John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and Friends: 70th Birthday Concert
- Street Date:
- June 30th, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Gordon S. Miller
- Review Date: 1
- October 8th, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- Eagle Rock
- 159 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Editor's NotesPlease welcome El Bicho to High-Def Digest. He first started writing reviews in 2003 for The Masked Movie Snobs. Since then he has written for sites such as FilmRadar.com, AV/Rev, Film School Rejects, and Blogcritics. We're excited to have him covering music releases and other titles for HDD.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
In honor of his seventieth birthday in 2003, multi-instrumentalist British blues man John Mayall threw himself a party at King’s Dock in Liverpool to celebrate with friends and over four thousand blues fans. A CD and DVD of the performance were previously released in 2003 and the event has now been released on Blu-ray.
While by no means a household name in the States, John Mayall is a very important figure for fans of classic rock and British blues, serving as a launching pad for many artists, in a similar fashion to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Eric Clapton is quoted on Mayall’s website, "[He] has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians." After The Yardbirds, Clapton joined Mayall for two brief tenures over 1965 and 1966; during the latter they recorded an album on which Clapton received co-billing and played with future Cream bandmate bassist Jack Bruce. Guitarist Peter Green replaced Clapton each time he left and eventually went on to form Fleetwood Mac in 1967 where he was joined by Bluesbreakers alumni and band namesakes drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, although it took a few weeks before McVie got onboard. Taking over for Green was 19-year-old Mick Taylor, who left in 1969 to join the Rolling Stones as a replacement for Brian Jones when Mayall suggested him to Mick Jagger. Taylor rejoined Mayall for a reunion tour in 1982-83. Both he and Clapton pay their respects during this show by joining Mayall on stage.
The 2003 Bluesbreakers line-up features guitarist Buddy Whitington, bassist Hank Van Sickle, keyboardist Tom Canning and drummer Joe Yuele. They're already on stage as the Blu-ray begins and Mayall comes out and joins them. They open with “Southside Story,” an upbeat number that sounded surprisingly rather average, like any other blues band you’d find in a local tavern. However, that may have been nerves, because the quality of the music increased as the concert went on.
Canning’s organ is the only highlight on “Kids Got The Blues.” Mayall introduces the band afterwards and picks up a guitar for “Dirty Water.” The pace is slowed down, but builds in intensity. They receive a rousing hand from the audience, who sat very still during most of it so it was a surprise they enjoyed it. I wonder if it’s an English thing.
Mick Taylor joins the band for four songs and may have inspired them, since they all raise their game on “Blues For The Lost Days” and really shine. It’s the first engaging track of the set. For “Walking On Sunset,” a three-piece horn section (trumpet, tenor sax, baritone sax) joins the band and expands the dynamic.
After “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the stage is emptied except for Mayall, who is obviously filled with glee as he introduces Clapton to the stage for their first public performance in 38 years. “No Big Hurry” is a simple arrangement, just a guitar and piano, with no flashiness, yet it is rendered beautifully. Both men are beaming at the end, almost oblivious to the cheers they receive. For no apparent reason, the Blu-ray audio levels get quieter during this section.
Chris Barber, a man responsible for bringing a lot of American blues artists to England, comes out on trombone to join in a rendition of “Please Mr. Lofton.” The audio returns to its previous levels as the Bluesbreakers retake the stage for the instrumental “Hideaway” as the band members trade licks. The liner notes fail to acknowledge Barber’s appearance on “All Your Love” and “Have You Heard,” where he even gets a solo.
Clapton’s playing on “Have You Heard” is very soft and delicate, as he gently massages the strings to his will. He then swells, with the band rising behind him, bringing the audience to its feet. Clapton then steps to the mic and sings two tracks from his brilliant 1994 album “From The Cradle”: Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down.” The Bluesbreakers offer very fine support. Afterwards Clapton and Baber exit while the band plays Litle Walter’s “It Ain’t Right.” featuring scat vocals by Mayall. The concert concludes with all the guests on stage for a performance of J.B. Lenoir’s “Talk To Your Daughter.”
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The 1080i/MPEG-4 AVC transfer of this concert performance looks very good. The only visual effects are the changing hues of the stage lights, mostly blue, pink, and green, and the addition of a slight amount of stage smoke to amplify the light, but it’s not enough to distort the appearance of the musicians. They play on a black stage and mostly wear black or neutral colors. The different gradations of black are detectable and don’t bleed into each other. The colors look natural and realistic, with the most vibrant being the red seen on Van Sickle’s tiger-striped shirt and the red cars on Whitington’s shirt.
Most of the details can be clearly seen, such as imperfections on the cymbals. The cameras covering the audience reactions are not shot in high definition, made clearly obvious when cutting back and forth. I couldn’t see any obvious flaws in the picture even when the cameras shot straight into the stage lights.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The Audio is available as LCPM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS HD Master Audio. The DTS HD is the best option, and the one I used for the majority of the show. The option presents a good dynamic range of highs and lows and nothing appears to get lost in the mix. The surrounds slightly envelope the viewer with audience ambiance and instruments, but doesn’t immerse them. The subwoofer fills in the bottom range without overpowering.
Switching between the other options, LCPM Stereo was good though it lost some of the surround qualities. As I usually find, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is set so low it has to be turned up and the range is narrow. I have no idea why the sound levels dropped during the concert as pointed out above.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
- Interview with John Mayall (SD, 12 min) - Mayall briefly talks about the band’s history and reuniting with Clapton. Rehearsal footage is used as B-roll.
Bonus Tracks (HD, 25 min) - The Bonus Tracks are 25 minutes from the same show, a frequent tactic on concert DVDs I find bothersome and arbitrary. If these performances were good enough for the audience, why should they be cut from the running order only to be presented later as if we are getting something extra?
“Grits Ain’t Groceries” and “Jacksboro Highway” opened the concert and featured Whitington on vocals. They sound much better then the first two tracks after Mayall joins the band. On “California” Taylor is with band. Van Sickle really stands out on bass here while supporting Mick Taylor’s solo; it’s his best bit of the night. The song is closer to jazz than blues. At the conclusion, Mayall introduces the band so it might have before the encore.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Alas, there are no HD exclusives.
Overall, ‘The 70th Birthday Concert’ is a very fine evening of blues, and makes for a good introduction to John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. It’s a treat to see a man lucky enough to have been able to pursue his dreams and passion for so long. We should all be so fortunate when we get to his age
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- 1080i/AVC MPEG-4
- DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- LPCM 2.0
- Interview with John Mayall
- Three Bonus Tracks
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