Live by Request-Earth, Wind & Fire (1999)

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Released 7-May-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Booklet
Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Exclusive Encore Performance-Keep Your Head To The Sky
Audio Commentary-Shining Star; Fantasy; Let's Groove
Discography
Web Links
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 88:44 (Case: 92)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:48) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,3,4,5,6 Directed By Lawrence Jordan
Studio
Distributor
A & E
Sony Music
Starring Maurice White
Verdine White
Philip Bailey
Larry Dunn
Ralph Johnson
Al McKay
Johnny Graham
Andrew Woolfolk
Fred White
Roland Bautista
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $29.95 Music Maurice White
Verdine White
Philip Bailey


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Earth, Wind and Fire have created a thirty year legacy of classic R&B that has incorporated elements of both Jazz and Funk. This successful fusion has netted them a total of 22 albums (3 Gold, 2 Platinum and 8 Double Platinum), 6 Grammies (yes the real ones) and 4 American Music Awards over the decades. In short a very successful career that is far from over. Earth, Wind and Fire – Live by Request sees the band performing live, unrehearsed requests for the A&E produced Live by Request cable television show and the presentation has an energy and life to it that is hard to find nowadays.

    The requests covered pretty much the entire spectrum of songs and came from people from all parts, all decades and all walks of life (or in one case a request came from Maxine the bird, formerly called Max? for Sing a Song). Also included as a surprise are some special guest requests from none other than (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Barry White for September and Maurice White for That's The Way Of The World. All in all, this particular presentation had some great energy, lively performances, fantastic music and some really unique improvisation such as an ad-hoc demonstration of how to romance a woman in Reasons and Verdine White provides us with a most unusual performance at the end of Getaway. One of the other highlights is when Philip Bailey sings Fantasy and the shows host pretty much sums up the performance when he asks “How many men have hurt themselves trying to sing along with Philip Bailey?”. I certainly can't and wouldn't even try – I'm sure some irreparable damage would occur to my vocal cords as a result. Gentlemen, don't try this at home.

     If I could sum up in one word this presentation it would be Energy, simply sheer energy in the performances. What was disappointing though is the poor quality video and poor audio mixing that resulted in many of the lyrics being drowned out by the fantastic, but overpowering instruments. This was really unfortunate as had it not been for these two problems this DVD would have come highly recommended.

    Earth, Wind and Fire – Live by Request successfully captures much of the sheer energy and talent that has kept this band going through the last three decades and is likely to keep them going for at least another one. It incorporates a vast sampling of material from their entire career, presented in a live, unrehearsed show. The resulting impromptu performances and general jamming that takes place is a refreshing change from the steady diet of more refined, but clinically choreographed performances from mainstream artists. If you enjoy any pop, jazz , funk or soul then you will enjoy Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately this particular DVD does not do them any justice.

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Track Listing

1. Shining Star
2. Fantasy
3. Let's Groove
4. Devotion
5. September
6. Sing A Song
7. Reasons
8. Boogie Wonderland
9. That's The Way Of The World
10. Mighty Mighty
11. Got To Get You Into My Life
12. After The Love Has Gone
13. Getaway
14. In The Stone
15. I'll Write A Song For You
16. Serpentine Fire

Transfer Quality

Video

    Visually this transfer suffered terribly from what looked like poor analogue video sources subsequently converted from NTSC to PAL, which results in a guaranteed loss of detail due to the upsampling of 480 scanlines to 576 (adds no detail) and then down sampling from 59.97 frames/sec to 50 frames/sec (loses entire frames of detail via merging). In addition, the resulting video noise that was introduced then presented a severe problem for the MPEG codec which tried to preserve all the noise detail, consequently failed and at times decided to simply pack it all in and give up.

    The main feature is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (Full Frame) and is not 16x9 enhanced. Given that this feature was taped specifically for cable television distribution, I would be surprised if this wasn't the original aspect ratio and the framing of the performance certainly supports this assumption.

    The actual transfer itself lacked detail and was generally soft. This often decayed into blurry, completely non-distinct shots, such as at 1:27, 15:17, 28:25 and 74:39, that lacked any detail at all. I suspect that poor camera lenses may be partially to blame here. There was also plenty of chroma noise to be seen almost everywhere and this certainly exacerbated many other problems. There was no discernible grain (would you be able to see it anyway, through all the other noise?) and no background noise affecting the blacks, which was a surprise.

    The black levels were actually very good and likewise so was the shadow detail. They were not perfect but considering the rest of the issues they were actually well done. The white levels were also well handled with no obvious over or under exposure occurring, except in some extreme cases where the stage spotlights over-highlighted an area but these were handled very well and are expected in this type of material. I did spot one inconsistency in the lighting when the shows host waved his hand in front and the overall image brightness changed dramatically (42:08).

    In general the colours were reasonably vibrant but never reached any type of saturation that made them at all memorable. There was also a significant amount of chroma noise present, which could clearly be seen in any scene where a solid red/green/blue (pick your favorite colour) area existed (23:41 is a good example) and is the most likely cause of the major, subsequent, MPEG artefacts. Cross-colouration can be clearly seen affecting the opening logo (0:05), microphones (59:01, 65:24, 79:49) and the drummers jacket (62:52, 84:37) as the best examples. There was also some very minor colour bleeding, of which the keyboard display panel at 59:15 is the worst offender. I didn't see any obvious dot-crawl so I presume that composite video was not used (it must have been component) but I did notice an odd horizontal crawl effect at 74:00 on the titling background.

