I was very excited to embark on a recorded concert experience with UK, the esteemed progressive-rock pioneers from the late 1970s. I took a seat to witness the magic of their reunion concert recorded in Tokyo back in 2013. Musically I can say brace yourself for a truly historic event as founding members violinist and keyboardist Eddie Jobson plus vocalist and bassist John Wetton deliver the one and only live performance encompassing the entirety of UK's legendary studio albums "U.K." and "Danger Money."
While the group’s original guitarist Alan Holdsworth is no longer with us, the concert experience showcases the remarkable talents of virtuoso guitarist Alex Machacek and Marco Minnemann on drums, who join forces with Jobson and Wetton to create an unparalleled sonic masterpiece. There is no question that the concert has been skillfully captured on video by Fuji, with stunning imagery in vivid high-definition detail. No elbowing, beer tipping, and talking over the music during these near front row seats in one’s private home theater. However, the high-fidelity stereo and immersive 5.1 surround sound are lacking, causing serious disappointment to fans of the band.
The box set is an unusual configuration, with nearly identical Blu-rays and DVD-V that mirrors the content across the three discs. The most universal disc is the DVD-V, with both an AC3 Dolby Digital 48kHz / 24-bit stereo and 5.1 surround codecs of all 14 tracks from the two albums, plus two bonuses “Night After Night” and “As Long as You Want Me Here.” The DVD also contains a video of the concert, which is extremely clear and well shot. But I am not much of a video viewer, thus I pretty much just listened rather than watched too, so I am sure others have better remarks on the video side of the content.
The two remaining discs are very perplexing, both are Blu-rays, the first contains identical material in the same audio format as the DVD-V, along with the concert video. Seriously, this is very odd to me, given the technical ability to include better codecs on the Blu-ray, including lossless formats. So, from my perspective the Blu-ray with the video is superfluous. On the other hand, the second Blu-ray forgoes any video content and presents the concert in high resolution audio DTS 96kHz / 24-bit stereo and 5.1 surround. This seems very exciting, and I was hopeful that the sound would be improved over the Dolby Digital presentation found on the two other discs.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply put, all of the audio versions across the three discs are poor at best. It sounds like the show was recorded in the middle of the audience, drenched in a boomy room with reverberation splashing everywhere. It is more like a bootleg than an official release! Dynamics are crushed to the point where the drums sound anemic and distant, and vocals are nearly as bad as early day airport PA systems. There are moments of clarity, mostly with synth parts and occasional guitar leads, which give rise to hope as one progresses through the concert, but it never improves. Flat out, this is by far the worst sounding concert video I have in my collection, and the surround mix adds nothing. In fact, I found the best sounding mix on this set to ironically be the Dolby Digital stereo mix, where sonically things seemed to fall in place much better.
What truly makes zero sense, is the audio sounds nothing like the YouTube video that is linked below and posted 10 years ago from the Japanese edition of this same concert set. Fans have commented that the sound quality is excellent on that disc, although similar to my experience, the surround mix doesn’t really go anywhere. This begs the question of what happened between now and then? Is there a fault in the authoring of these discs, new mastering, or something else? Regardless, until a replacement edition has been offered here in the USA, I certainly won’t be looking for mixes from Keith Wechsler, as this release is inexcusable.
On the redeeming side, besides the video, the best aspect of this 3-disc package is the 7-page booklet which offers a glimpse into the rich history and unforgettable moments of UK's reunion concert. Taken for what it is, a seat in a reverberant boomy concert venue, one can discover the genius of this exceptional band with this release, or simply skip it all together and save your ears from any anguish.
Released May 19, 2023.
3-disc box set with 1 Blu-ray Video, 1 DVD-Video, and 1 Blu-ray Audio containing both Dolby Digital AC3 48kHz / 24-bit and DTS 96kHz / 24-bit stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. Also available on CD.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.