Bjork’s Volta Tour Live & A Few Other New Live Concert DVDs

Although this is primarily a film blog I like to review recent concert DVDs and musician bio-pics every so often. Here are some brief blurbs about some new favorites:

Björk’s Voltaic: The Volta Tour Live in Paris

(Nonesuch, 2009)

I was told that this was a “a gorgeous cinematic interpretation of the tour” and it certainly is. With all the theatrical bombast we’re come to expect from Björk, this beautifully shot concert film features a 10-piece female Icelandic brass section augmented by Chris Corsano of Sonic Youth on drums, Jonas Sen on keyboards and electronic composer Mark Bell from LFO providing computer sequencing. It’s an energetic, at times fiery ensemble as on highlights such as “Army Of Me” and “The Pleasure Is All Mine”. A showstopping “State Of Emergency” oddly doesn’t appear in the track listing but that’s my only quibble with this rousing and powerfully pleasing performance film.

Ashes Of American Flags: Wilco Live (Nonesuch, 2009)

As fans of the former Chicogoan band Wilco well know, there have been many personnel line-up changes in the 15 years since their debut. The highly recommended documentary I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002) is essential for some background dealing with one extremely pivotal era in the band’s existence but this DVD isn’t about their past; it’s a representation of where the band stands now. Judging from this, they stand strong indeed.

Filmed at various venues over the last tour from Tulsa to Washington DC, Jeff Tweedy leads his crew through a set-list mainly made up of songs from their last few albums (“Monday” from the 1996 album “Being There” is the oldest selection). Fellow film makers Christoph Green and former Fugazi member Brendan Canty handle the camera and editing duties while Wilco brings the rock they’ve majestically fine tuned over the years. From their rapturous applause at the end of every song, the audience sounds very satisfied – viewers at home will surely be too.

The Hold Steady: A Positive Rage (Vagrant, 2009)

Not a concert film or a bio-doc (though there are elements of both), this is more a “bonus featurette” DVD that accompanies the Brooklyn band’s first live CD. That said this 53 minute film is as alive and boisterous as their live shows as it actually acts a sort of mission statement. As front-man Craig Finn reflects right off the bat: “There’s so many of these indie rock shows that you go to that are so joyless. I people to feel this joy and the celebratory nature of rock ‘n roll when you go see the Hold Steady.” From fan testimonials to scrappy live footage, “A Positive Rage” lives up to its title and gives newcomers an inside look at a band just starting to hit its stride. Because it only has a couple of full songs (“Chips Ahoy” and “Stuck Between Stations”) coupled with the ramshackle approach of the interviews, it’s not really one for repeated viewings, but as a companion to the live disc (which is pretty scrappy itself with its bootleg audience recording sound quality) it’s worth one good concentrated viewing.

Okay! There’s a few choice music DVDs for you. If you have any recent favorites – hit that comment box below and let me know.

More later…

Blasting Bogdanovich & 10 Definitive Rockumentaries

Who knew Peter Bogdanovich could rock?

This guy – the refined ascot wearing autuer who directed THE LAST PICTURE SHOW but is best known to the masses as Dr. Melfi’s shrink on The Sopranos not only can rock but he can rock for a long ass time. 4 hours in fact – the length of his new rock documentary TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM.

I made it through the whole thing and loved it (I hope my review below won’t take 4 hours to read) and it got me to thinking about other great rock documentaries, or rockumentaries if you will, so yeah – I made another official Film Babble Blog list. First though let’s take in Bogdanovich as he goes off on a Tom Petty tangent:


“Marty took 3 hours and 40 minutes to tell 6 years of Dylan and I figured, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t we take 4 hours to tell 30 years of Tom Petty?”
– Peter Bogdanovich on Sound Opinions (broadcast January 7th, 2008)

A big package this is – 4 discs, 2 of which are the 4 hour 15 minute director’s cut of the documentary, the 3rd disc is the complete 30th Anniversary Gainesville, Florida concert from September 30th, 2006, and the 4th is a soundtrack CD featuring 9 previously unreleased songs. Whew! Hard to claim to be just a casual Petty fan after absorbing all of that. Bogdanovich’s film even at its bloated length is engrossing and never lags.

