It’s understandable that Arena wanted to document a tour marking their 20th anniversary. Equally, it’s fair enough they decided to film a show.
And if you get the impression this is all building up to be negative about the result, then you’re right… but also wrong. What has been done on XX is fine. In essence, what you get is a more than creditable representation of the gig in Katowice, Poland last April. The camera work is impressive, the band’s song selection is highly satisfying and they perform with the expected expertise.
However, it has to said that they aren’t the most charismatic of bands. And therefore, while the technical side is faultless, nonetheless it’s all a bit… well, dull. The fact is that Arena are all about musical expression, and the image side of the band is irrelevant. But that makes for a slightly underwhelming DVD.
Annoyingly, they have a video screen at the back of the stage, which was clearly in regular use. But aside from showing us some rather striking footage of a gathering storm during The Unquiet Sky, we get no cutaways to what was going on behind the band. Using some of these visuals might have helped to break things up somewhat.
The technical side is faultless, but it’s all a bit… well, dull.
That said, there is also much to admire, not least the all‑important way in which that the band members interact musically. Songs such as Rapture, Traveller Beware and The Hanging Tree are sonically scintillating, and underline Arena’s undoubted ability. Paul Manzi is a consummate singer, while John Mitchell delivers an evocative array of guitar notations, playing off Clive Nolan’s keyboard swells.
Nolan also provides some amusement with his theatrical between-song banter. He was obviously using semaphore as a way of getting over the perceived language barrier with the Polish audience.
By way of bonus material, we have individual interviews with band co-founders Nolan and drummer Mick Pointer. The problem is, each of them looks rather bored, and as you can barely hear the questions (basic stuff, but someone should have made sure the off-camera interviewer had a microphone, or that the interviewee began his answer by repeating the question), you’re trying to work out what they’re talking about.
_XX _is far from a bad representation of Arena and doubtless there will be a lot of diehard fans who will want this. But for most people, it’s not going to be essential. The atmosphere inside the venue on the night was probably superb, but this doesn’t translate especially well onto the screen. Nice idea then, if not quite convincing.