Song of Scheherezade

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Renaissance managed to chart eight LPs in the U.S. between 1973 and 1981 without benefit of a hit single, largely by dint of frequent touring, particularly on the Eastern seaboard between New York and Philadelphia. So, it is appropriate that this, the band's first DVD release, should be drawn from two concerts performed in New Jersey, the first at the Capitol Theater in Passaic on May 21, 1976, and the second at Convention Hall in Asbury Park on July 28, 1979. A sleeve note claims that "the essence of the band" is captured, despite the technical limitations of the video, which are not spelled out. There are a few glitches here and there, but what the packaging does not reveal is that the concerts were taped in black-and-white. In fact, these are really rudimentary reference recordings, done with three cameras (stage left, stage right, and front), possibly for projection on screens at the venues or just for the promoter or the band to have a sense of what Renaissance looked like on-stage. They are not professionally shot videos originally intended for commercial release, by any means. That said, they are not bad. The editor has used dissolves from one camera to another, with occasional superimpositions of one image over another, but nothing fancy. Similarly, the staging is simple. On a couple of numbers ("Ocean Gypsy" and "Forever Changing"), dry ice adds atmosphere. But for the most part, the bandmembers -- John Tout on keyboards, Annie Haslam on vocals, Jon Camp on bass and vocals, Terry Sullivan on drums, and Michael Dunford on guitar and background vocals -- just stand there and perform. The attractive Haslam is the obvious visual focus. She favors vintage clothing, wearing an Elizabethan gown with long flowing sleeves in Passaic and a 19th century off-the-shoulder gown in Asbury Park (the latter has a lively pattern and, one assumes, would be seen to be colorful if the video was in color). She stands in recital posture with her fingers entwined and held before her breast bone, her eyes closed, singing in her appealing soprano as her bandmates contrive progressive rock arrangements, such that the sound is a cross between Fairport Convention and Yes. In Passaic, they tend to favor songs from their earlier albums, and in Asbury Park they are more concerned with promoting their new album of the time, Azure d'Or. All of this is likely to appeal most to people who are already fans of Renaissance, for whom the video will be a souvenir of the group's '70s heyday. Others may find its technical limitations off-putting.

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