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MOVIE INFO

Director:
David Mallet
Cast:
Elton John
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
Elton John's record-breaking 60th sellout performance at Madison Square Garden on his 60th birthday, recorded on March 25th, 2007 and televised worldwide is the setting for his latest hit DVD, Elton 60: Live at Madison Square Garden. This DVD comprises awe-inspiring moments captured in breathtaking high definition, complete with 5.1 surround sound and stereo mixes. A second DVD of bonus material presents 24 archival performances, from his earliest known TV performance on Swiss TV in 1970 to his BBC "In Session" show from 2006.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
Audio:
English DTS 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Subtitles:
None
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 198 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 10/23/07

Bonus:
• “Live, Unseen and Rare” Music Clips
• “Elton’s New York Stories” Music Clips
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Elton 60: Live At Madison Square Garden (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 5, 2007)

Although I go to a lot of rock concerts, I’d not seen Elton John much over the years. I first went to an Elton show in 1984, and I saw him again in 1986, 1989 and 1993. After that, I largely lost interest – maybe the hair transplant spooked me – so I didn’t attend another Elton concert until the fall of 2005.

Boy, was that one a disappointment. The setlist was fine, as Elton offered a good mix of old and new, but the performance was flat at best. I can handle the fact that Elton’s lost a lot of range over the years, but the band seemed out of synch and disinterested. In addition, Elton would take extended bows after nearly every song, so the show failed to build any momentum.

After that concert, I figured I was probably done with Elton as a live artist. That’s not an extreme statement for me to make since I didn’t consider myself a huge fan; if I said the same thing about Bowie or Springsteen, that’d enter “renouncing God” territory. Expressing no desire to see Elton again? Not a good thing, but not a big deal for me.

Which is what made it so strange that I ended up at Madison Square Garden on March 25, 2007. Not only did I alter my decision to skip future Elton concerts, but also I traveled 500 miles round-trip and shelled out hundreds of dollars to do so. Why?

Because I love live music, and I can’t resist an event. Heck, I’m a mid-level Led Zeppelin fan, but I was awfully tempted to make the trek to London for their big reunion show in December 2007, and that’s a much more difficult trip for me than just doing the drive up 95 to NYC.

Whatever else it might be, Elton’s March 25 show sounded like an event, as it provided a concert to commemorate his 60th birthday – and also was his record-setting 60th performance at MSG. How could any self-respecting concert junkie miss it?

So I went, and I remain exceedingly glad I did. Across well over three hours of music, Elton lived up to – and greatly surpassed – my expectations. As documented on this fine two-DVD set called 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden, Elton put on a show for the ages that night.

On DVD, the concert gets split onto two platters. Disc One presents 12 songs and lasts 66 minutes, five seconds, while Disc Two packs in 21 more tunes and fills two hours, 11 minutes and 54 seconds. Wondering why they made Disc One so much shorter than Disc Two? That’s because they cut from Disc One at a perfect non-musical break. Bernie Taupin, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams came out for a birthday presentation between “Empty Garden” and “Daniel”, so it made sense to switch DVDs at that time. It’s a very good choice.

Speaking of choices, let’s look at Elton’s song selection for this historic concert. Heading all the way back to 1970’s Elton John, we find “Your Song”, “Sixty Years On”, and “Take Me to the Pilot”, while 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection features “Where to Now, St. Peter?”, “Ballad of a Well Known Gun” and “Burn Down the Mission”. 1971’s “Madman Across the Water” delivers its title song, “Holiday Inn”, “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer”, and 1972’s Honky Chateau throws out “Hercules”, “Honky Cat”, “Rocket Man” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”.

Moving to 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, we locate “High Flying Bird”, “Daniel”, and “Crocodile Rock”. Also from 1973, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road features its title song, “Roy Rogers”, “All the Young Girls Love Alice”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, and “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”. 1974’s Caribou includes “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “The Bitch Is Back”.

From 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy we discover “Better Off Dead” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. 1975 also gives us the single “Philadelphia Freedom”, while 1976’s Blue Moves presents “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”. Moving ahead to 1982’s Jump Up, we get “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)”, and 1983’s Too Low for Zero features “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and “I’m Still Standing”. 1984’s Breaking Hearts goes for “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”, while “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” comes from 1997’s The Big Picture. Finally, “The Bridge” comes from 2006’s The Captain and the Kid.

Earlier I mentioned that Goldberg, Taupin and Williams came out for a mid-show birthday presentation. Going into this show, I expected scads of celebrity guests ala One Night Only from 2000. That seems de rigeur for this sort of “event” concert, and I certainly wouldn’t have begrudged Elton for that choice.

To my exceedingly pleasant surprise, however, Elton goes the whole show alone. We see some big names in the audience, but they never come on stage. Elton takes the night to plow through his extensive discography and remind us why we care.

