I know I'm not supposed to let my own brushes with fame affect my opinion of a disc, but at risk of sounding like a name-dropper (okay, twist my arm), a couple of years back I had the great fortune to interview ex-Destiny's Child bandmates Beyonce and Kelly Rowland at a press junket the two were doing to promote a movie. And unlike other bratty, obnoxious pop singers you hear stories about, these two were the sweetest, nicest, most down-to-earth ladies I think I ever had the privilege to interview. So even though I can't say I'm entirely familar with the entire Destiny's Child song catalogue, whenever I hear one of their many hits on the radio, I can't help but flashback to those interviews and smile.
All of which made watching 'Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta' an even more pleasurable experience. It was shot at the Philips Arena on July 15, 2005, during a stop on their sell-out "Destiny Fulfilled... and Lovin' It" farewell tour. Taking a page from the Madonna playbook, this show isn't just about the music -- it's a fun, entertaining, quite theatrical show. There are huge sets, video projectios, a cavalcade of dancers, and (of course) tons of costume changes. At one point, the girls even bring up three lucky boys from the audience, to perform a PG-13-rated lap dance to the strains of their hit "Cater 2 U." No, it doesn't rival "Blonde Ambition," but it is way better than the Spice Girls.
In the ladies favor is the fact that -- unlike a surprisingly majority of their pop peers -- they can actually sing. Beyonce is likely the star of the show for much of the audience, but all three women (along with Rowland, the third Child is Michelle Williams) have very nice voices and harmonize well. The sense of camaraderie onstage is also a relief. The ladies really seem to be having fun, and work it just as much for the camera as for the near-ecstatic audience. By the time they launch into their mega-hit "Survivor" near the show's end, it's like watching Dreamgirls with a happy ending. So kudos to Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle -- they put on a helluva show.
The disc includes 22 songs, plus a wealth of intros, interludes and costume changes. The actual songs performed are: "Say My Name," "Independent Women," "No, No, No," "Bug A Boo," "Bills, Bills, Bills," "Bootylicious," "Jumpin' Jumpin'," "Soldier," "Dilemma," "Do You Know," "Baby Boy," "Naughty Girl," "Cater 2 U," "Girl," "Free," "If," "Through with Love," "Bad Habit," "Dangerously in Love," "Crazy in Love," "Survivor" and "Lose My Breath."
A bit unusual these days, but 'Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta' comes to high-def in a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i/MPEG-2 transfer -- not 1080p. I have no idea if this is just the way the concert was originally captured on HD cameras, or an encoding choice. But given that even a reasonable home theater set-up these days will do the 1080i-to-1080p switcheroo for you somewhere along the chain, I don't see this as a huge deficit here.
Indeed, the video quality is quite high. 'Live in Atlanta' is a very glitzy, colorful affair, and well captured. The image has that three-dimensional, you-are-there-look that is typical of shot-on-HD material. Contrast is nice across the entire grayscale, and doesn't look too bright. Colors are quite vivid, with even hard-to-reproduce primaries like reds and blues coming across cleanly for a live performance. Unfortunately, the disc does lack shadow delineation in low-light moments, though this is not out of character with most live performances shot on HD that I've seen. More distracting are the jaggies, which can be noticeable on high-contrast objects, usually in far away tracking shots of the stage. Nothing excessive, though, and certainly the overall video quality on this one will still please the group's legion of fans.
Sony BMG offers up two audio options: uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The PCM track is the way to go.
To be honest, this isn't exactly my type of music. I tend to be more of a rock guy, favoring deep low bass and lots of grungy guitars. And when I do get into more dance-oriented music, I more like to throw on hard techno or Nine Inch Nails. So this mix sounded a bit attenuated in the high end -- a bit "bright." Granted, this is very upbeat, diva-fueled pop, so a lack of truly hefty bass is probably appropriate. The elements of the track are certainly very well mixed, with the vocals quite prominent and the various live and pre-recorded elements (nice overdubs you're singing to, Beyonce!) not fighting each other for better placement. The only really fake moments are the sudden volume bursts of the crowd -- whenever a sing-along is required, the audience suddenly seems to get louder. Oh, well -- it's all in good fun, right? Again, I can't imagine any Destiny's Child fan being disappointed here.
I wasn't expecting much in the way of supplements out of 'Live in Atlanta,' so the highlight extra "Destiny's Child: A Family Affair" was a genuine surprise. This 46-minute documentary was originally produced for British television, and is quite substantial. Though of course I longed for some catfighting (really, can these girls be this supportive and easy-going with each other?) it's a fairly revealing peek inside the glamorous life of pop stars. It is also pretty star-studded -- watch for appearances by Missy Elliott, Wyclef Jean and Patti LaBelle, among others.
Also included are four cute "Fan Testimonials." Destiny's disciples are predictably breathless and over-enthusiastic, gushing about topics ranging from a review of the show to the best costumes to the favorite song of the evening. Ah, to be young, passionate and flush with mommy and daddy's disposable income...
Rounding out the solid package are three bonus audio-only songs: "Flashback," "Let's Stay Together" and a remix of "Check On It." Audio options for these tracks include PCM 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and each is accompanied by static still images.
'Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta' is a nice souvenir for fans of the band. Bidding a fond farewell after a solid decade of success, the ladies put on a very lively show, and it's nicely captured on this Blu-ray release. The video and audio are strong, and the bonus documentary is much more than a fluff piece. Of course, non-fans won't be swayed by any of this, but if you just can't get enough Bootylicious, this Blu-ray is for you.