Monday, May 20, 2013

DVD Review: Michael Schenker Temple of Rock, Live in Europe

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Michael Schenker Temple of Rock, Live in Europe
Directed by Bernhard Baran (Tilburg) and Blue Leach (London)
In-akustik GmbH & Co.
135 minutes (including bonuses), 2012

For the greater good or bad, Germans are known for their precision. With his guitar in hand, Michael Schenker has proven over the decades that he knows his way around a Metal fretboard. His decades on the stage and in the studio have rightfully made him a legend.

Despite his name on the helm, Schenker is a member of the band, standing to the side with fingers ablazing. This show is especially noteworthy because, as singer Doogie White says in his thick burr early on, that they had to erect a barrier in front of the stage because on it were three live Scorpions, invoking the band that earned the three world-wide prominence.

During the 1970s and ‘80s, while I was listening to a lot of basic I-IV-V on the stages of the likes of CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City, the closest I got to metal was probably Ross the Boss Funicello of the Dictators. Meanwhile, Schenker traveled the world living off his guitar in one of the better known, groundbreaking metal bands. He is exactly four months older than I am, and yet we are musically worlds apart.

The question this brings to me is, at what point does it start style becoming more focused on what Jacques Elull referred to as “technic” rather than on the music? With Hendrix, there was no doubt that he was music based, and no song sounded the same twice. Schenker is a superb musician, no one can argue with that and I would not even begin to broach the topic, and yet, I seriously wonder when does it become too clinical? Celine Dion is a surgical singer, and that makes her dry as a bone, all the emotion ripped out of her songs. That is not to say that Schenker’s guitar is emotionless, but it certainly borders on a Metal cliché, albeit technically sharp as a razor’s edge or a doctor’s scalpel, and one he helped foster.

The same can be said about vocalist Doogie. He hits all the notes, both literally and figuratively. He certainly can be seen as a Metal cliché: high pitch and wavering vocals (especially on the last note of each stanza line), leather vest over black tee-shirt, tight black pants, shoulder length hair, check, check and check. The Michael Schenker Group (MSG) has their sound down to a science, which is ironic that this tour is to promote the latest recording, the religiously metaphorically titled, Temple of Rock.

The fact is that the MSG is a multi-talented band from beginning to end. From what I read, Schenker particularly likes this group (sometimes he has different people back him from city to city, much as does Chuck Berry, the true king of Rock and Roll), and he used this line-up to do this European leg of the tour. Everyone on the stage seems to be having fun.

A good thing is that being as established as they are, they can focus on what they’re doing, rather than needing to rely on theatrics like jumping off speakers, or running around the stage like a mad person (now, that being said, Iggy does it an makes it work, but I digress…). There are no exploding pots of pyrotechnics, but rather a reliance on some of their varied classics, including “Armed and Ready,” “Another Piece of Meat,” “Shoot Shoot,” “Rock Bottom,” and their best known, “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” with its ear worm chorus.

The DVD is broken up into two separate concerts in very different venues. The main section is taken from a show at the O13 theater in Tilburg, Netherlands, on May 13, 2011, then in the bonus section, there is a short set at the 2011 High Voltage Festival in London, on May 24, with a few songs repeated from the Tilburg show (see the set lists below). Both shows have different feels to them. One reason is musicianship.

At the Tilburg show, Doogie is in command of the band, and he and Schenker rightfully get the lion’s share of camera attention. There is a brief guitar solo by Wayne Findlay in the first half of “Rock Bottom” before Schenker takes back his guitar god mantle. Schenker’s recent collaborator, Michael Voss, comes out for a single song to vocalize for “Hanging On.”

At the open air High Voltage Fest, Voss is the sole vocalist, sans Doogie, and he does a fine job as well, giving a different flavor to the songs, being a lot more active on the stage. His voice is quite different than Doogie’s, and yet there are other similarities are astounding, with the shoulder length blond hair, and (cloth) vest over black shirt, and the high voice with the waiver at the end of the last word of the stanza sentence. I could be wrong, but I believe the band as a whole plays faster with Voss. His voice is also a bit rougher with a deep growl, which I actually like better. Doogie does come out for the last song, with Voss on harmony and cowbell. They are also joined for a couple of songs by Schenker’s brother, Rudolf (making it four members of the Scorpions on the same stage for “…Hurricane,” and with Voss picking up his ax as well, that’s a four-guitar wall of sound), ex-Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto, and UFO bassist Pete Way. This may excite some.