As I alluded earlier, this wake-up call worked for me. While the Elton I saw in fall 2005 seemed disconnected and disinterested, Elton at 60 plows into the songs with gusto and renewed vigor. His voice sounds about as good as we can expect these days, and he really puts his all into the performance. He knew this would be a highly scrutinized show, and he stepped up to the plate to hit a home run.

I freely admit that I regret the fact I’m not old enough to have seen Flamboyant Elton on stage. By the time I went to that 1984 show, he’d toned down his act quite a lot. No, he wasn’t – and isn’t – a complete shrinking violet, but the days of the Donald Duck costumes are long gone.

Part of me wished that Elton would revisit those gaudier days for his 60th, but most of me feels pleased that he didn’t try to emulate himself from his twenties. As with his decision to pass on musical guests, this means that the show remains focused on the songs.

Indeed, 60 often feels like a musical statement. It’s like Elton’s telling us to forget all the glitz, glitter and controversy from over the years and to contend with the enormity of his accomplishments as a musical force. He doesn’t want to distract us from those elements, so the stage and costume choices almost always function to focus attention where it belongs: on the songs.

And what a roster of tunes Elton plays! This is a setlist to die for, with a great mix of deep catalog obscurities, beloved album tracks, and hits, hits and more hits. Elton could play a full three-hour show made up solely of smash songs, which is what makes the variety of the set so refreshing. He took the opportunity to open things up and not just make the evening "Karaoke Elton”. Again, that goes back to the musical statement I think he wanted to make. Elton wanted to remind us that there’s more to him than just all those hits; there’s some gold hidden in the albums.

Some may feel displeased with the show’s emphasis on the 1970s. Of the 33 tracks, only six come from the years after 1976 – and only two of those represent his work from the last decade. I like it when older artists give their new music a lot of play in concert, as I’m not wild about the whole nostalgia thing.

In this case, however, I’ll definitely give Elton a break. In terms of its overwhelming 1970s focus, 60 is an exception, not the rule. Oh, your average Elton show will offer tones of tunes from his glory days – be sure to note that 1976 cut-off, as he nose-dived after that! – but he also makes sure he plays plenty of new material as well. He’s not out there as a pure nostalgia act.

But 60 isn’t about pushing his new album or worrying about whether his current music is “relevant”. It’s an evening to celebrate the past and Elton’s accomplishments. Like it or not, that means 1970-1976, and that’s the era Elton embraces here.

If I want to be nit-picky, I could note that 1970-1976 is too broad a net. 22 of the 33 songs here come from a smaller period: 1970-1973 dominates the concert. And Elton still leaves out some great tracks! Few artists have ever gone through a period as fertile as that four-year stretch for Elton.

So 60 represents a stunning setlist and an excellent musical performance. Does the DVD bring it to the home setting in a way that satisfies those of us at the concert – and those who wish they went? I think it does. Director David Mallet – a veteran of this sort of project - reinvents no wheels in this steady and effective visual presentation.

Technical gimmickry is nowhere to be found, as we see the show in a concise manner. You’ll find no irritating quick cuts or other idiotic choices that do little more than make a concert tough to watch. I might prefer fewer crowd shots, but these don’t escalate to the level of distraction - usually. I must admit that the longer the show runs, the more irritating these glimpses become. They’re redundant and add little, though it can be interesting to play “name the celebrity”.

This isn’t an inspired visual presentation, but it proves more than satisfying. And the same can be said for the 60 as a whole. An extremely special, memorable night, Elton John delivers an excellent concert that will remind anyone why we care.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus A

Elton John: 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 5:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many concerns emerged in this attractive presentation.

Sharpness mostly seemed solid. Occasionally, wide shots came across as a little soft and ill defined. However, those examples appeared infrequently and did little to distract from the rest of the presentation, which usually looked concise and detailed. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws looked absent, and I saw no issues related to artifacting, noise, or other distractions.

Most of the color variation came from lighting, but the garb worn by some members of Elton’s band added a little pizzazz to the proceedings. The hues looked well developed and accurate. Even the thickest lighting remained distinctive and rich. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots came across as clear and appropriately visible. 60 wasn’t the most attractive concert DVD I’ve seen, but it nonetheless seemed quite positive.

To my surprise, 60 lacked a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Instead, its only multichannel audio came from a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. That will likely alienate the smattering of folks with no DTS capability, but those numbers are pretty low these days. (A stereo PCM mix also popped up here.)

As one expects from a concert presentation, the soundfield remained focused on the front, where they showed strong stereo imaging. Elton’s vocals appeared firmly set in the middle. The instruments were accurately located and they demonstrated nice breadth and delineation. I could distinguish the various instruments with ease, as they were placed in a natural and clear manner. They also blended together smoothly to create a forward soundstage that consistently created a real and involving setting.

