Twelve years ago, Toby McKeehan's previous stage romping band dc Talk released their one and only full-length live album, Welcome To The Freak Show. At that time, technology wasn't quite equipped for releasing the audio and the video recordings together as well as they do now. Now, in 2008, with TobyMac's debut live solo recording, Alive & Transported, fans won't have to double-dip to get the whole package as the complete audio and video recordings are put together in one sweet little cardboard tri-fold deal.
As suggested earlier, TobyMac isn't a rookie when it comes to capturing the live show experience on tape. While Welcome To The Freak Show was a good attempt at giving fans something to take home from a dc Talk show, it wasn't exactly a great one, ultimately not doing the trio's live performance quite the justice it deserved. With TobyMac's live show being the next-best-thing to a dc Talk performance (and in ways, it may - dare I say it - have bested it?), Alive & Transported does a pretty good job putting that on disc.
The first order of business is the audio portion of Alive & Transported. It's a crisp, clean production that sounds fantastic from beginning to end. All of the show is included (instead of those occasional projects that put some of the show on the disc and then all of it on the DVD... what's up with that?), mixed so well that you're likely to hear things from Toby's show you've never heard before. With such an entourage and so much going on, a TobyMac performance is a bit of sensory overload (which you can see in the DVD), so at a live show, you can't really take in everything that everyone on stage is doing simultaneously. For example, when you're listening to the audio portion of Alive, you can really hear Nirva Dorsaint-Ready's background vocals a lot more prominently or Dave Wyatt's keys and Tim Roseanu's guitar licks. It's a fuller TobyMac concert experience. It's here where you can really appreciate the talent of these musicians as musicians - not just showmen. The only downside to the audio recording is in the way the music comes across. When you're at a live show, the feel of the music - particularly the bass - helps in the presentation of the songs. "Boomin'" loses something in translation without the listener being able to also "feel" the music. While the vocals are mixed just about perfectly throughout, the guitars also seem a little low, as well as the bass on the recording. However, when it comes to a song like "Yours," the guitars seem mixed just right for the more rock-based anthem. In the long run, it's not a big enough problem to hold against the project, just a bit bittersweet when you know what it could potentially sound like. It's difficult to get over how good the audio clarity is. When you look at last year's "Alive in Florida" project from Rebecca St. James, the fuzzy audio quality tends to stand out as the biggest strike against it. Alive & Transported puts you in the front row (if not on the stage with the band). The crowd noise is even cut out during the actual song but mixed in appropriately in the song intros (and outros) before almost completely dropping out during the song. It's this kind of treatment that is likely not only to give this recording longevity, but to also let the songs be the focus. It doesn't sound like you're standing in the back of the auditorium like on Audio Adrenaline's Live Bootleg (which still has its fun moments, though). Instead, you're right there.
The DVD portion of the project is a fine addition. Instead of some half-hearted production, the video for Alive & Transported is a quality, widescreen format recording with a vivid picture shot with multiple cameras for several different viewpoints (it does get a little fuzzy on a bigger screen TV, but it still looks pretty good). The only downside to the video is the camera tends to cut much too fast from shot to shot when you might want it to linger a little longer at times. Also, the cameras often zip across the screen in an almost handheld fashion, zooming in and out really quickly, and I actually found myself feeling a bit nauseous while watching some of it. It's unnecessary to have to constantly be cutting from angle to angle and shot to shot, especially when a TobyMac show has plenty going on to keep the viewer's interest. When the band freezes in place for a moment during "Jesus Freak," the cameras continue to zip around frantically nearly kills the moment they're creating. It's more frenetic than it needs to be and it does hurt the DVD somewhat. And it's sad, because the concert otherwise looks fantastic. Still, we get to see the whole experience from the crowd's perspective as well as up close in personal on stage, it's just a shame it's a bit more A.D.D. than it needs to be.
In addition to the show on the DVD, fans are treated to an almost-hour-long documentary about Toby and each member in his band. For the first time, we get an in-depth look at each piece of Toby's team, learn how they met him, and the roles they play off the stage as well as on. We also get a look into Toby's family, his meeting of Otis Clark with a segment talking against racism, life on the road, and what the group does with their time when not on stage. The end reel even includes some fun little side bits like Toby practicing back flips with a pair of tether straps, the guys dealing with a mouse in their dressing room in Iowa (with Gabe-Real standing on a chair), and Shonlock mocking Toddefunk behind his back as he plays XBox 360 on the bus. In some cases, the documentary may be the best part of the DVD. All in all, it's a pretty fine package.
Lastly, the song choice for this show is just about the best of the best from Toby's three albums (Momentum, Welcome To Diverse City, and Portable Sounds). On one hand, for the older songs, these are the third or fourth versions fans are hearing of the same songs - considering Toby's released a couple remix projects after his first two albums. But for those who have enjoyed the live takes in person (which do differ from their originals), here's your chance to have quality recordings of them. The real gems here, however, are the live renditions of songs from Portable Sounds as well as two old dc Talk classics, "In The Light" and "Jesus Freak" - which are TobyMac live show staples. And personally, it's just great to hear Toby's take on "Jesus Freak" finally captured for a new generation of fans. Missing from your usual TobyMac experience is the "Old School Medley," where the band mixes together mainstream classics like "Rollercoaster," "Play That Funky Music," and "We Are Family." Obviously, it'd probably be pretty difficult (if not costly) to obtain the rights to put a mix like that on tape, but it seems a little strange for it not to be included here.
When all is said and done, Alive & Transported is one of the better CD/DVD live recordings you'll find these days. It's a complete live experience, with even Toby's interactions with the audience and Gospel messages included (conveniently tacked on to the ends of tracks so you can skip them if you just want to hear the next song), and it's clear the time and attention to detail that Toby puts into his studio recordings has been delicately applied to his first solo live album. We could have done without the constant quick-cutting in the DVD footage, but TobyMac fans shouldn't miss this collection, while artists looking to record a live project would do best to take some cues from this one if they want to get it right.- Review date: 5/22/08, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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