Sunday, June 19, 2016

DVD Review: Dilana - Live In Africa

I already told the horror story of getting this DVD, but let's turn now to the more important part, the DVD itself. This is going to be a review in two parts. Let's start with the good news.

Dilana's performance on this show is extraordinary. The acoustic setting strips the songs back so much that there is little to get in the way of her vocals, which are even more raw and searing than on record. "Beautiful Monster" sits at #4 on my most recent list of favorite albums, and the versions of the songs that she performs here use the energy from the audience to pry that little bit of extra emotion from her already flawless voice. Dilana has always been one of the most expressive vocalists I've ever encountered, and listening to her blaze her way through these songs makes that fact all the more obvious. From the hushed tones that usher in "Falling Apart", to the immense power she throws behind the ending of "Ice", Dilana is a tour-de-force who can convey emotion through her voice like few others. Not all songs are about something meaningful, and not all meaningful songs sound like it in the hands of lesser singers, but Dilana makes every word cut with the power of a freshly sharpened blade.

When she sings "Dirty Little Secret", even though it isn't about my own family, the music is so powerful it feels as though it is. There's nothing like the simplicity of acoustic music to reveal a song's heart, and the bare-bones arrangements here only work to shine a spotlight on the emotional core of the songs, producing a concert that uses emotion for its heaviness, and couldn't possibly work on the same level with a full band. While a rock show would be more energetic, and more of a celebration of music as a religion, this approach is better for this particular project, because it is so much more consequential. It's an experience.

But now for the bad news. As I feared from the circuitous route the DVD took in coming to fruition, the end product is not produced up to the standards of Dilana's performance. The picture is slightly pixilated throughout, which isn't a problem, but is disappointing. Throughout the songs, the producers use editing tricks out of 70s music videos, with soft cuts and super-imposed images on top of one another. The music and the performance are raw and visceral, and then the editing takes me right out of it with a needless trick. I don't know why editors can't let the performance speak for itself. All they need to do is pick the most important angle at each moment, and show me that.

And just for a bit of insult on top, each song is accompanied by a title graphic, of which "Velvet Covered Stone" is spelled wrong. Delivered eight months late, and they didn't spend time proofreading the few words that appear on screen. Sigh.

Those issues are irksome, but they don't affect the outcome. "Live In Africa" is a gift for all of us who love Dilana, but will likely never be close enough to attend a show in person. She is a special artist, and I for one am glad to be able to have this to document her in her natural element. I heartily give my highest recommendation to her and her performance, but maybe not the product itself.

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