(10 March 2012) The progressive rock band Renaissance fronted by Annie Haslam since 1971 has had significant success worldwide as they have continued to evolve from strength to strength. Despite the 2009 commemorative DVD release of the group's 1976 and 1979 live performances on Song of Scheherazade: Renaissance Live, enthusiasts worldwide sought a modern and high quality production of Renaissance live material. New management and a revised lineup has led to the Exclusive Limited Edition box set Tour 2011: Renaissance Live in Concert (Symphonic Rock Recordings (USA), SRR 000-01, 2011).
The stunning quad-fold digipack includes a DVD of their live performance of Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories during their 2011 tour. In addition to the DVD, it includes the audio tracks on two CDs. The DVD, two CDs and 12-page photo-filled booklet are also platforms for Annie's own artwork. The design, layout and physical production of the product is excellent. To prevent compression by the plastic trays, the digipack's cardboard could have been a little thicker. Video production of the DVD and audio production of the CDs are both outstanding.
While the lineup is built around Renaissance veterans Annie Haslam (lead vocals) and Michael Dunford (guitar, vocals), the other players have changed. Rave Tesar (keyboards) and David J. Keyes (bass) have performed with Annie Haslam or with Renaissance since the 1980s. New players include Jason Hart (keyboards, vocals) and Frank Pagano (drums, percussion, vocals). Audio engineering was done by Denny Bridges who has been with Renaissance and Annie Haslam throughout their careers.
Both of the album titles included in this live box set are performed by the ensemble extremely well. The arrangements remain true and genuine to their original roots. The recordings conclude the performance with the new Renaissance track "The Mystic and the Muse," which to our ears alludes to Dunford's Scheherazade musical that showcased in 1998. A studio version of the track was released alongside two other tracks derived from the musical in a 2010 EP of the same title.
DVD. In early 2011 Renaissance announced that their then forthcoming tour would include complete live performances of Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade and Other Stories. Two of the band's best-selling and perhaps their most classic albums, the prospect of the live performances of both in one evening led to a series of sold out tour dates in the United States northeast. Critical reviews were extremely positive with many writers citing these as among some of the best live performances of this material since the mid-1970s. The DVD was recorded and filmed at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA on September 23, 2011. The DVD format is all-region NTSC. A thoughtful video interview with Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford concludes the DVD.
In preparation for watching the DVD, viewers should consider three points. First, the material being performed is 1970s-style progressive rock. While live performances of some of the bands from that era may have been highly animated, that was really never the case with Renaissance. So don't expect to see the players as highly animated stage performers. They are there to make the music and that's what they do.
Second, Renaissance's music is known to be derived from classical themes and is also relatively complex. The Scheherazade and Other Stories album when performed live in the mid-1970s oftentimes included an orchestra. Here, the on-stage ensemble will faithfully recreate that sound with far less resources and you will see that the musicians performing on the DVD remain focused on creating the sound. Finally, the artists play the live versions of two full albums of material plus an extended bonus track in one live performance with a small intermission between. Consequently they have paced themselves and their energy to deliver an overall outstanding performance throughout the evening.
While some video productions have a series of fast cuts from shot to shot, we appreciated that this one does not. In fact, the video work perfectly complements the music and the artists' style on stage focusing on the individual players, as a audience member would do. It creates the atmosphere of the evening's performance and brings this new incarnation of Renaissance to the home theater, desktop computer and laptop, also with the help of some modern technology, iPad and PlayBook with the quality and fidelity that enthusiasts expect from this band. All the performers are clearly at the top of their game at this live performance. The DVD reproduction puts their work in the hands of a larger audience in a way not possible or attempted by their labels previously.
Compact Discs. Renaissance and their management thoughtfully included all the audio tracks from the live performances on two gorgeous CDs in this box set. How many times have customers purchased a DVD longing for audio tracks that could be played in the background while listeners are either multitasking without access to a player or in a place where audio only is more appropriate? Renaissance thought this out ahead of time by including the two-CD set.
The first CD represents the first act from the DVD and therefore includes the new live versions of Turn of the Cards in the same sequence as the original studio album. While the band have performed all of these tracks live during their 40 years of touring, the 2011 tour was the first time that these were performed together and in the album's sequence. Avid listeners will surely appreciate the quality of the performance and the production in this sequence as much as we did.
The other CD is the second act from the DVD. It includes the new live versions of Scheherazade and Other Stories with the first side's shorter tracks "Trip to the Fair," "The Vultures Fly High" and "Ocean Gypsy" faithfully performed to the live audience's delight. The band's stunning performance of the "Song of Scheherazade" suite follows. Almost as a bonus, "The Mystic and the Muse," to our ears clearly derived from the Scheherazade musical, concludes the CD. Annie's goodbye to the audience and their applause has been included.
As this review goes to press, we are informed from Annie Haslam that Renaissance has launched a Kickstarter project to fund their next studio project. While details are still sketchy at this point, perhaps this will be a way to further develop and arrange the Scheherazade musical's songs that to date have been heard only by those that attended the 1998 showcase.
Visit their official website for more information. The limited edition box set reviewed above is not only a great commemorative project for longtime fans, but an equally great introduction for the next generation of Renaissance enthusiasts.