Framed by footage from the before mentioned concert we are taken through the history of the band with interview segments spliced with photos, fliers, home movies, TV appearances, grainy videotape material, and every other source available. The ups and downs are perfectly punctuated with Petty standards – the punchy pop bright Byrds influence that brought forth the break-through single “American Girl” captures the band on a television stage young and green while the promotional video for “Refugee” shows them freshly on the mend from battles with lawyers and declaring bankruptcy.

Of course there are unavoidable rockumentary clichés that are as old than THIS IS SPINAL TAP – recording studio squabbles, the trials of transporting drugs over the borders, and the “Free Fallin'”-out of the band when they aren’t on the same page but they are amusingly displayed in a knowing manner that transcends the usual VH1 classic fodder. It’s hard not to think of Scorsese’s landmark Dylan doc when putting in disc 2 of RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM for the most obvious reason – as Part 2 starts the first words uttered, by Petty, are “Bob Dylan, I don’t think there’s anyone we admire more”. So the collaboration with Petty and Dylan begins – there is great footage from the HBO special Hard To Handle. Bob thrusts his hand behind him while playing his harmonica on the intro of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” to stop the band from coming in too soon and it’s an amazing moment – the greatest songwriter ever (as Petty and I call him) directing the best working class Americana band of the mid 80’s and beyond.

Tom and Bob’s collaboration led to the Traveling Wilbury’s – the ultimate supergroup filled out by former Beatle George Harrison, legend Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of the elaborately Beatle-esque Electric Light Orchestra. Petty’s approach was forever altered – which we see as certain band members have to cope with his new direction. Especially former drummer Stan Lynch, (who refused to be interviewed for the film but is presented in archive footage) who says bluntly of Petty’s biggest selling album “Full Moon Fever” – “there were more than a couple songs I just didn’t like.” Through the 90’s up to now we see Petty and the Heartbreakers weather grunge (Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl played with them on SNL right after Lynch left), a death of a long time but still considered “new kid” bassist Howie Epstein, and the competition from a world in which “rock stars were being invented on game shows” all with their self declared “I Won’t Back Down” spirit.

Though you ordinarily wouldn’t think of him in the same company as Orson Welles and John Ford, this masterful showcase of material makes a solid case that Petty is indeed in the pantheon of those previous subjects of Bogdanovich’s. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who seems to show up in every rocumentary or rock related movie these days (even WALK HARD), appears at one point to sing a duet with Petty on “The Waiting” at a recent concert. When the song ends and the giant audience erupts Petty says to Vedder, “Look at that, Eddie – rock and roll heaven.” He’s right – for 4 hours and 15 minutes it sure is.

So since Bogdanovich’s Petty opus joins the ranks of great rockumentaries and because this year new docs ’bout U2, Patti Smith, and Marty’s huge Rolling Stones project will be unleashed on the market it’s time to appraise those ranks. So here’s:

10 Definitive Rockumentaries

1. A tie – DON’T LOOK BACK (Dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) /NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005)

Despite the fact that I hate ties this shouldn’t surprise anyone, I mean have you met me? D.A. Pennebaker’s document of Bob’s 1965 British tour coupled with Marty’s wider scoped portrait of Dylan’s rise to fame are equally essential so I could not separate them. The Bob shown in these docs, with the wild hair, sunglasses and mod clothing is the same Bob that Cate Blanchett portrayed in I’M NOT THERE – the one most caged in his persona and held to the highest levels of scrutiny. Incredible concert footage flows through both films and hits its pinnacle in May 1966 when Bob faces a hostile crowd and a historic heckler – “Judas!” is shouted from the darkness one night in Manchester. “I don’t believe you – you’re a liar!” Dylan sneers before launching into a mindblowingly rawking “Like A Rolling Stone”. Scorsese and Pennebaker both capture lightning in a bottle and leave us with glorious glimpses of the greatest songwriter ever in his prime serenading the world even when most of the world wasn’t quite ready for his weary tune.