The other extra is a 10-minute pre-show backstage at O13, which has its moments, but is mostly uninteresting. Doogie is definitely the most entertaining here. Though, for a digression, it should be noted to Handsome Dick Manitoba (speaking of the Dictators), that Schenker is wearing a Yankees cap.

One thing I can say about the MSG, no matter what the incarnation, is that they are extremely high energy. There are a couple of ballads, but mostly this is full tilt, and they never waiver. Not bad for a bunch of guys in their ‘50s, most in the latter half of that decade.

But that begs a bigger question: why does Schenker dress like Justin Beiber?

Tilburg, Netherlands
Michael Schenker (lead guitar)
Doogie White (vocals)
Herman Rarebell (drums)
Francis Bucholtz (bass)
Wayne Findlay (rhythm guitar / keyboards)

Song list
Into the Arena
Armed and Ready
Another Piece of Meat
Hanging On
Cry For the Nations
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Coast to Coast
Assault Attack
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Lights Out
On and On
Let it Roll
Shoot Shoot
Rock You Like a Hurricane
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor

Bonus: 2011 High Voltage Festival in London¸ May 24
Michael Schenker (lead guitar)
Michael Voss (vocals)
Herman Rarebell (drums)
Elliot “Dean” Rubinson (bass)
Wayne Findlay (rhythm guitar / keyboards)

Song list
Armed and Ready
Another Piece of Meat
Rock You Like a Hurricane
Hanging On
Doctor Doctor

Bonus Video:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

DVD Review: Dinosaur Jr., BUG, Live at 9:30 Club: In the Hands of the Fans

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Dinosaur Jr. Bug, Live at 9:30 Club: In the Hands of the Fans
Directed by Dave Markey
MVD Visual
106 minutes, 2012

The 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, is a fantastic place for the reunion of Dinosaur Jr., and for them to play out their entire 38-minute classic noise punk 1988 release, Bug. The club was to DC what CBGB and the Rat were to New York and Boston, respectively.

For the second title released as In the Hands of the Fans (the first being the Stooges doing Raw Power), the band started out as Dinosaur, and then had to add Jr. to it because the name was already taken by some L.A. classic rocker “superband” that lasted for five minutes, step on the same stage. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, two of which are the length of time from the last performance to this mini-tour, and that this band has quite the combative history of infighting of the Who proportions.

The problem with them, as trio of humans, is that they are all hyper-talented perfectionists, with their own vision of what that entails. Needless to say, there have been some classic and highly-publicized intraband clashes. Plus, being prima donnas didn’t help, either.

Getting back to the story behind the series, through an online contest (via YouTube), fans were asked to send in videos of why they should be the chosen ones to film the concert. Six were selected, and we are introduced to them (all male) before the start of the performance part. Before the show, each is given a placed to stand and a camera. Then all the film is edited together in a coherent full concert.

As a band, they are infamously loud. For example, even in a club the size of the 9:30, there is a stack of 6 Marshall Amps alone behind vocalist / guitarist J Mascis, and another stack behind bassist Lou Barlow. And yet drummer Murph holds his own against this wall of noise.

The band is often lumped into either the hardcore bands on SST (who released much of their material), or compared to the alternative scene of Nirvana and the rest of the Northwest. This is actually inaccurate. It could be more precise to posit that they are part of the missing link between those two scenes; their sound is quite chaotic, with crashing instrumentals, and Mascis’s less than pretty voice (never mind on key), bred in the hardcore scene, but they also have a sense of melody, structure and a heavy reliance on guitar, as much of the Northwest discipline did, with the likes of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and yes, Nirvana.

With the strong reliance on classic/heavy rock, through the use of long guitar solos that had been abhorrent to the hardcore scene before it, the new breed of SST artists like DJr stretched in new ways by bringing back some of the old. Their shows, as evidenced here, were not necessarily full of jumping around… okay, Barlow shows he can move onstage, but Mascis is sturdy as a rock, and I do not say this in a disparagingly way. It’s hard to read him, with his long (now nearly white) hair hiding his face to the audience and cameras, his voice is of a thin range so there is not much that can be read into his vocal emoting. But he is the both rock and the hard place when it comes to playing his instrument, which is does with flair, even when he’s wailing.

