Jeff Buckley: Live In Chicago Review
Until a year or so ago Jeff Buckley had remained a hidden gem that few casual music fans were aware of. In 1995, with only one album, 'Grace', released to huge critical acclaim (if not huge sales), he decided to take a late night swim in the Mississippi river. Tragically he was dragged under by a passing boat and drowned. Since then a number of successful new bands have name checked Buckley as an influence, including Coldplay, Muse and the new darlings of the NME, Starsailor. With the release of 'Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk', a collection of studio and 4-track recordings, and this DVD Buckley unfortunately has a much higher profile now than before his death.
The DVD contains a complete, unedited concert from Jeff's 1995 Mystery White Boy Tour. The program contains 13 songs that demonstrate the variety of his influences, including cover versions of Big Star, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen and the MC5! Incidentally, this is probably the best cover of 'Kick Out The Jams' I've ever seen. Buckley's voice is at the height of its powers in this performance, making the transition from the rock of 'Eternal Life' and 'Kick Out The Jams' to the smooth emotional tones of 'Lilac Wine' and 'Hallelujah' with ease. He was also a talented guitarist (in his first bands he refused to sing, for fear of being compared to his father Tim Buckley), and this DVD is very useful for budding guitarists like myself. Thankfully it doesn't suffer from what I call Top-Of-The-Pops-it is, where the camera focuses on the strumming hand. Who cares, show me the fingering!
Visually, this disc is nothing to write home about. Formatted in 4:3, presumably for television broadcast, the picture is clean and artefact-free. As befits a relatively small-scale gig, the lighting is simple and unadventurous, and there are no fancy camera angles. This in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the program for me; instead it makes it feel more atmospheric and gives me a feeling of being there.
Of course, the most important element of a music DVD is the sound. There are two tracks on the disc, one in Dolby Digital 5.1 and one in PCM stereo. Of the two I prefer the 5.1 mix. It is slightly quieter than the stereo mix, but the instruments are clearer and better separated. Buckley's songs are deceptively intricate and this mix allows you to pick out individual parts easily. The rear effects are mainly crowd noise. The stereo mix on the other hand is OK, but has a deeper bass that muddies out the other instruments and vocals slightly. 5.1's the way to go.
Navigating through the DVD's animated menus, we find some good quality extras. First up are two acoustic performances of 'So Real' and 'Last Goodbye'. Filmed in a small studio these are of the same impressive standard as the main program. Buckley was influenced by jazz musicians so was always fond of improvising, therefore every performance of a song was slightly different and worth listening to.
The other main extra is an Electronic Press Kit, basically a 16-minute video promo that was released to promote 'Grace'. This includes some video of the type of solo performances in New York's Sin-e Café that caused the rush to sign him in the early nineties, and some interviews in which Jeff details his influences. The final two extras are a brief discography, unfortunately not very detailed, and a web link (to a site where you can get a better discography!).
I have to admit I couldn't review this disc impartially. Due to his untimely death there is not enough Jeff Buckley music out there, and any that is released I lap up. However even if I wasn't a fan this package may have swayed me. Apart from the breathtaking voice and wonderful musicianship, the songs are simply fabulously crafted. Just listen to 'Last Goodbye' and try not to be moved! If you are a fan of indie music in any form, this DVD and the 'Grace' album are must-haves.