As for the surrounds, they mostly featured crowd noise. They added a little reinforcement of the music, but not to a substantial degree. The track didn’t go from any “free-form” use of the surrounds such as the presentation of specific instrumentation there. The soundfield went with a pretty standard concert approach.

Audio quality was solid. Elton’s vocals worked fine, as they replicated the desired impressions well. The rest of the track also showed good clarity and a dynamic tone. The instruments remained crisp and vivid during the concert. At times I thought bass response could’ve been a little deeper, as the track was marginally thin during some tracks. This wasn’t a true issue – more of a preference – so it didn’t detract terribly from the presentation. Taken as a whole, the audio soared.

In terms of extras, 60 provides quite a few. The prime attraction comes from Live, Unseen and Rare, a collection of clips that show Elton’s work over the years. These appear on DVD One, where we get 18 tunes with a total running time of 90 minutes. We get “Your Song” (“Elton at 50” promotional video, 3/25/97), “Border Song” (Hits A-Go-Go, Switzerland, 3/3/70), “Sixty Years On” (BBC2, 5/22/70), “Tiny Dancer” (BBC2 Sounds for Saturday, 11/11/71), “Levon” (BBC2 Sounds for Saturday, 11/11/71), “Honky Cat” (Honky Chateau debut, Royal Festival Hall London, 2/5/72), “Rocket Man” (Honky Chateau debut, Royal Festival Hall London, 2/5/72), “Crocodile Rock” (Royal Variety Performance, London Palladium, BBC1, 11/5/72), “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (Top of the Pops, BBC1, 11/1/73), “Daniel” (Playhouse Theater Edinburgh, 9/17/76), “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (Playhouse Theater Edinburgh, 9/17/76), “Candle in the Wind” (Playhouse Theater Edinburgh, 9/17/76), “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (Playhouse Theater Edinburgh, 9/17/76), “I’m Still Standing” (Wembley Stadium London, 6/30/84), “Bennie & the Jets” (Wembley Stadium London, 6/30/84), “Song for Guy” (“Thank You Australia”, Sydney, 3/25/84), “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” (Top of the Pops 2, BBC2, 9/26/01), and “Tinderbox” (BBC1 sessions, LSO St. Luke’s Church London, 9/11/06).

On DVD Two, we get Elton’s New York Stories. I thought that’d offer interviews with Elton as he discussed his many visits to the Big Apple over the last few decades. However, it actually presents more live footage – all for songs that somehow connect to NYC. For the five-song, 31-minute and eight-second compilation, we get these tracks: “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (Honky Chateau debut, Royal Festival Hall London, 2/5/72), “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way (NYC)” (BBC1 Sessions, LSO St. Luke’s Church London, 9/11/06), “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” (BBC2 Old Grey Whistle Test, Hammersmith Odeon London, 12/24/82), “Believe” (Madison Square Garden, New York, 10/19/95), and “We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains” (MSG, NYC, 9/21/05).

Wow – what a great collection of material! Between While a lot of appearances of this sort just offer lip-synch footage, this package sticks almost solely with live performances. Sometimes Elton sings live along with taped backing, but that’s not a big deal; it’s better to have a full live band, but as long as something is live, I’m happy. A couple totally mimed renditions appear, but these remain in the minority – and are kind of entertaining in their own right, such as when we see Nigel Olsson “play” the drums even though it’s clear his sticks never touch anything.

If Elton had put out two hours of archival live footage on its own for this set’s $20 list price, I’d call it a bargain. How amazing is it that 60 tosses in 23 songs worth of rare material as an extra? Pretty darned amazing, especially given the high quality of the clips. I feared that they’d look and/or sound bad, but that isn’t the case. Sure, the snippets occasionally show their age, but overall they come across exceedingly well – better than I expected, that’s for sure.

And you can’t beat the variety of the songs. We get plenty of fine tunes on display here, and it’s great to hear them develop over the years. Hey, we can even watch Elton’s hair fade – and miraculously reappear in 1992! This is a genuine treasure trove of great footage that’s worth the price of admission.

(Note that an “audio-only” album version of “The Bridge” from The Captain and the Kid also shows up at the end of both “Unseen” and “Stories”. You have to go through the whole set to get to it; you can’t access it from a menu.)

Finally, the package includes a 36-page booklet. It combines credits, photos from over the years and an essay by Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears. The latter is a nice appreciation, but the photos are the best part. We get lots of good vintage Elton shots in this solid little booklet.

Elton John’s 60th birthday show was one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while, and Elton John: 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden becomes one of the most satisfying concert releases I’ve viewed in recent memory. It takes a memorable event and replicates it well. Both picture and sound seem very good, and the collection of extras adds great value to this set. We find more than five hours of terrific music for a list price of about $20. Buy this one immediately and cackle all night about what a great bargain you got.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main