Bug was a big release for the band, going to No. 1 in the UK in the indie charts. And yet, in his curmudgeonly way, Mascis has stated quite clearly in the past that this was his least favorite album (perhaps because it was most popular, going against punk ethics?). It is one of the more, well, commercial (relatively) of DJr’s albums, with a definite melody line amid the thrash, and recognizable chord progressions, even if the lyrics get lost in the translation. Mascis has been called monotone, and I don’t necessarily buy into that, but I would agree with the mumbles part. And since I listen to the LP every once in a while but not enough to know it well, I am not sure about the overall content / intent.

Despite the ravages of time and discordant behavior within the band, they remain tight as a trio, familiar enough with each other’s moves and licks to be in sync, at least musically. In part because of this, Bug remains a stalwart and influential record, and it’s as stunning live now as it was on vinyl (you heard me) then. Unlike the Stooges show which played the album out of order mixed with other tunes, DJr stick to the LP, and in same order.

For the final song on the album, “Don’t,” which is the only track on Bug that Barlow was permitted to sing, they bring up a guest vocalist from the audience (one of the video winners?) to scream out the oft repeated lyrics, ”Why?! Why don’t you like me?!” This may be Barlow’s protest, by saying, “You want me to sing only one tune, then fuck you, someone else can do it for me.” Or perhaps it’s a way to connect with the audience via participation (or both). With Mascis’s wild post-hardcore guitar screeching solo over Barlow and Murph’s rhythm pounding, this long piece really epitomizes the sound that followed the original basic structure of the start of punk’s Third Wave.

An interesting aspect about watching the band is that even though their sound melds so well, they could all be in separate rooms for all the physical interaction. There isn’t really much in the way of eye contact. Mascis basically looks down at his guitar when he’s not at the mic, Barlow bounces around in that hardcore back and forth motion, and Murph, well, drummers need to concentrate on the tempo. There is a b-roll shot of them talking in the back alley during the credits, probably before the show, but how much of that is staged I couldn’t guess.

The six fans do a mostly great job capturing the band, and the editing is superb at not doing that 2-second cut that MTV pioneered and has annoyingly been used to death. True, most of the cameras seem to be focused on Mascis, and I would have liked to have seen more of Barlow’s work, as he’s more interesting to watch onstage, but I understand the “lead” gets the largest draw of attention, even if unintentional.

There are lots of extras for this release, so let’s get on with it. First one up is called “On Stage Interview with Henry Rollins.” The Black Flag fronter / writer / poet / actor / etc. is a self-professed “XL Dinosaur Jr. fan.” He also mentions the opening-but-unseen-here band, Off!, which features ex-Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris (Rollins calls him the “best Black Flag vocalist bar none”; I would have liked to have seen that performance as well). He brings the band up on stage in front of the 9:30 audience while he conducts in questions. Topics include volume, evolvement of style, early career and records, touring, and general punk rawk.

For the “In the Hands of the Fans’” nearly 19-minute short, those who were chosen to film this show get to hang out backstage with DJr, and ask them questions, such as who is their favorite bands/influences, and who would they like to slam. The questions are kind of mundane, but the answers by the band are interesting if you want to know where they come from, musically speaking.

The rest of the shorts are bonus live footage of the songs “In a Jar” and “The Wagon” (9 min) from the same show (I’m guessing the encore), a co-interview with J and director Dave Markey, who is also known for 1991: The Year Punk Broke in1992 and Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (I have the original Desperate Teenage Runaways VHS) in 1986, and I am looking forward to seeing his latest on the Circle Jerks, My Career as a Jerk (8 min), and “Rollins on the 9:30 Club” history (3 min). Most of the extras were filmed in the alleyway behind the club, at least one during the soundcheck bleeding through.

There is no denying that together or individually, Dinosaur Jr. and Bug are among the most influential bands of its period, which I would group with the Minutemen and Husker Du, of music that took the simplistic hardcore scene and changed it into something else, much as the Beatles changed rock’n’roll with Sgt. Pepper’s. It then became something else, even if the genre title stayed the same.

I am hoping this series continues, and as a suggestion, how about Slade doing Stomp Your Hands and Clap Your Feet? Or Television doing Marquee Moon? Or…

J. Mascis: Vox / guitar
Lou Barlow: bass / vox
Murph: Drums

Set List:
Freak Scene
No Bones
They Always Come
Yeah We Know
Let It Ride
Pond Song
The Post

Bonus live footage:
In a Jar
The Wagon

DVD Introduction

Full VOD:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

DVD Review: 10cc in Concert, 2007

Text by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

10cc in Concert: Featuring Graham Gouldman and Friends
Directed by [not released]
Weinerworld Limited / New Wave Pictures
108 minutes, 2007 / 2013

Going into this DVD, I was trying to remember anything at all about 10cc. I knew they were a British pop art band (re: prog) from the first half of the 1970s. In the early ‘80s, I interviewed Jonathan King, who claims to have given them their name (which I believe, considering what it means). But I don’t own a single one of their many records, and off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single one.

