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Arena - Caught In The Act CD (album) cover





3.91 | 50 ratings

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Symphonic Team
3 stars Bitter harvest

After five studio albums and two official live albums, it was time for Arena's first live video. Recorded and filmed on the tour in support of Contagion, the set list naturally leans heavily towards that album. Indeed, they perform the whole thing with only minor exclusions. This takes up approximately half of the show, with the rest consisting of older material going back to the band's debut and such timeless classics as Solomon, Jericho, The Hanging Tree and The Butterfly Man. Given such an amazing set list, this should be a five star release. But there are some flaws that effectively put a stop to that. The weak sound mixing being the primary reason.

Arena is my favourite modern Prog band and one of my all time favourite bands. Their most recent album (at the time of this performance) was Contagion, which I consider a masterpiece. The performance of this album here in its entirety is however a bit of a letdown. It is fun to finally be able to see the band as I have never seen them live in real life, but they are not completely successful in bringing this conceptual album to the stage. Or rather, this DVD is not successful in capturing this gem in live form - how it actually sounded on the night, I cannot know. One problem is that the keyboards occasionally are too far back in the mix. This is especially noticeable on Clive's brilliant keyboard solo in Painted Man which is barely audible! It does, however, sound alright on the keyboard dominated instrumental Riding The Tide.

I should be fair and say that they do give us a very competent and plainly enjoyable airing of the great Contagion song-cycle, it is only that the studio version is so much better in almost all conceivable respects. The "problem" lies more in the greatness of the studio album, than in any weaknesses as such in the performance. How can you, after all, improve or recreate what is already perfect?

It comes almost like a relief when they leave Contagion behind and John Mitchell gets to perform the wonderful guitar instrumental Serenity backed by discrete keyboards by Clive. This number is one of the rare instances here that is up to par, or above, its studio counterpart. But the whole of the rest of the performance is better than the Contagion part. What follows are a collection of songs from the band's first four albums including a further four from the fantastic The Visitor, two each from Immortal? and Songs From The Lion's Cage, and, finally, Crying For Help VII from the Pride album which closes the show. The latter song is, as usual in live performance, not the a cappella version that it originally was, but is given the full band treatment. Even if all of these songs are even better in studio form, these are still fine performances of these great songs. The Butterfly Man is one of the highlights of the whole show. The encore begins with the magnificent Solomon from the brilliant debut, Songs From The Lion's Cage. However, this version, though I find no problem with it in principle, just doesn't move me like the studio version or the live version on Welcome To The Stage. The same is true of many of the songs here.

(The very tall) front man Rob Sowden has a great voice, but he wears some weird outfits, hats, make-up and goggles that he changes several times during the course of the show! The rest of the band are a bit more "down to earth".

As I said at the beginning, there is something with the sound that is not quite right on this DVD. I can turn the volume up to maximum on my sound system while watching this DVD, something I cannot do with any other DVD I own! But turning up the volume is not the solution, only the symptom of the underlying problem. Too bad for what appears to be a great show by an amazing band! The bonus features includes an interview with Clive and Mick. A polish journalist asks them rather stupid questions, and Clive can barely stop himself from laughing at some questions.

To sum up. This DVD is good, but not at all as great as it could and should have been given the impressive set list. I strongly recommend not making this DVD your introduction to Arena, or even your live introduction to the band. Begin instead with the excellent studio albums. And if you are looking specifically for a live recording, I would recommend the two first official live albums, Welcome To The Stage and Breakfast In Biarritz, which both sound better than the present live recording.

SouthSideoftheSky | 3/5 |


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