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Arena - Live & Life  CD (album) cover





4.36 | 77 ratings

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5 stars Best Neo Prog Live Acts

When this box set was displayed at local CD store down here in Jakarta, I was in a big doubt whether to buy it or not. Two reasons: 1. As the title in the box set mentioning that this is The Contagion Tour 2003 and I have got the DVD Caught In The Act that's basically the same tour, I thought that buying this box set would be of waste, especially with US$ 25.7 price tag was quite expensive for me. 2. There is no track list displayed visible to potential buyers that created another doubt, what's inside? But there's an information that it contains 2 live CDs plus bonus DVD that represents 40- minute documentary about the tour. Anyway, I didn't buy it and in fact I don't need to worry as there are 2 sets displayed, I took chance not to buy it. The day after, my prog mate Tatan called me up at my cell phone informing that he saw the box set and willing to purchase it. I checked the set at and see the track list and content. Well, I made decision to ask Tatan to reserve the other set for me. I went back to the store the same day and here I am with the box set!

I only had a chance to play this set at first time using my son's compo system when I arrived at home as when I was in the car I played another prog CD that I bought in that store - CONDITION RED first and second album (hey, this band must be featured here! It's prog to the corner man! Derek Sherinian, Alex Masi are contributing here). OK, for the Arena box set, to my surprise, even though the track list is similar with the Caught In The Act DVD but the live set was shot at different venues - taken from various stages during their Contagion European tour. First, I am amazed with the sonic quality of the live CD. It's so perfect hi-fi-wise and also technically as I don't here any technical glitches as usually I find in live records. Especially, when I played this CD with much more decent stereo set with LOUD volume, I could hear all sounds were produced perfectly, wide dynamic range, with all instruments and vocals can be heard in great details clearly. I don't believe that it's a live record! Second, on performance this live CDs offer much more dynamic and more lively performance of all musicians in the band. Especially, the guitar work by John Mitchell is much more alive and stunning compared to Caught In The Act DVD. Ian Salmon plays his bass wonderfully with some improvisations and inventive notes. WOW!!!!

On Performance

As in the DVD set, the live set begins with an energetic song taken from the Contagion album opener Witch Hunt. The music is delivered by the band lively with more dynamic sound. John Mitchell demonstrates his best skills in delivering high register notes guitar solo throughout the song. I think he is one of the best prog guitarist nowadays. Ian Salmon solid basslines also another place to observe as throughout the song he plays the bass guitar dynamically. Clive Nolan? Who would argue for his killing keyboard fills that characterize the neo-progness of ARENA music? Excellent. Rob Sowden brings his vocal power in his performance. "Exile! You show no mercy .." oh .. what a great lyrical piece and music segment. Mick Pointer plays his drums set wondefully - providing good fills especially during transitions.

The first four-track set is performed continuously and it's something that you should not miss any second of listening to them in its entirety. It's so energetic, so powerful and it has great music flow from Witch Hunt - An Angel Falls - Painted Man - This Way Madness Lies (instrumental). This Way Madness Lies projects an image of true dynamic of the four-track piece. It gives chance to John Mitchell and Ian Salmon demonstrate their work in an attractive way. Stunning!

The band then delivers mellower track Spectre at the Feast with low register notes voice, typical neo prog vein, continued with more uplifting one Skin Game, Salamander. Well, if you are familiar with ARENA you must have known that all tracks listed on CD one is basically coming from Contagion album. It ends up beautifully with Ascension. Disc One is a masterpiece: composition-wise and the band's performance!

Disc Two contains materials from the band's classic tracks of previous albums: The Visitor, Immortal?, Songs from The Lions Cage and Pride. It starts beautifully with Floydian guitar work by John Mitchell with Serenity (The Visitor album). He performs his guitar playing wonderfully: soft touch and great melodies. It continues with my favorite track from Immortal? album Chosen where, again, John Mitchell demonstrates his killing melodies during guitar solo interlude. I have to tell you that I'd rather listen to this live version than the original studio version. It's so LIVEly! Clive Nolan's keyboard solo is much more better here. Bravo Arena!!! Your musicianship represent maturity! "Freedom of speech but you have no voice. Freedom of spirit but we have no choice!". It flows seamlessly to Double Vision with an uplifting mode.

The Hanging Tree is another great track from The Visitor album performed excellently. Another favorite of mine (Don't Forget To) Breathe is also performed wonderfully. It starts beautifully with a musical loop and some soft riffs and powerful vocal line. I like the guitar part after fist lyrical verse. It's rocking man!!! Yeah .!! Arena rulez ..!!! This is the kind of music that's truly memorable. Oh my God . I cannot bear it anymore, it's so stunning! The other follow-up tracks are also excellently performed: The Butterfly Man and Enemy Without (I like the guitar solo at the end of the track). Well, it seems like it's the end of the performance. But, the band adds some other three tracks as its encore: Solomon (13:47), Jericho (6:42), and Crying For Help VII (3:52). Even though Rob was not the original singer of Solomon but he performs wonderfully here. For those who are familiar with early albums of Arena would agree with me on this. It's a great encore!

On DVD Documentary

Disc Three is basically a 40-minute DVD documentary of LIFE ON TOUR. It has only single menu offered here: PLAY. And you can see all various activities of the performance from preparation, execution (the show) and after the show interviews. As with any DVD offer, I always enjoy this documentary. Hey, I live in "rest of the world" country where live performance from prog bands from the west is just a dream that's hard to materialize. So, I always enjoy the live footage: all stage preparation, instrument setups, rehearsals, fans interview about the show, the Y-NOT Volvo truck and the comments of the tour bus driver, lighting technician, video technician, tour manager - all are good views for me. I imagine if they play down here in Jakarta, I will participate of course . But again, for people who live in rest of the world countries and love Arena will find this documentary worth seeing. BTW, throughout the film there are some spots of the live acts by the band in various places.


I have no single regret at all buying this box set of limited edition (only 10,000 copies printed). Performance wise it's a masterpiece. Selection of tracks is also excellent. Sonic quality is beyond expectation as usually live records have not so good audio quality. This one has excellent dynamic range and you must play it LOUD. Of BTW, the audience handclapping and shouting have also made this set lively. Don't miss this box set. On overall rating, I'm already biased now as I cannot afford to put anything less than full five stars rating. I will not back-off from the view of giving five star and ready to take the blame of biasness. What can I do my friend? It's a terrific set! Keep on proggin' .!

Progressively yours,


Gatot | 5/5 |


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