2. I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002)

Not a career overview but a capsule of one particular plagued period when a great band – Wilco – made a great record (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”) and it was rejected by their record company. Chicago critic, and co-host of the great NPR show Sound Opinions Greg Kot puts it best: “It’s not a VH1 “Behind The Music” story. It’s a not a drugs-groupies-celebrity kind of story at all. This band’s story is the music. 20 years from now their probably going to get more of their due than now.” Well let’s get them their due right now because this a compelling black and white film full of great music both in the studio and on stage. Key scene: leader Jeff Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett have a tense awkward argument over a crucial edit while mixing the album that shows how far they have drifted apart as collaborators. Indeed Bennett was asked to leave the band while the film was being made. The band grows stronger and gets a label and has a hit album which gives this rockumentary a happy ending and a nice second placing on this list.

3. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (Dir. Jeff Stein, 1979)

Sure there’s that new more extensive and correctly chronological AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO but this hodgepodge of Who with its odds ‘n ends, warts ‘n all, kitchen sink approach is much more exciting. In the first five minutes explosives go off in Keith Moon’s drumkit from a performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show then we zigzag around to such ’60s shows as Shindig and Beatlcub, seminal gigs like WOODSTOCK and the Monterey International Pop Festival and then conclude with specially shot for the film footage from Shepperton Film Studios mere months before Moon’s death in ’78. We don’t get narration or anything in the way of historical context – none of the bits are titled and nobody is identified and it is all out of order – but the collage effect satisfies and everything jels together like one of best movie mixtapes ever. Key scene: The Who blow the Stones off the stage on their own TV special with a ferocious “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

4. GIMME SHELTER (Dirs. Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

The 60’s dream died here, or so the tale goes – just ask Don McLean. That fatal night at Altamont Speedway where Hells Angels acted as security for a free Rolling Stones gig made what could have been just an assembly line concert film (see LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER
for that) into a piece of true crime documentation that could play on MSNBC as well as VH1 Classic. The Stones had shed psychedelia and were getting back to their roots so in 1969, touring with Ike and Tina Turner and we get a good sampling of a Madison Square Garden concert (also featured on the album “Get Your Ya-Yas Out”) and a stirring performance of “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama before proceeding to the scene of the crime in California. We see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watching the Altamont footage in the editing room and they freeze the image of a knife in the hand held above the fighting crowd and it is one of the most chilling images in cinema that has ever been seen. I don’t know if Satan was laughing with delight like McLean sings in “American Pie” but he was sure smirking.

5. LET IT BE (Dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970) Actually the 60’s dream died here too. The break-up of the Beatles with their final public performance on a rooftop in London is a tough sad watch but one that’s vital in understanding exactly how the mighty can fall. Unfortunately because as producer and former Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall said recently “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues” – the film may not see the light of a DVD player anytime soon. That’s too bad – even though it’s not the Beatles at their best it’s them at their most human and as uncomfortable as George Harrison’s studio squabble with Paul McCartney is (George: “‘ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play, you know. Whatever it is that’ll please you, I’ll do it.”) we still somehow feel the love in what they were trying to make. And in the end isn’t that what they were trying to tell us all along?

6. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004) Though most haven’t heard of either of the bands studied here – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre this tale of the sometimes friendly rivalry will make people listen up. Billed as “a real-life Spinal Tap” DiG! follows these bands with their retro rock through a few years of touring, arguing, getting wasted, busted, and getting up to do it all again. Despite the fact that DW frontman Courtney Taylor narrates, BJM member Anton Newcombe steals the show over and over with his asshole antics and crazy talk like “I’m not for sale. I’m fucking Love, do you understand what I’m saying? Like, the Beatles were for sale. I give it away.” Maybe the funniest rockumentary on this list.

7. TIME WILL TELL (Dir. Declan Lowney, 1992) Bob Marley’s story is pretty glossed over in this doc but that is okay because it is so full of great footage with many full songs represented. Interview footage doesn’t really provide insights – except that Marley was always stoned – but footage from the One Love Peace Concert and various 70’s TV shows (particuraly the footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC 1973 pictured left) is worth many repeat viewings.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (Dir. Alek Kekishian, 1991) I’m sure there are those who will scoff but I added this not just because I realized that this list was too much of a sausage party but because it’s seriously a notable rockumentary. There sadly aren’t many docs about female artists so this will have to some representin’. This follows Madonna on her controversial Blond Ambition tour and has the backstage bits in DON’T LOOK BACK-esque hand-held black and white while the concert sequences are in color. We do actually get some amusing insights like when Warren Beatty, who briefly dated Madonna during the filming of DICK TRACY, says of her when she’s having a dental appointment filmed: “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? ” None I can think of.

