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Blu-ray Music Review: Black Country Communion – Live Over Europe

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In a little over a year’s time Black Country Communion have released two studio albums, completed a tour of the U.S. and Europe, and have just released a new concert DVD that captures the powerful live performances from that very tour. This is a pace reminiscent of the glory days of 70’s classic rock, the genre they so wonderfully represent, where bands churned out new albums and tours every year like clockwork.

Black Country Communion is Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple) on bass and vocals, blues-rock prodigy Joe Bonamassa on guitar and vocals, Derek Sherinian on keyboards, and Jason Bonham on the drums. I was excited, to say the least, when I first heard about the formation of BCC, because I have been a big fan of each of these guys individually for quite a while now, and it is refreshing to finally get some new, good-old-fashioned, hard rock to spin on the turntable – well, CD player.

After first hearing Joe Bonamassa crank out his brand of muscular blues on his killer debut album of 2000, I have picked up every album he has touched ever since and have seen him play live every chance I could get. Glenn Hughes has maintained a criminally under-appreciated solo career since leaving Deep Purple in 1976, and it is great to see this new band give him the wider exposure that he so deserves. As for Derek Sherinian, not only do I enjoy all of the prog-fusion albums he puts out, but I am one of those Dream Theater fans that actually loves their oft-maligned Falling Into Infinity album, thanks in part to Sherinian’s remarkable keyboard work. And Jason Bonham? Let’s just say that I am still the proud owner of the 1989 Bonham debut album, The Disregard of Timekeeping, and I also saw his band perform a jaw-dropping, Led Zeppelin tribute concert back in the mid-’90s.

Live Over Europe was recorded over three nights in July of 2010, in Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg, Germany. Each of the locations were quite different, with Munich being in a small indoor arena, and Berlin and Hamburg being shot at outdoor festivals. I liked the fact that the setlist did not bounce back and forth between gigs, but showed songs from each show in order. There was some brief documentary footage interspersed between several of the songs, which I definitely could have done without, but it wasn’t entirely distracting.

After a short intro video dubbed “Revolution of the Machine,” the band hits the stage running with the title track off their debut album, “Black Country,” and you get an immediate sense that these guys are really onto something special. The band was originally going to be named Black Country, after the English industrial area where both Hughes and Bonham hail from, but they soon found out that another band already owned the rights to the name. It was Hughes idea to tack on Communion on the end.

It became apparent, only a few minutes into this blu-ray, that the producers might be hell bent on making this video some grand artistic statement of theirs, instead of just showing the damn concert. “Black Country” actually cuts to some documentary footage between the first and second verses – oh shit! – and the video has a very detached feel, as if you are watching a scene from a movie instead of a concert video. It is even presented in an extra-wide aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, which gives it a very cinematic feel. Throw in your standard artsy-fartsy affects like slow-motion, distortion, out of focus shots, weird camera angles, and quick cuts, and this was shaping up to be a disaster. But, Thankfully (with a capital T), the producers showed much more restraint as the concert progressed, and the majority of the video looks pretty stunning.

The first four songs were shot at the indoor Munich show and they fared the worse production-wise. The video was very dark, and white spotlights from behind the stage often shined directly into the cameras, washing out some of the images. Fortunately, only the first four songs were taken from this locale. “Save Me” from the BCC 2 album, has a very distinct Led Zeppelin “Kashmir” vibe going on, and it was a definite highlight from the Munich footage.

The next two songs are taken from the Berlin show, which was shot in daylight at an outdoor festival. “The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall” is a Bonamassa-penned song that starts out with him doing some folksy 12-string strumming on the top half of an awesome Ernie Ball, Music Man, double-neck guitar, before using the six stringed bottom half to fire off some ferocious rock licks between the verses. Bonamassa also sings this one too, as he does about 20% of the other BCC tunes. “Beggarman” was the only other song taken from the Berlin show.

The remaining ten songs are taken from the Hamburg concert, and the production quality takes a dramatic turn for the better here. Although the concert was shot outdoors, during daylight hours, the stage lighting, and the way it was filmed, overcame most of the coldness that a daylight concert can often bring. The camera changes slowed down a bit and the shots looked much better overall, especially the great wide angle shots from behind the drum kit that captured the whole band playing as the enormous crowd in front of them cheered them on. You also get some tight shots right over Bonham’s drum kit, and plenty of great close-ups showing Bonamassa’s masterful lead guitar work. The video affects were more subdued now, and even the audio mix sounded a bit bolder.

This portion of the DVD is also where most of the performance highlights emanated. Bonamassa’s “Song Of Yesterday” is an instant classic, and this amazing performance is what separates this band from the rest of pack. Glenn Hughes wrote one of his finest and most emotional songs of his career, “Cold,” to close out the BCC 2 album, and this moving performance has brought a little moisture to my eyes every time I have watched it. It is a wonderful feeling when a brand new song can move you like that.

With only two albums to draw from so far, the guys also infused a couple of non-BCC tracks into the mix, beginning with Bonamassa’s own “The Ballad Of John Henry,” from his brilliant 2009 album of the same name. Although I have seen him play this song live a few times with his own band, this was easily the strongest performance I have witnessed, due in part to the epic extended jam they close out the song with. Joe’s badass Theremin solo didn’t exactly hurt matters either. It doesn’t get much more classic rock than Deep Purple’s “Burn,” so it was only fitting that they give that one the BCC treatment as well, and it simply burned. Bonamassa straps on a Gibson Flying V to put his own stamp on the song, and Hughes really makes it his own.

Live Over Europe was filmed using 14 hi-definition cameras and the video looked incredibly sharp and vibrant when none of the special effects were getting in the way. The manner in which it was filmed and edited doesn’t exactly give you that down in the front row feel while you are watching it, but it certainly makes an impressionable artistic statement. The two audio tracks included are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM 2.0 Stereo, and they both sounded superb. Derek Sherinian was mixed a little too low for my taste, but he got similar treatment on the two albums as well. I kept waiting for him to go all Jon Lord on my ass, but you only get a few short teasers.

Bonus Features included a “Forging BCC – The Making of Live Over Europe” documentary as well as two “Live On Tour” and “Behind The Scenes” photo collections.

Live Over Europe captures four of the best musicians in the business displaying the live chemistry of a band that has been playing together for decades, instead of just barely a year. I was only a mild fan of the first BCC album, and found the second one to be a big step forward, but these brilliant live performances have made me see both albums in a whole new light – and that is exactly what a great concert performance is supposed to do.

Track List:
01. Revolution of the Machine (intro)
02. Black Country
03. One Last Soul
04. Crossfire
05. Save Me
06. The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall
07. Beggarman
08. Faithless
09. Song Of Yesterday
10. I Can See Your Spirit
11. Cold
12. The Ballad Of John Henry
13. The Outsider
14. The Great Divide
15. Sista Jane
16. Man In The Middle
17. Burn
18. Smokestack Woman (played over credits)

Ratings:
Performance – 10/10
Production – 8/10

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