Review: DVD Long Way to the Top – Live in Concert!

ABC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 204 mins . M15+ . PAL
  Feature
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After the inspiring success of the six-part documentary on Australian music Long Way to the Top (despite its many gaping holes), one major player in this country’s music history had a dream. “Why not get as many of those musical folk from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s back together to do it a few more times, in a big stadium extravaganza to celebrate all they achieved? And damn it, why not put me on twice and let me finish the show?!” Now you may wish to liberally sprinkle a few ‘f’ words in there for good measure, for the man with those thoughts was none other than Billy Thorpe – Thorpie – a bloke who has been known to live by the delightful little motto of “suck more piss”.

Eventually what must have been a simply massive organisational nightmare had its wheels suitably oiled and put into motion, much to the derision of many critics. With labels such as “the retirement village people” coming from pathetic jaded hack writers who for some reason get paid for doing nought but hanging shit on those that actually do (OK, irony noted…) it was sad to realise the abject disrespect for the history of music in this country held by so many – all too pitifully stupid to realise that if not for many of these trailblazers and the remarkable feats they accomplished that, musically at least, things would be quite different in Australia today. Ah, but it’s cool to knock local “product” all the time, isn’t it? Just put on another White Stripes or Strokes CD kids and forget all your troubles…

Far from being sad in any way shape or form (with one exception which I’ll get to), Long Way to the Top – Live in Concert! is a glorious coming together of Australian musical talent, a large selection of performers getting it happening again for a few celebratory reminisces then happily buggering off back to whatever they’re doing nowadays. There’s no trying to milk it to relaunch careers or any such thing – it’s just a great bit of fun which, judging by the crowd reactions and extra shows that were added, those who went along well and truly shared in the spirit of.

There are highlights aplenty, all of which will vary depending upon your vintage and tastes. Russell Morris’ storming through the classic The Real Thing stands out for this reviewer, even if the opportunity to get Brian Cadd to read the old tape box as on the original recording went begging – the guy was just backstage! The Atlantics’ surf guitar anthem Bombora still rocks today – and sounds spookily current in these musically recycled times, and Col Joye’s cover of Rock’n’Roll Heaven is a pleasant enough tribute to those who aren’t with us now – well, the more mainstream ones at any rate, David McComb anybody?

Thorpie’s two spots are more than justified as he and his various Aztecs can still rock it hard, the Masters Apprentices’ Because I Love You is still one of the greatest songs ever – even if Jim Keays is somewhat more raspy nowadays, Chain’s Aussie blues still enthral and Marcia Hines is as captivating as ever. Oh, and even Girlfriend get a look in with the impossibly gorgeous Robyn Loau serving as one of the house band backing singers.

Lowlights? Well, some tracks featured live have been omitted, an explanation for which would be nice (I’m all ears…) Most notably, Max Merritt & the Meteors’ gorgeous Slippin’ Away has disappeared, as has JPY’s awesome Vanda and Young penned Yesterday’s Hero AND Love is in the Air, leaving him with only one track present, the still crap I Hate the Music. Otherwise the only sad thing about this concert is seeing the state Stevie Wright is in nowadays. Without wishing disrespect or meaning to sound tacky, suffice to say he’s a perfect example of why heeding South Park’s Mr Mackey’s words may not be such a bad thing… however, his seriously truncated take on the classic Evie is spirited and captivating nonetheless.

In all this is a fabulously entertaining romp through Australia’s diverse musical past. We only live in hope that somebody will put together a part two sometime soon that takes up from where this leaves off in the mid ‘70s…

Track listings…

Act One – The ‘50s & ‘60s

Bye Bye Baby Goodbye – Col Joye
Oh Yeah – Col Joye
Yes, Sir – Col Joye
Rock’n’Roll Heaven – Col Joye
Sing Sing Sing – Col Joye
Be Bop a Lula – Col Joye
4,003,221 Tears From Now – Judy Stone
Hasta Manana – Judy Stone
Ain’t it So – Lonnie Lee
Starlight Starbright – Lonnie Lee
I Found a New Love – Lonnie Lee
Yes Indeed I Do – Lonnie Lee
I’ve Been Everywhere – Lucky Starr
He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy – Little Pattie
Stompin’ at Maroubra – Little Pattie
Bombora – The Atlantics
’Til We Kissed – Ray Columbus & the Invaders
She’s a Mod – Ray Columbus & the Invaders
Don’t You Know, Yokomo? – Dinah Lee
Reet Petite – Dinah Lee
It Ain’t Necessarily So – Normie Rowe
Que Sera Sera – Normie Rowe
Shakin’ All Over – Normie Rowe
What’s Wrong With the Way I Live? – The Twilights
Needle in a Haystack – The Twilights
Sick and Tired – Billy Thorpe & the Original Aztecs
Over the Rainbow – Billy Thorpe & the Original Aztecs
Poison Ivy – Billy Thorpe & the Original Aztecs
Gonna See My Baby Tonight – Kevin Borich (The La De Das)
Try a Little Tenderness – Max Merritt & the Meteors

