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Marillion – Marbles on the Road

by December 07, 2006
Label: Music Video Distributors

Price: $19.98 | Buy it Now

When I tore open the envelope and saw what was inside, my first thought was, "Oh, boy, now I'm in trouble." Reading the note that accompanied it, I knew I was in trouble:

Take your time but hurry up :-) I think you will enjoy it. - Gene

As any even casual reader of the Audioholics forums knows, Gene and Clint are HUGE fans of this band. As anyone who has read nearly any of my reviews knows, I tend to be a tiny bit tough. Put the two together, and I'm probably out of a job. So you're probably not reading this, which means I'm talking to myself again, which means I need to up my meds… oh well. I had never heard note one from this band so it was with a mix of anticipation (and dread) that I inserted the DVD into the player and pressed "Play".

Review Methodology

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 (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 Denon AVR-3805 .

For this review, during the first listening session I watched the video playback of the concert. During the second, I left the video off and concentrated on the music.

The Songs

(see Audio Quality and Surround Implementation )

1) The Invisible Man
2) Marbles I
3) You're Gone
4) Angelina
5) Marbles II
6) Don 't Hurt Yourself
7) Fantastic Place
8) Marbles III
9) The Damage
10) Marbles IV
11) Neverland
12) Bridge
13) Living With the Big Lie
14) The Party
15) Between You and Me
16) Uninvited Guest
17) Cover My Eyes

Note: Tracks are not sequential, meaning if you skip to track 16 you won't hear Uninvited Guest. They sometimes numbered the "talking with the audience" portions so they could be more easily skipped (see Video Quality).

Audio Quality

For the most part, the Audio Quality on this DVD was very good, especially the music. As I've stated in the past, I am not a huge fan of live recordings when it comes to Audio Quality. It is just too hard to attain the level of control you can in the studio. There can be too much background noise, God knows what reflections/distortions, plus you only get one take. This DVD does as good a job as one can hope of maintaining audio integrity while still providing that live feel. While not up to the standards of a 5-star rating, the sound quality is easily way above average in the clarity and quality, especially when you factor in that it is a live album.

As one expects, the lead singer's voice ( Steve Hogarth ) does tend to disintegrate over the course of the DVD. Mostly, he retains his composure and control but in a few of the later tracks his use of head voice becomes a little (in some places a lot) scratchy. I don't fault the album for this as it really reinforces the fact that it is a live recording. I should say that I'm not a big fan of head voice (if you don't know what that is, think Valjean's song Bring Him Home from Les Misérables - and if you haven't seen it, shame on you ) but I was quite impressed with Steve H's ability and found myself enjoying it immensely.

What should be absolutely stressed is that this is a LIVE recording. In the Crosby/Nash review I did recently, I faulted the album at times for not sounding "live" enough. Not so here. While the other album decided to sacrifice the live feel for purity of audio, the Marillion recording embraces that feeling and never lets you forget that this was recorded before a live audience. A particularly popular song is begun - the crowd goes nuts, spontaneous (or requested) clapping to the music - left in the recording. This may be a function of the fact that it is a DVD and not a DTS CD with all the expectations surrounding the two formats, but to my mind, if you are going to record something live, it should sound live. And this does.

That is not to say all is perfect is Harmonytown. There was a fatiguing few minutes in the first track. Also, while the music always seemed to be perfectly balanced, I often thought the lead vocals seemed a little recessed, especially during the louder portions. The fact is that Steve H is very, well, expressive . He tends to act out the songs, contort his face into odd expressions during certain notes, and generally really, really, REALLY get into the lyrics. I'll let you decide if this is a good thing or not. What was definitely NOT a good thing was watching Steve H scream into the mic only to have the lead guitar overpower him. Now, I didn't say drown out - it was never that bad. I just wanted the lead vocals to be bumped up a db or two on many of the songs.

Surround Implementation

First, I should note that you have to select 5.1 from the audio menu, it defaults to 2.0. Personally, I didn't really notice it until my wife loaded the DVD. As many owners of a ES/EX-capable surround system and/or fans of DTS, I am in the habit of always going to the audio menu first as neither is a default.

I really felt the Surround Implementation on this DVD was excellent. Contrary to some people's beliefs *cough* Clint *cough* , I'm not opposed to "weird" stuff in albums. As I listened, I constantly said to myself, "This is what the Queen albums should have sounded like!" And it is totally true. Marillion has a member whose job is keyboards and effects . Well, that right there should tell you their commitment to unusual sounds.

So yes, there were a lot of "weird" noises, crescendos, bongs, beeps, twangs, and more, and they were sent careening around the room, all to good effect. Personally, with the video in I found the use of surrounds to be less appropriate than when I just listened to the album. I think this is because the camera would change location from the front of the stage to the side to the back but the audio wouldn't follow suit. I wouldn't say it was distracting but I did notice it on more than one occasion.

