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Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Concert (Blu-ray)
Sony BMG / 2008 / 164 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: July 01, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Friday, June 27, 2008
Seldom does a concert disc come along that changes my perception of the artist. Usually, I either like a band or I don't -- all the cool pyrotechnics and fancy choreography don't matter a whit if I don't like the tunes. So it was with 'Where the Light Is,' John Mayer's first-ever Blu-ray release. I just didn't really want to check this one out, because I'm rarely a fan of Mayer's music. I've always thought of him as a twentysomething version of Sting's solo career -- pleasant, radio friendly, and the musical equivalent of adult contemporary wallpaper.
So 'Where the Light Is' is a wonderful surprise, a live film brimming with musical virtuosity, manic energy, and even a few enlightening (if pretentious) interstitial interviews with Mayer that elevate it above simply being a photographed live event. No, I didn't love every single song (hits like "Waiting for the World to Change" still grate on my nerves), but Mayer brings such passion and craft to his songwriting and performance that I couldn't help but be won over. This guy can't just play, but he plays as if his life depends on every last note.
'Where the Light Is' is a constructed as a three-act event, which adds further variety and energy to the show. Act one is Mayer acoustic, and just watching his fingers work the fretboard is impressive (that the dude isn't even thirty yet makes a practicing guitar player like myself green with envy). Act two brings out the John Mayer Trio (adding bass and drums), and it's like the entire auditorium has been zapped with an electric cattle prod -- Mayer goes into a full-on rock mode I just didn't expect. Finally, act three gives us a full backing band, and ironically, it may be the most typical part of the show, giving the audience some more familiar material (though noticeably absent is probably Mayer's biggest hit, "Your Body is a Wonderland").
Filmed entirely at the Nokia Theater on November 8, 2007, and directed by Danny Clinch, 'Where the Light Is' is a very well photographed and constructed film. Clinch wisely realizes that Mayer's skill is the real show, and the almost fawning close-ups of his frenetic fingers become a separate character. Even the directness of the staging (the light show is occasionally kinetic, but generally doesn't distract from the band) is offset by inventive camera angles, and expert editing. Like the best concert films, 'Where the Light Is' turns the act of making music into a thrill to watch, rather than just a distraction from fancy visuals or intrusive gimmicks.
More arguable is Clinch's use of short interview vignettes with Mayer to break up the setlist. I found his insights into the music interesting (if a bit self-important), and since their use is sparing, I wasn't irritated. The conceit adds a nice, creative touch to 'Where the Light Is,' and furthers my appreciation of the music. So take it from a previous non-Mayer fan -- this is one concert disc that may actually convert the naysayers.
The 22-strong tracklist includes: 01. Neon / 02. Stop This Train / 03. In Your Atmosphere / 04. Daughters / 05. Free Fallin' / 06. Everyday I Have the Blues / 07. Wait Until Tomorrow / 08. Who Did You think I Was / 09. Come When I Call / 10. Good Love is on the Way / 11. Out of My Mind / 12. Vultures / 13. Bold as Love / 14. Waiting for the World to Change / 15. Slow dancing in a Burning Moon / 16. Why Georgia / 17. The Heart of Life / 18. I Don't Need No Doctor / 19. Gravity / 20. I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You) / 21. Belief / 22. I'm Gonna Find Another You
Sony BMG brings 'Where the Light Is' to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1. The concert and interview footage were captured entirely with Super 35 film, and the unusual approach for a concert film yields interesting results.
To further enhance the film-like look, the concert sequences have received an intentional contrast boost, as well as pumped-up colors. The high-key image is thus striking, if somewhat lacking in detail -- it's like an Anton Corbijn photograph come to life. The source is excellent, with rich, deep blacks, though fall-off in the shadows is steep. Certainly, there is plenty of depth, but at a loss of some detail. Close-ups and brighter shots predictably fare the best, and I was never distracted by the overt stylization. However, fine textures simply are not as visible as on the best live concert Blu-ray releases I've seen. There is also some noise as a result of the intense colors, though fleshtones at least remain accurate, and the rest of the encode is sharp, with no obvious artifacts.
Two audio options are offered on 'Where the Light Is' -- Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (96kHz/24-bit) and PCM 2.0 Stereo (96kHz/24-bit). Both are fantastic. (Note that a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is included at 640kbps.)
As I've often said, I don't care much for the sort of fake surround that's usually added to live concert presentations, as it usually sounds unrealistic. However, in this case, the expanded rear presence and ambiance of the evening is captured very well by the TrueHD mix. Dynamics are flawless on both mixes, with the front channels simply dripping with detail, clarity and a wonderful sense of nuance. Channel separation of individual sounds is transparent, so studying the band's jaw-dropping musicianship is a true joy. Low bass on both mixes is likewise superb, and the clear differentiation between highs and lows across the spectrum is what high-res audio is all about. 'Where the Light Is' is easily another demo-quality music release from Sony BMG.
The standard set of extras on 'Where the Light Is' proves disappointing -- the lack of a dedicated documentary or commentary is surprising. The quality of all the bonus footage is very strong, however, with excellent 1080/AVC MPEG-4 video offered.
- Featurette: "Slow Dancing on Mulholland Drive" (HD, 4 minutes) - I'm hesitant even calling this a "featurette," as it is just an unused interstitial from the show. Mayer talks briefly about his method, then performs a short little tune.
- Set Select - Not sure how Sony BMG even calls this a "special feature." It's simply a chapter selection menu, allowing you to play the three acts of the show individually, or go straight to a specific tune.
- Collectible Booklet - Rounding it out is a 12-page booklet, with a some on-stage and behind-the-scenes photos in both color and black & white. Note that Sony has opted not to use a standard Blu-ray keepcase for 'Where the Light Is,' instead going with a sort of slim version of Warner's Digi-Book packaging -- it's thin enough that I suspect some may find it less-than-sturdy.
Hoping to compensate for the lame standard extras, Sony BMG has at least given us some unique Blu-ray exclusives.
- Steve/Pino Cam (Bonus View) (HD) - This picture-in-picture feature requires a Profile 1.1-enabled player. Choose from two different alternate views of the song "Who Did You Think I Was," allowing you to watch (in a PIP box) from either the position of Steve Jordan (drums) or Pino Palladino (bass). Two bad more songs weren't enabled with this option.
- Backstage Performance (BD-Live) - Available only if you have BD-Live enabled (Profile 2.0), here you can download a bonus backstage performance of the tune "Belief." Again, a nice extra, though hopefully Sony has even more rare tracks ready for us in the future.
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'John Mayer: Where the Light Is' is a stellar release across the board. The concert is a stunning display of craft, while the Blu-ray delivers first-rate video and audio. The supplements are lacking for a next-gen music release, and are only saved by a couple of interactive exclusives -- but there still should have been more stuff here. Still, in terms of raw presentation, if only all such music titles were this good. 'Where the Light Is' is a must for John Mayer fans, and also worth rocking out to even for casual fans.
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