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Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden (HD DVD)
Warner Music Group / 2007 / 205 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: January 29, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Editor's Note: Non-format-specific portions of this review are also published in our Blu-ray review of 'Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden.'
The neo-hippie movement has produced a rash of peace-n-love throwback bands, with members looking to reclaim the free spirited nature abandoned by their parents. However, few have been more prominent or successful amongst fans of the genre than Dispatch, an indie/folk rock band that sprouted up more than ten years ago at a liberal arts college in Middlebury, Vermont. To be honest, until I signed on to this review, I had never heard of Dispatch. Even then, I assumed they were nothing more than an underground niche band; a fly-by-night operation kept alive by a small but passionate following. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the band was actually an indie sensation that had made a serious dent in the post-modern rock-fusion scene.
Although they initially lacked the support of a proper label, Dispatch distributed their music online throughout the early '90s, quickly developing legitimate buzz. By the time they released their first studio album (1996's "Silent Steeples"), industry outlets like "Rolling Stone" had sat up and taken notice. Dispatch quickly rose to fame, but ironically, the band's optimistic messages couldn't overcome six years of mounting tensions and in-fighting amongst its three members, and while on tour in 2002, lead singer and musician Brad Corrigan, guitarist Pete Francis, and musician Chad Urmston decided to call it quits.
The musicians may have parted company, but they weren't above reuniting for fans or for a good cause -- most recently, the band came together in 2007 to raise money for charities fighting disease, famine, and genocide in Africa. While a single July 14th benefit concert was planned, one night wasn't enough to satisfy the zealous fans Dispatch had amassed over the years. The band's reunion sold out in half an hour, encouraging Corrigan and crew to add a second show on July 13th. When tickets for this additional performance disappeared in twenty-four hours, the band scrambled to arrange a third show on July 15th. Just like that, Dispatch had managed to pre-pack Madison Square Garden for three nights in a row.
'Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live from Madison Square Garden' managed to spark a bit of personal interest in me. The music itself didn't exactly convert me to a fan of the genre, but the set list was diverse enough to imbue the show with a momentum and intensity most live performances would kill for. Folk rhythms, electric crescendos, reggae upbeats, acoustic melodies, and contagious percussion runs mingle together to produce a unique blend of ska, funk, rock, and hip hop -- the combination pulled me into the music and convinced me I was sitting in the crowd. It doesn't hurt that Corrigan, Francis, and Urmston are excellent showmen who don't seem beguiled by their own fame. It's clear their hearts are focused on the music and the cause itself -- their words and demeanor genuinely showcase their faith in each of the individual charities highlighted throughout the night.
The outcome does get a little unruly at times -- a few songs are packed with so many musical elements battling for a fan's attention that the experience comes dangerously close to overproduction. I certainly can't fault the band's exuberance or commitment to the performance, but the message of a benefit concert should never have to compete with its presentation. While the choirs, solos, percussion lines, melodies, and harmonies are all impressive in their own right, they start to undermine each other when working simultaneously.
Regardless, I'm confident fans will really enjoy 'Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden.' The performance pulses with palpable energy, the event is packed with an enthusiastic crowds, and the concert includes a collection of well rehearsed songs that represent the best the trio has to offer. I'll even bet people who have never heard of Dispatch will find themselves hitting Amazon after watching this concert to pick up a CD or two.
The complete tracklist is as follows:
1) Here We Go
2) Time Served
3) Whaddya Wannabe
4) Open Up
6) Bang Bang (with the African Children's Choir)
7) Ride A Tear
9) Flying Horses (featuring Bongo Love)
10) Past The Falls
14) Questioned Apocalypse
15) Cut It Ya Match It
16) Bats In The Belfry
17) Elias (with the African Children's Choir)
18) Outloud (with the African Children's Choir)
While it's not the most picturesque concert disc I've had the pleasure of reviewing, the 1080p/AVC encode featured on 'Dispatch: Zimbabwe' does a good job rendering the show with vibrant hues and deep blacks. Consistent and natural fleshtones never flush or pale in the harsh stage lights of this MSG performance, and contrast is generally on point throughout. I didn't get the overwhelming sense that every camera in the venue was HD (crowd shots seem particularly soft), but those focused on the band provide stable washes of color and generally crisp details. Close-ups are full of texture clarity -- sharp hair, skin, and clothing fibers lift the transfer within reach of more impressive concert discs on the market.