Act Two – The ‘60s & ‘70s

Morning of the Earth – Tamam Shud
Sea the Swells – Tamam Shud
The Real Thing – Russell Morris
Wings of an Eagle/Sweet Sweet Love – Russell Morris
Arkansas Grass – Axiom
A Little Ray of Sunshine – Axiom
Ginger Man – Axiom
God/Human Being – Lobby Loyde & the Coloured Balls
Liberate Rock – Lobby Loyde & the Coloured Balls
I’ll Be Gone – Spectrum
Black and Blue – Chain
I Remember When I Was Young – Chain
Because I Love You – Masters Apprentices
Turn Up Your Radio – Masters Apprentices
I Hate the Music – John Paul Young
Evie (Parts 1, 2 and 3) – Stevie Wright
You – Marcia Hines
Fire and Rain – Marcia Hines
Your Love Still Brings Me to My Knees – Marcia Hines
Come Back Again – Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool)
Hi Honey Ho – Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool)
Eagle Rock – Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool)
Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy – Billy Thorpe & the Sunbury Aztecs
Oop Oop A Doo – Billy Thorpe & the Sunbury Aztecs
It’s a Long Way to the Top – The whole cast
  Video
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Wow, this looks as if it was shot just last week! What’s that? It virtually was? Well, that would explain it then, wouldn’t it?

It’s great that the likes of the ABC have taken to shooting for widescreen telly with such alacrity, meaning that when their product invariably emerges on DVD within seconds of airing we know it’s not going to be cruddy old full frame. Needless to say LWttT-LiC! is no exception, with stunning 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced vision.

This isn’t all that’s stunning about it, however, as the vision is a true joy (perhaps in this case that should have an ‘e’ on the end?) to behold. As most would have experienced, live productions can be fraught with nasties on their transference to our beloved format, yet somehow this production manages to pretty much avoid all the usual pitfalls. Those really hunting for issues may notice the very rare occurrence of slight aliasing, but otherwise save for a few lens flares when big, bright lights swoop towards the cameras this looks superb. From audience shots to the more important stuff, the performers, detail and colour are at a premium and it’s all quite excitingly shot and edited. Layer changes are noticeable – unavoidable in a non-stop, no-lull presentation, but do occur fairly innocuously between performers on both discs.

  Audio
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Not only does LWttT-LiC! feature the standard Dolby Digital stereo mix as broadcast on television, it has also had some extra effort applied in delivering us a DD 5.1 mix. The latter is quite good without being super-duper-spectacular, offering up some decent bass from the subwoofwoof when appropriate, and using the rear channels as they should be – to enhance the whole live experience with crowd noise and other atmosphere. The front sees most of the action, with nice separation and always crystal clear, perfectly synched sound. In all this has been beautifully recorded and mixed, with those telltale live glitches we’re so used to scarcely raising their icky little heads.

  Extras
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With almost three and a half hours of programme scattered across the two disc set, you may not expect much in the way of extras. And you’d be kind of right. Still, what’s lurking behind the nominally animated menus with their relentless loop of It’s a Long Way to the Top riffage is still decent, and worth a trundle about.

Possibly the most interesting bonuses are the relatively brief, tightly edited interviews with all the performers. Between the two discs there’s a total of just over an hour of them, seemingly recorded after one of the latter Melbourne shows, the big annoyance being the inability to play them in one hearty chunk. Hosted by either Squeak (sorry, John Paul Young), producer Amanda Pelman or promoter Michael Chugg (oh, the Tamam Shud one is by a ringer who may be a Jacobsen, but I’m not entirely sure), they’re often informative, usually fun, but sometimes a tad too nauseatingly matey (Chuggy, there’s a finger pointing directly at you – mate!)

Otherwise there are text bios of the performers which usually just run to a couple of pages, and a photo gallery on each disc featuring a couple of snaps of each artist in their heyday, usually promo ones, live shots or album covers. There are also a few general ‘of the time’ cultural snaps thrown in for good measure.

  Overall
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There may be a hell of a lot more wrinkles, grey hair or in some cases no hair, but this lot still know how to put on a great show and most importantly how to enjoy them selves – something which is truly infectious. Jammed onto two DVDs, Long Way to the Top – Live in Concert! is brilliantly presented, and a wonderful souvenir for anybody who was silly enough not to pop along to one of the shows – or who couldn’t talk any of their philistine friends into it…


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