What was distracting was the lead guitar coming solely (for nearly the whole album) from a mix of the Front Right and Center channels (mostly FR). For most of the album it was fine as it blended in with everything else that was going on but during the longer solos, it got a little annoying (OK, it was weird). I think it was because the guitarist was situated on stage right but when he crossed over to stage left to play next to the bassist, the sound didn't follow him. I think they put the guitar there to coincide with the position of the guitarist on the stage but left it there to maintain audio integrity rather than mixing the final product to the picture.

Video Quality

Let's be honest, you can light a stage for the camera or you can light a stage for the audience. If you pick one, the other suffers. This album chose to light for the audience. What does this mean? Most of the time the band and especially the lead singer is awash in a single glowing color (blue, amber, red, etc.) that does very little to flatter anyone. Basically, it runs the gamut from the equivalent of an ocular assault to "hey, that's not half bad." In a word, the video quality is pretty darn atrocious but (hey, listen now) I THINK THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING.

(Stunned silence)

It is a live concert; if it sounds live it should look live as well. And it really does look live. Really, how many of you have seen a show completely lit in white light? Anyone, anyone? No? Me neither. Concerts always have multiple colored lighting and the stage will radically shift colors between songs or at radical tempo changes. If you didn't see this on the screen, the music and the video would not match. It can't really be helped all that much that such lighting does not translate well to video (though I can't give it a high score). My wife, on the other had, couldn't watch it for more than a couple of minutes without closing her eyes to take a break. You have been duly warned.

Now, in my opinion, some of the direction of the video left a little to be desired. The video felt a little too much like it was trying to be a really long music video. With such an active lead singer, the camera could have been left on him for longer (though pulled back a bit). I thought there were too many close-ups of the Steve H, not enough of some of the other band members. Every time an audience member was shown singing the lyrics at the top of his lungs I thought, "If I was standing in front of that man I'd turn around and punch him in the face and say "Hey, I didn't pay to hear you sing, Liberace!" Ok, maybe I would have just stood there and thought bad thoughts, but they would have been REALLY evil thoughts! Overall, I thought they let the audience's interactions go on for too long and they could have been edited down a little.

My last pet peeve was the numbering system of the DVD. I wanted to be able to skip to track 14 and have it be the 14th song on the DVD. Not so. Because of the length of some of the audience interaction sections, they were given their own track number. This is great because you can easily skip them to get to the beginning of the next song but it would have been better if the audience sections were either included at the end of the previous track or the if they were reduced in length so that no one would have minded listening to/watching them. Now I know there are some of you that are saying, "Just go to the scene selector and choose your song." Well, yes, I could do that, but I don't want to have to do it. Plus, there are scenes (the audience stuff) that you can't even select from there. It's just a bunch of song names sans "Long talking with the audience about nothing" choices. It's petty, I know, but hey, they pay me the big bucks to be critical, not lenient. Plus, have you seen how some reviewers ramble on about remotes? Pul-lease!

Extras

Extras include Marbles EPK, You're Gone (Promo Video), Don 't Hurt Yourself (Promo Video), plus a special track if you go to the special features screen and let it run for a few minutes. The EPK (Electronic Press Kit) gave the band a chance to describe some of the thoughts and motivations that went into making the album (not the video but the album they were touring to promote). This is easily the most exciting of the special features. There are two music videos for "You're Gone" and " Don 't Hurt Yourself" that integrate some of the concert footage along with (I think) the original album recording. I tried to switch back and forth quickly to confirm whether or not it was in fact a different recording and given that our memory for audio is like, 3 seconds or something, I'm pretty sure they were different. Overall, I think you could have left these off as the in-concert video was much more exhilarating to me. Last, they had a bonus track of mostly roadies acting stupid in front of the camera's as they set up, bloopers, more audience interaction… basically stuff that is good for one view and that is about it. If it weren't for the EPK, I'd grade the extra features in the toilet.

Summary

What is Marillion? Hey, before this review I hadn't heard note one from them. I wouldn't even have known they existed if it hadn't been for Audioholics. If I had to describe their style of music I'd say it was The Grateful Dead meets The Cure. Translation: Really good musicians not afraid of computers. They are described as a progressive rock band and I think the label fits. Do I think the music is for everyone - I can't imagine anyone NOT appreciating Marillion's music but only you can decide that for yourself. If you want to experience what it is like to hear this band in concert, pick this DVD up and crank it loud. You won't be disappointed.

For More information on the Band check out their website at: http://www.marillion.com

Also check out or extensive Marillion Interview

 

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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