Big Country At Rockpalast

Read Steve Slater's DVD Review

To paraphrase a saying from the football world, this is a DVD of two discs.

Each disc covers a Big Country live gig from the Rockpalast in Bonn, the first in 1986 and the second in 1991.

I should say from the outset that I am not a Big Country fan. I think the music is pretty anodyne. I find Stuart Adamson's lyrics decidedly second division, sometimes non-league, and I tend to subscribe to the rather cynical view of "if you can't get hold of their Greatest Hits album, just buy one single and keep playing it". So, I did not come to this review with any great hopes and, to be honest, if I had only reviewed disc 2, then all my preconceptions would have been confirmed. However, I have to say that disc 1 pulled me back from the brink.

So, let's start with the positives. The first gig was recorded in 1986, when they were at their most popular, fresh and energetic. There is a vibrancy and enthusiasm to the band, the playing more powerful and dynamic. They had had their first Top 20 single less than three years before, so there is still a wide-eyed, "what are we doing here?" innocent feel to the performance. They also perform as a unit, with Adamson leading but not dominating.

The filming is simple and clear – a bit like a Top Of The Pops session – the sound quality is acceptable, not great, but the editing is good and concentrates upon the music. The playlist reflects the best of their catalogue at the time and, of the 16 songs played at the 1986 gig, only four are repeated in 1991. Annoyingly, the DVD box does not list the songs of either concert, so you cannot tell if your favourite Big Country tracks are on the DVD unless you buy it.

By 1991, Big Country was musical history. The short period of their wider popularity was gone. Their music had not moved forward and the second disc shows a band that has become average. Adamson still has a good voice and plays guitar more than competently, but the freshness has disappeared and the post 1986 song writing has become bland and uninspiring. They are not helped on the DVD by poor editing, disc 2 being 27 minutes longer than disc 1, but with the same number of songs.

The filming captures everything, particularly the largely inane banter between Adamson and the German crowd, who really haven't a clue what he is on about – some judicious cutting would have helped. It's also hard to escape the view that Big Country has become just a vehicle for Adamson as the frontman – and he's loving it! He ranges from the good, when covering Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy, to pretentious when he tries to be political, and finally downright embarrassing when he goes topless and urges the band and crowd to do the same. Sorry, but working out in the gym doesn't improve the songs.

At over three hours of live footage, you will love this if you are a Big Country fan. If you're an interested music fan, then enjoy disc 1 and bin disc 2, although, even with the latter, there is a genuine poignancy in seeing a fit Stuart Adamson and knowing that, 10 years later, he was to die a sad and lonely death.

Overall, as the Travelling Wilburys might say, "handle with care".

Reviewed by: Steve Slater

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2006

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