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SBB - 2009 - "Behind the Iron Curtain"

(150 min DVD, Metal Mind Records)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Defilada
2.  Camelele
3.  Odlot
4.  Going Away 
5.  Freedom with Us
6.  The Rock
7.  Piesn Stoj?cego w Bramie
8.  Drum Battle / Walking Around the Stormy Bay
9.  Iron Curtain
10. Pilgrim
11. Z Mi?osci Jestem
12. Rainbow Man
13. Blues
14. Welcome Reprise 

Extra material (35 min):

15. Camelele Video 
+   Studio documentary 


Jozef Skrzek – keyboards, piano; bass; vocals
Anthimos Apostolis – guitars; drums
Gabor Nemeth – drums 

Prolusion. The Polish act SBB is something of a living legend; especially in Eastern Europe, with a history going back to 1971. They've had several longer breaks in their career, but after reforming in 2000 they have been continuously active. "Behind the Iron Curtain" is a live DVD recorded on one of the first concerts the band played after issuing their latest studio effort, "Iron Curtain", in February 2009.

Analysis. The studio documentary in the bonus material of this production is a pretty good place to start when describing the contents of this DVD. We meet a band well on its way in a musical comeback; accomplished musicians trapped in the confines of the recording studio, in more ways than one. We come to learn that the album they are creating has sported several working titles, and it is indicated that the studio surroundings at least partially are to blame for the final choice, "Iron Curtain". These are all musicians with little interest in writing down compositions and playing by notes; improvisations and re-recordings until the material sounds right is their chosen working style. But this time they have to record much of the album in separate rooms, without being able to look into each other’s eyes as both Skrzek and Nemeth makes a point of pointing out. Behind an iron curtain so to speak – for musicians used to improvisations and visual communications this working environment seems to have taken its toll. And as soft-spoken guitarist and drummer Apostolis remarks, "I don't like it in the studio in the first place", which might or might not be the explanation for certain aspects of this concert. It's one of the first concert dates after release from the confinement of the recording studio and it seems that this has an impact on the performance. I'm by no means an expert on this act, but compared to previous live recordings I've heard by them it is slightly different. With improvisation as the central aspect of their performance, this is to be expected of course, but on this occasion I feel like the general mood of their songs is lighter. Less brooding undercurrents from the various keyboards used by Skrzek; Apostolis' guitar seems to sing more than weep when he is playing his characteristic drawn out guitar notes; the drumming of Nemeth is more free-flowing than hard hitting. And certain words in the lyrics, like freedom, seem to be sung with just a tad more emphasis and intensity than what I've heard on past occasions. Indeed, I got the impression that there is an overall mood of celebration and happiness to the concert – looks, smiles and body language all gave me that impression. I might add that I felt this way about the concert prior to watching the documentary, and when watching it through I obviously felt I had been given some answers. Of course this could just be a trick of the mind too. The fluency in the performance and the subtle lightness could also be the natural results of drummer Nemeth getting to know his fellow musicians better and vice versa; his addition to the line-up is relatively recent and when playing in a band of an improvisational nature it does take some time before any new member is truly settled in. As for the concert itself, we're treated to three numbers from their most recent studio effort and a selection of their older material, and with some joy I saw that my personal favorites from their 2007 studio effort "The Rock" were amongst those. As usual with this band they perform material with a wide variety of stylistic explorations. Hammond-driven symphonic art rock dominated the proceedings, but gentle piano-based ballads and a long fusion-number are also fitted in, and also two blues numbers towards the end of the set. SBB isn't strong on stage antics, but as with many other highly seasoned musicians it is intriguing just to watch them perform; and the subtle visual communication between the members reflects what appears to be a very good personal chemistry between the members. But first and foremost they concentrate on performance, and all of them seem to enjoy doing just that immensely. And with the usual high quality audio and video footage expertly recorded, mixed and put together by Metal Mind this is an outstanding release. Brilliant lighting and a classy stage for concerts at the Slaski Theater in Katowice, a variety of camera angles and in general all the bells and whistles you get when working on a budget and then some. Metal Mind Records has established itself as a provider of high quality live DVDs, and this one is most certainly among the best they've issued so far.

Conclusion. If you already are a fan of SBB, are familiar with them or just curious, this is a very good purchase if you're contemplating buying a DVD by them. For those who already have one of their previous DVDs - this is their sixth - the major points of interest in this production are the new tracks presented and the rather intriguing 30-minute-long studio documentary featured in the extra material. And unless you're the proud owner of the "Four Decades" DVD, witnessing the drumming skills of Gabor Nemeth in a live setting can be added to that list. Highly recommended!

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: December 4, 2009
The Rating Room

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