the live performances. Sadly, the Blu-ray is something of a missed opportunity: cramming over 11 hours of content on two discs yields disappointing visual results, and the lack of extras -- while not surprising -- and missing segments will limit the interest of those who have seen these shows already. (At least it sounds good, right?) Mildly Recommended, but casual fans will want to try before they buy.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.