Dishwalla – Live…Greetings From the Flow State (DualDisc)
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It is so easy to gravitate to the jazz section when doing music reviews. You know you will, for the most part, run into great musicians, above average performances, and great audio quality. Rock music doesn't exactly lend itself to fantastic audio quality but it is not outside of the realm of possibility. I wouldn't say that I was a fan of Dishwalla, but I wouldn't say I wasn't either. I've liked what I've heard but I've never purchased (which is true of so many artists). Stumbling across this DualDisc, I couldn't help but be temped by the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.
Discs are listened to a minimum of twice with at least a 24 hour separation between the listening sessions. During session one, notes are taken on the subjective experience of the implementation of the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (in this case) along with notes on other features. During session two, the original notes are compared and expanded upon during the listening experience. Additional listening sessions are added as needed. Before each session, speaker calibration is checked using an SPL meter and the test-tones on the receiver, in this case the Pioneer VSX-516.
1) Stay Awake
2) Mad Life (bonus track)
3) Once in a While
6) Angels or Devils
7) Counting Blue Cars
8) Somewhere in the Middle
9) Every Little Thing
12) So Much Time
Dishwalla's Counting Blue Cars pretty much put them on the map and most everyone has heard the song. Still staying true to their mid-90's rock roots, Dishwalla provides a good mix of rock ballads and up-tempo selections. The JR Richards vocals are strong and compelling, reminding me not a little of Peal Jam's Eddie Vedder.
One way that the DSP programmers have found to emulate the "live" sound is through reverb or echo. Listening to this album, I realize why the DSP always sounds so fake - it applies its algorithm uniformly when in reality, that is not how we hear it. During one of the ballads, track 6 Angels and Devils , the reverb was almost distracting - probably because there was only a piano and the vocals. During the faster songs with more instrumentation, the reverb wasn't as noticeable. This is much more indicative of a live performance to me than any computer generated one.
So the real question is, "Does this album sound live?" There is definitely an audience in attendance and they make their presence known both during and between songs. There is even a point in Counting Blue Cars where the band stops and the audience sings. Now, the album was recorded in Los Angeles towards the end of an over 200 performance tour so the songs are pretty much perfect with almost no discernable defect. Still, there are breaks between the tracks.
So, does it sound live? The surround implementation plays a lot into this so I'll have to reserve my final judgment for just a few more moments. There were some points of interest. The drum solo in track 5 Moisture really gives the sub a workout. The ballads are strong and compelling to listen to. For the most part I found the vocals clear and well defined in the space. Instruments were clear and lifelike if a bit muddy (due mostly to the live format). From an audio quality standpoint, I was in no way disappointed with this album (which is a nice way of saying that I wasn't wowed).
Live albums are a blessing and a curse for surround sound. A blessing because the audience just demands to be put in the back and the music in the front (ready made surround mix). A curse because you are hamstringed in how much you can do with the music with loosing the "live" sound. While the album started off OK, I felt that almost immediately the surrounds were relegated to simply providing envelopment and not really adding anything to the mix. Even the audience seemed to be anchored to the front.
And therein lays the problem. It does sound live, if you are used to sitting in the nosebleed section of the venue. You are surrounded by music but separated from the audience. It is more like a video or movie of a live performance rather than being front stage center. The big issue I had is that between tracks, the Dolby Digital signal seemed to disappear causing the receiver to switch to Dolby Pro logic (probably because it was spitting out a stereo signal) then back to DD as the next track started. For the most part, this wasn't an issue but occasionally it would cause a bit of the beginning of a song to be truncated. The worst offender I found was between tracks 3 and 4. I tried the disc on two different players and had the same problem with both (though it was more pronounced on one than the other so you may or may not have a problem). I retested this issue with my Denon 3805 and confirmed it wasn't a problem with the receiver.
During playback, a static set list is displayed with the current track delineated by an orange strikethrough line. In the Bonus Features section there are 11 screens of pictures with two or three pictures per screen in the gallery, five live videos (Counting Blue Cars, Opaline, Somewhere in the Middle, Home, and Mad Life) with an additional video of Home preformed for the Navy. I found the videos to be of fairly amateurish quality and there were a few times that I would have sworn that the music being played and the music heard were not one and the same. It was filmed (except for the Navy video) at a Los Angeles performance on what looked to be the worlds ugliest stage. The Navy video was a mix of footage of them interacting with the crew, the ship, and live performances which more closely resembled a music video. There is a very basic speaker calibration screen (shows placement, says all speakers should be of the same size, and runs through a series of "test tones"). You can choose Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 from the Audio Setup screen. There's an "about DVD-A" video with some nice surround effects and information on how DVD-A's are created. There is a credits section as well. Pictures and credits (same credits, some different pictures as on the disc) are included on the jacket.
Aside from the problem I had with the multichannel signal being lost between tracks, I found this album to be quite enjoyable. Is it the best example of an in-concert multichannel disc I've ever heard? No. But it is enjoyable nonetheless. A fan of Dishwalla will love this album and a casual listener (heard a song or two from the radio) can pick it up and not be disappointed. Too often, the song you hear on the radio is not indicative of the sound of the band. Not the case here.