The Strat Pack Live in London Review

Although many brands of six-stringed instrument have been pressed into service over the years, few are more iconic than the Fender Stratocaster. Think of Hank Marvin’s work with the Shadows, inspiring generations of British guitarists. Think of Jimi Hendrix setting one alight at Monterey, after a performance that had thoroughly put him on the map. Think of…well, lots of things. In 2004, the Strat was fifty years old, and in Autumn the concert on this DVD took place at Wembley Arena in London.

Such an occasion could easily have been the opportunity for two and a half hours of guitar-wanking, but the assembled celebrities keep it tasteful and there’s little in the way of self-indulgence here. I don’t know if this is the entire concert (it’s certainly long enough) but many people are only on for one or two numbers before the entire ensemble comes on stage for the finale. There are some obvious absences due to death, and some due no doubt for other reasons, but there are tributes along the way to deceased Strat-users Hendrix and George Harrison. The guest guitarists and vocalists are backed by a more than capable house band. However, some inclusions seem odd. Quite what Jamie Cullum (a keyboards player) is doing here is a good question. It’s also obvious that some people’s guitar prowess is much greater than their singing ability: I’m thinking particularly of Joe Walsh and Ronnie Wood here. Amongst the singers, Paul Rodgers is very much the star of the show, showing considerable stage presence. He’s in fine voice, and he gets the crowd singing along. He even plays a little guitar himself, though wisely leaves the flashy stuff to Brian May and Joe Walsh. However, the number where Rodgers is accompanied by his children Steve and Jasmine, “Drinking”, seems slightly awkward and maybe a little embarrassing, as if we’ve stumbled on some family recriminations aired in public.

There are certainly some dull spots here – for me, David Gilmour’s three numbers went on far too long. But if, like me, the sound of an electrical guitar playing blues-based music hits you at a level almost too deep to verbalise, there’s plenty to enjoy here in this once-in-a-lifetime gathering of great guitarists old and new.

The Crickets, Albert Lee & Brian May: “Peggy Sue”, “Maybe Baby”, “I Fought the Law”, “Oh Boy”, “That’ll Be the Day”
Hank Marvin & Ben Marvin: “The Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt”, “Sleepwalk”, “Apache”
Theresa Andersson: “I’m On My Way”
Albert Lee & Theresa Andersson: “”Country Boy”
Mike Rutherford & Paul Carrack: “How Long”, “All Along the Watchtower”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “I Can’t Dance”
Gary Moore: “Red House”
Jamie Cullum: “Angel”
Amy Winehouse: “Stronger Than Me”
Paul Rodgers: “Muddy Water Blues”
Paul Rodgers featuring Jasmine & Steve Rodgers: “Drinking”
Paul Rodgers & Brian May: “Alright Now”
Paul Rodgers & Joe Walsh: “Can’t Get Enough”
Joe Walsh: “Funk 49”, “Life’s Been Good”, “Life in the Fast Lane”, “Rocky Mountain Way”
Phil Manzanera: “6 PM”
David Gilmour: “Marooned”, “Coming Back to Life”, “Sorrow”
Ronnie Wood: “Ooh La La”
All-Star Line Up: “Stay With Me”

Shot on high-definition video, The Strat Pack looks good on DVD. It’s transferred in a ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. There’s a slight softness and grain, which might have a little to do with the stage lighting used, but colours are true, blacks solid and I didn’t spot any undue artefacting.

There are three soundtrack options. For most people the choice would be between the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes. To be honest, there’s nothing to choose between the two: both are fine, and just about identical. The subwoofer fills out the bass parts and gives the snare drums quite some kick. Surrounds are used for crowd noise. There is also a 2.0 mix which plays in surround when your amp is set to Prologic. It has less impact and clarity, but it’s an acceptable alternative for people without a 5.1 setup.

There are no subtitles, which may be due to copyright restrictions on reproducing song lyrics. There are thirty-one chapter stops, one per song, and the DVD is encoded for all regions. The only extra is an advertisement for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy, a charity who were the beneficiaries of the concert. It’s in non-anamorphic 16:9 and runs 3:02.

Whether you’re a player, or an air-guitarist, or even just a listener, there’s plenty to enjoy in The Strat Pack Live in London, even if two and a half hours of this is a bit too much of a good thing.

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