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Marc Almond: Live at Lokerse Feesten

Other // Unrated // September 2, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted September 14, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
Perhaps no other so-called "one hit wonder" has had such an amazing after career as Marc Almond. While diminishing his work with Soft Cell seems blasphemous, especially in light of what the singer accomplished with keyboardist Dave Ball, the world seems settled on referring to the duo as "those 'Tainted Love' guys". But just like there is more to Gary Numan than "Cars" (much, much more), Almond has spent the last two decades outside of Cell creating a clever, complex, and very human place for himself. He's gone from techno dance dream and gay icon (he is openly so) to troubled torch singer and cultural afterthought. Yet few in his pop music purview have had the guts to redefine their style with such manifest disdain for what the CD buying public would say. From the works for Jacques Brell to traditional Russian folk ballads, he's become a legitimate artist. This DVD presentation from the Lokerse Feesten circa 2000 illustrates one of the amazing rest stops along the path of Almond's continuing creative journey. It's a sly and evocative experience.

The Plot:
Flanked by a keyboardist, a guitarist, and a sample box filled with rhythmic backing tracks, Almond takes a detour from his intimate staged showcases to strut some new stuff off his Open All Night album. The audience is a decidedly laidback Brussels bunch. Theatrical to the end, the flamboyant frontman sells everything here with a performance passion that's unmatched. He is greeted with occasional claps and some unwarranted ennui. We are treated to the following tracks as part of this intriguing set list:

"One Big Soul" - from the 1999 album Open All Night
"Black Kiss" - from the 1999 album Open All Night
"My Love" - from the 1999 album Open All Night
"Open All Night" - from the 1999 album Open All Night
"My Hand Over My Heart" - from the 1991 album Tenement Symphony
"Love to Die For" - from the 1996 album Fantastic Star
"Child Star" - from the 1996 album Fantastic Star
"Something's Got a Hold of My Heart" - from the 1988 album Stars We Are
"The Days of Pearly Spencer" - from the 1991 album Tenement Symphony
"A Love Spurned" - from the 1990 album Enchanted
"The Idol" - from the 1996 album Fantastic Star
"Jacky" - from the 1991 album Tenement Symphony
"Tears Run Rings" - from the 1988 album Stars We Are
"Bedsitter" - from the 1981 Soft Cell album Non Stop Erotic Cabaret
"Tainted Love" - from the 1981 Soft Cell album Non Stop Erotic Cabaret
"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" - from the 1981 Soft Cell album Non Stop Erotic Cabaret

The DVD:
Dismiss his muse all you want, but no one can deny that Marc Almond is a flawless troubadour. Beyond the literal translation of such a term, no other artist from the Hellsapoppin' '80s has turned his up and down artistic fortunes into as many intriguing variety variables as he has. Sure, he's lived off the endless nostalgia for his work with Dave Ball, and no one can argue with Soft Cell's place among UK synth pop practitioners, but when you peel back his canon and look inside, the sheer scope and ambition is astounding. In fact, outside the lack of commercial support, he is forging what has to be one of the most important aesthetic testaments ever. Almond is rediscovering the world of song, embracing composers and countries that few in his fanbase would even fathom. Each new release, each new tour is like visiting and living within a new wing in the world museum. Of course, this causes him to shift further and further away from the mainstream, but when one is pursuing a purity of goal, such movement is not without merit.

That's abundantly clear from this concert. Though he is working an audience more or less waiting for his greatest hits, Almond showcases his casual cool with what is clearly a collection of heartfelt songs. He's not so much a singer as an interpreter, taking familiar tracks like "My Hand Over My Heart" and "Child Star" and transforming them into terrific tone poems. Even the bestselling singles like "Something's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Tears Run Rings" are improved with the stripped down instrumentation. Sure, some can complain about the use of backing tracks, orchestral accompaniments making themselves obvious on what is clearly a minimal stage setting, but Almond handles everything here with a grace and a style that is beyond reproach. Whether it's waving his hands in a quasi-interpretative dance or grabbing the mike for maximum effect, he remains a pure performer, locked into his resolute desire to connect with each and every listener. Even when his voice quavers, age disallowing a sonic flawlessness, we accept it. He is so protected within his lyrics and striving to get his point across that the miscues feel like part of the package.

Once we get to the Soft Cell material, we can see the burden in being remembered for such songs. "Bedsitter", "Say Hello", and especially "Tainted Love" no longer sound novel or new. Instead, juxtaposed against Almond's newer direction, these older tracks seem tired. Of course, one can never get enough of the singer serenading us with classic lines like "Take your hands off me/I don't belong to you, you see." But because we have been wrapped in the previous hour of intimate invention, because we've come to accept that he's much more than his neo-New Wave beginnings, the return to former glory feels funny. And there's one final caveat for longtime fans (like yours truly). Don't come to this DVD looking for selections from classic albums like Vermin in Ermine, Stories of Johnny, or Mother Fist. His artistic archeology only goes back so far, sadly. Still, Almond is one of the few performers who could rerecord the phone book and still make for an amazing aural experience. He's a sum greater than the parts that make up his misunderstood career. If any criminally underrated musician needs a major mainstream renaissance, it's him. Live at the Lokerse Feesten 2000 may not start the rehab, but it's proof that such a resurgence would not be difficult at all.

The Video:
Considering when it was captured and the very basic set up of the camerawork (call it "side profile only"), Marc Almond: Live at the Lokerse Feesten 2000 still looks pretty damn good. The color scheme runs to blues and reds, and when shown in close-up, the musician's unhinged Thin White Duke guise looks particularly gaudy. However, there is very little to find fault with concerning the 1.33:1 full screen image. The tints are sharp and the details definitive.

The Audio:
Who cares about the video, right? It's the sonics that should support this release, and luckily, MVD Visual and Charly come through. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is amazing, bringing the concert experience directly into your home. Almond's voice is not over mixed. Instead, it settles in with the rest of the aural elements to form a perfect performance balance. Others may take issue with the clinical nature of some of the backing, but overall, the audio facets of this release (including a decent stereo substitute) are wonderfully evocative.

The Extras:
The best bit of added content here, along with a mandatory discography and biography is an insightful 30 minute Q&A with Almond. Clearly a contemporary interview, the singer reflects on the Open All Night era, discussing his dislike for festivals while commenting on the importance of A&R in forging a successful career. Occasionally coming across as nervous and slightly hyper, Almond still presents a fascinating figure. Along with an insert pamphlet that explains the songs chosen, the bonus content here is excellent.

Final Thoughts:
Clearly, this critic loves Marc Almond. Ever since he heard the haunting strains of "Youth" during a BBC broadcast in 1981, the musician has been both an inspiration and an aggravation. For every calculated step toward revisiting the music that made him viable, he challenged the faithful by going off into unusual and sometimes unapproachable areas. Of course, that was during the actual height of the infighting, so to speak. Now, he seems like a sage, a prophet whose preaching makes perfect sense, especially for those who have since caught up to his unique creativity. While not the best filmed concert ever, Live at the Lokerse Feesten 2000 deserves a score of Highly Recommended. It features a major musical symbol striving to make sense of the sounds in his head - and succeeding in many, multihued ways. If you only know "Tainted Love", you don't know Marc Almond. It's time to appreciate him while he - and his undeniable talent - still cares.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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Highly Recommended

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