The new Blu-ray Disc version of Neil Young's classic 1978 tour concert film -- Rust Never Sleeps -- looks and sounds much much better than the DVD version we've had since around 2002.
Don't get me wrong, that DVD was really enjoyable for its time but when you play it on a modern higher resolution 1080p, big screen flat screen television, well the image really starts to fall apart. And regarding the sound on the old one, while it was pretty good for the time -- DTS 5.1 soundtrack 'n all -- you always suspected it could sound better still.
Indeed, the new version on Blu-ray features high resolution 192 kHz, 24-bit audio both in Stereo (PCM) and 5.1 surround sound (DTS-HD Master Audio) that sounds quite wonderful. Roughly split between poignant solo spots as well as scorching rockers with his band Crazy Horse, the music on Rust Never Sleeps is perhaps the definitive example -- and arguably a defining moment in his career -- of what Neil Young is all about.
Rich-but-sparkling 12-string guitar... rollicking hammer-ons plucked out on his six-string Dreadnaught acoustic... haunting solo piano... and the soaring crunch of the classic drums-bass-and-two guitars rock 'n roll band that is Crazy Horse.
But how does it look, you ask?
Rust Never Sleeps on Blu-ray does look better than the DVD did, especially on my 50-inch Panasonic 1080p TV screen. It looks much better. The colors are richer and overall the picture is clearer than the DVD.
But ... for those of you accustomed to the digital crispness of modern live concert video productions like you might see on Palladia, this may be a less than stellar viewing experience for you.
Truth is, this was a film that was made for viewing in a large room with lots of seats and hundreds of people in those seats all facing the same direction watching it projected on a big silver screen.
That is in fact where I first saw Rust Never Sleeps, in a theater in upstate New York on its first theatrical run.
Judging by the look of the film, I'm guessing that it probably wasn't shot on 70mm stock. There is a whole lot of film grain present. And if you don't like film grain -- or if your viewing environment is somewhat tight like most of us city dwellers, well, then the Blu-ray may seem a bit fuzzy to you.
Its not. Its just kinda grainy -- that is part of the "look" of film -- and as you move away from your screen the clarity kicks in.
As a concert film documenting the look, feel and sound of what an actual Neil Young concert of the period was probably like, Rust Never Sleeps excels. Like seeing an actual live concert of this time period, there probably was not an extreme amount of extra lighting employed. Thus there is this classic sort of 70s rock concert look with lots of reds, blues and... whites.
Very patriotic, actually (which, come to think about it, may even be a subtle conceptual production choice as the pre-concert intro music includes Jimi Hendrix' version of The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock.. but I digress)...
That said, Rust Never Sleeps raised the bar on what a concert film could deliver. Nearly 40 years on from its debut, the movie pulls you in and suspends disbelief so you feel like you are there at a Neil Young show.
Its a time capsule.
Rust Never Sleeps is fun to watch, with its many visual puns, from the Star Wars-flavored "Road-eyes" roadies to the over-sized amplifier props.
Perhaps, most importantly for you, Dear Readers of Audiophilereview, Rust Never Sleeps is still a fun listen.
And for that reason alone its worth getting the Blu-ray. The surround mix there delivers a great warmth that is enveloping and oddly comforting -- especially given the cavernous hall that it was filmed in.
My original LP version of much of the music on this concert -- Live Rust -- fared well in comparison; but honestly the two recordings really are apples and oranges, very different things. Live Rust as an album is mixed very directly with just enough of the room sound of The Cow Palace (and other venues where tracks were recorded) to give you an idea that it is a live show. It was probably optimized to sound good on the average teenage home stereo and also to jump out of the speakers when played on FM radio back in the day.
Rust Never Sleeps (the movie) is one performance from The Cow Palace -- October 22, 1978 -- and thus the film soundtrack finds a balance between the direct recording and the cavernous ambiance of the venue.
Little things give this away: on Live Rust, when you hear those opening acoustic songs ("Sugar Mountain," "I Am A Child," etc.), you are very clearly hearing a stereo feed of Neil's acoustic guitar, ping ponging left and right in your speakers -- low strings in one channel, higher strings in the other. On Rust Never Sleeps, Neil's guitar is still in stereo but you hear it blended in with much much more of the concert hall ambiance and audience sounds so the stereo effect isn't quite so distinct. Neil's voice also has more of the hall sound blended in the mix.
They are both good things, but they are different creatures.