James Taylor: Live At The Beacon Theater

James Taylor: Live At The Beacon Theater (1998)
Sony Music
Extras: Interview, 2 Music Videos, Bios & Discography

Earlier this year, James Taylor and his band played at the Beacon Theater in New York, in front of an enthusiastic and stunned audience. Sony Music captured the event on video and have now released this great concert on DVD. It’s a mightily impressive DVD, I might add, containing beautiful images as well as a stunning sound reproduction.

James Taylor has been part of the American music scene for a long time, enjoying a career that spans three decades. A guitarist and singer, Taylor’s music could be best categorized as a blend of pop and soft rock with folksy elements, as well as more exotic touches and rhythms. His music is captivating and the production of each of his albums are usually landmarks in the recording industry, defining standards for sound engineering and recording. This concert is no exception, creating a fluid sound tapestry that is hard to beat. Twenty-five of the songs Taylor performed at the Beacon made it onto this disc. When I first put the disc in the player I was stunned by the subtlety of the recording and its overall ambience. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> mix found on this disc faithfully recreates the atmosphere of a live concert, duplicating early reflections of the theater walls. It is extremely hard to reproduce live venues, as crossover and out-of-phase problems can easily destroy the overall sound quality. Since it requires a painstakingly placed and balanced microphone setup to capture the ambiance, this is a task only a few sound engineers can live up to, especially with the subtle nuances in Taylor’s music. However, this mix brings the complete experience back to life, in a way a regular stereo-imaged recording could never reproduce. When playing this disc, the room is filled with live and breathing sound. The sound is completely transparent, with solid low ends as well as crystal clear high ends. It is a great recording of a great performance, especially compared to the Dolby Stereo soundtrack that can also be found on this disc – the imaging of the Dolby Digital track is breathtakingly "alive" and is much "fatter".

"James Taylor Live At The Beacon Theater" comes on a <$RSDL,RSDL> disc from Sony Music. It contains a wide range of his countless classics, such as "Fire And Rain" or "You’ve Got A Friend", all the way up to new material from his latest, Grammy-award-winning album "Hourglass". Spiced up with numerous covers and other favorite songs, this concert gives you James Taylor at his best, in a totally relaxed atmosphere, entertaining himself and his audience with his music. The stage set for this concert was stylish and elaborate, and it has been brought to life in this beautiful video. The image quality of this disc is superb and given that the concert was originally recorded on video, this is even more impressive. The disc faithfully reproduces the colors of the light show, maintaining completely faithful fleshtones where required. Like the music, the image on this disc is very delicate and transparent. It contains breathtaking details and solid black without any noticeable color bleeding or smearing. Given the strong and vivid lighting and hues, this is especially remarkable. The image quality is very good throughout without compression artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation>.

I was quite surprised to see that the disc also contained some supplemental material and even subtitles for the lyrics in English and French – not exactly standard fare for a music video! The disc also contains band bios and a complete discography. As another highlight, the disc also contains promo videos for James Taylor’s songs "Copperline" and "Enough To Be On Your Way" and interview footage taken on the day of this memorable concert. In those interviews, Taylor gives some insight into his inspirations and the people with whom he has been working. He covers a number of aspects that help bring his music to life on stage and in the studio. He presents himself as an overwhelmingly charming and open person, one who isn’t afraid to surrender the spotlight for the people who deserve it, which in turn makes him all the more charismatic a character.

Music videos are still a rare commodity on DVD, and compared to your average music video release on tape, this disc is unbeatable. If you like James Taylor’s music, this is definitely a disc you should give a very close look. Not only does it allow you to revisit the fabulous concert at the Beacon Theater earlier this year, it brings it to life in your home like no other recording can. Experience the magic of this concert and see what an exceedingly well-produced music recording can sound and look like on DVD.