    MPEG artefacts were clearly visible absolutely everywhere and were most likely a direct result of the encoder trying to preserve all the noise detail and failing in general to preserve any detail. This is especially obvious when sudden scene or lighting changes cause the entire image to block up spectacularly (1:28, 33:05, 58:18, 59:27), even worse when it simply gives up (70:47, 71:29, 73:07) or it resulted in a most unusual grid pattern of macro blocking across the entire screen (62:31 and 73:02 are the best examples). Aliasing was reasonably well controlled, mostly due to the lack of detail and resolution (a clear example is 8:26 where the guitar strings would have exhibited aliasing had you been able to see them!), but did turn up in the expected places such as on the brass instruments (1:23), on guitar strings (51:52), on keyboard edges (66:16) and of course on microphone stands (84:01) for example. Most amusing however was the aliasing-like effect that occurred in the spotlight patterns through the smoke at 6:40 as a result of the macro blocking. Moiré effects can also be seen as a result of macro blocking at 10:04.

    There were no film artefacts visible at all so I suspect that this was recorded directly onto video. There were more than a few hints that the primary source was either video or early mastering steps involved some form of non-composite video path. These included, amongst the aforementioned issues such as chroma noise, the presence of some interlaced frames (12:30, 61:16) and some shadowing (9:08). Of particular interest however is an artefact clearly visible at 34:04 affecting one of the CD covers, making it barely readable. Whilst I am not sure, I suspect that this is due to the NTSC to PAL video conversion and if so then lends very significant weight to the argument to purchase DVD presentations in their native source or master format (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation in NTSC and Fawlty Towers in PAL for instance).

    There were no subtitles on this disc and there should be, at least for the hard of hearing (they listen to music too you know).

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change occurring at 53:48. It was as well placed as it could have been, in a break between the songs and discussion as the camera panned across the audience.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks provided, both in English. The default, surprisingly, is a Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 effort which pained me to listen to. The other track is a full Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was significantly better than its 2.0 counterpart. I primarily listened to the 5.1 mix and sampled the 2.0 mix a few times. On each occasion I found that the 2.0 track lacked any substance or body, it was completely flat, non-distinct and quite painful to listen to. The 5.1 track in comparison was much better, but had at least one major problem with it – the vocals were mixed in way too low and were often drowned out by the instruments.

     The audio sync was right on the mark and didn't exhibit any delays. The dialogue when present was clear and distinct at all times, but the vocals within the songs were hard to hear and not very well mixed. This situation was not improved by the 2.0 track.

    The music was really well performed considering that this was a live, ad-hoc, by request performance. I was also impressed by the quality of the instrumentals, both the recording and musicians who would often take an opportunity to simply jam a little. Of course this entire feature was about the music of Earth, Wind and Fire and included a sampling of their Jazz, Soul and Funk titles over the last three decades. What really surprised, and concerned me a little, is the fact that I recognised almost every single one of these songs. I didn't realise I was that old, so I'm convinced that they must be that good (that's cognitive dissonance for you).

    The surround channels were very well integrated, supporting the presentation by widening the front sound stage, providing for some envelopment ambiance and incorporating audience responses. They never inappropriately called attention to themselves although I do feel that they could have been used more aggressively for audience presence.

    The subwoofer provided a well balanced extension of the bass present within the performance and was never overdone.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu

    The main menu appears after a nice animation, synchronised perfectly with the audio. It is clear and simple to navigate.

Booklet

    This is more a slip than a booklet. The only additional information that it contains that is not already on the back cover is a list of recommended CD purchases if you enjoyed the DVD.

Featurette – Keep Your Head To The Sky (3:38)

    This is a never before seen encore performance that was done for the studio audience but was never aired on television. This was a clever choice designed to permit the studio audience to “chill-out” after such an energetic finish to the main feature. Again Philip Bailey demonstrates his incredible vocal range from a fairly low tenor to a dangerously high soprano almost. This mix struck me as better than the actual feature mixes.

Audio Commentary

    Philip, Maurice and Verdine provide some commentary for three of the tracks in the main presentation. These were actually good fun to listen too and provide a real look into how they compare and handle unrehearsed live performance against choreographed stage shows. There's also a few good jokes hidden away in here.

Discography

    A list of most of their album releases over the past thirty years, 19 in total. This includes everything from 1972's Last Days and Time up till 1998's Super Hits. Each entry has a CD cover image and some details per page.

Web Links

    A simple list of DVD specific web sites. Missing however is the main web site for Earth, Wind and Fire.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Whilst our disc is effectively marked as all regions, there also appears to be a Region 1 only version available which is identical except I assume it is in NTSC and may therefore be the version of choice in order to avoid the disastrous loss of resolution that NTSC to PAL conversions, such as we have on the Region 4 release, cause.

Summary

    Earth, Wind & Fire – Live by Request is strictly for fans only, for although the material is great, the presentation is well below par.

    The video quality is really poor.

    The audio quality would have been excellent if not for the poor vocal mixing.

    The extras are very average.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael S Cox (to bio, or not to bio?)
Saturday, September 14, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplayJVC Interiart Flat 68cm Display 16:9. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3802
SpeakersFront LR - NEAR MainMast, Center - NEAR 20M, Surround LR - NEAR Spinnaker DiPoles, Rear LR - NEAR MainMast-II, Subwoofer - NEAR PS-2 DiPole

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