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Recommended
3.5 stars
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Elton 60 - Live at Madison Square Garden

Street Date:
December 4th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
December 6th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Universal Music
Length:
200 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

'Elton 60: Live at Madison Square Garden' was first released on standard-def DVD as a two-disc set back in October 2007, with the second disc filled with bonus TV performances and other vintage material. Although press materials released by Universal Music (as well as Elton John's official website) indicate that the Blu-ray also contains this extra disc (as did the review package we received at High-Def Digest), the distributor has since confirmed to us that the retail Blu-ray version of 'Elton 60' is in fact only a single-disc set with no extra features. No reason has been given for the decision, but we've updated our review accordingly.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I'll admit that I was skeptical going into 'Elton 60: Live at Madison Square Garden.' Elton John is one of those artists who has released so many greatest hits compilations and performed so many live shows over the years that it's tempting to just say enough already -- how many versions of "Rocket Man" does the world really need, anyway? Even taking into account John's unmatched showmanship and his amazing dexterity at the keys, there's been a sameness to his recent live performances that has zapped much of the energy out of his canon of classics, making them feel like little more than a jukebox with a giant lightshow.

But I guess there's nothing like sixty birthday candles to re-light the fire underneath an artist. Recorded at his 60th sellout performance at Madison Square Garden on his 60th birthday, 'Live at Madison Square Garden' boasts by far the most exuberant and inspired Elton John I've seen in decades. You have to go all the way back to his epic live shows and TV appearances from the singer's '70s heyday (many of which are included on this Blu-ray as a supplement) to see him more invigorated. Yes, the pomposity that fueled much of his lackluster '80s and '90s output is still in evidence, but John tempers all that with more genuine intimacy, creating a balanced setlist that nicely encapsulates an incredibly diverse, 30-plus-year musical catalog of hits.

John was certainly ready to party on his birthday, treating his fans to a whopping 33-strong setlist that represents all of the musical sides of his personality. There's his sentimental '70s ballads ("Your Song," "Daniel"), the still-mighty piano-fueled rockers ("The Bitch is Back," Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"), the cheesy '80s treacle ("I'm Still Standing," "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues") and a smattering of his lesser-known but grandly mature recent fare ("The Bridge"). Of course, since this is an Elton John show, there is also plenty of spectacle (the man sure does love his stage props). Yet unlike some of his overbloated '80s concerts, the staging here may be over-the-top, but it's never overwhelming. Just when you think there could be no more confetti left in the world to dump on the audience, John bounds back behind his piano, slows down the tempo, and reminds us why we're there in the first place -- the music.

If 'Elton 60' suffers, it's only due to the inevitable fact that many of these songs have been performed so often (John himself estimates he's sung "Your Song" over a thousand times) that there's sometimes a lingering Vegas-y feel to the interpretations. Though the occasion of his 60th birthday adds a touching vulnerability even to usually mawkish numbers like "Daniel," it's not enough to save other tunes from simply feeling tired. Still, it's impossible to argue with a roster as impressive as this, and with 'Elton 60,' John proves that no matter what the date may say on his birth certificate, he's still got plenty of stage fight left in him. Here's to 'Elton 70,' 'Elton 80,' and beyond...

The complete tracklist is as follows:
1. Sixty Years On
2. Madman Across the Water
3. Where to Now, St. Peter?
4. Hercules
5. Ballad of a Well Known Gun
6. Take Me to the Pilot
7. High Flying Bird
8. Holiday Inn
9. Burn Down the Mission
10. Better Off Dead
11. Levon
12. Empty Garden
13. Daniel
14. Honkey Cat
15. Rocket Man
16. I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
17. The Bridge
18. Roy Rodgers
19. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
20. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
21. Bennie and the Jets
22. All the Girls Love Alice
23. Tiny Dancer
24. Something About the Way You Look Tonight
25. Philadelphia Freedom
26. Sad Songs (Say So Much)
27. Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me
28. I'm Still Standing
29. The Bitch Is Back
30. Crocodile Rock
31. Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)
32. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
33. Your Song

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Bold, theatrical and sporting more colors than ten rainbows, 'Elton 60' is a sumptuous visual feast of a concert. With this terrific 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (presented at 1.78:1), Universal Music has done the show proud, delivering a presentation that ranks among the top concert titles I've seen on high-def.

Everything I love about shot-on-HD material is here. The incredible sense of depth, the almost photo-real clarity, the perfectly saturated colors -- it really does feel like you are sitting in the front row. Given the landmark nature of the concert, it's no surprise that no expense was spared to ensure it was captured properly, and unlike many concert presentations I've seen, the lighting has clearly been adjusted to accommodate the filming, so the image never looks too dark, nor are the performers accentuated too harshly. Even in the shadows, detail is excellent and sharpness is superior. Note that there is some slight noise evident at times in the very low-light areas, but it's hardly a huge drawback (and is fairly common to shot-on-HD material). Finally, I spotted no obvious compression artifacts, blockiness or posterization.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

A few months back, I raved about another recent Blu-ray concert release, 'Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City.' That disc instantly became my music demo disc of choice, but it'll have to make some room on that small shelf for 'Elton 60.' This is a uniformly stunning uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround presentation (48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps) -- the kind that achieves such a level of transparency that it's chilling.

I rarely get goosebumps any more when it comes to audio presentations (just one of the byproducts of reviewing discs for a living), so it's saying something that 'Elton 60' rocked me back in my seat. So realistic is the quality and timbre of the entire frequency spectrum that there are moments where it no longer feels like sound is emanating from a set of speakers, but rather simply materializing out of thin air. Whether it's just Elton at the piano, or the full band on the more boisterous numbers, the "wall of sound" effect is in full force, yet individual instruments are easily discernible in the mix. Dynamics are also first rate, with expansive highs and pitch-perfect, ultra-tight bass extension. Simply put, 'Elton 60' is a aural delight.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Elton 60' first hit standard-def DVD as a two-disc set back in October, and came loaded with several vintage live and television performances. Despite Universal Music sending along the extra disc with all the great bonus material (which included over two dozen classic tunes), they have made the puzzling decision to drop it from the Blu-ray release after all. I don't know if it is a cost issue or what, but it's a real shame -- so diehard John fans may want to hold onto that DVD version after all.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives.

Easter Eggs

Thanks to tips from our readers, we've found one rather unusual egg on 'Elton 60.'

To access the egg, go to the main menu of disc one. Simply leave the menu to cycle for about 15 minutes. Playback will then automatically segueway into a special New York performance from 1982, of the song "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)."

Final Thoughts

'Elton 60' is a energizing romp through Elton John's illustrious 30-plus year catalog of hits. Sure, his performance can be so theatrical that it sometimes betrays the original, more modest intentions of the songs (particularly his early-'70s canon), but what else would you expect from Captain Fantastic? This Blu-ray release from Universal Music is simply first-rate in terms of presentation, with excellent video and audio. Sadly, despite initial indications otherwise, the bonus disc of TV performances that graced the DVD version has been dropped from the Blu-ray, which is a true shame. It's the only omission from an otherwise fine package for Elton John fans. So if you don't care about the extras, pick this one up without hesitation.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-Bit/6.9mbps)
  • English PCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/24-bit/2.3mbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English Subtitles

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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