The second song in, there was one with which I was familiar, “The Things We Do For Love.” I remember equating it, at the time, with the likes of REO Speedwagon, or some of the other glossy prog pap. Sort of the Brit version of the likes of Toto and the Eagles. This is also shown in another overproduced hit later in the show, “I’m Not in Love.”

Let me make this clear, whatever my opinion for the output of the band as a whole, I have incredible respect for their musicianship, their voices per se, and the work they do. However, as a collective, I find them incredibly insipid. That is to say, they make a perfect Top 10 band for their time period. And they have not lost their knack over the years. Sure, most of this is rehashing of material from back when, but if you’re a fan of the band (nothing to be ashamed of), this is golden.

The audience reaction alone shows that 10cc is loved, and this reunion tour, filmed in 2007 at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (London) and originally released as Clever Clogs, is perfectly catered to them. They are a two-pronged – or progged? – group, comprised of a couple of songwriting teams. The first is more pop, the other more artsy. Truthfully, I don’t know which style I find more meh. I’ve never been a prog fan of any kind, from its nascent form and onward. If I never heard another song by ELP or ELO, I don’t feel like I’d be missing, well, anything.

Okay, that being said, I feel a bit gushy about a segment of this where Graham Gouldman covers songs he had written for others, including “Bus Stop” (in my opinion, the best song the Hollies ever did), “No Milk Today” (one of my favorite Herman’s Hermits hits that was more popular in the UK than the US), “Look Through Any Window”( another Hollies hit), and the phenomenal Yardbirds classic “For Your Love” (even if it made Clapton leave the band). The covers by 10cc are obviously not the originals, but they are still good songs that hold up, nonetheless. Perhaps, in part, the reason I liked this part of the DVD, other than nostalgia, is that for the first three songs, it’s just two acoustic guitars and four vocals. No overwhelming gloss, no show-off instrumentalism (and contraptions, such as chimes). Just some basic killer riffs over decent lyrics. With “For Your Love,” it is back to full-band mode, but again, it’s not hyper-glazed. And besides, it’s such a great song, period.

For “Old Wild Men” and the relatively newer “,” original 10cc drummer and vocalist Kevin Godley comes back and shows that he has a better voice than Gouldman, as does Mick Wilson, who does his solo with the likes of “Donna,” “The Dean and I” and the aforementioned “I’m Not in Love.” That’s not to say Gouldman has a bad voice, far from it, but it’s lost the most range over the years. But he still comes strong, such as when he brings up “The Bridge to Your Heart,” which is a tune from his other band Wax (which Gouldman had formed with Linda Rondstadt stalwart, Andrew Gold (2011).

For the finale, “Rubber Bullets,” Goldley joins again for vox and percussion. The song makes me think of a more poppy version of a cross between Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device,” if they had tight harmonies and was a bit, well, limp (other than Rick Fenn’s blazing guitar solo).

Of course, the image is HD, and the sound top notch (one of the joys of recent recordings). Fans of the band will be happy to release a little 10cc.

There are some interesting extras. First is a 50 minute talking head interview with Gouldman who discourses about his writing process, discussing it song-by-song from the show. He also describes recording the pieces, and other matters regarding the band history. The second extra is a 17 minute clip from a show on March 19, 2007, at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, where the band plays “Old Wild Men” and “Rubber Bullets”; it was Godley’s his first show in 30 years. The sound and visual is a bit fuzzier, but important music history to some. There is also some backstage footage. Interestingly, he’s wearing the exact same thing in the London show. The last extra is the 10-minute “The Art of 10cc with Storm Thorgerson,” which is an interview with the man who created the graphic design for 10cc’s sheet music and album covers.