Alas, the picture doesn't maintain its highs, and stumbles beneath a slew of consistency issues. For starters, occasional shots drift out of focus, long shots are less than inspiring, and random close-ups are blurry (to put it kindly). To make matters worse, digital noise creeps into several shots and populates the crowd with bursts of salt and pepper that completely distract from the show. Finally, artifacting and crushing sometimes block up in the darkness surrounding the piercing lights -- try as I might, I couldn't keep my eyes from flicking to the offending areas every time. In the end, these minor hiccups add up to a more significant encoding problem and prevent the disc from living up to its potential.
(Note that this HD DVD video transfer appears to be visually identical to its Blu-ray AVC counterpart.)
'Dispatch: Zimbabwe' is anchored by a fairly underwhelming 640kbps Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround track (identical to the Blu-ray audio mix) that fails to provide much more than a standard sonic experience. On the upside, horn blasts are steady, drum beats push through the soundscape, and the accompanying choir sounds full and healthy. Corrigan's lyrics and words are clear and well prioritized, while the instruments provide a solid foundation for everything at the forefront of the show. However, I was surprised to find that Bongo Love received more audible attention than Dispatch themselves -- their performance extends farther into the rear channels and helps to create a convincing soundfield that seems to be missing from the rest of the track.
Unfortunately, the track's flat dynamics don't make the situation any better. Considering that Dispatch is dependent on percussion instruments, reggae rhythms, and hip hop beats, I was quite disappointed by the lackluster LFE support I found on this release. The results sound muddled for my tastes and could benefit from the inherent punch found in a PCM or TrueHD mix. Worst of all, the rear surround channels may as well have been discounted from the soundfield. While they're used to provide a mild level of acoustic support and crowd presence between songs, the central sounds are often duplicated at a lower volume in the rear speakers to create the illusion of an inclusive environment. This quick cheat doesn't help distinguish this underpowered track from the competition. Frankly, I expect more from a concert release.
All in all, this HD DVD track would be more impressive if this release were on DVD. However, high definition releases should include audio tracks that bring the concert home, so to speak. For my money, I demand more oomph from a concert that's being released on HD DVD.
The HD DVD edition of 'Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live from Madison Square Garden' includes the same shortlist of supplements as its DVD cousin. While there isn't a lot on tap, the features are decent and will certainly grab the attention of fans.
- Tree With No Name (SD, 30 minutes) -- This heartbreaking documentary was a quick and chilling reminder of how desperate a country like Zimbabwe is for relief efforts. Charity seems like a small but necessary drop in the bucket, and I found myself admiring the band's determination even more when faced with the reality of the situation. Some people may write this documentary off as a manipulative piece of pickpocket propaganda, but I couldn't help but wonder how wisely my money is being spent when people are suffering and starving across the globe.
- Deleted Songs (HD, 16 minutes) -- Fans of Dispatch will really enjoy four song recordings that didn't make it into the presentation of the main performance. "Camilo," "Carnival," "Customs," and "War" are all worth watching for anyone who dug the concert.
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'Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live from Madison Square Garden' is a nice introduction to a forgotten fusion band that continues to set aside their differences for deserving charities and causes. Unfortunately, despite the band's best efforts to put on a great show, this HD DVD release comes up short. A problematic video transfer, an average Dolby Digital audio track, and a small smattering of supplements keeps this one from being the top notch title it could be. While Dispatch junkies probably have a copy of this one on the way, casual fans and newcomers should give this a rent before locking into a purchase.
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