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Arena - Smoke & Mirrors CD (album) cover





3.83 | 61 ratings

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3 stars As brilliant as Arena's music is, I'm still not thoroughly convinced of them as a live act...this is according to the two DVD's I have (this and Caught In The Act). The music is explosive, intense, gripping, and really keeps your interest; however, as a live act, I haven't really seen any proof that they would be very exciting live.

Right off the bat, the music on this DVD is grade A stuff. Covering their entire career as a band, and performing the newer material from Pepper's Ghost, the skill this band posesses is amazing. Even Pointer the weak link does a nice job. Clive Nolan and John Mitchell especially exhibit brilliance on their respective instruments. I also enjoy hearing the live performances of "The Hanging Tree", which Sowden always seems to do a brilliant job (I think he performs the more sinister sounding vocals a bit better than the previous frontman, Paul Wrightson.) By that same token, I like to have seen "The Butterfly Man" on here; but, I digress. "Chosen" is another brilliant song and does showcase the band's potential to be an intense live act. The biggest surprise, however, is hearing "Medusa" by this lineup. To be honest, I could like this lineup's version better than the original from the Pride album.

The new material especially sounds vibrant and fresh. It also seems that the band does enjoy performing these as this is where they become their most mobile. "Purgatory Road" is an instant Arena classic and so glad they included it.

As for the dynamics of the performance, well it's a bit uncomfortable in spots. Frontman Rob Sowden does a better job on this DVD over the previous DVD, but he still appears to be quite awkward on stage. Oftentimes looking a bit bored and indifferent. In all seriousness, the same can be said for the rest of the band. Bassist Ian Salmon is a bit more animated this time and has been seen bouncing up and down to the beat, but he seems more content to focus on his playing and flash that sly smirk every now and then. There just doesn't appear to be any life to the performance. You watch a guy like Steve Hogarth of Marillion, and you can see a true showman who looks as if the stage is his second home (as much as the Fish faithful dislike h, you can't deny his stage presence.) With Arena, however, you see a guy laboring to get the crowd going. If only it stopped at the frontman, though. If only John Mitchell was as exciting to watch as his playing is to hear. If only, if only, if only.

Another little wrinkle to this DVD is a performance by The Visitor lineup for 6 songs. Wrightson seems a bit out of stage shape and his vocals aren't as crisp as Sowden's, but what a difference bassist John Jowitt makes. Not a shy performer as he bounces around the stage and mingles quite frequently with Mitchell. I think it's just his style, as he seems to do the same on the Jadis and IQ DVD's as well.

Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the two Arena DVD's....but mainly for the music. That part offers a lot to the progressive fan, but you're definitely not paying for a visually stimulating performance. Much like what I said upon watching Caught In The Act a few times, Arena are better heard than seen. Rating is somewhere between 3-5 stars.

E-Dub | 3/5 |


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