9. THE LAST WALTZ (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1978) Sure Marty and the Band (they were Bob’s band in 1965-66 under the name The Hawks) were both represented at the #1 spot on this list but this film deserves to place on its own. It’s a doc wrapped around a seminal concert film – the farewell performance of arguably the greatest Canadian band ever who play an incredible set helped out by their friends – including ace work by Eric Clapton,Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond (!), and their old bandleader Bob Dylan. The interview segments with Scorsese sitting casually around for conversations with Band members Robbie Robertson and Co. were parodied by Rob Reiner as director Marty DiBergi in THIS IS SPINAL TAP and they set a precedent for rockumentary etiquette. But for my money, the sequence in which Neil Young sings “Helpless” with The Band and accompanied by the beautiful backup singing of Joni Mitchell in the wings is one of the most infectious pieces of musical celluloid ever presented. That Marty had to visually edit a nugget of cocaine hanging off Young’s nose by rotoscoping in post production only adds to the affecting edge.

10. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (Dir. Paul Justman, 2002) This film provides a great service – it shines a light on the largely unknown supporting players on some of the greatest music of the 20th century. The Funk Brothers provided the backing for literally hundreds of hits that defined “the Detroit sound” – the memorable melodies behind Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Supremes, and many others. This film gives us interviews with Bandleader Joe Henry and various other surviving Funk Brother members and we see new live performances where they play with such soul notables as Me’shell Ndegeocello, Chaka Kahn, and Bootsy Collins. An incredibly entertaining and emotional experience with a band that should be grandly celebrated for, as narrating actor Andre Braugher tells us, “having played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

Postnotes: I tried to focus on wide-ranging documentaries not straight concert films hence the ommision of the Jonathan Demme’s amazing STOP MAKING SENSE (which would place high on a list of straight concert films) and other worthy films of that caliber. Some other honorable mentions:

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (reviewed on filmbabble Oct. 11th, 2006)
GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS) – A great doc about They Might Be Giants, a band who many left behind in college but is still part of our Daily Show lives.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY – If you ever have a day to kill you could do much worse than watching this 674 min. production.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER – This hilarious doc about a once mighty metal and going into therapy is the real-life Spinal Tap IMHO.
THE FIFTH AND THE FURY– Julien Temple and the Sex Pistols – need I say more?
THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION This and its 2 sequels which cover the history of decadent underworld of punk and metal are as essential as rockumentaries can get.

Whew! Okay, that’s enough rockumentaries for now. If you think I’ve left out your favorite – that’s what the comments below is for.

This post is dedicated to
Brad Renfro (1982-2007)

He appeared as Josh in one of my all time favorite movies – GHOST WORLD (2001). At least he fulfilled that old maxim to die young and leave a good looking corpse. Sigh.


More later…

Recent Raves

Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) : In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share… you know what they did?
Ah Ping (Ping Lam Siu) : Have no idea.
Chow Mo-wan : They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.
Ah Ping : What a pain! I’d just go to get laid.
Chow Mo-wan : Not everyone’s like you.
(Dir. Kar Wei Wong, 2000)

Again sorry for not posting for a bit – I’ve been too busy working 2 jobs to see many movies lately. Now I have a little time to write so I thought I’d babble ’bout not just movies but some music, books and other whatnot that I’ve been digging lately in a post I call :

Recent Raves – Film, music, and other whatnot
(or things that have kept me alive lately)

WAL-MART : THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE (Dir. Robert Greenwald – 2005) This may be full of information most already know (small long owned businesses being destroyed when a Walton family owned monstrosity rolls into town, scores of people who are on welfare while being employed by Wal-Mart, repeated crimes in their security-free parking-lots, etc) but Greenwald’s heartbreaking documentary makes a convincing case that there may not be anything but EVIL at that discount superstore monopoly. Without much polish – no glitzy graphics or snappy soundtrack – this flick particularly got to me because the company I work for does some of the same shit. The movie is not all depressing doom – it does end on a hopeful note and the parody commercials are great :

Betty Johnson (Susie Geiser) – I’m Betty and I’m a Wal-Mart associate. I love working at Wal-Mart! I love that they pay me less than min. (minimum wage) because that means I can’t afford to eat as much and I get to keep my figure!”

