Blu-ray Review “Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003”

Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003
Blu-ray (also available on DVD)
Eagle Vision
Total Running Time: 124 minutes

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As the great philosopher Billy Joel once said, “It’s all about soul.”

It’s clear that Simply Red’s lead singer, Mick Hucknall, knows this to be true. He doesn’t just sing songs: he feels them. Because of this, it’s pretty much impossible not to be mesmerized by his silky smooth vocal – one that hasn’t diminished in power or range since Simply Red’s inception in 1985.

“Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003” captures the band supporting their then latest studio outing, “Home”. Six of the tracks from that LP are included in this show’s set list, including a cover of The Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New” that is one of the show’s two best moments. Given that the original song featured three different vocalists singing in three different vocal ranges, it’s a hearty challenge for one guy to perform the song – especially in a live setting. But, from note one, it’s clear that Hucknall’s multi-octave voice can handle all three vocal parts perfectly and that a sole singer can deliver a version that’s equally as good – if not better – than the original.

But “Holding Back the Years” – penned when Hucknall was a mere 17 years of age – is the show-stopper. Performed as the first song of the encore set, Mick wanders back onto a stage devoid of other musicians, slowly strumming an acoustic guitar. The two chords he gently plays are generic enough to be indistinguishable as any specific song – until he sings and, mid-way through, is joined by the rest of his bandmates. In a day and age of “unplugged” renditions, this one avoids being cliché and stands out as a great reinterpretation of a timeless classic – and one that clearly demonstrates why Simply Red were one of the best bands to come out of the 80’s.

By the time this show was recorded, Mick Hucknall was the only original member left in Simply Red, but the 2003 iteration of Simply Red is comprised of a solid group of great musicians that work together flawlessly. The same line-up is featured on the Blu-ray’s closing segment culled from the band’s 2010 farewell tour. Unfortunately, only seven tracks from this show are included as not to double-up on any songs that appeared in the 2003 show. It would have been great to have the full concert – dupes and all.

The usual array of audio options that we’ve come to expect from Eagle Vision releases are all here: LPCM 2.0 stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD. Each have a superior range of dynamics and are superbly mixed. Both the 2003 and 2010 shows were filmed in high-definition and the resulting 1080i video transfer is crisp and clean and the editing perfectly matches the show’s pacing and overall mood.

Since the demise of Simply Red, Hucknall has become a member of a newly reformed Faces, replacing Rod Stewart. Even though his onstage persona is nowhere near as flamboyant as Rod the Mod’s, it’s hard to imagine a better choice to carry that seminal band in a new and fruitful direction. Despite his immense vocal prowess, Hucknall has always proven that all one needs to lull the listener in with a vocal is one that is powerfully heartfelt and unpretentiously delivered. In that regard, he is – and Simply Red was – simply amazing.