If I opened this review with the name Clifford Smith, most readers would shrug their shoulders in indifference, but if I used his pseudonym, "Method Man," they’d probably know who I was talking about. Affectionately known in rap circles as Masta Meth, Iron Lung, Hot Nicks, Johnny Blaze, and the MZA (among countless other aliases), Method Man has risen to hip hop superstardom over the course of his career. He helped found the Wu-Tang Clan, formed a duo with fellow rapper Redman, and has appeared in a number of TV shows and movies. Method has released four solo albums to date (three of which have gone Platinum) and is preparing to release a fifth album titled "Crystal Method" later this year.
More than anything, the acclaimed rapper is renowned for his high-energy performances and enthusiastic stage presence. To be honest, I've had little exposure to his live appearances, but after sitting down to watch his high-def concert release, 'Live from the Sunset Strip,' I have to admit that his fervor is definitely infectious. While it doesn't hurt that the 2007 Hollywood House of Blues audience is ecstatic to watch Method perform in such an intimate locale, palpable energy pours off the stage to match the audience excitement. Method Man is a kinetic performer who rarely stops to take a breath -- he gives everything he's got to his fans and really works to ensure they have the night of their lives.
There are also quite a few moments when Method diverges from the expected and connects with his audience on a personal level. Sure, some of these moments include banal back-and-forth chants about marijuana and substance legalization, but it's tough to criticize an element of the show that fans consider to be an essential part of his stage persona. The thing that impressed me the most was Method Man's tribute to fallen Wu-Tang member ODB (Old Dirty Bastard for the uninitiated) who died of a drug overdose in 2004. Setting aside the irony of the fervent pro-drug mantras that precede this tribute, Method Man's comments and accompanying song creates an instant bond between the artist and the crowd.
Still, once I grew accustomed to his entertaining stage presence, a serious flaw started to settle in and hinder the overall effectiveness of the performance. Method Man's set list is an odd mish-mash of songs that fail to develop the sort of momentum the best live shows exhibit. His song selection is also far too limited for its own good. As it stands, he pulls the majority of his selections from his debut album (1994's "Tical") and various side projects. To my surprise, Method only includes two songs from his 1998 sophomore effort "Tical 2000: Judgement Day" and three songs from his most recent 2006 album, "4:21... The Day After." Fan's of his third album, "Tical 0: The Prequel," won't find a single track from that release included in this performance. In all, he makes two mistakes: he tries to cover the breadth of his career and leaves out too many key songs to fully satisfy his fanbase.
In the end, 'Live from the Sunset Strip' is an exciting performance that allows Method Man to do what he does best -- entertain a crowd. Unfortunately, watching a live show is far less involving than attending, and his set list fails to deliver a very memorable concert. Uber Method Man followers will probably find a lot to love in this HD DVD release, but casual hip hop fans will probably be as distracted by the concert's structure as I was.
'Method Man: Live from the Sunset Strip' includes renditions of "Method Man," "Bring The Pain," "Ice Cream," "All I Need," "Grid Iron Rap," "How High," "What The Blood Clot," "Suspect Chin Music," "Fall Out," "Ya'Meen," "Is It Me," "Problem," "Say," "Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nothing To Fuck With," "Triumph," "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" (Tribute to ODB), "Brooklyn Zoo," "Judgement Day," and "Da Rockwilder."
'Method Man: Live at the Sunset Strip' arrives on HD DVD with a somewhat noteworthy 1080i/VC-1 transfer that does a suitable job of keeping pace with its 1080p competition. The colors are gorgeous -- the stage floods with bold primaries, skin tones are dead on, and the palette is rich and lifelike. Detail is pretty good and I caught several glimpses of things that just aren't clear on the standard DVD. Beads of sweat, clothing stitches, and the various intricacies of Method's tattoos can be seen with relative ease. Better still, black levels are deep, with good contrast that prevents the image from appearing artificial or flat. In fact, my favorite thing about the transfer is that the picture is quite three-dimensional, creating a welcome field of depth that compares favorably to other highly rated high-def concert releases.
Unfortunately, the transfer has a few serious visual flaws that hold it back. First of all, light artifacts frequently skitter across the image, particularly in wisps of smoke or in areas where harsh light swashes across darkness. More troublesome is a fluctuating sharpness that hinders the overall image -- the transfer has difficulty with hair in the audience, Method's stubble, and several fine details in long shots. In my opinion, the image seems a bit soft compared to other concert releases I've reviewed (an issue I noted long before realizing the transfer was rendered in 1080i). Finally, the image is randomly assaulted by judder on several occasions -- just skip to the beginning of chapter 3 and watch the hands in the audience.
For those of you who aren't aware of the nature of this rare issue, "telecine judder" appears as a series of horizontal white lines in various areas of the image. The problem is the result of 3:2 pulldown -- the process used to convert 24fps footage to 29.97fps for home video. In simpler terms, 3:2 pulldown converts every four frames of film into five frames. Since the odd number of frames can't perfectly resolve the even number of feeds in an interlaced image (like 1080i), the white lines will occasionally pop into view for a split second.
All in all, the transfer holds up well but stumbles in a few key areas. Method Man fans will find that the HD DVD looks much better than the DVD, but suffers from too many visual problems to beat out more notable high-def concert transfers.
While Music Video Distribution disappointingly didn't include a high-end audio option on this HD DVD, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (448 kbps) is decent enough considering what little it does. Method's lyrics and dialogue with the crowd are generally clear and stable -- the lone exception occurs each time the rapper shouts into the microphone, producing a variety of distorted sounds. I was also happy to hear clean and transparent channel pans open up the soundfield on a few occasions (albeit ever so slightly). More importantly, Method's voice is nicely prioritized in the mix and never wanes or drowns beneath the aggressive music.
The HD DVD edition of 'Method Man: Live from the Sunset Strip' includes all of the short special features that appeared on the standard DVD. To its detriment, there aren't any lengthy interviews or in-depth examinations of Method's music or career.
Your enjoyment of the HD DVD version of 'Method Man: Live from the Sunset Strip' will really come down to how much you love the rapper himself. The 1080i video transfer is problematic, the standard Dolby Digital audio leaves a lot to be desired, and the supplements are brief and weak. While it certainly trounces the DVD version, this HD DVD can't compete with other high-def concert releases. In my opinion, this one will only satisfy the most ardent fans.