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Music Video Distributors presents
Pendragon: Live...At Last and more (2002)

"The only way for Pendragon to survive was for us to do it ourselves. There was no record company that was going to come along and 'save' us... a bit at a time we did it our own way."
- Nick Barrett

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: June 18, 2002

Stars: Nick Barrett, Peter Gee, Clive Nolan, Fudge Smith
Manufacturer: TACT
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:37m:31s
Release Date: June 18, 2002
Genre: rock

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+A- C+

DVD Review

Sustaining a career in the music industry is no easy task, especially without the financial support of a major record label. The trade off more often than not is the loss of artistic freedom, as the pressures of business outweigh the desires of the musician and songwriter. For England's neo-progressive quartet, Pendragon, their 25-year presence has been one of the do-it-yourself kind. Formed in 1977 by songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Nick Barrett, who hails from Stroud, Gloucestershire, the band's first major exposure came in 1983, and their appearance at the famous Reading Festival. With a resurgence of interest in prog bands, in large part due to the critical success of fellow Englanders, Marillion, Pendragon found themselves signing with Elusive, a label started by Marillion's management, and released their first album, The Jewel, in 1985. After a major lineup change added drummer Fudge Smith and keyboardist Clive Nolan, the band was to deliver their second studio album, Kowtow, to EMI, but a change in label personal left them without a deal.

In 1985 the band launched their own Toff Records label, and began what would become their careers as independent producers. Their 1991 release, The World, would mark a turning point, both defining their sound and introducing their cover artist, Simon Williams. The Window of Life followed in 1993, and with solid support from critics and fans alike, the band launched their biggest tour to date, finally crossing the Atlantic to headline L.A.'s renowned Progfest in 1995. Their 1986 release, The Masquerade Overture, continued earning the band's reputation, soon becoming their best selling album.

Live... At Last was videotaped before a live audience at Studio Leg in Krakow, for Polish TV, during the band's 1996 Masquerade Overture Tour. The band covers material from The Masquerade Overture, including As Good As Gold, Paintbox, The Shadow and Masters of Illusion, plus songs culled from most of their earlier discography. Fan favorite Leviathan from The Jewel; Back in the Spotlight and The Last Waltz from The World; Breaking The Spell, The Last Man On Earth and Nostradamus from The Window of Life are also performed.

The band is in great form, with plenty of energy and with an obvious enthusiasm for their performance. The musicianship is excellent, and the choice of material focuses on Pendragon's progressive side, without any of the more pop-y material found on the earlier albums (the bonus track is the only evidence of Kowtow). Barrett's guitar work has a good diversity of sounds, including a number of slide elements. Bassist Peter Gee covers some keyboard and bass pedal parts in addition to his fretted and fretless bass arrangements. Clive Nolan surrounds himself with an arsenal of keyboards, providing a lush assortment of sonic textures while also handling backing vocals, while Fudge Smith is unwavering in the delivery of complex time signature changes through the collection of epic works. Shot with eight cameras, a good overview of the stage and performers is covered, and the production quality is decent for a TV special. An appreciative audience even performs a song for the band. For fans of progressive rock, this is an enjoyable performance, and a good introduction to this independent band for the uninitiated.

Track Listing:

March of the Torreodores (intro)
As Good As Gold
Breaking the Spell
Guardian of My Soul
Back in the Spotlight
The Last Man on Earth
The Shadow
Masters of Illusion
The Last Waltz (Queen Of Hearts part 3)

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is very good for a TV special. Colors are strong, there isn't a lot of bleeding, and black levels are pretty solid. Compression issues are negligible, though a couple of the front-of-house cameras exhibit a fair amount of aliasing while they are in motion, and the grillwork on the stage has a tendency to show cross-coloration. For a videotaped performance, this would rank fairly high in terms of quality, but the few source issues pull the marks back a bit. Fans are sure to be pleased.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 mix is clean, with good definition, but is limited in surround information, though it does add to the immersive quality with ambience. Frequency coverage is quite good, with a nice round bottom end, but I found the top just a touch too hot. This mix is very loud, especially in comparison to the stereo mix, which is considerably quieter, has less high frequency content, and a narrower, more center-focused soundstage.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Polish
Cast and Crew Biographies
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus Saved by You music video
  2. Interview with Nick Barrett
  3. Photo and art galleries
  4. Discography
Extras Review: A decent collection of extras is included here. The menus all feature background music, with the primary screen based on the History 1984-2000 cover art.

First is the promo video for Saved By You from the Kowtow album. This is definitely a pop single with a very 1980s MTV look to it. The quality is fairly good.

A question and answer interview with Nick Barrett covers the band's philosophy and some of their history. Shot on video in a pub, the presentation is okay, but the interviewer's voice is hard to make out, so if you aren't paying attention to the chapter list, it can take a while to figure out where the answer is coming from.

Biographies are available for the band members collectively and individually. The individual pages are fairly brief and more fan-oriented with personal favorite albums and so forth.

A discography cover the band's CD releases and the Live... At Last VHS with a brief description and song listing.

A photo gallery runs as a 04m:20s slideshow, featuring promo shots, behind-the-scenes and live images. This is set to Back in the Spotlight.

Four desktop images are accessible via DVD-ROM, but can also be enlarged from the submenu or stand alone players.

An art gallery slideshow runs for 02m:56s with covers and poster art.

A screen with the band's official website, and another with the group's logo round out the extras.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

All in all a solid release of this 1996 concert footage. The sound and visual quality should please long time fans, and for those curious about the band, this makes a decent introduction. The extras are nice, and the menu design pleasing. I also like the fact that buying releases such as this supports independent music production. Recommended for prog audiences.


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