Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review of Heart's 'Night at Sky Church'

<meta> I usually don't write reviews at this particular blog (not recently, anyway).  My friend Rama writes film reviews frequently (more frequently than humanly possible), so it came as a surprise that the production company behind the band Heart's concert film Night at Sky Church contacted me to watch and review a DVD of the aforementioned concert film.

Maybe it wasn't a surprise.  In February, I recorded a rather gluttonous and drunken (and perhaps sexist...in a good way) podcast while listening to a Heart greatest hits compilation album.  That whole mess of a podcast can be found at FoodBoozeTunes, which is a blog about gluttonous, drunken awesomeness (but I digress).  I think that podcast is somehow related to this new and exciting opportunity.

In any case, I agreed to review the film, and Miles High Productions sent me a DVD.  I watched the DVD, and following is my review of Heart's Night at Sky Church. </meta>

This particular concert was recorded in 2010 at the Sky Church venue at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle.  The performance by Heart -- led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson -- was excellent.  I daresay they were as spot-on as in the 1970s and 1980s.  It would be rather impolite to reveal the Wilson sisters' ages at the time of this performance (Google it!), but Ann still has the pipes that can out-Plant Robert Plant and Nancy can do some crazy high kicks (take that, osteoporosis!) while strumming the guitar.  The kids in popular music today, who are half or even a third of their age, probably can do neither.  And yes, the rest of the band was really good, too.  Guest performer Alison Krauss (who has, appropriately enough, collaborated with Robert Plant, or as I like to call him:  Dude Ann Wilson) helped out the band for three songs in the middle of the show.

My only complaint about the performance is a facetious one:  Ann Wilson should have played a crazy flute solo at some point during the concert.

The setlist was a mix of badass '70s Heart (i.e., "Crazy on You") and sappy '80s Heart (i.e., "These Dreams"), as well as some of their more recent material.  Two songs from the performance were cut from the main concert film.  They can be found in the DVD's bonus material section.  I guess the producers cut those songs to make the show a good length for television broadcasts, like on PBS or wherever.  It was a good show, and it seems that the venue is a good venue.  (I'll have to make a visit to Sky Church one of these days.)

Having been involved in various audiovisual productions throughout the years, critiquing the concert film from a technical viewpoint might be problematic on a personal level.  It's great that the production crew got to use swooping crane shots and the latest in high-definition cameras.  It's great that the post-production crew got to keyframe certain shots for maximum effect, to break the perceived monotony of editing a musical performance.  I've done these things before, in production and in post, and they are nothing short of wizardry.

However, as a fan of watching concert films, I'd rather not notice the production and editing techniques in play.  I like the effective simplicity of Queen's concert videos.  Pearl Jam's earlier concert DVDs were shot by their touring staff on modest pro-sumer camcorders.  I like good, stable shots with appropriately-paced cutting (in addition to awesome sound, which should be a given in concert films).  I think swooping crane shots should be kept to a minimum.  I do not like the flashy, frantic production and editing, as seen in Coldplay's 2003 concert film (among others).

Production-wise, Heart's concert DVD was a hybrid of things I like and things I don't like.  The camera work and editing for their slower songs were pretty tasteful.  The editing called attention to itself during their badass, more aggressive songs.  The multiple-box keyframing was okay; I've done that before, and it's a pretty cool technique.  I didn't like the post-production, keyframed, fast digital zooms that occurred from time to time.  Fortunately, the post-production indulgences of this DVD didn't approach Coldplay DVD levels.

Maybe I'm over-thinking the technical aspect of the DVD presentation.  Maybe it's because I know how to do many of the techniques in play.  Overall, the video production was well done.  Again, I enjoyed the show.

Pics or it didn't happen.

Here is the track list for the DVD:

1. Barracuda
2. Never
3. Straight On
4. Love Alive
5. Mistral Wind
6. WTF
7. Hey You
8. Red Velvet Car
9. These Dreams
10. Safronia's Mark
11. Your Long Journey
12. What About Love
13. Alone
14. Crazy on You

Encore
15. Sand
16. Magic Man

Bonus Tracks
17. Back to Avalon
18. Kick It Out

If you're interested in watching the concert film, Night at Sky Church is available at retailers, online and off.

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