In mid-November 2006, Bruce Springsteen and the 18-member strong Sessions Band performed a three-night series of concerts at The Point in Dublin, Ireland. 'Live in Dublin' (which is being concurrently released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray) features a wide-ranging collection of the best performances from those three concerts, including a host of songs from Springsteen's latest album ("The Seeger Sessions"), some radical interpretations from The Boss' past songbook, plus a few songs that have never before been captured on a Springsteen release.
To be honest, I wasn't aware of Sprinsteen's most recent tour when I sat down to watch 'Live in Dublin,' but even as only a casual Bruce Springsteen fan, I found this concert an absolute joy to watch -- there are many blistering performances here, and Springsteen himself seems absolutely invigorated by the unique setlist captured on this release. Be warned: you won't find a 'Born in the U.S.A,' 'Dancing in the Dark' or 'Born to Run' in here, but I doubt any Springsteen fan will mind.
'Live in Dublin' is also a testament to how riveting a simple live musical performance can be when passion isn't sacrificed for presentation. There is no big light show to distract our eyes, nor any video screens flashing half-naked dancers gyrating on poles, yet the energy that infuses every song on 'Live in Dublin' never fails to captivate. Often with concert discs like these, the viewer's enjoyment is directly tied to the number of songs they recognize, yet in this case even if I didn't recognize a good three-fourths of the songs on the setlist, the sheer power and focus of the musicians on stage kept me rapt with attention. Despite the fact that a good number of the songs included are Pete Seeger covers, Springsteen howls every line as if he wrote it himself. His stature raises the bar for everyone else -- this is a master class in live performance, with even the (few) mistakes breathing more vitality into the show.
Unfortunately, I found the actual filming of the concert a bit less impressive. Director Greg Alton seems to constantly switch from tight close-up to long shot, often at a rapid-fire rate. This technique certainly ups the pacing, but it quickly grows tiresome. Most of the songs don't need such bombastic editorial, and after 118 minutes, some viewers may find the effect akin to having been beaten over the head with concrete drumsticks. The general musical direction of "The Seeger Sessions" also makes for a somewhat limited tonal palette -- I found myself longing for the few-and-far-between slower numbers, as the high energy of most of the performance can also also somewhat wearying. But nevermind these aesthetic quibbles -- 'Live in Dublin' is a landmark release, and I can't imagine any Springsteen fan not wanting to take this one in at least once.
The 23-strong tracklist includes: 01. "Atlantic City" / 02. "Old Dan Tucker" / 03. "Eyes on the Prize" / 04. "Jesse James" / 05. "Further On (Up the Road)" / 06. "O Mary Don't You Weep" / 07. "Erie Canal" / 08. "If I Should Fall Behind" / 09. "My Oklahoma Home" / 10. "Highway Patrolman" / 11. "Mrs. McGrath" / 12. "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" / 13. "Jacob's Ladder" / 14. "Long Time Comin'" / 15. "Open All Night" / 16. "Pay Me My Money Down" / 17. "Growin' Up" / 18. "When the Saints Go Marching In" / 19. "This Little Light of Mine" / 20. "American Land" / 21. "Blinded by the Light" / Bonus Tracks: 22. "Love of the Common People" / 23. "We Shall Overcome"
'Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin' comes to Blu-ray in a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer framed at the presentation's original 1.78:1 filmed aspect ratio, and typical of many shot-on-HD productions, it has a clarity and dimensionality that can be picture perfect. However, 'Live in Dublin' is not the best HD transfer I've seen on Blu-ray.
On the plus side, general clarity is strong and there are no source defects. Blacks are consistent and deep, while contrast has nice pop without blowing out. However, overall the transfer looks a little dark -- either the stage lights just weren't bright enough, or somewhere along the way the encoding dulled luminance levels. Subsequently, shadow delineation is subpar, and I often had trouble making much out in the way of fine detail. Overall sharpness is also just fair, with the transfer looking afirly soft throughout. Colors can look a bit noisy, too -- reds in particular are usually not very clean, and fleshtones are weak. To be sure, 'Live in Dublin' doesn't look bad, it's just not a particularly striking presentation.
Sony Music provides three audio tracks for 'Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin': uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps) and 2.0 stereo (48kHz/24-bit/2.3mbps) mixes, plus a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (640kbps) option. The PCM 5.1 is encoded at a considerably louder base volume, but even after level matching it's clearly superior. This is another very strong audio presentation from Sony BMG, who for my money are fast becoming the studio to beat when it comes to music releases on high-def.
Any Springsteen show is going to be fiery, and 'Live in Dublin' is no exception. Dynamic range is excellent here, and easily able to handle the highs and lows of the music. The mix of torch 'n' twang has a wonderfully warm sound, while bass is tight but never overpowering. The same goes for quieter numbers, which often feature only Springsteen's gravelly voice supported by bare instrumentation -- the clarity and realism to the subtlest sounds is near reference-quality. I was also impressed with how well balanced the vocals are in the mix -- not only Springsteen's, but the entire backing band, which frequently anchors many tracks with what almost amounts to a full-on cacophony of voices. Surround use is not particularly involving however, and once levels are matched, you'd likely have a hard time distinguishing between the PCM 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, save for some crowd bleed to the rears. Otherwise, 'Live in Dublin' is sure to please.
'Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin' comes to Blu-ray simultaneously with the standard-def DVD release, and neither comes packed with any notable extras. A documentary or at least an interview with Springsteen would have been nice, just to get a sense of the motivation behind the project.
We do, however, get two extra songs as stand-alone supplements -- "Love of the Common People" and "We Shall Overcome." Both are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 video, with the same audio options as the main feature.
'Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin' captures an energizing, often fiery live concert -- Springsteen's intensity never lets up for the entire 118-minute performance, and he's matched by an excellent band that really cranks it up. If you're at all a Springsteen fan, this is a must-watch. Unfortunately, as Blu-ray release, this one's a mixed bag -- while the soundtrack defintely measures up, the transfer is on the weak side, and the supplemental package includes only a couple of bonus tracks. Unless you're a diehard fan, you may want to relegate this one to spin at the rental counter.