SNAKES ON A PLANE-Mania Internet Style : This hilariously titled upcoming Samuel L. Jackson action flick has created a flurry of web activity – satirical trailers (I actually can’t tell the spoofs from the real thing – in fact I don’t know if the poster image to the left is real or a joke), excited fan blogs, and even a promotional campaign that involves a songwriting contest – a winner get to have their homemade song on the soundtrack. I’m sure the premise of hundreds of venomous snakes set loose on a plane to kill someone testifying in a mafia case will inspire many a young starving musician. Apparently the movie had some re-shoots in which they added a line the Internet Movie Database says is expected to take on cult status:

Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson): “I want these motherfucking snakes off the motherfucking plane!”

That’s a badass line, sure. I’m just wondering if Jackson will say as he has in so many movies “this is some repugnant shit!” In fact I’m betting on it.

If you haven’t checked out the suberb site YOUTUBE you really should. Where else can you get William Shatner’s riveting interpretion of Elton John’s Rocketman , this great live-action version of the Simpsons opening done to promote the Simpsons syndication in Britain, and an archive of TV performances from the Kinks, Iggy Pop, the Specials, Funkadelic, and many other previously uncirculated goodies. My favorite find is the rare footage of 4 members of Monty Python appearing on a Texas PBS station in 1975. Recently discovered after being shelved for 30 years its unfortunately short (only 14 minutes because an engineer taped over the last bit) but a treat indeed to see.

Wilco @ Memorial Hall, March 5th and 6th 2006: I never thought Wilco, who I consider the best band RIGHT NOW, would play at Memorial Hall here in Chapel Hill – the same venue that hosted a historic 1954 Louis Armstrong concert and where I saw Mel Blanc speak when I was a kid (still have the autographed picture that he handed me while doing his most famous voice – Bugs Bunny : “here you go Doc”) So of course I had to attend both nights. The place had been renovated in the last year or so and the acoustics were fantastic.

The first night while singing “Hummingbird” Tweedy scooped a young girl (obviously the daughter of fan parents in the front row) out of the audience and held her without losing the song’s flow at all. A wonderful moment. It was to his credit that he didn’t try the same thing the next night – he knew you can’t turn some spontaneous connection into some show biz move.

“Is any song worth singing if it doesn’t help?” Jeff Tweedy’s sad-sack vocals beautifully etched out their own precious place in the Hall as the melody stiftened during the opening song “Wishful Thinking” the second night. Despite his saying that the show would be the same even the banter – the whole setlist had been juggled around with less Summerteeth and a couple of new songs (I won’t guess at the titles) were premiered.

I was elated to get recordings on disc of both shows from my friend Hook. The sound quality is sweet and to hear “She’s A Jar”, “The Good Part” and dusted off from the 1996 album Being There the charming as country- rock-can-get “Say You Miss Me” blaring from my stereo and filling up the walls of my house has really soothed a number of sleepless nights lately.

Kar Wai Wong’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and its bizarre follow-up 2046 I had been meaning to see IN THE MOOD… for a long time and the occasion of the release of its somewhat sequel 2046 announced that now is the time. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) suspects his wife is having an affair with the husband of his neighbor Su Li-zhen Chan (Maggie Cheung). They form a friendship and a unique relationship develops. An achingly lyrical film that stayed with me for days.

2046 is as complicated as its title. Its a hotel room number, it is the last year before Hong Kong would be completely absorbed by mainland Chinese rule, and probably most important it is the name of a science fiction martial arts story that Chow Mo-wan is working on. Less poetic than its successor, disjointed and definitely too long 2046 is still worthwhile – incredible visuals, touching acting, and an unimposing soundtrack make it a fine companion piece.

More soon…