Graham Gouldman: Vocals / bass/guitar
Rick Fenn: Guitar/bass / vocals
Mick Wilson: Percussion / vocals
Mike Stevens: Keyboards /sax / vocals
Paul Burgess: Drums
Kevin Godley (special appearance): Vocals

Set list:
The Wall Street Shuffle
The Things We Do For Love
Good Morning Judge
I’m Mandy, Fly Me
Life is a Minestrone
Art for Art’s Sake
Bus Stop
No Milk Today
Look Through Any Window
For Your Love
Old Wild Men
Silly Love
The Dean and I
Bridge to Your Heart
I’m Not in Love
Dreadlock Holiday
Ready to Go Home
Rubber Bullets

Saturday, May 4, 2013

DVD Review: Einstürzende Neubauten: Live at Rockpalast 1990

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Einstürzende Neubauten: Live at Rockpalast 1990
Directed by Christian Wagner
71 min, 1990 / 2012

After watching a few of the German concert series Rockpalast releases, including artists from the British Isles and the US (many from Dixie territory), it almost seems strange to hear one from Deutschland, albeit not your typical band-next-door.

Recorded at the Philipshalle, in Düsseldorf, on November 24, 1990, it’s fascinating to watch Einstürzende Neubauten (EN) – translated as Collapsing New Buildings – after having only heard them before (mostly on the classic 1984 ROIR cassette, 2 x 4).

Their sound has been called Industrial and Soundscapes, but it’s certainly more than that. There is a bit of No Wave thrown in there, and what makes all those descriptors inadequate is that there is so much more going on at the same time.

Right up front is Blixa Bargeld, the focal point and locus of the group. Looking a bit like a tall and lanky version of Dwight Frye, he appears as though he stepped out of an 18th Century romantic novel, with a touch of that Euro-Disco/goth black suit and Ziggy Stardust /Bowie-styled hair (sans the magenta). There is also just the hint of blue eyeshadow. He is the voice of EN, and that is not limited to his singing. And this is the part that makes me sad, as I don’t sprechen sie Deutsch. Apparently, Bargeld is fascinated with the use of German, mixing old and new, making it into something else. You can tell something different is going on by the way is carefully pronounces each wort, as though trying to make sure the audience catches the differences. And yet, he is not unknown to make guttural screeches that sound like a pick running up and down an electric guitar string, or some pterodactyl shriek that makes the listener wonder how his throat can stand it. Yet, somewhere, I get the feeling that Bertolt Brecht is smiling.

The rest of the band is an odd mixture of images, as well as sounds. For example, the guitarist, Alexander Hacke, looks like he just stepped out of a ‘80s metal band, with long, flowing hair that he whips around. There are some metalish licks, for sure, but most of it is played atonally, in a purposefully disjointed and prepared way. Bassist Marc Chung, like Bargeld, dresses in the period this was film, in very neat, white shirt and a thin right tie of light-reflecting sequins. He excitedly jumps around the stage, and it’s pretty obvious he is having a blast. He seems the least “serious” of the bunch, and derives pleasure out of the moment.

There are two percussionists (I honestly don’t know which is which, though I could probably look it up…), are fascinating to watch, but not always painless to hear. Using ordinary (e.g., shopping carts) and custom-made devices they designed themselves, they bash and crash objects against other objects, and for one instrument, bang and slide metal pieces along another metal trough, making a screeching sound reminiscent of fingers on a blackboard. Over and over again. You really have to be game for this stuff.

Obviously, I couldn’t really tell you song contents, and even if I could, as I said, there is the inside language references and context that would be lost if one were to just transpose the lyrics from the original to English. For example, the opening of “Der Tod Ist Ein Dandy” (Death is a Dandy) is translated as “Lung trains deep into space / No nags, no mare / As the knight in the game of games… / Death is a dandy on a horse.” Let me say it for you, in the clearest way I can: whaaaa?

Many of the songs represented here, such as the one above and “Armenia,” exemplifies the historical catalog of the group, from its beginning in 1980, a full decade before this was recorded, and apparently EN are still going with more than 25 full length albums released. As par with the Rockpalast series, the image is clear and the sound is exceptional, which is actually quite important when dealing with such unconventional musical conglomerations as EN posit.

Now, I have to say that if I had my choice between a nose band like EN and a Euro-disco genre – even a classic like Kraftwerk – I’d go for EN any day. I may not understand what the hell it’s about, but you can tell the earnestness of it.

While there aren’t really any extras to speak of, this does also include a second disc that is the CD of the show. Nice touch.

Blixa Bargeld: Vocals/guitar/keyboard
Alexander Hacke: Guitar
N.U. Unruh: Percussion
FM Einheit: Percussion
Mark Chung: Bass

Set List:
Der Tod Ist Ein Dandy
Yu Gung
Zerstorte Zelle
Ich Bin’s
Ein Stuhl in Der Holle
Der Kuss
Haus Der Luge
Kein Bestandteil Sein
Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.
Letztes Biest Am Himmel