While Sagarians await the forthcoming 25th Anniversary concert DVD with bated breath, the band decided to whip up an interim DVD release in the form of a "bootleg" concert vid. That is, a candid perspective of a live gig in Stüttgart, Germany with no overdubs, sweat flying, goofs and all. Along with the 25th Anniversary vid, this is the twilight chapter in Steve Negus' career as Saga's drummer—he left after a followup round of Canadian gigs in support of Marathon, in late summer. Negus was a founding member and active from 1977-1985 and 1991-2003, his distinct percussive style imprinted onto fifteen live and studio releases.
Older classics like "On The Loose," "The Flyer," "Mouse In A Maze," and "Wind Him Up" dominate the twelve song set. Only two new tracks show up, "How Are You?" and "Worlds Apart" (the final Chapter, which shares its name with Saga's 1981 breakthrough release produced by Rupert Hine). Michael Sadler's tall, imposing six-foot-plus frame and even bigger voice front the proceedings with no charisma lost, though the audience seems a bit sedate at times—odd, considering how Germany is Saga's perennially best outlet for sales. Much lens time is afforded to the ever-underrated Ian Crichton, whose power chords and searing leads are always delivered with a honed finesse. While "Don't Be Late" and "Humble Stance" are two of my favorite songs, the gems of the set still must be "Images" and "Tired World" (from the first and second albums, respectively). Keyboardist & backing vocalist Jim Gilmour's long piano intro on the former is delightful, and the Rhodes [emulation, courtesy of Korg] melody on the latter is ravishingly haunting. Less than savory is Jim's new delivery of his call-and-response vocal bit with Michael in "Don't Be Late"—rather than a loud whisper, Jim utters the words in an impish growl that only makes you ask Why?
This DVD being touted as a "bootleg," such a label is suspect in that cam angles jump around quite a bit, and the live performance isn't continuous, but separated with fade-ins, dissolves, and overtexts displaying the track & album titles that suggest this was filmed for a German broadcast. The downside of this has nothing to do with airborne beads of sweat & band members' reaction to such, or the deer-caught-in-headlights audience members, but the editing. As always, an ignoramus must be responsible for splicing the feeds, because some prime Saga moments are obscured, notably the stellar keyboard trade-offs between Gilmour & Sadler on "Don't Be Late," or the absolutely ripping pseudo-Moog solo in "Humble Stance." Rather than seeing Jim's digits navigate the keys like an eel in an oil slick, we get to see the guitar-bass brother team of Ian & Jim Crichton out front, holding the fort. Or a Korg logo. Note to future editors: Saga is a very keyboard-oriented band. Hello! On the other hand, it's nice to see Michael play bass on a couple of tracks (yes, he's always been a bassist, but most of the time the low frequencies are manned by Jim Crichton). Overall, it's a rather energetic set—Gilmour is a very focused musician, for starters—and the band looks like they're having a good time.
Bonus features include a Marathon tour photo gallery; a live interview segment with Sadler & Gilmour on a Puerto Rican variety show and an acoustic performance of "Rise and Shine"; a TV performance of "On The Loose," and "Marathon" live at The Berns in Sweden. Ninety minutes in length and in limited supply,
Marathon World Tour 2003: The Official Bootleg is a worthy addition to your Saga video library, and about as good as seeing the band up close & personal considering there is little—if any—likelihood of Saga performing in a Stateside city, anytime soon.