INXS: Live Baby Live Review

You could argue that for a band to be great, it needs two or more elements that lift it above the rest, and it’s the chemistry between those two outstanding elements that does its work on us. Merely good bands (and that’s no mean thing) can make do on one such element. Consider INXS. A decent pub band from Down Under, playing a mixture of rock and funk with elements of soul thrown into the pot, they’re certainly very competent musicians and songwriters, but I’d suggest they lack that vital spark. But they had one constituent part that gave them that spark, namely a word-class frontman in Michael Hutchence.

Hutchence was a good singer, with a very Jagger-influenced delivery, but what he certainly had was charisma. That’s a quality hard to define, but you know it when you see it, and Hutchence had it by the shedload. With this ace in their pack, and two or three undeniably catchy hit singles, INXS made it very big in the late 80s. Live Baby Live is a record of their concert at Wembley Stadium on 13 July 1991. The Stadium was a huge venue, probably better suited to large-scale events such as Live Aid and the two Mandela Day concerts. For a single headlining band to sell out Wembley – that’s some 72,000 tickets – was a rare occurrence. Twelve and a half years on, it’s a reminder just how huge INXS were back then, as big as they were ever to get.

Michael Hutchence is in his pomp, not actually saying very much in between songs, but ferociously working the vast audience. He certainly had sex appeal in spades, and he wasn’t afraid to use it: not for nothing are there a significantly large number of women in the audience. The big screen came calling, but his was a charisma that didn’t really carry over to acting roles, of which the best was in Richard Lowenstein’s shamefully underrated Dogs in Space. (As for his Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound…do me a favour.) The five musicians basically let him get on with it and concentrating on playing. From the moment when Jon Farriss’s drums start off “Guns in the Sky” to the encores, there are no long-form workouts and jam sessions here: the band pumps out twenty-one songs in an hour and a half with a rather faceless efficiency. This DVD doesn’t go into Hutchence’s life offstage, nor the squalid manner of his death, and neither will I. This is a celebration of a band at its height, not a study of its decline.

Guns in the Sky
New Sensation
Send a Message
The Stairs
Know the Difference
By My Side
Hear That Sound
Original Sin
The Loved One
Bitter Tears
Suicide Blonde
What You Need
Need You Tonight
Never Tear Us Apart
Who Pays the Price
Devil Inside

The first thing to note about Sanctaury’s all-regions release is that it’s NTSC format rather than PAL. On the plus side this means that the sound will be at the correct pitch and not speeded up, if that’s an issue for you. On the other hand, as the show was shot on PAL video – as it would be, being a UK production, picture quality tends to suffer. (It was a big production too, with at least two cinematographers with feature credits operating cameras.) There’s a fair amount of artefacting, especially in crowd shots and later on when the sky gets dark. The production was shot full-frame, and that’s how this DVD shows it, so no anamorphic enhancement is necessary. There are twenty-two chapter stops, one per song and one for the end credits. There are subtitles, and thankfully they are provided for the main feature and the two featurettes. They are also provided for the song lyrics, which is unusual for a music DVD, presumably for copyright reasons.

The sound is impressive, too. You get a choice of Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes and one in Dolby Surround. Being DTS-challenged, I only sampled the other two tracks: as this was recorded in the pre-digital era, I suspect the DTS track and the Dolby Digital one are on a par with each other, though if that isn’t so I will update this review appropriately. The Surround mix is good, but the Digital one has the edge, with Hutchence and the band’s vocals, the music and the crowd noises very well balanced. No complaints here at all.

On to the extras, the first and least is an audio commentary by the five surviving band members. It’s entirely shambolic, with doors opening and closing, people shouting things at the screen (repeated calls for Kirk Pengilly to take off his red jacket) and nothing of much interest being said. The “let’s pop beers and chat about the movie” school of commentary can work extremely well, and when it does the good times communicate themselves to the listener. This isn’t one of those commentaries. You’re much better off with the two featurettes.

The first one, “Talk Baby Talk” (24:59) was shot at the time, as it features Hutchence as well as the other band members. It’s shot in 16:9 non-anamorphic in what can be best described as very grainy, black-and-white smeary video. This is simply irritating, and shows that nothing dates faster than yesteryear’s promo video style. “Wembley XS” (37:20) is a mix of behind-the-scenes footage from the concert, interviews with the crowd, and new interviews with the band. None of this is much more than EPK material, but it’ll certainly be of interest to fans of the band. This one is in colour and full-frame.

A bonus track, or rather an outtake from the main feature, “Lately” (6:20) is backed by a slow-motion footage that’s even more grainy and artefacted than the main feature. This is provided with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, but isn’t subtitled. There’s also a stills gallery which you can navigate back and forth yourself, or you can let the DVD advance to the next still itself: there are forty-two of them. The disc comes with a sixteen-page booklet made up from stills, contemporary documentation, brief pieces by each band member, and a list of disc credits. Finally, there’s a link to the band’s website.

If you are, or were, a fan of the band, you might want to adjust your ratings upwards. Maybe you had to be there, but I suspect the unconverted (like myself) will remain so. Buy it as a souvenir, if you were there, or as a memory of a past crush.

7 out of 10
7 out of 10
10 out of 10
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