DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Rory Gallagher – Live In Cork (2009)

The late Irish performer was one of the most respected and capable six-string slingers working in the blues and rock fraternities.

Published on May 26, 2009

Rory Gallagher – Live In Cork (2009)

Rory Gallagher – Live In Cork (2009)

Studio: Eagle Rock DVD EV 30268-9
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Scene selections, "Rough Guide to Rory’s Cork," informational booklet  
No region coding
Length: 78 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Irish blues-rocker Rory Gallagher never got the reputation and degree of fandom outside of Europe that he deserved. Gallagher, who passed away in 1995, was one of the most respected and capable six-string slingers working in the blues and rock fraternities, but was overshadowed in the United States by contemporaries such as Johnny Winter or Stevie Ray Vaughn. Gallagher began his career in the mid-sixties when he formed power trio Taste, kick-started his solo venture in the early seventies, and also worked or gigged with Muddy Waters, Albert King and others. But Gallagher’s forte and fame was his live and often lengthy stage shows, and he was a constant fixture on the European tour schedule, mixing guitar pyrotechnics with his love for unblemished blues.

Live In Cork
documents Gallagher’s 1987 homecoming stint at the Cork Opera House, at a time when his Defender album was riding high in the charts and before health problems curtailed his performances. This show was originally broadcast on Irish television (RTE) and released on VHS videotape in Europe in 1994 as Messin’ With The Kid – Live At The Cork Opera House. Eagle Rock has repackaged and enhanced this video presentation, providing improved Dolby sound and adding bonus features.

Gallagher keeps the proceedings to the point, utilizing a basic trio format with drummer Brendan O’Neill and bassist Gerry McAvoy, and special guest Mark Feltham on harmonica, and emphasizing the music, which is a combination of then-new tunes, old favorites and selected covers. There are no fancy stage effects, just simple lighting which supplies visual balance, and occasional smoke used as a backdrop. Gallagher opens with his noir-ish rocker "Continental Op," one of four tracks from Defender. The blues-rock boogie introduces Gallagher’s earthy vocals, akin to Johnny Winters, accompanied by blasts of heated chords from Gallagher’s long-suffering 1961 Fender Stratocaster guitar, while McAvoy and O’Neill contribute a booming back-beat.

Next up is fan-pleasing "Tattoo’d Lady," which nods back to the beginning of Gallagher’s solo career in the early seventies. Gallagher starts with an exotic-tinted solo introduction that demonstrates his fret ability, before the piece erupts into a robust, riff-driven thrasher that moves swiftly with accelerated rhythms, Gallagher’s flowing leads, and his gritty voice and lustful shouts. On this and the rest of the material, Gallagher’s intricate fretwork is captured with plenty of video close-ups that showcase his  technique and expertise.

Gallagher returns to his Defender material with the blues-infused Sonny Boy Williamson II classic "Don’t Start Me To Talkin’," which adds Feltham’s harmonica. In Gallagher’s hands the oft-covered song becomes an up-tempo affair highlighted by Gallagher’s groove-laden guitar licks and Feltham’s Chicago-styled harp notes. While Feltham is no Magic Dick or Charlie Musselwhite, he gives it his all. A bit later Gallagher and the group cover "When My Baby She Left Me," penned by the original Sonny Boy Williamson. Gallagher turns the cut into an urbanized, working-class blues complete with stinging guitar lines, while Feltham advances some swaying harmonica counterpoint.

Gallagher reveals his poignant side on a solo acoustic guitar interpretation of Leadbelly’s "Out on the Western Plain," which comes from Gallagher’s 1975 record, Against the Grain. The wayward outlaw tale about Jesse James and the American frontier’s iconic past proves to be a highpoint. Gallagher plays tasteful but elaborate solos and engages the audience with a spirited call-and-response. Gallagher then switches to bottleneck mode, using a National steel guitar, on the resonating country blues selection, "Wanted Blues," about a woman looking for loving through the classifieds. The blues composition is better known as "Want Ad Blues," and is most likely remembered as a John Lee Hooker single credited to either Hooker or Eddie Boyd.

For steadfast Gallagher fans, the Cork Opera house gig probably does not stand up to Gallagher’s legendary showpieces from his seventies heyday. Nevertheless, there are moments any true believer will watch more than once. For example, Gallagher lays out an incendiary solo, complete with finger-tapping on the fretboard, during the hard-rocking "Follow Me." But the real treat is perennial Gallagher signature theme "Messin’ With The Kid." The scorching blues-rocker furnishes everything Gallagher fans require. The band lays down a firm groove while Gallagher rips and tears along his Strat fretboard, launching up sharp leads and pounding riffs that borrow from blues and rock and roll, most notably Chuck Berry. The crowd flings the chorus back to Gallagher and wildly claps to the beat, one energized audience member leaps onto stage to dance, and Gallagher emulates Berry by duck walking across the floorboards while continuing to toss out licks on his six-string.

While the live footage and Gallagher’s playing works well, there are issues related to the DVD set-up. First, track numbers do not match the menu, every track is one off, which means if viewers go to a specific tune they will find themselves on something else. Also, the front menu is not smooth: it takes a few bounces through the menu to watch Gallagher. It would have been better to have quicker navigation.

The DVD has some complimentary extras absent from the first VHS version. The main menu has a nicely constructed artist’s rendering of a Cork intersection, with street sign arrows pointing left and right. The left arrow gets an animated storefront for Crowley’s Music Center, where a text blurb explains Gallagher’s early roots to the music shop. Viewers who veer right will discover a street sign for the Cork Opera House, the city library, and "Other Rory Landmarks." By clicking on the opera house sign, one can commence the concert. Inside the library a bookshelf includes a volume on Gallagher’s discography, which presents his releases in a record store display, with song listings but unfortunately no other information. The other digital book contains a memorabilia section with selective festival programs, photo galleries, and copies of press clippings, although one cannot zoom in to read any reviews. The "Other Rory Landmarks" summarizes six Cork locations that have personal connections to Gallagher’s history. While the idea of a city tour is good, the menu’s organization turns tedious upon repeat viewing, because the concert can only be accessed via the street signs!

The video and audio quality is outstanding. The DVD offers a choice between PCM Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1, and the upgraded sound is a delight, particularly when Gallagher pulls out his acoustic guitar, where nuances are important. Despite being videotaped, the visual quality is also excellent, with extensive multi-camera angles that bring the action into focus, with only a few instances where low light levels are noticeable, like low-angle shots next to the drummer’s kit. The spare staging and uncluttered lighting fortuitously help make for crisp, clear video quality.

– Doug Simpson




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